Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hail no!

Automotive Tip of the Month: Been working on some idea that I don't have ready yet, but here is a quick tip! For those of you that park your car outside, one of the great summer hazards is hail. We seem to get at least a couple of hail storms every year. Considering most of us have rather expensive deductibles if we carry comprehensive insurance at all, there is a quick and easy way to protect your car. For about 20-60 dollars you can get a simple car cover at a place like Autozone or Wal-Mart. Then, simply cover the roof, hood, and trunk of your car with quilts or moving blankets (cheap at harbor freight!) and then put the car cover on when a storm is predicted. The cover helps prevent the blankets from moving in the wind. I find that moving blankets are pretty effective and are easier to throw in the dryer afterwards so you can store them again than the quilts. Easy way to prevent expensive and annoying damage!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shortening the lifetime...

Automotive Tip of the Month: Since clearly I can't keep up with every week ;). Lifetime fluids - anything but. A lot of the newer cars come with what the manufacturers call lifetime fluids. The joke among car nuts is that they are lifetime fluids because when the parts associated break, then you change the fluids thus it lasted the lifetime. For example, BMW claims their transmission and rear-end oils are lifetime. If you really let them go much over the 60-100k part failures increase in those areas. Lifetime fluids are better thought of as extended service. So instead of every 30-50k changing them, you should change them every 60-100k. More if you can afford to do so. In other words, in this case, just because the factory says it is okay doesn't mean it really is. This is showing up on oil changes as well. Many manufacturers (BMW among them!) are starting to go to very long service intervals on the oil (some up to 30k!!). While it is justifiable under certain circumstances, and the car can sometimes handle it, why would you really take the risk on something that typically costs you less than 100-200 a year to do regularly? One engine component failure and you'll have more than paid for anything you saved. And I don't mean big things like bearings, pistons, rods, etc. Often sensors (like a cam sensor) will fail because of the buildup of gunk on the sensor, if the oil was changed more regularly it wouldn't happen. I've seen it happen on PCV valves as well. The manufacturers started doing this because for lease and new car owners and those with service included during the first few years it increases customer satisfaction and lowers dealership overhead for those cars. So it is a win for the dealer and in some ways the first owner. Everybody down the line after loses though! When it comes to vehicles, being proactive and doing more than the recommended maintenance often pays off in the end.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sparks Fly...

Automotive Tip of the Week: When it comes to sparkplugs it is more or less all marketing. The biggest difference between spark plugs really is longevity. You are NOT going to get more horsepower by running a platinum or iridium plug over a copper plug. What you will get is more life. Platinum and Iridium plugs are typically rated for 60-100K miles versus copper usually is rated for around 30-50K. The rating really revolves around the fact that the spark actually eats away a little bit of metal every time the spark makes the gap jump. As this happens the gap between the electrode and the ground point (the arch) gradually opens up and becomes too large. This eventually can result in performance problems as the coil may not be able to get a spark to make the gap jump and then you get misfires and poor engine performance. So the decision you need to make is price/cost. If you change plugs yourself and it is easy to do on your car (like on most 4 cylinder cars) you can save a fair amount of money changing plugs yourself with copper plugs running under 2 dollars many times. Iridium plugs can be north of 20 dollars a plug. So If you assume 50k versus 100K intervals you see the Iridium or Platinum plugs don’t save you much. However, if you have a mechanic change the plug as soon as they charge you the 80 dollars in shop labor, there is no difference in cost over the interval and this is why many cars come from the factory with platinum or iridium as it cuts down warranty service costs for the dealer (and provides any easy upsell item if they want to tell you they think plugs need changing!). There are a lot of other items with plugs to talk about including multi-point plugs, heat ranges, “reading” a plug etc. But I’ll leave that for another time and touch on just one other point. Iridium and Platinum plugs are also referred to as fine-wire plugs because of how small the tips of them are. There are some major downsides to this technology. First, it fouls out MUCH easier. So if you are running a customized car (with added turbo or modified injectors etc), you have a car that burns a lot of oil or coolant, has other issues, or is simply older and doesn’t use precise fuel injection you will potentially have a LOT of problems with a fine-wire plug. Copper standard plugs will be much more resistant to those issues. Therefore, stay away from fine-wire on any car that isn’t running perfectly as you’ll likely compound the issues with poor running. The second major drawback is the fine tips are more susceptible to pre-ignition if the heat range of the plug is not correct or again you have a defect in the motor causing it to run poorly or is being overheated. I personally never run fine-wire plugs in any of my cars for those reasons (cost and reliability) as well as others regardless of how high performance the car is or isn’t. Happy Motoring!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Don't come a knockin'....

Automotive tip of the week: When it comes to gasoline, use what your car recommends, no more, and no less. I mentioned back a few weeks that additives are generally useless. If you are getting gasoline from Citgo, Shell, BP, Mobil, etc they typically already have a ton of additives and detergents. In some rare cases they only put this in their premium fuels, but it is generally done across the board. So why not use premium, etc? The octane rating - 87, 89, 91, 93, etc only means one thing, the resistance to pre-iginition/detonation/knocking the fuel has. The fuel has no actual extra power or energy per gallon than fuel with a different octane rating, so there is no benefit to the vehicle for MPG or horsepower. The reason part of the myth of more horsepower from higher octane fuel evolved is because high horsepower cars required it. This is a factor of the engine design, not the fuel. A high output vehicle will often use forced induction (turbo or supercharger) or uses high compression pistons etc. These things allow more power to be extracted from an engine, but requires a fuel with high resistance to knocking to be safe. When a low octane fuel is used in those applications the fuel can burn incorrectly and cause severe damage to the engine. The pressure waves from a bad burn (engines burn fuel, they don't explode fuel like people often think, in the rare cases that it does explode it can be a form of very severe detonation and will typically destroy the engine) are what make the "pinging" or "knocking" noise people know detonation to be. So the root of the myth of high octane for more power is the fact that high powered cars employed engines that needed the octane to function, not that there was more power in the fuel. So what happens if you use too low of an octane fuel in a car? In newer cars, not much, but it isn't typically considered safe/good to do. The computers in modern cars know how to adjust the engine programming to use the lower octane fuel safely. You will likely lose some MPG efficiency as well as some horsepower but the odds of damage are somewhat controlled. However, some cars are not well suited to this, and the older you get the more and more dangerous this becomes. If you have a particularly high strung vehicle from a couple decades ago you can easily destroy the engine on a hot day with one bad tank of gas. So as always, follow your owners manual!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thin is in...

Automotive Tip of the Week: Here is a short version of one topic there. The numbers on the oil like 5W30 represent at "room temperature" how thick of an oil it flows like (5) and at operating temp how thick of an oil it flows like at that temp (30). So at low temps it flows like a nice thin 5 oil, and at operating temp it flows like a 30 weight oil. What is a bit counterintuitive, but has to do with how oil behaves at different temperatures, is that even though it is flowing like a heavier 30 oil, at those temps it is actually thinner than if it was a 5 oil at ambient temps. In the end none of this means much to you for your car and matters more for the engineers as long as you follow it. So why do I bring this up? Winter and synthetic oil. Synthetic oil has a bunch of neat properties but we'll talk about just one. Traditional 5W30 oil is usually made from 5 weight oil and then has additives put in it to make it "thicken" (as I just said that is actually not necessarily true) as it heats up so it behaves like a 30 weight oil at temp. Synthetic on the other hand usually goes the other way. It is made from a 30weight stock and then the additives and properties of it allow for it to flow in ways a conventional oil can not at lower temps. What this means is that the bottom number on your oil cap can be considered meaningless when you use synthetic oil. So a car that requests 10W30 (like my BMW) you can put in 0W30 and get the same/better protection as running the recommended oil. So why does this matter? Cold Start. When the engine is cold the oil doesn't flow very well and the most wear occurs. It is also when your starter has to work the hardest to fight the tension the oil creates. By using an oil like 0W30 in your car you get faster turn over, less stress on your starter and battery, and oil flow (not pressure! pressure is meaningless at low temps) is better. So your car will start and run better in cold weather, and you'll get better gas mileage if you drive short distances. Don't believe me? Or are unsure about this whole ignoring the oil cap and manual thing if you are using synthetic? Look at the bottles. Bottles like Mobil1 will say right on it "certified for use in 5W30" on a bottle that is 0W30 and they often market/label it as "green formula" or "better mileage formula" when it is just normal old 0W30. you can learn a lot more on this at if you want...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Safety First!

Automotive Tip of the Week: Winter Kit. With Kirstin and I each having had to use at least one thing out of these kits during a winter I certainly recommend making one. A lot of times it isn't even necessarily for you, but for another driver that may have issues etc. There are lots of levels you can go to, but here is a bare minimum set of items I would try to have. Put all this in a box, spare backpack, or some other simple means of storing it so that if you need extra trunk space you can throw it in the passenger cabin easily. Things you should have: Collapsible shovel, ice scraper, lock/seam de-icer, jumper cables, hand and toe warmers, extra gloves, hat, and scarf, and a tow strap. Most are self explanatory, but I'll hit on 3 of them quickly. The collapsible shovel is great for digging out if you get stuck, helping someone else dig out, or even clearing off that 18" snow pile that gets on the car. Well worth having. The lock/seam de-icer is simple, the fluid in it is intended for freeing a frozen lock or door handle, but it also works good to use as a "torch" to free up your door. Ever had it get covered in ice and freeze to the point you can't get it open? The de-icer will let you free up the seals along the door seam and get in the car. Lastly the tow strap is self explanatory too, but a lot of people don't have one so there is no easy way for a good Samaritan to tug your car out rather than having to wait for a tow truck. They are really cheap at places like Harbor Freight, and they come in handy for emergency tie-down situations too.