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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.
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.
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.
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.
Some roadways are designated as low-speed zones. These include areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as school zones and streets lots of intersections close together. Driving over the speed limit can put you and others at risk of harm.
If you notice that a police car is following you with the lights flashing, pull over to the side of the road safely and quickly. Wait inside your car for the officer to approach, and be prepared to: