Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Picking The Right Tires

Picking the right set of tires for you vehicle is more than just looking for a long lasting tire or a great handling tire. The tire you choose effects almost every aspect of how your car rides, handles, steers, mileage, and the balance of the car. Pick the wrong tire and you may upset one or more of these factors. The manufactures do not just put any tire on the car they produce. The tire is designed by the manufacture to enhance the cars abilities. The tire manufacture builds the tire to the auto manufactures specifications. Look on the sidewall of the OEM tire that came on you car. Look at not only the size but the speed rating. Is it an H rated tire or a S rated tire. You should replace your old worn out tires with ones with the exact same speed rating. This will insure the dynamics of the car are not altered. The manufacture of you car designs the suspension around the tire to give the best possible ride, handling, mileage, and braking. Change the tires and you may end up with a car that handles, or stops, poorly. Remember the tire itself is part of the suspension. The tire absorbs some of the bumps and potholes. I am not saying you have to buy the exact same brand tire that came on your car. What I am saying is stick with the OEM size, and especially speed rating. Have you ever read reviews of tires and noticed that the very same tire can be loved by one person and hated by another. Ever wonder why that is? It is very simple, one person bought a tire that was matched to their car and the other one didn't. So do your research and buy the right tire for your vehicle. You may be able to go up one size if you change the aspect ratio, but I recommend you stick with the OEM size. There are many great tires made by many tire manufactures, so choose wisely. Remember every tire is a compromise. It would be easy for a tire manufacture to build a tire that would last 100,000 miles, but that tire would ride and handle horribly, and basically be an unsafe tire. So they compromise. Do not compromise on the safety of your family. Do your research, talk to a tire expert you trust, and stick with what a tire your car was designed for. You cannot go wrong with OEM type tires. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Checking Fluid Levels

A regular part of maintenance is to check all your fluid levels. To check your oil level park you vehicle on a level surface. An un-level surface will give you a false reading. Let the vehicle set for at least 30 minutes before checking the oil level. Remove the oil dipstick and wipe it clean. Fully insert it back into the engine and then remove it an look closely at the level of the oil. You will see Full & Add. If you are close to full do not add any oil. The amount between full & add is normally around 1 quart but may be 1/2 quart depending on your vehicle. When adding oil do not overfill. Add a slight amount wait a few minutes and check again. 

To check your brake fluid normally you can just look at the master cylinder located on the firewall driver's side. Normally they are clear and you can see the fluid. It is normal for the fluid level to go down as your brake pads wear. So if you see that the level has dropped significantly and you have over 35,000 miles since last replacing the brake pads, you need to take a look and see if they need replacing. Of course if you hear a squeal or grinding noise during braking, you pads are worn out. Only add fluid if the level is at the add mark. And then add DOT3 brake fluid or whatever is listed on the master cylinder cap.  Only add fluid from an unopened container. Brake fluid absorbs moisture so discard that unused fluid. I know this sounds wasteful, but old fluid stored in a can that has been opened, is not what you want to add to your master cylinder. 

To check the Power Steering fluid you have 2 choices. You can check it cold or hot. Pull the P/S dipstick out and look for the 
marks. One should say cold and one hot. Add only the correct P/S
 fluid as listed in your owner's manual. It takes very little to bring it to full. Do not overfill.

To check the Automatic Transmission fluid look in your owner's manual or on the dipstick itself for the correct procedure. They are normally located at the rear of the engine near the transmission. Do not mix the A/T dipstick up with the Oil dipstick. Some A/T you check hot, engine running, in park or neutral, others cold, engine off, some you can check both cold or hot, others you simply cannot check at all, as they are sealed units. Whatever way you check it, make sure you follow your owner's manual directions to the letter. Normally to go from low to full only requires you add 1 pint of fluid or less. Use the exact transmission fluid listed in your owner's manual. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE or OVERFILL! It is critical you use the correct fluid or you may damage the transmission. For instance if you own a Honda, you must use Honda ATF and no other. Most GM vehicles require Dexron 1, 2, or 3. On some vehicles you have no way of checking the fluid level as the A/T is sealed. When you check the fluid level look closely at the fluid an smell it. If it looks and smells burnt with a very foul odor, you need to have the fluid changed by a professional. You will need a long neck filter in order to add
 fluid. If the fluid level is low, this indicates a leak as A/T fluid is not used up. You may want to consult a professional about the leak. I also recommend you have the A/T fluid changed every 50,000 miles or the interval listed in your owner's manual. 

To check the coolant level, look at the coolant recovery tank, engine off and cold. Add a 50/50 mix of Antifreeze & Distilled Water, if it is below the full mark cold. You can purchase this pre-mixed or mix it yourself. Add only the coolant listed in your owner's manual. If you notice you are regularly loosing coolant, look for a leak. If you see no apparent leak, be aware you may have an internal engine problem. If you see white smoke which smells sweet, or your oil level is over full, suspect you have a blown head gasket which is very serious and must be repaired ASAP. Stop driving the vehicle until this is repaired. 

To check the windshield washer fluid, locate the WW reservoir. Do not mix this up with the coolant recovery tank. Normally the WWR will have a blue cap. Add only commercially available WW fluid and do not add plain water. 

I suggest you have your manual transmission and differential checked by a professional. It requires special lubricants and tools to service these which you normally do not have on hand. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rotating Your Tires

Whether you plan of rotating your tires yourself, or paying someone to do it, lets look at why rotate in the first place. Tires do not wear evenly on the back and rear. On a front wheel drive car, (FWD) the front tires will wear faster than the rear. They are carrying a heavier load and are used to move the vehicle. They also wear due to being the wheels that steer. Parking, pulling, turning a corner, all this brings force to bear on the front tires and force creates friction and the result is heat. Heat an friction produces wear. So you need to rotate your tires at least every 10,000 miles or sooner if stated in your owner's manual. Otherwise the fronts will wear out much faster than the rear and you will be buying 2 tires for the front, with older tires on the rear. You must rotate to equalize tread wear. You should rotate the tires side to side. In other words left rear to left front, and right rear to right front. Before getting started it is imperative you own a torque wrench. The lug nuts must not be over-tightened and a torque wrench is a necessity. Tighten the lug nuts too much and you will warp the rotors, costing you money later on. If you do not own one and do not plan on buying one then pay a trusted mechanic to rotate your tires. 
Park the vehicle on a level hard surface and set the parking brake, put the transmission in park or 1st gear if manual. Pick which side you will work on first and place wheel chocks around the wheels on the other side. With a lug wrench or socket/ratchet loosen all the lug nuts on both wheels you are rotating. If you are using an Air Impact wrench you can skip this step. Place a floor jack at the factory jack point just behind the front wheel. Normally it is 1 - 2 feet back of the wheel. Look for a notch and place the jack under the frame. Jack the car up just enough for both front and rear wheels to come slightly off the pavement. If they don't then move the jack point until they do. When you find the correct spot, mark it with a permanent marker for future tire rotations. Place jack stands under the frame front and rear. Now remove the lug nuts front and rear and place in a safe place, not on the pavement. Remove the front tire and look inside the wheel for debris, such as a hunk of tar stuck to the wheel, or anything else. This can throw the wheel out of balance so remove it. I personally use this opportunity to give the backside of my wheels and tires a good cleaning.  Inspect the tire for cuts, damage, or uneven tire wear, which may be a sign you need an alignment. After cleaning roll that tire to the rear, remove the rear tire and immediately mount the clean wheel. Clean the wheel/tire you just removed and mount it on the front. Put all the lug nuts back on and hand tighten. Make sure the lug nuts are seated properly, and installed correctly. Hard to believe, but some people have installed them backwards with the seating surface out, so be sure. They will come off if mounted incorrectly. Now take that wrench you loosened the lug nuts with and tighten them snug but do not try to tighten tightly. Remove the jack stands and lower the car. Take out your torque wrench and set it to whatever the torque specs listed in your owner's manual are for your vehicle. On my Accord it is 80 Ft/Lbs. Your vehicle may or may not be the same. Don't know, then call your local dealer and ask. The lug nuts must be torqued correctly. Torque the lug nuts in a criss-cross pattern. Now move to the other side and repeat the above procedure. Another job well done.

EPA Fuel Economy Guide

Changing Wiper Blades

When should you replace your blades? If your blades are over 1 year old they probably need replacing. If you see streaking,  gaps, or hear chattering, or squeaking, replace the blades. Vision while driving is imperative, so make sure you can see clearly in bad weather. This is a very easy repair once you do it the first time, but it can be a frustrating repair if you have never done it before. I suggest you purchase the entire blade rather than buying the wiper insert. If you live where the winters are severe, you may want to consider purchasing a winter blade. When you open the package you will see many inserts that are there for multiple applications. The instructions are usually not that helpful, and looking at all these clips and attachments may seem daunting. But once you learn which attachment to use with your car it will become easy. You may not even need attachments for your particular application. Start by purchasing  a good set of wiper blades that are designed to fit your car. There are many brands at many prices. Anco is a leading manufacture and they make a good blade. But there are others, so choose wisely. Start by raising the wiper arm to the up position so it is no longer resting on the windshield, and you can easily remove the blade. Now open the package and find the attachment that 
matches the one on your car. Read the directions to get an idea of how exactly this attachment works. Remove the old blade. Normally this requires you to either push, pull, or lift on a tab. You may need a very small flat blade screwdriver.  Sometimes this is the hardest part of the repair. Figuring out how it comes off can be frustrating. Look at it closely and read the directions. You will figure this out. As you start to remove the old blade pay close attention to exactly how it fits on the arm. You are going to do this very exact same thing again in reverse order. Now find the attachment that matches the one on your old blade. It may already be on the blade, or may not be. Insert the attachment if applicable, and slowly install the new blade just like you took the old one off, in reverse order. Listen for it to click. That click tells you it is firmly locked in place. No click and your new blades my fly off. The photos below are a typical installation. You just saved a few dollars by DIY.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

This question is one that you will get anywhere from 3,000 miles to never, just change the filter. The truth is you can never change your oil too often but you can sure not change it often enough. Common sense tells you that the more you do it, the better. But do you really want to be changing your oil every 1,000 miles, I sure don't. Manufactures of your vehicle will tell you every 10,000 miles or so. You buddy with an older classic car swears by every 3,000 miles. And Bubba tells you he has never changed his oil and just changes the filter. You know the story, oil does not wear out. The fact is that every time you start that engine  the normal combustion is producing lots of water, and some of it gets in your crank case. Even more if the engine is high mileage and worn. Large quantities of air are being drawn into the engine, as any high school student knows, air contains water and water is a horrible lubricant. If everything is working as it should with your crank case breather system, the vast majority of the moisture is removed. But it very cold weather a lot of condensation takes place. That water in your engine dissolves any nitrates formed during combustion. That creates Nitrous Acid which is circulating throughout your engine. Nitrous Acid in your engine is a very bad thing. Knowing this, how often should you change your oil. That answer is determined by a number of factors. Of all the factors involved, miles driven is the least important in most cases. Those factors are:
1. Number of cold starts
2. Average Outside Temperature
3. Condition of the engine
4. Total Distance Traveled
So what is the answer. Well, I really have no definitive answer. I have no idea how you drive,number of cold starts,  the average temperature where you live, mileage you drive each year, nor the condition of your vehicle. I simply cannot tell you what is right for your car. I live in the south with mild winters, drive around 9,000 miles a year, mostly highway, with not a lot of cold starts. I change my oil and filter every 5,000 miles. I use conventional Pennzoil oil and a quality Purolator filter. I also change my Air Filter every 30,000 miles and do not drive in dusty conditions. For my situation this seems a good compromise between changing it every 1,000 miles and every 10,000 miles as my owner's manual states. Remember that every time you drain the oil pan you are draining away all the fine particles suspended in the oil. Remember also to never ever overfill the crankcase. Check the oil level with the vehicle sitting on a level surface after the engine has been shut down for at least 30 minutes. The problem with overfilling an engine is that as the crankshaft turns it create pressure. An over full engine will develop enough pressure to blow out the rear main seal. That leaking oil will ruin the clutch on a manual transmission equipped vehicle. Then later on the front main seal will let go. The crankshaft will dip into the oil and create a froth mix. This froth is a mix of oil and air. Air is a poor lubricant. The bearings will take a real beating from lack of lubrication. Too much oil is just as bad as too little. Bottom line is make sure you check the oil level correctly before adding any more oil.  

How to Change Your Oil

OK, so you want to change your own oil and know it is done right. First, purchase the correct amount and weight oil + a good quality filer. Purolator, Wix, AC/Delco, are all highly rated filters. You do not have to purchase a Honda filter just because you drive a Honda. Any of these filters are just as good and in some case better than an OEM filter. Buy the oil of your choice as long as it is a name brand. Avoid generic or store brand oils, as you have no way of knowing who produced it at any given time. I use Pennzoil, and have never had an internal engine problem in over 45 years, but your brand is your choice. Purchase a floor jack, jack stands, filter wrench, & oil catch pan. Park your vehicle on a hard level surface. Set the parking brake and put the transmission in Park. (A/T) or 1st (Manual Trans). If you are driving a car such as my Accord it is almost impossible to get under the car without raising it up some. My Toyota Tacoma, I can change the oil without jacking the truck up, but not so with my Accord. So let's raise the hood, and remove the oil fill cap which will look something like this. Notice it even lists the correct weight oil required.

It is critical that you use the correct weight oil. If it is not listed on the oil fill cap, open your owner's manual and find out what the manufacture recommends. Now get out the floor jack, set the parking brake, chock the wheels, and raise one front side of your vehicle enough so you can get under the car and access the oil filter. Warning: (Place jack stands under the area where you have jacked up the vehicle.) That way if the jack fails, which is possible, the stands will prevent you from being crushed underneath the vehicle. It has happened to more than one person working under a vehicle. Have a catch pan or other suitable pan to catch the oil. Locate the oil pan drain plug, located somewhere on the oil pan, which will look something like this. Do not get mixed up and remove the transmission drain plug. The oil drain plug will be located on the oil pan, which is located on the bottom of the engine block. 

Put on a pair of latex gloves or coat your hands with Vaseline to keep toxic oil from contacting your skin and help with cleanup. Remove the drain plug using a boxed end wrench or socket, not an open ended wrench or adjustable wrench, to avoid rounding off the drain plug. Inspect the drain plug washer and replace if necessary. Go a take a break while the oil drains. After all the oil has drained, wipe the area clean, and reinstall the drain plug. Don't forget this step or you will have a big mess. Tighten it snugly but do not over-tighten. Around 20
Ft/Lbs is average if you own a torque wrench. Use common sense and tighten enough to prevent a leak but not enough to strip the threads. If you own an older Honda, I recommend you replace the metal gasket with a 14 mm fiber gasket. Honda's have a bad habit of leaking if not tightened to around 30 lb/ft but if you tighten them that much the pan distorts and they end up leaking eventually anyway. Find the oil filter which will be mounted somewhere on the engine block on most vehicles. Look around everywhere as it is there somewhere. Here is the location of the one on my Toyota Tacoma 4 cyl.
Remove the filter turning counterclockwise. You may need a filer wrench if it was tightened too much. Wipe the mounting surface clean. Critical: Apply oil to the gasket on the new filter. Install the new filter turning clockwise and once the filter touches the mounting base, tighten it 3/4 turn, no more and no less. Over-tighten and it may leak or you may not be able to get it off next oil change. Tighter, is not better, when it comes to oil filters. Now if you vehicle is a newer model GM the filter may not be located in this area. Instead it may be a cartridge filter located on top of the engine. Refer to your owner's manual for the location and procedure to replace those type filters. Usually they are located under a plastic cover. Now the oil is drained and the new filter installed. Get a good clean funnel and pour in the correct amount of oil as listed in your owner's manual. Replace the oil fill cap, and start the engine. Look for any leaks. If none, which there should not be, shut the engine off, remove the jack stands, & lower the jack. Take all your used oil to a recycle center or to the place where you bought the oil. Almost all of them will take your dirty oil for recycling. Please, do not dispose of used oil by pouring it out on the ground. Used oil is very toxic and will contaminate ground water. After the vehicle has sat for about 1 hour check the oil level to make sure you poured in the correct amount. Whatever you do, do not overfill. Overfilling is just as bad a under-filling. Step back and admire a job well done, and you saved money in the process too.

Engine Additives

Are oil additives such as Slick 50, Duralube, Prolong, and all the others on the market of any benefit? The short answer is NO. I never have and never will add any oil additive to my engine. If you purchase and use a good name brand oil that is certified to meet API standards, then why add some product with dubious quality to that expensive engine? The major oil companies spend millions of dollars developing and testing their products. Their oil contains all the additives it needs. These oil additive companies spend a fraction of this on development and most of their money on trying to convince the consumer their product is the cure all for everything. They want you to add an unapproved additive to the approved oil already in the crankcase. See the flaw in this thinking. Stay away from oil additives. You may have noticed I recommend a product called Seafoam Motor Tune. Seafoam is not an oil additive but rather a cleaner, and fuel stabilizer. Click the product name to read all about it. Rather than discuss these worthless products in detail here, click the title and you will be able to read all about this subject at a respected website. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Is your vehicle a Flex Fuel vehicle? If the answer is yes, then it can run on E85 Ethanol. E85 is 85% Ethanol , 15% gasoline. The question is should you buy and use E85? Here are a few facts about E85 Ethanol. Ethanol significantly reduces your fuel mileage because alcohol contains less energy than gasoline. The EPA says you will get about 7 mpg less with E85 that with 100% gasoline. You need to figure the lower mileage coupled with the cost to actually see if using E85 will save or cost you money. In most cases it cost more to run than gasoline. Another downside to E85 is that to grow corn to make E85, American farmers are plowing up native prairie grass that is breeding ground for wildlife and planting corn. They are also not planting soybeans and instead switching to corn. This has not only driven up the price of soybean derived products, but the increased demand has driven up the price of all corn based products. In Brazil they are burning down the rainforest to grow sugarcane for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel. Some studies indicate that it requires more fossil fuel energy to produce ethanol than the alcohol it contains. Ethanol also cannot be transported by pipeline but rather must be transported by truck or rail which uses more diesel fuel. And lastly, the use of E85 has increased the price of food all over the world. These are the facts, you be the judge. 

Octane Myth

What is octane? Octane cannot be seen, but it is of utmost importance when it comes to gasoline. One thing for sure, higher octane fuel costs more. Allot more! 
Simply put, octane is a measure of gasoline's ability to resist detonation, which you hear as pinging and knocking in your engine. The higher the octane the more the fuel can be compressed without detonating before you want it to.  Detonation, ping, knock, whatever you want to call it, occurs when the air/fuel mixture ignites before the spark plug fires. The mixture ignites from compression and not from the flame of the spark plug. In other words, the higher the octane the less likely it is to ignite prematurely. The only benefit to a high octane fuel is that it allows an engine to run at a higher temperature and with a higher compression ratio without pinging. Higher octane fuel does not provide more energy, more power, better mileage, more torque,  burn cleaner, clean your engine, and is not better for the environment. If the engine is pinging when using the correct octane fuel, then it may be necessary to move to the next higher octane to prevent pinging, and damage to your engine, unless there is another problem. If you are using higher octane fuel for any of these reasons, STOP, you are throwing your money away. Also, never use a lower octane fuel than is recommended by the manufacture. If the manufacture recommends 89 octane then use 89. If they recommend 87 then use 87. The key is what was the engine designed to run at to achieve optimum performance and mileage? One exception is when you are towing a heavy load with a vehicle designed to run on 87 and you experience pinging. In that case it may become necessary to switch to 89 while towing. In conclusion, race car engines are designed to run on high octane fuels due to their high compression engines. You cannot make your engine a race engine just by upping the octane. Save your hard earned money, and use exactly the octane you need. 

Fuel Economy

Everyone today is interested in getting the best mileage they can out of the vehicle they drive. There are some tips to accomplish just that. Lets look at a few.

1. Slow down
By simply reducing your speed and driving the speed limit, you will use less fuel. Try it for a week and see if your journey is not more pleasant and you save fuel too. 12% Savings

2. Check Tire Pressure
Under-inflated tires hurt mileage due to higher rolling resistance. How much is debatable. Under & over-inflated tires will wear out faster thus costing you money to replace them. All tires will loose air pressure over time. Purchase a good tire gauge and check your pressure at least once every 2 weeks. Make sure the tires are cold to get an accurate reading. The correct tire pressure for you vehicle is listed in your owner's manual, on the driver's door post, glove box, console, or the trunk. Inflate your tires to that pressure. The pressure listed on the tires themselves is not the pressure to use. That is the maximum pressure the tire can hold. Do not over-inflate your tires. This effects handling and will cause premature tire wear. Notice the label from my Accord. Rear tires are 30 psi, but front tires are 32 psi. This is a typical label that all vehicles have posted somewhere. 1-2% Savings

3. Replace Air Filter
A dirty filter restricts air flow which hampers performance and economy. Replace every 30,000 miles or sooner if you drive in dusty conditions. Look through the filter with the sun or a light. If you cannot see through it, replace it. 

4. Take Off Slowly
Take off with enough speed to not be a hindrance to others drivers, but not like you are drag racing. With an A/T accelerate at a moderate speed so the transmission can upshift quickly. With a manual shift to high gear ASAP but do not lug the engine. Watch down the road and let off the accelerator long before you have to stop. This will save you fuel in the long run. 31% Savings

5. A/C or no A/C
Run the A/C in hot weather with the windows up at highway speed. When in town shut the A/C off and lower the windows. The A/C uses less fuel at highway speeds than the wind resistance of open windows & especially sunroof. If you own a truck, keep the tailgate up. It is a myth that tailgate down uses less fuel.  1-2% Savings

6. Drive Steady
Drive a steady speed and avoid slowing down and speeding up. Use your cruise control on the open road but never in town or in rain, snow, or any other bad weather. In heavy highway traffic the cruise should also not be used. 7% Savings

7. OEM Tires
Install the exact same original equipment size tires that came on your vehicle. Larger tires with a wider footprint may look cool but they require more fuel to rotate. Incorrect size tires will effect the ride, handling,  the accuracy of the speedometer/odometer.

8. Drive What You Need
It is a law of physics that smaller vehicles get better fuel mileage. The small cars built today have more interior room than large cars built years ago. If you do not need a large vehicle then drive a small car or truck. Take a test drive in a modern small car and see if it fits your needs. Look at the EPA fuel economy ratings for all vehicles and then make an intelligent choice as to what you need. 

9. Loose the Weight
Extra weight in your trunk wastes fuel. The more weight the engine has to pull, the more fuel it uses. Remove everything from the trunk that you do not need to carry. If you rarely take long trips, keep the tank between 1/4 & 1/2 full. Gasoline weighs around 6 lbs and diesel around 7 lbs. An extra 10 gallons of fuel would weigh 60=70 lbs, and that cost you money to haul around. 

10. Octane
One of the biggest myths that simply will not die is the octane myth. It goes like this. The higher the octane the more power and mileage you will get. This is absolutely untrue. No matter who tells you that have more power and get better mileage using premium fuel, it is simply a myth. Use the exact octane fuel your owner's manual lists. If your vehicle requires premium fuel then use premium fuel. Using a lower octane to save money on fuel costs may do serious damage to your engine. But if you vehicle list 87 octane, then using 89 or 91 is a total waste of money with zero benefits. I will discuss Octane in detail later on. 

Bonus #11.
Do not let the engine idle when you know you will be stopped for over a minute or two. 

Thank A Veteran For Your Freedom

Wiki Answers

About Me

My photo
Mayfield, Ky, United States
Retired and have been working on automobiles for over 50 years. I have learned that the best way to care for your car is to DIY. I personally do not trust the kid working at Spiffy Lube to change my oil. If, I want it done right I do it myself. Automobiles today are very complex but some things you can still do yourself. I have years of experience working on all kinds of vehicles and want to pass along what I have learned to those wishing to DIY.