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Category Archives for "Car Safety"

Hidden Accident Damage Causes a Sudden Breakdown

Complete CV Joint Failures Due to Breakage Are Extremely Rare

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!

Hidden Accident Damage Causes a Sudden Breakdown

1/2 of the broken CV joint cage

Hidden Accident Damage Causes a Sudden Breakdown

Complete CV joint: note the intact cage and the large ball bearings in proper position

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.

Hidden Accident Damage Causes a Sudden Breakdown

Note the yellow paint numbering on the control arm: this is indicative of a used part, likely replaced in a collision repair

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.

What can you do to prevent such an occurrence on your vehicle?

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 Can Be Dangerous

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.

Oil Leaks Can Be Dangerous

Rear transmission seal leaking onto exhaust system: a potentially dangerous oil leak!

So Much is Riding on Your Tires

If you feel a wobble, vibration or hear clunking sounds while driving your vehicle it would behoove you to have your vehicle inspected for the concern as soon as possible. We recently serviced a Mercedes with, what the client described as a vibration in the vehicle at around 60 kilometers an hour. During my road test the vibration was very apparent and to the point that driving in the vehicle was uncomfortable. I suspected a bad tire in the rear and slowed my speed because it felt dangerous. Up on the hoist it was apparent that both rear tires were badly worn especially the right rear. After inspecting the old tires off rim I noted this very dangerous crack between the tread and the tire casing: it was only a matter of time before this tire completely blew apart. The lesson here is you never know when a shake or vibration is going to cause a catastrophe so it is best to have the concern inspected immediately. The same goes for clunks and other odd noises. Sometimes noises and vibrations are really no safety concern at all but it is best to have it professionally looked at to be certain.

So Much is Riding on Your Tires

Dangerous tire: note the crack running along the edge of the tread

Know Your Warning Lamps

Oil and Coolant Lamps

Every vehicle is equipped with an array of warning lamps which serve to alert you to various goings on with your car.

While a short novel could be written about the function of all of your warning lamps this article will focus very specifically on two very useful warning lamps: the low oil level lamp and the low coolant level lamp.

Before you read further you need to know if these apply to your vehicle as some cars have them and some don’t. If yours is in the “not equipped” camp then it is imperative that you regularly inspect your engine oil and engine coolant levels: failure to do so could cost you a lot of money.

If your car is equipped with these warning lamps then you should get some pre-warning of these critical fluids being low. If these lamps come on take the time to: 1) check the level of the fluid in question at your earliest convenience and 2) top up that fluid if required. I say earliest convenience because you don’t have to pull over immediately.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to know if your vehicle is equipped with these lights. So frequently I meet clients who mistakenly think that the oil warning lamp is for low oil level when it is not (it is to alert you to low engine oil pressure). If you wait for the oil warning lamp to come on to alert you to low engine oil you’ve probably damaged your engine already.

Oil and Coolant Lamps

Examples of a low engine oil warning lamp and a low coolant level warning lamp. All cars are different so find out what your's looks like

The Hazards of Low Profile Tires

damaged tire from running underinflated

While low profile tires look great and offer tremendous handling advantages, care needs to be taken when driving. Hazards, such as potholes can cause serious tire and wheel damage; damage that might otherwise not occur on regular tires & wheels.

The picture below shows a cracked wheel and damaged tire on a 2004 Jaguar X-type wagon. While the crack in this wheel looks catastrophic it was repairable. The tire unfortunately required replacement due to sidewall damage from being run on low air pressure.

If you own a vehicle with low profile tires be careful with road hazards: they may lead to very expensive repairs.

cracked wheel from road hazard

Cracked wheel

damaged tire from running underinflated

damaged tire from running underinflated

Air Conditioning is for Winter Too!

car air conditioning in winter - defogging windows

Most people only think of Air conditioning as a way to stay cool on a hot summer day.

Did you know that a properly functioning A/C system is important in the winter too?

car air conditioning in winter - defogging windows
Yes it is, and the reason is that air conditioning dries the air inside your vehicle and this helps to defog your windows very quickly.

You may own a vehicle where the A/C is switched on separately, and if so, you can do an experiment. With the A/C off try defogging your windshield: it may take a minute or two.

The next time that you have a fogged windshield switch on the A/C: provided that it is working your windshield will defog in seconds. The time taken of course will vary with the severity of the moisture in the car but for the most part the results are profound.

Get to know how your car’s system works: on many vehicles the a/c is switched on automatically when you set the control to defog.

So there you have a reason to keep a properly functioning air conditioning system throughout the year: It’s for your safety!

Nitrogen Tires inflation: Is it Worth it?

Skip nitrogen filling your tires

The option to fill your vehicle tires with nitrogen is available at some service facilities and tire shops. In fact it might be one of the most promoted “great” thing to do for your tires in recent memory.

Is Nitrogen Filling worth it?

Some places offer it for free as a “value-added” whereas other facilities charge for it, and fair enough as there is a substantial cost for the equipment.

While Nitrogen certainly has benefits and is used in commercial aircraft tires and racing car tires, my conclusion is that the benefits are very minimal for motor vehicles.

Racing cars are operated under very stressful and exacting conditions where 1 PSI of tire pressure could win or lose a race. Jet airplane tires are subjected to extreme weather and heat conditions: a plane could take off in 40 degree desert conditions and land on a -40 degree runway. Also jet tires go from immobile to 200MPH instantly when the plane lands.

One of Nitrogen’s advantages is that nitrogen filled tires maintain their pressure more consistently than air filled tires; the reason being that compressed air contains some water vapour and this expands and contracts with heating and cooling.

Overtime, nitrogen filled tires apparently lose less pressure than air inflated tires due to its larger molecular size. Another supposed benefit of nitrogen inflation is longer tire life due to lack of oxidation of the inner tire rubber. While this may be true, is that of any value when the outside of the tires is surrounded by air?

Skip nitrogen filling your tires

When all is considered, there is no doubt that nitrogen offers some benefits, but for almost every motorist the benefits are negligible and I would say not worth paying for. Consumer Reports did a year long test on Nitrogen filling in 2006-’07 and concluded that “Overall, consumers can use nitrogen and might enjoy the slight improvement in air retention provided, but it’s not a substitute for regular inflation checks.”

Checking your tire pressures monthly is the best way to ensure they are properly inflated and you are keeping wear to a minimum and safety and fuel economy at its maximum.

As for the value of nitrogen tire inflation, you be the judge. I suggest you save your money.

Headlights Then & Now

sealed beam headlights vs replacement bulbs

Last week we serviced two 1990’s vintage vehicles with burned out sealed beam headlights and it occurred to me that this is yet another technology that has almost disappeared. Most every modern car has a moulded headlamp assembly with small replaceable bulbs.

Sealed beam headlights debuted on cars in the 1940s. For many years they were round but in later years rectangular became the shape of choice. As they evolved they became brighter especially with the introduction of halogen bulb technology.

It is always interesting to see the evolution of automotive components: with the sealed beam headlight, the waste and sometimes complex replacement procedure is not missed.

sealed beam headlights vs replacement bulbs

Compare the size of the new bulb to the old sealed beam. It is a prime example of less waste!

Air Bag System Repair and Diagnosis

Airbag Light - get it checked

Sometimes the repair is simple and the diagnosis is hard!

This week we diagnosed and repaired an airbag concern on a 2003 Mazda Tribute (which incidentally is the same as a Ford Escape). Our client’s concern was that the airbag lamp was on.

Airbag Light - get it checked

While performing our diagnosis we found the lamp would not light at all and 2 codes were stored in the airbag computer. The light issue was solved by removing the instrument panel and replacing a dead bulb; this also solved one of the trouble codes.

We now focused on the other code which indicated a problem with the passenger’s side air bag. The diagnostic procedure had us look at our scan tool data while testing the side air bag module, its wiring and connections. The maximum resistance allowed in this circuit is 3.4 ohms and our scan tool reading was 3.2 ohms: very close to the maximum. Interestingly, the driver’s side had the same reading.

Further testing of components revealed no other concerns.

What we had was either an intermittent problem with a connector or component. Airbag systems are very sensitive to poor connections and these are common causes of Air Bag lights coming on.

To ensure good connections we applied Stabilant 22, a contact enhancer which creates a “good as soldered” connection to the terminals at the side airbag connector. The results on the scan tool said it all: resistance was now 2.2 ohms, very safely below maximum spec. We applied the liquid to the driver’s side with the same result likely preventing a future airbag light concern.

While an intermittent problem with the passenger’s side airbag may still be present, we had very simply created greatly improved conditions in the affected wiring circuits and could verify our results.

Modern CV Boots Last a Long Time

Believe it or not, cars are becoming better built and more reliable.

Having serviced cars for 30 years I’ve seen many items which once commonly wore out last much longer: examples are exhaust systems, timing belts and spark plugs.

We can now add CV boots to the list. CV boots are located on all front wheel drive axleshafts (and on some rear axleshafts) and serve to protect the CV joint and retain its lubricant. CV stands for Constant Velocity. The CV joint’s function is to ensure that your engine’s power is smoothly transmitted to the drive wheels.

A decade ago many CV boots would break around the 100,000 kilometer mark; now we see cars with twice that mileage with the boots intact. So while parts still continue to wear on cars you can be thankful that your CV boots are one item that requires less service and cost to you.

Modern CV Boots Last a Long Time

IF your vehicle is a bit older, it is important that these joints be checked out.

Modern CV Boots Last a Long Time

Damaged CV Joint Boot

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