Car Care
When ABS brakes are pressed hard (for instance, in the case of a panic stop), the ABS system pumps the brakes up to 30 times per second. ABS helps the driver maintain control and stop the car in a straight line rather than spinning out of control. ABS does NOT stop the car faster. It enables the driver to stop the car in a much more controlled fashion. So when you slam on the brakes, the car will go in the direction you turn the wheel while braking. ABS also helps stop the car while driving in adverse weather conditions, such as ice, snow, and rain. When using the ABS system, it is important to apply steady, even pressure to the brake pedal and let the system take over from there.
How can you find out if there are any hidden problems in a vehicle's past? There was a time when you couldn't. However, today a company called Carfax, located in Fairfax, Va., provides a unique service. Carfax compiles information from insurance companies, DMVs (Divisions of Motor Vehicles), state and provincial agencies, and vehicle auctions (both used and salvage) in the United States and Canada. This huge database has close to one billion vehicle records in it. To obtain a Carfax report on a vehicle, call 1-800-FIND-VIN or access the Carfax Web site at:
All Carfax needs is the VIN (vehicle identification number), and it will give you a detailed history of the car. The cost for a report over the phone is $29.50; the cost on the Internet is $19.50. That's a small price to pay for confidence and peace of mind when buying that used car you've chosen.


Effective automotive computer diagnostics and repair demand state-of-the-art equipment, cutting-edge training, and up-to-date information. You can't fix the cars of the 90s with 1968 equipment. Necessary equipment for the diagnostician includes:
  • Oscilloscopes and lab scopes to read wave patterns emitted by sensors
  • DVOM (Digital Volt-Ohm Meters) to measure electricity in minute amounts
  • Sensor stimulators, which actuate sensors to make sure they are functioning properly
  • Diagnostic computers to read the data streams of the car's performance system
Is your repair facility staying on top of a rapidly changing industry?


Question: My two cars have the same problem: I can't seem to get the windshield cleaned of a greasy film. This condition makes it extremely difficult to see with the wipers in operation on rainy days. Instead of cleaning the windshield, the wipers just smear the water around, making it virtually impossible to see. I have tried washing the windshield, but nothing removes the film. Do you have any suggestions on how to solve this problem?
Answer: This is a common problem that is created when oils from the road are kicked up onto the windshield from other cars when it rains. This forms a film much like an oil slick, prohibiting the wipers from doing their job. A simple fix for this condition is to wash the windshield with a solution of Bon Ami cleanser and water, and replace the wiper blades. The cleanser solution will cut the oil film. By replacing the wiper blades, you remove the oil-contaminated rubber of the old blades, which hold oil like a sponge.


The accumulator/dryer is a component in a car's air conditioning system. This component serves two purposes:
  • It removes moisture from the refrigerant chemical.
  • It provides a storehouse where the refrigerant chemical can accumulate until it is needed to do its job--cool you off!


Automotive computers generate signals called data streams. These streams of data flow through the operating system of your car at all times, constantly adjusting and readjusting the engine. Diagnostic computers that are interfaced with the car's computer read the data streams flowing through the system. When a problem with your computer-controlled car crops up, it shows up either in the form of a drivability problem or a lit check-engine light on the dashboard (more about this light in a future tip).


A lit check engine light on your car's dashboard could be due to a bad sensor, a malfunctioning electrical or mechanical component, or damaged wiring and plugs. The system is designed to generate a trouble code when it "sees" a problem in the system. This code is supposed to (sometimes it doesn't) lodge in the onboard computer's memory for retrieval at a later date, aiding in diagnostics.


Two questions about car suspensions crop up frequently: Do all cars have shocks and struts? And, what is the difference between shocks and struts?
First, not all vehicles have both shocks and struts. Some vehicles have only struts; others have only shocks. Shocks are just one part of the overall suspension assembly; a strut is a complete suspension assembly that replaces the upper ball joint, shock, and spring with one unit.


How do you know if your car needs new shocks and/or struts? Here are the signs to look for:
  • Vehicle rolls or sways on turns
  • Front end dives when braking
  • Rear end squats when accelerating
  • Vehicle bounces or slides sideways on a winding, rough road
  • Vehicle "bottoms out" (with a thump) on bumps
In addition, worn shocks and/or struts can accelerate the wear of your tires and suspension parts, such as the ball joints, steering linkage, and springs.


An air bag is a safety restraint device that deploys when it senses there has been severe deceleration of the vehicle. Air bags are usually located in the steering wheel and in the passenger-side dash pad. When used in conjunction with seat belts, these devices are very effective in saving lives in automobile accidents. VERY IMPORTANT: It is strongly advised that passengers maintain a distance of at least 12 inches from the air bag at all times because of the aggressive deployment rate. Being closer than 12 inches can result in injury from the air bag itself!


A timing belt is the "Rodney Dangerfield" of all the belts in your car--it gets no respect! Many of today's cars are equipped with a timing belt in place of the old timing chain. The function of this small, yet critical, member is to keep your engine mechanically "in time." It's a wise idea to have this belt checked every 25,000 miles. If it snaps, major engine damage can occur.


Question: I just paid $230 to have my mechanic figure out that there were holes and a "radiator stop-leak" (which he said had turned into an oatmealish substance) in the radiator of my recently purchased 1989 Toyota Tercel. When I took the car to the shop, it was running extremely hot. Steam was billowing out from under the hood, and the reserve tank was bubbling. The mechanic replaced the radiator, but the car was still running hot. I took the car back, and the mechanic suggested that I have the thermostat removed. He said that the car didn't need it. He then suggested that I have the cooling system flushed as well. I am a poor college student who really can't afford to let someone spend my money guessing what's wrong with my car! What do you suggest?
Answer: First of all, don't go back to this shop! Any shop that tells you that the car doesn't need a thermostat has no clue as to what's going on with today's cars! Microprocessors and sensors depend on a certain set of parameters from the manufacturer. Included in this mix is the engine temperature. Remove the thermostat, and you throw the computer system into a tizzy!
Find a shop that has trained technicians with up-to-date diagnostic equipment. Have the shop perform a cooling system pressure test. This test will reveal if there are any external leaks. If no leaks are found, then the shop should perform a cylinder leak down test, during which each cylinder is pressurized with compressed air. The technician traces where the pressure loss is taking place. The shop might even have to perform a compression test to determine if you have a blown cylinder head gasket. The initial cooling system pressure test shouldn't cost more than $50. Any further diagnosis will be charged at the shop's hourly rate. If the technicians find that you have major engine damage, I would suggest that you have an overall evaluation of the vehicle to see if it's worth repairing. I wish you success.


Question: A question came up recently in a conversation among some of us who like to keep our cars to a ripe old age. I could think of no one better than you to field it! I heard that Honda oil filters are designed with a check valve inside, which keeps oil up in the engine when it is not running, rather than allowing all of the oil to drain into the pan. Some suggest that this is one of the secrets to the relatively long life of Honda engines: they start under higher oil pressure because the oil is already up in the engine when it begins to turn. Is it true that all Honda oil filters have this feature?
Answer: You are correct. Honda oil filters have a check valve designed into them to prevent dry start-up of the engine. This feature ensures that oil pressure is there "right now" during cold start, because the oil is already up in the engine and not drained down into the oil pan. This is a really great idea, when you consider that without this feature, the engine is starting virtually dry of oil.


In a four-stroke internal combustion engine (intake, compression, power, exhaust), the top half of the engine must be synchronized with the bottom half to complete the four-stroke cycle. The timing belt achieves this by meshing with cogs connected to the crankshaft and camshaft. The driving of these components in perfect time achieves the four-stroke cycle, producing power in your engine.


The master cylinder, a component of the brake system, serves two purposes. First, it is the reservoir for the brake fluid in your car's braking system. Second, it is the pump connected to the brake pedal--when the pedal is depressed, it creates the hydraulic pressure necessary to apply the brakes.


Question: I have a 1988 Dodge Dakota four-cylinder with a standard transmission. The starter makes a lot of noise (sometimes it just whines). I replaced it with a starter from a junkyard, and it worked fine for a few weeks. Then it started doing the same thing again. Now, whenever the starter whines, I take hold of the fan belt, turn it about a half inch, and the engine starts up. What's going on here? Any help would be appreciated. --Rick
Answer: It's really quite simple. You have a bad flywheel--it's missing teeth. That's why turning the engine by hand starts it. What's happening? When you turn it by hand, a good set of teeth comes up and meshes with the starter; consequently, the engine cranks. It's time to drop the transmission and replace the flywheel. Success to you!


When preparing your vehicle for winter, make sure all maintenance is current, including oil and filter change, transmission service, and cooling system service. Pay close attention to the transmission and oil filters. Have them changed at the manufacturer's suggested intervals! Engine and transmission oils get very heavy when outside temperatures drop. Low temperatures cause oil to flow more slowly. Add into the equation a clogged filter due to dirt, and you've got substantial loss of oil flow, which makes for heat and friction buildup, and ultimately premature failure of the transmission and engine.


The timing belt is made out of rubber and is subject to wear and tear due to mechanical and environmental conditions. The environment of the engine is quite hostile. Factors that create a perilous path for the timing belt include under-hood temperatures in excess of 500 degrees; the presence of corrosive fluids such as oil, hydraulic fluids, and battery acid; and mechanical hazards in the form of metal and hard plastics. In a future tip, we'll take a look at the signs of wear.


The bottom line with timing belt-equipped cars is to have the timing belt checked every 25,000 miles and replaced every 50,000 miles. Telltale signs of a failing belt are cracks, cuts, worn or broken teeth, and deterioration from wear and exposure to harmful fluids and/or high temperatures. A worn timing belt can have a negative effect on engine performance. If the belt's teeth are gone, the valve timing can be affected either in excessive advancement or retardation, resulting in poor engine performance. The average cost of timing belt replacement is $200; the average cost of engine replacement is $2000. Your choice, A or B.


Make sure that the performance system of your vehicle is operating up to par before winter arrives. Winter weather is very taxing on the components of this system. For instance, two requirements must be met for your car to start in cold weather:
  • Rich fuel mixture
  • Hot spark at the spark plugs
The extreme temperatures of winter can cause the failure of any weak components in the fuel delivery or ignition system. And, of course, without the efficient operation of these systems, the car will either not start or will run poorly. Have a computer scan done on the drivability system. During this procedure, your technician will interface a hand-held computer with the car's computer in an effort to check for any trouble codes logged in the car's computer memory. These trouble codes tell the technician how the fuel delivery and ignition systems are operating. Have anything questionable repaired.


Question: I have a 1988 Honda Accord LX that will not start. The problem began after an accident I had in January. The left front fender, bumper and headlight, and left rear fender, bumper and lights were damaged in the accident (the bulbs still work). Immediately following the accident, I was able to drive this car from Atlanta, GA, where the accident occurred, to Norfolk, VA, where I live. I had a body shop in my hometown fix the car. Now the car will start only when it's jumped, and then it goes dead a short time later. I have had both the battery and the alternator checked out, and they are both fine. What could the problem be? I don't want to continue to take the car to a shop and have the shop fix something that is not broken. --Camille
Answer: The fact that your battery will not stay charged is evidence that something is broken! Have an electrical draw test done to determine where the electrical malady exists. My guess is that you either have a broken wire or plug in the electrical system. One other thing: Honda protects its charging systems with a circuit breaker either in the form of a fuse or a relay. Have the shop check the electrical component locator to find this circuit breaker. The fact that you had the car repaired by a collision repair facility is good because the facility might be able to submit the cost of the repair to the insurance company in the form of an insurance supplement claim. This means it would be covered by insurance. Of course, the shop must be able to prove that the source of the problem is due to the collision damage. I wish you success.


The distributor is the part of the ignition system (in older systems) that "distributes" the spark to each spark plug in a timed sequence to ignite the air-fuel mixture in each cylinder of the engine, creating power. Today's ignition systems are distributor-less and use sophisticated computers, coil packs, and trigger sensors to accomplish the task.


Have a cooling system checkup before the cold weather strikes. This includes a protection check (-30 degrees is ideal), a pressure test for leaks, and an inspection of the radiator and all hose connections. Be sure to repair or replace these components as necessary.


Regular battery and charging system checks are a must! They will reveal any potential problems, allowing you to head them off at the pass. Every six months is sufficient. Why every six months? Because with changing operational and environmental conditions, components in this system wear out. During this test, your technician should check the battery condition, connections, and alternator output, and conduct an electrical draw test. Finally, a good inspection of the alternator drive belt puts the cherry on top!


When preparing your vehicle for winter, have the brakes, steering, drivetrain, and suspension inspected and repair anything questionable. Replace any torn protective rubber boots, since torn boots will allow road salt, dirt, and grit to contaminate the component. This causes loss of lubrication, which in turn causes high friction and ultimately failure of the component.


The brake caliper is the part of a disc brake system that acts like a giant "C" clamp. It clamps down on the disc (which is connected to the wheels) to stop your car when you step on the brake. The caliper contains a large piston that moves in and clamps down on the brake pads (when hydraulic pressure is applied from depressing the brake pedal). The brake pads ride on the discs, ultimately slowing and eventually stopping the car.


First scheduled tune-up, 100,000 miles! This seems to be the mantra of car makers today: maintenance-free cars! Nothing could be further from the truth. In a laboratory, under perfect test conditions, with no dirt or extreme temperatures, I imagine it could be possible to log 100,000 miles on spark plugs and ignition components. But we're talking real world here.
Engines are subject to dirt, extreme temperatures, and component failure. Dirt causes air filter elements to clog up, which leads to increasing fuel consumption, excessive carbon buildup, and fouled spark plugs. Extreme cold causes the computer to adjust the fuel delivery system to a very rich condition, once again creating excessive carbon buildup. TPS (Throttle Position Sensor), temperature, and MAP (Manifold Absolute Pressure) sensors go bad, causing a domino effect that results in the failure of other components in the system. Have a checkup of the performance system done every 25,000 miles. This will save you money and downtime of the car.


Question: I have a 1999 Ford Explorer V6 with a 4.10 gear ratio. I elected the 4.10 ratio for towing purposes. While running in overdrive at 70 mph, I'm running 2500 rpm. Out of overdrive at 70 mph, I'm running 3500 to 3600 rpm. I've always been advised to tow out of overdrive, and I understand why. However, I'm concerned with the 3600 rpm range while traveling a long distance.
I'm pulling a race boat that is close to 2,500 pounds. I often run trips in the 500- to 600-mile range (one way) to the race site. I do run in overdrive IF the transmission doesn't jump in and out of gear. If it does, I drop out of overdrive and slow down (and face the chance of getting run over while driving at 60 mph!). Will it strain my engine if it runs long distances at 3600 rpm? Do I face the choice of saving the engine or the transmission? --Joe
Answer: Running at 3600 rpm (under load, may I add) is a bit high to run an engine for extended periods of time. I don't like it! Furthermore, I don't like what it will do to the transmission (especially if the vehicle did not come with a towing package). I don't think you will have to make a choice which unit will go (the engine or the transmission). Both of them probably will go on their own accord!
Unfortunately, many people face this dilemma when they buy a truck. They figure the truck will handle the load, so they don't go for the towing package. Then the truck gives out prematurely and they wonder why. Towing packages consist of heavy duty gearing setups in the transmission, heavier differentials, larger cooling systems for the extra cooling required, heavier suspensions to handle the weight, an additional transmission oil cooler, and in some cases, larger engines to handle the anticipated load. If you don't have a towing package, the only suggestion I can make at this point is to possibly go to a taller set of tires. Consult your dealer before making this move. I wish you success. AUTOMOTIVE TERM: SHOCK ABSORBER The shock absorber, a component of the suspension system, acts as the damper of the car's springs. Were it not for the shock absorber in your car's suspension, your car would bounce its merry way down the freeway, making you feel like a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. The shocks also aid in keeping the tires down on the road, counteracting the action created not only by the springs, but by bumps in the road. This function keeps tire wear to a minimum. AUTOMOTIVE TERM: THERMOSTAT A thermostat provides a controlled restriction in the cooling system, which by design slows the flow of coolant. This achieves two things: 1. It increases the engine temperature to the manufacturer's specifications, delivering heat to the car's interior as well as delivering maximum engine performance and efficiency. 2. It slows the coolant flow so it stays in the radiator long enough to be cooled off by the outside air rushing over the radiator. AVOIDING CAR THEFT: MAKE IT HARD TO TOW Many car thieves use tow trucks to steal vehicles. Park your vehicle with wheels turned toward the curb; this maneuver makes your car tough to tow away. You should also turn your wheels to the side in driveways and parking lots so the vehicle can only be towed from the front. If your vehicle is rear-wheel drive, back into your driveway. Rear wheels lock on four-wheel drive vehicles, making them difficult to tow. Front-wheel drive vehicles should be parked front end first. Always use your emergency brake when parked. In addition to ensuring safety, using the emergency brake makes your car harder to tow. AVOIDING CAR THEFT: THE BASICS Want to guard against car theft? Here are a few basic things you should do: - Lock your car. Approximately 50 percent of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked. - Take your keys. Nearly 13 percent of all vehicles stolen had the keys in them. - Never hide a second set of keys in your car. Thieves know all the hiding places! - Park in well-lit areas. More than half of all vehicle thefts occur at night. FULL-TIME FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE Full-time four-wheel drive is the most commonly used system on the market. Full-time 4WD offers a two-wheel drive mode for summertime driving or dry road conditions, and an automatic 4WD mode for changing road conditions. You also have 4WD high and 4WD low modes for when the going really gets tough. The automatic 4WD mode makes this system convenient for many drivers. In addition to the transmission and transfer gearbox, a center differential is used to couple the front and rear wheels. The differential allows the front and rear wheels to turn at different speeds as needed, letting the full-time 4WD work automatically. Very simply, when engaged in automatic 4WD on a dry, straight road, the system operates in two-wheel drive. When the wheels start to spin due to slippery road conditions, the system reacts to wheel spin by progressively locking the front and rear wheels together to optimize traction. This system is limited in that it requires the driver to determine when to engage it. PART-TIME FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE Part-time four-wheel drive is the most basic of all four-wheel drive systems. It gives the driver the ability to choose when to drive in two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. This is all good and well, until you realize that you really can't engage the 4WD on pavement unless it's very, very slippery. That's because, with this system, when you engage 4WD you lock the front and rear wheels together through the transmission and transfer gearbox. This is great for straight-ahead traction on very slippery surfaces. However, on dry pavement, it makes for odd driving, cornering, and handling characteristics. Also, you can harm the drivetrain components by driving in 4WD for extended periods of time while on dry pavement. So why choose this type of system? Three reasons: *It's less costly to build and therefore to buy *It's often very durable under heavy stress *When you don't need 4WD, you can disengage it PERMANENT FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE Permanent 4WD is similar to full-time 4WD (which we discussed in a previous tip), but it has no two-wheel drive mode. The vehicle is always in 4WD, so you don't have to determine whether conditions are right to engage it. We still have the transmission, transfer gearbox, and center differential coupling the front and rear wheels. The only difference is that torque (or power) is constantly being applied to all the wheels, giving maximum traction in all weather and road conditions. Current systems have high and low modes for when the going gets tough. Most importantly, the system does the thinking for you: It automatically applies as much lockup (to all the wheels) as necessary for maximum traction. GRINDING ALUMINUM WHEELS Question: I am told that aluminum wheels need to be ground every year or so to remove oxidation or else tire leaks can develop. Can you comment on this? If I had known this, I might not have purchased aluminum wheels. --Sam Answer: Every year is a bit excessive. However, I would recommend having them checked every three years and cleaned as necessary. A good way to slow the oxidation process almost to a halt is to use tire glue when you mount the tires. The glue forms a shield and decreases exposure to moisture, slowing down the oxidation process. I wish you success. SPARE THE CLUTCH, RUIN THE TRANSMISSION? Question: My friend has a '95 Dodge Neon with a five-speed manual transmission. Her boss told her she doesn't need to use the clutch to shift gears. She has found it shifts just fine without the clutch. She believes that the clutch will last longer if she doesn't use it. I tried to tell her it was hard on the transmission, but I couldn't explain why (in a convincing manner). Could you help? It would be greatly appreciated. --Jim Answer: Tell your friend that if she continues shifting this way, she will save her clutch. However, by the same token, she will wear out the shifter forks and the synchronizer rings in her transmission. So it's her choice--replace the clutch for $500 or the transmission for $1,500. I personally would choose the clutch. AUTOMOTIVE TERM: ALTERNATOR The alternator converts the 12-volt DC (direct current) from the battery into AC (alternating current) at the rate of 13.8 to 14.2 volts, which is necessary to operate your car's performance and electrical systems. By its nature, alternating current is generated at a higher rate and is more stable (critical to automotive application). AUTOMOTIVE TERM: AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
Automatic transmission refers to a transmission in which the gears are shifted automatically using hydraulics and electricity. A series of gears are applied as the need arises. This need is determined by vehicle weight, load, and the demand placed upon the performance system. Automatic transmissions come in 3, 4, and 5 speeds. With 4- and 5-speed transmissions, the highest gear is for overdrive. Overdrive reduces engine demand and provides better gas mileage while you're driving on the highway. AUTOMOTIVE TERM: CHASSIS Once upon a time, the chassis was simply defined as the frame of the car, which provided the strength and served as the foundation of the vehicle. The body, engine, drivetrain components, and suspension were attached to it. Today, few vehicles other than trucks have separate frames. The chassis structure is incorporated into the body components. This type of construction is known as uni-body construction. AVOIDING CAR THEFT: EXTRA SECURITY If you have a garage, use it. Parking your vehicle inside protects it from thieves as well as from Mother Nature. When parked in a garage, lock the garage door as well as your vehicle. By locking both the garage and vehicle doors, you greatly improve the chances of deterring a thief. Never leave the registration or title in your car. A car thief will use these to sell your stolen car. File the title at your home or office, and carry your registration in your purse or wallet. Disable your vehicle when leaving it unattended for an extended period. Remove the electronic ignition fuse, coil wire, rotor distributor, or otherwise disable your vehicle anytime thieves may have prolonged access to it. AVOIDING CAR THEFT: TECHNIQUES WORTH THE TROUBLE Replace T-shaped door locks with straight locks. Some vehicle doors have lock assemblies at window level that flare out in a knob or "T" shape. A thief can use various tools to gain access inside the vehicle in order to grab and pull the lock. Straight locks prevent this. Etch your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on car windows and major parts. This makes tracing your stolen car or parts easier. But do NOT use an engraving tool on glass windows. Engrave expensive accessories with a personal identification number. This makes it easier for police to identify your stolen car stereo, cellular phone, etc., and harder for thieves to dispose of them. Drop business cards, address labels, or other identification inside vehicle doors. Car thieves usually alter VINs. By marking your vehicle as much as possible, you assist police in identifying your car. CALIPER SLIDES Question: I have a 1996 Olds Cutlass Supreme that is still under warranty. The rear brakes are shot-calipers (rotors, etc., need replacement). I found two Tech Service Bulletin numbers but cannot find the actual bulletins. Does anyone know about the problems and what the bulletins say? I want to be knowledgeable when I go for the repairs, and I want to know what is covered and what is not. Any help would be appreciated. --Bill Answer: Bill, unfortunately, there are no recalls on this, since it is considered an environmental problem. Very simply, rust forms on the caliper slides, causing them to seize and thus causing the pads and rotors to wear out. The only remedy is to have the caliper slides cleaned and lubricated every six months and make sure you use the emergency brake. This ensures that the calipers stay free. CARDBOARD WON'T IMPROVE VAN'S HEATING Question: I have a 1991 Chevy Astrovan. What are the advantages and disadvantages of putting a piece of cardboard in front of my radiator for improved heat? --D. Smith Answer: By reducing the air flow, you will do two things. First, you'll throw off the air flow sensor for the injection system, which will send the computer into a tizzy trying to compensate for the reduced air flow it sees. In addition, you will throw the engine temperature off, which will also screw up the computer. My advice is to replace the thermostat and have the heating system checked out. ---------------------------------------------- Over the past 27 years, Tom Torbjornsen has been an automotive technician, an auto service manager, the manager of a tire and auto service center, and the owner of an automotive tool and equipment business. Immersed in the crossfire between the automotive industry and the motoring public for years, Tom saw a need for a way to educate the consumer; so in 1991 he decided to start a radio program: The Car Show With Tom Torbjornsen. You can hear the show on the Web at by clicking on the Listen To The Show icon. You can send e-mail to Tom at, although he cannot personally reply to all submissions. SHOPPING FOR REPAIR FACILITIES: CERTIFICATIONS When considering a repair facility, find out if the technicians have certification from ASE and Delco, and from manufacturers such as General Motors, Ford, or Chrysler. Do they have after-market training from such leaders as NAPA, Moog, TRW, or Bendix? How about continued education from a technical college? These shingles indicate that the technicians are trained in the newest technology and know how to fix your car. Don't entrust your $20,000 automobile to incompetent mechanics just because they offered you a lower price! Remember that you're looking at the long-term cost. Don't sell yourself short for a few bucks. SHOPPING FOR REPAIR FACILITIES: SPECIALISTS Start shopping for a repair facility before you need one. You'll make better decisions when you're not under pressure. What kind of repair do you need? Will it require a specialist or can a general repair facility handle the job? Remember that specialists cost more money initially because they know how to pinpoint and repair problems faster than a general repairman, but they will save you money in the long run because there's less guessing--they know their area! You usually find specialists in these areas: transmission and drivetrain, computer and electrical, engine repair, and collision repair. Remember, a job done right the first time means less downtime, no comebacks, and no guesswork replacing part after part, hoping to fix the car. This can be time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive, to say the least! SHOPPING FOR REPAIR FACILITIES: THE BACKGROUND CHECK When looking for a good repair facility, ask around town about the facility you are considering. Good "word of mouth" is a positive sign. Here are some questions to ask: - Does the facility fix it right the first time, or do you find yourself going back for the same problem repeatedly? - Does the facility call you with an estimate before the work is done, and is the estimate right every time? If not, keep looking. - What are the warranties on parts and labor? Membership in such associations as the Better Business Bureau, the American Automobile Association, ICAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair), NAPA AutoCare, and ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) indicates that the facility owner cares about the quality of work, is proud of the automotive industry, and operates by a code of ethics. STARTING PROBLEMS Question: I have an interesting question. I own a 1998 Ford Ranger 5-speed manual pickup, with four-wheel drive and 19,000 miles on it. Last Friday, when I went to start my truck, it didn't even turn over--no clicking, nothing. The battery and the connections are all OK. Here's where it gets interesting: My boyfriend didn't want me to leave that night. So, I'm just wondering--is there anything he could have done to prevent my car from starting? Also, all the fuses were in the fuse holder--none were blown. Miraculously, the car started right up Monday morning when I had to go to work. Is there some sort of neutral safety switch/fuse that he could have disconnected? He claims to know nothing about this, but I'm having serious doubts! --Kathy Answer: Kathy, I will try to take up the mantle of either Dr. Ruth or Dr. Laura, whichever is apropos. On second thought, let's not go there! Sounds to me like your truck has either an intermittent problem in the ignition switch, starter, or starter solenoid if it is so equipped. Of course, there's always the possibility of poor connections in the wiring harnesses, as well as poor or dirty battery connections. I suppose that your boyfriend could have disconnected the ignition switch or solenoid--but that's something you'll have to squeeze out of him. I wish you success. TOP TEN STOLEN VEHICLES IN 1998 Auto thieves target the most popular vehicles because they can make the most money off their stolen parts. Though popular vehicles vary by city, the nation's top ten stolen vehicles in 1998 were: 1. Honda Accord 2. Toyota Camry 3. Chevrolet full-size Pickup (C/K) 4. Jeep SUV (Cherokee/Grand Cherokee) 5. Honda Civic 6. Oldsmobile Cutlass 7. Ford full-size Pickup (F-Series) 8. Ford Mustang 9. Dodge Caravan 10. Toyota Corolla A vehicle is stolen every 23 seconds in the United States. These automobiles are then stripped and used for parts, vandalized, or destroyed. Almost one-third are never recovered. Don't be a statistic--prepare yourself. ALIGNMENT AND STRUTS Question: I have a 1991 Plymouth Acclaim with 87,500 miles on it. There is no problem with the front end, such as uneven tire wear or anything else. I am thinking of having the wheels aligned, and I am wondering if the front struts should be replaced as a matter of course. I plan on keeping the car "forever." What do you think? Also, is a four-wheel alignment, rather than a two-wheel alignment, worth it? --Pat Answer: Have a bounce test and a leak test done. The bounce test involves rocking the car until it is bouncing pretty good, then stepping back and observing it. The car should bounce a half time, then settle. If it keeps going, the struts are bad. The leak test is simply checking the strut body for evidence of oil leakage. If it's leaking, replace it. Get a four-wheel alignment--it's worth it. You will save tire wear on all four tires. Good luck! SHOPPING FOR REPAIR FACILITIES: THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY When investigating the quality of a repair facility, ask if the facility is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment such as hand-held computer scanners, digital volt-ohm meters, logic probes, and online computer systems such as CAS, Alldata, or Mitchell On Demand. These allow for accurate diagnosis and repairs on your car. You can't fix the cars of the 90's with 1968 technology and equipment. Equipment must be up to date! AUTOMOTIVE TERM: FUEL INJECTION Fuel injection is an electronic system that increases performance and fuel economy. This is achieved by monitoring engine conditions, then automatically adjusting the air/fuel mixture based on the engine's demand. Unlike a carburetor, which mixes fuel and air together before loading it into the cylinder intake port, fuel injection injects the air/fuel mixture directly into the cylinder, enabling more exacting control over the quantity used. It eliminates the need for a carburetor and the constant adjusting that goes with it. AUTOMOTIVE TERM--CATALYTIC CONVERTER The catalytic converter is an emissions control device that is part of your exhaust system. Its purpose is to reduce harmful tailpipe emissions caused by the engine. The catalytic converter lowers exhaust emissions by creating a catalysis (chemical reaction) within itself. Here's how it works: Hot exhaust gas flows through the converter, which is filled with sulfur. The sulfur heats up to cherry red, burning any unburned gas that might be in the exhaust flow. Ultimately, tailpipe emissions are reduced. CONCEPT CARS Recently, I spoke at length with a factory representative from DaimlerChrysler. I told him that concept cars were an enigma to me. Why waste technology, resources, brilliant minds, and precious time on a product that will probably not go to market? After talking with him, I felt as if I had just come down from "Automotive Guru Mountain" and all my sparkplugs had been fired! It was truly an eye-opening experience! Here's what he said: "Concept cars are designed with two purposes in mind. Number one, to test the serviceability of new automotive technology. Number two, to see the reaction of the public to new designs. This gives us direction for the development of new products. It tells us what consumers want. "Say, for instance, that people raved about a new speedometer design, or maybe they loved the sleek bodylines on a particular 'model' car. Perhaps a new color was a hit. These responses are taken into consideration in new product development, and these features may show up in a new model down the road. In recent years, the public demand is to bring the whole car to market, so that's what we do. The public must realize that they have the power to bring a concept to market. All they have to do is tell us." I don't know about you, but that excites the daylights out of me! REMOTE CAR STARTERS Question: What are your thoughts on remote car starters? I'm considering purchasing one for my husband, but I'm not sure if these starters could damage the car. Thanks!--Marie Answer: Marie, remote car starters are okay, providing: 1. They are properly installed by an expert, so that they can co-exist with the car's computer system. In addition, cars equipped with factory-installed security systems can be tricky when it comes to the electrical system. So, at the risk of being redundant, make sure you deal with a technician who knows what he or she is doing! 2. You properly maintain the car, making sure the oil changes are done every 3,000 miles. Why oil changes? Because without fresh oil in the engine, running the engine during cold-start and warm-up can damage it due to friction and wear. Viscosity breakdown reduces the oil's ability to lubricate, especially during cold starts! Keep fresh oil in the car and enjoy your remote starter without the concern of engine damage. Success to you! DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE--AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS Just like the oil in your car's engine, the transmission oil (or fluid as it is known) is subject to degradation from heat, friction, and dirt. The environment within an automatic transmission is hostile, to say the least. Fluid breakdown can cause premature failure of the transmission. Close to nine out of ten transmission failures are due to overheating and fluid contamination, according to ATRA (Automatic Transmission Rebuilder's Association). In addition, automatic transmissions require regular maintenance, according to the TRNI (Transmission Rebuilder's Network International). The rule of thumb: Replace the fluid and filter every 30,000 miles or once annually, whichever comes first. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE--COMPONENTS The drivetrain of your vehicle is defined as the components that are responsible for transferring power to the drive wheels. Maintenance operations should be performed on these components according to the manufacturer's specifications; your owner's manual outlines all the details. Failure to perform these scheduled maintenance procedures results in drivetrain component failure. Here are some examples of components that suffer from lack of drivetrain maintenance: *Transmissions (standard and automatic) *Differentials *Transfer cases *Driveshafts and half shafts *Wheel bearings on drive wheels I will discuss these areas in more detail in upcoming tips. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE--STANDARD TRANSMISSIONS Standard transmissions are not quite as touchy as automatic transmissions; however, it's a good idea to have them checked during every oil change. Standard transmissions use one of three lubricants: ATF (automatic transmission fluid), 30W motor oil, or 90W-gear lube. When checking the fluid, you are checking for the level, the presence of moisture in the transmission, or the presence of wear particles (either in the form of metal or friction material). A small amount of wear material is acceptable. However, excessive wear material can indicate a problem, as can a low level (indicating a leak). The presence of moisture in the transmission could indicate a faulty vent or a crack in the transmission's case. If the oil is not changed, excessive friction and heat buildup takes place, resulting in premature transmission failure. The maintenance (or fluid change) interval for transmissions that use ATF and 30W motor oil is every 50,000 miles. For 90W-gear lubes, the recommended interval is 80,000 miles. HOW TO BUY A USED CAR Question: I've found your advice to car owners very useful. I'm currently looking for a second-hand car. What are the most important things to check when getting a used car? I had a bad experience once. The A/C compressor of my first used car broke down after only three days. I would appreciate it very much if you would advise me. Thanks.--Josephine Answer: Josephine, go to my Web site at Click on the How To Buy A Car section, where you'll find choice articles on what to look for when buying a car. In addition, search the archive of Tom's Corner for the article on how to protect yourself when buying a used car. In short, you must have the vehicle checked by a TRUSTED automotive professional. I call this a pre-purchase inspection. The technician should follow a systematic procedure, which will reveal any existing or potential problems with the car BEFORE you buy it. I hope this helps. If you have more questions, please feel free to contact me at WASHING YOUR VEHICLE DURING WINTER SALTING CONDITIONS A 1992 Cornell University study shows that most rust action is the result of road salt, and it is 20 to 30 times greater in spring than in winter. The reason is rising temperatures, which, like humidity, trigger salt-caused oxidation. Cornell researchers warn you to keep your car out of heated garages during the winter, because heat increases salt corrosion. If you live in the Salt Belt, you should wash your car at least once every week during salt-use periods (even if your car is rust protected). What counts the most is washing the underside, especially under fender wells and other enclosed areas such as doors. Paint doesn't rust, but the metal behind it does. If you use a commercial car wash, ask if the facility uses fresh or recycled water. The Cornell team found that recycled water often contains significant amounts of road salt, which of course is sprayed all over your car, accelerating rust! Another reason to wash the underside weekly is because of the effects of salt corrosion on the electrical wiring and connections of your vehicle. If salt gets into the wiring via cracked insulation or a bad electrical plug, corrosion inhibits the electrical flow and causes a component or circuit to malfunction. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE--NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION MAINTENANCE In the past, it was impossible to drain all of the fluid out of an automatic transmission because factories did not design a way to drain the fluid out of the torque converter. Consequently, all you could drain was the fluid within the transmission's pan (about four quarts). Recently, a couple of fluid service companies (Wynns and Trans Tech come to mind) came up with a new technology for complete exchange of automatic transmission fluid. The procedure involves temporarily installing a machine on your car capable of performing what I call a "transmission fluid transfusion." Old fluid is pumped out, and at the same time new fluid is pumped in. In essence, a complete exchange occurs without anyone having to disassemble the transmission! I recommend having the filter replaced when you have this service performed. Why put clean fluid in the transmission and leave an old filter impregnated with dirt? This is a great alternative to changing just a portion of the fluid, mixing new with old and thus contaminating the new fluid and filter. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE--OTHER DRIVETRAIN COMPONENTS In addition to the transmission, vehicles have other components as part of their drivetrains. Below, I've classified the vehicles by types of drive systems; each class is followed by a list of the components that make up their respective drivetrains. *Four-wheel-drive vehicles--transfer case, locking hubs, driveshafts, and front and rear differentials (some have an additional center differential) *Front-wheel-drive vehicles--half shafts and wheel bearings *Rear-wheel-drive vehicles--driveshafts and differentials *All-wheel-drive vehicles--differentials (front, rear, and center) and driveshafts We'll discuss proper maintenance of these components in the next tip. AUTOMOTIVE TERM--SUSPENSION A vehicle's suspension system is made up of the components on which the vehicle rides, including shock absorbers, struts, springs (coil or leaf), sway bars, ball joints, control arms, and torsion bars. These parts work together to provide a smooth, comfortable ride, as well as good control and handling of the vehicle. These components take a beating on a daily basis and, therefore, wear out. This wear causes the alignment angles to go out of adjustment, which results in tire wear and poor handling. That's why it's a good practice to have alignment checks every 12,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. AUTOMOTIVE TERM--VALVE BODY The valve body is the brain of the transmission. Up-and-down shifting is controlled by the valve body through hydraulic pressure and electronic commands from the vehicle's performance system. The valve body directs the flow of transmission oil to where it is needed in order for the transmission to perform a function (for example, the application of "passing gear"). The environment within which the valve body operates must be sterile. Varnish buildup and wear material can clog the valve body, causing erratic shift patterns of the transmission. This is why you should have the transmission fluid and filter changed every 30,000 miles. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE: COMPONENT MAINTENANCE--PART 1 OF 2 As we promised in our last tip, here's a roundup of proper maintenance for particular drivetrain components. Today, we'll consider the transfer case and locking hubs; in the next tip, the differential, half shafts and wheel bearings, and driveshafts. Transfer case--Have it checked during every oil change. Transfer cases use one of three lubricants: ATF (automatic transmission fluid), 30W motor oil, or 90W-gear lube. When checking the fluid, you are checking for the level, the presence of moisture, or the presence of wear particles (either in the form of metal or friction material). A small amount of wear material is acceptable. However, excessive wear material can indicate a problem, as can a low level (indicating a leak). The presence of moisture in the transmission could indicate a faulty vent or a crack in the transmission's case. If the oil is not changed, excessive friction and heat buildup take place, resulting in premature transfer case failure. The maintenance (or fluid change) interval for transfer cases that use ATF and 30W motor oil is every 50,000 miles. For 90W-gear lubes, the recommended interval is 80,000 miles. Locking hubs--Maintenance of these is extremely critical. Locking hubs come in two forms: automatic and manual. Regardless of which one you have, the hubs must be disassembled, cleaned, and lubricated every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Snow, ice, water, salt, and mud usually find their way into these mechanized units, rendering them useless and costing the owner big bucks! By keeping up the maintenance on the locking hubs, you minimize expense and downtime. DRIVETRAIN MAINTENANCE: COMPONENT MAINTENANCE--PART 2 OF 2 In our last tip, we looked at proper maintenance for the transfer case and locking hubs. Today, we conclude our look at drivetrain maintenance by examining the differential, half shafts and wheel bearings, and driveshaft. Differential--The differential is the drivetrain component that delivers power to the wheels. It doesn't require a whole lot of maintenance, except to check the fluid level during every oil change. The technician should check the gear lubricant for proper level, color, and consistency. A low lubricant level indicates a leak. A milky color indicates moisture in the lubricant (which can result in increased heat, friction, and ultimately failure of the unit). The presence of metal in the lubricant indicates mechanical wear. Check your owner's manual for the recommended fluid change intervals, as they vary from carmaker to carmaker. The axle bearing up-and-down and side-to-side play should be checked for excessive movement as well. Excessive play indicates a worn bearing that should be replaced. Half shafts and wheel bearings--Half shafts must be checked during every oil change for wear and dents. These shafts must be perfectly balanced and aligned in order to turn "true" while driving the front wheels. If they are out of balance due to dents or misalignment, there will be vibration in the drivetrain. This vibration causes additional wear on related components such as transmission out-driveshafts, transaxle components, seals, tail shafts, and CV (constant velocity) joints. In addition, keep an eye on the CV joint boots. When these crack or split, the combination of centrifugal force and drive force throws the lubricant out from the boot, exposing the CV joint to the weather and road elements, and accelerating wear. Have the wheel bearings checked for up-and-down as well as side-to-side play. Excessive play indicates a worn bearing that should be replaced. Driveshafts--Check the driveshaft for loose universal joints and misalignment. A shaft that is not turning "true" will wear out related components, such as transmission tail shaft bearings and differential pinion bearings. A check of up-and-down and side-to-side play of the axle bearings will bring to light any potential problems before they get to pocket-draining levels. TRACKING DOWN A BATTERY DRAIN Question: I have a 1987 Olds Delta 88. If I let it sit for one day, the battery is drained. I don't have many power features on this car, and everything seems to be working (rear defogger, lighter, radio). How can I go about searching for the source to this annoying problem?--Harry O Answer: Harry, you have to perform an electrical draw test. During this test, a digital volt ohmmeter is hooked up to the vehicle's battery and each electrical circuit is temporarily disconnected from the electrical system until the parasitic draw is identified by a drop in voltage. I would start by accessing a wiring diagram to determine which circuits are live with the key off. Then start eliminating them by disconnecting the fuses and electrical plugs that feed these circuits. The process is time-consuming and tedious. If you're experienced, go for it! If you're not, then hire a professional. Expect to pay at the shop's skilled labor rate on a time and material basis. I wish you success. AUTOMOTIVE TERM--TRACTION CONTROL Traction control is an option on many cars today. When engaged, it "senses" when a driving tire has no traction. The system will then compensate for this by slowing the spinning wheel through partial application of the brake. The system uses wheel speed sensors to monitor the wheel speed. When traction is lost, the sensor prompts the brake computer to partially apply the brake to the wheel that is spinning, allowing it to gain traction. I call it "antilock brakes in reverse." This system improves traction in areas where it may normally be hard to do so (for example, snow, gravel, and rain). Traction control has its origins in Formula One Racing, where optimum traction is a must for safety and maximum performance. AUTOMOTIVE TERM--VALVE A valve is a device that is controlled mechanically or electrically to meter or prevent the flow of a liquid or gas. Most internal combustion engines use intake and exhaust valves to control the flow of the air/fuel mixture into the combustion chamber and to exhaust burnt gases. Some engines have up to four valves per cylinder to increase efficiency and performance. Other automotive applications use valves as well. Cooling systems, transmissions, and air conditioning systems use valves where metering of a liquid or gas is necessary. COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR TECHNICIAN For effective auto repair, it's essential that you communicate, as specifically as possible, when and under what conditions a problem occurs. The technician will be able to diagnose and solve the problem more quickly, possibly saving you time, money, and aggravation. To help explain a problem to your technician, think about questions like the ones below before you visit the service shop: *Does the problem occur when the engine is hot or cold? *Is the problem worse when you turn right or left? *Does the problem seem to be affected by braking or accelerating? *Exactly when did the problem start? Did you notice it immediately after getting gas? Be as specific and detailed as possible. When you're with your doctor and he asks you, "What's the problem?" you tell him all the symptoms you are experiencing so that he can treat you. Vehicle diagnosis and repair is no different! Make sure you explain the problem to your service provider in your OWN words. Don't try to speak in technical terms, because you might communicate inaccurate information and actually interfere with the diagnostic process. Take either your service writer or the technician working on your car out for a road test. Show that person exactly what problem you want addressed. This takes the guessing out of the repair process and makes for more accurate diagnosis and repair. GETTING THE HIGHEST VALUE ON THE RESALE OF YOUR CAR--PART 1 OF 3 You're at the point where you're going to sell your car. You ask, "Tom, how do I get the highest value for my car?" This question resounds throughout the ranks of those selling their chariots. First, I want to advise you to get off the horse of emotion when ascribing a value to your car. What do I mean by this? Well, whether they want to admit it or not, many people develop emotional attachments to their vehicles and view them as more valuable than they really are. This is understandable. However, emotion has no place when it comes to pricing your vehicle. Once you adopt that frame of mind, get your hands on a pricing guide and price the car realistically, taking into consideration the year, make, model, condition, equipment, and mileage. Here are the most common concerns that buyers have when purchasing a used vehicle: *Service history *Exterior and interior condition *Mileage *Equipment We'll discuss these concerns in the next two tips. GETTING THE HIGHEST VALUE ON THE RESALE OF YOUR CAR--PART 2 OF 3 Here's a closer look at the most common concerns buyers have when purchasing used vehicles: Service history: The service history is much like the pedigree papers you receive when buying a purebred animal. The buyer is looking for consistency in maintenance practices. It's a good sign when the maintenance schedule established by the carmaker has been followed--for example, regular oil and filter changes, transmission service, tire rotations, and wheel alignments. All these things indicate that the car has been maintained. The buyer is also looking for any major repairs that have been done and why. If a repair such as half-shaft replacement keeps popping up frequently, this could indicate an underlying problem, such as a bad transmission or shifted or broken motor mounts. This could steer the would-be buyer away from the car. Bottom line: To get maximum resale value, keep the car maintained and in good working order, with supporting documentation. Exterior and interior condition: Common sense reigns here! If the car's interior looks like it ought to be condemned by the health department--french fries ground into the carpet, cigarette burns, stains of unknown origin (you get my drift), or the exterior would make it eligible to enter an ugly-car contest with the likelihood of winning--chances are you will not realize the value you could get if the car were clean! Research done by the Car Care Council, based on national auto auction statistics, indicates that an "extra-clean" vehicle may be worth one-and-a-half times as much as the same vehicle in "average" condition (mileage and equipment being the same)! So, you might want to spend the money for a professional detail if the car is dirty. GETTING THE HIGHEST VALUE ON THE RESALE OF YOUR CAR--PART 3 OF 3 Today, we'll look at a few more of the common concerns buyers have when purchasing used vehicles: Mileage: Today, with improved technology, more and more vehicles are going beyond the 100,000-mile mark. In days gone by, this was certain death to the resale value of a car. Not any more! There's a market for high-mileage cars out there! Many people can't afford new car prices, and they are willing to buy a high-mileage vehicle that has the creature comforts they want--providing the vehicle has a good service history. The average age of cars on the road today is 8 to 12 years. Even if a car is driven only 10,000 miles a year, that's a minimum of 80,000 miles in eight years! To get maximum value out of a high-mileage vehicle, you must have supporting documentation proving that the car was maintained throughout its life. Equipment: Frequently, equipment and options can make the sale, but they must be in good shape and working! What good is having air conditioning if it doesn't work? The car may have a good radio, but if the faceplate is broken, it's a real turn-off. The CD player may look good, but if it skips when playing CDs, it's worthless. If the rear defogger doesn't work and only half of the power seats and windows work, that can hurt the sale more than if the vehicle had no special features, because it implies poor maintenance. Want maximum resale value? Then make sure all the equipment is in good working order! In summary, a car that has been well maintained (with supporting documentation to prove it), is clean both inside and out, and has equipment that works will bring maximum resale value to the seller! INSTALLING ELIMINATOR PIPE WOULD VIOLATE THE LAW Question: I just purchased a 1984 Subaru station wagon and decided to take it to a muffler place because I thought it might need a new pipe or muffler. The mechanic told me that a "pipe" could be put in to replace the REAR catalytic converter. How many converters are there? Can I trust this?--Jan Answer: What the mechanic is referring to is an eliminator pipe designed to eliminate the catalytic converter. This is a violation of federal law, and you should run as far from that shop as possible! You are required by law to restore the vehicle's original exhaust configuration in order for the vehicle to pass state and federal emission laws. By removing the catalytic converter, you make the vehicle ineligible to pass the inspection and emission laws. KEYHOLE HEATERS Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard me right: keyhole heaters! A company called ICP Global Technologies has developed a heating lock de-icer/flashlight. Very simply, the device is a small heating element powered by two AAA batteries. Push a button and the heating element (the size of a key) telescopes, allowing you to insert it into the vehicle's keyhole, whereupon it defrosts the lock cylinder tumblers. If it's dark and you can't find the keyhole, turn on the built-in flashlight! This is a sure winner for those of you who live in the "Frozen Tundra"! THE MYSTERY OF TIRE SIZING As promised to one of our readers, we're presenting the basics of tire sizing--a mystery to many. Not any longer! Here's how to read a typical tire size. Let's look at a P18575R14 tire: *"P" means that the tire is rated as a passenger car tire. *"185" refers to the width (in millimeters) of the tire sidewall to sidewall. This measurement is accurate if the tire in question is inflated to its proper pressure and is mounted on the proper rim size (according to the manufacturer's specifications). *"75" refers to the height of the sidewall of the tire. This number is called the aspect ratio. It is a measurement of the percentage of the width of the tire. In this case, the width is 185 mm, so the height is 185 X 75%, or 138.75 mm. *"R" refers to the fact that the tire is a radial. *"14" refers to the rim size in inches. Light truck tires have the prefix LT in their size description. In selecting light truck tires, load range is the major concern. Make sure that the collective load-carrying capacity of all four tires far exceeds the GVW (gross vehicle weight) of the truck. Try to exceed the GVW by 2,000 pounds. This way, you'll be covered in the event you have to carry a heavy load.
Question: I have a putrid odor in the heater and air conditioning of my 1999 Ford Escort. We just bought it and whenever we turn it on, it smells. I have taken it back to the dealer twice, and it still smells. Is there anything I can do with it?--John Answer: Your question takes me back to my days at a Pontiac dealership. One fine day, a sweet old lady came into the dealership with her Pontiac Bonneville. It seemed that the car stunk (that's a mild word to describe how bad it was) whenever she turned on the heater. I was assigned the task of finding the source of the stench. I narrowed it down to an air duct in the dashboard, where I found the remains (decaying, maggots and all) of the family's pet gerbil, Charlie. Charlie had gotten loose in the car two weeks earlier (thanks to the grandkids) and found his way into the duct, where he got trapped and died. The moral to my story? Find the source of the stench--whether it be mold, mildew, moisture, decaying leaves, or animal matter--and remove it pronto! You might have to disassemble the ductwork to find the source. In the meantime, wear a gas mask!
People color-coordinate their clothes, makeup, and houses, but how about their vehicles? Well, a division of Michelin has come up with colored designer tires. That's right--you can now color-coordinate your tires to match your vehicle's paint finish! In days gone by, the black color of the tire was part of the rubber compound. Carbon Black was used, giving the tire its color and, more importantly, adding to the durability of the rubber compound. Now Michelin has come up with a compound that uses Silica, which is just as sturdy and, in its pure form, is a neutral color (cream-colored). Michelin found that it could add pigmentation without compromising the durability, and thus came up with a Tire of Color. At last November's Automotive After Market Industry Week in Las Vegas, I saw red, purple, yellow, orange, and turquoise tires. For information, visit
Case Logic has developed a cool line of new products. The company observed motorists with disorganized cars, then came up with a complete line of vehicle organizers. Tired of your grocery bags falling over, spilling the cans, bottles, and fruit that roll under the seats? Get the Grocery Organizer from Case Logic! The unit is like a foldable laundry bag made of tough nylon with compartments designed to hold grocery bags. How about this one: You go through the tollbooth, get your ticket, and place it on the seat. You come to the exit booth and can't find the blasted ticket (it fell under the seat)! Maybe you should try the Sun Visor Organizer. This product slips over the sun visor and has pockets and zippered compartments. I saw these products at the Automotive After Market Industry Week show last November in Las Vegas, and was really impressed that Case Logic has come up with a great line that addresses the unique challenges of today's lifestyles. You can find more information at the company's Web site:
The Internet is a great resource for automotive information. Huge automotive Web sites are popping up all over the Net. There's so much out there that it can be confusing, especially if you're a new user. I've spent numerous hours researching various sites, and I'll share a few of the sites I use as resources. Today, we'll focus on some general-interest sites. is the "Godzilla" of the automotive sites. You can download cybercasts (both video and audio) here. Topics include vehicle reviews, automotive news (domestic and international), racing news, commentaries by leading automotive experts, reports on trends in the automotive industry, and much more! is dedicated to educating women about automobiles. Whether you need answers to automotive questions or information about buying new or used cars, or auto racing, this site delivers! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's site has the most comprehensive researchable safety recall and TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) database I've ever seen. Because the site is menu-driven, it's quite easy to navigate.
The Internet is a great resource for automotive information. Huge automotive Web sites are popping up all over the Net. There's so much out there that it can be confusing, especially if you're a new user. I've spent numerous hours researching various sites, and I'll share a few of the sites I use as resources. Today, we'll focus on two special-interest sites. NASCAR racing online--what more can I say? If you're a fan, then you need to bookmark this site. Point standings and interest stories on your favorite drivers along with other stories of NASCAR interest pepper this site: is a site for all you four-wheelers! Vehicle reviews, an events calendar, and truck accessories make up the content of this site. was voted the number-one SUV and Truck site on the Web. Maybe you're thinking, "He didn't mention my vehicular interest." This concern is easy enough to address. You can do keyword searches that will point you to thousands of sites with your interest at heart. Go exploring!
Fram, a division of Allied Signal, has come up with a new air and oil filter line, which I learned about at last November's Automotive After Market Industry Week in Las Vegas. Called the Triad, Fram's new air filter was an accident, like many great inventions. It seems that the carpet pile division of Allied Signal designed a new carpet fiber that failed miserably as a carpet pile. Someone in the filter division got hold of the fiber and tried it as air filter media. The carpet fiber held three times as much dirt as conventional filter media without inhibiting airflow. Thus, the Triad air filter was born. The oil filters are called Extra Guard and Tough Guard, both with Sure Grip. Extra Guard has greater filtering capabilities and higher temperature resistance for passenger cars than does the Tough Guard, which is designed for the light truck segment. Sure Grip is a rough-textured, non-slip top that allows you to better grip the filter for tightening, even with oily hands. More information on the new filters is available through the company's Web site:
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of changing oil. Specifically, how often should it be changed? Car manufacturers suggest changing the oil and filter every 7,500 miles under normal conditions, and every 3,000 miles under severe conditions. I propose changing the oil and filter every 3,000 miles--period! You might ask, "Why waste the money?" Upon close inspection of your owner's manual, you'll discover that the manual defines "severe" and "normal" conditions. You'll be operating the vehicle under "severe service" conditions if you: *Make frequent short trips (less than five miles) *Make frequent short trips (less than ten miles) when temperatures are below freezing *Drive in stop-and-go traffic during hot weather *Drive at low speeds for long period of times (like in heavy traffic) *Drive at sustained high speeds during hot weather (interstate driving) *Drive in areas with heavy dust and gravel *Tow a trailer Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most of us drive in these conditions one way or another every day? Change your oil and filter every 3,000 miles. For those of you who use synthetic oil, change it every 6,000 miles; synthetic oil is less affected by heat and oxidation.
What conditions must your car's oil withstand? Let's discuss the environment inside the four-stroke internal combustion engine, where the oil does its job. For every complete revolution the crankshaft makes, a piston travels up and down one time. We'll call this a stroke. At 3800 RPM (rotations per minute), or roughly 65mph, each piston in a V8 engine strokes 475 times per minute, or approximately eight times per second. That's moving! The pistons and cylinders are made of metal, and the average combustion chamber temperature is 1,000-plus degrees at any given time. Would you say that these are intense conditions? I would. These environmental conditions include friction, intense heat, and corrosive contaminants. Makes working on a chain gang look easy, doesn't it? I'll describe these conditions in more detail in the next tip.
Here's a more detailed description of the environmental conditions inside your car's engine: Friction: The hundreds of moving metal parts rubbing against each other create intense heat and pressure. These factors would destroy the engine in a short period of time were it not for the oil circulating through it. The oil's job is to provide a lubricating film between the moving parts of the car's engine to decrease the friction and its negative effects. Intense heat: As we stated previously, the average combustion chamber temperature is 1,000-plus degrees. In water-cooled or air-cooled engines, water or air achieves approximately 60 percent of the cooling. The oil performs the rest of the cooling function. It circulates rapidly through the engine at a pressure of 50 to 70 pounds per square inch, carrying heat away from the crankshaft, camshaft, rods, pistons, and valve train. The oil is then circulated in the lower structure of the engine, where it is mixed with oil that has been cooled by air passing over the crankcase (or oil pan). Contaminants: Soot, ash, acid, and moisture--natural by-products of operation--build up in your car's engine. This results in dirt in the form of sludge, varnish, and resins that become baked onto engine parts and interfere with proper performance and oil flow. The motor oil in your car's engine has a detergent built into it that disperses the dirt, keeping it suspended within the oil until it's either filtered out by the oil filter or drained away when you change it. We'll talk more about the oil's function in the next tip.
In addition to performing multiple tasks under extreme environmental conditions, the oil must perform another function. To the naked eye, the piston rings and cylinder walls of the engine appear perfectly smooth. But they're not. Under microscopic examination, a large number of "hills and valleys" appear. These impressions provide an escape route for vapor and gases during the compression and power stroke of the engine. If this escape occurs, it is called blowby, and it results in the loss of engine power and excessive tailpipe emissions in the form of hydrocarbons (unburned gases). The oil must seal these gaps to prevent blowby. In summary, the demands made on the oil are very draining (no pun intended). The oil eventually loses its ability to lubricate, clean, cool, and flow freely. This process is called viscosity breakdown. Each function is extremely important to the performance and life of the engine. Changing the oil every 3,000 miles is cheap insurance, with an extremely high cash value. Which do you prefer? Oil and filter changes at $19.95 every 3,000 miles, or an engine replacement every 40,000 to 50,000 miles at $3,000 to $5,000? It's your choice!
Question: I'm thinking of buying a new BMW 323 coupe. What is your opinion of the car and its reputation for reliability and frequency of repairs? It also requires premium fuel. Why would a six-cylinder need that grade of gas? What would happen if it ran on regular gas?--Sam Answer: Not only are BMW 323 coupes reliable, they are also stylish, comfortable, and perform wonderfully! These cars require premium fuel because of the high-performance aspects of the engine, including high compression, performance camshafts, hi-flow cylinder heads, and variable valve timing. Running low-grade gas in them will cause decreased performance. Face it, Sam: If you wanna drive a Beemer, you gotta pay the price!
Question: A friend of mine has a mid-90's Chevy Blazer with a V-6. Over the weekend, the center of one of the spark plugs blew out, leaving the metal part in the cylinder head. He tried to remove it, and the hex part broke off, leaving just the threads in the cylinder head! We sprayed penetrating oil on it and tried an easy out (extractor) with no success. Is there any way to get the rest of the spark plug out without taking off the cylinder head? Can I use a set of torches in conjunction with a special easy out? I'm sure you've run into this problem before and possibly would know some trick to it. We have access to most of the tools, torches, and so forth, that we may need. Any help would be appreciated.--Joe Answer: Yes, I have run into this sort of problem in the past. Try to flag down a professional tool truck, such as a Mac or Snap-On (or look them up in the phone book). They are distributors of professional hand tools, and I know that they sell extractors specifically designed to address this sort of problem. I would be careful about using heat on the head, as the metal is thin and can easily melt (aluminum is very heat-sensitive). Before using the torches, call an automotive machine shop and get an opinion as to where you can safely apply heat. Worst-case scenario? You pull the cylinder head and take it to a machine shop for removal of the broken spark plug. That's still cheaper than replacing the cylinder head in my opinion. It's not as bad as you think!
Car alarms have really come a long way! In the past, alarm systems only made noise to deter theft and vandalism. Today, the basic alarm system has several features. For example, in some systems the ignition is disabled when there is an intruder. Some systems sense motion both inside and outside the vehicle; and other systems release a harmless vapor inside the vehicle, making it impossible to see. Another feature available connects the automatic locks to the interior lighting so that when the vehicle is unlocked, you can see if anyone is inside. Finally, a feature that isn't designed to deal with an intruder, but is very convenient, is the remote start system, capable of starting the car from up to a quarter mile away. Better still, in some ways, are the developing online and satellite monitoring systems. Is this stuff "Star Wars" technology? Anyone entering the vehicle who doesn't have the entry code will prompt the system to call the 24-hour monitoring service. The service then calls the owner via cellular phone (which is part of the system). The owner is given the options of disabling the vehicle, calling the police, or confronting the perpetrator. Most people call the police. There's also a feature that can trace the times and whereabouts of the vehicle for the last 30 days and, if you find the vehicle in a questionable place, the monitoring service will disable the engine.
Satellites have made many things possible, including this gem of an accessory: the onboard navigation system. The system works through a computer, software, and global positioning sensors. You simply install the software, plug in a destination, and drive off. The system monitors your progress and guides you along the way, pointing out your position on the LCD map on your dashboard.
Many people who have mobility problems can still enjoy the independence and fun of driving. Even when a physically challenged person isn't driving, his or her accessibility to a vehicle is still important. Recently, I spoke at length with a mobility expert. Here's what I found out. The type of mobility product you need depends on the type of physical impairment you have. For instance, if you're in a wheelchair due to paralysis, you should have a van outfitted with the mobility package. Why a van? Because vans have more room to work with and are easier to adapt. You can have your van equipped with hand controls (which take the place of foot controls for driving), an anchoring system to hold the wheelchair securely to the floor while driving, and a wheelchair lift to lift the chair (with you in it) into the van.
Many people who have mobility problems can still enjoy the independence and fun of driving. Even when a physically challenged person isn't driving, his or her accessibility to a vehicle is still important. Recently, I spoke at length with a mobility expert. Here's what I found out. Let's say that you're not in a wheelchair, but you have difficulty walking. What's available for an individual who fits this description? The best choice for a person who is semi-ambulatory is the scooter. You might have seen scooters being used in supermarkets or in shopping malls. They're simply small vehicles designed to operate indoors or outdoors and in close quarters. This is a great form of mobility for the semi-ambulatory individual. Of course, the scooters have to be transported. You can equip your vehicle to carry the scooter wherever you want to go. Combination wheelchair/scooter lifts make this possible. You can get these lifts with fully or semi-automatic functions.
Many people who have mobility problems can still enjoy the independence and fun of driving. Even when a physically challenged person isn't driving, his or her accessibility to a vehicle is still important. Recently, I spoke at length with a mobility expert. Here's what I found out. People with disabilities can have many modifications made to their cars, full-size vans, minivans, and pickup trucks. These modifications include: *Left-footed gas pedals *Right-handed turn signal levers *Zero-effort power steering *Vacuum and manual driving controls for the paraplegic and quadriplegic *Power seat bases with easy access *Ramps and lowered floors for easy access with wheelchairs *Remote controls for power doors and locks *Wheelchair lifts and storage for pickup trucks with third doors
Many people who have mobility problems can still enjoy the independence and fun of driving. Even when a physically challenged person isn't driving, his or her accessibility to a vehicle is still important. Recently, I spoke at length with a mobility expert. Here's what I found out. Vehicles can be modified in a variety of ways to allow easy access for wheelchairs. These modifications include: *Raising the doors and roofs of a van for ease of entry in a wheelchair *Lowering the floor of the van *Installing floor anchoring systems to secure the wheelchair while person is driving *Installing a hide-away ramp system under the van's floor Mobility companies, such as Braun, offer such products as the Chair Topper. This is a wheelchair carrier that mounts on top of your car, allowing transportation of your wheelchair. The carrier has a lift built in, allowing you to easily hoist the chair onto it for transporting. The Braun Corporation also offers the Entervan, a completely rebuilt Chrysler minivan designed specifically for physically challenged people. The Entervan includes lowered floors, anchoring systems, ramps, hand controls--virtually anything a person needs can be incorporated into one of these beauties. You can check out some of the options at the company's Web site:
Many people who have mobility problems can still enjoy the independence and fun of driving. Even when a physically challenged person isn't driving, his or her accessibility to a vehicle is still important. Recently, I spoke at length with a mobility expert. Here's what I found out. When it comes to mobility products such as those described in the last few tips, you may be thinking, "That's all good and well, Tom, but we're talking big money here, and I just don't have it!" You would be amazed at the resources available to you! For instance, if you need a loan for this type of equipment, you can get it on a Recreational Vehicle Loan (actual qualifiers may vary from state to state) for an extended length of time. Also, cash-back Auto Mobility Rebates from GM, Chrysler, and Ford are available. These companies provide up to $1,000 in rebates for the installation of mobility products for the physically challenged. Contact your county about monies available for individuals with disabilities.
Question: I want to go to school for collision/body work. My dad has been in the business for over 35 years. He knows everything from leading to framework, but no one is hiring in our area. Do you think things will change?--Sean Answer: While there are no guarantees regarding what the future will hold, I can tell you this: There has been a consistent decline of students enrolling in the field of automotive collision repair in this country. Although there may be a current lull in the job market in your area, the job availability here in western New York seems to be cyclical (openings about every 18 months). Geographical areas vary, so if you're willing to move, you'll find a position if you're qualified. You may have difficulty getting started once you graduate. The trade schools do a great job of teaching theory and methodology, but a true craftsman (or craftswoman--yes, there are women in this field) is born from hands-on experience. Most employers hesitate to take on an apprentice, opting instead to go with a more experienced technician. Don't let this deter you. If collision work is something you really want to do, stick with it. Precious few careers offer the satisfaction of seeing the finished product and the pride of a job well done. We've seen the resource pool (the availability of talented collision technicians) pretty much dry up in the past few years. No one seems to have the answer as to whether this condition will improve in the near future. One thing you must remember: Bright stars always shine! So get out there and impress someone with what you can do, and you'll find your place.
Solenoids are electromagnetic switches. When electricity is sent to the solenoid, a magnetic field forms. The magnetic field moves a metal piston, which is connected to a mechanism that performs a function. When the metal piston moves, the application is made. The application may be the moving of a valve, switch, or mechanical linkage.
The torque converter turns hydraulic pressure within an automatic transmission to mechanical torque, which drives the drive shafts and, ultimately, the wheels of your car. In design, the torque converter is similar to a turbine engine. Fluid is forced under pressure through small passages called fins. These passages vary in size and flip-flop in direction. As fluid is forced through the passages (which get smaller in size), a strong, almost solid "fluid coupling" is created. This is what drives the drive shafts and wheels.
When having your vehicle repaired after a collision, you must realize that quality repair takes time. Be patient! Your collision repair expert has no control over such factors as parts suppliers, insurance companies, and insurance adjusters. Add to the mix the need for close and careful inspection of the vehicle for any hidden damage due to the collision. In addition, the repair expert must make sure that all the welds are of high quality to ensure structural integrity. And finally, you want a precise and detailed job done so that all the parts fit exactly (not just hammered in place). Work of this nature takes time. The average price of a new car is about $22,000. That's a lot of dough! Would you want to hurry the repair of such an expensive item that has to cart you and your family around safely? Don't rush it!
Have a van or minivan? Have kids? Are you tired of the loud, hostile noises that emanate from the restless natives in the back seat of the vehicle? Well then, I've got just the thing for you! Quiet those little terrors with a mobile video system. This system consists of an LCD screen mounted on the roof; the screen drops down for back-seat viewing. A VCR is mounted in the console. Joysticks (optional) for video games are available, as well as headsets. Bring their favorite video or video game, and you might have peaceful driving!
It's 2 a.m. and you're tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. Totally frustrated, you go downstairs and turn on the television, hoping to find something boring enough to sedate you. While channel surfing, you come across "Insomniac Theatre" and the feature tonight is--TA DA--engine oil additives! You're transfixed as you watch several heads bowed, intensely hovering over what looks like a car engine and performing what appears to be a dark religious ritual. They're adding an "elixir" to the engine oil, running the engine briefly and then draining out the oil. To your amazement, they're now starting up the engine! The ceremony starts to crescendo to a feverish pitch. Grown men are jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, and watching an engine that's about to blow up. Just before it blows, they shut it off, exclaiming the magic of this secret potion and its ability to protect the car engine from the wrath of the automotive gods. It seems that everyone is looking for this magic elixir--the "Engine Extender," the "Fountain of Youth," the "Mechanic in a Can." Can you find the "fountain" in the use of such products? These products are designed to be lubricant enhancers. In theory, when they are present, the oil in your engine is supposed to do its job better and longer. And that it might do--for a short period of time, until the hostile environment of the internal combustion engine breaks it down, as it does to the motor oil. Unfortunately, the intense claims of these products give people a false sense of security. This often results in putting off oil and filter changes, which should be done every 3,000 miles. The ultimate result is premature engine failure. Searching for the automotive fountain of youth? Then change your oil and filter every 3,000 miles.
What should you look for when purchasing a used car? This has been a frequently asked question lately. So, being the service-minded individual that I am, I'm beginning a series of tips to provide you with an outline of what I consider a pre-purchase inspection. Today, let's consider the customer's preliminary inspection: *Try to be the first one who starts the car that day, making note of any noxious fumes, odd noises, or starting difficulties. Turn the car off for a minute while still cold, and restart it to check for cold restarting problems. *While traveling down side streets, stop and start frequently, noting brake and transmission performance. *If all is well to this point, take the road test to higher speeds. After the car has reached operating temperature, turn the car off and restart it in 20 minutes (this is called a hot soak). Difficulty restarting the car after a hot soak could indicate trouble. *Ask to see all the service records on the car. *If the car passes these tests, then it's time for the second stage of the pre-purchase inspection: a formal inspection with your repair facility.
Today, let's consider the test drive that you should take with your automotive technician. The test drive route should include left and right turns, smooth and rough pavement, slow back streets, and fast-paced main arteries. This gives the technician a chance to see how the vehicle performs under various road conditions. During the test vehicle ride, transmission operation, brake performance, and engine performance are scrutinized. The technician listens, looks, smells, and feels for anything out of the ordinary. The technician also checks the operation of the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), stereo system, seats, windows, locks and latches, and equipment such as map and courtesy lights and rear defoggers. In our next tip, we'll look at things your technician will want to examine back at the shop.
As part of our series on evaluating a used car you'd like to buy, we'll focus today on the under-the-hood inspection. Just as a doctor can tell a lot about the condition of our bodies by analyzing our fluids, so can the technician tell a lot about the health of a car's systems by analyzing its fluids. The technician will check engine oil dipsticks for heavy varnish or black deposits. The presence of these substances may indicate the engine has habitually been run with low oil levels and/or the oil has not been changed. He or she will also check the power steering fluid for color and the presence of metal flakes. Blackened fluid impregnated with metal flakes is an indication of wear in the system. The car's automatic transmission fluid should be red and clean. A brown color with a burned smell can signal a worn transmission. The engine coolant should be "clean-'n'-green" (or orange in some cases). The presence of dirt may mean anything from neglect to serious engine damage. The technician should find the brake fluid clean and full. Low brake fluid may indicate worn brakes or a leak in the system. While the technician is looking under the hood, he or she will check belts, hoses, and pulleys for proper operation and condition.
In our last tip, we considered areas that your technician can inspect under the car's hood. Today, we'll consider the undercarriage inspection. The technician should put the vehicle on a lift and inspect the undercarriage with a fine-toothed comb. What will the technician look for? Such things as: *Rusted brake and fuel lines *Major fluid leaks *Loose or damaged suspension and steering parts *Manual transmission and differential levels and condition *Worn brake friction material and hardware *Condition of exhaust system *Tire condition (wear, tread depth, and so forth) *Condition of frame (rust or severe damage)
After your initial test drive and your technician's under-the-hood and undercarriage inspections, you should move on to the vehicle's external inspection. Check all the lights. Check the operation of the doors, trunk lid, hatch (if applicable), and hood. Stiffness may indicate worn or broken hinges and hinge springs. Also, a close look at the body by a trained eye usually brings to light any collision repairs or paint work that might have been done. Blistering of the paint may be a sign of hidden rust. Have your technician take a look. Finally, match the VIN (vehicle identification number) at the lower left-hand corner of the windshield with the VIN on the door jamb sticker. They should be identical. A discrepancy could mean that the VIN was intentionally altered, an indication that the vehicle may have been rebuilt or stolen.
If the used car passes all the inspections we've mentioned in the last few tips (the preliminary check, the test drive, and the under-the-hood, undercarriage, and external inspections), then a compression test and electronic analysis is in order to make sure the engine, electrical, and performance systems are in good health. Since you're undoubtedly a faithful TipWorld reader, I'll assume you ran a Carfax report on the car to make sure the title was clean. If not, then log on to my Web site at and click on the little lemon icon on the home page. This will take you to Carfax, where you can have a title search done on the vehicle. Make sure you check the service history, looking for the previous owner's consistency in following recommended maintenance schedules. If the previous owner kept records that showed the car was maintained, such evidence is extremely valuable and should be one of the major factors in your decision to purchase the vehicle. Pre-purchase inspections and their prices will vary based on the car. It might cost you up to $100, but you could save thousands by not buying a money pit. Be an informed consumer: Have a pre-purchase inspection done on the next used car you're considering buying!
Question: We have a '95 Chevy S-10 Pickup, with a 4.3-liter engine and automatic transmission. We're trying to replace the spark plugs, but one spark plug is behind the steering column. Do we have to remove the steering column and/or the steering box? The spark plug is totally inaccessible due to the size of the steering shaft, and it is covered with a rubber shroud.--Fred Answer: Find a Mac Tool dealer and buy the double-jointed spark plug socket, as well as a set of the insulated spark plug wire pliers. The pliers will give you the grip you need to remove the spark plug boot, and the socket will give you the flexibility you need to get around the steering column. Have fun.
Question: I have a '95 Ford Ranger pickup with a five-speed manual transmission. If I don't have the clutch pushed in all the way to the floor, it won't start. If I let the clutch out and then push it back in all the way to the floor, then it starts. What's going on?--Cindy Answer: Automakers long ago realized the need to protect motorists from themselves. If someone attempted to start the engine with the transmission in gear and his or her foot off the clutch, the vehicle would lurch forward, posing a safety threat. To address the problem, engineers developed the clutch safety switch. The starter motor won't engage without your stepping on the clutch to the floor, regardless of the position of the gearshift selector. Ford designers use a switch mounted near the floor that is in series with the starter activation circuit. The switch is mechanical, and sometimes the slide sticks and the electrical terminals never make contact. My guess is that the switch is worn out. It's a good idea to have a technician verify my suspicion and replace the part. After all, it's for your protection!
A clutch is a device that allows a solid coupling to be formed between the transmission and the engine. The clutch is manufactured out of a friction material, such as asbestos, and is shaped in the form of a disc. Located between the pressure plate and the flywheel, the clutch connects the engine with the transmission by creating a solid coupling. This solid coupling can be engaged and disengaged, allowing the gears to be changed with one push of the clutch pedal.
Question: Due to government regulations on clean air here in the Philippines, I need some tips or instructions on how to change my leaded fuel system to an unleaded fuel system. My car is a 1978 Toyota Crown with a 5R engine. Any information will be greatly appreciated.--Joe Answer: Lead is used in gasoline as an octane enhancer. Adding lead to fuel permits higher compression engines to operate in higher heat ranges without the engine developing an inclination toward detonation or pre-ignition (pinging). Lead in gasoline sounds like a winning combination and in fact it was, until it was discovered that inhalation of lead is harmful to people (especially children and pregnant women). While attempting to find a substitute, petrochemical engineers discovered that the use of alcohols and ethers could supplant lead as an anti-knock solution. Today, clean air laws often demand that lead be removed from gasoline products for obvious health concerns. Lead provided a bonus benefit. It acted as a lubricant and actually reduced the galling that takes place between the engine valves and the seats. When lead was removed from gasoline here in the United States, many engines developed valve recession. To prevent this condition, hardened valve seats were installed. In reference to your question, you may need to have new seats installed on your cylinder head for this reason. However, you do have a couple of other options. One is to add a lead substitute each time you buy gasoline. This is usually available in a parts store. The other option is to get a newer car. Most modern cars are already equipped with hardened valve seats. You may not like the options I've listed, but at least the air in the Philippines will be healthier to breathe!
A brake caliper is a housing that fits over the brake disc and holds the brake pads in place. The brake caliper is hydraulically activated. Here's how it works: When the brake pedal is depressed, the master cylinder pumps brake fluid into the caliper. The hydraulic pressure created by the fluid moves pistons located inside the caliper. These pistons push against the brake pad, which then makes contact with the disc, creating friction and thus stopping the car.
For years, people have asked me what kind of shop to use for automotive repairs: a dealership or an independent shop? I have shied away from answering this question because I see benefits both ways and, no matter how I answer it, someone always gets offended. I can no longer duck the question because it comes up so frequently from people everywhere. Readers in the United States as well as abroad are posing it to me relentlessly! So let's discuss it. I'll present advantages and disadvantages of both types of shops, then you decide what's best for you--dealership or independent shop. Has anyone noticed that dealerships are expanding their marketing campaigns to draw the retail customer into the dealership for service? Check out the advertising lately--Ford ("America's Newest Tire Store") and GM ("Good Wrench Service Plus"). Dealers are offering longer nationwide warranties, certified technicians, and original equipment parts at competitive prices. Why is this happening? Well, for a number of reasons. The new car profits are at such a low that the service departments must step up to the plate and become profitable for the dealership to survive. Another reason is that warranty work used to represent 70 percent of the service done at dealerships. Today that figure has fallen to about 20 percent because cars are made better and last longer! And, finally, dealerships are offering better service in an effort to capture the customer's car purchases.
Let's take a look at some of the advantages dealership service departments have to offer. In order to maintain their franchise licenses, dealerships must pay for training their technicians and providing special tools and equipment. Dealers also have access to proprietary information, usually one year's worth of information on new vehicles they sell and service. This means that no one else can access this information, which is often necessary for diagnosis and repair. In addition, dealership service departments work mainly on the makes and models they sell. Since they're very familiar with the particular car line, they can usually pinpoint a problem more quickly and more accurately. Dealership technicians are usually paid according to a "flat rate." When a job is dispatched to a technician, the clock starts. If an operation calls for a time frame of two hours, then the labor will be two times the shop's hourly rate. If the technician is proficient at this particular operation and can do it in half the time, the customer still pays for two hours of labor and the tech earns two hours of pay for one hour of work. Conversely, if the tech does the job in more than the allowed time, the customer still pays for two hours of labor. This method of payment holds a standard hourly rate for the customer, and yet rewards highly skilled technicians. A drawback to this method is that technicians may find themselves hurrying to make a quota. In addition, technicians may be reluctant to work on vehicles other than those in the car line they usually service because they're not as familiar with those vehicles and, consequently, the job will probably take longer. With these considerations, there's the possibility of cutting corners to get the work done faster, or lack of expertise if the tech is working on a vehicle that he or she has little experience with. A good service manager whose goal is to serve the customer and develop a long-term relationship with him or her averts these potential problems. Traditionally, dealerships' hourly rates have been higher than those of the independent shops because of overhead, cost of tools, and training. That trend is changing because independents are realizing the escalating costs associated with the rapid technological changes taking place--the need for ongoing training and for purchasing new equipment and tools.
Now that we've evaluated the dealership service departments, let's take a look at the independent shop. Independent repair facilities have always been there to serve the neighborhood. In the past, many dealerships viewed the customer as a potential car sale, and their focus was not on customer service. Consequently, the customer was driven (no pun intended) from the dealership to the independent facility, where one could enjoy a cup of coffee along with a sincere conversation about the customer's family as well as his or her car (we've coined a name for it now--personal service!). In addition to a personal relationship, the independent offers versatility of services on diverse makes and models of vehicles. Today, top-quality independent repair facilities also offer nationwide warranties through the parts suppliers and the associations they deal with. Comparing the independents with the dealerships, the scales are balancing in this arena! As far as the hourly rate for work goes, independents have been able to offer better prices--although that may be changing. What about the cost of repair? Independents charge a flat rate for their services. They use the same "book" as the dealerships to determine the time a job should take, and they charge the customer accordingly. The difference is that the technician is usually paid an hourly rate (based on his or her actual performance) or a salary. There is no incentive to hurry through a job or compete with other techs for the "easier" job. Also, seasoned techs who have worked in independent facilities have a wealth of experience and knowledge from years of working on a variety of vehicles. They are an excellent resource for difficult car repairs. Because of the rapid changes in automotive technology, it's vital that the independent facility you choose is qualified to work on your car. The facility must be up to speed on the latest technology, methods, training, and equipment. The trend in the past ten years has been for the independents--at least the ones that are serious and in for the long haul--to upgrade their facilities and equipment, as well as train their technicians, because automotive technology is escalating at rocket speed! Here are some certifications to watch for: *ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) *NAPA Autocare Center *AAA Approved Auto Repair (American Automobile Association) *ICAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) *ASP (Automotive Service Professionals) *AC-Delco (General Motors' Service Parts Division) *BBB (Better Business Bureau) *Parts Plus Car Care Center With all this said, what's my opinion? Find a facility (either a dealership service department or an independent repair facility) you're comfortable with, one that suits your needs. Make sure it is highly qualified to do the work. Develop an ongoing relationship with the facility--don't hop from shop to shop looking for the next "deal." Finally, enjoy driving a safe and reliable vehicle.
Most tips are from TipWorld - :The Internet's #1 Source for Computer Tips, News, and Gossip
Over the past 27 years, Tom Torbjornsen has been an automotive technician, an auto service manager, the manager of a tire and auto service center, and the owner of an automotive tool and equipment business. Immersed in the crossfire between the automotive industry and the motoring public for years, Tom saw a need for a way to educate the consumer; so in 1991 he decided to start a radio program: The Car Show With Tom Torbjornsen. You can hear the show on the Web at by clicking on the Listen To The Show icon. You can send e-mail to Tom at, although he cannot personally reply to all submissions.