5 steps toward a cool, trouble-free road-tripBy Botchi Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Summer’s right foot is at the door already, and with it, a bunch of out-of-town adventures, most likely via a nice road trip so it’s best to have our cars ready for the summer. While I might sound like a broken record for reiterating the same things over and over, still it will be best to be ready for the intense summer heat. Here are some tips to keep things cool:
1.) Check your car’s cooling system
You car’s cooling system is composed of your radiator, water pump, thermostat, cooling fan/s and radiator cap, with the rubber/silicon hoses and clamps connecting them all together. Bring your vehicle to a reputable shop to have these components checked. If your car is over five years old and you’ve never flushed the cooling system, now is a good time to do so, and be sure to use the proper water-coolant mix (anywhere from 50:50 to 80:20, just never go 100 percent either way) and distilled water. Why distilled water? Because distilled water is pure and has better ability to absorb heat. Plus, distilled water contains no minerals which can react with the coolant and your engine’s metals inside which can leave deposits, clog your water channels and cause overheating.
Ideally, you have your car’s cooling system undergo a Lavramon treatment. Lavramon is a coolant flushing treatment that forces water mixed with special detergents and chemicals to unclog mineral deposits inside your engine and radiator. For old cars, you’ll be surprised to find out how much deposits are inside your engine and radiator. It’s worth having that treatment; it will be a good time also to replace your thermostat (most likely stuck open) and radiator cap (the rubber seal is probably worn and isn’t sealing your radiator optimally).
2.) Check your tires
Sam Liuson, big boss at Concept One, the importer for Nitto Tires, says that 90 percent of all tire problems are caused by underinflation. The best route is to have your tire pressure checked as often as you put on gas, which for most people is once a week. Regardless of whether the tires visually look flat or underinflated, it’s best to have them checked and aired up accordingly. Underinflated tires can cause tire blowouts, which can lead to serious accidents.
Additionally, underinflated tires generate increased rolling resistance, says Liuson, increasing fuel consumption and requiring greater effort from the engine, which can lead to elevated engine temperatures, especially when fully laden and traveling at highway speeds.
Checking your car’s wheel alignment is also crucial. I recommend having them checked at least annually, although if you drive through poorly paved roads, having your tires and wheels aligned two to three times a year is the ideal. Your tires will last longer, you’ll be safer and be less fatigued on long drives. As an additional tip, when you’ll be going out of town on a long drive, inflate your tires 2-3 psi higher for better weight capacity and eke out a bit more fuel efficiency as the firmer tires will have even less rolling resistance. An ideal tire pressure setting? 33 psi will be a good start; it’s what I have always used when I test a variety of cars (cars, vans, SUVs, pickups, sports cars and even exotics), then I’d adjust higher or lower.
3.) Check your battery
Intense temperatures wreak havoc on your car’s battery as heat increases resistance, which prevents the electrical energy from flowing freely. Increased electrical resistance causes poor engine running, sluggish engine response, and poor electrical accessories performance, i.e. a weak A/C system, weak headlights and weak-sounding audio system.
Hence, you would need every bit of “juice” available from your battery to power your A/C, audio system and the engine itself. Pop the hood, check your battery for any mineral/acid deposits on the poles and terminals. Get some water with mild detergent (detergents are base materials which cancel out the negative effects of acids) plus a soft, old toothbrush and drip some of the water on the terminals and poles of the battery while you rub the toothbrush to clean away deposits. Once it is clean, dab some light grease on the terminals and poles to prevent acidic build-up in the future.
Also, you can buy some A/C or roof sheet insulation, form a box out of it and wrap it around your battery to reflect underhood heat away. Your battery will love you for that and will last longer. If your battery requires maintenance, i.e. putting in distilled battery water, fill them up. Shell Fuels sells battery water which can also be used for your radiator. Keeping a gallon in your trunk is a good idea especially for long drives.
4.) Have your car tuned-up
Engine oils typically take about 20 percent off the heat/thermal stress of your engine, the other 80 percent being taken care of by your car’s coolant/distilled water in the cooling system. Keeping fresh oil inside your engine prevents overheating problems because the fresh oil can absorb the heat better. Fresh oil also has better lubricity and can keep your engine spinning freely and happily which will generate less heat in the process.
Also, replace all your filters (fuel, oil and air). Any increased resistance will always generate more heat, which robs you of both performance and efficiency. Just make sure you use genuine parts, or at least reputable third-party or aftermarket parts.
Aside from that, check your spark plugs. Spark plugs with carbon deposits cause further carbon build-up inside the combustion chamber. These carbon deposits suck away fuel and causes it to carbonize as well and generate increased combustion temperatures. It can also trigger a detonation, which aside from further increasing combustion temperatures, can cause long-term damage to your engines.
Check your spark plugs, replace them as needed. Especially for (but not limited to) older cars with distributor-type ignition systems, you must make sure the spark plug gap is set properly. According to AEM Performance Electronics, a California-based after-market programmable ECU manufacturer, for normally aspirated cars, a spark plug gap of 44 hundredths of an inch (0.44) or 1.1mm is a recommended start. Forced induction vehicles have a good starting point of about 28 thousandths of an inch (0.028) or 0.7mm for their spark plug gap. This will help keep your spark plugs operating well, prevent detonation and last as long as possible. Newer generation Platinum and Iridium tipped spark plugs do not require gapping since their tips are very sensitive, but do cost many times more than regular copper-tipped spark plugs.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to use one heat range higher spark plugs when you will be running the vehicle hard through harsh terrain where the engine is under heavy load regularly, when racing on the track or drifting. If your car uses a heat range of 5 for NGK branded plugs (16 for Denso plugs), use a heat range of 6 for the summer and when driving hard (equivalent to 18 for Denso). The colder plugs help reduce chances of detonation when the engine is operating at maximum capacity.
5.) Check your car’s fluids
The fluids in your car can be classified as lubricants (engine oil, automatic transmission fluid and manual transmission oil plus the differential/transaxle oils), heat exchangers (coolant and distilled water plus engine oil as mentioned above) and hydraulic assist fluids (the power steering fluid, brake fluid and clutch fluid). It is the hydraulic fluids which most people often neglect: Check that it is clear or very slightly golden hued in color. If these are discolored (soy-sauce or fish sauce/patis colored) replace them immediately. You’ll get better braking performance, a lighter feeling clutch pedal and less-heavy, more “feel”-some steering feel. Failure to do so will cause the hydraulic seals to start leaking as the impurities in the fluids will damage the seals. You might find yourself with no power steering, no clutch or worse, no brakes!
On all other fluids, make sure they are topped up to proper levels with fresh fluids. If in doubt, flush all your fluids out. It would seem like a waste, but trust me on this one, it’s better to regret spending a little extra rather than spending more on repair bills, or worse, hospitalization bills and beyond!