Change is a constant and on vehicles there are always new advances. One rapidly advancing area is in automotive lighting with the biggest change being a move away from filament bulbs. This technology has illuminated every corner and interior of cars since cars were invented (with the brief use of gas lamps in the very early years).
The latest technology is xenon headlamps and LED lamps. Many new vehicles, especially in the high-end market sport much of this technology.
Compare this to a 50-year-old VW Beatle with 6 Volt electrical system. You could barely see the VW’s taillights and the road illumination by the headlamps was one 10th of what xenon and LEDs provide. There are many benefits to these new lighting technologies: they are much brighter, use far less electricity, and in the case of LED lights switch on instantly which, when being used in brake lights, provide a significant safety advantage.
LED and xenon lamps are much more durable than their filament predecessors however they cost substantially more to replace. Xenon bulbs can cost over $200 while many traditional headlamp bulbs cost in the $10 to $20 range. LED light assemblies will rarely need replacement because they have so many individual LEDs however they will be very expensive.
Perhaps as they become more common, less expensive options like re-manufactured units or repairs may become available. In spite of these extra costs overall the advantages of better illumination, lower power consumption and increased longevity are very worthwhile.
Winter has arrived: are you prepared for what’s ahead? Do you know what needs to be done to make sure that you and your vehicle make it through to spring?
Here’s a helpful list:
1st Be sure that maintenance services are up to date (oil changes, inspections and previously recommended services that are due)
2nd Be sure that your wiper blades are in great condition.
3rd Be sure that your engine’s antifreeze protection is good for colder temperatures than you will be driving in.
4th Be sure that your washer fluid has antifreeze protection
5th If you use snow tires have them installed in November (or sooner if you live in early snowfall country). If you don’t use snow tires this is a good time of year to replace marginal all season tires.
6th Be sure that your battery is in good condition.
7th Be sure that your air conditioning is functioning well (it helps to very quickly defog your windshield and increases your visibility)
8th Be certain to have an emergency kit if you are planning a trip. This kit includes warm blankets and/or sleeping bag; a candle and matches; water and couple days worth of snacks.
Following these suggestions will help you and your car survive whatever type of winter that might be thrown at us.
Your car’s brakes rely on brake fluid to transmit the force that your foot applies to the brake pedal to each wheel’s brake. Occasionally a brake system will develop a leak and if left unchecked for long enough this can cause some serious safety concerns. Fortunately modern cars have a warning light which illuminates on your dash when the fluid level drops too low.
Recently we serviced a vehicle with the dash warning lamp on. We inspected the fluid and found the level very low. Upon performing a brake inspection we found the left brake caliper leaking, and further inspection revealed something more interesting and potentially very dangerous: the inner brake pad soaked in fluid was disintegrating. This could have crumbled apart upon hard braking and caused a serious inability to stop. Fortunately we caught this in time, repaired it and made the car safe. While it is normal for your brake fluid level to drop over a long period of time you should have your brakes inspected at least yearly to be sure that the system is safe.
Shocks and struts are a major component of your vehicle’s suspension system and work hard to keep your vehicle firmly gripped to the road. Though they generally last a long time they are a commonly wearing component on every vehicle. Unfortunately as a car ages and repair costs escalate shock and strut replacement often gets put on the back burner compromising the safety of the vehicle and wearing out other components. Lets look at what shocks and struts do, what goes wrong with them and what the consequences of not replacing worn ones are.
First off shocks and struts are both similar and different. They are similar in that the strut contains a shock absorber inside, the difference is that the strut forms the upper portion of the suspension geometry and incorporates a coil spring. As you might guess by this description struts are more expensive to replace. The part costs more along with extra labour. Shocks and struts can be found on the front or rear suspension of a vehicle.
The purpose of the shock absorber is to stop the oscillation of the vehicle springs. Without them your car would continuously bounce on bumps and your ride would be extremely uncomfortable. Handling and braking would be severely compromised.
When shocks and struts wear you will experience a bouncy ride and along with this comes reduced stopping distance. This is perhaps the most important reason to replace worn out shocks and struts. Studies have found that worn shocks reduce stopping distance by 12 feet from a 100km/hr panic stop. That could make the difference between hitting the car in front of you or not. Cupped tire tread wear is another result of worn out shocks and struts and often this wear occurs when you cannot feel the usual bouncy ride associated with bad shocks. Many a set of good tires has been ruined adding expense to one’s auto service budget. Another casualty of worn shocks and struts are prematurely wearing front brakes. This occurs from too much vehicle weight transfer to the front wheels when braking.
Many shock manufacturers recommend replacement at 80,000 kilometers. In my opinion this is excessive as they often last substantially longer on many vehicles. The best way to determine shock and strut condition is to assess vehicle ride on a regular basis along with a visual inspection of the suspension and tires.
While replacing shocks and struts can be an expensive service, the excellent ride, enhanced vehicle control and improved stopping distance make it more than great value for your money.
Brake repairs are one of the most common vehicle services. With so many shops doing them and such a variety of advertised ‘brake specials’ and prices how do you know if your brakes are being done properly and you are receiving good value for your money? Remember, cheap pricing usually comes with compromises in quality of parts and workmanship. Here’s what makes a good brake job.
It starts with a thorough inspection and that begins with a road test. The technician looks for brake pulls and vibrations when the brakes are applied and listens for noises. In the shop comes is a visual inspection of the brake fluid, looking for fluid level and quality of the fluid. The master cylinder and brake booster are visually inspected as are all brake lines and hoses. Wheels are then removed and brake pads and shoes are measured for thickness and evenness of wear. Brake rotors and drums are also measured for thickness and inspected for damage. Calipers and wheel cylinders are inspected for leakage and freedom of movement. Also visually inspected are ABS wires and proportioning valves and let’s not forget the operation of the parking brake. Other incidental but critical items safe braking are inspected such as wheel bearing play, shocks and struts and obviously loose steering and suspension components.
From the inspection an assessment of the brakes is made: which parts are in good condition and functioning well, and which items need repair now. A good shop will consult with you about how much you drive and where. This helps determine the urgency of repairs.
Let’s now look at repairs. A quality brake job involves not only replacement of parts but also thorough cleaning: caliper and pad sliders frequently get corroded and using a wire wheel or sandblaster to remove rust is essential. Hardware and self-adjusters for drum brakes requires disassembly and cleaning. After cleaning, components require lubrication with quality high temperature brake lubricants.
Quality of parts is very important to a successful trouble free repair: there are many grades of brake parts and using the best quality makes sense for longevity and the best stopping power. Cheap parts usually wear out faster; will cause squeals and other unwanted concerns.
Flushing brake fluid is a service often required with a brake job. Brake fluid absorbs water right out of the air and becomes contaminated. Many manufacturers recommend replacing the fluid every 2 years. When due, this becomes part of a quality brake repair.
After repairs, a thorough road test is done to be sure that your brakes are stopping your car as they should. Be aware that after many brake repairs you may find that your brakes make different sounds, the pedal feels different and there may also be odd smells and even smoke coming from replaced parts. All of these concerns should disappear within a day’s driving.
“Trust me: it’s a good car.”
“You don’t need a prepurchase inspection, we can offer you a powertrain warranty.”
“We’ve done an inspection on this vehicle and it all checks out.”
Those were comments made by the salesman to a recent client who brought in a 1997 Nissan Quest for a prepurchase inspection. Fortunately our client was smart and insisted on an inspection, and it is something that should be done every time you purchase a vehicle.
You really don’t know by just driving it what potentially expensive repairs may be required.
This vehicle was only priced at $2900 and was 15 years old so I wasn’t expecting perfection. On the plus side there were only 124,000 kilometers on the clock and the body and interior were in good condition.
We walk around the vehicle, inspect the interior controls and then go for an extended road test. The vehicle felt fine with the exception of a slight wobble in the steering wheel probably caused by a bad tire. There was also a noticeable humming noise present when the engine was running. Overall the vehicle felt good.
This involves an under hood and then an under vehicle inspection.
Under the hood, most everything looked very good except that the battery was in very poor condition (in spite of being only a year old).
Under the vehicle, on the hoist things looked good for the steering and suspension systems… except for a slight rack and pinion leak which in time will turn a into costly repair. The tires, as we suspected from the road test had problems: the rears were almost legally worn out and the fronts had several sidewall indentations.
This involves removing the wheels and inspecting the brakes, and here we found some concerns: front brake pads had 3 millimeters remaining which is close to worn out. Worse still, both rear wheel cylinders were leaking and on the right side badly enough to have soaked the brake shoes. Clearly these rear brakes would not pass a government safety inspection.
As a result of the inspection our client now knows fully what he is getting for his $2900:
A 15 year old van with low mileage and in pretty good condition overall but requiring some immediate repairs to brakes, tires and battery. Some time down the road repairs to the steering rack and the fuel pump (that was the humming noise that we mentioned earlier) will be needed. He can use this inspection to either negotiate a better price for the vehicle or simply move onto something else.
The prepurchase inspection gave him the truth in order to make an informed decision!
A tire pressure monitoring system offers convenience, are a smart safety addition and they are proven to increase the life of your tires!
TPMS show inflation pressure which governs the performance of a pneumatic tire. Safety performance like braking distance and lateral stability require the inflation pressures to be maintained as specified by the vehicle manufacturer.
Extreme under-inflation can lead to thermal and mechanical overload caused by overheating and subsequent, sudden destruction of the tire. Plus, under-inflation adversely affects fuel efficiency and tire wear. Tires leak air naturally and over a year, even a typical new, properly mounted tire can lose from 20 to 60 kPa (3 to 9 psi), roughly 10% or even more of its serviced proper pressure.
The significant advantages of TPMS are illustrated by the costs of tire under inflation:
• Consequences of low tire pressure: Punctures (approx. 80% of punctures are caused by inadequate tire pressure), Increased tire wear due to added flexing work, Increased fuel consumption due to higher rolling resistance
• Fuel usage: for every 10% of under-inflation on each tire on a vehicle, a 1% reduction in fuel economy will occur (According to the GITI). In just the US, the DOT estimates that under inflated tires waste 2 billion US gal. (7,600,000,000 litres) of fuel each year.
• Poor tire life: Tire disintegration, heat buildup, separation and sidewall/casing breakdowns are mostly caused by under inflated tires. Running a tire even briefly with low pressure breaks down the casing and stops the option to retread the tire.
• Increased downtime, higher maintenance and repair: Under-inflated tires cause expensive downtime, maintenance and premature tire replacement.
• Poor safety: Under-inflated tires lead to tread separation and tire failure, resulting in 40,000 accidents, 33,000 injuries and over 650 deaths per year. On the other hand, tires properly inflated provide greater stability, handling and braking efficiencies and more safety for the driver, the vehicle, the loads and others on the road.
• Environmentally Bad: Under-inflated tires, as estimated by the Department of Transportation, release over 57.5 billion pounds of unnecessary carbon-monoxide pollutants into the atmosphere each year in the United States alone.
Tire pressure monitoring systems are mandated in many countries now and offer real advantages; call us to find out about equipping your vehicle.
Fearmongering is a sales technique used by some shops, and sadly, as it is so often associated with dishonest recommendations gives the auto service industry a bad reputation.
We recently had a client who brought her vehicle to us for a second opinion about some brake work that she was told was absolutely, immediately required and “must be done today or her car would be dangerous to drive”. We inspected her brakes (several days later) and found that the rear brake pads still had 4 millimeters remaining which is a far cry from needing immediate replacement. Yes they were nearly worn out but not dangerous. Through using this technique this shop not only destroyed their credibility but tarnished the reputation of the auto service industry.
We advised our client that based on her driving habits her brakes would be perfectly safe for at least 3 to 6 more months. Four months had passed and we replaced her rear pads and rotors. She had driven 11,000 kilometers and those brake pads that were supposedly unsafe still had 3 millimeters remaining. Three millimeters is worn out but still not unsafe.
There are times when we find something on a car that is unsafe and requires immediate repairs but this is rare. In this sort of case we can show you the concern while the car is on the hoist or if this is not possible send a video or photo via e-mail. We always educate our clients on what is good and what is worn or requiring servicing on their vehicle and let them choose when to repair it.
Getting back to the fearmongering shop, a better, and more honest approach would be to advise the client that their brakes are almost worn out and instead of falsely creating fear and attempting to sell work this shop could have built trust through honesty and waited for a few months to do the service.
However that is what we found recently when a 2004 Ford Freestar was towed to our shop. Upon removing the axle shaft, taking off the CV boot and investigating the failure – we found the cage, which holds the 6 balls in position had split in half, allowing the balls to slip out of place.
Never before had we seen this sort of failure!
We speculated that the cage may have been damaged by a previous accident as there was evidence to suggest that the control arm had been replaced with a used part: a classic sign of a collision repair.
Possibly the vehicle had been hit on the right side or been driven hard into a curb. Any of these stresses could have damaged the CV joint though there was no visible evidence or symptom noted when driving. This is one of the liabilities of having a vehicle repaired from a collision.
There are many components that are hidden and cannot be inspected that could be weakened by a collision.
We think this CV joint shows just such an eventuality.
Some further notes to our story: the owner of this vehicle did not have any knowledge of such an accident and was not the original owner. This damage though, based on the evidence: the replaced control arm and the unusual nature of the failure and that the failure could be caused by severe inward impact… seems to overwhelmingly suggest a collision caused this.
Unfortunately not much, for even a thorough independent inspection after repairs will not likely find any concerns. When an insurance company repairs collision damage they will repair and replace all noticeable damage and anything that affects the vehicle’s driving operation which was clearly caused by the collision.
The hidden things remain so and may unfortunately show up one day just like this broken CV joint did.
Oil leaks are common as cars age and there are many places for oil to leak from: engine gaskets and seals, transmission gaskets and seals, differential seals and the power steering system. Cost to repair these leaks can vary from under a hundred dollars to into the thousands. While it is often cheaper to add oil than spend money to repair, there are a few reasons why you should fix your oil leaks.
1) Though it is rare, oil leaks can catch fire. We recently found a potentially hazardous leak on a 2001 Audi A8. It is dangerous because the oil is leaking directly onto the left resonator. This part of the exhaust system can become very hot and under the right conditions this leaked oil could ignite.
2) Oil leaks damage our environment. Drips get washed down the storm drains and pollute rivers, lakes and the ocean. While one car dripping a drop of oil here and there is no big deal when you add the thousands of cars on the road together this creates quite a concern.
3) Rubber parts are damaged by oil. Over time if enough oil gets on it, a rubber part will fail and this will cost you extra to repair. Some commonly oil damaged parts that we replace are coolant hoses, engine mounts and suspension bushings.
To prevent such damage, have your car serviced regularly and repair oil leaks as they occur and when they become severe enough. How will you know that you have an oil leak? You may notice drips on the ground under your car; you may need to add oil to your engine; or you may note a burning or unusual smell while driving like our client with the Audi did. It is worth having your car inspected when you note any odd smells for you never know when this could be potentially dangerous.