The 10 Deadly Sins of Vehicle Maintenance
Having started one of the oldest preventive maintenance clubs in the country, we have learned a lot about taking care of your car for the long haul. And even though there are thousands of makes and models of vehicles, there are common things they all share. This is our list of the 10 things that we most often see that can cause major repairs, drive-ability issues or a shorter life expectancy from your vehicle.
Battery cables – On most cars today we have gone to a steel band terminal against a lead post on the battery. These two dissimilar metals will eventually corrode. With good service, this can be easily prevented. However, it is usually the use of a universal terminal end that causes the most grief. Many times a damaged cable end is repaired with a universal terminal end. A universal battery terminal is supposed to be used for an emergency or temporary repair. This type of connection usually causes a 50% reduction in cable efficiency. So now the battery does not always get a full charge, the starter does not always operate correctly and alternators do not always charge fully. We have even seen cars that had no power because of these poor connections. Many times when there is a major electrical problem with the vehicle that is using these terminals, we will recommend replacement before doing further diagnostics is made. And, many times this is all that’s needed to solve the problem.
Transmission fluid – Transmission flushing has become a controversial subject. Some manufacturers make few or no recommendations as to when the transmission should be serviced. But the transmission has become the number one component to be rebuilt today. And 85% of them failed because the fluid had gone bad. It is also, next to the engine, one of the most expensive components to replace. Most car manufacturers use a schedule that recommends the transmission to be flushed at a particular mileage. These intervals are sometimes based on how much time the driver may spend on the highway (55%) versus the city (45%). Depending on how the vehicle is driven, the transmission may need to be serviced sooner. Heat is the #1 killer to fluid and this one lives on the edge. It operates at nearly 200 degrees fahrenheit and cooks at 225. In fact, when you can tell that the fluid is dark and even burnt, damaged has already been done. The rule of thumb here is to flush every two years, 30,000 miles or when the fluid begins to darken with carbon.
Spark plugs – Advancement in electronics and computers have made these forgotten soldier. A computer can compensate for many of the errors, making the engine feel as though it is driving like a dream, when in fact it is having issues. The other problem with technology is that we have a steel spark plug in an aluminum head. Once again, it’s these dissimilar metals that create the most chaos. Extended service intervals can cause spark plugs to seize or tear out the threads in the hole. It has become even more important to make sure that the service intervals recommended be followed closely.
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Check Engine Light – This light is truly misunderstood. When this light is illuminated it is telling the driver that the computer has detected a fault in the emissions system. Keep in mind that your engine computer has two brains. A left brain (known as the OEM side) for the manufacturer and a right brain (known as the OBDII side) for the federal government’s emission controls. When this light is on, it is telling you that the vehicle has detected an emissions fault (it has lost a valued input or has a rationality issue). Also keep in mind that when this light is on it is one light bulb but can it can be any one of over 2000 codes. Even though the engine may run great, it does not mean that there isn’t an issue that can be serious over time. Many times we will find that the light has been on for the last two years (last time it was tested for State Emissions). When this light is on, the computer may suspend any further testing until the repairs have been made. Some repairs can be quite simple, while others may be complex. When the light is on a code has been stored. Remember that a code only points to the general area that the computer is having issues with. When the code is set the computer takes a “Kodak Moment” of the event and creates a freeze frame, a data point in time. This freeze frame modifies the stored code. (For example the computer has set a code PO471. This code tells us that the O2 sensor has spent too much time being lean, not enough fuel. This does not mean that the O2 sensor is bad, it just means that the sensor hasn’t seen much movement. The freeze frame data may tell us that the code was set first thing in the morning when the engine was cold. This modifies the code for the diagnostic technician to be looking for a vacuum leak. And then again, the freeze frame data could have shown that the code was set when the engine was at maximum horsepower fully warmed up. Now the code has been modified for the diagnostic technician to be looking closely at a weak fuel pump. Same code but different freeze frame data changes how the technician may go about diagnosing the code.) So, not only is the code important but so is the freeze frame data. Check Engine Light Photo
Oxygen (O2) sensor – This is the most important sensor on today’s automobiles. This sensor is like a spark plug and wears out over time. It is the umpire to all that goes on for the computer. Every time that the engine fires, this sensor determines whether or not it
made a home run (perfect combustion); and if not, it tells the computer what adjustments are recommended for the next event. Over time this sensor will become lazy and drift off center, making calibrations incorrect. Most sensors on today’s cars become an issue at 100,000 miles. This sensor affects fuel economy and performance and protects the catalytic converter from being damaged, its #1 job. It is important to keep this sensor clean and operating correctly, not only to protect the catalytic converter, but to get the maximum amount of gas mileage and performance from the engine. The reason for protecting the catalytic converter besides keeping emissions clean is the cost. Today’s catalytic converters can cost up to $3500. The best way to monitor the engine’s performance is to track fuel efficiency.
Extended oil change intervals – We are all pretty busy, and it takes time to do the simplest maintenance. There is much controversy as to when the oil should be changed. Many believe that it should be within 3,500-mile intervals, while some are willing to go to 5,000+ miles in order to give more life to the engine oil. And to confuse the mix a little further, some of the manufacturers have come out with an oil life expectancy monitor. These monitors use an algorithm to determine the suggested life expectancy of the oil. However, they cannot take into account the environmental conditions or the amount of dirt that may end up in the oil. They are only a suggested value to go by and not the gospel. However, there is more than the life expectancy of engine oil. It’s not just the oil that is of concern here but also the oil filter. The average oil filter is the weakest link in this partnership. Most oil filters are unable to go much more than 4,000 miles before they become clogged. Think about this for a moment: the price of an oil change has not changed significantly in the last 3 decades, so with labor going up and oil prices on the rise, where does that leave the lonely oil filter? They do make high tech oil filters now that have extended life, but you you would pay more then for your oil change.
Brake fluid – Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning that it soaks up moisture. We live in
a climate in which there is a great deal of humidity. Over a period of two years, your brake fluid can become saturated with water. This contamination can cause extended braking and corrosion to vital components in the brake system. Clean brake fluid not only improves braking (you can feel the difference after a proper flush) but protects your ABS (Anti-skid Brake System) from corrosion. This is the most costly component in the brake system and important for safe braking when you need it most on wet and icy road conditions.
Tire pressures – There is only one correct tire pressure for your vehicle. And that is the one that is posted on the sticker in the driver’s door jam or glove box area. Tire pressures will change 1 pound for every 10° in temperature change. Proper tire inflation is critical for safe driving, maximum fuel economy and tire life. It is because of these factors that the federal government has added TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System). Because air is not as stable, we recommend the use of nitrogen in tires today. Nitrogen is not sensitive to the constant temperature changes in our area. Therefore tire pressures do not have to be monitored so closely and tire life expectancy may increase as much as 35%!. Door Jam Sticker Photo Nitrogen link
Fuel system cleaning – All fuel leaves behind carbon deposits. Carbon is the product of most combustion engines. Over time, your engine will develop carbon, very much like plaque on teeth, which can hinder the performance of your engine, fuel economy and idle quality. For maximum engine life, good fuel economy and driving performance, it is recommended that the engine and fuel system be de-carbonized.
Air Conditioning – This service is the most often abused. For nearly 3 decades the manufacturer has measured the precise amount of Freon needed to cool the vehicle and tags it under your hood to 1/hunderith of a pound. Yet when the system is low everyone just wants to top it off with a one pound can. First of all, if it is low, it has a leak and it should be detected. Second, if it is low, how low is it? That’s the 64 dollar question. You can’t. What is suppose to happen is the remaining freon must be extracted and then the correct amount that is labeled for this vehicle is installed. This is the only way that it will work properly and not damage the system in the long hall. And if the system has lost most of its charge then there is a distinct possibility that it is low on oil. This is the second reason why most systems fail, with improper Freon charge being the first.