Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Be Prepared for a Flat Tire or Dead Battery

Two of the most common emergencies vehicle owners face while out driving are a flat tire or a dead battery. These may seem like simple problems to fix to some, but if done improperly, it could prove dangerous.

While changing a flat or jump starting a car, it is important to follow certain procedures. When changing a flat tire, be sure the spare is properly inflated. Unfortunately, the spare tire falls in the “out of sight, out of mind” category. Too many times, we begin to change our tire only to find out the spare is flat as well. All tires lose about a pound of air pressure a month. If you haven’t needed the spare in a while, it could be flat by the time you do. A good rule of thumb is to check the air pressure of all the tires, including the spare, once a month. Secondly, make sure the jack and lug wrench is in the vehicle at all times. It is easy to misplace these if you don’t use them very often. Finally, when putting the spare tire on the vehicle, tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern as opposed to clockwise or counter-clockwise. Otherwise, the wheel could come loose while driving.

Improperly jump starting a car could lead to a couple of problems. Sparks might cause any hydrogen gas leaking from the battery to explode. Your vehicles electronic components could also be damaged as the result of an improper hook up. To properly jump start a car, you may use either jumper cables or a portable battery booster. If using jumper cables, attach the positive clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery and the other positive clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery. Next, attach the negative or ground clamp to the negative terminal of the good battery and the other negative clamp to the engine block, frame or other grounded metal in the car with the dead battery as far as possible from the battery. Do not connect it to the negative terminal of the dead battery. Remember that the red clamps are positive and the black clamps are negative. The terminals on the battery will be marked “+” or “-“.

The process to connect a portable battery booster is similar to jumper cables. First, connect the positive clamp of the battery booster to the positive terminal. Next, connect the negative clamp to the engine block or other grounded metal away from the battery.

Automatic Transmission Maintenance

Many of today’s vehicles have automatic transmissions that don’t require regular adjustments. The owner’s manual for many of these vehicles even suggest that you may go as high as 100,000 miles before it is necessary to change the transmission fluid. All this makes it sound as though your automatic transmission is almost maintenance free. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. For best results, have your transmission fluid and filter changed every 2 years or 24,000 miles. Be sure to use the type recommended by your vehicles owner’s manual.

The purpose of automatic transmission fluid is to clean, lubricate, cool and protect your vehicles transmission. It also transmits force and pressure required to keep your transmission operating effectively when you drive. Its final purpose is to prevent varnish build-up in the transmission.
Most transmission failures are heat-related as transmission fluid quickly breaks down when exposed to high temperatures. Several situations could result in enough heat to shorten the life of transmission fluid. A few of the situations include; towing a trailer, driving up and down mountain roads, sudden starts or stops and spinning wheels in slippery road conditions.
The same reasons that may shorten the life of your vehicle’s transmission fluid will do the same to your transmission filter. This filter prevents contaminants such as metal chips from gears and bushings and fine material from normal wear from entering the hydraulic system where they can cause increased wear and tear.

When changing the transmission fluid, it is a good idea to flush the transmission. This will remove more contaminants than just draining the fluid. If you’re doing this or having someone do it, be sure the transmission pan is removed in order to change the filter before refilling it with new fluid. If a new filter is not installed, any contaminants from the old fluid or those removed from the transmission during the flushing process could impede flow through the filter and lead to transmission problems.

Air Conditioning and Battery Maintenance

With the hot, humid weather of summer right around the corner, many of you may notice your air conditioner doesn’t put out cold air like it used to. Some vehicle owners, depending on their make and model, may have to spend a few hundred dollars or more to repair their air conditioning. The reason is that R-12 refrigerant, which goes by the trade name DuPont Freon, has been replaced by R-134a. R-134a has been the industry standard since 1994 and is safer for the environment than R-12.

If you have an older vehicle with an air conditioner in need of major repairs, be prepared to replace refrigerant and the oil in the compressor in addition to the old components. It may also be necessary to install a retrofit conversion. R-134a and R-12 are not inter-changeable. Do not allow anyone to mix the two refrigerants. An air conditioning system with R-12 must be flushed before R-134a is added.

To help prevent expensive repairs, have your vehicle’s air conditioning system inspected annually. It will help keep you comfortable this summer and help protect the environment.

The excessive heat, along with overcharging, will also shorten the life of your battery. Heat causes the fluid in your battery to evaporate. As a result, the internal structure of the battery will be damaged. If a component in the charging system, usually the voltage regulator, is malfunctioning, the battery will charge at too high a rate. Eventually, you will have a dead battery.

In order to avoid the cost of a road service call and a new battery, the following tips might be beneficial.

1. If your battery is the type that needs to be topped off, check regularly, especially in hot weather. Add distilled water when necessary.

2. Keep the top of the battery and the terminals clean. Dirt becomes a conductor, which drains battery power. Corrosion on battery terminals becomes an insulator, inhibiting current flow.

3. Be sure the electrical system is charging at the correct rate; overcharging can damage the battery as quickly as undercharging.

4. Always replace a battery with one that’s rated at least as high as the one originally specified.

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