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(JONATHAN HAYWARD/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
(JONATHAN HAYWARD/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

You & Your Car

Why pay premium prices when regular will do? Add to ...

With gas prices going up, I want to switch to regular fuel in my Touareg, which calls for premium. The difference of several cents for every gallon makes a big difference for me since I commute between the GTA and Barrie every day - that's more than 50,000 km a year just for the daily drive. Also, I assume I should shop for fuel by price. They are all the same, right? They all come out of the same refinery, don't they? - Jim in Barrie

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Yes, you can use the lower-price fuel. The engine control computer will retard the spark slightly to allow for the lower octane and you will have slightly less power.

But even if the fuels comes from the same refinery, they are different as each major fuel company has a very specific set of additives.

In addition, refineries have to predict what the weather is going to be like and adjust fuels accordingly. Fuels made for winter use have certain properties that make it easier to start an engine. Those blended for summer use are more resistant to heat soak and vaporization.

During a technical seminar at AJAC's Canadian Car Of The Year "Technology of the Year" judging, scientists from Shell's research facilities in Texas described how fuels have to be formulated not only for extreme weather conditions, but a variety of other factors; these days, exhaust emissions are the chief criteria.

Fuel oil companies are now pressed to meet specific requirements established by vehicle manufacturers, several of which - BMW, General Motors, Ford, Honda, Toyota and VW - have set standards for fuels referred to as "Top Tier."

Esso, Petro-Canada, Shell and Sunoco are the companies meeting these standards in Canada. With Top Tier fuels, regular must meet the same standards as premium. With non-Top Tier fuels, premium will generally have a greater amount of detergents added.

So my advice is to use Premium if buying based on price from an outlet not mentioned above or use regular from a Top Tier supplier. But read your warranty documents closely to ensure you are not creating a situation where the company could claim you were the source of a problem.

*****

Hood latch

I have a 2002 VW Golf. I check the oil and have to regularly top up the washer fluid and have found the hood latch is getting harder and harder to pull. Sometimes the little thing that sticks out from the grill to release the secondary latch isn't too anxious to do its job. Do I need to have the entire assembly replaced? - Kim in Charlottetown

Ah, that pesky salt air! Corrosion is a terrible thing, the plague of all car owners. I suspect the cable running from under your dash to the hood release and the mechanism itself are suffering the effects of all those years in your Maritime climate.

A few dollars at Canadian Tire and you should be able to do this yourself. Spray some brake cleaner on the latch assembly - be careful not to get any on the paint. Then spray, the latch, the point where the wire goes inside the cable and where the "little thing" attaches to the latch with some white (lithium) grease.

With the hood open, pull the lever inside several times to ensure the grease is distributed. And while you've got that white grease handy, give a shot to the door, hood and trunk hinges.

*****

Florida-Ontario tires

We drive a Lexus LS to and from our homes in Florida and Ontario. It is a perfect highway cruiser and my wife and I almost look forward to those long trips. The mileage is getting up there, but so far it has been perfectly reliable vehicle. I follow all factory-recommended schedules and am approaching the point where the original tires will need to be replaced. We winter in Florida so I don't need to consider driving in snow. I am not a hot-rodder so performance is not a consideration, either. I can, of course, have the dealer replace them on the next service, but thought I'd ask your opinion first. - William in Sudbury

I'd suggest an all-season tire because of your driving habits.

If you stayed in Florida year-round, a summer tire would be a good choice, but because you likely encounter some cooler fall and spring conditions I'd go with all-season.

Obviously, ride quality and noise levels are more important than outright cornering grip and there are tires designed for those very traits. Tire engineers have a wide variety of considerations when developing a tire - ride, noise, wear, wet and dry traction, rolling resistance, load capacity, etc. By playing with everything from compound and tread design to sidewall stiffness, they are able to come up with tires that are better in some areas.

The Goodyear Assurance ComfortTred Touring is a perfect example. This is a premium tire designed for luxury cars with emphasis on ride quality and low noise levels. The tread is filled with densely packed blocks for low noise levels while an extra layer of rubber between the tread steel belts gives 20 per cent more cushion than standard tires, especially noticeable on expansion joints on those concrete Florida roads and potholes here at home.

One last tip: look for a tire shop that will Road Balance the new tires. This relatively new, and not inexpensive ($100-$150) procedure, requires a special piece of equipment that determines the high spot on each wheel and tire individually and matches them up the best combination of the eight. It also uses a laser and rotates each mounted wheel and tire under a load to check for any tendency to pull to one side and then recommends the proper placement of each on the vehicle.

Sounds a bit space age but I've experienced the difference and it can be dramatic. The tires are the only contact your car has with the road - a few extra dollars spent here will make those long trips even more enjoyable.

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