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How To Determine Oil Change Intervals

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Many cars now come with a system that displays a message on the instrument cluster indicating when it’s time for a change. Rants on the Internet, however, would have you believe that such indicators are the work of the devil—devilish automakers, that is, who program the oil-life monitors to extend change intervals so that engines wear out sooner, forcing motorists to buy new cars. But you can dismiss such conspiracy thinking. Oil-life monitors do their job quite well. Oil is an engine’s lifeblood, and like a blood test, an engine-oil analysis can identify potential problems before they become serious—and expensive.

Most oil-monitoring systems don’t actually measure various substances in the oil. Instead, they track driving habits, using algorithms that take into account such variables as mileage, engine speeds, and operating temperature to estimate when the oil is likely to be cruddy enough to require a change.

The monitors typically alert the driver to change the oil between 5,000 and 10,000 miles. But the interval could be shorter or longer depending upon your driving routine. If most of your driving is long-distance at relatively high speeds, the monitor may not indicate a change for 12,000 or even 15,000 miles. If tootling for a few minutes down the road to the market or mall is the only driving you usually do, the monitor may go off in as little as 2,500 or 3,000 miles.

Oil lubricates the engine’s internal moving parts, and short-distance driving is particularly hard on motor oil. Moisture from condensation and combustion gases form acids and sludge in the oil that inhibit lubrication and accelerate wear. Allowing the oil to reach its optimum operating temperature burns off contaminants—and that may take up 20 or 30 minutes of driving, especially in colder weather.

Though oil-life monitoring systems work well, you’ll still need to crack open the good book—your car’s owner’s manual. And that means reading the fine print. For instance, the manual may say not to exceed 10,000 miles between changes despite the oil-life monitor’s instructions. Or, it may specify an oil change once a year, even though the car’s oil-life monitor hasn’t called for one. An annual oil change also gives your mechanic a chance to inspect your car and alert you to problems that might have developed during the year.

Not All Gas Is Created Equal

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The combustion process—gasoline and air burned in the cylinders to produce power—also produces byproducts, carbon being the most relevant to this discussion. Carbon deposits inside the engine disturb airflow and air/fuel ratios, adversely affecting performance, emissions, and fuel economy to the point that it might set off the check engine light—and trigger the need for potentially expensive repairs. Decades ago, it was routine procedure to partially dismantle engines to remove carbon deposits. The Brits called it decoking. There was also the “Italian tune-up,” running the engine near redline to burn off carbon deposits.

Modern engines are even more sensitive to carbon deposits on such components as intake valves and fuel injectors. These deposits cause a rough idle, hesitant acceleration, and knocking or pinging, among other symptoms. In 1996, the federal Environmental Protection Agency decreed that gasoline refiners must add detergent to every grade of gasoline—regular, midgrade, and premium—to prevent carbon buildup. But eight automakers—Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes- Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen—deemed the federally required amount of detergent additive insufficient. They formed an alliance called Top Tier to test and certify that gasoline brands have additional detergent additives to keep their engines performing as they were originally designed.

Last year, AAA hired an independent engine testing lab to see if Top Tier gasoline cleans engines any better than non–Top Tier brands. The result? Top Tier gasoline averaged a whopping 19 times fewer deposits than non–Top Tier gasoline after only 4,000 miles of simulated driving. And for motorists who’ve been using lower-quality gasoline, the AAA study had good news. There’s no need to tear down the engine and decoke. As stated in the final report, “Engine carbon deposits formed when using [non–Top Tier gasoline] can be largely removed by switching to a gasoline that meets Top Tier standards”—though it may take a few thousand miles of driving. More good news: The average price difference between Top Tier and non–Top Tier brands was just 3 cents a gallon. AAA also found non–Top Tier gasoline reduced fuel economy by 2 to 4 percent, meaning that the higher cost of Top Tier brands is mitigated by improved fuel economy. Seems to me like pretty good reasons to stick with Top Tier gas. To find brands meeting Top Tier standards, go to toptiergas.com/licensedbrands.

A note of caution: Don’t confuse gasoline quality (which refers to detergent additives) with grade (which refers to octane rating). Buying a lower octane rating than specified in your car’s owner’s manual also harms performance and could cause engine damage. Buying a higher grade than required is a waste of money.

A Clean Car is Money in the Bank

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Purchasing a new car is a major financial investment. Keeping it clean is an easy and inexpensive way to protect its resale and trade-in value.

Many motorists procrastinate when it comes to cleaning their vehicles. Whether you do it yourself or have it cleaned professionally, proactively keeping your car clean on the outside, and tidy on the inside, will pay big dividends when it comes to maintaining your vehicle’s value over time.

Here are five simple steps to keep a vehicle clean, helping protect it from the elements and preserve its value.

  • Declutter – Start the cleaning process by removing excess clutter from inside the car as it can be distracting and hazardous, especially when debris finds its way near the gas and brake pedals. Don’t forget to clear out items that have accumulated in the trunk as they can add extra weight and reduce fuel efficiency.
  • Clean the Interior – The next step is to thoroughly clean the interior, wash the windows, and clean and install floor mats. Be sure to vacuum on a regular basis. A clean and orderly interior allows you spot issues in the cabin so you can get them repaired before they get worse.
  • Wash the Exterior – Give your car a good wash from top to bottom using products specifically made for automobiles. Always clean the tires and wheels before washing the body, and don’t use the same washing mitt or cloth for both.
  • Wax Twice a Year – Waxing not only protects a vehicle’s finish, but it also makes subsequent washing easier. Before proceeding, make sure there are no foreign particles on the paint. It is important to note that waxing should be done in the shade, not direct sunlight.
  • Fix Chips – If you find minor paint damage, cover the paint chips as quickly as possible to prevent further damage. For a quick fix until you can get paint touchup supplies, dab a little clear nail polish on the scratch.

Keep Your Car Breathing Well: Change the Air Filters

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You need clean air to breathe and so does your car, and a vehicle’s air filters make that possible. The non-profit Car Care Council reminds car owners to have the engine and cabin air filters inspected and changed regularly to ensure vehicle longevity and interior comfort.

Air filters are your vehicle’s first line of defense against contaminants that reduce cabin air quality and negatively impact engine performance,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Community car care events held throughout the country reveal that nearly one out of five vehicles is in need of air filter replacement, so it’s evident that motorists often overlook this simple, yet important service.”

The vehicle’s engine air filter traps dirt particles that can cause damage to engine cylinders, cylinder walls, pistons, piston rings and bearings, leading to the engine losing power. The air filter also plays a critical role in keeping pollutants from contaminating the airflow sensor on fuel-injected cars. A normal wear item that requires regular checks and replacement, air filters should be inspected at each oil change and replaced annually or when showing other signs of contamination.

The cabin air filter is responsible for cleaning the air entering the passenger compartment. Under normal circumstances, it helps trap pollen, bacteria, dust and exhaust gases that may find their way into a vehicle’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, compromising interior air quality and damaging the system. Most cabin air filters are accessed through the panel in the HVAC housing, which may be under the hood or placed within the interior of the vehicle. A cabin air filter should not be cleaned and reinstalled. Instead, it should be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles or per the owner’s manual.

 

Basic Tire Maintenance for Every Driver

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The tires are the only thing between the vehicle and the road. When they are properly inflated and in good condition, the handling, stability and safety of the vehicle will be maximized. Conversely, when the tires are under inflated, worn out or damaged, all of the safety systems on the vehicle cannot overcome the loss of control that comes with a blow-out or hydroplaning situation. Air pressure in a tire is like oil in an engine; when it is low, the resulting internal damage is unseen until it is too late. Tires naturally lose 1-2 psi per month, so ongoing neglect will eventually result in a tire that cannot support the weight of the vehicle and the occupants. When this happens, the resulting blow-out can result in the loss of control and an accident.

It’s also important to rotate the tires on the vehicle every 5-7,000 miles. Today’s front-wheel-drive vehicles cause the steer tires to wear at a much faster rate than the tires on the rear axle. By periodically rotating the front tires to the back and the back tires to the front, motorists can achieve even treadwear on all four tires and increase the mileage and performance. Failing to rotate the tires often results in the front tires wearing out faster while the rear tires develop irregular treadwear patterns that cause vibrations. The same can be said for alignments. When the vehicle is not properly aligned, the tires will wear out faster which leads to increased operating costs.

Finally, drivers should perform a visual inspection of their tires on a regular basis, especially after hitting a pothole, curb or any type of road debris. Bulges, cuts and other visible damage weaken the internal components of the tire, which can lead to a blow-out. Regular visual inspections will often identify any potential problems before they result in an accident. It’s also a good idea to have the tires inspected by a professional before any long road trips to ensure there are no obvious out-of-service conditions that must be addressed.

A Little Auto Care Goes a Long Way

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Performing simple preventative maintenance on your vehicle will go a long way toward protecting your vehicle investment, says the non-profit Car Care Council.

Buying a new car today comes with a hefty price tag when you add up the down payment, monthly car payments and higher insurance rates. Neglecting its care can mean even higher costs down the line in the form of more extensive repairs and lost resale value,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “By following a proactive auto care plan, the typical car should deliver at least 200,000 miles of safe, dependable, efficient and enjoyable performance.”

National Car Care Month in April is the perfect time of year to give your car some extra attention. The Car Care Council recommends following a vehicle service schedule, keeping a free copy of the council’s Car Care Guide in the glovebox and performing the most common routine maintenance procedures to keep your vehicle performing at its best.

  • Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission as well as windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.
  • Check the brake system annually and have the brake linings, rotors and drums inspected at each oil change.
  • Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots.
  • Check the hoses and belts to make sure they are not cracked, brittle, frayed, loose or showing signs of excessive wear.
  • Check the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system as proper heating and cooling performance is critical for interior comfort and safety reasons, such as defrosting.
  • Check the wipers and lighting so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly and replace worn wiper blades so you can see clearly when driving during precipitation.

Be sure to fully inspect your vehicle annually, including performing a tune-up and wheel alignment,” continued White. “If you ever suspect there is a problem, it’s a good idea to address it quickly before minor repairs become more complicated, expensive repairs.”

Ask Six Simple Questions to Select the Right Auto Repair Shop

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Ask six simple questions to help identify the right auto repair shop to properly care for one of your most valuable assets, your car.

Does the business employ ASE-certified technicians? Credentials and affiliations are indicators of professionalism and the management’s commitment to training and education.

  1. Is the shop and customer waiting area clean and organized? Cleanliness and organization are signs of a well-run business.
  2. Are customers greeted and treated in a friendly and respectful manner? Many auto repair businesses excel in the area of customer service and satisfaction. A simple phone call to the shop to inquire about their services can give you a glimpse of how they treat customers.
  3. Does the business provide a written estimate? The business should complete a written estimate and request your signature prior to starting any repairs on your car.
  4. Does the business offer a warranty? Most auto repair businesses offer a warranty on parts and labor and the warranty is usually in writing or posted in the waiting area.
  5. Does the business have a list of satisfied customers or references that it is willing to give you? Satisfied customers and recommendations from family, friends and neighbors are helpful in finding a good shop. Many auto repair facilities also have company websites that are worth checking out as they often include testimonials and additional information about the business.

A vehicle is a major purchase for most people, so it makes sense to take the time to select an auto repair facility that will take the best care of that investment. Being an informed auto care consumer means not only learning about your vehicle and its service needs, but also the facility that will make the repairs.

RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS OF VEHICLE ENGINE DAMAGE

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It’s not always easy to recognize when your vehicle is suffering from engine damage as symptoms can be overlooked and seen as “normal.” While not all sounds and smells may threaten the life of your engine, there are some obvious warning signs that require a vehicle inspection right away.

Early diagnosis of engine damage can most likely be treated, but it is important to be aware of potentially damaging symptoms and have the vehicle inspected if something doesn’t seem right. By acting quickly and making necessary repairs as soon as possible, you could be saving yourself from the cost and hassle of breaking down along the road.

One of the signs of engine trouble is an illuminated check engine light. This light indicates that a vehicle system, such as the ignition, fuel injection or emission control, is not operating properly, even if the vehicle appears to be running normally. Ignoring the check engine light can negatively impact your fuel economy or cause damage resulting in more costly repairs.

Many motorists are familiar with the noises their vehicles make on a daily basis. However, any noise that is new, different or suspicious may indicate a problem, including a high-pitched squeal, grinding or thumping. Sounds under the hood, such as hissing, can also indicate that your vehicle is in need of attention.

Although all cars burn fossil fuels that create undesired emissions, these odors should remain outside of the car. Unusual smells that could signal engine damage include: burnt rubber, hot oil, gasoline, sweet smell of syrup, burning carpet and rotten eggs. When you smell any peculiar odor, you should not ignore it.

Another symptom of engine damage is excessive amounts of smoke or steam. Although some smoke is normal, excessive amounts of dark smoke in particular indicates that oil is leaking into the combustion chamber and is being burned along with the gasoline.

Invest Tax Refund in Auto Care and Earn Valuable Dividends

Woman with car keyAlthough you may be thinking of ways to splurge with your tax refund, the Car Care Council recommends something more practical – invest some of that money in auto care and reap the financial benefits.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average tax refund is over $3,100. By simply allocating a portion to vehicle maintenance and service, you will realize big dividends in the form of safety and dependability. The benefits of auto care don’t stop there. Your vehicle will perform more efficiently, saving money at the pump, and its useful life will be extended, postponing the major expense of purchasing a new car.

With proper care, the typical vehicle should deliver at least 200,000 miles of safe, dependable performance. The most common routine maintenance procedures and repairs include checking the oil, filters and fluids, belts and hoses, brakes, tires and the HVAC system. The non-profit Car Care Council also recommends an annual tune-up and wheel alignment.

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