Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting out of a slippery situation...

Automotive Tip of the Week: Stuck on ice or packed snow? Take your floor mats out and put them CARPET side down behind each drive wheel (if backing up, in front obviously if going forward). Try to tuck the leading edge of the mat under the wheel as much as possible. Then try to slowly proceed and you'll have enough traction to get going. This can work in deeper snow as well. It doesn't work pa...rticularly well though with all season/rubber floor mats. You may have to try with the "spikes" down or other orientations if the carpet side isn't working or you don't have carpeted mats. If you don't have mats, or don't want to use them for this, you can keep some carpet remnants on the floor of your trunk and use them in case of emergency as well since they won't take up much space and you can have a longer "run" to use. It's a great way to get out of an icey parking spot or the like and if you have a helper and you are very careful (don't try to swap while moving!!) you can swap the mats repeatedly to move as far as you need.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not as pretty as Christmas lights...

Automotive Tip of the Week: Warning Lights - There are really only two that are an absolute, immediate, no questions asked, PULL OVER as quick as is safe and shut the engine off: A FLASHING check engine light, and even more importantly the Oil Pressure Light. Close behind those two is any time that temperature needle gets anywhere near the red. Those 3 all indicate imminent or already occuring engine damage. There is no case where any of those 3 is safe for the engine for another 100 feet of driving (but YOUR safety has to be priority even over those lights). A steady check engine light or service engine soon light are minor and almost always safe to continue on as are the "maintenance" and "tire pressure" lights. Obviously you should consult your user manual though and use your head - if something smells, sounds, or feels funny STOP DRIVING!. Too many people create massive repair bills because they try to keep going when stopping and spending the 200 for a two would have been cheaper. The steady check engine light though is not usually grounds for a tow, but doesn't mean you should let it go for a week. Places like Autozone have free scans (dealers like to charge about 40-80 to scan a car) and can tell you what the light is. For the tire pressure light, visually check the 4 tires. If none of them are visualy low/flat then it means one or more tires is low on pressure (typically below 30 psi) or one or more tires is 4 psi or more different than the others.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Take black ice out of the picture.

Automotive Tip fo the Week: Last one on tires for a while I think/hope. Snow tires are a bit of a misnomer. Ice/cold tires or simply "winter" tires is really a better description. While they improve snow traction the biggest gains are in cold and ice traction. Continental released data on their tires a couple years ago saying "anytime below 45°F use a snow tire" showing the increase in braking performance and cornering forces. The difference can be greater than 20% just for regular (no ice/snow) braking! On top of that the wet and ice traction are hugely better. Personal anecdote that illustrates this: two winters ago we got freezing rain and I live near a hill I drive every day. I pulled out on to the hill and had to stop. A 4WD Jeep Cherokee with all season tires was struggling and slid over sideways in to the curb. I let go of the brakes accelerated slowly and passed them. On the hill. I drive a RWD car with snow tires and no limited slip differential. This happens at stop lights and the like throughout the winter. I stop and start without issue, other people often struggle or slide about. It's not about having the tires for snow, it's about having them for traction on all the days there is black ice, packed snow, and leftovers from the plow which seems like more days than not! Also, while the initial investment is not small, one minor fender bender and your insurance deductible will have paid for the tires. Additionally, getting 4-5 years out of a set of snow tires is not abnormal since people drive a little less in winter and you only run them for about 5-6 months. Your summer tires last longer then too. I know I'm thankful for the tires at least a half dozen times every winter. If you are curious about tests comparing snow tires to regular tires has a few and it shows how big the difference really can be. Remember, it's not so much about driving in snow, but driving in the cold and on ice you may not see.

Windshields and the blades and fluid that love them.

Winter is a great time to replace your wiper blades. Save your money though on the specialty teflon and "winter" blades. A good set of high quality standard blades will give you everything you need. You are better off spending the extra money on good windshield wiper fluid. The cheap 2 dollar a gallon blue stuff outside the gas station is not a wise buy. In Wisconsin you should buy top quality -20F or better fluid. This fluid has less water content and additional additives that will help brake up ice and lubricate your windshield during the worst conditions. Cheap fluid will evaporate off the alcohol (which is how they make it not freeze) and leave behind water that then freezes on the windshield and makes you use more in very cold weather. If you want to spend money on expensive wiper blades get the newer style arc blades that have no metal carrier. Bosch, Anco, and GoodYear all have those. They also are scooped to provide additional pressure at highway speeds which can be beneficial.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fuel Injection Cleaner: Needless upsell

Automotive Tip of the Week: Fuel Injection cleaner is generally a complete rip off. Most modern gasoline's already carry cleaning additives and detergents in them that are quite effective at maintaining (and even improving/cleaning) the fuel injection system. For all the bad things that go along with it, ethanol does also provide some reasonable cleaning effects. Fuel Injection cleaner is really only useful for very poorly maintained vehicles, or ones that have sat for a long time and need an extra kick in the pants to get rid of varnishing from aging. Any daily driven vehicle from the 90's forward will essentially never need the additive. Save your money!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Low Rolling Resistance Tires

Automotive Tip of the Week: Avoid "low rolling resistance" tires. These tires are marketed for their ability to add mpg to your car. They typically only yield about 1 mpg. Keeping your tires properly filled (not over!) is nearly as efficient. The big reason to avoid the low rolling resistance tires is actually Safety. One thing glazed over in my discussions of them is that braking distances increase dramatically because they have so much lower traction and adhesion to the road. It's not uncommon to see 20 feet added to stopping distances at 60 mph. Imagine going from 120 ft to 140 ft. That's nearly a 20% increase! Could be the difference between rear-ending someone or hitting a deer and not. They are also more skid prone again because of the lesser adhesion to the road because of the rubber compounds used to improve rolling resistnace. Some of the newer tires are "better" at this, but are still generally bad in comparison to a good all season tire. Keep in mind that these issues also occur with many "high mileage" tires. Anything over about 40-50k rated life is also typically giving up critical performance in these areas.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nitrogen - just more expensive air.

Automotive tip of the week: Nitrogen for your tires is a complete waste of money. Yes it technically is more temperature stable, and yes it technically could have a lower loss rate through the pores of the tires, but the atmosphere around you is already 78% nitrogen. You don't drive a race car that needs consistent pressure variation during heat cycles of the tires. Save your money.


Automotive tip of the week: Don't ever buy the same tire your car came from the dealer with. OEM tires are significantly more expensive, and significantly poorer performing tires than many other tire store options. Manufacturers select the tires they do based on supplier relationships, automotive reviewer tendencies, and efficiency gains for the EPA MPG cycle. Tires that will have significantly better overall traction, handling, and performance will cost much less. Example: 2006 Subaru Imprezza - factory tires are about 220/tire. Much better performing options with same tread life - 70-90.