What Customers Should Know
You may have had a friend whose vehicle was the victim of hungry rodents. After all, mice, rats and squirrels—even rabbits—have been known to gnaw on wires in engine compartments, causing vehicle electrical systems to go haywire. They can disable a vehicle completely and be very expensive to fix.
In 2017, some drivers noticed their vehicle's wiring was being chewed and found out the automaker was using a relatively new material for covering their wires: soy. Many of the repairs to their new vehicles weren't covered under warranty by the manufacturer when it was discovered rodents were eating the wiring. So the owners filed a class action suit, saying the soy covering was essentially baiting the critters.
The automakers tell a different story, saying mice, rats and squirrels have been chewing through wire insulation long before it was made out of soy.
Regardless of what the insulation is made of, vehicle owners should make sure rodents aren't chowing down and creating a problem in the engine compartment. They can have their repair facility check for these signs: Little bits of acorns, leaves, chewed up plastic and animal droppings in the engine's nooks and crannies. Using a black light, your technician can detect animal urine, a sure sign that they've been using your engine compartment as a warm apartment, a nest and a dining room.
You can take steps to prevent rodents from chomping your vehicle's parts. Honda—one of the vehicle manufacturers that uses soy-based wiring covering—makes a rodent tape. It contains a spice called capsaicin that rodents find too hot to handle. Other preventative measures include installing metal mesh around wiring harnesses or spraying the engine compartment with special rodent-repellants.
Rodent damage can cost one vehicle owner thousands of dollars to fix, not the kind of bite anyone wants taken out of their bank account.
Would you buy a jacket without even trying it on? Probably not, but it might surprise you that one study shows about half the people buy a vehicle after a short test drive around the block or none at all. If you're in the market for another vehicle, make sure you check out the most important things so you'll know if that's the right vehicle for you.
Check out the gadgets. Love a good sound system? Then turn it up loud. Does it have enough bass for you? See how you like its navigation system if it has one. Try pairing your Bluetooth smartphone with the vehicle. Test out how to set the cruise control and how steady it keeps the speed. Back up and check out the rearview camera. If you buy this vehicle, you'll have to live with all of these things every time you drive.
Test the vehicle on roads you know. See how it handles bumps and potholes, how it takes that tight curve that you drive every day to and from work. Driving on familiar roads gives you a chance to compare what you know with what you're thinking about buying.
Check the fit. One suburban mom drove a full-sized SUV and loved it until she got it home and realized it was too high for her old garage. Remodeling the garage would be the only answer! Try installing your child seats. Size matters, especially in a vehicle.
Gauge the fuel economy. Many vehicles have a trip computer that will calculate fuel economy quickly. Here's a tip: you can reset it before your test drive and when you're finished, check it and see what fuel economy you got. It will be a smaller sampling than would be ideal, but it will give you an idea.
Take as much time as you can. A lot of sellers will pressure you to restrict your test drive to 10-15 minutes. Ideally, you'd like to have that vehicle for a week, but that's usually not possible. So, try for something in between. Remember, this could be your vehicle for years to come.
Keep in mind that every vehicle will feel strange to you at first. Buying a vehicle is a little like getting married. You want that marriage to be happy, and you want it to last, so take the time to get to know it as well as you can.
If you're like most people and drive a gasoline-powered vehicle, you need to be up to speed on its fuel-related components. They're pretty basic: the fuel, the fuel filter and the fuel pump.
The fuel's the easy part. You probably gas up your vehicle yourself and, if you're like most drivers, price is a big factor in what you put in your vehicle. Maybe you think it doesn't matter what kind of gasoline you buy, but one major automobile association has found it does make a big difference.
Their study showed that the additives that are put in different brands can affect your vehicle's performance. Certain gasoline retailers sell gasoline that meets performance standards called Top Tier. The detergents used in Top Tier gasoline help protect newer engines from carbon buildup and deposits on intake valves, all things that can affect how smoothly your engine runs, how it accelerates and what kind of fuel economy you get. You can check online or ask your service advisor where to buy Top Tier gasoline.
Another fairly simple component is the fuel filter. Depending on the age of your vehicle, you either have a separate fuel filter or one that's part of the fuel pump. The fuel filter keeps the crud out of your engine's fuel injectors. You'll get a hint that your fuel filter might be clogged if you notice your vehicle won't start, your power isn't what it used to be, your fuel economy is suffering or your Check Engine light is on.
Check with your service advisor to see what your vehicle manufacturer's recommendations are on how often to service your fuel filter. Regular maintenance can prevent expensive repairs in the future.
Finally, the most complicated part: the fuel pump. As you may have guessed, it is the part that gets the gasoline out of the tank and into the engine. If the fuel pump starts to fail, it can make a clicking or whining noise when your vehicle is running. Your engine may misfire, lose power while driving or might be hard to start in the morning. And that Check Engine light might go on. One thing that helps prolong the life of a fuel pump is keeping your gas tank at least a quarter-tank full at all times. It helps lubricate and cool the pump. If you've detected some of the symptoms of fuel pump failure, tell your service advisor.
Knowing a little about your fuel system really can be a gas!
No matter what vehicle you drive, when certain things break, you have to make a decision. Should I get it fixed now, later or never? Air conditioning is one of those things. You can certainly live without air conditioning, but it sure is nice to have on a sweltering day.
Let's say your air conditioning breaks in the fall and you live in a climate where it gets quite cold in the winter. Should you get it fixed now, wait until spring since it won't get warm until then or maybe not get it fixed at all?
That can be a tough decision. There are several reasons air conditioning in vehicles break. One is fairly simple: It could be an electrical problem, perhaps a relay or solenoid is not turning on the system. It's also a fairly inexpensive repair and doesn't require hours of labor.
Or, the problem is that the coolant has leaked out. Your service facility can find the leak and replace the parts that are leaking. With a refrigerant recharge, you're back in business. The repair costs vary, depending on the reason for the leak.
When air conditioning malfunctions involve a compressor, evaporator or condenser, the costs can be significant since parts and labor add up. Depending on the age and value of your vehicle, you may choose to simply roll down the windows and live with it.
Keep in mind that many vehicles in cold climates use air conditioning in winter. Many vehicles automatically turn on the A/C when you use the defroster. The A/C dries the heated air it blows on the windshield and side windows to eliminate fogging more quickly. Outside conditions such as snow and ice can severely hamper visibility. Add to that fogging on the inside and it can present very challenging conditions for the driver.
In order for all systems to be functioning optimally, a vehicle owner might feel it's worth it for safety reasons to get a broken air conditioner fixed, even if it is done right before the approach of cold weather. Discuss these options with your service advisor so you can make the best decision for your situation.
Just like your skin can burn from too much sun, so can the paint on your vehicle. It can turn dull, oxidize and fade the more ultraviolet rays beat down on it. One solution is to park in a shady spot, or you can buy a cover for your vehicle and put it on when you know it's going to be sitting in the sun for awhile. Yes, it takes a couple of minutes to put on, but in the end, keeping the gloss on your paint will help it retain its beauty… and its value.
And it's not just the sun that can damage your vehicle's paint. Grit, bird droppings, sap, dust and dead bugs can all ruin the paint. So, keep your vehicle clean. Wash it with a soap made especially for vehicles. Dry it with special towels that won't scratch your paint. Remember: DON'T WASH YOUR VEHICLE IN THE SUN. Once your vehicle is washed, protect the paint even further with a coat of wax. DON'T WAX YOUR VEHICLE IN THE SUN, EITHER.
Don't forget the vehicle's interior. Plastic components inside can literally disintegrate when sunshine heats them up. That's what causes that oily film on the inside of the windows. So, pick up some of those reflective panels that unfold, placing them in the windshield and back window when you know the sun and heat are going to be intense. They'll keep out the ultraviolet light and help the interior stay cooler as well. That will help prevent upholstery from fading and plastic from cracking.
While you're at it, keep your interior's interior clean, too. That dust and dirt can literally bake into the dashboard, the seats, console and carpeting. There are cleaning products designed to clean your vehicle's interior that won't stain it or dry it out.
You invested a lot of money into that vehicle. The sun and dirt are just waiting to destroy it. Defend your valuable vehicle against the elements. Hey, it may not wind up on display in a museum, but it'll look great and last longer with just a little TLC.
When automakers first came out with cruise control, it was a real luxury item. The older cruise controls used a mechanical vacuum system but it worked. Well, some of the time.
Now days, cruise control is all electronic, thanks to computers. It's reliable and a real convenience on long trips. Cruise control is offered on most vehicles and standard on a lot of them. Because it's electronic, when it breaks, it's usually some electronic component. Your vehicle's cruise can be the victim of a blown fuse. Or your vehicle's speed sensor, which—not surprisingly—measures your vehicle's speed, can also stop working. And that will cause your cruise to stop cruising.
Vehicles with cruise control also have a built-in feature that, when the brakes are applied, turns off the cruise. With electronic cruise control, that happens thanks to the brake pedal switch, and if a problem develops in that switch, the cruise might not work.
The newest cruise control is called "adaptive." What that means is that it will maintain your vehicle's speed as well as the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. That means if a car ahead of you slows down, your vehicle will slow down to the same speed and even stop if the car ahead stops. Pretty cool, right? As you can imagine, adaptive cruise control is more sophisticated and has many more components than standard cruise. The systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they use on-board radar units and cameras to calculate what your vehicle should do to maintain a safe distance and speed.
Finally, there are still some of the older style cruise controls out on the roads. They'll stop working when the vacuum actuator develops a problem, a vacuum hose starts leaking or breaks or the cable between the actuator and the throttle kinks, breaks, seizes up or becomes detached.
If your cruise control isn't working, your service repair facility will be able to determine what kind your vehicle has and what it will take to fix it. Good news for the cruise blues.
With the weather getting colder, you might be tempted to start your vehicle up, let it idle for 15 or 20 minutes and then get in the nice, cozy cabin. Some vehicles offer remote starting that let you do that from the comfort of your home or apartment. But is letting your vehicle idle like that good for it?
Manufacturers say it doesn't harm the vehicle. They say it's because modern vehicles are made differently from those in the past. Just about all newer vehicles employ fuel injection which uses computers to adjust the amount of gasoline that goes into the cylinders. The engine gets only the fuel it needs, taking conditions into account.
Older vehicles, on the other hand, used to use carburetors. When you started a cold engine, the carburetor wasn't able to adjust the gasoline amount depending on conditions. Some of the gasoline would mix with oil and the pistons wouldn't get the same lubrication as they would with undiluted oil.
So yes, you can warm up your newer vehicle for your own personal comfort. But consider how much fuel you are wasting. That is not only throwing away money, it's a waste of natural resources. And it puts more carbon into the atmosphere.
Automakers have to be mindful of what fuel economy their vehicles can achieve. So the flip side of the remote starts they offer is a "stop-start" feature. When you stop your vehicle, even at a stoplight, your vehicle will turn the engine off. When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator, it starts up right away. That feature can save as much as 10 percent of the fuel your vehicle uses.
Your vehicle may not have that start-stop feature, but you can still save fuel by shutting off your engine manually if you are waiting somewhere, like a parking lot or perhaps sitting outside your child's school waiting to pick him or her up. It saves you money and contributes to a healthier atmosphere for our planet.
Things we don't expect happen to our vehicles. And let's face, no one really wants to spend money on an unexpected repair. But if you are putting off going to your vehicle repair facility because you're dreading bad news, you might just be putting off some good news.
There was one minivan driver who'd had the same van for years and never had a problem with the power sliding doors. Then one day, the electrical switches in the door pillars stopped working. The key fob would still open them, but the door switches wouldn't do a thing.
Of course, the van driver feared the worst: an electrical problem, a major computer failure, mice chewing up the wires. So, he put off going into the repair facility for a couple of months. One day, it was time for his regular oil change and the service advisor asked him if there was anything else going on with the van. The owner mentioned the door problem but said he didn't want to spend a fortune on it.
He waited for his van, and it wasn't long before the service advisor came out with good news. The doors weren't working because a switch on the overhead console had been turned off. (It was a safety feature to allow parents to disable them.) The owner had accidentally switched it when he was unloading the van. It was the first thing the technician had checked. Flip the switch back and all was working as usual.
Another example? A mother was driving a minivan with her two kids inside on a hot day when she felt the front end shaking violently as she drove down the road. Fearing something major had broken in the van (and fearing for the safety of her kids), she pulled into a fast-food restaurant parking lot and started to look underneath to see if it was anything obvious she could see.
She couldn't see any broken parts, but she also didn't feel safe getting back in the van with her kids. So, she called her local service facility and asked if they could send someone to look at it. When the technician arrived, he took it for a test drive on the same road on which she'd described having the trouble. Then he put her van up on the lift. His conclusion? Nothing was wrong with her van. It was the street she was driving on. Crews repairing it had left the surface full of potholes, and that was causing her rough ride.
Ultimately, what these two drivers feared would be an expensive trip to the shop resulted in each driver getting different news than they had expected. One learned something new about his vehicle. The other? Well, the technician saw that her tires were badly worn and convinced her to get them replaced, perhaps preventing an accident and giving peace of mind for a mom with two kids.
There's a gauge that many vehicles have that says RPM on it. And there are a lot of people who either don't pay any attention to it or don't even know what it is. Here's why it's a good gauge to know about.
It's called a tachometer, and that "RPM" label means it is measuring how many revolutions per minute (RPM) the engine is turning. Automotive experts know that a vehicle's engine can be damaged if it turns too fast (revving too high) or too slowly ("lugging" the engine).
A tachometer (sometimes called a tach) is almost a "must-have" gauge for vehicles with a manual transmission; the driver has to manually change gears; the tach helps the driver know when revolutions are in the optimal range.
Some say you don't need a tachometer if you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission. It's true that most drivers of automatics don't even look at it. But there are times when paying attention to the tach can help you prevent an expensive repair.
Here's a good example. Manufacturers now build many of their automatic transmission vehicles with shift paddles. They let you shift gears without a clutch. That's manual shifting, and drivers need to know they're not revving the engine too high. That's where the tachometer comes in, since it shows you visually when you are in the red zone (RPM too high).
Here's another way the tach can help you: fuel economy. Generally speaking, the lower the RPM, the better the fuel economy. It's not good to go too low, of course, and the tachometer will help you find that spot of maximum efficiency.
You can also spot problems by paying attention to the tach. When your vehicle stays in first gear longer than usual (higher reading on the tach), then the RPM dip lower than usual after shifting, it may be that your vehicle's transmission is skipping a gear. Plus, if your vehicle's RPM go up but your speed doesn't, it could mean your transmission is slipping. Either situation should be checked by a trained technician.
If your commute takes you down some long grades, you might like to put your vehicle in a lower gear to help slow down the car (and not burn up the brakes). Having a tachometer keeps tabs on when your engine is revving too high.
So, consider the tachometer a "bonus" gauge. It's one more helpful assistant that can help you spot and prevent problems in your vehicle.