Skid Marks

Do a post-holiday check on your cars

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Now that the holidays are almost completely over (except for Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year that is), we can all once again focus on keeping our cars up and running properly. Typically, during the holiday season, numerous expenses, parties and gift-giving take priority over vehicle maintenance, which is fine but we shouldn’t forget to sprinkle some TLC on our cars as they  bring us to and from our places of work/study/leisure/worship and home safely and reliably, hence we should not neglect our cars. Here are some things you should check on, now that you have more time and resources to ensure your car is running properly:

  1. Wheel alignment and proper tire inflation. Is your steering wheel pulling to either side when going straight and the road is even? Or does it feel wiggly in your hands when going straight, even if it doesn’t pull to either sides? First thing is to check proper tire inflation on all four corners. You can find the recommended tire pressure settings on the driver’s door, door frame or jamb, under the hood, the trunk or sometimes even on the fuel filler lid. It varies from car brand to car brand, but check that your tires are inflated to the minimum required. If you’ve been using your car the whole day already and decide to check and top-up your tire pressure, add 2-3 psi more as the air expands inside your tire when heated, and when the tires and the air inside cool down, your tire pressure will be below the minimum required.

If the problem persists (i.e., pulling, wiggly steering wheel feeling, etc.), head over to the nearest tire-alignment shop that has a proper laser aligner. These laser aligners have the correct factory alignment specs in their database. Tires on passenger cars typically have mild toe-in at the back, to keep the rear end tracking straight, for better stability on poor road surfaces. You can’t just align them all facing straight forward, as you will lose stability especially under heavy braking. The mechanics  can also inspect the rest of your car’s suspension parts and tell you if anything is damaged and needs to be replaced prior to performing proper wheel alignment.

2. Clutch fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant. When was the last time you checked underneath your car’s hood? You will see clear plastic reservoirs which hold the aforementioned fluids. On top of the reservoirs are caps which indicate what type of fluid should be used, and what these reservoirs are for. The brake and clutch fluid are typically located at the driver’s side of the engine bay, on your firewall, whereas the power steering fluid and the coolant overflow reservoir are mounted closer to the front, near the radiator.

Typically, brake fluid, power steering fluid and clutch fluid are completely clear or transparent in color. If there is uneven discoloration (i.e., they start looking like soy sauce, or fish sauce or patis) you should have these fluids flushed out completely down through the brake and clutch lines before filling them up and bleeding out all the air properly. Also, some vehicles require DOT3 fluid, whereas newer vehicles require DOT4 or higher fluid. Make sure you use proper brake fluid, otherwise, the rubber o-rings and seals will start leaking. Trust only quality brands as well, and always ask for a new stock.

Brake and clutch fluids absorb water over time, so if you get a new bottle but it has been sitting on the shelf for a long time, it might not be in good condition anymore. Brands like Motul, Castrol, Wurth and ATE are popular brands, many of which are OEM or factory fill.

As for coolants, these typically come in green, red, pink or orange in color. Look at the coolant overflow tank, and make sure that the color is even, there are no sediments inside and it is always at the proper level. If it’s clean and the color is uniform, just top up your coolant, ideally with the same brand. Coolants of different colors have different properties blended specifically for your car. It’s not wise to mix and match coolants.

If your coolant is severely discolored and has sediments at the bottom of the reservoir, it’s a good idea to flush out all your old coolant from the engine and radiator and replace it with coolant and distilled water, at a mix ratio of no more than 50-percent distilled water and 50-percent coolant. If you drive your vehicle hard regularly, you can decrease the coolant to as low as 20 percent, but you will most likely need to replace your coolant and distilled water regularly.

Don’t go and fill up your radiator with 100-percent coolant only, or 100-percent distilled water only. Coolant is not as effective on its own as a heat exchanger, i.e., it doesn’t absorb heat as well as water so your temperature gauge might show it’s running cool but your engine might be overheating as it isn’t able to transfer its heat away and onto the coolant. Water, on the other hand, lacks the lubricating properties of coolant, essential for keeping corrosion down inside your engine and to prevent pitting (surface corrosion) of the water pump’s vanes or impellers. If the water pump is heavily pitted, it won’t be able to push water effectively. If you’ll be flushing out your coolant, it’s a good idea and cheap insurance to replace both your thermostat and your radiator cap together. Inspect your coolant and radiator hoses and also your clips,  and replace as necessary.

3. Tune-up, change-oil. Your engine oil is your engine’s lifeblood, so make sure you replace your engine oil regularly with a good-quality oil that matches the recommended viscosity level of your vehicle manufacturer or your engine builder if it’s been overhauled or rebuilt. There are a variety of trust-worthy brands from Motul, Castrol, Mobil 1, Repsol and also lesser-known but highly effective brands with a strong motorsports presence such as HKS Super Oils, Royal Purple, Eneos and Liqui-Moly. Just make sure you buy your oil from a reputable retailer or repair shop, as there have been many incidents of unscrupulous individuals reusing original used packaging from reputable brands and filling them up with cheaper or used oils, then passing them off as new.

Same with spark plugs. If these are old, your engine will have a difficult time generating the necessary spark to ignite the air-fuel mixture in your engine, causing excessive fuel consumption, power loss, excessive smoke emissions, poor engine running and, ultimately, potential engine damage. Make sure you change your spark plugs regularly as per your vehicle’s prescribed maintenance schedule. If, like me you do a lot of short drives, change your plugs every 5,000 kilometers, along with the engine oil, as short drives and multiple start-stops of engine operation carbonize and foul up spark plugs exponentially faster.

Lastly, check the condition of your air filter. This is something you can easily do at home. Open up the vehicle’s plastic airbox, remove the panel air filter, shake it dry, and run some low-pressure air over it to dust it off. Don’t wash it with water or any fluid unless it is a reusable type of filter which can be cleaned manually. The cleaner your engine’s air filter is, the more fuel efficient and powerful your engine will be.

Follow these simple steps to keep your car running properly, reliably and safely, and you’ll save on bigger maintenance and repair costs in the future, save on fuel and have many long years of use from your car.

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