Monthly Archives: September 2015

Choosing The Correct Engine Oil

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Choosing The Correct Engine Oil

There was a time when almost any type or formulation of engine oil could be used in almost any engine, but that time is long past. Today, modern engines demand that oil be formulated in very specific ways to provide adequate and effective lubrication. Moreover, some oils can damage catalytic converters, so if you have ever wondered about what the correct type of oil is to use in your engine, read on and we will tell you all you need to know.


In the world of engine oil, this is probably the most misunderstood term. In simple terms, the word “viscosity” refers to oil’s resistance to flow, and this characteristic is always referred to with the letter “W”, which refers to an oil’s winter, or cold weather flow properties.

Since oil thickens in cold weather, and thus does not flow readily, it must be formulated in such a way that it will not thicken beyond a certain viscosity, or thickness. In standard laboratory tests, oil must flow through an orifice in a test apparatus at specified rates at specified temperatures, and it this flow rate at low temperatures that qualifies an oil as suitable for use in cold weather.

Thus, the “W” is always followed by a second number that indicates how well an oil flows at O0F (-17.80C), which in practice, means that an oil that is labelled 5W-30, will thicken less than another oil that is labelled 15W-30. In turn, this means that the 5W oil is more suitable for cold weather applications because it will remain pump-able at freezing temperatures, whereas the 15W oil will not be.

The number following the “W” rating refers to an oil’s resistance to thinning at a standard temperature of 2120F (1000C), which means that 5W-30 oil will thin out sooner (and more) than 5W-40 oil. In practical terms this means that if you live an area with freezing winter temperatures and scorching summers, you need to use oil that does not thicken too much, or thins out too much at elevated temperatures, and this scenario, you could use 5W-30/40 oil without running into problems.

However, it is always best to stick to the oil rating recommended by the manufacturer of your car, since your car was tested under a wide range of temperatures and driving conditions. It may be that the user manual will recommend a range of suitable oils, so do not use oil formulations that do not fall within this range.

Mineral vs. Synthetic Oil

There are very good reasons why you should use synthetic oil when the manufacturer of your car specifies its use, because the lubrication demands of many high performance engines cannot be met by regular mineral oil.

However, synthetic oil is only synthetic in the sense that it does not contain crude mineral oil. Thus type of oil is distilled in a complex process that uses carbon dioxide, methane, and other hydrocarbon molecules, but the result is oil in which all the molecules are the same size, which means that this oil has almost twice the lubricity of regular mineral oil.

The close engineering tolerances of high performance engines require better lubrication than can be provided by regular oil and using regular oil in an engine that requires synthetic oil will result in the certain destruction of the engine. Moreover, the crank case and emission control systems of these engines are designed to work with synthetic oil only, which means that the catalytic converters of these engines cannot function properly. Mineral oil will clog, or otherwise damage these converters, with possible secondary damage to other emission control related components, such as oxygen sensors.

Nevertheless, the enhanced lubricating properties of synthetic oil make it an excellent choice for use in normal engines that are designed to use mineral oil. The increased lubricity means less friction, which in turns leads to measurable increases in fuel efficiency, lower operating temperatures, and improved throttle response, especially when the engine is cold.

Can I Mix Oils?

It is never a good idea to mix different brands of oil. All oil, whether mineral or synthetic, contains a package of additives that reduce friction, cleans internal parts, inhibits corrosion, and reduces foaming.

The problem with this is that different oil manufacturers do not use the same additives in the same proportions and concentrations. Nor do they all use the same additives, which mean that in almost all cases, the additive packages in different bands of oil are NOT compatible. In some cases, the presence of some friction modifiers can cancel out the cleaning action of detergents in other brands, with a resultant build up of extremely harmful sludge and other contaminants, such as sulfuric acid, several types of varnish, and many different types of wax.
Always stick with one brand, and insist that this brand be used when you have your car serviced at a repair shop.

What to Look Out for In Engine Oil

  • Look for the API (American Petroleum Institute), and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) logos or badges on the packaging. All branded oils will have both these logos, and it means that the oil is formulated to perform in accordance with rigorous guidelines and standards.
  • Oil that is labelled with the letters “SL”, conforms to the highest standards of oil and lubrication technology. It contains all the required additives in proportions and concentrations that will provide the best possible protection against mechanical wear. However, do NOT mix brands, because while all “SL” labelled oils will deliver exceptional performance, their additive packages might not be compatible.
  • Synthetic/mineral oil blends are a good choice when the demands on the engine are occasionally increased, such as when towing. This type of oil is more cost effective than fully synthetic oil, but the presence of the synthetic component in the blend adds a significant improvement to the oil blend’s lubricating properties.
  • High mileage oil is recommended for engines with high mileages, and in which there may be significant amount of mechanical wear present. This type of oil does not thin out as much as other oils and they have special additives that “soften” the material oil seals are made from. In some cases, this type of oil can stop oil leaks from seals and gaskets, but this can take some time to happen, and then not in all engines. It is however, a good choice when your engine is old, or has completed a few hundred thousand kms.

What to Avoid

Almost oil manufacturers make oil that can be used in almost all engines, from compact runabouts, to diesel trucks. Dealers often use this type of oil because it is very cost effective for them, but the problem is that it hardly ever complies with the requirements of most engines.

Some engines, such as turbo diesels, require higher levels of detergents and friction modifiers than almost all gasoline engines. High levels of these additives can cause actual harm to some gasoline engines, and while it will not happen overnight, so to speak, the fact is that your engine was designed to use oil in which the various additives must be present in the correct proportions and concentrations.

Using this type of oil over extended periods of time deprives your engine of proper lubrication, and even if you change your oil and filters strictly according to your maintenance schedule, your engine will not last as long as a comparable engine that does not run on all purpose oil.

Look at the label on the packaging, and if it says “Suitable For Use in All Engines”, avoid it like the plague, no matter how much cheaper it is than a properly formulated oil. Rather spend a little more on the oil your engine needs, because if you look after your engine, it will look after you.

When to Change Your Car’s Transmission Fluid?

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When to Change Your Car’s Transmission Fluid?

You may have heard or read somewhere that you only need to replace your transmission fluid every 100 000 miles or so, but the fact is that by doing so, you could damage your transmission simply because you do not remove contaminants regularly enough. Your transmission depends on clean, filtered, and uncontaminated fluid to work properly. Something else you may not know is that most automatic transmission failures occur because dirty, degraded, and contaminated transmission fluid prevents the smooth operation of a myriad small, but critically important moving parts.

Automatic transmissions briefly explained

Without getting too technical, it is fair to say that instead of using a lot of different gears that need to be locked together on a manual transmission to achieve a power output, an automatic transmission only uses a few gears that can be locked together in different ways to achieve a similar power output.

Nonetheless, the way in which an automatic transmission uses the same gears to arrive at different speeds is controlled by a hugely complicated hydraulic system that is in turn controlled by a complicated electronic control module. The whole system is supplied with pressurized fluid by a powerful pump that also serves to circulate the fluid around the transmission for lubrication purposes, and this is where the quality, as opposed to the quantity, of the fluid in the transmission plays a critical role to prevent problems with harsh or erratic shifting.

While it is true that the actual gear set can function with relatively dirty fluid, the same cannot be said for the hydraulic control system. This system is mostly located in a part of the transmission called the “valve body”, and it consists of an intricate system of small-diameter valves, check valves, and pressure regulators that are all interconnected via small-diameter passages that supply each part with pressurised fluid.
One more critical component of an automatic transmission to consider is the set of clutches that locks different parts of the gear set together in different ways to achieve gear ratios. In most transmissions, the clutches are controlled by hydraulic actuators that are in turn controlled by an electronic control module, and the quality of the transmission fluid plays a crucial role in how well, or reliably these clutches perform to prevent slipping, or hesitation when taking off.

How does it all work?

In full automatic mode, a transmission will not shift up or down unless at least half a dozen sensors and control circuits agree that a shift is required, which is when a signal, or impulse is generated by the transmission/engine management system(s) that tells the transmission what to do.

When the transmission receives the impulse, one or more valves in the valve body is instructed to divert pressure to a different part of the assembly. This causes the clutches to re-arrange the way the gear set is interlocked, and the transmission is said to have executed a gear shift. In this manner, the transmission will shift gears in accordance with instructions generated by the control system(s) without any input required by the driver.

However, when one or more valve shuttles sticks in position because of the presence of contaminants in the fluid the transmission cannot execute the shift, but if it does manage to shift, the operation may cause harsh, or jerky shifts- or it may “miss” a shift, and shift to the next higher or lower gear.

Similarly, if the transmission selector is moved from “P” or “N”, the valve body may not be able to divert pressure from the by-pass circuit to an active circuit, which means that the transmission is unable to engage the desired gear because the affected valve shuttle(s) cannot move due to the presence of dirt, or other contaminants in the fluid.

So what is automatic transmission fluid?  

Apart from its excellent flow properties, transmission fluid is similar to other lubricating oils in the sense that it also contains additives that clean, lubricate, and prevent the formation of corrosion inside the transmission.

However, transmission fluids are not created equal, and some formulations work better in specific applications, which is why it is critically important never to use a generic formulation. Moreover, some transmissions, such as those on pick-up trucks require a specific formulation because it may run at higher temperatures than say, a transmission in a normal family sedan, which is why you should only ever use the formulation recommended, or specified by your manufacturer.

Moreover, the ability of a specific formulation to withstand the effects of heat is just as important as that formulation’s ability to resist oxidation, which is aggravated by higher than normal operating temperatures. Oxidation is the single biggest factor in the degradation of automatic transmission fluid, and when that is coupled to the effect of heat, some of the additives start to form various gums, varnishes, and sludge that can literally “weld” moving parts together. Once this has happened, the transmission must be replaced since there is no known way to free the seized parts without ruining the transmission.

Below is a table that illustrates the life expectancy of transmission when the fluid exceeds acceptable operating temperatures. Note how small differences in temperature bring about a drastic reduction in the life expectancy of a transmission.

Transmission Fluid Temperature Chart

From the above it will be seen that overheating of the fluid must be avoided at all costs, and since most cars use the same radiator to cool the transmission fluid that cools the engine, any engine overheating will affect the life expectancy of the transmission as well, which is why the transmission fluid MUST be replaced if the engine has overheated.

One more thing to remember is that transmission fluid is translucent and bright red in color when it is fresh.  Fluid that is not translucent, dark in color, or has a “burnt” smell, is degraded to the point where it could start to affect the performance of the transmission, and it must be replaced, regardless of the distance traveled.

Many car manufacturers recommend fluid replacement at 30 000 miles or so, but factors such as towing, carrying heavy loads, or engine overheating can dramatically reduce this mileage, so whenever this has occurred, have the fluid checked and replaced if necessary.

Some symptoms of degraded transmission fluid

It is not always easy to diagnose automatic transmission problems because many electronic issues could mimic the symptoms of dirty or degraded fluid. However, whenever your car develops transmission related problems, always check the fluid level and condition first, since in some cases, the problem can be resolved merely by replacing the fluid.

Bear in mind though that a fluid replacement may be too little too late in many cases, especially where the transmission has become noisy at any speed, or in any gear. Nevertheless, below are listed some of the most common issues that could be directly related to dirty, contaminated, or degraded transmission fluid.

Noisy transmission:

Dirty fluid can mimic the symptoms of low fluid levels that can cause some transmissions to be noisy.  So whenever your transmission becomes noisy in any way, first check the fluid level to confirm that the transmission is not running dry. If the fluid is at the correct level, but appears dark, “tarry”, or has a “burnt” smell, the cause of the noise is likely to be related to an inadequate flow rate. If however, the fluid is at the correct level and appears clean, fresh, and translucent, the cause is more likely to be a purely mechanical malfunction.

Harsh, or erratic shifting:

In almost all cases, this is caused either by a low fluid level, or dirty/contaminated fluid. In some cases, the issue can be resolved by replacing the fluid, but do not bank on this- in some cases, the harsh or erratic shifting may damage internal parts that can only be repaired or resolved by professional servicing and repairs.

Slipping in gear, or hesitation on take-off:

This is almost always caused by insufficient fluid pressure, which in turn, can have many possible causes. However, if the fluid appears dark, “tarry”, or has a “burnt” smell but is at the correct level, it would be safe to assume that one or more internal fluid passages is partially, or even completely blocked by dirt, varnish, or sludge. In these cases, a fluid replacement is seldom the answer, and the issue must be seen to by professional personnel.

Unexplained surging:

In transmissions that have not had their fluid replaced at recommended intervals, it is possible for dirt and sludge to cause intermittent blockages. However, a simple fluid replacement may, or may not resolve the issue, and in these cases, it is recommended that the transmission be flushed by suitable equipment, and by personnel that are trained to operate such equipment.
Incorrect flushing procedures can cause permanent blockages that cannot be cleared by any means, but it is also important to remember that some manufacturers, and Honda in particular, strongly advise against any form of flushing on their transmissions, so before you decide to have your transmission flushed, contact the manufacturer or dealer for information.

There are off course other causes of transmission problems that have nothing whatever to do with the condition of the fluid. Defective, or flat batteries, malfunctioning electronics, or extreme temperatures can cause most, if not all of the problems associated with degraded transmission fluid, so before you replace the transmission just because a mechanic says you must, have the electrical system of your car checked out with suitable diagnostic equipment.

It could save you a ton of money!

How to Finding A Good Automotive Mechanic

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How to Finding A Good Automotive Mechanic

Since every car owner needs automobile repairs and maintenance from time to time, it is important to establish a trustworthy person that can handle the task at hand with professionalism and skill. Finding the best mechanic for your car is definitely not an easy task especially when there are lots of auto repair shops in every city but not all workers are equally skilled in their job. While for basic tasks such as light repairs or easy maintenance (wheel changing, oil replacement) mostly any Joe mechanic with a more than six months in a service garage will be able to fit, advanced repairs (gearbox issues, engine manifold failure) require a totally different level of skill and care.

First of all, one should always research before paying for a mechanic’s service. Such research includes ensuring the mechanic is trained and certified by a recognized institution in your country. While the Internet is a broad place and holds lots of information, it should be easiest to check out for a certificate placed in the customer service lobby of the repair shop. For example, ASE is one of the most known and broadly accepted diplomas for automotive mechanics. Still, an accredited car technician might just be at the beginning of his career or might not be just as skilled as the accreditation mentions. Looking for a few reviews on the intended repair facility and if possible on the mechanic itself is a great idea. One may not find the required mechanic reviews on the Internet, especially if the service unit is rather small, but asking former customers is a decent way to develop an insight about the person and the company you wish to have your car fixed at.

If you are on a tight budget and cannot afford to spend a fortune on the highest end auto service, ask for estimation prices for the service your car requires. It is especially useful to ask for a written estimate when facing extensive repairs. This way, the estimate can be used to compare different mechanics. Remember though, an expensive service doe’s not always mean high quality. Since quality has to be a primary concern when undergoing vehicle repairs, a valid warranty must be issued at the end of the process. All reputable mechanics will issue a 30 to 90 day warranty for parts and service. Usually, mechanics that use high quality parts and accessories such as OEM auto parts is able to provide extended warranty.

Warranty is not the only reason to choose a mechanic that works with OEM parts. Unlike aftermarket components, OEM vehicle parts feature a higher quality thus ensuring an increased endurance over time and, when applicable, higher power output and increased comfort. In other words, it is better to pay 100$ for an OEM component that will last 5 years instead of paying 50$ for an aftermarket part you will have to replace every year.

Finally, after choosing the best mechanic you can, ensure reliability. A great mechanic will fix problems well and ensure their work is worthy of payment. Also, getting into a friendly relationship with the mechanic ensures a loyal connection allowing you to become a regular customer and win discounts. Also, having the car fixed always by the same mechanic will allow him to keep a service history and also to announce you for future issues that might need to be solved.

As one can see from the above lines, there are quite a few elements to be taken in consideration before applying for a repair service. Keeping in mind these key aspects will benefit on the long run, allowing the user to enjoy quality repairs and prolonged vehicle life at reduced costs.

How to Using Car Jumper Cables

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How to Using Car Jumper Cables

It does happen to everyone: you forget to turn off the CD player or headlights, and you leave the car parked for the rest of the night. When you get back to it in the morning, you realize that turning the key into ignition position does nothing or the electric motor barely spins, not enough to get the engine running. So, what is there to be done? Replacing the battery is probably out of question, since there is little chance you have a spare battery just laying around in your garage. Instead, you can ask for a fellow car driver to aid your battery by charging it over jump start cables.

Before getting into details about how to use jump start cables to revive a drained battery, a discussion is needed regarding how to choose the right pair of jump start cables according to your vehicle. One thing is definitely certain when buying jumper cables; you get what you pay for. There are three main characteristics to take in account when willing to purchase a set of jumper cables: cable gauge, clamp quality and insulation.

Cable gauge sets the amount of power the wire is able to allow to pass through. The higher the gauge (lower numerical index on the gauge meter), the higher amount of power the wire will be able to handle. Using thinner wires will take longer for the jump start procedure to begin, as it will require more time before the battery gets charged enough before being able to start the car again as usual. Thin wires are usually cheaper but can’t handle enough amperage to charge up the battery. If you try to use thinner cables in jump starting procedures, the wire will begin to heat up; this happens when it cannot cope with the amount of energy sent by the donor car. Finally, higher gauge cables can be built at longer lengths, allowing for easier connection between two cars.

Although the cost of cables rises as they are thicker, one will notice that clamps are also getting better. Low quality clamps are copper plated, while higher quality jumper cables will feature solid copper clamps which conduct electricity better. Copper plated clamps usually wear off after a few dozen uses due to the steel layer beneath which doesn’t conduct electric current too well.

On the same note as gauge size, insulation of the cable is equally important. Higher insulation can be found on thicker and equally more expensive cables. Colder climates ask for better insulated cables to avoid cracks due to low temperatures. Also, higher insulation aids pliability, allowing users to wrap cables back easily after being used.

Since critical points in acquiring jumper cables have been discussed, a brief description on how to get your car running again by jump starting is at hand. First of all, one should make sure that the donor battery has at least the same capacity as yours. Then, both vehicles should be put in park or neutral, and both engines shut off. Attach the red clamp at the positive terminal of each battery. You can find the positive terminal by looking after the “POS” or “+” sign near it. Next, connect one of the black clamps on the negative terminal of the donor battery, while the other end should be attached to a metallic unpainted surface of your car. Negative terminals feature the “-“or “NEG” sign near them.

Go ahead and start the car. If it doesn’t work, check the wiring again and let the donor car run for five minutes before trying again.