Winter Driving Tips

Here are some winter driving tips to help you stay safe and keep your vehicle running reliably through the season. Although many are common sense it never hurts to have a refresher!

  • Tires, tires, tires. Did I say tires? Yes be sure that your tires are in good condition and have enough available tread for the elements you will be encountering. Do you drive in a lot of snowy and icy conditions? Consider the newest styles of snow tires that are siped as opposed to using studded tires which are hard on the roads.

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  • Have your automotive professional do a seasonal inspection of your vehicle being sure to check the engine tune up condition, battery, anti-freeze protection, and heating/defroster components.
  • Replace your wiper blades and fill your washer reservoir with freeze proof fluid.DSCF1317
  • Check to be sure you have emergency supplies such as water, food, and first aid kit.
  • Is your spare tire inflated? Be familiar with your jack and all the necessary items to be able to change a spare tire.
  • Carry chains or traction devices.
  • Keep jumper cables or better yet one of those handy little jump pack devices (just make sure to keep it charged up).
  • Keep it under control. Just because you seem to have excellent traction doesn’t mean you have the same stopping power. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says: The Overall Stopping Distances are DOUBLED (x 2) for wet roads and multiplied by TEN (x 10) for snow and icy conditions.

Follow these steps and you should be able to make it through till the flowers bloom next spring.

Happy Driving!

Love that New Car Smell?

It just might not be so good for you. The reason the smell is so intoxicating is that it is made of several volatile organic compounds (voc’s) that are produced in the manufacturing process.

“It’s a chemical cocktail made up of lots of toxins,” says Jeff Gearhart, Research Director of the Ecology Center in the US state of Michigan. The Ecology Center has been monitoring and testing chemical levels in car interiors for years, and has noted some improvement. But Gearhart says there is still work to be done. “There are over 200 chemical compounds found in vehicles,” he said.

Auto manufacturers, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Honda all say they’ve taken steps to reduce VOC levels in their vehicles, along with other substances of concern (SOCs). They say they’ve accomplished this primarily by using different materials, coatings and adhesives in manufacturing, and all say they are continuing to look for ways to reduce the use of potentially harmful substances in their cars.

Experts recommend keeping your new car windows open as much as possible for the first six months after a new purchase in order to air the vocs out. I guess I had it all wrong, I’ve been keeping my windows intentionally closed in order to keep the smell in!

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Mercedes-Benz Magic Body Control

In a recent article we penned for Mercedes-Benz Startuned magazine we looked at the amazing new concepts in automobile suspension systems. What follows is just a small excerpt of what advancements are being made

 

Evolution of the automobile suspension system

Since the invention of the wheel man has tried to find a way to smooth out the path it travels on, lessen the rolling resistance and quickly adjust to changes in terrain. In the horse and cart days of course the roads were dirt, full of ruts and rocks. Changes to both the wheel and the surface it rides on have helped to improve the ride and handling as carts were replaced by the automobile and the roads were paved. The invention of the rubber tire improved things immensely but more was needed. Enter the suspension system – a way of separating the carriage from the wheels. We know that even the early carts had some sort of spring system. Steel leaf springs were used to isolate the rider from the road. Even early Roman chariots had a sort of suspension system using leather straps.

“Why don’t you come with me …… on a magic carpet ride”

magic body control jpg

 

Looking at Mercedes-Benz advancements in suspension systems brings to mind the lyrics from that old tune. Mercedes Magic body control can be found on late model S-class and S-class coupes. The introduction of this system consists of the first ever predictive suspension system. The uniqueness of this system is that stereo cameras are used to scan the road surface in real time up to fifteen meters ahead of the vehicle. This function is known as a road surface scan.  The stereo cameras measure obstacles with a precision of 3mm or and at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.  The measurement data from the exact road profile is then passed on to the suspension management system. The active suspension system now knows ahead of time which bump it’s about to go over.  This way the body can adapt over the road far more smoothly than a conventional vehicle suspension system.  The suspension system can actively compensate for uneven surfaces and prevents the vehicle from oscillating and vibrating.  This level of comfort is unprecedented in automotive suspension systems and lets the driver feel as though they were gliding over the road on a “Magic Carpet”

It’s sometimes hard to believe we’ve come this far in automotive technology but the development and the sophistication of the microprocessor has been the major factor in all the safety and comfort features we reap the benefit of now. Some ideas that were great concepts 40 or 50 years ago can now become reality due to the computer age we live in. all that being said, the completely autonomous vehicle which once seemed too farfetched will soon become a reality.

Musty smell in your cars’ ventilation system?

We often get complaints of a musty or moldy type smell in some of our customer’s cars particularly this time of year. What this is caused by is usually a contaminated cabin filter and or a combination of the filter and the evaporator harboring bacteria generated from naturally occurring moisture in the system.

Most of the time the problem can be eliminated by changing the cabin air filter. Many people don’t know they even have a cabin air filter. Much like the furnace filter in your home, the cabin filter cleans the air coming into your car’s ventilation system. It not only filters out dust and airborne particles but also filters out harmful allergens. In some vehicle maintenance manuals it is referred to as a pollen filter.

cabin filter kibbles
yes, that is actually dog food that rodents packed into the cabin filter!

 

Cabin filters are located in the ductwork leading into the blower system of the vehicle. Most of the time they can be accessed under the hood by simple removal of a panel, or located behind the glove box which requires removal of the glove box. Some glove boxes have a feature that tilts it out of the way for access.

According to the Car Care Council, the filter should be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or per the owner’s manual. This is quite subjective to the conditions you live and drive in. In some cases a specially formulated aerosol needs to be sprayed into the evaporator housing to kill the mold that has developed there to eliminate odors.

“Many people don’t even know they have a cabin air filter in their vehicle and most others aren’t aware of the health benefits of changing it,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Checking the cabin air filter is a simple preventive maintenance step that goes a long way toward protecting passengers, as well as the vehicle’s HVAC system.”

http://www.carcare.org/time-to-change-your-vehicles-cabin-air-filter/

 

Check your owner’s manual on how to change your cabin filter or ask your auto care professional. Spring is a great time to have it changed after a wet winter.

Autonomous vehicles – Are you ready for this?

Just a few years back I wrote about Google’s self-driving vehicle being tested in the Las Vegas area and at the time honestly it seemed so farfetched. Just too many variables to overcome to make the concept of an autonomous vehicle a reality. As more and more players enter the field it seems as though it is quickly becoming a reality.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it has designated 10 pilot sites to encourage testing of autonomous vehicle technology.

The selection of the 10 proving-ground sites is “a logical next step in the department’s effort to advance the safe deployment of automated technology,” the agency said in a news release.

http://www.telematicstalk.com/u-s-dot-picks-10-pilot-sites-to-test-autonomous-vehicles/?eid=284897699&bid=1655467

 

In fact as of June 2016, IHS Automotive asserted that “the United States will lead the world in initial deployment and early adoption of autonomous vehicles, while Japan will simultaneously ramp up industry coordination and investment ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.”

The pioneer automaker Tesla recently announced that all their production vehicles will have software with fully automatic self-driving capability. “We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”

https://www.tesla.com/blog/all-tesla-cars-being-produced-now-have-full-self-driving-hardware

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One of our technicians recently attended a training class for Mercedes Benz vehicles and the instructor indicated that the folks at Benz are full speed ahead with autonomous vehicles. According to Mercedes-Benz website “The F 015 Luxury in Motion communicates with its surroundings both visually and acoustically. Large LED displays at the front and rear as well as a laser projection system directed toward the front are responsible for the visual part, while the acoustic communication repertoire includes both sounds and specific spoken instructions.”

https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/mercedes-benz/innovation/research-vehicle-f-015-luxury-in-motion/

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Business insider magazine states that at least 19 companies are racing to put self-driving cars on the road by 2021. You can read about them here: http://www.businessinsider.com/companies-making-driverless-cars-by-2020-2016-10/#tesla-is-aiming-to-have-its-driverless-technology-ready-by-2018-1

 

I have to say with the technology I have seen just in my lifetime this is not so far-fetched. All indications are that this will be a reality and sooner than you think. Imagine having your car take you to the airport and then have it drive itself back home. Maybe you want to go out for the evening and wonder if you should have 1 more glass of merlot? No problem, your car will drive you home. The engineers have taken this concept beyond just the technology standpoint but adding functionality. What if all your commuting time was converted into time you actually accomplished things, your ride could be a mini office space. The possibilities are limitless.

Our next article: Flying cars – look out George Jetson!

Tips for Winter Driving

 

With winter driving conditions upon us it is prudent for drivers to take the time to make sure their vehicles are in shape and ready for winter driving conditions. Cold temperatures, icy and snowy conditions can increase your chances of mechanical breakdowns and also require an extra measure of safety while driving. Here are some tips to keep your travels trouble free!

  • Tune up – Make sure your vehicle is in top running condition. If you haven’t had a tune up in a while you may be due. Colder temperatures can put extra stress on tune up components that are due to be replaced.
  • Check your battery and charging systems – Both extreme cold and heat are the leading instigators of battery failure. Batteries and charging systems that are weak will rear their ugly head at the first sign of cold temperatures

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  • Antifreeze – be sure to have your antifreeze checked and topped off. It should be checked not only for temperature protection level but also ph. The latter will have an effect on the corrosion factor in your engine components. Normal “green” type antifreeze should be flushed every two years and long life coolant should be flushed every 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Heater, defroster and windshield wipers should all be functioning properly. Wiper blades last anywhere from one to two years at most. Also make sure your windshield washers are working properly and filled with an antifreeze type washer fluid. Lots of road spray and film will be constantly thrown on your windshield while driving.
  • Have a general safety check done which includes but not limited to brakes, belts, hoses, and lights. If your headlights seem dim you may have clouded lenses. Many auto professionals offer a headlamp lens restoration that will improve your night time vision and at a substantial savings over new headlamp lenses.

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  • Tires – make sure you have adequate tread depth and if you will be in snowy conditions you should have snow or winter driving tires. If you need studded tires consider the new stud less tires which have less negative impact on roads. Be sure to have the tire manufacturers recommended inflation pressure.
  • Exhaust – check your exhaust system for leaks. With the windows rolled up you are at higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust leaks seeping into the cab.

Taking a trip?

Drivers should check the tire pressure of the spare in the trunk and stock an emergency kit with an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, flares, blanket, extra clothes, candles/matches, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Taking these necessary precautions will not only give you peace of mind but also help to preserve the life of your car.

Should I be buying premium fuel?

 

 

Well, that depends on what you are driving. Cars with engines designed for regular fuel make up 70% of the vehicles U.S. drivers use. Which means approximately only 30% of the cars on the road today need to use premium grade fuel. According to a new AAA study American drivers wasted more than $2.1 billion dollars in the last year by using pricier premium-grade gasoline in cars built to run on more traditional regular fuel. http://newsroom.aaa.com/2016/09/u-s-drivers-waste-2-1-billion-annually-premium-gasoline/ One of the common misconceptions about premium fuel is that it is better quality fuel however it is actually just higher octane fuel.

pump-pricesWhat is Octane and why does it matter?

Octane is a colorless flammable hydrocarbon of the alkane series, obtained in petroleum refining. The Octo meaning 8 carbon atoms.

According to Exxon Mobil octane rating is a measure of a fuel’s ability to resist ‘knock’. The octane requirement of an engine varies with compression ratio, geometrical and mechanical considerations and operating conditions. The higher the octane number the greater the fuel’s resistance to knocking or pinging during combustion. https://www.exxon.com/en/octane-rating.     dscf1360

The best way for you to tell if you need to run a higher octane fuel is to consult your owner’s manual or check the inside of your fuel door. Both of these areas should post the fuel requirements of your vehicle.  Like the above averages state you probably drive a vehicle that can run on regular octane fuel.  We find that it’s mostly your high performance vehicles and higher end European cars that will require premium grade octane.

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Is there a reason to use a higher octane if my vehicle calls for traditional regular?

Extremely hot weather, changes in altitude, or exceptionally hard driving conditions, such as towing heavy loads, may cause knocking. I’ve experienced this with my personal vehicle when towing. If I don’t use premium octane fuel the engine will ping or knock.

What about quality?

Yes there are differences in quality

For only a few cents more you can purchase what known as top tier fuel. Top Tier Detergent Gasoline is the premier standard for gasoline performance. Seven of the world’s top automakers, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Audi recognize that the current EPA minimum detergent requirements do not go far enough to ensure optimal engine performance. You can go to Top Tier’s website to find which stations sell top tier fuel but In general most name brand fuel companies sell it. Look for a sign that says top tier if in doubt.  http://www.toptiergas.com/

 

 

Mass Air Flow Sensors -How they work!

Recently I penned an article for StarTuned magazine on mass air flow sensors. The article itself is written in a highly technical format as it is intended for use by experienced automotive technicians. What follows here is more of a laymen’s version to give a brief overview of how this system is designed for use in your car.

Now you might be thinking, who cares? I know most folks want to put their key in the ignition or push the start button and drive away. What goes on under the hood doesn’t matter as long as they can get where they’re going. I remember some years ago at the place of business where my wife worked a company was washing their cars for them. They asked her which car was hers and she replied “the red one”. It just wasn’t important to her to know the make and model, only that it was kept running well. And so it is with the lowly mass air flow sensor, a very important part of your cars combustion system but not many people know they even have one. If you drive a car that was built within the last 20 years then you have one.

 

modern day mass air flow sensor
modern day mass air flow sensor

All modern cars on the road today are fuel injected. In order for the ideal combustion to take place the proper amount of fuel needs to be mixed with the proper amount of air entering the engine. The processor or the engine control module can calculate and dispense the proper amount of fuel through the injectors but how does it know how much air is entering the engine? This is where the mass air flow sensor comes in.

A hot wire mass airflow sensor determines the mass of air flowing into the engine’s air intake system. This is achieved by heating a wire suspended in the engine’s air stream, like a toaster wire, with either a constant voltage over the wire or a constant current through the wire. The wire’s electrical resistance increases as the wire’s temperature increases, which varies the electrical current flowing through the circuit, according to Ohm’s law. When air flows past the wire, the wire cools, decreasing its resistance, which in turn allows more current to flow through the circuit, since the supply voltage is a constant. As more current flows, the wire’s temperature increases until the resistance reaches equilibrium again. The current increase or decrease is proportional to the mass of air flowing past the wire. The integrated electronic circuit converts the proportional measurement into a calibrated signal which is sent to the engine control unit or ECU.

This may seem like more information than you need but what you do need to know is that the mass air flow sensor or MAF is located between the air filter and your engine. Therefore it is important to keep the air filter in your car clean and in good condition. We have actually seen filters of inferior quality cause the MAF to send an improper air flow signal to the car’s ECU resulting in poor performance and mileage.

 

clean air filter
clean air filter

 

 

 

Gasoline Direct Injection

This is a topic that we have addressed in a previous blog but we thought we might revisit the concept today as we are beginning to see a fair share of these vehicles on the road today along with the maintenance issues that go with these cars. According to energy.gov the market share of these cars has reached 38%. http://energy.gov/eere/vehicles/fact-869-april-20-2015-gasoline-direct-injection-captures-38-market-share-just-seven

Gasoline direct injection or GDI is a method of directly injecting the fuel mixture into the combustion chamber via an injector under high pressure. Previously the fuel mixture was injected behind the intake valve which had to open and let the mixture in. In a GDI vehicle the mixture is “ramped up” to a very high pressure by means of a special high pressure pump usually in the engine compartment much like a diesel injection pump. This allows the fuel to atomize more effectively and thereby making the whole combustion process more efficient resulting in better mileage, more power and lower emissions.

efi normalgasoline_direct_injection_buick36v6

 

 

 

 

The one downside to this technology is carbon build up on the intake valves and in the combustion chamber. Some manufacturers such as BMW and Mini have addressed this by developing a chemical that will clean the carbon from these areas. We have teamed up with a company called BG which has also developed a chemical and a process for cleaning and maintaining the intake system and combustion chamber. Regular intervals of service of around 40k miles will keep the system from getting too carboned up and causing misfire codes as a result.

 

Check with your service professional and see if they can provide this service. It will pay you back in performance and mileage.

My check engine light is on!

check engine

 

Can I get my check engine light diagnosed for free?

 

The question I would ask is would you trust someone who would do it for free or should you? Today’s vehicles are complex electronic technical machines that have nothing in common with our parent’s cars in terms of operating systems. That said let’s look at a couple of scenarios we’ve run across several times over the years.

Scenario 1: I just took my car to x-brand auto parts store and they scanned my check engine light for free and they said it was the oxygen sensor. I replaced the part but the light came back on. Where did you buy the part? The guy that scanned the car sold it to me. Hmm… how much time did he spend actually diagnosing the problem? Well, only a minute, he just read the code.

You see this is somewhat similar to going to the pharmacy and asking the person at the counter to diagnose your chest pains based on your symptoms. He grabs a stethoscope and listens to your heart and says yeah you need a transplant. We just happen to sell new ones here! I know a bit of sarcasm there but you get the idea.

Scenario 2: I just took my car to x quick lube and they read my car’s check engine light code and said I need a new oxygen sensor. Can you put it in for me? Maybe, which sensor? The oxygen sensor. No I mean which oxygen sensor, your car has 4 of them, 2 pre-cat and 2 post-cat. Oh I’m not sure he didn’t say.

Most reputable shops today invest a substantial amount in training for their technicians and as much or more in the diagnostic equipment needed to properly diagnose your check engine light. Reading a code from a scanner is not the same thing. The oxygen sensor code flagged in the afore mentioned scenarios only indicates that the engine management processor is “seeing” a sensor that is sending back a reference signal that is out of the parameters that the engineers coded into the program. What a good technician has to do is determine why that signal is out of line, and that could be due to a whole host of possibilities.

Next time you find yourself with that pesky check engine light on rely on your service professional, it will save you time and money.

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