The first warm weekend of the season traditionally triggers a symphony of cleaning products, vacuums and garden hoses. But while you might be in a hurry to put a shine on your vehicle, it’s equally important to make sure it’s ready for the warm weather on the inside as well as the outside.
“The most critical areas to check after the harsh winter months are engine fluids, radiator hoses, belts, tires and brakes,” says Pat Goss, host of PBS’ “MotorWeek” and Washington Post automotive columnist. “Adequately preparing these key areas of the car before the weather warms up will not only keep you safe while driving, they’ll help prevent costly repairs.”
After battling months of snow, sleet and icy roads, your vehicle is undoubtedly in need of some serious care. To make your spring trouble-free, follow this 10-point checklist for safety, dependability and fuel economy.
1. Remove your winter tires and rotate all-season radials-If you have winter tires, it’s time to store them away. If you don’t have winter tires, it’s equally important to have all-season tires rotated or switched out for new ones.
2. Brake check-After a blistering winter, be sure to check your brakes. Warning signs include excessive grinding, squealing, screeching or chatter.
3. Wiper blades check-Wipers work hard over the winter months, wiping away dirt and debris on your windshield. Replace them in the spring before a shower makes it difficult to see.
4. Clean the underbody-In addition to washing the exterior, be sure to spray the underbody of your vehicle and underneath the rear and front bumpers to rinse away any salt build-up, which can lead to erosion and rusting. Use a high-pressure sprayer or garden hose for best results.
5. Apply a protectant-Any vinyl surface, such as the seats and the steering wheel, is susceptible to cracking, sun damage, and fading-so be sure to apply a protectant at the beginning of the season and touch-up regularly.
6. Change your oil-Give some thought to the kind of motor oil you have in your engine. Fully synthetic oils, such as Mobil 1, are specifically designed to protect your engine in hot weather, while optimizing your engine’s efficiency and reducing oil consumption. (For more information about Mobil 1, go to www.mobiloil.com.)
7. Check all fluids-In the winter months, fluids are easily depleted as your engine works harder in the colder weather. Make sure to check, top off or replace all fluids, including brake, transmission, coolant, power steering and windshield washer fluid.
8. Pressure test-Assess the pressure of the cooling system, and examine belts and hoses for wear or deterioration.
9. Interior clean-up-Vacuum and be sure to throw away any unwanted garbage that has hibernated under your seats over the winter. Now is also the time to store your winter car mats in the garage.
10. Wash your car-All vehicles regardless of the finish (clear coat, acrylic, enamel, etc.) require regular washing throughout the year. To preserve your car’s shine and protect the surface, wax your vehicle once it has dried completely.
“The warm weather is here-so be sure to follow these simple tips to ensure vehicle dependability in the warm months ahead,” says Goss. “By taking care of your vehicle, it will more likely take care of you. And it will do it for a lot less money.”
Regular vehicle maintenance and sensible driving habits will help the environment and save you money in the long run, according to the pros at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
Well-maintained vehicles pollute less, last longer and command greater resale values. Follow these tips from ASE to become a more savvy and environmentally conscientious car-owner.
* Keep the engine running at peak performance. A misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent, for instance. Replace filters and fluids as recommended in the owner’s manual to keep your vehicle in peak condition.
* Keep tires properly inflated and aligned to reduce the effort required by the engine – and gasoline consumption.
* Find a good technician. Ask friends for recommendations or check the reputation of the repair shop you are considering by contacting your local consumer group.
Check the technicians’ credentials as well, including ASE certification. ASE-certified auto technicians have passed one or more national exams in specialties such as engine performance and air conditioning.
* Have your vehicle’s air conditioner serviced only by a technician certified to handle and recycle refrigerants. Older air conditioners contain ozone-
depleting chemicals, which could be released into the atmosphere through improper service.
* Avoid speeding and sudden accelerations; both habits guzzle gas.
* Don’t let the car sit idle with the engine running. When waiting for friends or family, shut off the engine to conserve fuel.
* Consolidate errands to eliminate unnecessary driving.
* Remove excess items from the vehicle to reduce weight and improve gas mileage. Also, be sure to remove that rooftop luggage carrier after vacations to reduce air drag.
ASE was founded in 1972 as a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive professionals. Its certified technicians wear blue-and-white ASE shoulder insignia and carry credentials listing their exact areas of certification. Their employers often display the ASE sign.
An important part of your car’s suspension system is its ball joints. Made of extra tough steel, ball joints act as the pivot point between two parts: the suspension and your car’s tires. Ball joints help support your car’s weight and, as is the case with some vehicles, ball joints may be used to help set the alignment. Let’s take a closer look at this key component of your car’s suspension system.
Enclosed in a steel housing, ball joints are used on the front end of almost every car, truck, SUV, and minivan. As might be expected, ball joints are subject to a lot of wear and tear, so to properly protect them ball joints are housed in an enclosed boot to keep dirt away from the joint assembly.
There are two types of suspension systems that use ball joints. The first is a conventional system that uses an upper and lower ball joint. The second is called a MacPherson strut system that uses a single lower ball joint and an upper strut bearing. No upper ball joint is needed as the upper strut bearing does the job instead.
Maintenance for ball joints has changed over the years for most cars. Many vehicles come equipped with ball joints that are permanently lubed, so lubrication is not necessary nor is it even possible as the pack that holds the lubrication is permanently sealed. When ball joints wear out or are damaged, you can find replacement ball joints that come with lubrication fittings; in this case you would need to lubricate your ball joints on a regular basis as in when you change your vehicle’s oil.
When performing an inspection of your car’s suspension, your ball joints should be looked at too. Have a complete wheel alignment performed and make certain that the ball joints are not worn. If the ball joints wear out and are not changed, you will soon experience uneven tire wear or unreliable steering, such as wandering. Clearly, worn out ball joints are a safety issue that must be tended to and fixed immediately.
Ball joints are developed for the specific make/model of your vehicle. Many models share the same suspension system as other models within the brand, but to be sure check your vehicle’s repair manual for the right replacement ball joints. Certain manufacturers, such as Moog, develop ball joints for many makes/models and can be used by mechanics that prefer this particular product. Check online to find out more information about Moog ball joints and whether they are right for your car.
Remember: ball joints are an important part of your vehicle’s suspension system. Annual check ups of the suspension can head off costly problems which can also impact your safety.
The addition of a particular car part to our vehicle is usually designed to improve its performance, but much as we might try to deny it, appearances matter, and we also want our car to look good. For this reason, many car parts are designed with attractiveness in mind as much as functionality, and sometimes, just sometimes, we can lose the run of ourselves entirely and opt for appearance-enhancing car parts just for the heck of it. Fortunately, car part manufacturers have cottoned on to our love of display, and designed a range of car parts and accessories than combine functionality with looking good. A great example of this trend is development of the air or wind deflector.
Originally designed with a practical purpose in mind, car air deflectors have stepped up a notch and now look as good – if not better – than they work practically. With a distinctive look, air deflectors are increasingly added to vehicles to alter their appearance, by adding a sense of flair and style. But with a genuinely practical raison d’etre, an air deflector is the fancy car accessory that does as good as it looks.
An air, or wind, deflector’s job is as simple as it sounds. Fitted at various points on your vehicle, including the hood or roof, this simple device redirects the flow of air so that it travels away from the vehicle itself. This prevents the wind that attacks you as you drive at high speeds from damaging your windshield, and helps stop road debris, including pieces of gravel and small insects, from hitting your screen as you drive, and perhaps obscuring your vision.
Air deflectors may also be used on side windows, preventing the same debris from landing inside the car when the window is open, and also protecting the driver and passengers from rain. Wind deflectors may also be used with a sunroof, helping to reduce the noise generated by the wind and the effects of turbulence upon people in the car. This type of deflector also helps protect passengers from annoying dust and debris entering the car through the sunroof and spoiling a perfectly good road trip!
Air deflectors are available in a range of colors and materials, allowing you to customize this car part’s impact on your vehicle. Choose from a wide range of styles including transparent plastic and matte black, or choose a deflector to match the color of your car. Whatever style you choose, you can be sure that this car part will enhance your driving experience, while also adding style and interest to your vehicle.
Camber is probably the most useful and popular alignment adjustment that can be made to a street car. The other alignment adjustments are toe and caster, which I have covered in accompanying articles. Camber is the angle of the wheel from the vertical as viewed from the front or the back of the car. Negative camber means that the top of the wheel is leaned in towards the car, and positive camber means that the top of the wheel is leaned out away from the car.
Maximum cornering force is achieved when the camber of the outside wheels relative to the ground is about -0.5 degrees. A slight negative camber in a turn maximizes the tire contact patch due to the way the tire deforms under lateral load. Hence, it is good to have some negative camber to increase cornering force.
Another reason why it is helpful to align your suspension with a slight negative camber is that camber will change with suspension travel and body roll. Most suspension systems are designed so that camber increases with more suspension travel. However, camber relative to the car’s chassis is not the same thing as camber relative to the ground. It is camber relative to the ground that affects handling.
Therefore, even though camber relative to the chassis is made to increase, camber relative to the ground may actually decrease on the outside wheels if there is substantial body roll. To counter this tendency, it is important to use negative camber and to control body roll.
The only drawback to negative camber is increased wear on the inside of each tire. Since the top of the wheel is leaned in, the car is riding on the inside of the tire while it is on straightaways. In a corner, suspension travel and lateral forces on the tires rubber compound combine to straighten the tire relative to the ground. Therefore, the car rides evenly on the tire in turns, which improves cornering ability. However, extra time spent driving on the inside of the tire causes that part of the tire to heat up and wear. This effect is small if you avoid adding too much negative camber.
On most street cars (which use a MacPherson Strut front suspension), camber is not easily adjustable. However, if you choose to purchase aftermarket camber plates, you can set camber to improve handling. More negative camber tends to increase tire grip in corners. Therefore, if your car experiences understeer, you can decrease front camber (make it more negative) to improve front grip or increase rear camber (make it more positive) to decrease rear grip. Remember not to add too much negative or positive camber since it will decrease the life of your tires and may cause a blowout. Even pure race cars rarely use more than about 3 degrees of camber. As with any adjustments, make camber changes in small increments, and make sure to test the setup so that you can see the results from each specific change.
What Exactly is a wheel alignment? How does it effect handling and tire wear? When should I do an alignment? What causes alignments to go out? How would I know if my alignment is out?
A wheel alignment is nothing more than setting the angle of the hub/wheel so it tracks in the right direction. Most vehicles have four-wheel alignments, meaning each of the four wheels is separately aligned. Your basic alignment consists of three angles: camber, caster and toe-in. Camber is the tilt of the tire when viewed from the front of the car. Positive camber means the top of the tire is tilted away from the car. Negative camber means the top is tilted in. Camber has a lot to do with cornering performance. Too much negative camber will wear the inside of the tires prematurely. Too much positive camber will wear the outside tread.
Caster is the inclination of the front spindle. Picture the angle of the forks on a bike top to bottom. When the caster is out, it creates a pull or wandering condition and sometimes a slow responding steering wheel. Toe-in is measured in inches or degrees. Viewing from the front of the car, it is the difference between the front and rear center-line of the tire. Toe-in means the fronts of the tires are closer together. Toe-out means, the fronts of the tires are farther apart. Toe-in or out has the most effect on tire wear.
When your car is out of alignment, the tires will wear prematurely. In some extreme cases, new tires will be gone within 500 miles. At the price of tires, especially high performance tires with soft compounds, you want to keep your vehicle in alignment as long as possible. Other symptoms of an out-of-alignment car are poor handling, pulling to one side, or wandering from side-to-side. An alignment will also affect the steering wheel response and how quickly it returns to the center.
Your vehicle’s alignment should be checked every 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Any harsh impact such as potholes, curbs, objects in the road, or the damage of an accident, should prompt you to have your alignment checked. If you do any modifications to your suspension, raising or lowering your car, that will affect the alignment angles. Even changing the tire size will effect the alignment. Loose, worn or bent suspension parts such as ball joints, springs, bushings, and control arms will have an adverse affect on your alignment, too. In most cases you do not know if your alignment is out. The best way to check it is with a precision alignment machine. Laser optics combined with a computer allow for the most accuracy in alignment readings.
Remember you are aligning the hub of your vehicle. Check to see if the alignment shop or dealer has equipment that attaches to the hub, not the wheel. Many independent shops that do alignments have a specialty tool called “Tru Align” that attaches to the hub. This will make for a much more accurate alignment with the added bonus of not damaging the delicate finish on your wheels.
There is a lot more to suspension alignment, especially if you push your vehicle on the track. The modifications you make on your suspension are just the beginning. Once you start down this road you will be concerned with things like bump steer, weighting (vertical load), preloading, tire traction versus tire load, and more. Now you’re thinking under-steer, over-steer, tire compound, sway bar design, and other topics that can be covered in a later article. For now, just remember to have your vehicle aligned every 10,000 to 12,000 miles in normal driving conditions.
If you accidentally hit a curb, or drive through a nasty pothole or other road obstruction, that would be a cue to have your car’s alignment checked more often. Proper alignment is good for your car. It will save unnecessary wear on your tires. It will ensure that your vehicle is giving you the handling the factory designed the car to have. And, most importantly, a properly aligned car is safer and more fun to drive.
Dean Pellegrino and Alan Finkel are the founders of Tru Align, the patented universal wheel alignment adapter system that works with all alignment machines. The Tru Align product was the 2005 winner for Best New Product at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Mr. Pellegrino and Mr. Finkel have over 40 years in the automotive repair sector. Mr. Pellegrino owns a tire shop and encounters wheel alignment issues daily. This article is written from experience and knowledge. Mr. Finkel is also engaged in environmental issues and has written articles on automotive gas efficiency and wheel alignment techniques. Learn more at http://www.trualign.com
1.) Less RPM – This is the number one killer of an engine. If you can make enough power at a lower RPM you should do it. Don’t forget missed shifts, now that’s a real killer.
2.) Optimal Coolant Temp – Both running an engine under power with too much water temp and too little temp can be harmful. High temps are the worst, with blown head gaskets one of the first signs of trouble. I’d say between 160′ and 210′ is best, never over 240′.
3.) Optimal Oil Temp – Low oil temp lowers oil flow. Higher oil temp breaks down the oil and gives way to the chance of metal parts coming into contact. Drag Racers usually race with the oil temp too low and stock car racers too high. Try to get near 200′.
4.) Less Compression – I’m a real fan of less compression. If you don’t need the extra power then there’s no need having the engine on melt down. If you’re in a competitive class then you have no choice. I’d keep it under 12 if you don’t need the power.
5.) Proper Ignition Timing – Too much timing leads to pre-ignition, which is like hitting the piston with a sledge hammer. Too little timing can lead to extremely hot exhaust valves. What happens if an exhaust gets too hot? The head eventually falls off. The only way to know the right timing is by dyno testing, track testing or reading the spark plugs.
6.) Tighter Lash – The weakest link in most engines today is the valvetrain and nothing kills it faster than too much lash. Just adding .010″ of lash can double the force on the valves. The only negatives to tight lash is usually less torque and the chance of holding the valve open if you go too far. Consult your cam maker for a usable range.
7.) Optimal Oil Level – You probably think I’m going to say too low is the problem, well if someone is going to make a mistake on oil level, 90% of the time it’s going to be too high. Too much oil can lead to the crank and rods whipping it up and adding air — not good. Most applications are very safe at 6qts.
8.) Proper A/F Ratio – Too rich a mixture can cause problems, for example carbon build up and washing the cylinders down. The real risk is from too lean a mixture. Just like ignition timing the only way to know the right mixture is by dyno testing, track testing or reading the spark plugs.
9.) Proper Clearances – Rod bearing clearance, main bearing clearance, piston to wall clearance, lash, etc., all are extremely important. You’d be shocked to know how few engine builders know exactly what these specs are. My advice, buy the tools and learn how to assemble your own engine.
10.) Proper Startup – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this, someone starts their racecar completely cold and proceeds to rev the engine between idle and 7000 RPM. All engines need time to warm up. Better yet, how about oil and coolant heaters?
Most drivers realize that their treads wear down over time. The rubber can slowly erode from constant contact with the road. Even though a small amount of erosion won’t create a problem, a lot of motorists neglect to take measures to prevent it from becoming a safety issue. If let go too far, the worn rubber can begin to impact maneuverability and performance.
Another problem is that treads tend to erode unevenly; the ones in front (for FWD vehicles) wear out first. This is because they have different jobs on the front and rear axles. By rotating your tires, you can even the wearing. The key is knowing how to rotate them correctly. Today’s article will provide an easy tutorial for doing so.
A Common Mistake
The purpose of rotating your tires is to allow each one to serve in each wheel position. Some drivers perform the rotation themselves and do it incorrectly. They exchange the ones on the front axle and then they exchange those on the rear axle. The problem is that doing so does not allow the treads to wear evenly. Those on the front will continue eroding more quickly than those on the rear.
The Proper Method Of Rotation
On FWD vehicles, rotate the wheels in an “X” pattern. In other words, place the rear driver’s side tire in the front passenger position. Place that wheel in the rear driver’s side position. Do likewise with the remaining treads. Swap those that are in the rear passenger and front driver’s side positions.
On RWD vehicles, move both of the treads that are on the rear axis to the front. Do not cross sides. That is, the tire that is on the rear passenger side should be placed in the front passenger position. The front wheels will move to the back, but you’ll need to cross them. That is, the one from the front passenger position will now go in the driver’s side back position. A rotation on a 4WD vehicle can be performed in the same manner.
What About Your Warranty?
When you bought your current set of tires, they came with a warranty. Many drivers are unaware that their warranties often require them to rotate their wheels periodically (the mileage marker is different for each company). If you fail to do so, you might unwittingly invalidate your warranty. This is not the most important reason to rotate your wheels, but you should keep it in mind.
Rotating your tires not only helps to even out tread wear, but it also helps to preserve the treads. As a result, you won’t need to invest in a new set as quickly as you might otherwise. What’s more, by preserving the rubber, you’ll enjoy better handling and maneuverability. If you intend to perform the rotation at home, use the instructions above to make sure you do the job correctly.
We often ignore our tires unless they’re flat. But they play a vital role in the overall condition of your car. Maintain them properly, and you’ll save money on repairs and on fuel costs.
Keeping your tires properly inflated ensures that they wear longer and can prevent accidents. Your car likely has a card or sticker attached to the door edge or the inside of the glove box door. The right amount of air your tires need is specified here. In case your car doesn’t have this sticker, you can check your owner’s manual.
Serious accidents can happen if your tires are under-inflated or overloaded. One of my tires blew-out on me and caused an accident. Luckily I was on a little traveled country road and was going slowly. I hate to think of what might have happened if I had been in major traffic.
Buy your own quality tire gauge. You can’t tell if tires are inflated properly just by looking. And the air meters at your service station may not be correct!
Ask your auto supply dealer for a tire gauge calibrated up to 80 PSI. They’ll know what you mean, even if you don’t.
Take a moment at the beginning of each month to check your tire pressure (don’t forget the spare! Uhm, you do have a spare tire, don’t you??) Check them before you get in the car to drive. Write down the actual under-inflation amount for each tire. Take this info with you to the service station.
Now measure the inflation again and record these numbers. (Don’t worry, this only takes a couple minutes.) Now inflate the tires to a level that equals the warm pressure (that you just took) plus the first under-inflation amount. (called the “cold” inflation pressure)
If the above instructions sound intimidating or confusing, take your car to a shop and give them them the cold pressure numbers. They’ll put the correct amount of air in your tires for a minimum fee, sometimes they’ll not charge you at all.
The leading cause of tire failure is under-inflation. So make a habit to check them once a month.
Overloading your vehicle can lead to tire failure, too. Just because you have a pick-up truck doesn’t mean it can carry an infinite load.
Schedule a tire check into your calendar each month and you’ll save money, save fuel, and perhaps, even save your family from a car accident.