Blog

  • Rolling into the future

    Posted on 18, April, 2017

    The future of the automobile in the next few years is going to be very exciting, even incredible.  As electronics, computers and great designs get more refined and less expensive; they enter the automotive world more often. Electronic systems and motors are so dependable now, cars are chock full of them. Vehicles now operate with more than 100 million lines of software code, and that number is predicted to go to 300 million lines of code. (More than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner)

    Some newer high-end cars have up to 100 electronic control units (ECU) with 25 to 200 microprocessors. To keep all these communications working, vehicles are using FlexRay, CAN Bus and LIN (motor control) systems.  Basic vehicles have about 1,350 wires for about 1.5 miles in length: high-end vehicles have up to 2,300 wires adding up to about 2.6 miles of wires.  Plus, modern vehicles can contain up to 100 electric motors and solenoids.  That’s a far cry from the 1960s cars.

    We have all heard about the next generation of technologies, here are the five levels of automation and driver’s assistance that are a reality of new vehicle:.

    1. In the most basic stage of automation, the driver does all the work but the vehicle can take over one of two vital functions - steering or speed controls. An example would be adaptive cruise control, which keeps the vehicle in front of you at the same distance. The vehicle can accelerate or brake. The steering assist would happen if you change lanes without using your turn signal, for example; brakes on one side would apply, nudging you back into your lane.
    2. Partial automation:  The more advanced cars today can take over steering, acceleration and braking. Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo are doing this now.
    3. Conditional automation: This car can drive itself but the driver needs to be behind the wheel to take over if intervention is needed, as if the car’s system gets confused. The newest Tesla has this.
    4. High Automation: This is where the driver lets the car take complete control. This level of sophistication is not currently available to consumers, but is being tested in some areas by Google, BMW, Bosch, GM, Benz, Nissan, Tesla, Ford and Uber. Lots of input and the roads need to be mapped to the inch with all the inputs we see such as lights, intersections, crosswalks etc.
    5. Full Automation: This would describe George Jetson’s vehicle if you remember that futuristic cartoon. All control are built in, and this kind of vehicle would have no steering wheel or pedals for driver input. I know of none of these in reality.

    There are many advantages to the idea of fully or partially self-driving vehicles. About 94 percent of crashes occur because of driver’s errors, so these vehicles would be safer. Imagine if all vehicles could “talk” to each other; the chances of a crash would be eliminated. Traffic would flow smoother on freeway, and the “wave” of vehicles speeding up and slowing down could be eliminated. Driving faster and smoother would allow more vehicles to efficiently use the same road.

    The downside would be the process of people learning to ‘trust” smart vehicles, but after a short time driving with these system in place, one’s fear would ease.

    The cost of equipping these vehicles would be great but the real challenge would be “mapping the roads “so a vehicle would know where it was going if clues where taken away.  Knocked down or defaced stop signs, a snow covered highway or a whole multitude of other problems.

    Want to lean more? Join me at City Club of Eugene forum, “The Age of Self-Driving Cars,” on Friday, May 12th at 975 High Street noon to 1 pm, get there early for the best seating. I’m going to be the first questioner.

    I’m excited for the futures of vehicles. Repairing vehicles for over 42 years, the changes have been incredible.

     

    Tips

    1.         Lighten your key chain; if you have lots of leys or other stuff on your keychain, it put extra strain on your ignition lock tumblers. Remove these will extend the life of those tumbles saving you money and inconvenience.

    2.         Driving a pre-2000 vehicle.  These are easy for thieves to still, more if it’s a 1990s Toyota or Honda. Keep your vehicle safe by installing a steering wheel lock like the Club. The Club is available from the Eugene Police Department for $12.50; it’s a cheap price for peace of mind.

    3.         Buying a vehicle for the young adult who just turned 16? Newer vehicles have so many more safety features, both to stay out of a crash, ABS brakes, traction and stability controls. If a crash happens, advance air bags systems may make a huge difference. Buy newer and safer.

    4.         If an animal jumps out in front of you, continue to look where you want to go, not at the animal. Where you look, the car will go. Apply brakes firmly but don’t swerve to avoid the animal, staying on the road is the safest thing to do. This simple tip will save you for injury or worse.

    Question or comments? You can e-mail me at george1502@gmail.com. I will answer all questions promptly and use the best for this column

     

  • Hazards of self-diagnosis

    Posted on 17, April, 2017

    As vehicles get more complicated, new twists and more advanced multiplexing and technology only add to the challenges of diagnosing automotive problems. Yet in the world of auto repair, some customers don’t always perceive the valve in the cost of diagnosis. Throw in the fear of unknown and lack of trust into this equation, and some people start looking elsewhere for answers. The results most times are questionable.

    Our shop technicians spend weekends and evening in classes to learn about the new technology. Newer vehicles are the most complex object that most people own and it is time consuming for technicians just to learn how to use new scanners and understand all of their capabilities.  In the past two weeks, four of techs spent Saturday and Sunday in classes.  

    Recently, we had a customer bring in his European import with a check engine light on and running poorly. We hooked up a specialty scan tool, scanned the vehicle and found a P0301 code, misfire #1 cylinder. We called the customer asking for permission to spend time diagnosing the problem and what it would take to repair.

    He called back and said he just wanted us to replace the fuel injector in the cylinder, saying that he had read it on the Internet. Very seldom do we find a fuel injector causing this problem but he said he was willing to take the risk. $245 later with a new injector, the vehicle still had the same problem. The owner then gave us permission to diagnose the real issue, which turned out to be two bad spark plug wires to that cylinder. (Yes, this vehicle has two spark plugs per cylinder). The customer was very understanding but we didn’t take out the injector because by that time it was used.

    We had another customer request that we put a clutch switch in a Japanese import because the starter didn’t crank over on occasion even though we have never have replaced a clutch switch on that kind of car. It didn’t fix the problem.

    Self-diagnosis also is a problem in the medical field, I have been told. But, I must admit that there is valuable information on the web, we use pay sites, $105 per month, which gives us direction. I repaired my motor home refrigerator from information in a blog about the problem I was having. But when it comes time to diagnose potentially complicated problems that could be expensive to repair, my advice is to trust the professional who is working on your vehicle.  Most times it will save time, money and aggravation.

    How often to change oil?

    One of the questions I come across as how often should you change your oil. This is a great question and I don’t have a black and white answer. There is no one size fits all answer other than to say oil should be changed frequently enough so that no engine damage is done.  

    The low end is every 3,000, twice a year and there are some manufactures that do as high as 20,000 miles with no time recommendations!

    There is one manufactory with high mileage recommended oil services that we have found an alarming amount of worn out engines at 80-90,000 miles.

     I will try and explain what I recommend is best. Cars before the year 2000 using conventional oil should have the oil changed every 3 to 5000 miles depending on how many miles you put on your vehicle per year. If you're putting 12 to 15,000 or higher miles on it a year every 5000 miles is fine but at least once a year in most cases.

    If you have a car between 2000 and 2010 using conventional oil every 5000 to 7500 miles if you put over 10 to 12,000 miles per year but again, at least once a year.

    If you have a car from 2010 to 2018 with synthetic oil and most newer cars take synthetic oil every 5 to 15,000 miles will work on oil services.

    Now comes the exceptions is how do you drive and where the car is driven. Short in town mileage during the cold moist winters when the engine doesn't get warmed up is the most difficult on oil. Keep in mind, some of the combustion leaks past the rings in the engine fuel and moisture. This contaminates then mixes with the oil to create sludge and other harmful stuff in your oil. Twice a year or every 3,000 miles on this condition.

    The 15,000 mile extreme on oil services would be if you did a lot of freeway driving, have a newer vehicle, use synthetic oil because you would be putting on 1 mile per minute at 60 miles an hour and keeping the engine warm or hot. 

    There are many exceptions to these recommendations; the most common one is for folks with classic cars like myself. I have a 69 VW Karman Ghia.  It sits in storage most times, driven about 200-500 miles per year. I only drive it in the summer when not raining and at least 40 miles to get the oil hot. I change the oil every three to four years.

    One thing is certain, In the long run, regular oil service is much more affordable than engine replacement. At the shops, we see a lot of wasted engines because of lack of oil services. 

  • Save on vehicle ownership costs.

    Posted on 23, February, 2017

    Your vehicle is one of the most expensive objects you own and it loses value every year. Vehicles just about always fall in value as you “use” them for your day to day travels.

    To call them an investment would be a poor choice of words unless you calculated time saving.  A vehicle gets you to your destination quickly, saving your un-renewable asset called time.

    Over the past 43 years of maintaining vehicles I have my own theory of how to minimize the expenses of owning a car.

    This theory includes the top three reasons people buy new cars.

    The first is the same reason you buy new clothes. Your old clothes are not worn out; you just need a new “fashion” statement.

    The second reason for buying a new car is your old one is worn out, undependable, needs a lot of repair, has too many dents, lack of shine.

    The third reason is it doesn’t fit your life style anymore, family expanding or contracting, and you need for larger or smaller vehicle.

    When I buy a replacement vehicle, I spend a considerable amount of time picking it out. I do research in Consumers Reports (Thee car buying guide comes out each April) and asking people who know more than me.  I buy a vehicle that I really like, good looks, is dependable, and has the accessories that I like. (I have to have heated seats, once you have them, you will never go back) I combine the emotional factors - good looks, loving the car - with the practical aspect of research. No, not all cars are created equal. Read up and check with the people at your favorite independent repair shop to get their take on the car you are looking to buy. Please, do your research.

    To keep my love affair alive with my vehicle, I get my vehicle detailed every year, spending $200 to make my love shine.

    Maintenance is key

    Keeping your new vehicle in tiptop shape for a long time is the next hurdle to cross.

    There have been articles and theories written about this. I have even heard the conspiracy theory of “planned obsolescence” by manufacturers. 

    Part of me agrees with this when I see 18,000 mile oil change recommendations while my businesses are replacing “slugged” engines more often than ever before.

    This is where preventive maintenance comes in.

    Preventive maintenance is the art of increasing your car’s life and dependability, thus decreasing the cost of ownership

    So I’m going out on a limb and making recommendations on servicing. It does vary by year and brand of vehicle and the type of driving you do so check with your favorite shop or dealership to see what they recommend, too.

    Oil service, should be between 5000 to 10,000 miles or at least once a year. Synthetic oil holds up longer than regular oil. Many short trips in the city that don’t warm up the engine are hard on oil, so that kind of driving would require oil changes more in the range of  5000 miles.

    Schedule a coolant flush, transmission service and fuel filter, every 40,000 to 60,000 miles.

    Flush brake fluid every two years, and replace air filter, every 15,000-20,000 miles. Air filters, however, are one of the most oversold items. It’s ok that a little dirt is in it. On 1998 and newer cars, a dirty air filter will NOT affect fuel mileage.

    On a rear wheel drive or four wheel drive vehicle, fluids in transfer case and differential should be changed every 40,000 miles.

    The word “tune up” is no longer used in the business. Spark plugs life is so different now that the manufactories’ recommendation is good. It varies from 40,000 -105,000 miles.

    On top of this, the factory services should be performed.

    The best way to maintain your vehicle is to use the same shop on all your maintenance and repair. This way the shop can know the vehicle’s history and make recommendations on getting the most life out of your car.

    When buying a new or used vehicle, don’t choose a model for that once-a-year family gathering. Rather, make your choice based on day-to-day use.

    If you research your next vehicle purchase wisely, maintain it well, keep the interior and exterior nice, the chances of a long affair with your car will increase. It is not unusual for vehicles to last 15 years and log 300,000 miles before it is time to buy another.

    More preventive maintenance suggestions

    Water in the wrong places in your vehicle can do incredible amount of damage to the electronics. Your newer vehicle has more electronics than most people own.

    Keep water out of your vehicle by keeping the drains cleared. Keep the cowl clear of debris. The cowl is in front of your windshield under your hood. Open the hood to remove leaves and fir needles that have collected there.

    If you have a sunroof, once a year, open it and take a damp cloth around the valleys that the sunroof slides in.

    If you find water anywhere inside your car or trunk, get it fixed soon. Thousands of dollars could be riding on it.

     

    Questions or comments. My email is george1502@gmail.com