Sunday, July 16, 2017

Shameless Self-promotion - AutoTrader

Fording a flooded road - Mercedes' surprisingly capable GLK
Emergencies and breakdowns can occur at any time of the year, and despite the fact that winter is most associated with having car trouble or encountering treacherous conditions, summer has its own hazards.

You can read about how to prevent, prepare for, and deal with several such scenarios in my piece for the AutoTrader here.

Flooded roads - such as the one simulated for the launch of Mercedes' GLK in Germany, as seen above - are just one warm-weather threat. Note the nice bow wave and the corresponding area of reduced depth immediately behind it that this slow-moving GLK is creating. This is what you want, not the YouTube-hit generating cascade of water a high-speed traverse will generate. Those look cool, but have a good likelihood of resulting in a similarly internet-enticing mid-crossing engine failure.

Shameless Self-promotion - AutoTrader

Warranty almost up? Here's some suggestions...
Want to stir up a hornet's nest? Just bring up warranty expiry and pre-expiry inspections in an article - you can find my take on the subject for the AutoTrader here.

It's clear from going through the feedback that many of those that commented failed to read (or at least, fully comprehend) what I've suggested and the points I made. Ultimately, here's what it boils down to:

The automaker includes what it anticipates will be the average cost of repairs and corrections fleet-wide when it sets the price for that model; you paid for the warranty when you bought the vehicle. It's there to protect you from incurring expenses relating to defects or build issues with the vehicle for its duration. Use it, and don't feel guilty for doing so.

Your end of the bargain is to do the required maintenance to keep that warranty valid. Maintenance doesn't necessarily have to be done by a dealership (accredited auto repair facilities can do it, for instance), however you must follow or exceed the manufacturer's guidelines, and you must document everything. Period. A single missed or unproven service could void the warranty on a related warranty repair.

Unresolved complaint on a warranty item? Get documentation that you tried to address it and the service department couldn't replicate/diagnose/repair it before leaving. Always. Multiple attempts at repairing a serious issue could (in rare but not unheard-of cases) justify buy-back of the vehicle - note that there are no specific "lemon laws" in Ontario and many other jurisdictions, although Ontario's OMVIC and other similar groups may exist to help consumers. At a minimum, thorough documentation may be grounds for the manufacturer to step up to cover a just-out-of-warranty failure that has a history of unresolved complaints related to it.

Unfortunately, there's also incentive for both dealerships and their technicians to overlook or dismiss warranty repairs. Most people, technicians included, are honest, but the system is structured to work against dealer technicians on warranty work. Having a trusted service facility do an appropriate inspection (general mechanical state of health, diagnostic code check, etc.) prior to the expiry of the warranty may catch things that might get overlooked, accidentally or otherwise, by the dealership's service department if asked to perform the same inspection. Depending on your relationship with the independent facility, such an inspection may cost an hour or less shop time, which could be money well spent.

Shameless Self-promotion - AutoTrader

2017 Honda Ridgeline - LED headlights don't melt frost or snow.

New vehicles come with an impressive array of tech and convenience features, some of which may have unexpected benefits or even drawbacks. You can read my thoughts on some of these items in my AutoTrader article here.

One such drawback belongs to LED lighting, as exemplified by the low-beam headlights of Honda Ridgeline pictured above. This vehicle made the 15-plus minute commute to my workplace with the headlights on and still had the healthy layer of frost you see, even directly over the output area of the projector-beam lamp itself. As it turns out, part of the efficiency of LED's is a greatly reduced amount of waste heat production relative to even Xenon HID lamps, let alone conventional incandescent bulbs.

Some aftermarket LED replacements for sealed-beam style bulbs are actually offered with optional heated lenses, a useful feature as they're often used in transport trucks and emergency equipment. I'm not aware of any original equipment headlights that include that function.

This is a far greater concern with LED tail lights, which are prone to getting covered with snow in certain driving conditions. Just one unanticipated quirk of a new and improved technology...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shameless Self-promotion - AutoTrader

Best New Large Car entries lined up at AJAC's 2017 Canadian Car of the Year event, October 2016

Good News! I've recently begun supplying content to AutoTrader, and my article covering the Best New Large Car category at AJAC's 2017 Canadian Car of the Year is the first piece I've provided. You can find it here.

Although it's automotive content that I'm providing, it's not reviews at the moment. There's a lot of skilled people already doing that, and many of those folks don't have a second, full-time job that limits their schedule, and hence access to cars and opportunities to drive and photograph them. It'd be pretty difficult to compete for the limited number of new and available press vehicles with that crowd.

Also, with no disrespect to AutoTrader or anyone else, online doesn't pay as well as the Star did, so traveling to attend events is not currently practical either. What was once a slight profit or break-even venture after expenses and lost wages were factored in would now be self-sponsored. No can do.

(Oh to be a US auto journalist. My understanding based on multiple sources is that we Canadians get paid a pittance in comparison to our US kin. They often get their vehicles delivered to them, too. That's very uncommon here in Canuckia.)

While supplying material to AutoTrader is new for me, if you trace the timeline back far enough, Autotrader that was Autos was once Canadian Driver, and I did write a few pieces for them.

Anyway, I'm pleased to have been asked to write for AutoTrader. Material published there is likely to get decent exposure once people discover that AutoTrader's website is for more than just buying and selling cars. To that end, depending on your interests, you may actually have seen Sponsored Content links to some of my articles in your Facebook feed. Keep an eye out!

Shameless Self-promotion - Toronto Star's DIY Garage Wrap-up

End of an Era? Well, not quite an Era.

As with my vehicle reviews and coverage of new models and auto shows, the policy changes brought to the Toronto Star that eliminated freelance-supplied content also kicked the legs out from under my Star Touch-oriented DIY Garage series. Consequently, 2016 saw the last of those, too.

I have no idea how it was determined which articles made the transition to the Star's online "Autos" section (not to be confused with, which was already very different from the print edition of Wheels), but five did make it there in 2016 before DIY Garage was taken behind the barn and shot.

Below you'll find those last five linkable articles. Be inspired!

January 29, 2016 - Window Regulators

Inside of a 1999-2007 GM full-size pickup door. This work truck was super basic, but a fully loaded Cadillac Escalade would use the exact same door.
Note my awesome photo-editing arrows; green for glass, red for regulator...

You can read my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on replacing window regulators here.

Most of what's mentioned in this article would apply to any in-door repair work, from speakers to door check to latches or locks.

Things do get a bit funky with certain vehicles, however. In the previous generation VW Jetta and the original Saturn S-series and the ION, the outer skin of the door is removed to service internal components. Because that made sense to somebody. At least in the Volkswagen the fasteners don't break the door skin when you try to get in there. In the Saturn S-cars, the bolts seize with rust and the crappy little steel clips that they go into pull out of the flimsy plastic door panels, destroying it in the process. Fun, wow.

Another note that I didn't have space for in the Star Touch format - rather than trying to hold the glass in the closed position, it's often easiest just to remove it altogether. I prefer to stand it on edge, leaning against something in a location where it won't get knocked or fall over. Do not lay it on its side! I had a window shatter from just sitting that way on a workbench, and it did it after sitting there happily for several minutes. Tempered glass is bizarre stuff!

February 12, 2016 - 6 Important Fluids to Check

Transmission fluid on a dipstick. Sadly, transmission dipsticks are becoming a rarity. You wouldn't believe the tools and procedures required simply to check or adjust the fluid level in many modern automatics.
You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on checking fluids here.

Assuming that your car still has dipsticks, checking fluid levels is pretty straightforward with just a little bit of knowledge. Just be sure that if you add fluid, that it's the correct fluid for the application. I strongly recommend against using multi-application fluids in any system. If the manufacturer has gone through the trouble of selecting a particular fluid type, it's often because it has specific properties or additives, or because it doesn't. Even expensive fluid is cheap, if you catch my drift...

February 26, 2017 - Serpentine Belts

Serpentine belt living up to its name - 2007 Mercedes-Benz E300. Somehow this same photo was captioned to read that it required 3 belts in the online article. Guess they couldn't count.
You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on serpentine belts here.

The time is coming when the ubiquitous accessory belt will join distributors in the great pile of outdated auto technologies. Toyota's Prius has already done away with it, and I doubt it's the only one. These days serpentine belts are typically only used to drive alternators and air conditioning compressors, since most power steering systems have gone electric (as have air and vacuum pumps), and many vehicles drive their water pump with their cam drive (be it a belt or chain).

With the added onboard oomph of hybrids and a need for everything to remain working even with the gasoline engine shut off, a hybrid's a/c compressor is usually electrically powered, and an alternator is redundant in a vehicle with one of more large motor/generators, so a DC/DC converter handles that job. Add an auxillary electric water pump and Presto! no belt required.

That still leaves the roughly 95% of new models that aren't hybrids, and they still have belts. So they may be around for a little while yet.

March 11, 2016 - Repairing a GM Key Fob

It's not a model of a Klingon Bird of Prey - this little tab is the single biggest failure point for at least two generations of GM key fob, and it's a simple, cheap repair.

You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on repairing GM key fobs here.

Want to look like a hero? Have even basic DIY and soldering skills? Know somebody who owns a GM vehicle produced between the mid-nineties and roughly 2012? Ask them if their keyless fobs work properly. If they say "not at all" or "only some of the buttons", split that sucker open (preferably over a surface where the little steel clip shown can't easily hide), and you'll probably find at least one of the contact points for the battery retainer clip has popped off of the circuit board. Blame lead-free solder, a dumb design, and the hellish life of anything attached to a key ring.

March 28, 2016 - Water Pumps

Got a wicked turbo on it...  Actually, the same centrifugal action used in turbochargers is used to move coolant. Coolant is continuously pulled from the centre and flung outwards, pumping it.

You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on water pump replacement here.

Though the replacement covered is the pump in my 1987 Nissan (which uses a still-old 1993 motor), this article remains relevant for many modern vehicles, despite the fact that quite a few run the water pump with the timing belt or chain - in itself, not a new thing. Even in those models, the process is comparable, just with the added complexity of the cam drive.
This was the last of my DIY Garage series to find its way online. Maybe it was a good thing, as it was becoming difficult to find topics that were both realistic and interesting, and that wouldn't cost me a ton of money in buying parts for the sake of installing and photographing them.

So long, DIY Garage...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Shameless Self-promotion - Toronto Star's DIY Garage

Ah, TPMS. This was actually a false warning, proof that even a $120,000 BMW isn't flawless...

You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on correctly setting Tire Pressures here.

It is amazing just how many people don't understand that the correct pressure to set your tires at is not on the sidewall, but on the car. This goes for technicians, too. Most got into the trade years before TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems) became common, and the techs that they apprenticed under almost certainly were never taught this. I know I wasn't.

To be fair, standardized tire pressure labels didn't appear until the mid-2000's (when US law required them to be located in the driver's door jamb area). Before that point, if your car even had such a label, it could have been hidden damned near anywhere - glovebox, fuel filler door, front door or jamb, rear door jamb, inside the trunk lid, inside the centre console lid... you get the idea.

In reality, the same size and load index of tire might fit several dozen very different vehicles, and the sidewall only lists the maximum working pressure for that tire, which is what determines that tire's maximum load capacity. Automakers regularly use different pressures front and rear to adjust handling and wear characteristics, even using the same size tires at both ends. Setting the pressure to the sidewall max can result in a 44psi tire on a 26 psi car; it'll get awesome fuel mileage from the lower rolling resistance, but at the cost of greatly reduced grip, far harder ride quality, and substantial wear to the centre section of the tread.
(Trivia factoid: stunt drivers often crank the pressures up to make their cars slide around more easily.)

TPMS makes setting pressures accurately more important, but it's worth noting that not all TPMS systems will flag overinflation.

Find your label, get a decent quality tire gauge (I like digital myself), and check your tires occasionally. They'll last longer, you'll be safer, and you may even save a little bit of fuel in the process.

Shameless Self-promotion - Toronto Star's DIY Garage

Yes, there's a safety stand - look just above my air gun.

You can find my Toronto Star DIY Garage article on Seasonal Tire Swaps here.

Not all of my DIY Garage articles made the leap from the Star Touch tablet format that they were originally published in to the Star's online content, but this is one of those that did.

Seasonal tire changes are among the more basic DIY tasks, and don't require a huge investment in tools. That said, these are your wheels and tires, so if you aren't entirely confident in your ability to do it correctly, pay a professional and consider it money well spent. You don't get do-overs when a wheel falls off.