Newsletter No 41
might think that the unusually cool summer would have been easy on our
AC systems. I would have thought so too, but it dawned on me the
other day that we had a larger than normal number of complaints about
smelly air from the vents. With the benefit of hindsight, the
reasons become obvious.
If the air coming out of
the vents of your car is smelly, it is usually due to mold and mildew
growing on the evaporator. Why is that, Mr. Science?
Most of the energy that goes into the AC system goes to dehumidifying
the air , not cooling it. The cooling and dehumidifying
take place on a part called the evaporator. So, whenever the AC
is on, the evaporator is very wet. If you are using the AC
nonstop, the evaporator stays very cold and the mold doesn't grow as
much. This summer, AC usage was not as nonstop as normal.
So when the systems slowed down a bit and stopped working so hard, mold
growth took off.
If you have been afflicted by this problem, you
know how annoying it can be. And you may know how difficult it
can be to resolve. The best fix is prevention. Just turn
off your AC a couple of minutes before parking the car; it will give
the evaporator time to warm up and dry off, cutting mold growth
significantly. You will continue to feel cold air coming out of
the vents even with AC off, so your comfort will not be affected.
MR. STEWART ROONEY
you ever noticed how frustrating it can be, using the phone these
days? For example, it seems that every time you
call a company, you get an undecipherable menu of choices (none of
which seem to fit your situation). It used to be that once you
worked your way through that mess, you at least got someone to talk
to. Now, when you finally do get a real person, they either have
no idea what they are talking about, or they barely speak your
language, or they just plain can't help. Is this some great
conspiracy to make us communicate via the internet – by
making it impossible to do business by phone? And what about the
quality of the customer service at the other end of the line?
recently called a well-known computer company about a problem
that I was having with one of their network components. I spent
an exasperating hour with their "support" person. It might have
been easier if his grasp of English was better, but I certainly can’t
fault him for that. After wasting an hour on this call to India
-- what does a call to India cost anyway – I still had a broken
network. How does a guy work a tech line at three in the morning
(in India) anyhow?
And how about a guy we’ll call poor Dave (not
his real name). He woke up one morning and discovered his car had
a flat tire. A quick call to his motor club should have resulted
in a tow truck or someone to fix the flat, right? This ordeal
went from being a call to who knows where, to having some guy show up
in a tee shirt wielding an old cross-style lug wrench. When this
guy showed up in a passenger car, not wearing a uniform, Dave
wasn't sure if he was getting robbed or rescued. When Mr. Tee
Shirt couldn't even get the wheel off, Dave went 'off'.
Eventually a real truck was dispatched and Dave got to work (very late).
why can't you call a store to see if they have something you
need? I made a call looking for a simple bracket to
finish a computer upgrade. I can't even imagine how far away that
call got routed. I was told that the bracket is available on the
company’s web site. Gee, great! The service techs in our
local store probably have a bunch of them sitting around, but there is
no way for me to call and find out.
One last thing. Maybe
it shows my age, but I remember when you could actually DIAL a
phone. Remember the old rotary dial phone? In fact, I still
have one of those in my closet. I get it out every now and then
and pretend I am dialing a number. Sometimes, in mock anger, I
grab the handset in one hand and heft the phone in the other. I
shout at the mouthpiece and wave the cradle around. Then I drop
the cradle onto the desk and fall back into my chair while the ring of
the little bells trails off. For a moment, the pure sound of the
bell fading into silence makes me ignore the hum of modern life.
Just for a moment...
There is big news in
the field of tires. For the first time in history, there is an
all-season tire that is truly all-season. By that, I mean that
the tire works very well in winter’s snow and ice, and performs just as
well in the heat of summer. And, most importantly, the tires have
a long lifetime, unlike the current crop of so-called all-season tires.
you know me, you know that I am very picky about tires, and am a strong
advocate of having a separate set of winter tires. Until now, the
drill has been that you buy an extra set of wheels and put the winter
tires on them. For many folks, the hassle of storing and changing
the wheels twice a year made this an impossibility. Now that is
no longer a problem. You can use the same tires and wheels year
round, without driving on dangerous tires when the roads are slippery.
may be wondering why it took so many years for someone to figure out
how to do this. It is a combination of technical advances and
government regulation. The Finnish government is responsible for
this one. They require that any car driven in the winter be
equipped with tires that meet minimum traction standards. These
standards, in the past, could only be met by snow tires and
winter tires, but I am sure that the Finns complained about having to
store and change their tires, too! Hence a demand was born for
one tire that really could be used year-round.
in rubber technology and tire design have allowed Nokian Tires to make
this tire, the WR, do it all. They even back it up with a
50,000-mile tread warranty. We recommend that the next time you
need to replace your existing tires, or if you’re considering winter
tires, call us and get a quote on a set of Nokian WR’s – the only tire
approved by the Finnish government for year-round use!
KEY TO KEYS
newer cars have keys that include tiny radio transmitters in addition
to the metal blade that does the mechanical locking and
unlocking. The transmitter “talks” to the computer when the key
is inserted into the ignition, and if the codes agree, you can then
start the car. If the codes do not agree, you are stuck.
You need to know if this is true for your car – ignorance can be really
expensive. I recently read a story of a Camry owner who lost both
of his keys. He ended up spending $3,000 to have replacement keys
made. How’s that? These keys are electronically coded to
the car’s computer. If you do not have a coded key, you cannot
have a copy made from scratch that will be able to communicate with the
computer....so, you have to replace the computer and get new coded
keys. Besides, it’s always dangerous to have just one car key.
to see more keys that eliminate the metal blade entirely. Several
cars have this already, including many of the new Prius cars.
key only needs to be with you-in your pocket, for instance. The
car will"see" the key coming and unlock the doors. Then it will
let you start and drive away with the push of a single button.
LETTERS TO THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
We are pleased to announce the return of that rare but popular newsletter feature –
the Foreign Correspondent is back in town.
Correspondent: The battery in my 99 Honda Civic is five years
old. It got through the summer just fine. Do you think it
will get through the winter okay? Hopefully, Marge A. Nil
Marge: Any battery older than four or five years is
unreliable. Contrary to what a lot of drivers think, summer can
actually be harder on a battery than winter can! My advice would
be to replace it before it fails. Look at it this way: if
it does fail, the cost of towing the car will probably be the same as
the cost of the battery, and you’ll need a new battery anyway.
Correspondent: My owner’s manual says that my Subaru timing belt
was due at 60,000 miles. Can’t you just look at my timing
belt and tell me if it needs to be replaced, like you can with an
Yours, Brent A. Valve
We can look at a timing belt and tell you if it looks extremely old, or
if it is cracked, weathered, etc. However, some timing belts age
very well, and an older belt can look fairly new. Remember too
that there is no way of predicting if a timing belt will jump (off its
toothed cog), leaving you stranded. We recommend following your
manufacturer’s advice on replacement interval. If your owner’s
manual doesn’t mention timing belts, never assume that you don’t have
to replace it! Give us a call for a mileage recommendation.
Correspondent: The air conditioning in our 96 Volvo just stopped
working! Can we bring it in for a quick recharge?
Warm regards, Ben Friezen & Bjorn Kuul
Ben and Bjorn: Well, we could just recharge your AC, assuming
that it’s low or empty of refrigerant. But if the system has
developed a leak, it would be wiser to find and fix the leak! Any
refrigerant dumped into a leaking system is just going to leak out, the
system will get warm again, and the money you spent on the recharge
will have been wasted.
Dear Correspondent: The “check engine” light in my car is on. Can you give me an estimate on fixing it?
Signed, Maya Leitsaan
Maya: The short answer to your question is no, because we can’t
estimate a repair until we know what the repair is. A car’s
“check engine” light or “MIL” (malfunction indicator lamp) can be
triggered by many different things. The reason the light comes on
is that some component has told it to, via a computer signal. For
example, if the car doesn’t like the way you put the gas cap back on at
the fueling station, it will sometimes set a code. Or you could
have a failing oxygen sensor, or an oxygen sensor that thinks it’s
failing but really isn’t... Confused? We always test a suspect
component before we recommend replacement. Modern car computers
are extremely sensitive, and sometimes we just need to record and then
erase the codes and send you on your way.
Correspondent: I have a 2001 Saab. I want to learn more
about my car, like what pattern failures it might have. What do
you recommend for a good on-line information source? I know that
a lot of stuff on the web is garbage!
Sincerely, Dewey Yurcellpher
Dewey: I’d recommend that you check out www.alldata.com.
All-Data is one of the top providers of automotive information to
professionals and to individuals. You can purchase an information
subscription for $24.95 per year. Three carmakers don’t make
their information available to the non-professionals – Honda, Acura and
Stop in to visit us, or if you have any questions about your cars, call us at 651-635-0395.