The Truth About Cars » Maintenance The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Maintenance Total Recall: Ignore At Your Own Peril Sat, 20 Jul 2013 19:43:23 +0000 rust 1

In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.

Apparently the issue is more important than I thought because about two weeks ago my local Ford shop contacted me by letter to remind me about the recall and to encourage me to make an appointment for an inspection. But the cat was in the cradle with the silver spoon and little boy blue and the man on the moon and like so many important things in life, I never got around to doing anything about it. Yesterday, however, I decided to tackle one the van’s other annoying little problems, the malfunctioning rear air conditioning, and that required removing the interior panel that covered both the AC unit and the seat mount. I was utterly shocked by what I found.


As you can see from the photos, the steel wall of the wheel well is almost entirely eaten away around the seat mount and in places the corrosion is so bad I could look through the holes in the body and see the garage floor. Because of the pattern of rust, in a complete circle around the mount, the situation appears to be quite dire in my opinion. I could have easily made a hole big enough to put a basketball through by simply pulling on the affected part with my bare hand. Given the fact that my son rides in that third row almost everyday I’m left a little speechless about what I found. All it would have taken to collapse the rear seat completely was one hard bump.

Naturally, I went to the Ford dealership right away and they scheduled me a time next Friday to come in and get the issue fixed. Until then, we will have to continue to use the van for daily errands, but I’ve told my wife to stay close to home as possible for the next week. Because we only have the two vehicles now, these repairs, which I am told will take about a day to complete, will be pretty inconvenient for us. Loaner cars are not covered under the recall.

Despite the inconvenience, I still have to commend Ford for their repeated efforts to get me to address what they knew to be a legitimate concern rather than just posting the information on their website and letting it languish. I wish now I had been more proactive about solving the problem and I encourage all of you to spread the word to anyone who owns one of the affected vehicles about the severity of this condition. I guess it pays to stay on top of these things. Lesson learned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better make that colonoscopy appointment I have been putting off…

2004 Ford Freestar

2004 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Got Any Good Car Maintenance Recipes To Share? Mon, 15 Apr 2013 13:35:10 +0000

For years, Bruce Lubin and his wife Jenny collected tips to save time and money, published  on their website and their  Who Knew? book. Here are some good ones for your car:   

  • After washing your car, give it a rinse with hair conditioner. According to the Lubins, “applying conditioner, leaving for five minutes, and then rinsing it off will give your car a just-waxed shine. As an added bonus, it will more effectively repel water!”
  • Corroded battery terminals could prevent your car from starting. Lubin’s cure: “You can pour a can of cola over the battery terminals; let it sit for a half hour, then wipe clean.” Other alternatives are applications of petroleum jelly, or “a thick paste of baking soda and water. Let it stand for 10–15 minutes before washing it off.”
  • “If your car’s floor mats need to be replaced, consider going to a carpet store and finding some samples to use instead.” Just make sure they won’t jam your gas pedal …
  • “If your windshield wipers are smearing the windshield, you don’t necessarily have to buy new ones: they might just be dirty. Wipe the blades with some rubbing alcohol.”

Do you have a car maintenance tips or tricks you can share? Send a message to editors, and include your TTAC handle.

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Collision Collusion: How Insurance Companies Junk Your Car Fri, 15 Feb 2013 15:53:03 +0000

Drivers who were in a collision often follow the recommendation of their insurance company when it comes to fixing the car. By doing so, they hope for a more accommodating insurance company. They also are likely to end up with a car that has lost a lot of value. In collusion with insurance companies, low-cost collision shops use knock-off or used parts.

“It’s a big problem,” Bob Collins, owner of Wreck Check Assessments told the Boston Globe. “It’s pretty widespread.” Collins says vehicles are often worth an average of about 10 percent less, or more vulnerable to failure, when shops install generic parts.

  • In December, a West Virginia court ordered Liberty Mutual to stop using parts salvaged from junkyards to fix newer cars.
  • California regulators tightened their rules for using knockoff parts last month.
  • Massachusetts repair shops are considering lobbying state regulators to require insurers to pay for new parts for vehicles that are still under warranty, or with less than 36,000 miles: Current regulations require companies to use new, original parts on cars with less than 20,000 miles.

In many states regulations require insurance companies to tell customers what type of parts are being used in repairs. Often, the information is buried in stacks of paperwork.

In Massachusetts, a group representing repair shops, the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, is considering asking regulators to stop insurers from requiring old or generic parts to fix cars that are still under warranty or that have less than 36,000 miles.

Hat tip to Herr Holzman.
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Five Simple Technologies For The Long Haul Sat, 21 Jul 2012 19:10:51 +0000

Just Imagine What I Can Do To Your Car!

Everybody wants a deal. But precious few people are willing to change their habits to make their deal last longer.

The casualties of the rough and reckless are expensive and almost always preventable. For every person who complains about an automatic transmission giving out, there are ten people who still insist on shifting from reverse to drive while the vehicle is in motion.

Moments like that make me feel like this behavior is just…

Click here to view the embedded video.

not economically viable.

I sometimes tell folks that doing that to a car is like walking backwards and having someone punch you in the square of the back. Enough hits in the back at that same place, and you’re going to need surgery.

Machines, like us limber humans,  shouldn’t have to deal with such stress issues.

Does the mpg’s stink? Sometimes it’s the fault of the manufacturer. But other times, more often than not, it’s because the owner abuses the vehicle with jackrabbit starts, hard braking, and outright neglect.

Steering and suspension components don’t last? Tell the screw behind the wheel to loosen up a bit, and watch the road ahead.

Waste costs money when it comes to cars. So what should we do if our father, cousin or former roommate are the automotive Kevorkians of the modern day?

Plan ahead… and hope that a few low-cost technologies become as common as these modern day Kevorkians.

1) The Shelf


You would think that I start this weekend’s column with some whiz bang technology that requires a computer and a circuit. Truth is a lot of folks eventually screw up the interiors because their stuff is all strewn about. They get used to having their transportation serve as a mobile romper room where anything can be chucked anywhere for any reason.

A well placed shelf in the rear of most hatchbacks has the effect of keeping everything in place and nearly doubling the available space you have to haul and store your cargo. This is important from an owner’s standard because the easier it is to keep things tidy, the more inclined we are to do it. An empty soda can in a clean room will usually be thrown away while the same can in a messy place will usually just blend in with the scenery.

A good shelf opens up a lot of space, and helps keep a car tidy.

2) Oil life monitoring systems.

This technology has been around for over 20 years and yet the overwhelming majority of cars still don’t have them.

The benefits of this are obvious… and yet as of 2010, only 40% of manufacturers use them in their cars.

If an automotive Kevorkian wants to ignore this technology, so be it. But putting this in cars would likely save a lot of folks hundreds of dollars and several unneeded oil changes. Multiply that by all the folks in need of it, and we could retire the debt of California… or at least Stockton.

3) MPG monitors: Instant and average


What can you do on a long, miserable commute home?

Daydream, listen to the radio, drive, talk on a hands free phone… and that’s about legally it.

Why not keep score?

Of course not all folks will do this. But offering a simple button or switch that makes this possible could alter the driving behaviors of at least a few errant drivers.

Besides, when you’re bored in stop and go traffic, frugality can be the only cheap fun out there.

4) Shift interlocks

I am stubborn on my belief that most CVT’s that will go south in the coming years can endure if their new owners learn how to shift properly.

Reverse, stop, shift. Drive, stop, park. Don’t shift in motion. Stop. STOP. STOP!!!

A shift lock mechanism that keeps the car from shifting while it’s in motion would help undo a learned behavior. That and the four figured premiums of replacing those transmissions.

5) Simple maintenance access

If an automaker wants to enshroud their engine in plastic, that’s fine. But no manufacturer should have the arrogance and gall to prevent access to the tranny fluid, claim that it is a ‘lifetime fluid’, and then whistle the tunes of warranties gone by once that transmission goes kaput.

Lifetime should mean lifetime. End of story. If a manufacturer wants to play the “What is a lifetime?” game, then at least give owners an easy means to replace the fluid.


Do you know of anything else that can be cheap or helpful? I have a few other ideas. But in the meantime, feel free to share any technologies or Kevorkians you have come across in your travels. As Judge Judy says, “You can’t stop stupid.” But perhaps a well-deigned shift interlock can slow it down.

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Watch Out: Your Dealer Is In Trouble, And He Needs Your Money Mon, 21 May 2012 15:41:28 +0000

Five years ago, car dealers throughout the country were hit hard by carmageddon. Now, they are about to get hit again where it really hurts: In the workshop, where the real money is being made. The auto sales collapse of 2008 winds its way through the years like a diet through an anaconda. While showrooms were empty five years ago, now it’s the service bays that are deserted.

Says a J.D. Power and Associates study quoted by Automotive News [sub]:

“The number of vehicles in operation that are 5 years old and newer will dip to 63 million this year, forecast to be the low point of the industry’s downturn and recovery, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Late-model vehicles traditionally represent the sweet spot for repair and maintenance work for dealership service departments.”

Why will this be more painful than empty showrooms? In 2011, the service and parts business represented 13 percent of overall sales for the typical dealership but contributed 72 percent of dealership operating profits, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). Used car sales often contribute one third of the profits, new car sales often are loss leaders.

Dealer workshops would have no problem surviving the trough if they would have held on to owners of older vehicles. The servicing of older vehicles can be the most profitable part of the business, new vehicles on the other hand need less and less service. However, owners of older vehicles typically give dealer workshops wide berth.

If your car is out of warranty and still being serviced by a dealer, watch for serious upselling. They need your money more than ever.



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Massachusetts Right to Repair Law Left Senate Sat, 19 May 2012 16:27:50 +0000

The Right to Repair law winds its way through the Massachusetts legislature. The law was approved in the Senate last week, says the AP via Businessweek The law now heads to the House of Representatives. If that sounds like deja vu to you, then your memory is excellent.

The bill previously passed the Senate in 2010, but failed to come up in the House. A nationwide bill lingers somewhere in Washington, where it has been sent back to committee.

The Massachusetts law would require auto manufacturers that sell cars in the state to provide access to their diagnostic and repair information system through a universal software system that can be accessed by dealers and independent repairs shops, starting in 2015.


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The Tesla Roadster “Bricking” Story Deconstructed Thu, 23 Feb 2012 17:47:05 +0000

I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.

Original story here. A quick recap: Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker contacted Tesla CEO Elon Musk regarding a dead battery in his car. Drucker’s car died after he left his Roadster parked, without leaving it plugged in for two months. The vehicle subsequently died. The car was towed to a Tesla service center and a technician determined that his battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000. Drucker sent an angry letter to CEO Elon Musk admonishing him for poor customer service.

- The Tesla “bricking” story broke on the blog of Michael Degusta. Degusta and Drucker have a long history as business partners. This was not disclosed. I contacted Degusta, who said he would put me in touch with an owner who has had their car “bricked” (he did not say if it was Drucker or one of the other four affected owners) and refused to put me in touch with the Tesla service manager who claimed that, among other things, Tesla was tracking vehicles by GPS without the owner’s consent. I was reluctant to take those claims at face value – now they can’t be independently verified. On Degusta’s blog, he discusses an owner of Roadster #340, who parked his car in a temporary garage, sans charger, while his home is being renovated. This is consistent with Drucker’s emails to Tesla – but also consistent with Drucker at best not following the protocol outlined in various documents (obtained via Green Car Reports) and the Tesla Roadster’s manual, or at worst, being negligent. Drucker’s Roadster wouldn’t have the Tesla GSM connection that can alert Tesla to low battery charge conditions. Those were only installed after the first 500 Roadsters were produced. Degusta makes a big stink about the GPS tracking of the Roadsters, but is on record claiming that, and Degusta is unwilling to back that claim up beyond anecdotal evidence.

- A copy of the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual (covering the Tesla Roadster S and Roadster 2.5. Link is at the bottom of the page for you to peruse yourself), states in numerous places that owners are not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. Doing so, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery, and such damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement. This is spelled out in numerous places in greater detail throughout the manual. Scans of these pages are available in the gallery below. In addition, there is an agreement which owners must sign at the time of purchase that has the owner acknowledge the responsibility of maintaining a proper battery charge, and that any damage that results from negligence in this area is not covered under warranty. Degusta’s complaints that the “Battery Reminder Card” handed out to owners during servicing don’t contain adequate warnings of the consequences are also misleading, as the consequences are spelled out in the aforementioned documents.

- The Tesla Roadster’s battery, unlike those in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, is made up of 6831 “consumer commodity cells”, basically laptop or cellphone type cells that combine to make up the battery pack. These batteries use Cobalt Dioxide chemistry, which is the most energy dense, and prone to decaying with time as well as use. This is not the case in the Volt or Leaf, which use different chemistry. In addition, the “state of charge” used by the Tesla pack is different; when a Tesla range indicator displays “zero miles”, it could have 5 percent of the battery life left. If the car is then parked without charging, it may drain to zero, leaving the car “bricked”. A Volt, on the other hand, may actually have one half to one third of the battery pack’s life left upon displaying “zero miles”; it only uses 10.4 kW out of its 16kW battery. Exact figures for a Tesla battery weren’t available, but are said to be much higher.

-It’s theoretically possible to revive a “bricked” consumer cell via slow trickle charging, in the same way that a dead iPod or laptop can be brought back to life if left to charge for a very long time after months of not being used.

So, we know for sure that it’s possible for a Tesla to “brick”. Tesla has admitted it in a statement, but also seems to have provided ample warnings that it could happen and that it can easily be prevented. These measures, along with the structure of the warranty agreement, leads us to believe that a product liability lawsuit is highly unlikely (a former auto industry lawyer we spoke to agreed, though cautioned that California’s Lemon Laws were the most liberal of any of the 50 states).

Of course, Tesla could have replaced the battery pack in good faith (and maybe had Drucker and the others sign an NDA agreement that also absolves Tesla of any responsibility for the pack’s failure), but for some reason, they didn’t. In the gallery below, we have scans of the manual. You can read the manual for yourself here.

Tesla Owners Document. Photo courtesy Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail OwnersAgreementBatteryDocument Page6DataRecording Page7FailureToFollowVoidsWarranty Page8Glossary Page33BatteryTOC Page34ChargeInstructions Page35 Page36 Page37 Page78zerowarnings Page88Towing Page89Towing ]]> 110
Hammer Time: Longevity Fri, 07 Oct 2011 19:07:09 +0000

How many of you have ever eaten horse chow? What? You don’t know what it is? Well it’s made out of four key ingredients. Oats, olive oil, honey and a bit of peanut butter added if you want extra richness. It’s the basic original granola and for the last fifteen years it has encompassed most of my breakfasts. Sounds healthy and a bit dull on paper. But it’s surprisingly good to eat.

Which brings me to a related question about our cars. What we can do to and for our own vehicles to keep them healthy and running strong?

1) Keep maintenance regular

We can go to great lengths and debate the ‘when’ until the cows come home. However this site does a great job of sorting all this out. And besides I’ve covered this before.

2) Start slow

You probably don’t like to do sprints as soon as you wake up in the morning. Depending on what you did the night before, you may have to. But it’s always better to start slow and get into your groove when you wake up.

The same is true for cars. They need to get their own oils flowing until they get warmed up. Once the coolant temp gets to its regular point you can feel free to rev away.

Then again, you may not want to practice any Baruthian thrusts if longevity is your goal . Driving slowly from stops and coasting coming to stops will save a lot of wear and tear on your car. It will also help you keep your money in mediocre investments instead of involuntarily donating it to a repair shop.

3) Buy quality

I always try to find dealer queens at the auctions. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle in question is a common Camry or a dodo like Suzuki X-90. Well maintained cars always make me money and a car with OEM dealer parts is always the easiest to finance.

But don’t go to the dealer for parts if you can help it. Simply stick with what the enthusiast forums say. The cost to buying it yourself versus going to the dealer is usually about half.

Tires should also be decided on by actual owners. A site like Tire Rack can give great insights to what’s good and what’s junk when it comes to tires.

Always pay for good tires. It saves on gas. Improves ride comfort and results in less wear on your suspension. If you want to be cheap… just buy them when they’re on sale.

 4) Keep it clean! 

There is a point when your automotive VIP will turn into a  POS. Usually it happens soon after you stop giving a flip about how it looks. A car wash once a month and a wax once a year is all most vehicles need.

If you’re a ‘keeper’ type, you may also want to consider cleaning up the little dings and dents that have come along the way. If the paint is faded and the dents are numerous it may be worthwhile to get a $500 paint job and some PDR (paintless dent repair) for another few hundred. Most folks won’t want to do this and to be honest, I can hardly blame them. A little beater in a well kept car never hurts too much. But if you’re planning on keeping it for another ten years you should consider it.

What always adds dividends is taking care of the interior. Look at it this way. You probably spend more time sitting and looking at your car from the inside than you do from the outside.

Using vacuums and wipes is pretty straight forward. But if your seat stitching is starting to tear, see if a nearby upholstery shop can mend it. Once a seat wears beyond repair it’s usually given seat covers. If that happens buy something nice. Go on Ebay, shop around, and find a cover that can last as long as the car.

  5) Enjoy the great indoors.

Do you have too much stuff in your garage? Then hold a yard sale. Use freecycle. Donate your unwanted legacies to a good cause. But keep the vehicle that cost you a healthy five figured sum inside of that garage.

Human skin doesn’t wear well in the sun. Neither do most paint polymers. You can get a car cover if you don’t have a garage but 98+% of folks who park their vehicles outside don’t ever bother with one.

If you must park outside and don’t want to deal with a cover, then just get it waxed twice a year; spring and fall. Make sure you pay extra attention to the roof, hood and top of the trunk since they get plenty of extra sun exposure.

Do all these things and your car will more than likely outlast the Euro. All the best!

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TrueDelta Updates August Reliability Stats Mon, 29 Aug 2011 18:23:10 +0000

Thanks in part to the help of people from TTAC, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to July’s Car Reliability Survey—over 22,300. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 570 model / model year / powertrain (where warranted) combinations. With partial results for another 464 cars, the total is now over 1,000. These stats include car owner experiences through the end of June 2011, making them over a year ahead of some other sources.

Among 2011s for which we received enough responses, the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee is the only one that’s clearly worse than average thanks to common problems with the optional air suspension (also a common problem area in Mercedes SUVs), sunroof rattles, and a transmission shudder. Get one without the air suspension or the sunroof, and the risk of problems goes way down. The new Buick Regal might also be worse than average, but we have only limited data for this model so far.

The 2011 Fiesta improved to “about average” this time around, so there don’t seem to be many new problems with the car once the initial glitches are taken care of. We’ll have initial results for the 2011 Explorer and 2012 Focus the next time around, in November, with a preview for participants in October. Most new or revised models for which we received enough responses are also near the average, including the BMW 5-Series, BMW X5 / X6, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Edge, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti M, Kia Sorento, Nissan JUKE, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Three new 2011s clearly had clean starts: the Honda CR-Z, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Sienna.

We’ve also updated statistics for the percentage of cars that required no repairs or 3+ repair trips in the past year. These statistics can be more useful than the averages.

We’ll update these stats again in November. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these results will be.

To view the updated results:

Car Reliability Survey results

Repair odds stats

Come across something interesting? Have a question? Post it in the comments.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Covering Your Rear (Engine Sportscar) With An Extended Warranty? Tue, 23 Aug 2011 17:01:47 +0000

TTAC commentator stephada writes:

Hello I drive a 2010 C4S, bought new, now with 42k miles and I am considering an Extended Warranty through a company called Protected Life, sold through the Porsche dealership. My service manager said they used to not offer this because they had trouble finding one that could cover things well enough, until they found Protected.

I’d like the Best and Brightest to weigh in on the specific example I’m facing. I’ve read the original B&B thread but it dealt with the issue philosophically and generally. I trust the B&B can help out again in my choices, as they did on the question of ”S or 4S?” [Ed: follow-up here].

The details in the agreement are numerous, but the highlights are, that in addition to (of course) not covering wear and tear like brakes, anything without a functional need is not covered, such as: upholstery, trim, paint, glass, belt, air bags, and exhaust emissions. Anything to do with a manual clutch is also not covered (but the PDK in my car would be covered).

They pay full rate for the high-dollar Porsche parts and labor. I would bring in the car and the experience would be the same as I now have under factory warranty, except with a $200 deductible.

The costs are +3 years/100k miles total for $5100, +4 years/100k miles for $6700, +5 years/100k miles for $7600.

This would include a tow service up to 25 miles (then mileage), tire repair, $75/day trip interruption expenses, and $50/day rental car.

What do you think? These aren’t cheap but neither is a new engine. If you just sneeze in the dealership service department, it’s a thousand bucks.

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Are You Ready For: The Self-Inflating Tire? Fri, 12 Aug 2011 15:48:07 +0000

You know those things that you never thought you needed, but once you had them you realized you never wanted to live without them again? According to Jean-Claude Kihn, Goodyear’s senior vice president and chief technical officer, it’s time to get ready for another such technology:

“A tire that can maintain its own inflation is something drivers have wanted for many years. Goodyear has taken on this challenge and the progress we have made is very encouraging. This will become the kind of technological breakthrough that people will wonder how they ever lived without.”

Goodyear doesn’t know when its “Air Maintenance Technology” will make it to the streets, but thanks to funding from the US and Luxembourg governments, they’re making progress.

And when it hits, the AMT technology

will enable tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics. All components of the AMT system, including the miniaturized pump, will be fully contained within the tire.

Goodyear figures that underinflated tires can cost 2.5-3.3% of efficiency, translating to about 12 cents per gallon at the pump. And with self-inflating technology, you’ll be able to realize those savings without having to regularly break out the pressure gauge and air pump. No word on costs yet, but if the price is right this could just become extremely popular. After all, who really stays on top of their tire pressure as well as they could?

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How Much Do You Pay To Park? Thu, 14 Jul 2011 19:02:33 +0000

Colliers International has come out with its 2011 parking survey results for North America [PDF] and the world [PDF], and you might be surprised by what people pay on average to let their car sit somewhere. The global expensive parking crown (on a monthly basis) goes to London’s West End, which runs a cool $1,014 per month… by comparison, the US average is $155.22 per month. On a daily basis, Copenhagen takes the cake with $73.11, with the highest daily rate in the US coming to $41 per day in Midtown Manhattan. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

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Steve Lang’s Ultimate Auto Maintenance Regimen Sat, 04 Dec 2010 16:01:27 +0000

Certain things keep me up at night.

Stock market? Nope.

Business issues? Every once in a blue moon.

Family? Not unless the little ones begin drinking my coffee.

Weird questions that no one in their right mind should ever ponder? Bingo!

Car maintenance seems to be an inescapable recurring thought these days. So I may as well take the dive here.

For simplicity purposes let’s assume you drive 10k miles a year. Your maintenance chart may look like this.

Oil: Change Dino every 5k. Synthetic can be nice for extended intervals but on a long-term ‘cost’ basis, dino oil is usually the better deal.

Best Deal: Black Friday Pep Boys Special, 10 quarts Castrol & 2 Purolator Filters (Cost $12)

Air Filter: Replace every 15k if you operate in high dust or pollen areas. Every 30k otherwise. A $10 air filter is perfectly fine although you can always get the ones with better filtration elements for just a few bucks more.

Best Deal: Frequent Bob Is The Oil Guy once a month and see what’s up in the rebates section. Combine the air filter discount with an oil change when you drive more than 10k a year.

Coolant: Replace every 5 years.

Best Deal: Pep Boys $1 Coolant, 2 gallons, every couple of years. It’s more than you’ll ever need.

Spark Plugs: Inspect Platinum plugs at 50k, Replace every 100k… or do it more frequently since you can buy them for free.

Best Deal: Pep Boys 16 Free Spark Plugs after rebate.

Fuel Filter: Some replace every 30k to 50k. Others don’t replace them at all. I would opt for the 30k if it’s easy, 50k if it’s hard.

Best Deal: Can’t recall ever seeing a good deal on fuel filters.

Belts & Hoses: Inspect once a month. Replace as needed. DO NOT forget about the ones not mentioned in the usual maintenance regimen. Replace those at the 7 year or 100k mark. I’m talking specifically about the vacuum, radiator and heater hoses. These can add hundreds to thousands in repair costs when they fail at the wrong times.

Best Deal: Shop around. No rhyme or reason here. This is also a good excuse to buy an…

Owner’s Manual: Haynes tends to be very good for advanced beginners. Factory manuals are more for enthusiasts.

Best Deal: If you buy a used car, consider using the one from the local library. Other than that buy it used, new, Ebay, whatever. Just make sure you have one.

Tools: Socket set, wrench set, Snake screwdriver set, a 12 gallon drain bucket, a torque wrench, and a few well chosen extensions will likely give you the best overall use along with a few special tools as prescribed in the owner’s manual. Just make sure you have what you need for regular maintenance.

Best Deal: Black Friday. I tend to like Craftsman tools. The cheap Chinese ones are fine but why not buy what you can happily keep for the rest of your life?

Brakes: Try to turn the rotors once if you can help it. Always have a brake set on hand for the times when you need to replace them.

Best Deal: Black Friday. Pep Boys has Prostop Brakes for $10.99. Often times you can get the better sets which typically sell for $40 to $50. This is what I did for our two Hondas. Rotors can be had cheap at the junkyard. Other junkyard parts worth buying are mentioned here.

Wash & Clean: In a perfect world we would wash every month and wax once to twice a year. In practice few people do it. For those that truly love their vehicle…

Best Deal: I am open to any suggestions for this one beyond the ‘look for free’ advice. If you don’t have a garage, a top quality car cover can be a truly wonderful alternative. Yours truly prefers to just get a good car cover and do a complete wash, wax and detail once a year.

Brake fluid: Follow the factory rec’s. Buy a large bottle when it’s on sale. For most cars sucking it out with a Mityvac every 5 years and putting new stuff in will be fine.

Power steering fluid: 5 years or 50k. Buy when it’s on sale.

Tranny fluid: Mityvac it out once every 30k for most front wheel drive vehicles. Once every year for most minivans. Yes it seems excessive but one of the better feelings that comes with long-time ownership is when you drive a 200k+ vehicle that still shifts like brand new. Those who own Panther vehicles won’t ever need to bother with it.

What else? I would prefer to have a Mityvac so I can remove all the fluids in a quick and easy fashion without loosening any bolts. But if you really want to redneck it, go and buy some clear hose from Home Depot, inhale and siphon. On second thought just get the Mityvac.

Radiator: Once every 100k or 8 years. Earlier if you notice any temperature variance. Make sure to replace the hoses and thermostat while you’re there as well.

Best Deal: 1-800-Radiator and Ebay tend to be very cheap and worthwhile.

I don’t think I’ve missed anything. Oh wait, there’s…

Tires: A long lasting tire will almost always be better than the cheap low-end [self-censored].

Best Deal: Buy your favorite brand on a Black Friday. Have them rotated every 5k. Every 75k tire I’ve bought has lasted 85k to 95k by doing this.

Big Items: Timing Belts are best bought around the time you need them. However water pumps, alternators, fuel filters, windshield wipers, headlight bulbs, and hoses can all be bought whenever there is a good sale. Those who have an Advance Auto Parts nearby can benefit from their 50% off sales. Amazon, Autozone, O’Reilly’s, and other stores have their sales as well. This site does a good job tracking the discounts. My advice is to buy the high quality units at a discount price.

Now I’m sure there’s a few other things….

Battery: Black Friday deal. Buy one within the third year of ownership and shop around every five years for a cheap reserve.

Battery Jump Pack: The Peak Battery Jumpers can be had for $20 to $30 on Black Fridays. Beats the heck out of a AAA membership.

Battery Charger?: I would opt for a basic one with automatic shut off. Usually can be bought on sale for $20 to $30. When the dead battery or bad alternator rears it’s head, this pays for itself.

Battery Cables? I like having them. The ‘Emergency Kits’ are usually fine for normal cars and you usually get a few fix-a-flat’s with them as well.

Now what else have I forgotten? Oh…

Gas: Always use a 3% to 5% cash back card for gas if you can find it. The average family spends at least $2000 a year on gas, and this will yield at least $60 to $100 extra in your pocket.

OK… done… feel free to modify as needed.

Thanks!: I would like to offer a special thanks to a few posters at the ‘Bob Is The Oil Guy’ site for helping me modify and add several of these recommendations. An additional thank-you must go to those posters at TTAC and beyond who will find this advice valuable. I am not much for designing matrixes for organizing all this information. So if anyone here wants to give it a shot please feel free.

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