Posts Tagged ‘maintenance’

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10 Common Mistakes Automobile Owners Make

Here is a short list of common actions vehicle owners make as a result of being uninformed and sometimes misinformed.  Such actions are typically needless or harmful.

Topping off brake fluid.  This is your brake component wear indicator.  As your brake linings, shoes, rotors and pads wear, the brake fluid level in your reservoir decreases.  A low fluid level can be a sign that it is time for a brake inspection.  Be aware this decrease in fluid should occur gradually and any rapid decline in your reservoir likely means you have a leak.  If you suspect the fluid loss is due to a leak, visit your trusted mechanic as soon as possible.  In general, topping off brake fluid is needless and only serves to create an overfull condition when you have your brakes serviced.  If your mechanic isn’t careful during the service, brake fluid can overflow and wreak havoc on your car’s paint and undercoating.

Not allowing your car to warm up to operating temperature.  You’re in a hurry (seemingly all the time) and so you hop in your car, turn the key and are nearly moving before the starter stops spinning.  If this is your first time driving that day, your car’s engine is only as warm as the outside air.  Not sure about where you live, but here in South Carolina it never really gets up to 200 degrees outside.  While the operating temperature for each vehicle is different, it is common to see normal operating temperature ranges for late model cars around the 200 degree mark.  Why does this matter?  Many reasons, but for now I’ll mention performance.  Cold fluids perform differently that warm fluids.  Among others, both engine oil and transmission fluid function differently at various temperatures.  With cold fluids you may notice variations in transmission shifts and a lack of engine oil pressure, both effect performance of your vehicle.  Additionally, oxygen sensors need time to warm up, even heated oxygen sensors.  Prior to your sensors reaching operating temperature, your vehicle will not perform as efficiently as engineered.

Fuel.  I see it all the time (and use to do it myself), people at the gas station clicking and clicking to get to that magic digit on the gas pump.  This desire to get more fuel in the tank is even more common with cash paying customers considering many gas stations requirement to pay before you pump.  That walk back inside for change, may save you more of a headache than it is itself.  Overfilling your gas tank can create issues with the evaporative emissions components in late model vehicles, which will surely illuminate your check engine light.  Additionally, keeping your tank full or below a quarter of a tank all the time also prevents your evaporative emissions monitor from running.  Lastly, using premium gas to “clean” your fuel system is ill-informed and can be harmful.  Octane ratings refer to the combustibility of the fuel not the cleanliness.  In all actuality all the grades at a given pump are virtually the same gas.  The octane rating is derived from a sample of a batch of fuel.  The higher the octane rating the slower the fuel burns.  It’s typically best to use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.

Tire pressure.  Both over-inflating and under-inflating tires creates abnormal wear patterns.  The max PSI written on the tire is not the recommended capacity.  Reference the tire placard typically located in the driver’s door frame for the recommended tire pressures.  Note pressures in the front tires may differ from the rear.  Understand the information on the tire placard is for the stock size tire and is brand specific.  Thus if you have different wheels or tires, the best pressure may not be what is on the placard.  In this instance, the advice of a mechanic may be in order.  To complicate matters more, recommended tire pressures are typically listed as cold tire pressure.  This is not dependent on outside temperature.  Tires generate a great deal of heat through friction with the road surface during driving.  The issue is most vehicle owners are driving to gas station or other compressed air source.  When you get there (unless you drive less than a mile) your tires are “hot” and I can’t see you waiting around for three hours until your tires are cold again.  Bridgestone recommends setting “hot” tires to 4 PSI above the recommended pressure and then rechecking the tires when they are cold.

Ignoring the signs.  There is only so long you can ignore noises, check engine lights (MIL) and anti-lock brake lights (ABS) before there are consequences.  Just because you can’t feel a difference in the car doesn’t mean there is not a significant problem present.  Always having the radio on and loud can impair your ability to notice how the vehicle typically sounds and distinguish abnormal noises.  Vehicle owners often take for granted that their vehicle will get them where they need to go, but towing, roadside assistance and car rental businesses all say there is a chance your luck will run out.

Excessively deferring fluid exchanges or flushes.  The understanding of the importance of engine oil changes is relatively common.  However, vehicle owners often fail to budget the recommended maintenance of many other fluids.  Engine coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and differential fluid all require servicing.  Failure to service these fluids can cause varying degrees of problems.  Often your mechanic may recommend some of these services and you may simply see this as an effort to extract more money from your already thin wallet.  In some instances you may be correct.  This is why it is important for you to personally understand the maintenance intervals for your vehicle and keep records of service dates and types you elect.

Recharging air conditioning.  Your refrigerant shouldn’t be low.  If it’s low you have a leak.  Don’t simply pay for a recharge, get the leak fixed.  Definitely don’t use R-134 cans in your system to attempt to make you’re A/C colder.  There is a specified amount of refrigerant for your system based on a variety of factors.  Much more than the specified capacity will actually make your system not cool as well.  Don’t panic if your mechanic uses one of these cans, this doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t know what he is doing.  I am referring to you yourself, pulling up to a parts store and doctoring you’re A/C in the parking lot.  Typically, just a bad idea.

Cold air intake. By now it is common knowledge that the oil from many aftermarket cold air intake systems creates issues with mass air flow sensors.   While the products available vary, I offer a word of caution to individuals desiring to add one of these kits to their vehicle.  The bottom line is these intake systems don’t really help performance unless they truly bring in colder air than the original intake.  Additionally, the stock system must be inefficient for the size of the engine before these types of systems have a chance at improving performance.

What you tell your mechanic.  Has any recent work been done, by either another mechanic or you?  How long have you had the complaint or noticed the symptoms?  Take note of when the problem occurs.  Is it present all the time, when starting the vehicle, within the first few miles, after the vehicle warms up or traveling over bumps/holes?  The more information the mechanic has, the less time it takes for him to figure out the problem and repair it.  Trying to use a mechanic to vet another mechanic’s recommendation only works for so long.

The average driver likely doesn’t understand something like tire pressure to be so complicated, so don’t feel like you’re behind the curve if some of this information is new to you.  Many of us drive to work each day just fine without really understanding thermodynamics or Pascal’s and Ohm’s respective laws.  It’s likely your mechanic doesn’t really understand these concepts either.  At any course, if you are interested in preserving the life of your vehicle, tips like the ones above may be of some help.  Just remember every manufacturer has different recommendations for each vehicle they produce.  As well, with the continual progression of technology, the complexity of vehicles increases.  It’s always best to consult with a knowledgeable and trustworthy source concerning maintenance and repair.

Jordache Williams Atlas ConceptsJordache Williams, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC.  He understands that sometimes a small piece of information is the difference between success and failure. His contributions to the Shop Talk blog are purposed with sharing relevant information based on his own experiences.