Monday, December 26, 2011

Starting your car in winter

Starting a car in winter is nothing like it use to be back when cars were carbureted. With modern fuel injection most people don't even think or wonder if their car will start. This is a good thing but just because your car starts doesn't mean it is ready to go. No I am not saying you need to let it warm up for a few minutes or any thing like that. When the weather gets colder it is even harder on your vehicle and special precautions should be taken. Below are my recommendations for start your car when it is really code.

  1. Let it run for a bit once started - I am not talking about the 1-3 minute warm up time of old as that isn't needed. What I am saying is put your foot on the break put the car in gear (if it has an automatic transmission) while running and let the fluids circulate and built pressure for a few seconds before driving off. This is usually when I am putting my seat belt on and adjusting the radio, you know 10-15 seconds. When it is cold oil doesn't flow as fast so why risk damage to your engine or transmission by running it faster than it needs to before oil has fully circulated. 
  2. If you have a block heater plug it in the night before. Block heaters a wonderful they either heat the oil or heat the coolant so that your vehicle has an easier time starting and also causes it to warm up quicker. If your vehicle doesn't have one installed you can get some aftermarket ones that you put in line with the coolant system or can attach to the oil pan. They are well worth their cost.
  3. Put the batter on the charger over night - You are not trying to charge the battery but you are trying to keep some warmth in the battery. So by putting it on a charger at the 1.5 to 2 amp trickle charge you can ensure that the battery doesn't freeze. For instruction on how to charge your batter see this article.
  4. Drive lightly - Once your vehicle is started don't drive it like a race car until it is up to full operating temperature. This means driving it lightly as you go through the neighborhood and don't do the jack rabbit starts from a stop. 
  5. If you flooded the engine (yes this can happen with fuel injected vehicles if you press the gas pedal down some when trying to start it) there is a way to unflood  it with modern fuel injected vehicles. Press the gas pedal all the way to the floor and as soon as you hear the engine catch let off the gas. You shouldn't be touching the gas pedal when starting a fuel injected vehicle even in the cold weather. these aren't like the old cars with carburetors
  6. If you have a diesel vehicle you have your own set of issues and probably know these secrets for getting it started but a neat trick I learned from one of my coworkers who has a diesel is to use some of those adhesive block heaters* that stick to your oil pan but instead stick them to your fuel tank. This will prevent your diesel fuel from gelling up and makes starting easier.
* Note I am not sponsored by or endorsing O'Reilly Auto Parts I just know that they carried the adhesive block heater pads and wanted to provide an example. I have no relationship with O'Reilly Auto Parts other than as a customer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter supplies

Now is the time of year, especially with the Christmas holiday approaching, that the local news paper or local news has a segments on what you should carry with you for traveling in inclement weather. Below is my list which is probably more complete and useful.

  • Blanket - one per person
  • Snacks - some chips, candy, jerky or other snacks like food that won't go bad in case you are stranded
  • 1 quart oil - doesn't everyone have one of these in their trunk
  • Jumper cables - You will need to know how to used these. Even if you don't need them for your self you can be the hero as it seems no one carries these anymore.
  • Warmers - The hand and foot warmers that heat up when they are exposed to air. These work great as I use them when hunting and am out side for weeks on end in the cold weather.
  • Hat
  • Mittens/gloves
  • Tow chain or tow rope - Yes I have one of these, if you get stuck hopefully a 4WD truck or 4WD SUV comes by and can help pull you out. Then I suggest giving the person some cash since they did stop and pull you out of the ditch. This is a lot cheaper than getting a tow truck to pull you out which charge like $75 to hook up your car. I have even helped pull people out of ditches a couple of weeks ago with my Jeep who got stuck.
  • A full tank of gas - It doesn't have to be full but keep it above half a tank. I see an awful lot of people who are stuck on the side of the road because they ran out of gas and now are walking to a gas station.
  • Some cash - Keep $40 or so in cash in your car in small bills. It is nice since things seem to get bad when you are out in the middle of no where with limited services and they don't take credit card. Often gas stations require a cash deposit to use a gas can as well.
  • Flash light with working batteries
  • Some basic tools - If you work on your own car you probably have a good idea of what the most used tools for it are. Typically this is a couple of screw drivers, and a handful of wrenches. I know BMW's have a little tool kit in the trunk that has this but I don't know if other vehicles do as well but I wouldn't be surprised if Mercedes do as well.
  • Tire chains - If you are getting into some deep unplowed snow this will make your car go like a tank. Being from Minnesota you would think that they would be common here but they aren't. Most people think they are banned in this state but they aren't according to MN Statute 169.72
  • Ice scrapper
  • Windshield washer fluid (the non freezing type)
  • Shovel - Those folding military/camping shovels work great for tossing in your trunk.
  • Flash light.
  • 40lbs sack of rock salt - Some people use kitty litter but I like rock salt better as it will provide traction like kitty litter but will also melt ice. Just get a 40lbs sack of the rock water softener salt. If you don't need it during the winter then you can go dump it in your water softener. If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle I would suggest two 40lbs sacks, one over each rear wheel. 
  • Some fire starters - In case you are stranded for a long time having a fire for warmth might be nice if you are off in the woods.
  • First aid kit
  • Something to drink - Everyone suggests water, but that just freezes, bottles of pop freeze at a much lower temperature so instead of having a frozen block of ice you might actually have something to drink. Don't have cans of pop as when they freeze they will just burst and then you have a sticky mess so get plastic bottles.

Get Your Car Ready for Winter

With winter on its way or already here now is the time to start getting you car ready for winter. Below are the things that I do to prep my car for winter.
  1. Check the coolant - You should already be doing this each oil change but it is worth another check. Unlike in the summer you will need to have a mix and not run 100% water. Usually a 50/50 mix is the ideal ratio to balance boil over and freeze prevention. The last thing you want is to have your engine coolant freeze as this would probably be the end of a number of parts.
  2. Check your battery - A number of auto parts stores will check your battery for free if you don't have the tools to do it your self. Cold weather is hard on batteries and if you have a battery approaching the end of its life it might just freeze which will be the end of that battery.
  3. If you haven't done a flush and fill recently on you coolant now would be a good time to do so. This ensures that you have both good coolant and that you don't have a plugged heater core. 
  4. Switch to a lighter weight oil - Now your car will typically have a recommended oil usually 5w30, some vehicles have 2 oils they recommend based off of the temperatures it will operate in. In my daily driver (the BMW 540i) I will run 4 different weight oils throughout the year. In the peak heat of the summer I run 15w40 while in the middle of winter I will run 0w30 while running 5w30 and 10w30 in the less extreme  temperatures. The first number is the cold flow number so the cooler it is the lighter oil you can go with. When the day time highs are going to only be -10F it would be worth while to run a light oil that actually will flow and build oil pressure. The second number is the hot flow number and means this oil will thin no more than a X weight oil so 0w30 when cold flows like a 0 weight oil but once it warms up it flows like a 30 weight oil. Using a lighter oil also will help it start when it is cold as well. 
  5. Use synthetic oil - If you haven't read my write up on using synthetics one of the reasons they are better is they have better flow at low temperatures. This allows your engine to build oil pressure sooner. This will also make starting it easier as well.
  6. Wax you car - Now is a great time to go and do a nice hand waxing. The nice shine won't last but it will provide additional protection from road salt. If you are lucky enough to not live in an area that salts the daylights out of the road then go and enjoy some time in the nice weather and wax your car anyway.
  7. Get some rubber floor mats - This will keep your carpet in nice condition and also helps prevent the floor of your car from rusting out. It seems to take forever for automotive carpet to dry out so this will keep then dry and also prevent them from getting that awful salt stain.
  8. Check the tread on your tires - With the snow and ice on the road you don't want other factors decreasing your cars traction. Good tread helps provide as much traction as possible which you will need.
  9. Get the snow tires on it - If you are lucky enough to have snow tires they make a world of difference when driving on snowy and icy roads. The reason is that they are made with rubber compounds that can provide better traction on theses surfaces. These compounds are very soft so you don't want to run snow tires in the summer otherwise they will just wear away but in the winter do wonders. If you don't have snow tires but would like some I would suggest purchasing a set of cheap steel rims to have them mounted on as it will save you money in the long run since you will other wise be paying to have them mounted and balanced on your existing rims and then paying to have them unmounted and the summer tires put back on in just a few months.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Switching small engine equipment out

Well winter is coming or if you are in the north eastern US has already come. With the changing season comes a change of seasonal toys and equipment. I have seen lots of equipment fail because it was put away incorrectly. Remember it costs a lot less to prevent issues than to pay some else to fix them. Also it is no fun when you need or want to use something and it doesn't work. 

I always check my equipment before I need it as I don't want to be stuck trying to get my snow blower running when there is 12 inches of snow on the ground. This way if it is broken you can get it repaired before you need it and not be stuck waiting for the shop to fix everyone else's equipment before they get to yours. So basically don't wait to check your equipment until the weather service issues a storm warning

To ensure that things are ready to go when I want to use them next I do the following. Apart from changing the engine oil all of these are applicable to 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines.

Putting Equipment away for the year:
  1. Drain the fuel - I do this since gasoline does have a finite lifetime of about 6 months. Also modern gasoline has ethanol added to it which absorbs water. By draining the gas you prevent rust from forming in the gas tank if it has a steel tank, prevent water from getting into the gas, and also prevent varnish from forming that will plug up the carburetor. Once all of the fuel is out of the tank try to start the engine to get all the fuel that is left in the carburetor out.
  2. Change the oil - All of my 4 stroke small engines get fresh oil put into them at the end of the season so that they don't sit there with old oil in them all winter. This also ensures that there is fresh oil when I want to use it.
  3. Fog the engine - If you have never heard of this fogging the engine basically is to spray the cylinder with a fine oil that will prevent it from rusting and ceasing. You can buy special oil in an aerosol can for this purpose. The best way to fog an engine is to pull the spark plugs and spray the oil directly into the cylinder and then replace the spark plug.
  4. Check or Replace the spark plugs - Since you have pulled the spark plugs you might as well check them to see if they are still go, and if not replace them if needed.
Getting equipment out for the year:
  1. Put fresh fuel in the tank - This can be the fuel you just removed from the equipment you just put away so why not use it instead of letting it go to waste. If you left fuel in it from the year before it might be a bit questionable and should be drained and disposed of first.
  2. Check any belts to make sure they are in good working order, not cracked, and have the right tension. Replace as needed.
  3. Lube any chains and gears - This will prevent rust and ensure that they move freely. I find this especially helpful to do on the shoots of snow blowers so they don't frees or get stuck in place.
  4. Start the engine and let it run - I have always found that the first time starting a piece of equipment each year is always the hardest. This will also let you know if it works correctly or if you need to have it repaired. 
  5. Once running take off the air filter and spray some carburetor cleaner into the intake to clean out any deposits that may have formed. Don't let it stall but it will smoke as it is running really rich when you do this. A few (4 to 5) quick 1 second squirts with a few second wait between each will do wonders if the engine isn't running very well. Now go put the air filter back on it. Once done let the engine run for 10 to 15 minutes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

That New Used Car

As I have never purchased a new vehicle only used I always make sure to do some basic maintenance for worry free operation. Recently I purchased a new to me 1996 Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0L inline six and 5 speed manual to replace my failing 1988 Bronco II. This is really a high mileage vehicle with 368,XXX on it and it actually runs really well. As I would like to keep it running as such I need to take care of it. Also by doing this maintenance I can get an idea of the care the previous owner took of the vehicle.

So what are the things I do to a used vehicle when purchased. It is basically fluids, filters, and depending on mileage spark plugs and wires as well.

  1. Engine oil and filter service - First thing is first check the oil level, it should be in the normal fill range, if not the engine might have an excessive leak or be burning oil. Then check to see that it is in the normal range of color (light clean tan to darker brown indicating it is time for a change) if it is really black they may not have changed the oil as regularly as they should have. If it is milky then there is either a head gasket leak that is causing coolant to leak into the oil or there is a plugged PCV valve/system. If you have milky oil hope it is just a plugged PCV valve otherwise return the vehicle if they didn't tell you it had a bad head gasket or valley pan gasket (not all vehicles have a valley pan). At this point I have all the info I can gather from the oil so I just do my normal oil and filter service even if the oil is reasonably fresh. This enables me to know exactly when the oil was changed and if there were any deposits you just flushed them out.
  2. Transmission fluid and filter if automatic - Most people neglect their transmission especially automatics. Here I check the level to ensure there isn't a leak and then change it. If it is an automatic you should change the filter as well and clean out the pan to remove any filings that are in there. Manual transmission don't have a filter but when changing fluids always open the fill plug before opening the drain plug (this is a common theme). You do this to ensure that you can refill the thing before you empty out all the fluid. If I can't get a plug out (I have only had this happen once) I am willing to make it someone else's problem as a fluid change isn't that expensive on a manual transmission or differentials. Once they crack it open it will be easy the next time you want to do it and you won't have to pay someone else to do it this time. Fresh fluid and filter will greatly extend the life of an automatic transmission.
  3. Coolant - Here I check the level and also check to see if there is any oil in it. Once done I drain it and fill it back up with a 50/50 mix of distilled water and antifreeze. If you have oil in your coolant then you might have a blown head gasket or bad valley pan gasket. Use distilled water it doesn't have all the minerals that tap water has in it that can cause corrosion and lime scale build up and will extend the life of your cooling system.
  4. Transfer case fluid - check the level to ensure that it doesn't leak and then drain and refill. Again here always open the fill plug before opening the drain plug since you don't want to drain it and then not be able to refill it.
  5. Differential fluid - Again here check the level before draining and refilling to ensure that there isn't a leak. When changing it always remove the fill plug before removing the cover or drain plug to ensure you can actually refill it. Once the cover is off clean up the interior of the differential using paper towels to wipe out any material and remaining oil you can. You will need to scrape off any gasket material that may still be stuck to the differential or the cover. The nice thing is if they have been using different color RTV gasket material you can tell how many times it has been changed. It appears on my Jeep it has been done at least 2 times as there wasn't the factory paper gasket (this is all Jeep used) and there was some old orange RTV gasket material and newer gray RTV gasket material. Also you can check for excessive wear marks or scoring on the gears.
  6. Fuel filter - Who knows when this was last changed and they are cheep.
  7. Air filter - Even if it looks clean these are cheep and easy to do so might as well
  8. PCV valve - Again here it is cheep and really easy to change
  9. Spark plugs and wires - With 368,??? on the Jeep the $12 in plugs and $14 for wires seemed reasonable. This also gives you a great insight into what is going on inside the engine and how it is running if you want to read your spark plugs (not my site but this diagram is a common one and is correct). Also since this Jeep still has a distributor I also changed the cap and rotor as they looked to be the factory originals and I didn't want to get stuck for the $11 it cost for new ones. It is cheap insurance and you are already working in that area of the vehicle.
  10. Power steering fluid - This also seems to be a neglected fluid much like transmission fluid is. I always do a partial exchange when changing oil so might as well get some clean fresh fluid in there. Just use a fluid transfer pump to empty the reservoir and refill with clean fresh fluid. You probably only change out 1/3 to 1/2 of the fluid but do this a few times and you will be near all new fluid in your power steering system.
Additionally I give the vehicle a good once over checking all the belts and hoses to ensure that they aren't in need of replacing if you find one that needs replacing do it now not later, road side repairs suck and tows are expensive. Also at this point I will convert a vehicle to fully synthetic fluids for all their added benefits. Now that most things have been done and you know when they have been done you can just follow a regular maintenance schedule and hopefully have years of worry free operation. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And Now my Car is Overheating

If you didn't follow my advice on how to help you car beat the heat you might of had some overheating issues with the recent heat. There are ways to deal with an overheating vehicle until you can get it to a shop or home to be fixed and not wreck your vehicle.

Turn up the heat
Now this may not be what you want to do on a hot day, but if your vehicle is starting to overheat you can head it off by turning on the heater to max temp and max speed. This will help cool your engine down as the heater core is basically another radiator thus by letting hot coolant flow through it and blowing air across it will increase your vehicle's ability to get rid of excess heat. Please roll your windows down and open your sun roof otherwise it is going to get really hot really fast in your car.

Add some Water
Now if your vehicle has overheated please shut it down and let it boil over and cool down. This will prevent you from causing serious damage. Now once it is cooled down (about 30 minutes) open the cap and go find some water to fill it back up with. The water doesn't have to be cold. As I mentioned in a previous post water transfers heat better than coolant so by refilling with water you will be able to increase the cooling capacity.

Fix that leak
If your vehicle leaks coolant some where (sometimes coolant leaks are really hard to find) you should always carry some extra coolant in your trunk or back seat. If you let it get too low your vehicle will loose its ability to stay cool and may overheat. This is the worst kind of overheating as some parts of the engine may be starved for coolant such as the heads. This can be disastrous as you could blow a head gasket, crack the head, or crack the block which may be an engine ending failure. If you don't have some premixed coolant then regular water will work as will those stop leak products. 

The good news
The good news is that most gas stations carry products that can help to temporally resolve your overheating issues. Most will sell some automotive products like oil, coolant, stop leak, and gas additives. Also they carry water which you can use in a pinch and/or have a hose and spigot out back. Once you get the vehicle home or to a repair shop get the issue resolved. This may be replacing hoses, a radiator, or a flush and fill. Getting a flush and fill will do wonders if you have a vehicle that has a neglected coolant system, if you regularly exchange your coolant you probably don't need a flush and fill as it will only cost more money.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The magic carburator

If you are around in the car culture long enough you will eventually hear about some old crusty guy who invented a carburetor. There are some of you who probably know where this is going and for others this may be the first time you hear this. This story is complete BS and I will explain why.

The Story
The story always follows this pattern:
Some guy tells you a friend's relative (or distant relative's friend) was working on some big pig old (Cadillac, Lincoln, Buick, Mercury, Chrysler, or some other land yacht), and came up with a new carburetor design in the (40's, 50's, 60's, or 70's). It was so good he drove this vehicle (half way or the whole way) across the country and used only (a half, a quarter, an eighth, or a whole) tank of gas doing so. Upon returning home he shopped the design of this carburetor around to (GM, Ford, Chrysler) and they were very interested. A few days later (the government, Arab sheiks, auto executives, oil executives) showed up and (killed him, paid him millions, disappeared him) taking his new carburetor. Currently the (oil companies, government, car companies, oil cartels, or any combination of them) are sitting on technology that could easily give up (100, 200, 300, 500, or 1000) MPG in our current cars.

The Truth
Personally I am sick of hearing this story. I don't know if people actually believe this story, like telling it because they are into conspiracy theories, or like messing with people who don't know much about cars. Very often the story teller will mention a specific type of carburetor, a fish carburetor, a catalytic carburetor, or a vapor carburetor. Basically it is impossible to create a vehicle of that size that gets that type of mileage. My other thought is that people are confusing the ultra high mileage cars that various teams build with actual cars. Now the ultra high mileage cars take fuel savings to new levels and basically these contests are about who can abuse the rules the most. These things are slow, extremely  light, seat one, and are started by pull sting. To achieve these extreme mileages the teams go and find about the smallest girl they can to have as the driver and then build the car body around them. Depending on the class that these cars a competing in they typically get between 500 and 3000 mpg.

Now if you are going to hold those types of "cars" up as proof that we can build cars that get extreme gas mileage and Detroit, the Government, or the oil companies are just withholding this technology they you are kidding your self. To improve on fuel economy there are only about 4 things that you can do and most you can't change once you purchase the vehicle.

Engine efficiency
This is one of the things you can change some on an existing vehicle. Internal combustion engines are typically between 20% and 30% efficient meaning that they only extract between 20% and 30% of the energy of the fuel. Now for those of you who think that this is some massive conspiracy and that they should be closer to 100% then you are kidding you self. The internal combustion engine that has the highest efficiency is a combined cycle GE gas turbine that is about 60% efficient and is used in power plants. For reciprocating piston engines the best is about 50% and that is only achievable in large engines like this one with a bore of 3 feet and a stroke of 8 feet. For those of you who think someday we might actually achieve 100% efficiency you are kidding your self. Thermo dynamics puts a limit on the maximum efficiency that can be achieved, this limit is the carnot cycle efficiency. So lets assume that it is possible to have a 100% what would one of those big pig cars mentioned earlier get. Well if we assume currently one of those engines is 20% efficient (this number will help our calculation) and lets also assume that the vehicle gets 20mpg (a gross overstatement, but it makes the numbers work out nicely they probably got more int he range of 12-14mpg) then by putting a 100% efficient engine in it it would get 100mpg which is pretty good but is would be a gross overestimate for this car which is frequently used in the story.

Mileage through lightness
Another way to get good mileage is to have a lighter vehicle. Those high mileage competition vehicles weight int eh 100-200 pound category, sometimes weighing under 200 pounds with driver. You can make some changes to your vehicles weight but don't expect any significant ones unless you start taking out everything you don't need including seats, and other trim pieces. Even then your vehicle will still weigh significantly more than those mileage competition cars, hell most motorcycles weigh more than those cars. The cars in the story usually weight in between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds or between 25 and 40 times the weight of the high mileage competition cars.

Better Aerodynamics
This is something you really can't change on your vehicle for the better, but you can make worse. If you look at those high mileage competition cars they are extremely aerodynamic. They also present a very small cross sectional area which also has a lot to do with how much energy is needed to move the air out of the way. Now compare that to another favorite car in the story and you can see how bogus thing really are starting to become.

Go slower
One thing all of those high mileage competition cars have in common is they are slow. Typically they will start the engine get up to speed and then shut it off and coast to a stop then repeat. These cars would be fast if they could go 30 mph. At these slow speeds you have less wind resistance. Now compare that to any production car made in the last 60 years. For the most part all cars made after WWII can reach 100 mph some can even go well over 200 mph.

So what gets really good mileage
Even today's best production cars don't get as good of milage as the best ones of all time. If you want to maximize your fuel economy I suggest reading this posting of mine but don't expect incredible gains at best you might get 5 or 6 mpg extra. The problem is most people don't want the cars that get close to 100mpg as they seat one maybe 2 don't have much power, and aren't very safe. If you are curious about these cars here is a list of some of the more famous or unique ones:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beat the heat

With some really oppressive heat and humidity over us here in the mid west (I know those of you down south get it worse) I have noticed a number of vehicles broken down on the side of the road. This kind of heat is just as hard on your vehicle as the bitter cold (sorry for those of you down south you can't even compete on that one). So how do you keep your vehicle running well in this kind of weather.

If you haven't changed it recently you might want to consider doing so. A good flush and fill will go along way to ensuring that your car will stay cool and continue running. Also if you haven't checked your coolant level recently do so and fill as necessary as you will want the maximum amount of cooling capacity. If you have a vehicle that has been modified to produce more power you factory cooling system my not be able to keep up. A little trick to ensure that these vehicles stay cool is instead of using the standard 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is to run almost 100% pure water with a product like Water Wetter to lubricate the pump (also it decreases the surface tension in the water allowing for more cooling). Granted this mix doesn't have as high of a boil over protection, but will keep your engine running much cooler since 100% water has a much better thermal transfer than a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze.

If yours isn't working as well as it use to you may just need a new cabin air filter. Changing these is similar in difficulty to changing the engine air filter but a little more expensive with the filter costing $10 to $15. If this still doesn't help you may be low in refrigerant in the AC system. Unless you know what you are doing I suggest you  take your vehicle to a professional as it is pretty easy to over fill the system and then wreck seals thus making your poorly working AC into a non working AC

Tires should always be properly inflated, especially in hot weather. Too little air and your tire will over heat and you will be suffering a blow out and have to change a tire in this crappy weather. Too much air and your tire may just burst and you will be stuck changing a tire in this crappy weather.

Heat kills batteries so if you have a battery that is old and questionable you might want to change it out before you get stuck. Also keep your battery properly charged will go along way to preventing the stresses that can prematurely kill a battery.

In addition to providing lubrication to your engine oil also helps cool it as it flows. In extreme heat you should ensure that you have the proper amount of oil so as to maximize the cooling capacity. Additionally using a synthetic oil will decrease the internal friction thus helping your engine stay cool.

If you have the opportunity to park in the shade or in a covered ramp I suggest doing so. Not only will this keep the interior of your car from becoming an oven, but it will help protect interior trim and the pain. Heat is what causes the plastic in things like dashes to dry out and crack. Also by keeping your vehicle out of the sun it helps protect the paint from UV damage thus helping the paint prevent your car from rust. If you can't park in a shaded area I highly suggest getting one of those windshield shades and cracking your side windows to keep the interior heat down.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't expect a miracle in a can

If you have been in an auto parts store, down an auto care isle, or watched infomercials then you have seen them. These are the miracle in a can products that promise to do almost magical things to your engine. There are some that claim they will make your engine last for ever, be cleaner, stop leaks, get better gas mileage and so on. The truth is these products produce varied results some work great while others do nothing to fix the problem. Most of the problems these products attempt to resolve could have been prevented by doing regular maintenance on your vehicle.

Stop Leak Products
These are probably the most common types of products out there within this group there are products that stop coolant leaks, oil leaks, and I would also include ones that stop burning of oil.With the various stop leak products you actually have a decent chance of them working. The bad news is that any fixes they provide are temporary at best. Oil stop leak products work by either "reconditioning" seals and gaskets or by thickening the oil so it doesn't leak out (this is also how the products that stop your car from burning oil work). With ones that recondition seals and gaskets all they do is cause the gaskets to swell so that the gasket plugs the gap, void, or crack. These will work for a while but eventually you will have a leak again. The only real fix is to replace the gasket or seal that is leaking. The products that thicken the oil I am not a big fan of as they really don't fix anything but just mask the problem. Add to that these products thicken oil I start to question if they are really good for your vehicle since you vehicle was designed to run with a specific weight of oil. As far a coolant stop leak products, I have had varied success with these, some of them seem to work some of them don't. Basically if you have a leak on a non moving part of your coolant system (i.e. not the water pump) then this product will plug the hole. I don't know how permanent these fixes are but once I have gotten home I go do a proper fix (solder, weld, or replace) so that I don't have to worry about the stop leak product.

Clean mechanical parts inside your car
These are also very common products and provide varying results. There are products to clean your fuel system, combustion chamber, engine, transmission, cooling system and so on. Basically these products are solvents. The ones that are put into the gas tank are meant to do one or more of the following:

  1. Remove deposits from the fuel system. This usually called fuel deposits and are basically varnish. This can happen over time if you let vehicles sit for a while, the vehicle doesn't consume much fuel, or has a lot of miles on it. This also includes products like fuel injector cleaner or carburetor cleaner. Here I think that some products work better than others, but generally they won't cause any damage if used.
  2. Remove water from the fuel. Products that do this usually have alcohol in them as alcohol will absorb the water and will still blend with gas. Getting water in your tank can happen if you have an old vehicle who's tank doesn't seal well, or if you bought some bad gas. These products were more common years ago, but now with most gasoline already having ethanol in it the need to remove water is lessened. These products usually work well as they solve only one problem that is pretty simple to fix.
  3. Oil additives to clean out deposits in the engine. Personally I don't like these products as they thin the oil. This will decrease the ability of the oil to properly lubricate. I have used the products in the past but when I do I only use them just before an oil change and then only drive for a little bit with them. I only do it the first time I change oil on a vehicle because most people don't change their oil as frequently as they should and this will remove the deposits and sludge that have built up. If you change oil when you should this is something that never needs to be done. Using these products on a very neglected engine may actually make things worse as those deposits may have been plugging leaks or filling voids so now your vehicle may leak oil or burn it so it is best to just take care of your stuff to begin with than hope for a miracle fix in a can.
  4. Coolant system cleaners. My feeling with these is similar to that of oil additives, they may work, but you would be better off taking care of the system to begin with than using one of these products and hoping for a miracle. Usually issues these products resolve are silted up cooling systems, rust, and calcium build up. These problems can all be avoided by doing a flush and fill on your coolant regularly. Also as with oil additives using one of these products may reveal other problems as they clean away the neglect. 
Performance improvements in a can
Unless you are running an extremely high compression engine or using a lot of boos don't expect much of anything from these products. The reason is that mostly these are placebo products. The only ones that do anything are those that increase the octane of the gas you are running, or in the case of diesels increase the cetane number. Increasing the octane doesn't do anything unless you have an engine designed for higher octane (even higher than the 91 or 92 premium fuel) than can normally be found. Unless you have modified your engine substantially (made a race engine out of it) you don't need these. Also don't expect any product to magically increase your fuel economy. If you use one of these products and your car magically starts running better it probably is because something is wrong with your car that needs to be fixed. It will be cheaper in the long run to actually fix the problem instead of keeping buying stuff in the can.

So what products do I like
There are some gems out there for the products in a can. Below is a list of products I like and have had success with in the past.

Oil stop leak - If you really want to use a product to stop oil leaks and not just replace gaskets or seals then go use something like Valvoline Max Life or Mobile 1 High Mileage. I would recommend either of these since you aren't playing backyard petrochemist. These are designed to meet the correct specifications of the oil for your vehicle instead of you just dumping stuff in. Don't expect results overnight with these products as it takes time for them to cause the seals and gaskets to swell and plug the gaps or cracks.

Coolant stop leak - I have had success in the past using the Bar's Leaks Lquid Aluminum product. When using products like this you need to drive the vehicle around for a while. This prevents it from solidifying into a big clump in the overflow tank. As I have mentioned I use this as a temporary fix and when I get home I go and do a real fix. 

Fuel system cleaners - Lots of people swear by Chevron Techron, but personally I like the Berryman B-12 Chemtool fuel system cleaner or injector cleaner. Basically these are some of the most caustic things I have ever used. I was introduced to them when cleaning the intake manifold on my car and had gone through several cans of regular carb cleaner and the guys at the auto parts store suggest the spray form. It really does clean well, don't get it on your paint, or on your hands. Also recently I have seen a couple of gas stations advertising the they carry gas to meets or exceeds top tier gas standards. I would say using these fuels would be a better option as again you aren't playing back yard petrochemist. Both Holiday and Kwik Trip in my area have recently started offering these. 

Oil additives for cleaning - I have used Seafoam to do this I put in the recommended amount and drive for a max of 30 miles and then change oil. I don't regularly use this since changing your oil at the correct time is the better option. As a side not Seafoam works great for fogging motors when putting them away for the season.

Coolent system cleaners - None, just do regular flush and fills.

Performance in a can - None, but if you really feel you need to run high octane fuel you can always go and get some leaded avgas down at the nearest airport for about $6 a gallon or race track for about $8 a gallon. If you feel you still need more octane then you are doing something wrong. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Minimize the cost per mile driven

With fuel prices rising again, oil is back near $100 a barrel, you will probably want to minimize your cost of driving. Some helpful hints are common ones, but others are some lesser know things. One thing I have discovered in my years of working with cars and being around the car culture is that there are similarities between vehicles that get really good mileage and high performance vehicles.

1. Proper tire pressure
Keep your tires properly inflated. This will help decrease the rolling resistance (friction between your tires and the road) increasing fuel mileage. The higher tire pressure you have the lower rolling resistance between them and the road. While it may sound good to just crank the pressure way up this isn't a good thing either as it will affect the ride quality, tire wear, and safety.

2. Clean your car out
Not only will your friends want to ride in your car you can cut your fuel consumption. Granted in most cases this won't amount to much if any but if you carry around a bunch of junk (10's to hundreds of pounds) there might be a noticeable difference.

3. Keep your vehicle tuned
By keeping your vehicle properly maintained you can keep it running as efficiently as possible. See my previous posting on a vehicle maintenance schedule. Not only will this schedule keep your car running for a long time it will keep it running optimally.

4. Fuel saving tires
Fuel saving tires can help reduce your fuel consumption as they offer lower rolling resistance between your tires and the road.

5. Decrease drag
Remove external accessories for your vehicle. Just as cleaning out the junk can increase fuel economy so can removing unneeded exterior accessories. Typically this will be things like roof racks, bike racks, hitch accessories. Not only are you decreasing the weight of your vehicle, but you are decreasing the amount of drag caused by the wind hitting these things.

6. Use the correct gas
People seem to think that using premium gas will increase their fuel economy, the truth is if your vehicle is running correctly it won't. The truth is your vehicle was designed to run on gasoline with a specific octane (typically 87, 89, or 91). Granted using a higher octane won't hurt your car, but it does cost more money. By running a lower octane fuel in your car than recommended in you will waste fuel. This is because modern cars can compensate for too low of an octane by dumping more fuel in. This will prevent preignition, but will cause your car to run rich and will shorten the life of O2 sensors and catalytic converters. The truth is gasoline regardless of octane contains the same amount of energy.

7. Use synthetic fluids
Synthetic fluids can help increase your fuel economy. Granted they are more expensive, but they last longer. I cover synthetic oils in detail in this post. In my daily driver I run synthetic oil in the engine, synthetic transmission fluid in the transmission, and synthetic gear oil in the read differential. Most of the benefits of synthetic fluids come from the superior lubrication, decreased friction, and better flow, it takes less energy to move them around.

8. Use lighter oil
You can get better fuel economy by using a lighter oil. In my daily driver I run 0w30 in the cold Minnesota winter and then work up to 10w40 in the summer using either 5w30 or 10w30 in the spring and fall depending on temperature. As temperatures warm you shooed be using heavier oils to protect your engine, but don't use a heavier oil than necessary.

9. Gas coupons
Not all states allow or have gas coupons but I know here in Minnesota several gas station chains have gas coupons. Both Kwik Trip and Holiday station stores have gas coupons in the St. Paul paper for up to 7 cents off a gallon. The Kwik Trip coupons are in the St. Paul paper on the first Wednesday of the month, and the holiday coupons are in the St. Paul paper on the last Wednesday of the month. Additionally you can sometimes find gas coupons online for gas stations like Holiday Station stores have.

10. If your car takes 89 octane some stations sell it at the price of 87 octane
If you are unlucky like me to have a car that takes the mid grade (89 octane) you are kind of stuck paying a higher price per gallon for gas unless you know what gas stations sell the mid grade (89 octane) at the same price as regular (87 octane). This can save between 7 and 12 cents a gallon. I know that the Kwik Trip stores near me do this as do a number of the Holiday gas stations.

11. Use gas that doesn't have ethanol in it
In Minnesota this is basically impossible, yes you can buy non-oxy fuel but it is few and far between, but I believe that some states still sell gas without ethanol. If you are in a state that has a 10% ethanol mandate you loose about 3-4% of your mileage because of the lower energy content of ethanol.

12. Leave some distance between you and the one in front of you
Now it is theoretically possible to get better mileage by following closely behind another one. This is because of decreased drag, but is also dangerous and rarely produces good results. The reason for this is that you are varying your speed more than you normally would. By leaving more space between you and the vehicle in front of you 12. Leave some distance between you and the one in front of you you may not have to overcome more wind resistance, but you will be able to drive at a more constant speed. Also in rush hour traffic you can gradually slow down and speed up when doing this. Quick starts and stops really wreck mileage.

For the most part I practice what I preach and doing these things can lead to significant gains in mileage. My daily driver is an 1997 BMW 540i with a 5 speed automatic transmission, sport package, and has 215,XXX miles on it. This vehicle was claimed by the government to get 18 MPG combined and qualified as a cash for clunkers vehicle, I have never gotten that poor of gas mileage. My rolling average over the last 114,000 miles or so (I got the vehicle with 101,000 miles on it) has been 22.7 MPG according to the on board computer. This is more or less what I see when I fill up but is definitely in the correct range. I drive 32 miles one way (64 round trip) to work each day in rush hour traffic plus all the other little BS trips I make in a week. The best mileage I have ever gotten has been on long trips that are mostly open road. Typically on trips these I get in the 27 to 29 MPG range and have gotten that several times, most recently was last weekend going up to the iron range and back averaging 28.2 MPG round trip on a trip that was just a little over 400 miles. I could probably get better mileage but I do like to drive in a rather um "spirited" fashion especially on freeway entrance and exit ramps.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tricks for a failed starter

If you own an older vehicle you will eventually have a starter fail, usually when you really need to go somewhere. I have had starters fail on several vehicles and have still been able to drive them to the auto parts store to get a new one.  There are really 4 ways of starting a vehicle that has a bad starter but each method is applicable in specific circumstances. These methods are not guaranteed to succeed, and if they do you are on borrowed time so get a new starter as soon as possible.

1. The Hammer
This method can work of the starter solenoid is sticking. You can tell this if when you turn the key you hear a click but nothing else (no normal starting noise) , but have a good battery. Go get your self a stick, hammer, tire iron, large screwdriver, or any other long object that you can whack the starter with. Don't hit it as hard as you can as this my break your starter, but start off fairly light, it shouldn't leave a mark on the old starter, then try to start it. If it doesn't work give it another slightly harder whack and repeat. If after a few tries it still doesn't start you will need to replace the starter.

2. Jiggle the car
This method can work if you have a worn gear on the starter. You can tell this if when you try to start the car you hear a high speed motor spinning. It sounds similar, but quieter, to a vacuum cleaner. This noise is the starter motor not catching the gear on the outer edge of the flywheel on the engine. Put the car in gear and try to move it back and forth a couple of times. This may move the gear on the flywheel enough so that the starter can grab it now and start the car.

3. Hot wire it
This method can work if your solenoid has completely failed, you don't even hear the click mentioned in number 1, or you have bad wiring going to the solenoid or starter. It is easiest on vehicles that have the solenoid separate from the starter but might be possible on vehicles with the starter and solenoid all in one. Here you will need to turn the key to the run position and then create a short across the terminals of the solenoid. If you have an external solenoid this is easier as you can see what needs to be shorted, it will be the terminals with the really big wires connected. I suggest using a large plastic handled screwdriver for this as they can carry the very large current and you won't electrocute yourself.

4. Pop start it
If none of the above methods work and you have a vehicle with a manual transmission this will work, provided you can get the car rolling fast enough. Again first you will turn the key to the run position. Then put the vehicle in neutral.  Next you will either need to get out and push the vehicle, or let it roll down a hill. When the vehicle is going near 5 mph get back in, close the door, put it in gear and let the clutch out and be ready to give it some gas. If it doesn't start you will have to try again, I suggest getting it going faster. The only time this hasn't worked for me on a manual transmission vehicle when when I had to push it up a hill.

These tricks may not work every time but I have used all of them in the past with success. When you do finally get your vehicle running remember you are on borrowed time and need to replace your starter, so I suggest driving to the auto parts store leaving your vehicle running and getting a new starter as you may not be able to start it once turned off. If none of these are an option then you will be stuck either paying for a tow or borrowing a vehicle to get a new starter.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Your check engine light is trying to tell you somethign

One thing that seems certain in older vehicles is that you will see the check engine light. I have seen a lot of people ignore this light as their cars appears to run as good as it ever has but truth is something is wrong. In most cases the check engine light is indicating some emissions related issue or a misfire, other times it could be indicating something much worse. The check engine light indicates that your engine is not running optimally and what ever is causing this should be addressed. Even worse is when your check engine light is flashing, you shouldn't be driving your car when this happens.

To find out the cause of the check engine light being on you will need a scan tool. If you don't own one that is fine as a number of auto parts stores loan them out, or will even do the scan for you. For more information on scan tools see this post of mine. Once you have the code (they have the form of P####, B####, or C####) you will need to figure out what it means. Some scan tools will tell you, but if the one you are using doesn't then you can find out what it means by:
  •  Looking it up in a repair manual for your car
  • Asking the clerk at the auto parts store
  • Looking it up online
If you are going to look it up online I suggest going to this site, or directly putting the code into a search engine like Google and including the make and model of your vehicle as well.You probably aren't the first person to have this problem with your vehicle so by searching for the error code and you make and model you can find out what others did to resolve the problem.

I do like asking the auto parts store clerks as they usually are knowledgeable and if you used their scan tool then you are there already. Sometimes they can provide a detailed printout of what the error code means which is even more helpful. Also you will probably need to purchase a new part anyway which is why the auto parts store lets people use the scan tool for free.

In my experience most codes are caused by old spark plugs (misfire), old O2 sensors (slow sensor, bad reading for a sensor, failed sensor), old spark plug wires or boots (misfire), or some failed sensor (throws a sensor failed code). The good news is that a lot of these issues can be avoided by following a maintenance schedule and replacing these parts before they cause a problem.

Finally in closing let me say that it is always a good idea to solve vehicle issues right away. The check engine light looks the same if you have one error code or 50, and with it on your vehicle is not running as well as it should and may be wasting fuel, polluting, or wrecking other parts without your knowledge.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Scan tools and why you don't need one

Recently I heard an ad on the radio for a product called CarMD that would allow you to save hundreds on car repairs. So being my naturally inquisitive self I decided to see what it actually is. After going to the CarMD website it looks like this device is just an ODB-II scan tool . It is a on the high end of price for one but I wouldn't recommend buying it. Simple fact is that an OBD-II scan tool can be had for less than $30 if you really need one.

So why don't you need one? A number of auto parts stores have loaner tools and will let you use a scan tool free of charge. I know the local O'Reilly Auto Part stores loan out tools usually you can just leave your licence and use the tool in the parking lot, or if you need to take it with you you just leave a deposit (the cost of the scan tool) and get that back when you bring the scan tool back to them. Also I have heard ads stating that Advance Auto Parts also loans out scan tools and will even do the scan for you. There are probably other auto parts stores that will loan out the tool as well but these were the 2 that I know do. The reason that they loan out the tool is simple, it is convenient for you the customer to find out what what the check engine light means. The people behind the counter know what the codes mean and can tell you what part you need to fix your car so they get a sale out of it and you leave a happy customer.

The only reasons that I would recommend purchasing one of these tools would be if there wasn't an auto parts store near me that doesn't loan the out, or I am using one almost every day. I would say that the 2 times a year or so I need to use one I can spare the 15 minute round trip to the auto part store. I don't have any reason to believe that the CarMD produce is a scam, bad product, or a dodgy company, they seem completely legitimate and there isn't anything magical about a scan tool. For the $119.85 they are asking for a scan tool you could buy an inexpensive OBD-II scan tool (they all read the same data) and about 3 shop manuals that will tell you how to fix the problem with your vehicles.

I am not paid by O'Reilly Auto Parts or Advance Auto Parts, I was only used them as examples of companies that loan out the scan tool. Additionally the scan tools I linked to are only examples, I am not endorsing either of them, nor was I paid to provide links to them. The links are provided for example purposes only.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Minute Car Care

Here are some basic car care tasks that take less than 5 minutes each.
  1. Change you wiper blades. Wipe blades wear out and need to be replaced every 6 months to a year. On most vehicles they just clip on. To make this job easier use a slotted screw driver to depress the little tab that holds them in place. The new ones just clip in.
  2. Change your air filter. Air filters need regular replacement so you car can perform at its best. This is a simple task that requires at most a screw driver. 
    1. Open the filter box, sometimes the filter box is held closed by clips, other times by screws
    2. Remove the old filter
    3. put the new filter in
    4. close the box, put the screws back in or redo the clips.
  3. Change you PCV valve if you vehicle has one. When the PCV valve gets plugged your vehicle will smoke a lot because it is sucking up oil.  This is really easy it only takes about 30 seconds and a new PCV valve is usually in the range of $3-$5. 
    1. Find the PCV valve (hint it is in the valve cover on the top of the engine and will look kind of like the new part you just bought)
    2. pull the old PCV valve out of the valve cover
    3. remove the hose attached to the old PCT valve
    4. connect the hose to the new PCT valve
    5. put the new PCV valve in the valve cover
  4. Check you tire pressure. This will maximize your tire life, fuel mileage, and ride quality. The longest part of this fix is going to a gas station if you don't have your own compressor. You will need a tire pressure gauge and if you don't have one buy one it they are a couple of bucks.
    1. Go around to each tire and check the pressure (you can find the correct tire pressure in either your owners manual, on the drivers side door pillar, or the gas door)
    2. add some air if it is low or let some out if it is high, 
    3. recheck and add or remove air as necessary until at the correct pressure.
Doing all of these tasks is cheep, typically you could do all 4 of them for less than $15 if you didn't own anything and needed to buy a screwdriver, and tire pressure gauge. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Charging a battery or jumpstarting a car

One thing that I do frequently is end up charging a car battery or jump starting someone's car. Frequently this is because someone let a vehicle sit for a long time (probably a month or more), or they left the lights on. Every once and a while it is because of an actual failed battery. I also charge up my wife's car every few weeks since she only drives about 2 miles a day so her battery never gets fully charged unless I do it and I charge the car battery when changing oil. When it comes to charging a vehicle's batter there are right and wrong ways of doing it which I will discuss below. As a side note if you have a limited use vehicle I highly suggest getting one of those solar trickle chargers that sell for about $20 just plug it into the 12V outlet (cigarette lighter) and put in on the dash. I use one in my Bronco II and that thing will sit for a month consistently and still starts without issue.

Jump starting a car:
I suggest carrying around a good set of jumper cables. Good ones have real heavy clamps and are at least 6 gauge wire 4 gauge wire is better (lower gauge is thicker wire).
  1. Move the running vehicle so that it's battery is as close to dead battery in the other vehicle as possible
  2. Leave the vehicle with the good battery running
  3. Make sure all accessories (lights, radio, etc.) are off in the vehicle with the dead battery
  4. connect the red cable to the red (+) terminal on the vehicle with the dead battery
  5. Connect the other end of the red cable to the red (+) terminal on the running vehicle
  6. Connect the black cable to the black (-) terminal on the vehicle with the dead battery
  7. Connect the other end of the black cable to the black (-) terminal on the running vehicle
  8. Do not attempt to start the vehicle with the dead battery yet, it probably won't start and if you do try it will only take longer.
  9. Go sit in the running vehicle for a few minutes. I suggest bringing the engine up to a faster idle (1500 RPM) so it will charge the dead battery faster. To do this just lightly press on the gas pedal, you will hear the engine speed up some
  10. After 5 or so minutes have someone else go and try to start the vehicle with the dead batter. Keep the running vehicle at the faster idle.
  11. If the vehicle with the dead battery started continue to step15
  12. If the vehicle with the dead battery turned over (tried to start) but didn't start go to step 9
  13. If the vehicle with the dead battery didn't turn over go to step 9 but let it charge for 10 minutes
  14. If you get here and have tried starting the other vehicle and it won't start the battery is probably totally dead so go get a new one, or the starter is the problem and go get a new one. Continue to step 15 and disconnect the jumper cables.
  15. Disconnect the black cable from the car that has been running the whole time
  16. Disconnect the black cable from the car that got the jump
  17. Disconnect the red cable from the car that has been running the whole time
  18. Disconnect the red cable from the car that got the jump
  19. If the car that got the jump is now running have them take it for a drive for at least 30 minutes to get the battery charged back up. Highway driving is better as that is at a constant speed and will charge the battery quicker and will put less of a load on the battery. You can end now
  20. If the char that got the jump isn't running check the battery and starter. (This will be discussed in another post later)
Using a battery charger (also applies to connecting battery boosters)
  1. Do NOT have the battery charger plugged into the wall
  2. Connect the red cable to the red terminal (+) on the battery
  3. Connect the black cable to the black terminal (-) on the battery
  4. Plug in the battery charger
  5. Select the type of charging. Some chargers don't give you an option, these are trickle chargers. The various options are below
    1. Trickle charge (1-2 amps)  This is the best way to charge a char battery, use it if getting the vehicle started can wait several hours (overnight)
    2. Quick charge (5-20 amps) This is used to quickly charge a battery, expect to let it charge for several minutes (10-30 depending on battery size and output of charger)
    3. Start (50-200 amps) This is used to start a vehicle. You should still let charger charge the battery for a few minutes (5 is probably plenty). This is really hard on batteries
  6. Let the vehicle charge
  7. Unplug your charger
  8. Disconnect the black cable from your battery
  9. Disconnect the red cable from your battery
When I charge a battery when changing oil I use the trickle charge setting on my charger. My charger is a 2/10/50 amp charger. I also use the trickle (2 amp) setting when charging my wife's car overnight.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The best oil change ever

Changing the oil on your vehicle is probably the single best thing you can do for it. Getting your oil changed isn't very expensive and doing it on a regular schedule will help to greatly extend the life of your vehicle. If you are in a pinch you can always take it to one of those oil change places and and get it done in 30 minutes or less. This is better than nothing and if more people would do this then they would have fewer issues with their cars. Personally I don't really like these places as they don't seem to do a very good job and I keep hearing horror stories of them stripping out the threads on the oil pan so I just do my own oil change.

Benefits of doing your own oil change:

  1. It is done correctly
  2. Cheaper
  3. You can take care of other things as well
Mandatory Supplies:
  1. Oil (probably between 4 and 8 quarts). If you don't know how much you need, or what type ask at you local auto parts store, they are helpful. I prefer O'Reilly because they are close and seem to have most of the part I need. I recommend synthetic oil, grease, and other fluids as they are better.
  2. Oil filter. The people at the parts store can help you with this as well
  3. Funnel
  4. Hydraulic floor jack (don't use the crappy spare tire jack, those are junk)
  5. Oil drain pan
  6. Socket set or wrench set (you will need the size that fits the oil drain plug)
Recommended additional supplies:
  1. Power steering fluid
  2. Grease gun
  3. Fluid transfer pump
  4. Synthetic Grease
  5. Antifreeze
  1. Drive the car around until it is fully warmed up. This will make it so the the old oil drains out quicker. Additionally this will get all the crud in the oil in suspension so it will be carried away with the old oil.
  2. Open the hood
  3. take off the oil filler cap
  4. Jack the car up (use one of the jack points for changing the tires)
  5. put the drain pan under the oil drain plug
  6. Remove the oil train plug
  7. Do these optional (recommended) steps as the oil drains out as the oil draining will take a while (probably close to 30 minutes)
    1. put the battery on a charger (trickle charge ensures that the battery is fully charged)
    2. using the fluid transfer pump remove all the fluid in the power steering reservoir. (cheeper to replace the fluid a little at at time than to pay for a new power steering pump)
    3. refill the power steering reservoir with fresh fluid (probably close to 12 ounces)
    4. grease all suspension parts using synthetic grease (makes these parts last longer. These are expensive)
    5. Shake the dirt out of your air filter (this will help extend its life)
    6. Check to see that your belts aren't cracked or worn (you don't want to get stuck somewhere)
    7. Check the radiator hoses 
    8. Check the tire pressure (don't want to get a flat)
    9. Check your coolant level (refill as needed, you don't want to run low on coolant as a blown head gasket will probably be the end of you car)
    10. Fill your windshield wiper fluid.(you want to see don't you?)
    11. Check lights and blinkers (this avoids a visit from a L.E.O.)
    12. Take the battery off the charger
  8. Now that the oil has finished draining out put the oil plug back in. Initially put it in finger tight (several full turns) then use a wrench or socket to tighten it down the rest of the way. This will prevent you from stripping the threads on the oil pan.
  9. move the oil drain pan so it is under the oil filter.
  10. Remove the oil filter and put it in the oil drain pan (more oil will drain out)
  11. Fill the new oil filter with oil (This will get oil into the engine quicker when you start it)
  12. put a light coat of oil on the rubber gasket on the oil filter (This will make it so you can easily get it off when you change it next time)
  13. Put the new oil filter on. once it makes contact with the engine turn it another 1/4 to 1/2 turn. this will keep oil from leaking out.
  14. Take the oil drain pan out from under the car
  15. Take the car off the jack
  16. Put the funnel in the oil filler hole and pour in the correct amount of oil.
  17. Put the oil filler cap back on.
Congratulations you have just done the best oil change ever. I do all of this each time I change oil on any of my vehicles. At this point you are stuck with some old oil, an old oil filter. Some auto parts stores will take the old oil and filter, but if not you can always dispose of them at the local hazardous waste disposal site. In Dakota county MN it is free. My local O'Reilly store take used oil so I just save up the old filters and bring a bunch of filters to the Recycle center at once (about 3 or 4 times a year).

Note* I am NOT sponsored by or in anyway affiliated with O'Reilly auto parts, I do NOT own stock in O'Reilly either.  I have had better experiences there than at any of the other auto parts stores so that is what I am basing my recommendation on.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Oil: Why you should probably be using synthetic

One thing that I am frequently asked is should I use synthetic oil or not in a vehicle. In almost every case the answer is yes. I use synthetic in all of my vehicles including the old Bronco II. Synthetic oil in general is better than non synthetic because of:
  • Higher film strength
  • Better resistance to oxidation
  • Better cold flow properties
  • Better stability at higher temperatures
  • Higher detergent content
  • Longer drain interval
  • Lower Friction
I frequently hear two complaints against synthetic oil. The first is that it will make your vehicle leak oil or leak more oil than it currently does. The truth is it isn't the oil that makes it leak it is that it cleans out all the crap that was plugging leaks in your engine. So if you have a vehicle that is older and has dried out gaskets it will probably start leaking. It would have started leaking eventually and gaskets are cheep. The other complaint I hear is that it costs more. This is true but you can go to a longer change which usually makes to total cost per mile the same or less that that when using conventional oil. 

Why is higher film strength better?
Film strength is the force needed to push through the film of oil to have metal to metal contact. This higher this is the better protected from wear parts are

Why is better resistance to oxidation important?
Being better able to resist oxidation prevents the oil from breaking down over time. As oil oxidizes its ability to lubricate goes down as it is no longer oil. For those who don't know oxidation is just like burning, except burring is very rapid oxidation.

Why is better cold flow important?
Cold flow is the ability of something to flow like as liquid when cold. The lower temperature oil flows at the colder a vehicle can operate at. Also being able to flow better a cooler temps allows oil to circulate and flow through the engine faster on start up.

Why is better stability at higher temps important?
Heat can cause oil to break down in to other molecules. Some of these molecules could be solvents that thin the oil, some could be tars, some are gases that just escape. This is similar to what is done in oil refineries when they take crude oil and make different thing out of it.

Why is higher detergent content better?
Some may not think this is a good thing as this is what usually causes your engine to leak oil when switching to synthetics. The truth is that this will clean out the crud and crap that has built up over time. If you have seen the Ford commercial where they have the engine that is filled with black stuff that is sludge. It will build up over time and restrict oil flow or prevent oil from getting to moving metal surfaces. Higher detergent contents help clean this out. This is also the most important reason why changing oil regularly is important.

Why is a longer drain interval better?
This should be simple, you don't spend as much on oil. You also don't consume as much oil. Previously when using standard oil I would typically change oil at 2,500 miles, with synthetic I typically change it at 5,000. I have heard of some people going as much as 12,000 to 15,000 between changes but I just can't seem to force my self to go any were near that long. I have gone as much as 7,000 when I couldn't get to it for about 2 and a half weeks and it didn't look much worse than it does when I change it a 5,000.

Why is lower friction better?
Friction is the amount of energy to move one thing across another. By lowering the friction in your engine it takes less energy to move all the moving parts. This means that you get better fuel economy and also your engine produces more power. It makes your engine more efficient.

When you shouldn't use synthetic oil
There are few cases where I wouldn't recommend using synthetic oil:

  • Your car already leaks oil and it leaks from engines seals not gaskets. If you use synthetic oil you will just leak even more oil.
  • You have an older engine that is worn. Here you will just burn lots more oil than you already do
  • You are doing an initial engine break in

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Maintenance Schedule

One of the best things to do for you car is to follow a maintenance schedule. By doing regular maintenance on you vehicle you keep it running at its best and can also find little issue before they become big issues. Additionally by following a regular maintenace schedule you can greatly exten the life of your vehicle. Almost every vehicle I have ever owned has made it well over 200,000 miles with the exception of my last car which got totaled in an accident at 179,000 miles. I have only had 2 vehicles die and both were cheep junk from the 80's that were in pretty bad shape when I got them but even they made it over 200,000 miles, the others were taken out in accidents but were still running great.

I am frequently asked by people when they should have things done on their vehicle and usually provide the same maintenance schedule I follow. I have attached the schedule here as a Google Docs, OpenOffice, and MS Excel spreadsheets. This schedule is on the aggressive side but will allow for some slack and oopses like not being able to get your oil change right on time.

If you need an office program I would suggest using OpenOffice which is a free open source office suite that is similar to MS Office. You can download OpenOffice here for free: OpenOffice download page