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lou's garage

Imagine it’s the morning of a snowstorm with most Canadians digging their vehicles out and reluctantly making their way into work. They fight deep snow drifts and ram their vehicles through mountains of snow left by passing plows. After sitting in the office all day, they head home on the highway and notice a strange vibration that gets noticeably worse the faster they drive. Immediately they start replaying their drive to work, wondering if they hit a curb or some other buried obstacle. A phone call is typically placed to their local repair shop the next day.

I receive this phone call after every major snowstorm. So, what’s going on? Well, it’s quite simple. It’s a snow and ice buildup. When you navigated to work on the unplowed roads, snow was pitched and launched everywhere. One such place its collects is on the insides of your wheels. Your vehicle’s braking system is friction-based, generating a lot of heat and when you parked at work, that heat in the braking system transferred into the wheels. It melted the snow packed within the wheels slowly. Naturally, gravity went to work and melting snow slid downward, collecting at the lowest point where it refroze once all the brake heat dissipated. This leaves a massive, out-of-balance wheel condition that, despite what you are thinking, is totally obvious and quite disconcerting while driving.

The easiest solution is to park your vehicle in a heated garage overnight and let the snow naturally melt. An underground parking lot is sometimes warm enough to do the job, but not always, so here are some other options.

Wheels with large open spokes have sufficient space to use a snow brush and gently break up the frozen snow. Be careful with the brush for obvious safety reasons and as well to not harm any of the sensors located in the wheel hub area. Alternatively, a drive-thru automated car wash with underside clean may do a satisfactory job, but more often a self-serve coin operated car wash is the better option. Direct the stream of high-pressure water into the affected wheel and blast off the snow and ice. You can also purchase a de-icing compound from your local auto parts store and try to get it into the desired area. When all else fails, you can remove the wheel and do it the hard way. However, if the vibrations persist even after a thorough cleaning, maybe you did indeed hit a hidden curb and should seek professional assistance.


Your automotive questions, answered

Lou,

I have been “battling” Subaru Canada about car servicing and new-car warranty preservation since the beginning of the year.

I own a 2019 Forester, delivered at the end of May 2019. Subaru’s service schedule is every six months or 10,000 kilometres, with every 12-month (i.e., every second servicing) a relatively extensive one, costing hundreds of dollars. My most recent servicing was in mid-January, my 30,000-kilometre service (effectively an oil change plus some modest inspections).

As I am now approaching a month prior to my second anniversary of ownership, when the extensive – and expensive – 24-month/40,000-kilometre servicing is due, I am annoyed with Subaru Canada.

Specifically, my odometer reading is currently approximately 32,000. That’s no surprise as I live in Toronto where we have been under an effective lockdown since November 2020. One would expect Subaru to be somewhat flexible on their service schedule given the pandemic and its restrictions. Indeed, my auto insurance company gave me a modest rebate last year (as did many, I gather), acknowledging that I probably did less driving than usual. Rather, I received an e-mail from Subaru Canada today noting specifically that any deviation from their service schedule would compromise my new-car warranty!

To me they are being unreasonable, and perhaps a bit greedy. I do drive the car regularly, typically every second day, and it does get 30-plus minute runs several times a week, but I don’t get in many long runs on the highway, since the provincial government is telling me to stay at home. (By the way, I use synthetic oil.)

Please let me know if you agree with me that Subaru Canada needs to be more flexible and perhaps revise the recommended maintenance interval or the prescribed maintenance procedures. Is this worthy of a published comment on your part, and perhaps Subaru (or general OEM) shaming? Indeed, should I escalate this to government consumer protection agencies?

As a courtesy, I am copying my correspondent at Subaru Canada on this message. I will gladly share my e-mail correspondence with Subaru with you.

By the way, I contacted the service department of the Subaru dealer in Toronto that I frequent, and they suggested a bit of flexibility in the service schedule, but they, of course, are not underwriting my warranty.

Regards,

Mike T

I commonly research and offer advice on maintenance intervals for my own customers as many are in the same situation as yourself; stuck at home because of the pandemic. Here is what I have experienced over the years. Dealers for the most part, but not always, follow the guidelines as set forth by their perspective manufacturer, more on this later.

Easing up or being more flexible with manufacturer maintenance guidelines is going to be too difficult to apply at scale. All vehicles travel differing amounts per year, and this would make for chaos when trying to figure out which warranty claim should be honoured, and which one should be declined because of lack of proper maintenance. There must be one set of rules that applies to all owners, and I do not see any modifications to these policies coming any time soon. Like it or not, while your vehicle is covered under the manufacture warranty, you will have to play by their rules. Once the warranty has expired, you are free to do as you wish.

However, there may be two differing maintenance schedules listed within your owner’s manual. Namely, light service or severe service requirements. In Canada, all dealers, regardless of brand, follow the severe service schedule. They do this because of the colder Canadian climate, which certainly has merit, but we all know there is a secondary benefit for the dealer – more service revenue.

An argument could be made for you to discuss with your dealer switching to the light service schedule if one is available for your vehicle.


I am having an issue with my car. I have a 2007 Ford Taurus and it will only let me put about $4 worth of gas into it before it starts to spit it back out at me. In the past couple years when I would put gas in, it would let me put five gallons in, then it would shut off and I would have to pull the pump out a little bit and then it would let me finish pumping. But now it stops all the time. I’m a single mom with not much money and was going to try to fix myself because I do know a bit about cars.

Help please

Audra L

The pump is kicking off because your fuel tank is not venting properly or is blocked. Determining where the problem lies may or may not be easy, and is most often left to a professional, but I understand that you want to give it a try yourself, so here is what I can offer. If you have a code reader, check for any evaporative emission system fault codes (EVAP). They will usually be in the P046X range and may indicate a faulty, leaking charcoal canister, fuel tank pressure sensor or canister vent solenoid. If you have any such codes, you will have to research the testing and replacement procedures for those items.

Given the age of the vehicle however, I would be looking closely at the fuel filler neck and filler neck flapper valve as they are probably very rusty by now. Rust may have dropped down the neck and is now blocking the filler tube which would support the reasoning as to why it got worse recently.

Good luck Audra.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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