Wednesday, October 17, 2007

10 Rules for Preventing Automotive Performance Loss - Part 2

You've paid good money for your car. While its easier to buy a new car every couple of years, doing so is not practical for most people. Want to make sure your car runs as well on it's hundred thousandth mile as it did on it's tenth mile? You've read rules 10-8 in part 1 in this series, read on for part 2.

Rule #7. Maintain your fuel injection system.

Your fuel injection system is what makes sure your engine mixes the correct amount of fuel with the incoming air to optimize the combustion process. It also works hand in hand with the emissions system to make sure everything is running as it should.

When the mixture becomes too lean (not enough fuel), combustion temperatures can rise. Under heavy loads, these temperatures (especially on turbocharged vehicles) will cause CEF when the aluminum bits inside your combustion chamber start to melt (usually around 1600 degrees F). When the mixture becomes too rich (too much fuel), gas mileage and power production will suffer. The unburnt fuel from every combustion cycle will subsequently contaminate the oil, leave excess deposits in the combustion chamber, and clog your catalytic converter - all bad for performance.

The most important part of your fuel injection system is the fuel injectors themselves. When they get dirty, they can get stuck in an open position (dumping in too much fuel) or in a closed position or become clogged (dumping in too little fuel). Making sure your fuel filter is replaced regularly along with fuel system cleaners should keep your injectors functioning right over a long period of time. Other components such as mass air flow meters, o2 sensors, and various emissions systems are known to fail from time to time as well.

When your fuel mixture becomes too lean, usually the car will ping or knock. If it becomes too rich, you'll start to suffer from bad gas mileage, smell unburnt fuel, or the car would backfire. Get the car diagnosed ASAP at the first sign of these problems.

Rule #6 Never let your car overheat.

Never, ever let your car overheat. If you ever see the coolant temperature needle start to rise beyond where it normally sits, pull over and turn the engine off ASAP. Your car's cooling system was designed to handle pretty much any thermal load the engine could generate. If it starts to overheat, it means something isn't working right. Don't think to yourself, "If I keep driving, maybe it'll cool down to normal." Turn on your heater at full blast and coast if you simply cannot pull over. Prolonged operation while overheating can cause the headgasket to fail. Once the headgasket goes, your engine will start taking to coolant like your cat takes coolant. Once your coolant goes, it gets even hotter and various surfaces (such as the mating surface between the head and block) will warp. After that, bad things will happen (you guessed it - catastrophic engine failure).

Rule #5 Follow recommended factory maintenance schedules

A lot of these services are basically just inspections and fluid changes, but there are some significant replacements, namely the timing belt. The timing belt keeps the heads and the block running in perfect harmony. If and when that belt breaks (and it will break), you’re looking at more expensive engine repairs (on most cars, at least – there are a few exceptions). Some cars have timing chains that have longer maintenance intervals. Other cars have what’s known as non interference engines: if the belt breaks, damage is kept to a minimum. Check with your local dealer to find out which type you have. In this case the adage holds true: an ounce of prevention is worth more than fifty pounds of busted valvetrain parts.

Regular inspections by a trained technician will also alert you to potential problems that you can then nip in the bud before they get out of hand and cause serious collateral damage later on. For example, what may appear to be a simple, fixable coolant or oil leak can wreak havoc when left untreated.

Rule #4 Keep the interior and exterior clean

Two things discourage you more than anything else – a faded paint job and a dumpy crap infested interior. After the first six months of owning a brand new car, start washing it every other week and waxing it once a month.

Contaminants in the air and bird droppings have a way of eating through the clearcoat and ruining your finish. If you live in an area where it snows, make sure you hose down your undercarriage so the salt deposits don’t start a rust infestation from the inside out. Better yet, move to California.

A lot of it is psychological. Once the paint fades, you’ll lose interest quick. Also, a shabby exterior will dissuade most buyers when it comes time to sell the car. Especially when it comes to performance cars - the cleanest specimens always sell in record time for top dollar compared to the ones that have achieved beater status.

Avoid eating or smoking in your car. A few cartons of smokes and burger wrappers later, you’ll have wonderful smells that you’ll have a helluva time trying to remove (especially when the sun bakes them in). Use a spray on protectant on the dash to keep it from cracking and tint your windows to keep the merciless sun from turning your interior into a cracked, arid wasteland.

In part 3, we'll finish off the list.

The rest of this series:

10 Rules for Preventing Automotive Performance Loss - Part 3

10 Rules For Preventing Automotive Performance Loss - Part 1

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