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You & Your Car

You asked: The top 10 car maintenance questions of 2013 Add to ...

I get vehicle maintenance and repair questions. Boy, do I get questions. Below are the Top 10 subject matters I deal with from readers and, of course, the answers to these issues.

1. TIRES

Why do I have to switch to winter tires? I go south for the winter, winters or all-season?

All-season tires lose suppleness in the cold, generally below 7C. Winter tires are formulated to remain compliant and retain grip at those temperatures and their treads are designed to deal with ice and snow. If heading south for extended period, all-seasons are okay, but plan your route and schedule around weather forecasts.

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2. SERVICE

Do I follow the service interval recommended by my dealer, the manufacturer or the warning in the instrument panel?

The instrument panel takes priority, as it actively monitors the engine and other factors. It also is programmed to follow manufacturer recommendations. The dealer may try to get you back more often than necessary. Follow the recommendations in the manual and pay attention to the definition of “severe” service.

3. OIL

Is it safe to switch to synthetic oil and a different grade? There is no sign of a leak but the engine is consuming oil. The recommended interval?

Switching to/from synthetic should be okay unless the engine has been using conventional oil for a long period of time. Don’t stray far from grades recommended by the manufacturer. Consumption of a litre every 1,500 kilometres or so is not unusual. See No. 2, above, regarding changing intervals.

4. LIGHTS

Why am I being blinded by bright lights? Can I replace my headlights with brighter ones?

Original equipment headlights should not be a problem because they have a mandated cutoff. However, taller vehicles in close proximity can be an issue. The problem usually comes from aftermarket replacement bulbs that are not DOT (Department of Transportation) approved and exceed the maximum wattage approved by Transport Canada. Bulbs that meet these standards are okay.

5. WHEELS

Is it okay to buy used or aftermarket wheels, and what do I do about the Tire Pressure Monitoring System?

Aftermarket wheels are okay if hub-centric – the hole in the middle fits snugly. Wheels designed to fit a variety of vehicles have a larger hole and depend on the studs for accurate placement. Buy a second set of sensors to avoid staring at a light on the dash all winter and missing an important warning.

6. FUEL/MILEAGE

Why am I not getting near the advertised fuel mileage? Why does my mileage drop so severely in winter? Do I have to use premium?

Numbers are generated in laboratory under climate-controlled conditions at lower than real-world speeds. Winter often brings a 20 to 25 per cent increase in consumption because of the extra load on engine by ancillaries and the rich fuel mixture for cold starts. Premium gas cleans an engine and gives it more power, but it’s not necessary all the time.

7. CLEAN-UP

My dealer recommends an engine/transmission/injector cleaning. Is this necessary?

This is usually just a revenue generator – except if a vehicle spends a large amount of time idling, which results in a build-up of condensation in the bottom end. Generally speaking, a tank of quality premium fuel every once in a while will keep the injectors and combustion area clean.

8. BRAKES

My brakes vibrate, squeal, grab. Why?

Brakes consist of rotating components and pads that are pushed (drum) or squeezed (discs) against them. If the drum or disc is out of round it will vibrate, shake and grab. If something get stuck between the pads and the surface of the drum or disc, it will cause a noise.

9. STORAGE

What steps do I take when putting my car away for the winter and getting it out in the spring? What about the battery and tires?

Clean the car inside and out, change the oil, run it until really warm, inflate the tires above normal pressure and put some desiccant inside to absorb moisture. Leave the battery in place and invest $25 in a battery tender. Come spring, check tire pressures, and try to crank the engine over few times before starting to circulate oil.

10. TIMING BELTS

Is it necessary to change when recommended? How far can you go afterward? Why are they so expensive?

The timing belt is the lifeline of an engine. If it stretches too far or breaks, the results can be catastrophic – and expensive. Don’t press your luck. Replacement is expensive because of the labour involved to remove and replace many components so that the belt can be reached and replaced.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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