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Tips and FAQ's
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- Oh No! The Check Engine Light Is On... Now What?
- Top Ten Car Car Myths Debunked
- Is Wheel Alignment and Tire Balance Worth Doing?
- Top Ten Reasons to Buy Your Next Vehicle From a New Car Dealer
- Buying a New Car - FAQ
- Buying a Used Car - FAQ
The high price of gasoline may put the brakes on some driving vacations this year, or at least keep some car owners closer to home. However, most of us will still grudgingly take the quick hit to the wallet or pay later with the help of a flexible plastic friend.
To help ease those driving pains, here are some fuel-saving tips to make the most of every drop of pricey petroleum. A well tuned car is a must, but how you plan your trip and load up your car for the highway are important for fuel-efficient driving.
In addition, let’s not forget safety – what is the point in saving money, if you loose it on the highway!
The route that you plan to take and the time of day that you’ll hit any major population centre can significantly influence the amount of fuel your vehicle will consume. Plan stops to avoid joining-in a city rush-hour commute.
A shorter route is not always the better route in terms of fuel-efficiency. Here are some things to consider: being able to maintain a steady speed is important, steep hills make engine to work harder and road repairs or new construction can cause delays and traffic line-ups. Gas prices can also vary considerably, depending on where you stop to buy it.
Help is a click away, some route-planning, gas price shopping web sites:
- BCAA Road Reports Page here
- Gas station prices in Canada and US - gasbuddy
- Canadian Government site - http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/
The best way to avoid unscheduled highway stops and a "gas-saving" must do – the pre-trip check!
Begin your auto check with a walk around the vehicle, a peek in the trunk and a look under the hood. Do a quick check on all the outside lights – don’t forget the brake, back-up, licence plate and those little side marker lights.
A loaded vehicle driven at highway speeds for prolonged periods is a punishing test for tires and the dreaded blow-out is real concern, especially for tires more than eight years old.
Gas Saver Tip - Look for the tire inflation pressure decal - it’s usually attached to the door jam or inside the glove box. Adjust tire pressures when the tires are as cold as possible and remember to include the spare, hidden in the trunk. A single tire under inflated by 6 PSI (40 kPa) can increase fuel consumption by 3%.
Additional tire checks:
- Check tread-wear, 1.6-mm or less is legally bald – a built-in tread wear indicator will appear as a bald strip running across the tread surface.
- Gas Saver Tip- uneven tread wear indicates a steering or suspension problem, probably a fuel-wasting alignment problem – have it checked
- Check for cuts and bulges, especially on tire sidewalls – run your hand around the inside surface.
- Most auto makers recommend tire rotations every 10,000 to 15,000 Km.
While you’re in the trunk checking the spare wheel, take a look at the emergency tool kit too. Make sure you’ve got a jack that works and everything you need to change a wheel.
If the wiper blades are streaking, chattering or generally not doing the job - replace them.
Classify yourself as "mechanically challenged"? – its time to call in the professionals. Otherwise, lift the hood.
Under the Hood
Start with fluid levels: engine oil, brake, power steering, automatic transmission, coolant and the windshield washer reservoir. Have the owner’s manual handy if you’re not sure of where to look or how to check stuff.
Check the condition of hoses and belts, they’re usually good for about four to six years of normal driving, and look for any signs of fluid leaks.
Good air flow through the radiator is important and you may be able suck-out debris trapped in the core with a vacuum. If you’re headed for ‘big-bug’ country, a screen attached to the inside of the grill (not on the radiator) is a good idea.
If you decide to change your own engine oil or coolant, call the recycle Hot-line for facilities that will accept the old stuff:604-732-9253 (Greater Vancouver) or1-800-667-4321.
Gas Saver Tip- Use an "Energy Conserving" oil with the lowest viscosity rating (usually a 5W-20) recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
Gas Saver Tip- A dirty engine air filter can increase fuel consumption by 10%.
- Check the maximum roof -weight in the owner’s manual (usually 75 kg to 100 kg).
- Distribute the weight evenly and avoid single point loads.
- Anchor cargo securely – bungee cord hold-downs are good.
Gas Saver Tip – Best not to use one at all - wind resistance at highway speeds will have a dramatic effect on fuel economy. If you have to, try to keep roof rack loads to a minimum as it changes the centre of gravity of the vehicle, making it top-heavy and easier to roll.
On the Road
Give yourself enough time to get where you’re going with time to stop and smell the roses. Aerodynamic drag drinks fuel and a drop in cruising speed from 120 km/h to 100 km/h can reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%.
At highway speeds, an open window increases drag and can decrease fuel economy of up to 10%. This actually makes a good case for prudent use of air conditioning and some systems have an economy setting. At low vehicle speeds open a window and turn the A/C off for best fuel economy.
A constant cruising speed on the highway also saves fuel, if your car has cruise control- use it! On the other hand, always maintain a safe driving distance between your car and the one in front – and don’t hog passing lanes!
Unnecessary idling also wastes fuel. According to Natural Resources Canada, if you’re going to be stopped for more than ten seconds you’ll save fuel if you turn off the engine and restart it again. Of course you do have to use a bit of "common sense" here and only shut the engine down when it’s safe to do so – remember, the engine also provides power-assist to steering and brakes.
Left foot braking (in cars with an automatic transmission) is a risky practice as there’s a tendency to rest the left foot on the brake pedal. Any pressure on the pedal can cause brake drag, which increases fuel consumption and causes brake heat build-up and accelerates wear. It may also trigger the rear brake lights and confuse drivers behind you.
Here are some additional summer driving tips:
- Especially in hilly terrain or if you’re pulling a trailer, keep an eye on the engine temperature gauge and pull over if the needle starts to climb. At the first signs of an engine overheat, get off the road, and put the shift lever into neutral or park, do not stop the engine! Heat soak (after-boil) can occur when a hot engine is turned off. It’s better to switch off the air conditioner, turn the heater on full blast and slightly increase engine speed to about 1,500 to 2,000 rpm until the engine temperature starts to drop. If the temperature continues to climb you’ve got a more serious problem, so shut it down!
- Using a fuel with too low an octane rating will cause the engine to ping or knock on acceleration or when climbing hills – not good for the engine! On the other hand, using a higher-octane fuel than your engine needs - a waste of money!
- If you get stuck in a long stop-and-go traffic line-up, shift the transmission into neutral (and apply the brake) rather than leaving it in drive. This reduces heat build-up in the torque converter and allows the oil to circulate and cool the transmission. A supplemental transmission oil cooler is a good addition if you pull a trailer.
- It's also a good idea to carry an extra set of keys or hide a spare key somewhere on the car. Those magnetic hide-a-key boxes work well.
Additional good stuff to have along are:
- A first aid kit.
- A roll of electrical tape.
- A few common tools.
- A flash light
- A small fire extinguisher.
- A BCAA membership card (of course!)
Above all, have an enjoyable and safe road trip!
Regular vehicle maintenance and modified driving habits can reduce fuel consumption and lower vehicle emissions. The following maintenance, driving and consumer tips practiced together can make a noticeable difference in your monthly fuel bill.
Perform regular maintenance
A poorly maintained vehicle can increase fuel consumption by as much as 50 per cent. Change the engine oil every 5,000 km or six months – unless you regularly do long distance highway driving, then change it at a maximum 12,000 km intervals. Use an energy-conserving oil that is suited to the season.
Check tire pressures at least once a month and watch for signs of unusual tire tread wear that might indicate an alignment problem. An under-inflated tire has a greater rolling resistance. A 20 per cent drop in pressure will increase fuel consumption by about 10 per cent and reduce tread life by 15 per cent.
A faulty cooling system thermostat that doesn’t allow the engine to quickly reach or maintain its correct operating temperature can dramatically increase fuel consumption and affect the performance of an electronically controlled engine.
Make fewer and more efficient trips
Combine tasks into a single trip rather than making several trips throughout the day. And, because an engine also consumes more fuel during its warm-up period, try picking up groceries and the dry-cleaning on your way home from work instead of making a special trip.
- Don’t warm up your car unnecessarily. Driving the vehicle slower and keeping the engine speed low until its normal operating temperature is reached, is a more fuel-efficient way to warm up your car.
- Look ahead and adjust your speed. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, about 50 per cent of the fuel consumed in city driving is used during acceleration. When accelerating, do it gently and steadily and never exceed posted speed limits. Driving on the highway at 90 km/h rather than 120 km/h can reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent.
- Lighten the load, and avoid carrying non-essential heavy items such as tools and skis. Remove roof racks when they are not being used.
- Use air conditioning sparingly. Shutting off the air conditioning and rolling down the windows will save fuel in city or low speed driving.
- Reduce wind resistance. Open windows at highway cruising speeds will substantially increase drag (wind resistance) in today’s aerodynamically efficient vehicles, and cause an increase in fuel consumption.
- Avoid excessive idling. Leaving a car running unnecessarily (i.e., in a ferry line-up or while chatting with a neighbour) is wasteful. Shutting off and re-starting the engine generally consumes less fuel and emits less pollutants than allowing a car to sit idling for long periods of time.
- Purchase gas from companies that offer loyalty programs that best suit your needs. Taking advantage of rewards is one small way to offset the cost of gas.
- Don’t pay extra for something you don’t need. Most cars run on regular gasoline, and don’t require higher cost premium grade fuels. If unsure, check your owner’s manual.
Advances in materials and technologies have certainly extended the required intervals for many automotive service operations – no question. And for this reason "low maintenance" has also become a popular claim in new car marketing. However, when you talk to the guys who actually fix cars the message hasn’t changed – frequent and good servicing is still the best way to protect your auto investment.
Cars made back in the ’50s and ’60s needed twice yearly tune-ups that generally included spark plug replacement, for example. Today many engines come with platinum-tipped plugs that can last as long as 150,000 km, which is about six to eight years of normal driving – huge difference!
On the other hand, virtually all manufacturers specify two maintenance schedules for their vehicles: one for those operated under ‘normal’ driving conditions, and the other for vehicles subjected to ‘severe’ service. The exact definition of ‘severe’ service varies with the automaker, but it generally involves operating the vehicle under one or more of the following conditions:
- Primarily short trips (8 km or less).
- Extremely hot, cold, or dusty climates.
- Sustained stop-and-go driving.
- Carrying heavy loads or towing a trailer.
"Most car owners who live in the Lower Mainland probably fall into the "severe" service category," according to Hakim Mohammed, a Service Consultant with 18-years of experience with Dueck GM in Vancouver. "I’d estimate that 80% of our customers should be following the ‘severe’ maintenance schedule."
"It doesn’t make sense, when you compare the cost of a $30 oil change to a $3,000 engine repair," said Mohammed. "But we do get people bringing in cars for engine repairs and they haven’t changed the oil in over 30,000 km." Failure to meet service requirements can void all or part of a vehicle warranty, in addition to an inconvenient breakdown and costly repairs.
Of course, if your vehicle usage does conform to ‘normal’ operating guidelines, why spend hard-earned money on services your car may not need. Some vehicles now come with a service warning system that computes vehicle-specific service intervals, based on time, distance and recorded driving habits.
While all vehicles have the same basic service requirements, many vehicles also have unique components or systems that require special maintenance. This is why it’s important to consult the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations in your owner’s manual, maintenance booklet or the dealer service department.
Although it doesn’t appear on the GM service schedule, Mohammed also advises his customers with vehicles that have rear drum brakes to get them cleaned and adjusted every 15,000 to 20,000 km. They tend to get out of adjustment and this can upset the brake bias, causing premature cycling of the anti-lock system and accelerated front disc pad wear.
Good maintenance can also be a good selling tool. Dueck keeps a record of all service work and can provide a customer with a copy of their vehicle’s service record - for prospective buyers. Mohammed was quick to add that the Privacy Act prohibits them from giving it to anyone else.
Common Service Items
The time and distance intervals will vary depending on the make of vehicle, driving habits and vehicle use. Check your owner’s manual for vehicle specific numbers.
Lubrication Service (Every 5,000 to 12,000 km or every 6 months):
A lubrication service is the most frequent form of vehicle maintenance. The service typically includes changing the engine oil and oil filter, lubricating the chassis grease fittings (where present) and an under-hood check of various other fluid levels.
Tire Rotation (Every 8,000 to 12,000 km):
Easy to combine with seasonal snow tire fit/remove and it extends tire life.
Cooling System Flush (Every 50,000 km or 2/3 years)
Long-life coolant in many new vehicles extends it to every 80,000 km or 5 years.
Brake Fluid Flush (Every 50,000 km or 2 years)
Not always on the service schedule - but brake fluid absorbs moisture that wreaks havoc on costly anti-lock brake hydraulic control components.
Fuel Filter Replacement (Every 50,000 km - plus)
Again not always on a service schedule and gasoline quality is a factor.
Spark Plug Replacement (Every 50,000 to 150,000 km)
If it’s an option – go platinum!
Automatic Transmission Service (Every 25,000 to 150,000 km)
Wide range and not always on a service schedule - type, use and abuse are the variables.
Engine Timing Belt (Every 100,000 to 150,000 km or 5/8-years)
If fitted it’s in the manual - some engines use a (no-maintenance) timing chain.
Drive Belt (80,000 km or 3/5 years)
Exposed to the elements, a single serpentine belt generally drives all engine accessories.
Three for the Gaffer!
Here are three basic owner checks, preferably once a week, but at least once a month:
- Engine oil level
- Tire air pressures (don’t forget the spare)
- All the lights
Final note: Next week we’ll take a closer look at those vital fluids that keep the mechanical bits turning, pumping and purging. Then it’s on to keeping the engine in tune and we’ll wrap-up the series on the topic of tires. And each week we’ll include some down-home advice from a front-line expert in the field.
And remember - preventive maintenance always pays for itself, in the long run!
The engine appears to be running okay when suddenly a 'check engine' light or an engine icon illuminates the dash panel. What's going on? Is the engine about to pack it in? Probably not, however something is wrong. The warning light generally indicates that the engine management computer has detected a malfunctioning fuel or emissions component or a system failure.
Most vehicles today have an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) Level 1 or Level 2 (1996 and newer) computer that self-tests the emission components and system operation. Isolated or one-time fault signals are eventually wiped from its memory, but persistent or serious faults are stored and trigger the warning light. Automotive technicians use a scanner or scan tool to retrieve fault codes and diagnose these computerized vehicles.
The oxygen sensor is probably the most common cause of a 'check engine' warning. However, it can be a gradual deterioration of the sensor and the driver may not notice the resulting reduction in overall engine performance. Maintenance schedules generally recommend an inspection or replacement every 50,000 to 80,000 kilometres if it's an "unheated" 1 or 2-wire sensor or every 100,000 to 160,000 kilometres if it's a "heated" 3 or 4 wire (OBD2) sensor.
A degraded oxygen sensor can increase fuel consumption by 10 to 15 percent. Definitely not what you want when fuel prices are as high as they are. Other signs that the oxygen sensor is worn out include excessive exhaust emissions, engine surging or hesitation, even premature failure of the catalytic converter.
Other problems may trigger the engine warning light to come on as well. They include:
- a failed sensor such as oxygen, coolant temperature, MAP (manifold absolute pressure) or airflow meter.
- engine problems such as poor performance, faulty spark plugs and wires, or clogged fuel injectors.
- emissions problems such as a loose or cracked vacuum hose, loose or missing gas cap, or a failed EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve.
- electrical wiring that has a short or open circuit.
How you should react to the warning light depends on how the light behaves:
- If the light comes on for a little while and then goes out, you may have a momentary problem in the system. Once the light goes out, the problem is no longer occurring but it may have caused the computer to store a diagnostic trouble code in its memory. This isn't cause for immediate action, however, you should take the vehicle in as soon as you can and have it looked at.
- If the light comes on and stays on, it indicates an ongoing problem. It may not be a major problem however it may affect your car's performance, gas mileage and emission levels. Definitely take your vehicle to a repair shop as soon as possible.
- If the light flashes on and off, the vehicle has a severe problem that will cause additional damage. If your repair shop is nearby, take the car in immediately. If not, shut off the car and call for assistance.
Your owner's manual is the best source of information on maintaining your car's performance and dashboard warning lights.
Many drivers have best intentions when it comes to looking after their cars. But some popular practices passed down from family or friends can turn out to be myths that are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful or counterproductive.
Myth 1: Dish soap and laundry detergent are fine for washing my car.
Reality: Sure, they’ll get the grime off your vehicle, but dish soap and laundry detergent can be more counterproductive than helpful. These strong grease-cutting detergents strip waxes and protective coatings off your finish, leaving paint bare and defenseless. For best results, use a pH balanced car wash product.
Myth 2: Vehicle technology is so advanced I don’t need to worry about emissions.
Reality: Even if your vehicle employs the very latest technology, a poorly maintained engine can produce up to 50 per cent more pollutants and use up to 50 per cent more gas than a regularly serviced engine.
Myth 3: Gas and oil are the only fluids I need to worry about.
Reality: In addition to gas and oil, your car depends on a variety of fluids – brake, coolant /anti-freeze, power steering, transmission, and washer fluids should all be checked periodically. Consult your owner’s manual for recommended service intervals.
Myth 4: Protectants keep my dashboard and tires looking new.
Reality: Protectants not specifically designed for synthetic materials may cause the dashboard to dry out or age faster. Some aftermarket tire shiners can also strip the tire of its original protectants and over time, cause the rubber to crack. Choose products that carry a guarantee against damaging vehicle components. As an alternative, dust interiors and wash tires with a good brush.
Myth 5: Tire manufacturers provide a road hazard warranty.
Reality: Years ago tire manufacturers offered full road hazard protection for your car’s tires. Today, many manufacturers no longer offer this; you have to purchase additional insurance to repair or replace damaged tires. Some retailers, including BCAA offers this protection for a small fee. Available for members only, BCAA provides up to $500 of coverage towards the repair or replacement of damaged tires for $25 per year.
Myth 6: If I don’t take my car to the dealer for servicing, the manufacturer will void my warranty.
Reality: To keep warranties in effect, maintenance can be performed by any qualified service facility or person who is skilled in automotive service - not just the dealership. Just remember to retain all receipts and have the service provider complete the Maintenance Record.
Myth 7: If regular-grade gas is good, premium must be better.
Reality: Years ago, high-compression engines led to the development and introduction of high-octane premium gas, which included detergents and anti knock additives. Most of the cars today do not require a high-octane gas. You should check your owner’s manual for the recommended octane rating for your car. Most modern vehicles are designed to run on regular-grade (87-octane) gas, which contains all the necessary detergents and additives. It’s perfectly fine to use premium gas if you want, it just costs more.
Myth 8: There’s this gizmo that claims to enhance my car’s gas mileage by 15 per cent.
Reality: The auto industry spends millions of dollars to make cars more aerodynamic and fuel efficient. If there was a gizmo they could hook up for a few bucks they would jump on it.
Myth 9: I should inflate my tires according to the pressure indicated on the tire sidewall.
Reality: Molded into the sidewall is the tire’s maximum inflation pressure. Instead, follow the inflation pressure recommendations outlined in your owner’s manual or placard, typically located in the glove compartment or on the door post.
Myth 10: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Reality: Vehicles require regular service even with all the advances in technology. For example, when the oil change monitor light comes on, it means your vehicle’s oil needs attention now, not several weeks down the road. Your best bet is to deal with an automotive shop you trust and then stick with them to arrange regular maintenance – this will help you avoid costly repairs and ensure your safety on the road.
Traditional wisdom says that Mr. or Ms. Average should have the wheels aligned and the tires balanced on his or her car twice a year, to get the most out of the tires. Now, there’s no doubt that this maintenance procedure can increase the tire’s tread life considerably. Question is - is it still cost effective, today?
Twenty years or so ago, a set of radial tires cost $200-$300. An alignment and four-wheel balance cost $25 or $30 and, if performed regularly, could provide up to 40-percent more life out of the tires. So you'd pay about $180 over the life of the tires and pick up a considerable amount of additional tire life — a fair trade.
Today, a set of radial tires generally costs between $300-$500. Meanwhile, the price of an alignment and wheel balance has skyrocketed. You could easily pay $80 for a four-wheel alignment and $50 or more for a four-wheel balance.
So an alignment and balance could cost $130 or more. If purchased six times over the life of the tires, that's about $780 — or about twice the price of the tires. All of a sudden, the 40-percent more life gain isn't all that great.
A wheel alignment and the tire balance are certainly prudent services when you replace the tires. And if you experience a problem, such as unusual tire wear, vibration, steering wheel miss-alignment or steering wander problems, you should have the car checked and any necessary repair or adjustment performed.
So, from a purely financial perspective, it may be harder to justify including alignment and balance in your vehicle’s maintenance schedule. However, by the time misalignment starts to show as uneven tire wear, damage has already occurred to the tire, so from our perspective it’s still a good idea, a least once a year.
- Fully Licensed
New Car Dealers are registered and licensed by the provincial government under the Motor Dealer Act. The government cannot offer the same protection to people who choose not to buy from a registered dealer. The dealership and all sales personnel are fully licensed by the Motor Dealer Council of BC.
New Car Dealers stand behind the vehicles sold or leased by them and guarantee these vehicles are free of liens.
New Car Dealers are backed by a government regulated fund in the event of a catastrophe occurring to the dealer. There is no similar protection if you buy from someone who is not a licensed motor dealer.
New Car Dealers are required to disclose if a vehicle has been registered out of province, used as a lease or rental car, or as a taxi, police or emergency vehicle or has been damaged over certain limits.
New Car Dealers provide full manufacturers warranties on new vehicles and offer a range of warranties on most used vehicles.
New Car Dealers back up their sales by providing customers with access to the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan to resolve any problems with vehicle manufacturers.
New Car Dealers know your specific vehicles servicing needs - inside and out - better than anyone and they have had the very best in training.
New Car Dealers comply with strict leasing standards when leasing a vehicle.
New Car Dealers have a range of financing available to assist customers with the purchase or lease of their vehicle and a variety of insurance products to protect their investment.
- Solid Investments
New Car Dealers have a large investment in their personnel, plant, operations, reputation and in their communities. You know where to find them when you need them.
- Which hybrid vehicles qualify for government rebates and how do I locate them?
- Where can I find out the retail / invoice prices of a new vehicle?
- Where can I find reviews & consumer reports on new vehicles?
- Where can I find information on buying a vehicle from out of province?
- How do I buy a car in the US and bring it back into BC?
- I am having trouble getting my new car repaired under warranty at the dealer. Is there any organization that can help?
- Where can I find information regarding recalls on my vehicle?
Q:Which hybrid vehicles qualify for government rebates and how do I locate them?
A:The following vehicles can be located on the ecoAUTO rebate program web site
Q:Where can I find reviews & consumer reports on new vehicles?
A:BCAA.com has many reviews on new vehicles and can consumer reports can be found at consumerreports.org.
> Click here for new car articles
> Click here for Vehicle Consumer Reports (note: a subscription may be required to access all information)
Q:Where can I find information on buying a vehicle from out of province?
A:Enquiry BC is a Provincial Government help line. They can provide you with the information necessary to buy a vehicle from out of province. Contact Enquiry BC at 604-660-2421 or 1-800-663-7867 (toll-free).
Q:How do I buy a car in the US and bring it back into BC?
A:Rules and regulations associated with importing a vehicle into BC can be found with the Registrar of Imported Vehicles.
> Visit them online or call 1-888-848-8240.
> Read this article Importing vehicle from the U.S. not easy (August 2007)
Q:I am having trouble getting my new car repaired under warranty at the dealer. Is there any organization that can help?
A:For new car warranty issues you can contact the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan.
> Call604-682-6280 or1-800-207-0685 or visit them online.
Q:Where can I find information regarding recalls on my vehicle?
A:This information is collected by the Centre of Auto Safety. Note: they may not have full information on all vehicles
- Where can I find the value of a used car?
- How can I conduct a lien or accident search on a vehicle?
- Where can I find information regarding recalls on my vehicle?
Q:How can I conduct a lien or accident search on a vehicle?
A:We can help you conduct a lien or accident search on a vehicle. Call us at604298-2755 or1-888-879-5436.
New: BCAA is now offering member discounted lien and accident searches packages through Canada Search and Registry Corp
Member price: $69.00 Non member price $ $93.00 (includes taxes).
Q:Where can I find information regarding recalls on my vehicle?
A:This information is collected by the Centre of Auto Safety & Transport Canada.
Visit them online at autosafety.org or Transport Canada. Note they may not have full information on all vehicles.
Are you eyeing your car with more scrutiny these days? Hoping it's in good enough shape to get you through the winter?
You'll need to do more than merely hope, of course. October is a good time to review critical items that may need servicing for the cold-weather season ahead.
Vehicle stress and strain increases greatly during the winter months and minor deficiencies can turn into major problems. So it is extremely important for motorists to take precautions before the weather gets too cold.
Batteries Get Zapped by the Cold
Cold weather is hard on batteries. Therefore, checking your car's battery should be at the top of any winterizing to-do list.
You should first look at the connections and make sure they're tight and corrosion-free and that the cables aren't loose.
A qualified technician should determine the condition of the battery via a load test. Some mechanics recommend replacing a battery with less than a year left on its warranty regardless of how it scores on a load test.
These pros point out that a battery loses almost a third of its starting cranking power at the freezing point of 0 degree Celsius. And it goes down drastically from there. A strong, healthy battery is absolutely vital in winter.
Get Fluids Up to Snuff.
The Specialty Equipment Marketing Association, which is made up of companies that sell a variety of automotive parts, advises you get a thorough check of your vehicle's vital fluids and filters as well as hoses, belts and tires.
"At the very least," SEMA says, "a change of season should automatically tip you off to have the oil and filter in your vehicle changed." While a car may well be due for an oil change, some cars also require a lighter weight - or lower viscosity - oil if driven in severe cold. If applicable, your owner's manual will have details.
Coolant level also should be checked. Make sure the mix between antifreeze and water is correct, usually at 50/50. If the coolant level has remained at what is specified in the car's owner's manual, it's likely OK. But if water has been added from time to time, have the cooling system checked and, if necessary, flushed and refilled.
Visibility Is Critical
Don't overlook windshield-washer fluid. Always keep it topped off with proper commercial anti-freeze washing fluid from your local fill-up station or auto parts store. It's time for the blueish liquid to take over from the red-coloured fluid you could have been using for splattered bugs last summer.
In addition, auto experts advise checking to see how well the wipers work. Blades aren't expensive, and they're relatively easy to replace. If your blades are more than a year old and/or don't get the windshield completely clean - without streaks - in three swipes, it's time for new ones.
You can also simply make the swap to winter-ready wiper blades. These come with a rubber cover over the metal arms that keeps them from icing up, which would seriously hamper their effectiveness in the coldest weather.
You should remember to change back to the regular blades next spring. The same rubber covers tend to keep condensation water in and make the wiper arms rust.
Inspect and keep your car's headlights, taillights, brake lights and defrosters clean and in good working order, too. Don't forget to include your emergency flashers. "See and be seen" is a precious motto to remember and apply.
Interior Items Count, Too
Check your vehicle's floor for any cracks or holes that could let in dangerous exhaust gases, not to mention icy goo. All gases need to be vented to the outside and not allowed to come into your vehicle. Remember, deadly carbon monoxide gas is odorless, so don't ignore this issue.
Test your vehicle's heater to make sure it's in good working order, so you and your riders will be comfortable during winter drives. Short hops make it even more important to get the most out of your vehicle's heating and defrosting capabilities.
Don't Forget Brakes, Belts, Hoses
Brake and clutch fluids should be topped off, as should transmission fluid (assuming your vehicle doesn't have a sealed-for-life gearbox; check your owner's manual).
Push and pull on engine belts and squeeze hoses. These items tend to deteriorate over time, so regular checkups should help you spot trouble before it occurs.
The rule of thumb is that belts giving more than one inch under finger pressure might need adjustment. At any sign of cracking or fraying of either, have the offender replaced.
As for hoses, look for loose connections, unusual bulges, cracks, tears and holes.
Tires Change in the Cold
Tire pressure and tread depth affect traction in snow and rain.
"You should check your tires' inflation pressures during the fall and early winter months as colder temperatures cause the air in your tires to contract. For every 5.5 degree Celsius (C) change in outside temperature, your tires' inflation pressures will change by about 1 psi (pounds per square inch) - up with higher and down with lower temperatures" explains Tony Mougios, Michelin Brand Manager in Canada.
"Canada is a country of temperature extremes, Mougios added, with summer temperatures reaching 30o C and winter temperatures reaching -30oC. This 60-degree swing in temperature can result in a loss of about 6 psi, which will sacrifice tire performance, tread wear and driving safety!"
This is not a once-a-winter check. Make a point to monitor your tire pressure about twice a month in the cold months. And don't forget to check your spare wheel.
Changing Tires for the Cold
The best and safest strategy, in Canada, is to get four of the best-quality winter tires installed on a separate set of wheels. You can typically get several winters of normal use out of these tires, which will make your other set last that much longer.
Tread depth is critical to controlling a car at all times but especially in snow or heavy rain. The closer the tire tread depth is to its original state, the better. Ideal tread depth varies from one tire to the next, though. Including winter tires. Maximum depth is not an absolute value anymore.
The most recent and modern designs place a strong emphasis on hi-tech, cold-insensitive rubber compounds and tread designs. Shallower tread depths allow for better control, a much quieter ride and even greater overall traction on ice, snow or slush.
A cautionary note, finally, regarding studded tires. While they can offer a dramatic traction improvement over conventional street tires on hard-packed snow and ice, they reduce traction on dry roads because the studs keep the tire from gripping the road as completely.
You must also be aware of provincial rules that prohibit the use of studded tires outside of the coldest months of the year. These regulations vary across the country. Check with your local transport authority.
Check the owner's manual to see if a general tune-up is due - spark plugs, ignition coil, fuel-injection and other emission-control equipment, brake linings or pads and general lubrication - or if one will be due come wintry December or January.
If that's the case, think about having it done now. You can get it out of the way before the busy holiday season arrives, and you can avoid the worry if winter strikes early or is particularly nasty.
Put at least one coat of wax on the exterior of your vehicle. Not only will it protect your paint in winter, it can help snow and ice slide off more easily.
Some auto experts advise spraying lubricants such as WD-40 or graphite in all door and trunk locks to keep them from freezing. These lubricants can be found at local auto parts stores.
Be Ready for Trouble
Be sure to stock your emergency kit and keep it inside your vehicle. Experts suggest a kit that includes the following: flashlight, flares, first-aid kit, blanket, warm clothes, gloves, hat, paper towels, snow shovel, snow brush, ice scraper, washer fluid, some high-energy food and water. Good-quality booster cables are an excellent idea too.
Our winter driving experts recommend carrying a bag of sand or gritty ashes. Poured under tires, these can help provide traction if your vehicle gets stuck on ice or hard-packed snow.
Finally, if you own a cell phone remember to carry it with you, as fully charged as possible, if you do not have a plug-in car charger.
Beyond Delusions of Safety
Just because you drive a seemingly rugged Sport-utility vehicles doesn't mean you're ready for the coming storm: adequate preparation will put you miles ahead once winter hits. Or keep you from getting in deeper trouble, quicker and earlier than other road users.
Foremost, these "SUVs", with their usually greater mass, high centre of gravity and greater acceleration capabilities, need the best-possible winter tires more than any other type of vehicle on Canadian roads.
Still, the best strategy for ultimate winter driving safety remains the ongoing development and sharpening of your driving skills. In this vein, the best investment is to enroll in an advanced winter driving course.
In becoming a winter driving, expert, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose but your fear or dislike of driving in a typical Canadian snow storm.
It’s amazing how quickly things can go from calm to crazy. Bang! And suddenly I was struggling with the steering wheel, trying desperately to regain control of the car. While in my rear-view mirror I watched a steady stream of stainless steel cutlery pour out of the trailer and scatter across three lanes of busy freeway.
Road trips with kids can be fun but they can also be a little trying and occasionally there are those moments of panic. The above incident was a high-speed tire blow-out on the Ventura Highway in California while pulling a tent trailer many years ago. A chunk of shredded tire had punched through the plastic inner fender of the trailer and smashed a cutlery drawer above it.
Forks and spoons you can replace, but not those little folk in the back seat. If you’re hitting the road this summer, do make sure that your child is in the correct child seat for their size and weight and that the child seat is properly secured in the vehicle.
One-in-four child seats are not properly installed, or not used correctly, in a vehicle, according to David Dunne, Program Manager at the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation. That’s an alarming statistic and it prompted me to visit a BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation and ICBC’s Child Seat Inspection Clinic and talk to a few attendees.
Linda Brown from North Vancouver told me that this was her third trip to a child seat inspection clinic, she first heard about it at Children’s Hospital. "It’s a terrific service and everyone should take advantage of it," said Brown. "I would happily pay for it, but it’s great that it’s without charge and totally accessible to anyone who wants to come here." Donations to support the child seat inspection program are gratefully accepted.
Although normal height, daughter Dana is a light 3 1/2 year-old and weighs just 14 kg (30-lb). When Dana out-grew her original child seat, Linda called the Child Seat Help Line (1-877-247-5551) and got a list of alternative child seats for taller children. Now she was returning to make sure that the new seat (she had purchased) was correctly installed in her Volvo V70.
The child seat inspection clinic is not just for parents. I came across the Usherwood family from Vancouver, grandparents Lorna and Alfred and daughter Sophie. They were anxiously seeking help with the installation of a new child seat in their new Honda CR-V, purchased for three-year old granddaughter Natasha.
To ensure that your child is always properly restrained the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation recommends that:
- Babies under one-year-old are in a rear-facing certified infant seat or a convertible child seat (if they out-grow the infant seat).
- Toddlers over 20 lb (9 kg) — from one year to approximately four years of age are in a forward-facing child safety seat to at least 18 kg (40 lb).
- Children from approximately four years to eight years (40 lb to 80 lb / 18 kg to 36 kg) are seated in a booster seat.
- As required by law, children who have outgrown a booster seat are properly restrained by a seat belt.
Booster seat usage for children aged five and older is currently not mandatory in BC, although in many US states it is now a legal requirement. Seatbelts are designed for adults, and can actually injure smaller children.
Not only can out-of position lap belts cause serious injuries to the liver, spleen or bowel, if a child’s upper body ‘jackknifes’ over a high-riding lap belt, the spine may pivot and fracture, which could result in paralysis. A ‘real-world’ U.S. study in 2001 attributed a 70-percent reduction in injuries when weight-appropriate children were in booster seats, compared to seat belts alone.
"The reality is that seat belts are designed for adults," said Dunne. "Children between the ages of four and eight in seat belts alone have four times the risk of head injury compared to children of the same age in a booster seat. Yet, a 2004 study by the CPS (Child Passenger Safety) Program put booster seat use as low as 18%."
I happened to stumble across National Lampoon's Vacation while channel surfing on the TV the other day and it still cracks me up, even though I’ve seen it umpteen times. We went on numerous road trips to Disneyland when the kids were younger, so it always strikes a personal funny cord.
A Griswoldian quote from Clark (Chevy Chase), early-on in the movie: "The whole idea of a family vacation is to spend time together as a family .... I'm looking forward to an awfully long ride together. After all, half the fun is getting there." Yes Clark, as long as we all get there safely _ and with most of the cutlery.
To make an appointment for a child seat clinic or ask a question about child seat safety call:1-877-247-5551.
Web sites with more information on child seats include: http://www.tsf-bcaa.com/ and http://www.icbc.com/
Making sure to finance a vehicle properly will greatly reduce the cost of your next new or used car. "Auto Financing" is a general term meaning how you pay for the vehicle. In most cases, cars are financed by taking out an auto loan to buy or lease the car. This involves getting a credit check. By checking your credit history first, and answering all the tough car finance questions up front, you will be more prepared to handle issues at the dealership.
In the articles on these pages we will not only look at the general topic of car finance but we will consider the related topics of credit history, car loan refinancing, auto insurance and all issues pertaining to special car finance considerations. Although most people don't like to think about the subject of auto financing (instead they like to focus on that shiny new car) it is actually the most important part of car buying. While your credit will be checked by the salesman, often before negotiations begin, this is not the only way you can go to get your new car. You do not have to throw yourself at the mercy of the dealership even for special car finance situations. Being prepared before you get to the dealership will mean that you can take charge of your credit and get the new car loan that serves you best.
Keep this in mind: when you negotiate with the salesman for the most favorable auto loan, nothing is permanent until you have it in writing. The sales contract is prepared once negotiations seem to be over. This is handled in the finance and insurance office (the so-called "F&I Room"). It is here that the deal is made or lost. By reading these articles on new and used car financing you will be better prepared to get the best auto loan possible. And who knows? With the money you will be saving, maybe you can move up to that more expensive new car you've been eyeing.
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