In recent years, many vehicle manufacturers have extended their engine oil change service intervals. There are several reasons for this:
1) Modern engine oils offer superior lubrication.
2) Environmental concerns about waste oil.
3) Many manufacturers are offering no cost maintenance when the car is new, and that now makes oil services an expense to them.
While modern technology has brought us superior oils, it has also created very high tech engines featuring dual overhead camshafts run by timing chains, four or more valves per cylinder, and low tension piston rings, all built with very tight clearances.
Twenty years ago, these features would have only been found in a Ferrari or Lamborghini!
The consequence of not changing your oil frequently enough can be devastating to many of these modern engines: miss one oil change and you could eventually be in for very expensive repairs.
Some European cars feature very long oil change intervals: as high as 25,000 kilometers. I can say from personal experience that oil with that mileage on it is very contaminated and definitely not as effective as it should be. What happens in many engines, when oil is left too long is sludge build up occurs. The sludge will eventually block oil passageways and starve components of lubricant, causing them to wear quickly.
After undertaking intense technical research I have found that there is a huge variance of opinion amongst the experts: some say that changing oil every 10,000 kilometers is just fine while others state that anything over 5,000 kilometers can cause accelerated engine wear. In my own experience, along with the information that I have gathered, there are some engines which can tolerate long oil change intervals and still operate fine: they can in fact handle abuse.
Other engines however cannot tolerate any abuse and will die an early and expensive death.
As cars are always changing, with new engine designs continually being introduced, how does one know which engine can take abuse? You don’t: so unless you want to experiment and perhaps end up spending a great deal of money… it is best to keep oil change intervals at around 5,000km for most cars.
The exception – some with large capacities and synthetic oil can go longer.
Sudden battery failure can be a major inconvenience, leaving you scrambling to get your car started.
It always seems to happen just when you really need to get somewhere!
Fortunately there are ways to prevent it from happening and that is with routine battery testing, which is best done at least once per year.
Five years is usually considered old for a battery, though some do live longer. With proper testing, the state of health of the battery can be determined and if it is poor, you could choose to replace it for two reasons: one: with poor health it is likely to fail soon and prevent your car from starting; two: a weak battery puts a strain on your alternator, the device that recharges your battery while the engine is running.
An alternator can be expensive to replace so maximizing its life will reduce your repair expenses.
Will routine inspections of your battery prevent you from being stranded?
No, batteries can die suddenly and alternators wear out naturally, but overall, by performing routine inspections on these components you will save money and reduce stress.
Controversy is brewing in the auto service world about the correct placement of your vehicle’s best tires: some say that they belong on the rear axle while others state the front is best.
This issue usually comes to light when purchasing tires for only one axle on the vehicle.
Most cars on the road are front wheel drive and with this system the front tires are very heavily worked. Most vehicle weight is over the front axle, the front tires steer the car, provide traction on acceleration and must grip hard during braking. Because of these numerous functions, it makes logical sense that your best tires are on the front.
On a rear wheel drive car, the best should also be on the front as they control the vehicle’s steering and most of the braking is done with the front wheels.
There is an argument however that the best tires should be on the rear, because if the rear tires lose contact with the road your car will more easily lose control and spin out.
While in some cases this could be true for the most part the front tires play a far more critical role in vehicle safety. Ideally all of your tires should have approximately the same tread depth and be replaced when the lowest tread is 3mm deep.
Regular service, which includes tire rotation, will prevent you from ever facing the dilemma of where to put your best tires as they will be worn equally and provide the best degree of safety.
Most vehicle maintenance is based upon your manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. There are however many variations between manufacturers that give pause for the question:
Is this schedule thorough enough to truly take proper care of your vehicle?
Consider that all cars are really the same when looking at their construction and operation: they use internal combustion engines, hydraulic brake systems and, whether the transmission is standard or automatic, internal components are mostly the same between brands. Certainly some cars are more refined than others, but at the heart of it, they are all the same.
Why is it then, if all cars are essentially the same, that maintenance schedules and services recommended vary so much between manufacturers? Why, for example, are so many European manufacturers adamant about regularly replacing brake fluid when American manufacturers don’t mention it?
And what about so-called “fill for life” fluids found in many European automatic transmissions? Many of these “lifetime fluids” are the same fluid found in other makes of cars that recommend replacement every 50,000 kilometers.
The answer to these questions lies in several areas.
First: most manufacturers like to present their cars, at the time of sale, as being low maintenance as this helps make the car more attractive.
Second: the manufacturer’s engineering department creates the maintenance schedule based mostly on theory of how long components will last. Once the car is exposed to real life wear and tear the theories sometimes miss the mark.
Third: vehicle manufacturers are in the business of making and selling new cars so ultimately having them last a long time is not really their main concern.
Is there a superior way to service a car? Yes there is: by relying on the knowledge and experience that we auto service technicians have gathered, seeing the real world wear and tear that takes place on cars, and combining that with the best of the different manufacturer’s schedules, we can put together a truly comprehensive maintenance program.
The final part of the equation is you: how do you drive and how much. The ultimate result is a thoroughly maintained vehicle: a vehicle that truly lasts, is more reliable and costs less to run.
Use it or lose it.
This saying aptly describes a vulnerability with your vehicle’s parking brake and occurs mostly on automatic transmission cars.
Why automatic vehicles?
Because many drivers do not use their parking brake at all, until one day when they park on a very steep hill. When they try to drive away, the brake remains stuck on.
This occurs because the parking brake is comprised of cables and levers, which, without regular exercise seize up. So use your parking brake regularly to keep it in good shape. Standard transmission vehicles rarely experience this problem because the parking brake is used frequently.
Lets look at maintenance reminder lights and what they mean to you and your car. First off, not all cars and trucks come with them so this may not apply to your vehicle. Looking in your owner’s manual will confirm whether or not this is an issue of concern for you.
For those vehicles that have them, maintenance Lamps will come in one of several forms: a light that says “O2 Sensor”, “Maintenance Due”, “Service due” or something of similar wording.
Diesel vehicles will may display “Air Filter” and/or “timing belt” lights.
Occasionally some vehicles (only pre 1995 models) use the “Check Engine” lamp as a maintenance reminder light as well as a warning for a computer engine control problem. What most of these lights have in common is that they are warning you that a particular part requires service: either by testing the part or replacing the part. It is not a do or die type of warning like the oil lamp, but rather a suggestion to attend to servicing a particular part.
After the service is performed the light must be switched off manually. This can range from a simple procedure of pushing a button, to connecting a scan tool to the engine computer, or removing the instrument panel and changing wiring connections.
The Oil Lamp or Oil warning indicator
Over the years I have spoken to many car owners who are confused about the purpose of the oil lamp on their dash. You know the one that I mean, it usually appears as a red lamp in the shape of an oil can and illuminates briefly while starting the engine.
To set the record straight, the only purpose of this light is to warn you of oil pressure loss. Should the light come on while driving, it is critical that you switch off your engine immediately and have the cause of the problem diagnosed. Failure to do so may result in expensive engine damage.
So now that we’ve defined what it does, let’s look at a common misconception about the oil light, which is that it indicates your engine is low on oil.
This light does not do this!
You must continue to check the level from time to time. If the light comes on due to low oil level it may be too late and you may have already damaged your engine. Some cars are equipped with a “low oil level” warning lamp. This lamp clearly says “low oil level” when it comes on. Should it switch on, checking your oil level would be the first thing to do.
The battery is an electrical storage device whose primary purpose is to provide power to start your car’s engine.
It also enables you to run accessories with the engine off and provides reserve electrical power should your charging system be weak. Every time you start your engine the battery sends power to the starter motor which turns your engine over until the spark plugs spark and the fuel begins to combust. This process depletes your battery’s energy and continuing to attempt to start your car will eventually result in a dead battery.
Enter the alternator, whose purpose is to generate electricity to recharge your battery.
So why call it an alternator when it really is a generator? Because it generates alternating current. Up until the early 1960’s most cars used a direct current generator. It was found that an alternator, which generates alternating current (which is converted to direct current) was far more efficient, reliable and used fewer parts.
Your car contains many electricity hungry components such as lights, ignition system, fuel injection, windshield wipers, heater fans and on and on. All of these require feeding which is done with the alternator; otherwise your battery would go dead.
Let’s look at the inner workings of the battery and the alternator. As mentioned, the battery stores electricity and how it does this is quite remarkable. Car batteries are of the lead-acid type which use lead plates and sulfuric acid. The chemical reaction between these two components creates electricity.
As the battery discharges, the sulfuric acid breaks up with the sulfur attaching to the lead plates, leaving water behind. As the battery is recharged the sulfur leaves the plates and becomes reunited with the water to once again form sulfuric acid. This dance goes on until the battery becomes old and weak.
While batteries store electricity, alternators create it by spinning a large magnet past a coil of wires. The alternator operates as soon as your engine starts. Inside the alternator are components to convert the alternating current into direct current which is compatible with your car’s electrical system. The voltage output of the alternator would soon overload the electrical system if it wasn’t for the voltage regulator which keeps the output down to about 14 volts.
What maintenance do these two items require? The alternator and most batteries require no maintenance, however some batteries can be topped up with water if the level runs low. The alternator is belt driven so the belt needs to be inspected occasionally and replaced if worn. Battery terminals may become corroded and these should be inspected and cleaned if dirty. Otherwise it is a trouble free system.
Sealants are available as a quick fix for just about any vehicle leak from your air conditioning to your engine oil.
We rarely use sealants; but under the right conditions they can do a good job and save you money.
Using the right product is essential. A bad sealant can cause more damage and that will cost you more money in the long run. Doing a diagnosis of the leak is essential to see if a sealant will help. For example, a coolant leak can be caused by many things: a blown hose, a water pump seal or badly deteriorated gasket. These will not be helped by radiator sealant. Whereas a pin hole in a radiator core or a very slight gasket seep can be sealed.
When repairing leaks in other vehicle systems diagnosis again is key. Knowing where the leak is coming from enables the technician to prescribe the proper repair.