Tag Archive | "car servicing"

Car Parts We Take For Granted

Take spark plugs for example. When was the last time you saw one in all its bright metal and porcelain glory? Exactly. Well did you know there are people out there who actually and avidly collect them? There is even a Spark Plug Collectors of America club. How fascinating would it be to go away on holiday with them? Seriously, these are people who should get out a whole lot more.

Nevertheless, without the spark plug we wouldn’t be going anywhere – in a car at least. These small cheap items of motoring magnificence have been with us pretty much from the automotive dawn and, since there isn’t much to change, they haven’t changed much over the decades. In these days of financial woe drivers are scrimping on things like this in the hope they’ll save some cash by using them well over their due date. Yet plugs are a crucial part of vehicle servicing and are neglected at your peril.

Another essential element that is not given the credit it is due would be the brake fluid. In proper order it will save your life – unless you drink it, that is (no, look: seriously, don‘t OK?). When pressure is applied to the brake pedal this noxious liquid is compressed hydraulically to provide braking force at the wheels. Simple and effective. The snag is, especially and particularly on older cars, this stuff can leak resulting in loss of pressure which you’ll only really know about when the pedal goes to the floor and you fly screaming into a hedge.

It is worth occasionally checking this fluid level whatever the age of the car. You want to see it between the minimum and maximum marks in a little tub somewhere under the bonnet. Your handbook will show you where. If there’s any doubt or if you see a little pool of what looks like cooking oil under the car at the wheels or under the engine bay, go and see your local friendly mechanic asap.

As you drive you are hopefully holding onto the round thing in front of you. The steering wheel can rarely give you cause for concern but it is much more likely that it is the steering mechanism itself that can develop issues. Any vibration felt on the wheel is probably a wheel alignment problem but any mysterious knocking noises or vibrations when you turn are probably down to any one or more of a number of linkages, bushes, joints and arms that may vary according to the type of steering. Another possible fault is if the wheels don’t respond exactly to your steering inputs. Whatever, it should be obvious just how important perfect steering is.

At this stage you might be thinking that you know all this and maybe you do; but as you use your car on a day-to-day basis how many times do you really think about it. So it’s just a note of caution: give your car a break and check it over regularly before it gives you a nasty and expensive surprise.

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To De-coke Or Not De-coke?

A generation or so ago it was a relatively common sight to see car owners beavering away in their garages and on their driveways, routinely servicing their cars. The more experienced would go a stage further, whip off the top-mounted equipment and the cylinder head and de-coke the engine. Forty or fifty years ago this was standard practice every ten thousand miles or so.

Over extended periods of time whilst engines are working there is a tendency for deposits to accumulate where there is combustion. This carbon build-up very gradually affects performance, economy and a loss of cylinder compression, usually around the piston rings. That’s the short version.

The need for regular de-coking was an inevitable result of short journeys and, in particular, dirty fuel. The quality and built-in cleaning properties of the best modern fuels has to a great extent limited this problem until at least a car gets fairly aged. However, these days it is still perfectly possible for an engine to accumulate carbon deposits in the same way that a kettle will in time fur up and perpetual short trips are likely to be the culprit along with using cheap, unbranded petrol.

The other problem today that many drivers will encounter is their own helplessness. We have lost the knack of fixing things ourselves. Your grandfathers could probably take plumbing, routine car maintenance and electrical wiring in their stride. These days many people don’t know how to fix a 13 amp plug to an appliance. It’s this lack of expertise that has resulted in some garages getting away with £100 per hour labour charges.

Opening the bonnet of a modern car can be a bit daunting to a novice; but underneath all the fancy do-dad’s there is still just a basic internal combustion engine. Obviously Granddad had a much easier time removing a carburettor than the modern motorist would with complex fuel injection, but the art of home mechanics is still feasible; but it does still require the removal of the cylinder head so, although it is a straightforward job, it is not for the faint-hearted!

Thankfully, it is unlikely that your car will ever need this drastic intervention. If it does, your engine will tell you. The car is likely to suffer from pre-ignition (aka ‘pinking’ or ‘knocking’) and performance will be generally weaker and emissions worse. The bad news is that it is such a gradual process that the average driver won’t notice.

There are solutions in a can that can be sprayed into air-intakes and are supposed to clean out the inner working parts like a laxative. Some people rate them; others don’t. To avoid coking the sensible driver will fill up with good branded fuels and ensure the car gets a decently long weekly run-out that makes the engine work harder – especially if the vehicle is mostly used as a local runabout. Selecting high gears at low revs may be good for economy but engines are built to perform. Exercise is as good for cars as it is for us.

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Saving Money On Servicing

Servicing is very important to keeping your car running efficiently and in preventing breakdowns.  It can also help you achieve a higher resale price when you finally come to selling your car and can mean that you shift your car a lot quicker.  More and more often, buyers will simply ignore and completely ignore any car that doesn’t have a service history, making it practically impossible to sell.

The costs of servicing can add up though.  MOT’s, full services, part services and then the costs of fixing anything that has gone wrong can all add up to some really significant sums.  There are a few ways of minimising these costs though.

The first thing to do is to try and time your MOT and servicing so that they are due at the same time.  Many garages will offer a discount when you combine your MOT and service and have them both done at the same time.  The reason is simple – When they conduct an MOT they are already getting involved in your car and checking the essentials.  This crosses over with a lot of the stuff that they will check out in a service and therefore they can afford to charge you less as it is quicker and easier for them to do both at the same time.  If you don’t make use of this discount you are effectively paying for your brakes to be checked on your MOT and then paying for them to be checked again on your service.  So, try to get them both done together at a discount.

The second thing is to use a specialist.  Using main dealers can be extremely expensive and see huge hourly rates.  Using a specialist can knock as much as 50% off these prices and sometimes even more.  The irony is that most specialists originally worked at the main dealers and then moved on to start their own business.  This effectively means that you are paying someone who is just as qualified and experienced on your car as the main dealer but at a fraction of the price.  They will also often make a smaller mark up on parts as well which can save even more money.

The most important tip for saving money on servicing though is to not avoid a service!  Some people think the best way to save money is to simply ignore a service and just keep driving.  This can actually prove to be the most expensive decision of all because missing a service can mean that you miss detecting small problems before they grow into big problems that can cost serious money!

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