Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

  In previous articles I have written about the drastic changes that are occurring in the automotive industry. I should say anything that burns fossil fuels. The highway construction site that you drive by will most likely have computer controlled plus emission complaint equipment. California emission standards have raised the cost to the consumer and of doing business in California. Some states including ours are looking into adopting these standards. This means vehicles or equipment that do not meet these standards will have to be sold or replaced.

     The cost of repairing your vehicle has risen steadily over the years.  For a licensed repair facility just to open the doors there has also been a steady increase of operating costs. This brings us to another problem. For years people have worked on their own vehicles and helped family and friends with theirs. This did not really affect licensed repair facilities. Today, however, we have unlicensed repair facilities in back yards. Let us look at one that is located in our area. He does not just have a one or two bay garage, but multiple bays. Each bay has a lift and equipment. There is no liability, warranty, or recourse for the person who has their vehicle worked on here.  There is nothing you can do if there is an issue with a repair.  The town does not receive tax money for the services they offer. The state does not receive revenue that a licensed repair facility has to pay just to operate a business in our town and state. This person also has a regular job that is a union occupation. I wonder if he would feel the same way we feel if someone was affecting his job or business.

     The high-tech world has changed the cost of living. The cost of owning and maintaining today’s vehicle must be treated like an investment. Simple oil changes can help you extend the life of your vehicle. The motor vehicle has always had part failure and needed regular maintenance. I would suggest creating some sort of regular maintenance program for your vehicle. The repair facility that changes your oil usually includes a visual inspection of the vehicle. This can help you plan for future repairs. The fable of the ant and the grasshopper comes to mind. The ant was always prepared and a very hard worker, the grasshopper on the other hand, was a fun-loving guy who was never proactive. He got left out in the cold! Are you an ant or a grasshopper? (you can google this story if you cannot remember it)

     The last thing I would like to write about is the closing of National Speed Center in Manchester. This business has been serving the public for 5 decades. Owned and operated by Dan Burnham and Jay Adams, this was a great place to get specialty parts. If they did not have it on the shelf, they would get it for you. Dan and Jay have decided to retire and they certainly have earned it. I will miss their service and dedication. I wish them a wonderful retirement and thank them for all the times they helped me find the parts I needed over the years.

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

This month’s article is about the notorious check engine light (ECM). The parts store that offers free scanning of the check engine light is hoping to sell the consumer a part to remedy the problem. However, this may or may not cure the issccue. Let us look at the way the ECM light comes on to start with.

The ECM computer is programmed to monitor the different sensors; engine, transmission, and emissions. The sensors are designed with a voltage range that is input to the ECM. If a sensor does not stay in its programmed voltage range or stays in one voltage reading too long then the ECM light comes on. The early 1980’s theory was if there was an oxygen sensor code (O2) then the sensor must need replacing. The Oxygen sensor monitors exhaust flow and changes voltage input as quick as you can click your fingers. The idea is to keep the engine from running too rich (excessive fuel) or too lean (not enough fuel). Mice love to build a nest in the air filter box. This can cause an air flow restriction which causes a rich run condition. A broken vacuum hose can cause an engine to run too lean. Both things can cause an O2 sensor to go out of range. So, you see the ECM light tells you what sensor input is having a problem, but it may not necessarily need to be replaced.

The ECM light that comes on because of an emission problem is usually the EVAP system. The system was designed to reburn fuel vapors from the fuel tank. The system is checked by the ECM to make sure there are no leaks in the system. A loose gas cap, missing gas cap, or the new capless filler neck can cause an EVAP system not to seal. Rusted parts, fuel tank, filler neck, sending unit, just about any related component under the hood can cause an EVAP problem.

The ECM light can stay on because of a problem that has not gone away (hard code). The ECM light that goes out after so many key starts is an intermittent code. The ECM will store in its memory either problem if it does not lose voltage under 9 volts or if someone clears the code. So, you can see that fixing a check engine light takes a knowledgeable technician and the equipment to do the repair correctly. We have had some customers complain about diagnostic charges. The changing of parts without correctly diagnosing the problem can cost you money and time. Many people start the conversation with we scanned the check engine light or we googled the problem and this is what I want done. This makes me recall a customer that owned a Mercedes. This vehicle had multiple codes and they wanted each part replaced that the computer coded out. I explained that we were talking about $2000 plus dollars to do this repair the way they wanted it done. We got signed permission to diagnose the problem to double check the codes that the other repair shop found. The codes we found all related to a lean running engine. Inspecting the engine showed no obvious problem. A lean running engine means that one or more cylinder is getting less fuel than the others. The most common problem causing this is a vacuum leak. We have a diagnostic tool that induces smoke into the intake manifold to look for this leak. We found a crack in the intake manifold. The diagnosis took a little more than 2 hours. The diagnostic price per hour depends on the repair facility. The average price of $100 to $180 is well spent though. In this case the total repair was around $1200. The customer saved a lot of money on parts that did not need to be replaced. It is important to note that google is a wonderful tool, but it is not the end all be all and it can end up costing you money if taken as gospel.

I hope this gives you a little insight into the ECM light. It really is important to have a trained technician diagnose and repair your vehicle. It can save you time and money. Most customers are happier saving money and having their car or truck run properly. Today’s vehicles are more complicated than ever and they really require an expert to fix them. Until next month…

Rick Ostien is the owner of Franc Motors in Willington.

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

I would like to start this month’s article with the January article I wrote that never made it to print.

The month of December is the time that I take a day before the Christmas break to deliver muffins to other people in the automotive trade. The sad thing for me is the list is getting shorter each year. Our family business of 75 years has sustained the good and the bad. For that, we want to thank our loyal customers and our new ones also. Without your support we would never have made it this long.

This past year we have still seen a shortage in our work force. The automotive technician is in higher demand now more than ever. The high-tech vehicle that was new a few years ago now is getting older and is out of warranty. This means that most of the old problems will still exist, but now our new problems will be all electronics. This means more equipment to do the needed repairs, but more important is the technician who will do the repairs.

I have seen an increase in electrical repairs since last year that have demanded more diagnostic time than before. The other problem that we have encountered is the customer that jumps from one repair facility to another for the same problem. This creates more diagnostic time to determine what was done by someone else before we can continue with the repair. This costs the customer more money and time that they thought they were saving. I have said in previous articles and this still holds true, find a repair facility you trust and have them perform the services you need.

The southern New England weather has raised many problems for motor vehicles and for drivers. Lack of preparation for snow, ice, rain, freezing rain, hail, and anything else mother nature can throw at us. A foul weather survival kit should be in all vehicles. Road closures are common due to an accident. Waiting for hours for the road to open can cause problems for the driver and passengers stranded in this situation. The survival kit should contain blankets, cell phone charger or portable battery for the phone, flash light, snacks, boots, extra clothing, snow brush with a scraper, snow shovel, kitty litter, and liquid to drink. Be careful with liquids because they can freeze. 

Owners of full electric vehicles need to keep their vehicle fully charged. Cold weather and time waiting in traffic deplete battery charge. We had a friend who found himself stuck in traffic because of an accident. Their electric vehicle charge dropped to 5%. This is not a good spot to be in. Know where a charging station is and get there before you drop this low. 

Gasoline and diesel vehicles keep your tank from full to ¾. It does cost you for the initial fill up, but keeping your tank topped off costs no more than letting it get close to empty and then adding a few gallons.  The full tank of fuel adds extra weight and will help you with better traction in bad road conditions. Good tires and batteries should be maintained year around. 

One last thing is to always warm up your vehicle. There have been people saying this is not necessary. The person who is a runner or plays sports always warms up their body before participating in a practice or game. A vehicle is no different, fluids need to get moving in a car or truck too. 

Please drive defensively making sure to keep two hands on the steering wheel, giving other drivers plenty of space (car lengths), and reducing your speed. These three simple things can head off a bad scene on the road and consequently a bad day.

Rick Ostien is the owner of Franc Motors in Willington.

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

     Last month we talked about getting ready for winter. One thing I forgot was the time change. Most of us go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. I have noticed recently that many vehicles have one headlight out or headlights that look like two dim candles. If you cannot see in bad weather or be seen by others then bad things will happen. I encourage you to have your headlights checked. Sometimes they need to be replaced or realigned. This can be very important in bad weather and may help you avoid trouble on the road or even an accident. 

     This month I would like to share something that affects every licensed driver in our state. At some point many of us will replace or buy a first vehicle. Many of these vehicles are used. The last few years more people are selling vehicles privately with many of them unfit for the road. I want to remind people that when you purchase a vehicle from a private owner it comes with no warranty. This vehicle could be unsafe for the road. Usually with no warranty or recourse to return it, the buyer loses their money and may be saddled with very costly repairs to make it safe for the road. The state of Connecticut, as of right now, does not perform a vehicle safety inspection when someone is registering it. This does not protect the licensed drivers of our state. Please, before you make a purchase from a private owner have the vehicle inspected by a licensed repair facility. This will help to head off both current and future problems. The unsafe vehicle you drive can cause as much hardship as a loaded gun. Be sure to have it inspected and be sure to maintain it.

     Another issue lately is that driving habits have gone to the wayside. This week I saw a vehicle drive through a stopped school bus with red lights flashing when a child was crossing the road. It appears stop signs, traffic lights, and double lines to indicate no passing have become nothing but a decoration. It is time for these infractions to have consequences. Work zones seem to mean go faster. What has happened to the move over law on the roadways? Then there is the driver who is trying out for NASCAR, switching lanes with no turn signals, and weaving down the highway trying to get ahead of anyone and anything in their way. The world is in a big hurry and many drivers just do not think far enough ahead. Sometimes what people call an accident really is not one. I encourage everyone to think about what you are doing when you drive and please drive defensively.

     The new year is coming soon. Be kind and courteous on the roads. Think of the many positives in your life. With that being said, we at Franc Motors, wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

     The weather is getting colder so it’s that time again to get ready for the W word.  There are a few things that we should do to prepare for winter driving and the harshness of the elements.

     One of the first things that should be done is often one of the least thought of and that’s a survival kit for your car.  A well-equipped kit should include the following items: a snow shovel, a bag of kitty litter, a blanket, a flashlight and extra batteries, flares, a cell phone (be sure to have a car charger), a well-equipped first aid kit and mittens or gloves.  I personally like mittens better as the hands tend to stay warmer in them.  Drivers with a long commute may want to include a few nutritious snacks with a shelf life too.  There are other items that can be carried but these items are really the essentials.  The idea is to keep warm and as comfortable as you can just in case you become stranded.  Freezing is not very pleasant so the idea is to be proactive and prepare in advance.

     Another way you can prepare is to have the antifreeze in your cooling system checked.  This actually should be done year round.  The PH level of your coolant plays a large role in the deterioration of your engine parts.  A good example of this was a Ford Taurus that came into our shop with an overheating problem.  On examination, the coolant was rusty brown with a lot of sludge build up.  The coolant thermostat was checked and replaced.  The radiator flow was also checked. (This is the amount or volume of water passing through your radiator at a given time.)  The radiator flow was checked again and was OK.  The vehicle was then road tested.  The engine temperature was lower but it still was not right.  The technician then checked the water pump flow and found that it was not adequate.  He removed the water pump and found that the impellent had rotted away.  The water pump was replaced and a recheck found the coolant temperature to be normal.  This is a good example of why your coolant should be checked for a high PH level once a year.

     Your electrical system works harder in cold and hot weather and is another thing that should be checked in preparation for winter.  Your battery should be checked for its cold cranking reserve and your alternator checked for its maximum output.  Today’s computerized vehicles depend on these two components to function properly.  When they don’t work properly the computer systems in your car don’t function properly and systems begin to shut down.

     The tires you ride on are another item that should be checked before bad weather hits.  Tires need to be checked for wear and they need to be inflated properly.  Some tires are made for performance driving.  You should be sure that your tires are at least mud/snow rated.  This is easy to check and can be found by looking for the stamping of M+S on the sidewall of the tire.  

     Some people are lucky enough to have a garage and can keep the vehicle out of the elements and old man winter’s harshness.  For those of you who are not lucky enough to have a garage, there are still some precautions and preparations that you can take.  They are:

  1. Spray silicone around your door rubbers.  This helps to keep the doors from freezing.
  2. Make sure your windshield wipers are clear of snow and not frozen to you windshield.
  3. Always warm up your vehicle before driving.  This gives the mechanical parts and fluids a chance to warm up.  It also gives your windshield a chance to defrost so you aren’t looking out of two small holes with little or no visibility.
  4. Put a can of dry gas in your fuel tank every third fill-up.  This will help to stop fuel line freeze up due to condensation.

     The last thing that we’ll discuss is what you as a driver can do.  There are several things you can do to make winter driving easier to cope with.

  1. Be sure you give yourself plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  2. If you have to talk on a cell phone or text, please pull over to the side of the road.  Two hands on the steering wheel is a must when the weather is bad.
  3. Pay attention to road conditions.  If the pavement looks wet but you see no spray from the tires of the vehicle in front of you, there is a good chance that the highway is freezing.
  4. Drive defensively and stay alert.  It only takes a second for things to change.

     I hope this article can help to make your winter driving experience a bit more pleasant.  Keep safe and be alert and of course happy motoring.