The Truth About Cars » Maintenance/Repair http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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/Repair http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/product-reviews/maintenance-repair/ Five Simple Technologies For The Long Haul http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/five-simple-technologies-for-the-long-haul/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/five-simple-technologies-for-the-long-haul/#comments Sat, 21 Jul 2012 19:10:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453706

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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Product Review: Harbor Freight Hydraulic Scissor Lift http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/product-review-harbor-freight-hydraulic-scissor-lift/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/product-review-harbor-freight-hydraulic-scissor-lift/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2010 20:22:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=341031 The New Beetle of Damocles?

Having lead a life of high adventure in my youth, scaling pinnacles of rocks and ice, I never imagined that I’d meet my end, flat on my back crushed beneath a falling car. I was setting a new land-speed record for butt-shoulder-shuffling on my way out from under the creaking, swaying mass of 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle-shaped steel groaning menacingly above my body. Moments before the VW started moving it was resting firmly on my tried, and until-that-moment trusted ramps and jack-stands. But now I was going to die, life flashing before my eyes, staring swaying death in the face as my wife’s “cute bug” transformed into Damocles’ Sword, or Poe’s Pendulum, my garage floor playing the Pit. The tremor ceased as my head cleared the oil pan, and the Beetle slowed, then stopped making the horrific creaking noises as the jack-stands stopped wobbling. I cleared the bumper and leapt to my feet in a single motion, and relief swept over me like the expected post-quake tidal wave should. “Damn, I’m still alive!… in fact… I’m completely unharmed!” Running into the house I yelled at the family: ‘Did you guys feel that?!” … only to be met with a non-chalant: “feel what?”

In retrospect the tremor which scared me out from under the car was only a barely-rattle-the-china 3.2 on the Richter Scale, but it drove home an indelible lesson to this DIY mechanic living in a region where three tectonic plates meet: I NEED to get a lift!

flatWith kids heading for college in a few years, the budget was tight, but the family’s financial committee agreed that my life and future earning power were worth an investment of about a thousand bucks or so. Armed with that vote of confidence I perused the web for advice and good deals on a better platform for the home mechanic to raise his car off the ground.

Most of the work I do on my family’s cars involves basic maintenance: Fluid Changes. Tire Rotations. Brake Jobs. Occasionally tasks are a tad more involved, especially with my hobby car, a vintage British sports car, which always seems to have some little thing, and occasionally a big thing wrong with it. Major engine overhauls and complete restorations however are out of my league, so in reality the lift I required could be a light-duty model. Sure, I’d love a deluxe two- or four-post lift, but at the time I was shopping I really had no place to put one, and they were all priced out of my budget. Scissor lifts however seemed to be a good compromise: small, semi-portable, usable in a small garage, and far safer than ramps & jack-stands, while being reasoraisednably priced

At the suggestion of more than one like-minded cheapskate wrench-turner I settled upon the “US General” 6000lb Scissor Lift from Harbor Freight. (Item #46604) It is likely the lowest-price lift on the market. Using a Triple-Word-Score combination of coupons, online specials, and shipping discounts the total price came to about $850 in 2003. I live in the boonies 60-some miles out of Seattle and due to the size and weight (~750lbs) of the lift Harbor Freight would only use a freight forwarder for shipping.

This meant I had to pick it up at a loading dock in Seattle in my battered old farm pickup. It arrived in two pieces: a large wooden crate, with a cardboard box containing the hydraulic control unit strapped to the top of it, which fit right into the short bed of the old Dodge. I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor with a backhoe to unload the bulky unit from the truck’s bed and set it on the concrete floor of my garage. A few months later I relocated it to our barn, which became my workshop after the last of the domestic livestock were moved to better accommodations elsewhere. Moving the whole unit around is unwieldy, yet once upon a concrete slab it is very easy for a single person to maneuver the lift around an open space due to the magic of leverage and physics. The Control unit is essentially designed as a wheeled lever, and the lift is equipped with sturdy rollers at one end, and a lever-eye at the other end.

First, theProblem solved! bad news: Two minor parts failed almost immediately. The original plastic wheels of the control unit are just not up to the task of holding the weight of the lift when used as a lever. They literally crumbled after a few tries moving the lift around. I replaced them with sturdier units from my local hardware store with actual bearings in them. Secondly the control unit is very top-heavy and with the broken wheels it tipped over, falling right onto the fitting for the hydraulic pipe, breaking it. At first I tried calling Harbor Freight’s customer service department to have the pipe replaced. Eventually I gave up that fruitless exercise and had a new pipe fabricated at my local NAPA store. Both repairs have held up for almost six years.

The good news: It is simple to operate, safe, and makes common automotive maintenance work a breeze. Low clearance cars such as my vintage Jaguar require help getting over the folded lift, so I have collected some long 4×4 & 4×6 lumber to arrange around the lift for that purpose. Vehicles with more ground clearance can just drive over it. Moveable arms with adjustable rubber-topped pads provide the lifting surfaces under the car. The pads are scored with right-angled grooves to mate up to the body work of cars like VW, who use flanges as lifting points. The lift has several pre-set ratcheting safety latch points as it goes up, providing safe, stable levels to perform work. To raise the car you operate the hydraulic pump, which runs from a standard household electrical outlet, with a push-button. To lower the car you must hold two levers, one retracting the safety-catch, the other slowly releasing the hydraulic fluid.

Oil changes, tire rotations, and brake work are now super-easy, and so much safer and faster when performed on the lift. Instead of spending lots of time raising, lowering and fiddling with jacks and stands, I can now get right to work. However, since the lift itself is positioned directly under the car working on things like transmissions or exhaust can be problematic depending upon the car. For these applications a traditional lift would be much better, but for the home mechanic on a budget this small lift is a wonderful luxury. I’ve used it countless times for oil and filter changes, and when it came time to sell the New Beetle I was able to do it right with numerous photos of every nook and cranny to put it on eBay Motors.

Had that tremor in 2003 bloomed into a genuine 6.0 or larger quake I might not be here today to enjoy life. Even if you don’t live in a “geological entertainment zone” like I do the peace of mind provided by such a simple and safe working platform is well worth the cost.

65E-up control flat jeep jetta Problem solved! raised safetylock The New Beetle of Damocles? Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Product Review: Optima Batteries http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2009 22:20:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=339529

Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement: an Optima battery survives the rigors of a demolition derby, then goes into the vehicle taking it’s owner home. But is it pure advertising hyperbole or is there something to the claim? To find out I tested the Optima Red Top and Yellow top batteries in situations ranging from daily-driving to that demolition derby-in-denial, the 24 Hours of LeMons.

Geek Alert: while conventional lead-acid batteries use (fragile) lead plates suspended in vats of acid, the Optima has lead wound into a spiral tube.  Optima’s design is inherently stronger, thus more resistant to vibration, especially in off-road applications.  The design also allows a more pure grade of lead and there’s a fiberglass mat to hold the electrolyte gel against the lead. Fantastic.

In reality, it works. TTAC’s race car for the 24hrs of LeMons uses my leftover Optima “Red Top” battery, doing very well under the rigors of race use. Proof positive was our electrical nightmare: the reinforced battery tray that dislodged itself from the rusty fender. With our luck, the car’s good vibrations let battery hold down (metal) meet the positive cable. Then they became friends. Such good friends, in fact, they welded themselves together and cooked several underhood wires.  But the Optima survived the ordeal, where a normal battery would have exploded.

But why did I donate a functional Optima to the LeMons car?  Again, geek alert: my Lincoln Mark VIII (a car known for charging problems as they age) had bizarre charging characteristics after 2 years of use with a Red Top, even with significant upgrades over OEM. It worked until it’s second Houston summer made the car’s voltage fluctuate several tenths in stop/go traffic.  Fearing more problems (been there, done that), I proactively switched to a conventional battery and netted rock-solid charging after 2+ years of daily commuting. I discussed this with an Optima product guru: he suggested the problem is unique to my car.  Frankly, after many hours of wrenching, I suspect he’s right.

I had two other negative Red Top experiences, one from vehicles in storage for 6-12 months, unable to take a trickle charge afterwards.  Optima says this is a common problem, but it’s the battery charger’s fault. In their words:

If an OPTIMA is deeply discharged (below 10.5 volts) most basic chargers will not supply a charge. Also keep in mind an OPTIMA will not recharge properly if treated as a regular flooded or gel battery. To charge the battery, you can wire a second fully charged automotive battery (12+V) to the discharged AGM in parallel (+ to + and – to –). Then hook up the charger to either battery, setting the charger at 10 amps. Leave for two hours, monitoring frequently. During this process if the discharged battery gets very hot or if it is venting (hissing sound from vents) then stop this process immediately. When the discharged battery reaches 10.5 volts or more, remove the standard battery and continue charging the AGM until fully charged.

For normal charging a relatively low current, such as one or two amps can work well, but when the battery has been deeply discharged, some sulfation of the battery plates may have occurred. If you charge at 10 amps, the higher current will help to break up this sulfation. If you have an automatic charger, let it run until the charger indicates charging is complete. If you have a manual charger, you can get a rough estimate of the charging time in hours of a completely discharged battery (11.2V) by multiplying the capacity (amp hours or Ah) of the battery by 1.2. If your battery is not completely discharged the time would be less.

In most cases these steps will recover the AGM battery. It’s okay for the AGM battery to get slightly warm during the charging process. If it’s hot to the touch it means there’s a short and the process should be discontinued.

A fancier charger like a CTEC should work fine, but that’s not all: I had a (daily driven) Optima Red Top fail on the 36th month of its 36 month warranty.  The car’s charging system is in excellent condition, but the battery couldn’t start the car after sitting overnight.  While the free replacement works flawlessly for 2+ years, this was disappointing considering Optima’s premium pricing.

And there’s that: Optima Red Tops are about $150, roughly $50 more than a conventional battery with a similar warranty.  The Yellow Top, with its superior “deep cycle” capabilities often retails for an extra $20 over the Red Top.  And Optima supplied a Yellow Top for TTAC’s project car, a Cadillac Fleetwood Limo in dire need of a new battery, alternator and so much more.

Long story short: the Yellow Top worked flawlessly while diagnosing, wrenching and cranking (endlessly cranking) the Caddy’s pathetic motor. Not to mention providing hours of entertainment to passers by at the 24 Hours of LeMons, thanks to the Yellow Top’s deep reserve against the Limo’s extensive interior lighting, BOSE audio and power-hungry load-leveling suspension.  The Yellow Top is designed to handle long periods of usage, resisting failure after repeated discharges. My time with the Limo proved it. I am happy with this battery’s short-term performance: like the race car’s Red Top, this is the ideal partner for a Limo.

But what about the average car of your average TTAC reader?  Even with Optima’s clear engineering superiority, I don’t see their performance gains worth the higher asking price.  My negative experiences with the Red Top aside, this product isn’t a good value for your daily driver. Non-street legal toys and high-current applications are a different story.

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“I’m gonna get you sucka!” Product Review: Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/09/im-gonna-get-you-sucka-product-review-mityvac-7201-fluid-evacuator-plus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/09/im-gonna-get-you-sucka-product-review-mityvac-7201-fluid-evacuator-plus/#comments Fri, 18 Sep 2009 14:46:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=329632 The Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus as it arrived at my office.

I’m not a very good mechanic, but I enjoy working on my cars. Part of it is because I’m cheap and don’t like spending money on things I can do myself. Additionally, every time I have any interaction with any part of a car dealership I walk away feeling like a rape victim. Silkwood showers. Haunting regret. The works. Determined to rid myself of that feeling of being used, I made a commitment to gain mechanical skills and free myself from abuse.

I started long ago by doing oil changes. The procedure itself is so simple that it boggles my mind that anyone pays for the task. Yes, time is money, but a car is a huge portion of the cost of living, and its longevity is abetted by proper maintenance. Knowing that it is done properly adds peace of mind to that longevity . . . besides, have you seen the guys that work at the quick lube places? I keep my cars as long as possible and generally wear out their interiors before their drivetrains, and oil changes are the most basic, yet vital, maintenance to keep your car running a long time. Mechanically the process boils down to removing old oil and pouring in new. If you can cook yourself dinner you can change your own oil. The most difficult part of the operation is getting underneath the car to drain the old oil. Now, that is no longer an issue!

I first heard about removing the oil out of an engine via the dipstick hole from some Benz-owning friends. Mercedes-Benz only does through-the-dispstick-hole oil changes. I always thought it seemed silly, but now I’m a convert. I recently bought a Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus. The event that led up to my purchase was an accidental over-tightening of the drain bolt in my wife’s car. The last time I changed her oil I wasn’t paying attention and over-did it when putting the bolt back in. I didn’t strip it completely, but I felt that little “give” that told me I’d be doing a heli-coil job on her pan at some point in my future. (Remember I said at the beginning that I wasn’t a very good mechanic!) I did the bodger’s trick of sealing the bolt in silicone to hold it over until I can fix it properly. Meanwhile I’m still going to have to change the oil. Hence the The Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus.

The unit arrived with a damaged box, which is never a good start to a relationship. Thankfully no parts were missing and nothing was damaged. Included in the box was the unit itself, two different diameter extraction tubes, a main tube, and an instruction manual. I’m one of those guys who reads the manual of everything before I use it. In summary this is how to use the Fluid Extractor:

1.  Warm up, then shut down your engine. Think Goldilocks: Warm is good, HOT not so much, Cold won’t do.
2.  Remove your engine’s oil cap and dipstick.
3.  Insert the main tube into the top of the Mityvac 7201 unit.
4.  Select an extraction tube that is just slightly smaller than your dipstick hole, and attach that to the main tube.
5.  Insert extraction tube into the dipstick hole until you hit the bottom of the oil pan. Your dipstick will serve as a      guide as to how far to expect to slide it down.
6.  Make sure the drain plug on the Mityvac 7201 unit is secured and select “Evacuate” from the “Evacuate/Discharge” button options.
7.  Pump the handle about 10 times, as you would a bicycle pump.
8.  Stand back and behold the wonder that is the Mityvac 7201 Fluid Evacuator Plus as it sucks the old oil out of your engine!

It sucks. Just like it's supposed to.

It takes just a few minutes to get all the oil out. When it hits bottom and all the oil is out you’ll hear it sucking air. Once finished you pull the extraction tube out and off, insert the main tube into into something handy to carry it in off to the recycling station, flip the switch to “Discharge”, and it’ll blow out the old oil. Fill your engine with the proper amount of new oil, replace your cap and dipstick, and you are done. You won’t even get your hands dirty! Much faster than draining too.

Unless you have to also change a filter you won’t have to get under the car at all. (In the case of my TDI, the filter is on top of the engine, so with that car the entire operation can be done from above.) No muss, no fuss. No ramps, no jacks. There are other units besides the Mityvac 7201, but I chose this one for its size and discharge capacity. Some of the cars I care for are vintage machines with 11+ quart oil capacities. (The discharge feature also makes it useful for brake bleeding but I haven’t tested that yet.) The Mityvac 7201 is expensive at around $75, but a budget-minded gearhead could find a usable substitute for as little as $45. If you want powered options (electrical or compressed air) plan on spending a few hundred bucks.

Once you’ve sucked, you’ll never drain again.

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Sears DieHard 10/2/50 amp Automatic Battery Charger Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/01/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2008 19:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/sears-diehard-10250-amp-automatic-battery-charger-review/ 02871222000.jpgLike most middle aged men, I had a car crisis. So, after convincing my wife that an Imola Red BMW M Roadster isn’t “chick magnet red,” I bought my dream car. Of course, the dream is never the reality. I rarely drove the M. Summers were too wet and hot (real men don’t drive a convertible with the top up and the a/c on). Fall was too wet. Ah, winter in Florida! It’s the best ‘vert weather but… I just got a new daily driver. So Emily became a garage queen. And died.

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02871222000.jpgLike most middle aged men, I had a car crisis. So, after convincing my wife that an Imola Red BMW M Roadster isn’t “chick magnet red,” I bought my dream car. Of course, the dream is never the reality. I rarely drove the M. Summers were too wet and hot (real men don’t drive a convertible with the top up and the a/c on). Fall was too wet. Ah, winter in Florida! It’s the best ‘vert weather but… I just got a new daily driver. So Emily became a garage queen. And died.

Yesterday, I went out to drive her for the first time in two weeks. Unlike The Grand National, she’s never failed to start. But this time, key in, quick turn and nada. The dash lights were on but she didn’t even bother emitting the dreaded click click click sound. A dead battery was the blindingly obvious call. So I rolled her out of the garage, grabbed the jumper cables, opened the trunk, removed the battery cover and– remembered that jump starting a car is generally a bad idea.

Jump starting a modern car is two kinds of dumb. First, we’re talking dumb and dumberer, or, if you prefer, the Darwin factor. That’s when you accidentally reverse the cables and/or cause so much sparking that the battery blows. Second, there’s the small matter of an overly sensitive $1k electronic control unit that can up and die from a spike in the voltage transmitted from the running car to the dead car via Old Sparky– I mean jumper cables.

Some jumper cables now include a special resistor to reduce voltage spike. Some manufacturers also include a jumping block off the battery, which should help prevent battery explosions. But, as you’ve read here, no one reads the owner’s manual anymore. And I’m a lawyer; I don’t trust anyone, with anything, ever.

As an alternative, Sears sells several battery chargers. I reckon they’re a must for any vehicle driven less than once a week. So I tested the Sears DieHard 10/2/50 amp Automatic Battery Charger. The unit MSRPs at $64.99, but way-hey! As of December 23, 2007, it was on sale for a bargain price of only $39.99.

The Diehard charger is your basic, garden variety metal box with one analog battery charging gauge, two leads (for power on and full charge) and a three-way switch. It has two plugs, a 110 amp wall plug (not grounded) and two small jumper cable style wires with a red and black clamp. The Diehard does so with a vengeance; the heavy and sturdy block weighs in at eleven pounds.

So, connect the Diehard to your Diehard battery (or similar), red to red, black to black (or brown, as apparently some car companies didn’t get that memo regarding the international colors for positive and negative). Select the style of charge, plug in the device and wait. The Diehard offers spark proof protection in automatic mode, and even includes a Darwin feature for fashion victims who insist on hooking up red to black and black to red because it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

The Diehard Charger offers three settings depending on your needs. The 50 amp setting is similar to a jump from another car and should allow most cars to start up right away (though I would still give it a minute or two, and keep in mind the warning above, though the voltage from the Diehard is delivered spike free according to Sears).

If you’re not planning on driving the vehicle straight away, set the Diehard in the ten amp mode and wait about two hours. A blinking light will advise you when the battery is fully charged. WARNING: the Diehard doesn’t have an automatic shutoff; leaving the charger in ten amp mode for extended periods can damage your car’s battery. How lame is that?

I used ten amp mode for my M. A couple of hours later the car started like a dream, and ran the rest of the day without battery troubles.

There’s also a two amp trickle charger mode. This is the mode I SHOULD have been using for my M before I let her die. A trickle charge feeds just enough juice to keep the battery charged and the electrical system refreshed without overcharging the battery. Since most cars continue to draw power when off, a trickle charger also prevents damage to electrical components that seem to freak at low voltage.

I recently sampled a rarely driven loaner 2006 M5. When I picked her up after a short lay-up, the dash was lit up like a Christmas tree with dreaded engine damage warnings. A flat bed to the dealer later, I learned that the low voltage had falsely triggered the warnings. If only I’d learned to live free and Diehard.

Should this be a TTAC-approved product?

Click here to vote
Click here for results  

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Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/12/poorboys-spray-rinse-wheel-cleaner-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/12/poorboys-spray-rinse-wheel-cleaner-review/#comments Thu, 27 Dec 2007 12:19:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/poorboys-spray-rinse-wheel-cleaner-review/ sprayrinse.jpgGo into any parts store and you’ll see rows of products that claim to clean wheels. Just spray and rinse! After buying, spraying and rinsing, you end-up with half clean wheels that beg you to take out the scrub brush and clean them the old fashioned way. And here’s the really horrible bit: OCD pistonheads keep after the cleanliness is next to godliness spray ‘n wash wheel cleaning Holy Grail until their garages are littered-- OK, carefully arranged with half empty bottles of wheel cleaner. So, is there a genuine no-brush wheel cleaning solution? 

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sprayrinse.jpgVisit any parts store and you’ll see rows of products that claim to clean wheels. Just spray and rinse! After buying, spraying and rinsing, you end up with half clean wheels that beg you to take out the scrub brush and clean them the old fashioned way. And here’s the really horrible bit: OCD pistonheads keep after the “cleanliness is next to godliness” spray-’n-wash wheel-cleaning Holy Grail until their garages are littered—OK, carefully arranged—with half empty bottles of wheel cleaner. So, is there a genuine no-brush wheel cleaning solution?

No, and for good reason. Any liquid powerful enough to remove all the grease and grime from your wheels without a brush would eat through the wheel’s clear coating or painted surface and leave you with a cancerous catastrophe. However, after years of searching, I’ve found a product that works better than most at cleaning wheels with minimal post-application intervention.

I’m talking about Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner. As you can see, the company takes its brand seriously. The formula is sold in a simple spray bottle with a cheap, glued-on paper label featuring Poorboy’s riff on Monopoly’s Mr. Moneybags. The 24-ounce bottle runs $9.95 at your local auto parts store. You can also purchase a quart bottle online for $15.95, or a gallon jug for $39.95. Since the wheel cleaner requires almost as much spraying as the side of a good-sized house, I recommend you go for the gallon.

Simply spray Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner the on cold wheels. And then spray some more. And a bit more. And then, more. Keep spraying until your wheels are better coated than a Shake ’n Bake chicken breast. Wait a few minutes for the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome to subside and then rinse the wheels with a hose. A jet sprayer is ideal, as the pressure will thoroughly wash off the cleaner and the dirt.

before.JPGThen . . . more spraying! I recommend wiping the wheels with a stiff brush, and then using a needle shaped brush, cleaning the area between the wheels and the lug nuts.  One more spray and rinse and voilà! Your wheels are clean. But remember: don’t let the spray sit on wheels for more than a few minutes. This is some serious shit.

Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Cleaner Wheel Cleaner is an acid-based product. So some basic, common sense precautions are required. Always spray downwind and use protective eyewear. I know it looks dorky, but if a sudden gust catches the product as you spritz, you may be temped to re-enact the final act of Oedipus Rex. (Been there, done that.) The good news: the human eye is the fastest healing part of the human body.

Another warning: the product should not be used on uncoated wheels. In undiluted form, the cleaner is plenty strong enough to damage an unpainted finish. Poorboy’s recommends diluting Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner by 50 percent and spot-testing to see if the solution works like alien goo on your cherished rims. Diluting the cleaner is also recommended if you’re a frequent (not to say obsessive) cleaner, both to protect the wheels and save cold, hard cash.

When I use Poorboy’s wheel cleaner, I also spray the liquid liberally on the inside of the wheel and onto the brake calipers. This helps keep the inside [somewhat] clean, and keeps the calipers looking presentable. However, if you’ve painted your own calipers, just say no. By the same token, the Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner may eventually eat through your car’s paint. So I’d definitely avoid over-spraying onto ANY painted surface, especially small areas of the body where the clear coat has chipped away, leaving thin painted or even bare metal surfaces.

after.JPGI also recommend a thorough wash with water on the inside of the wheel, so that none of the cleaner sits on the brake pads or other brake parts. Overspray onto tires seems to have no affect, but Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner is not and should not be used as a tire cleaner.

Since brushing is necessary (despite the company’s claim), I recommend a good quality short hair synthetic brush. Some detailers swear by boar’s hair wheel brushes, which are considered safer on wheels than the synthetic equivalent. However, they cost five times the price, and, in my experience, they don’t make much of a difference. Just avoid aggressive rubbing and have a little patience and you’ll avoid scratching your wheels.

Overall, Poorboy’s Spray & Rinse Wheel Cleaner is an excellent product that comes as close as you can get to a true spray and rinse product. Once your wheels are cleaned, a simple regimen of weekly sprays will keep them looking good, avoiding the dirt, grease and grime build-up that’s harder to remove over time.

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OBD-II Actron 9135 Scanner Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/11/obd-ii-actron-9135-scanner-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/11/obd-ii-actron-9135-scanner-review/#comments Tue, 27 Nov 2007 10:59:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/obd-ii-actron-9135-scanner-review/ cp9135-4.jpgDriving my new 2004 Audi with the family on a vacation to Sanibel Island, the check engine light (CEL) illuminated. We were 125 miles from home. In the past, an engine warning light would trigger panic, confusion and nameless dread. (Owners’ manuals are no help; they simply tell afflicted drivers to take the car to an official dealer.) All I could do was find, phone and visit a local dealer (if they were open) or limp home, knowing that every mile might be making an unknown situation worse. These days, I have an alternative: the OBD-II Actron 9135 scanner.

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cp9135-4.jpgDriving my new 2004 Audi with the family on a vacation to Sanibel Island, the check engine light (CEL) illuminated. We were 125 miles from home. In the past, an engine warning light would trigger panic, confusion and nameless dread. (Owners’ manuals are no help; they simply tell afflicted drivers to take the car to an official dealer.) All I could do was find, phone and visit a local dealer (if they were open) or limp home, knowing that every mile might be making an unknown situation worse. These days, I have an alternative: the OBD-II Actron 9135 scanner.

Modern cars are lousy with sensors. They measure engine function, transmission operation, emissions, fuel consumption, brake operation and more. The sensors report to the ECU (Electronic Control Unit). If the ECU detects a problem with a monitored system, it stores the information until the condition occurs x times over y period of time. At that point, the ECU triggers the appropriate idiot light.

Thanks to the federal legislation, all cars sold since 1996 must include an open access port to the ECU. Anyone– not just franchised dealers– can use this OBD-II port to diagnose vehicle problems.

The OBD-II system is a data collector, not a testing device. A detected fault could be in the idiot light, the ECU, the sensor collecting the data, or the measured device/part/system. Regardless, knowing which part of your vehicle is stricken is extremely helpful. For one thing, many faults can lead to expensive repairs if they’re not addressed in a timely fashion. 

Equally important, an OBD-II scanner provides consumer protection. Even if you don’t have a clue how to fix a reported fault, you can go to your dealer or mechanic safe in the knowledge that they can’t snow you with a bogus diagnosis. In fact, most dealers will charge you more than the cost of the unit ($69.99) just to plug-in their OBD-II scanner.

Like most code readers, the Actron 9135 connects directly to the OBD-II port under the driver’s dash. With the car’s ignition in the “on” position, the battery provides power for the scanner. The scanner takes about a minute to establish communications with the ECU. Once the "ready" signal is displayed on the LCD screen, you can test a variety of systems and functions. 

Pressing the large “Read” button tells the car to return any fault codes stored in the ECU. If you're lucky, you'll see “no faults” on the screen. If not, the screen will report the code and attempt to describe the problem based on the generic OBD-II codes.

The Society of Engineers created these fault codes. While manufacturers license them for diagnostic use, they are not required to restrict themselves to generic codes. That means the Actron (and other readers) may not be able to read some or all of the codes from certain vehicles. Actron offers a free web-based look-up service, as well as a fee-based service to diagnose code symptoms and recommend possible repair solutions.

The Actron 9135 can also test a vehicle’s emissions control systems. With this tool, a car owner can determine if there are any emissions issues prior to undergoing (and possibly failing) a state emissions test. If any of the emission devices are malfunctioning, the scanner will identify the exact problem. If all systems report ready, the vehicle will most likely pass an emissions test.

Now, back to my story…

Since I’d just gassed the Audi, I thought I hadn’t put the gas cap on tightly enough; a loose gas cap will trigger a CEL since the system detects that as fuel vapor leak, and the scanner will return a P0440 code. I re-tightened the cap and hoped for the best, knowing that a loose cap CEL will reset in a few start-stop cycles.

When we arrived at our hotel, I reached for my handy dandy Actron scanner. Anal retentive gadget freak that I am, I’d checked the ECU a few days before the trip. The ECU hadn't been storing any codes (i.e. I was good to go). This time, the Actron immediately displayed a code (P0741) and a short statement indicating that the problem involved a sensor related to the vehicle’s torque converter. Uh-oh.

The Audi is headed for the dealer. No matter how this turns out, I highly recommend the Actron 9135 OBD-II handheld scanner. The oil and grease resistant, field upgradeable unit comes with an eight foot cable and free tech support. It’s a simple tool that offers proof– if proof were needed– that information is power. Oh, and one quick question: why don’t manufacturers build-in this system? Take a wild guess…  

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