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The 20-Minute Tech Inspection

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Modern cars need little routine maintenance, compared with the cars of two or three decades back. However, that doesn’t mean no maintenance. For instance, a car’s radiator can be filled with “lifetime” coolant that never requires changing. But that doesn’t matter much if a radiator hose leaks and the engine destroys itself for lack of the coolant. Catch the leak early and you can prevent an inconvenient and perhaps costly breakdown.

First, peek under your car, which contains a wide assortment of fluids. All should remain in the car, not drip on the garage floor. They’re a colorful bunch—red, green, yellow, orange, brown—and if you spot one of them on the ground, note what part of the car it seems to come from and have your repair shop track down the leak and stop it. The only fluid you should see under the car is clear water—normal condensation from the car’s air conditioner after you shut it off.

Now, with the car on a level surface and the engine off, pop open the hood. Can you see the engine? Good. That’s an accomplishment, given all the covers and paraphernalia automakers put in the engine compartment these days. Find the oil dipstick. If it seems to be missing, consult your owner’s manual, because it might be. Some cars now have an electronic oil-level gauge.

Dipstick or sensor, if the level is down more than a quart, ask your mechanic why. If the oil on the dipstick is a nasty black color, it’s time for an oil change. Look up oil-change intervals in the owner’s manual.

Your vehicle also has reservoirs for windshield washer, radiator, transmission, brake, and power steering fluids; your owner’s manual will tell you where and how to check each. As with engine oil, these fluids should be relatively clean. Coolant that looks like dirty dishwater or transmission fluid that smells burned should be changed.

The manual will indicate what kind of fluids to add, if needed. Be sure to add them in the proper place. An oil company did a survey and discovered that car owners put fluids in the oddest places—motor oil in the radiator, transmission fluid in the engine, and water just about everywhere. Not good. Modern car batteries are usually sealed. But see that the battery terminals don’t have mosslike stuff growing on them and that the cables are tight. Examine any belts you find for cracks or fraying, and any hoses for cracks or odd bulges. Now switch on the engine. Does it settle into a smooth idle? Do you hear any ominous sounds? Close the hood and turn on all the lights. Walk around the car to make sure they work; you’ll need a friend to help check the back-up and brake lights.

Turn the steering wheel to one side and shut off the engine. Examine the tires. Do they have plenty of tread? Are the sidewalls cracking? Are there any nails or screws in the tread that could cause a slow leak? Inspect the front tires closely for uneven wear that could indicate an alignment problem.

With a tire gauge (it costs less than $10 at an auto parts store) check the pressures—including the spare. Correct pressures are listed in the owner’s manual, on the driver-side doorjamb, the fuel-filler door, or the glove box door. Finally, make sure the windshield wiper blades are intact and flexible. Follow this routine once a month, fix any issues you discover in your inspection, and I’ll wager that you’ll avoid trouble down the road.

 

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Are Rear-View Cameras Useful?

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The results of a  AAA survey of motorists who own a car with a rearview camera or a sensor-based backing aid (a device that produces warning beeps) may answer your question. Of more than a thousand respondents, 93 percent said they wanted one in their next vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds rearview cameras to be so beneficial that it’s requiring all new cars and light trucks to have one by May 2018. Take a peek at the website kidsandcars.org and you’ll understand why. One page is filled with photos of adorable little kids who were killed while being backed over, 70 percent of them by a parent or another relative. The website says that each week in the U.S., 50 children are backed over—and that two of them die from their injuries.

All reason enough for NHTSA’s mandate. But also think of all the damaged bumpers and fenders—that is, property damage—that could be prevented if drivers had a clearer view behind their vehicles before they backed into a post, a wall, or another vehicle.

What’s more, the potential for back-up accidents has increased in recent years. Here’s why:

An aging population. Age often brings reduced head and neck flexibility, making it difficult for older drivers to look behind their cars.

Styling trends. The coupe-like body design of many sedans these days dictates wide rear pillars and narrow rear windows, both of which reduce rear visibility.

Larger vehicles. Large vehicles often have blind zones behind them; objects in those areas can’t be seen in rearview mirrors. Moreover, vans and SUVs often have several rows of seats with a forest of head restraints that block rear vision.

The 2002 Infiniti Q45 was perhaps the first production car in the U.S. with what we now call a rearview camera—a small camera lens in the rear bumper that sends an image to an in-dash screen. Today, about one-third of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. include a rearview camera as standard equipment. But you don’t have to buy a new car to get one. Aftermarket rearview cameras are available at car audio, auto parts, and big-box electronic stores, starting at about $80.

Last year, the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center (ARC) tested both factory-installed and aftermarket rearview cameras. They generally worked well, increasing visibility in the blind zone by an average of 46 percent.

It’s important to note that that’s not a 100 percent improvement. A single camera lens typically mounted near the license plate doesn’t see all—a cat or a child under the bumper, for example. Pavement that slopes up sharply behind a car makes objects appear farther away than they are. Snow and dirt can cloud the lens, and so on.

All of which means that a rearview camera is no substitute for walking around your car and looking in mirrors and over your shoulder before throwing your car into reverse. “The camera is only an adjunct device,” says Albert Austria, lead engineer at ARC.

But rearview camera systems are improving. Tesla and Volkswagen are testing cameras that will replace traditional side-view mirrors. I’ve recently driven a sports car (BMW i8), a crossover (Nissan Rogue), and a pickup truck (Ford F-150) with multiple cameras that give an impressive bird’s-eye view all around the vehicle. One more plus: Not only do such camera systems have the potential to save lives, they also make exiting a crowded parking lot easier and safer.

Watch out for Road Debris

dreamstime_s_53673846.jpgBlown tires, hubcaps, ladders, landscaping tools, and even large furniture are seen on our roads every day, particularly on freeways, where a poorly secured load can go airborne if the vehicle carrying it reaches a high speed. Not only can debris damage your vehicle, it can also cause a collision as vehicles swerve to avoid it. What can you do to help prevent contact?

Slow down. Exceeding the speed limit is not only against the law, it also reduces the time you have to react to unexpected situations while behind the wheel, such as having to avoid roadway debris in your travel lane. Wet or icy roads in winter can add extra danger, since your tires have less traction.

Watch all lanes, not just the one you’re driving in, in case you need to quickly change lanes to avoid debris ahead of you. Sometimes the safest choice is to veer onto the shoulder rather than dart into another driving lane. If other vehicles have you boxed in, your only choice is to hit the brakes.

Don’t tailgate. If the vehicle in front of you swerves to avoid hitting an object, you may not have enough time to follow suit if you’re driving too close. Be cautious when following vehicles that are carrying a load such as tools, equipment, or furniture; if not properly secured, these items could fly out of a truck bed and toward your vehicle.

Sometimes there is no way to avoid hitting debris. This is particularly true if the roads are wet, if you are driving a tall vehicle with high rollover capacity, or if you’re unsure of your ability to safely maneuver around the object. If you run over debris, you should have a trusted mechanic inspect the underside of your vehicle for damage.

 

Kia Soul EV Recognized for Outstanding Value

In the modern age it is very hard to know if the car you’re buying will hold up for many years ahead and prove itself to be worth the money you spent for it. As the life of your car unfolds, many people find themselves wondering if the car’s value was really what the dealer made it out to be. In the case of the 2015 Kia Soul EV, automotive data compilation and analysis firm Vincentric, LLC has done the heavy analysis and named the electric vehicle as the “Best Value in America.”

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The Soul EV was recognized for its value as a result of the high value of the vehicle and low cost of ownership, but this award stands for more than just the successes of the Soul EV, as the entire Kia brand thrives on a commitment to delivering outstanding value throughout the entire Kia lineup.

The Kia Soul EV has been one of the most lauded new vehicle entries, an impressive zero-emissions vehicle with iconic design, practical features, and the best range of any vehicle in its class, so taking home an award such as this isn’t entirely without precedent.

If you’d like to learn more about the abundant offerings of the Kia Soul EV or any other new Kia models, come and see us at KIA of Lincoln. Our talented team will elaborate on the many advantages of this incredible vehicle, as well as those of the entire new Kia lineup. Soon, you’ll be test driving the model hat catches your eye and we’ll be helping you easily transition into ownership.

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