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Car Clinic Live ---- The Driver's Seat
Car questions and answers.
Nitty gritty below. For the whole nine yards on many FAQs, click here to join Life in the Fast Lane and to receive the referenced newsletter.
Q - From Bobby's mailbag:

I drive a 2005 Tahoe with the Vortec V-8 engine (112K miles), and I’ve been to the shop 3 times trying to stop my cooling system from leaking and my engine from overheating.  They replaced the thermostat and changed anti-freeze and also fixed a leak at the rear heater hose, but over time, I’m still losing anti-freeze.  Do you have any suggestions? 

A – Some of GM’s Vortec engines (as in your Tahoe) had porous cylinder heads, causing slow coolant leakage…very expensive to replace. Have your tech remove the valve cover to inspect the heads, paying close attention to the area around the 5 oil-drain holes for evidence of coolant seepage. If the head is a “Castech” casting, you’re in for an expensive repair.  Rather than dismantle the engine, I suggest first adding Bar’s Leaks Block Seal / Head Gasket Fix.    

 

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Q - Some say 7500-Mile Oil Changes are right for today's cars.  What's your advice?

A – To the 7,500-mile oil change question/myth, I say a resounding, "No way." The Facts:

 

1. 7500-mile oil changes allow multiple layers or debris to build inside an engine over time, causing increasing amounts of contamination to each new batch of oil. The antidote? “Clean Oil Practices” embraced by, to name just two, the Department of Defense for our military vehicles that must be ready to go anytime and under any condition...and by Noria, the best-practices body for manufacturing plants that incorporate large expensive machinery.

 

2. 7500-mile oil changes allow unseen, unhealthy wear trends of a vehicle's mechanical components to go untended and prohibit in-time inspections of a vehicle's coolant system, brake fluid, transmission fluid and power steering fluid--all susceptible to degradation.

 

3. 7500-mile oil changes allow excessive "polish wear" inside engines, ultimately shortening engine life. According to numerous research chemists with the Department of Defense, as well as Dr. Robert Kauffman of University of Dayton Research Institute, polish wear happens when particles smaller than 20 microns are allowed to travel through an engine over an extended length of time/miles. Rod, main and cam bearings wear mostly from 10-15 micron-sized particles that are not captured by any standard-production oil filter on the market.

 

4. 7500-mile oil changes allow lower-priced oil filters (all too often used in $19.95 "loss leader" promotions by too many service shops across the US) to deteriorate and fill with debris. When these filters clog or simply age, they tend to go into bypass mode during cold starts, releasing damaging previously filtered particles. Generally, oil filters catch 30 micron or higher-sized particles; but remember, engine wear is caused by 10-15 micron particles. One of the best filters on the market is the Wix--at 19 microns. Also, the NAPA Gold filter (made by Wix) does a great job. These filters have 67 pleats of filtration media, whereas other brand names have less than 40. And Purolator's PureONE is a top ranked filter in SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) tests to keep engines clean. All filter manufacturers provide specs upon request--guaranteed. Just ask.

 

5. For low annual mileage vehicles, a 7500-mile oil change may mean once a year. Leaving “stagnating” oil inside any engine for extended periods of time, regardless of mileage, leads to etching of metal components from corrosion.

 

6. Water intrusion caused by condensation is one of the worst enemies oil has. All engines create condensation. And that doesn’t take 7500 miles.

 

7. 7500-mile oil changes promote increased fuel and carbon deposits, causing damage to engines.

 

8. 7500-mile oil changes promote neglect of 5K-mile tire rotations, thereby shortening tire life considerably and ultimately lowering MPG.

 

So why do car makers thump the 7500-mile oil change drum? Think about this. Car makers are in the business of selling cars. Isn’t being given permission for “proactive neglect” awfully (literally) attractive to buyers? Just buy your new car & drive it without having to do anything for 7500 miles. Then trade it and buy a new car. Consumers keeping their vehicles in tip top condition and keeping them longer is not what drives OEMs (original equipment manufacturers, aka car makers).

 

Maintenance schedules (created by car makers & passed on by their franchised dealers) only address "minimum maintenance requirements" in order to maintain factory warranty--not necessarily what's best for any vehicle's specific environment and/or driving conditions and certainly not what each location might dictate. This is no secret and certainly not new information. Those in automotive repair and service will tell you that some 50%+ of all repairs could have been avoided by routine services. You smell power steering fluid at 50K miles, and I won’t have to convince you of anything. Your nose will know in one whiff.

 

Just the thought of that tempts me to step up on another of my soap boxes, constructed of building blocks garnered in 45 years of service in the automotive industry. Our service industry is addicted to using the phrase "Preventive Maintenance." Ironically, too many consumers who see themselves as good soldiers of the PM movement view the 3K-mile oil change as "all they have to do to maintain their cars." That is wrong, wrong, wrong. The automobile has other moving, and therefore wear-susceptible, parts that need attention.

 

The costs of changing vehicles’ “other fluids,” rotating tires and changing air, fuel filters & passenger cabin filters in a timely fashion saves dollars and adds life to the entire vehicle, not to mention the fun & safety factors. And when it's time to trade, an automobile with a verifiable service history makes it a "certified" car. And certified cars are worth more money at trade-in. Check any web site that offers this information (e.g., NADA, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, etc).

 

We started with oil, and that’s where we’ll end. The price paid for oil changes is nominal--even at $50--when one considers the price of repairs. Oil oxidation starts immediately when oil reaches operating temperature--long before 7500 miles. And in Europe where gas prices are $8+, more than 50% of all car owners use synthetic oil. Unbelievable when you think about it. Not that they do...but that we don’t. I researched, chose, use in my own vehicles & recommend to my service customers locally and my listeners internationally) Royal Purple because its additive package outperforms other synthetic oils.

 

Bottom line:

 

For every dollar spent in maintaining a vehicle, you’ll save Dollars in repairs. I can absolutely verify this because I experience it every day in Car Clinic Service/Pre-Repair®, celebrating its 37th year and serving tens of thousands of vehicles and their owners. An article in Consumer Reports claims that a well-maintained vehicle driven 200K miles would net an owner some $30K. I’m not sure I’d want to keep a car for 15 years today because that’s equal to 50 yesteryears in terms of technology, safety and fun factor, but I do know I would not let 7500 miles click over on the odometer of any car I own without service. Enough said...until next time.

 

Q - What are Automotive Oxygen Sensors and how do they work?

A – This info courtesy of BOSCH, the company that invented the automotive oxygen sensor:

About the size of the average spark plug, an oxygen sensor measures oxygen levels in the exhaust. The sensor reads the difference between the makeup of the exhaust gases passing by them and the reference air trapped in the sensor body. Then the sensor sends electronic messages to the vehicle's engine management system, telling it if the vehicle is running rich – too much fuel – or lean – too little fuel. This allows the engine management system to make appropriate adjustments.

Internal combustion engines operate on a mixture of air and gasoline, the ideal mixture is “stoichiometric”: 14.7 to 1 (14.7 parts of air with 1 part of gasoline). At this ratio, the engine is most efficient, and the catalytic converter also operates most efficiently, reducing harmful exhaust pollutants. The oxygen sensor’s job then is to make sure the engine management system feeds the right mixture of air & gasoline to the engine to optimize fuel efficiency and minimize exhaust pollutants.

BOSCH invented the automotive oxygen sensor & has pioneered much advancement in oxygen sensors technology in the last 35 years. 

Depending on the vehicle's design, today’s vehicles rely on one or more of four different types of oxygen sensors: 

1.      The basic “switching” sensor is heated by the exhaust and provides a high or low output, representing rich and lean. Only a few motorcycles and off-road applications still use these.

2.      Then there is the heated “switching” sensor, which uses a tiny internal heater and sends readings faster for more precise control of the air/fuel mixture during engine start-up. Heated sensors can be mounted far from the engine.

 3.      A faster version, the heated "planar” “switching” sensor warms up and sends readings almost instantly & accounts for about half of all sensors installed in new vehicles today.

4.      Finally, BOSCH’s highly sophisticated “wide-band” sensor sends readings in varying degrees from rich to lean, rather than simply “rich” or “lean.” This allows very fine engine control and operation in the lean region where, for instance, diesel engines operate.

Vehicles built after 1996 have at least 2 oxygen sensors, and some vehicles have as many as 4. The additional sensors monitor operation of the catalytic converter.

The bottom line for the driver: Oxygen sensors are a critical component of the emission control system & must operate under severe conditions for tens of thousands of miles, so check your oxygen sensors at every tune up for improved fuel economy better engine performance & cleaner exhaust emissions. 

When oxygen sensors wear out, your vehicle will usually set a fault code illuminating the “check engine” light and fail an emissions inspection. However, a slow oxygen sensor doesn’t always turn on a “check engine light.”  With a slow (or “lazy”) oxygen sensor,you might experience rough idle, sluggish performance and increased fuel consumption.

You can ensure proper emission control and optimum vehicle performance by installing only quality oxygen sensors when replacement is needed.  

BOSCH provides the highest quality sensors for virtually every make and model vehicle…domestic, Asian or European. And most BOSCH oxygen sensors come with an anti-size compound applied to the threads. This helps facilitate future removal of the sensor if necessary.

BOSCH assures the correct sensor type for your car or truck. And BOSCH OE-type harnesses & connectors fit just like the OE, the original automaker. It’s critical that harnesses not be cut, so you can rely on BOSCH for the best wire harness fit and for easy installation.  

BOSCH not only invented the automotive oxygen sensor, but BOSCH also created every key automotive oxygen sensor innovation. Remember, oxygen sensors are the result of the complex engineering & development. So trust – and specify – sensors made from the company that invented them: BOSCH.

For more info, call me live SATURDAY FROM 10a-12n ET on “Bobby Likis Car Clinic” at 888-Car-Clinic; check out my chat with BOSCH's Warren Suter; or go to www.BoschAutoParts.com/radio.

Q - How do I store my vehicle for Winter or for extended periods of non-use?

A - FROM THE “EMAIL BOBBY” MAILBAG:  Every week, do I get emails from Car Clinic listeners & viewers!  Since Winter’s knocking on doors, many of those questions concern storing cars for the next few brrr-ful months. This email’s from Perry in Montana, followed by my step-by-step recommendations for properly storing vehicles. A couple of hours prep in November can spring you into a terrific driving experience in April. This advice works for our troops, too, who are buttoning up their vehicles before prolonged deploys.

Q: Bobby, I put my sports car (2001 MR2 Spyder) away for the winter, and was wondering what are the best things to do.  I live in Montana, so we can get some minus 40 degrees, but not for long (and the garage is always 10-20 degrees warmer than outside). So, should the gas tank be full with or without Sta-Bil or some additive, or should the tank be as empty as possible? Is it best to remove the battery or hook up a maintainer type charger throughout the winter?  This is the first winter I will be putting the tires on wheel dollies to move it into a corner, more out of the way, so the tires will not be sitting on the cold concrete. If there are other things to do for the 5-7 months it's in storage, please let me know.  Thank you!

A: Perry, yours is a common question that’s asked by Car Clinic listeners. Below is a list that will provide you with much of what you’ll want to do to protect your car.  I’ve also included specific links to make it easier for you to compare and/or locate these products. 

·         Make sure the engine has fresh oil and filter. Used oil contains water from condensation and can mix with sulfur to form acids that etch bearing surfaces.  I recommend Royal Purple® synthetic oil with their 25-Micron Royal Purple® oil filter (all-new product for 2010) / a natural match.  Also seals are more prone to leak when not exercised regularly / fresh oil contains undamaged additive packages that will condition all. 

 

·         Test coolant pH level (less than 10.5 and more than 7.0 is best). This test only determines the system’s acidic or alkaline condition and will not provide you with voltage and/or copper levels. High pH levels (above 10.5) damage aluminum parts such as intake manifolds and cylinder heads while lower pH (under 7) damages iron parts.  And copper can migrate from steel brake lines into brake fluid damaging ABS solenoids.  There are test strips available that most service shops have, but take care not to use one from an open container as moisture contamination will show incorrect results.  Also, you should test the cooling system for AC and/or DC voltage.  A .3 DC volt reading is excessive and requires complete cooling system flush. Test this with a DigitalVoltOhmMeter (DVOM).  DC voltage causes electrolysis which damages the entire cooling system. This voltage test can become somewhat of an issue due to the impedance of the test meter being used. Ultimately, you’re looking for .150 DC volts max.  AC volts are uncommon in warmer parts of the country.  They’re are mostly found in colder climates (like Montana) where 110 volt AC block heaters are generally used. 

 

·         If transmission fluid has 35K miles or is more than three years old, replace it using an exchange machine and conditioners with the new fluid.  Check the transmission question on this page for more details.

 

·         Clean paint and wax with a good Carnauba – if the paint is in excellent condition.  If not, polish first and then wax.  Sal Zaino makes great products. Sal is from NJ so you can expect him to “have an attitude”—as he will tell you & is proud of. However, I’ve found his bark bigger than his bite (at least most of the time. [Hi, Sal!])

 

·         Fill tank with fuel and add STA-BIL® Fuel Stabilizer per instructions on bottle. Sta-Bil keeps fuel fresh for up to 12 months or more.  Also, check out Gold Eagle’s car or truck storage file / easy download. I agree with Gold Eagle’s article re not applying the parking brake. 

 

·         Air tires to inflation as found on your vehicle’s VIN plate or decal located on the door jam and make sure each valve stem has its own stem cap securely fastened / eliminates another potential leak. 

 

·         Leave front windows down 2”. This clearance allows air to circulate and helps reduce musty odor. 

 

·         Lift wiper blades off windshield using a pair of socks rolled into a ball.  As with tires, rubber blades have memory and will certainly remain flattened after storage.

 

·         Disconnect battery (negative post only making sure you tuck cable away from post) or buy an Xtreme charger.  For 4 years, I have used the Xtreme, which allows 24/7, 365-day connection without harming battery.  No substitute here. 

 

·         Cover car with a car cover made with a quality, breathable fabric. 

 

·         Stay tuned to Bobby Likis Car Clinic… available from anywhere at www.WatchBobbyLive.com from 10am-12n ET every Saturday.   

Q - What services does my vehicle need to keep it healthy?

A – If my many years of experience with my service shop vehicles and my customers' vehicles is any indication J, I can strongly recommend that you have these components checked...for quality (condition) of fluid as well as for quantity (properly fill levels).

Untended, these can be murder on your vehicle.  That's why we call 'em the 10 Most Wanted Car Killers:

Fuel/Air Induction Carbon
Lubrication & Fuel Oxidation
Diesel Injection Clogging
Cooling System Scale
Transmission Sludge
Drive Line Abrasion
Power Steering Debris
Brake Fluid Moisture Contamination
Climate Control Mold
Battery Corrosion

Ask your Service Center if they perform services to address these conditions.  And make sure they use the right equipment.  A "flush" is performed with sophisticated machinery...it's not a drain-and-fill or a "turkey-baster" extraction.

Q - What weight oil should I use and how often should I change it?

A – Newsletters: “Texas Tea: All About Gas and Oil”; “Death by Gas”

First, the oils weigh in from skinny to fat: 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30, 20W-50. The small first number represents the oil’s flowability at low temperatures (hence the “W,” which means Winter). The larger second number indicates the oil’s flowability at high temperatures. Because today’s engines have very tight tolerances (not much space between moving parts)--unless you have a diesel engine or farm vehicle--I recommend the “skinniest” oil for quickest, most effective lubrication.

The various weights of oil can be found in both mineral oil & synthetic options. Unlike mineral oil whose hydrocarbon chains are of differing lengths, synthetic oil’s chains are uniform, and performance enhancers are added to the mix. So, mineral oil & filter should be changed every 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. Synthetic oil can last 10,000 miles or 10 months, whichever comes first, with this caveat: Filter must be changed at 5,000 miles or 5 months; then the engine “topped-off” to full. I use & recommend Royal Purple high-performance oil and a WIX filter.

Q - How do I install my Sirius Satellite Radio antenna and how do I get the best audio?

A – Proper installation is key to best performance and takes two general steps: 1) Properly mounting the antenna in the correct location; and 2) Routing the cable from the antenna to the Sirius radio. Click here for all the details by vehicle body type.

For tips on which connection (wireless or direct) that produces the optimum audio for your automotive environment, click here.

Q - What octane gas is right for my car?

A – Newsletter: “Texas Tea: All About Gas and Oil”

I have 3 answers for you!

1. Preliminary guideline is in owner’s manual. If that happens to be low octane, use it. Never, ever “treat” your low-octane engine to a high-octane fuel. It’s like treating a baby to a filet mignon. Your engine, like the baby, simply cannot digest it.

2. However, if it’s anything else, I recommend mid-grade if: 1) you’re a conservative driver; 2) you hear no pinging. Because the on-board computer typically adjusts for grade, you can usually pump a lower octane without penalty.

3. However… if you’re a hard-charging, aggressive driver and/or you hear a ping or knock, dig into your pocket & go back to the higher, more expensive octane.

Q - Is it best to let my car idle while waiting in line (like at a railroad crossing, or at a long traffic light) or turn it off?

A – If stopped longer than 30 seconds at a railroad crossing, turn engine off … but not a traffic light. The situation may change more quickly than you can safely adapt.

Q - Should I buy an extended warranty?

A – Newsletter: “Good, Bad or Just Plain Ugly”

Ask questions of the warranty company:

1. How is “pay” & “co-pay” determined? Pay, of course, is what the warranty company doles out; co-pay comes from your pocket – in addition to the “deductible.”

2. Are all components covered under the warranty, including computers, electronic modules & air conditioning?

3. Will I be forced to go to a particular shop (like an HMO) or will I be able to choose my provider?

4. What if there’s a discrepancy between the quality cost of repair at “my” shop versus “your” shop?

Q - How do I choose a service shop?

A – To narrow the choices, check www.asashop.org. Then make your choice based on:

1. Reputation: honesty, trustworthy, consistent performance over time

2. Equipped: technology & trained technicians

3. Appearance: kept grounds, clean facility (waiting room & common areas), professionally dressed & groomed staff

4. Can-Do Attitude: courteous & responsive

5. Proactive Communication: service manager and advisor keep you informed

6. Delivery & Follow-Up: “It’s Not Fixed Until You Say It’s Fixed” philosophy

Q - What should I do when my “check engine” light comes on?

A – There are 2 different “check-engine” lights: one that indicates lost oil pressure or overheated engine temperature; the other that reflects an emissions problem. If the icon for pressure/overheat appears, pull over immediately but safely. With regard to the emissions variety, make an appointment now at your service shop. Though the latter situation is much preferable to the former, both are going to cost you $ which could probably have been prevented by servicing your vehicle regularly.

Q - What’s the proper tire pressure for my car?

A – Use the tire pressure listed on the car maker’s spec label located on the door jamb vs. the pressure shown on the tire’s sidewall. The sidewall number indicates the DOT (Department of Transportation) specs that reflect maximum pressure at full load vs. optimum pressure on the door jamb or in the owner’s manual.

Q - Should I buy a hybrid?

A – Newsletter: “To Hybrid or Not to Hybrid”

Hybrids house two kinds of power sources: usually a gasoline engine (although some car makers are substituting a diesel engine) and an electric motor, designed to share the workload under the hood. To be considered in your buying decision:

-- MPG. Though the miles per gallon of a hybrid is typically much greater than a gasoline or diesel engine, especially in town, don’t rely on the “published” MPG that was established in “lab” conditions vs. real-world driving. Take an overnight test drive & determine MPG for yourself.

-- Technology. It’s still new and design problems may emerge.

-- Industry Infrastructure. Are service shops equipped / technicians trained to maintain this new technology?

-- Ride. Do you like the silent type, or prefer your engine to “talk back” to you every once in a while?

Q - Do I have to take my car back to the dealer for maintenance to preserve its factory warranty?

A – No. Check out the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act. As long as parts (including oil, filter, fluids, belts, etc.) meet or exceed the car manufacturer’s specifications, you may have the service performed by any qualified service professional.

Q - I have a spot on my garage floor under my car. How can I tell what’s leaking?

A – It depends on the color:

Lime green: coolant. Check your radiator.

Smoky black: oil leaks. Could be engine, differential or power steering.

Pomegranate or brownish red: transmission fluid. Check for level & leaks.

Crystal clear: could be harmless condensation or your brake fluid's leaking. Don’t risk it…have a tech check it out.

To make sure your car's "in the pink," catch these fluids on a newspaper for your mechanic to evaluate!

  
 
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