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(Richard Schramm/iStockphoto)
(Richard Schramm/iStockphoto)

You & Your Car

Change your wiper blades regularly Add to ...

QUESTION: On a recent scheduled maintenance visit to my dealer, I was charged for a new set of wiper blades. My car is less than a year old and it hasn't rained in months - at least not when I was driving.

Should I raise a stink or is there something I don't know about wiper blades on today's vehicles? Are they yet another example of how they don't make them like they used to?

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ANSWER: It's more a case of the air isn't as clean as it once was.

The problem with windshield wipers is that they are lying out there in the elements 24/7. It doesn't matter whether you use them or not, they are exposed to the elements - specifically all the pollutants in the air and the same powerful rays of the sun that cause skin cancer.

Another main source of wear and tear is the Canadian winter - wipers used to clear ice or packed snow can become badly marked along the critical leading edge. How often have you found the wiper frozen to the windshield and used the scraper to pry them off? That too has a less than favourable effect on the smooth rubber surface.

Most experts will tell you to replace your wipers at least once a year if not twice.

The trouble is that since the deterioration is gradual we rarely notice. Your case is a perfect example.

Although you had not used them in a long while, they would probably have performed poorly when you needed them.

Consumer Reports, in a recent report on tests of wipers, said that they "quickly degrade after six to nine months of regular use." The magazine said the deterioration showed up as streaking (leaving lines of water behind), smearing (instead of cleaning) and missed areas.

The death of do-it-yourself

The way it used to be: The engine compartment of an early-1960's Ford Falcon shows how accessible and easy to understand cars used to be. In the 1960's and 1970's. do-it-yourself mehanics abounded.
The art of home auto repair has been shuffled to the scrap heap, says Peter Cheney


QUESTION: I got out of the habit of checking my oil but recently did so on my daughter's eight year-old Volkswagen Golf. It is a relatively low-mileage car (50,000 km) that has been maintained as per the recommended schedule and is not driven hard or often. She was visiting from another province and was on her way back home so I gave the car a once-over before she left.

I know she had the oil changed at the dealer a few months and perhaps 3,000 km ago, so I was surprised to discover it low on oil. I added almost a litre before it got back to the full mark. It doesn't seem to burn any oil that I can see from the tailpipe and there was no sign of a leak on the spot where she parked for three weeks. Where is it going?


ANSWER: The answer depends on who you ask. One manufacturer will tell you that amount of oil usage is average, another will say it is acceptable and a third that it is unacceptable.

If the car has been dealer-serviced, your daughter should make sure they are aware of the consumption even if it is no longer under warranty. It costs nothing to put on record.

But, if there is no blue smoke coming out the tailpipe or signs of a leak, there may not be a problem.

Engines are assembled from hundreds of parts and there are tolerances between all of them - some greater than others. If the engine is burning oil - it is getting into the combustion chamber - that has to come form one of two areas: past the valve seals or piston rings.

In both cases the burning oil would be visible as blue smoke if it was in sufficient quantities.

Replacing valve seals is a relatively easy and inexpensive repair, but replacing piston rings is much more costly and difficult. But at the mileage you report neither is likely to be necessary.

The most likely culprit is a slight leak around a valve cover or other gasket; the amount of oil leaking could be so slight it is evaporating when it comes in contact with a hot engine or component. It could also be that the leak only occurs when the engine is hot so there would be no evidence on the driveway.

The sub-$50,000 convertible might be possible if you’re really careful with the BMW 128i ($41,000), but not the more powerful 135i convertible, pictured ($48,400).
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