Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting an Auto Tune-up

Like any other complex machine, a vehicle needs preventative maintenance if it is to run well and for the maximum number of years. A tune-up is a regularly scheduled appointment, usually once a year, to do all of the necessary preventative maintenance.
Most car owners take their vehicle to the dealer or an auto mechanic to have the tune-up expertly done, but others have the know-how to do it themselves. Here are some of the key elements a tune-up should include:
Experts say that changing filters on a regular basis may have the biggest impact of any single factor on a car's lifespan.
The fuel filter eliminates dirt and other particles from the fuel so that it burns cleanly. During the tune-up, the device is either cleaned with a special liquid or replaced outright, depending on its state.
Air filters keep dirt and other particles out of the engine chamber. They should be replaced at least once a year; Failing to change an air filter when it's dirty will result in the engine having less of the air it needs to run properly. Eventually, there will be too much fuel and not enough air in the mixture, and that may cause other parts to fail.
Belt Checks
The engine relies on a set of rubber belts to run, including timing belts and transmission belts. The tune-up includes checking them for cracks or general deterioration, and replacing them if necessary. If a belt snaps while the car is in motion, the engine will stop immediately, so it's important to keep the belts in good condition.

Spark Plugs and Wires

The spark plugs are found in each of the engine’s cylinders, providing the initial spark that it uses to burn fuel. The spark plugs wear out over time, which can cause the engine to turnover slowly or misfire. So they’re usually checked and replaced—along with the spark plug wires. And as they may be permanently attached to the distributor cap, it may have to be changed, too.
(Most new cars have platinum spark plugs, which are longer lasting, and need not be replaced at each tune-up.)

Other parts
Other parts of the car need regular attention, too. If the vehicle has manual transmission, the tune-up should include adjusting the clutch. The battery should be serviced, with distilled water added (if required), and the terminals and cable ends cleaned.
It’s important to replace the PCV valve, which can make the car stall if it becomes clogged. The oxygen sensor(s) also should be replaced at recommended intervals, as a worn oxygen sensor drastically changes engine settings.

Oil and Fluids
Car engines need several fluids to perform properly, including transmission fluid. As part of the tune-up, the mechanic tops up every fluid, including the washer fluid for the windshield wipers. The car also requires an oil change, providing fresh lubricant for all of the engine’s gears to turn.
If you’re planning to do the tune-up in the spring or early summer, have the air conditioning system checked, too, since it won’t have been used for several months.
As noted above, a tune-up generally involves replacing several parts. Some of them may seem relatively minor, but neglecting to replace them regularly can reduce your vehicle’s performance and do long-term damage.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Avoiding Curbsiders

The majority of used cars in Ontario are sold privately by individuals. Most of these transactions are lawful and legitimate. But if you’re shopping for a used car, be careful to avoid being duped by a curbsider.
The curbsider sells from his home rather than from a dealership, giving used-car buyers the impression that he is putting the family car up for sale in a private deal. Buyers are acquiring the car without full awareness of its ownership or accident history.
Bogus reasons for selling:
A curbsider deceives unwary consumers by claiming to be selling his car for any of a variety of fictitious reasons:
●"I'm getting married and need the money."
●"I'm leaving the country."
●"I'm getting a company car."
●"It belonged to my uncle, but he died."
Curbsiders purchase used cars at low prices and then unload them almost immediately at a profit. This is illegal, since they are operating a used vehicle business without being registered under the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act—or have .used false information to become registered. (This allows them to buy vehicles from other dealers or at auctions).

A study done in 2008 by the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario found that 16.6% of the used vehicle advertisements placed in newspapers and online sites were by curbsiders.

Curbsiding can be a big headache for car buyers. While unsuspecting consumers may believe they are dealing with a legitimate "private" seller who has taken good care of the car, that impression may be completely false.
The vehicle may have been damaged in an accident, badly repaired, sold with a fraudulent odometer reading, have a lien on it, or (worst case scenario) may be a stolen vehicle.
If any of these situations apply, the consumer can’t do much about it. Often, the curbsider will have changed cell phones and vanished well before the buyer discovers what’s amiss.
How to spot a curbsider:
Here are several ways in which to spot, and avoid, a possible curbsider:
● Check whether the name on the vehicle registration is different from that of the seller.
Ask the seller for a landline number or a work number in order to confirm his identity.
● Compare the registration’s issue date against the seller's claim of how long he's owned the vehicle. If the dates are not in synch, you may be dealing with a curbsider.
● Meet the seller at their residence or their workplace.
● Ask for a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP).
Have a licensed mechanic inspect the vehicle.
Consumers who buy a used car from an Ontario-registered dealer benefit from such protections as vehicle history disclosure and access to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund. But if consumers decide to buy privately, they should at least do their homework so they don’t get scammed by the con artists known as curbsiders. ●
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Driving Safely at Night

If you’re going to be on the road after sunset, keep in mind that driving at night presents unique challenges that are absent during the day. The field of vision in a person’s eye is much smaller and depth perception less reliable without the benefit of natural light. Drivers also lack the benefit of color and contrast that are available in daylight.

Traffic death rates are three times as high at night as they are during the day, despite there being less traffic at night. One major factor is eye fatigue, which is a serious issue when driving at night. To prevent, or relieve, this problem, keep your eyes moving from side to side, and focusing from near to far ahead.
Here are some additional tips to help with night vision and road safety.

● Adjust to the darkness

Give your eyes some time to adapt to the dark before you begin driving. It takes a few minutes for the pupils to dilate fully, allowing the maximum amount of light to enter your eyes. The more light that your pupils let into your eyes, the stronger your vision will be.

● Avoid glare

Don’t look at oncoming headlights; instead, look toward the right side of the road and keep watching the white line marking the outside edge of the traffic lane. When the headlights from cars that are behind you reflect in your rearview mirror, adjust the mirror to eliminate as much of the light as possible.

● Use your lights courteously

Turn your headlights on an hour before sunset so that it will be easier for other drivers to see you in early twilight. Also, keep those headlights on for at least an hour after the sun comes up. Don’t flash your high beams at a car that has its high beams on, as this will result in both drivers blinding each other. In fog, use your low beams.

● Keep the car interior dark.

Turn off all the lights in your car’s interior. Any light inside the car will seem extremely bright and will make it harder to see.

● Slow your driving speed.
Reduce your driving speed in order to give yourself a longer reaction time if something unexpected occurs in front of you. It is advisable to increase following distance by four to five seconds while driving at night, in case you or the car in front of you must make a sudden stop.

● Tune up your car
Be sure to keep your car in top shape for maximum safety. This means regularly checking fluid levels, tire pressure and brakes. It also means thoroughly cleaning headlights, taillights and signal lights. And it means making sure all the windows are clean both inside and outside. (Dirty windows can increase glare, making it harder to see, and dirty headlights can lower efficiency by as much as 90 percent.)

● Wear anti-reflective glasses
Many eye care specialists recommend eye glasses that have anti-reflective (AR) coating. The ultra-thin film reduces internal reflections in the lenses. AR-coated glasses transmit more light than regular lenses, which improves vision at night.

Driving at night is never going to be as easy as driving during the day, but with appropriate adjustments, you can set your sight on a safe arrival at your destination.
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hybrid Vehicles: Good for the Pocketbook?

The rising price at the gas pump is prompting more and more Ontarians to consider making a hybrid their next vehicle purchase. For sure, there is plenty of emphasis on how much hybrid vehicles can save you in gas costs because of their fuel efficiency.

A hybrid basically operates on the combination of a conventional engine and a battery-powered electric motor. The battery-run electric motor relieves the engine of some of the workload. The result is a vehicle that performs like a traditional car with a smaller, more efficient engine. The hybrid car with the reputation for the most fuel economy is the Toyota Prius, which averages about 5.1 L/100km

But unless you’re motivated purely by environmental concern, fuel efficiency should not be the only consideration. Let’s look at the other costs or savings that apply to a hybrid.

Purchase price

While fuel efficiency is certainly a strong selling point for hybrids these days, that has to be weighed against the purchase price. The hybrid is a more expensive vehicle than its conventionally-powered counterpart. Even the least expensive hybrids start at $27,000 (for a Toyota Camry Hybrid or Honda Civic Hybrid). It will require a number of years for a hybrid buyer to recover their upfront costs.

As part of its goal of one in every 20 vehicles on the road being a hybrid by 2020, the Ontario government has been offering since 2010 an incentive program for consumers buying a plug-in hybrid electric or battery-fueled car. The incentive applies only to new cars.

Auto insurance

When comparing online quotes at the website for the Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid, it turns out there is no discernible trend in the insurance rates for hybrids. When compared to their gas-guzzling counterparts, hybrid vehicles are not consistently more or less expensive to insure.

However, some Canadian insurers do offer a discount for hybrid owners. The availability of this discount indicates that at least some insurers favour hybrid motorists as a low-risk group.


Hybrids are perceived to be high-maintenance vehicles. In fact, this may or may not be so. Regular preventative maintenance costs for hybrids are comparable to those for gas-powered cars. If, however, a hybrid has mechanical problems with the charging system, this could be costly.

To counter the maintenance cost concern, some hybrid manufacturers offer warranties on their hybrid models that extend beyond the basic coverage. Toyota, for example, offers a 160,000 km warranty on their Prius and Highlander hybrid-related components.

In considering the cost implications of a hybrid with those of a conventional car, be sure to compare applies with apples. If you purchase an SUV-sized vehicle, no matter how fuel efficient it may be, it won’t match most of the conventional gasoline-powered sedans, simply due to their size, and the size of the engines.

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