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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


A little knowledge can help

Many drivers are perplexed when dealing with vehicle problems and repairs.  The apprehension generally stems from an uncertainty of automobile systems and their operation, and a recent tire company survey of 2000 vehicle owners supports this notion.

With only ten percent of the population considered auto enthusiasts, the outcome of the survey is not surprising.  Most respondents said they feel intimidated when they deal with a mechanic. 

Among other findings, the study revealed that about half of those under the age of 35 surveyed can’t operate a stick shift.  That’s not so crucial anymore, since only about five percent of vehicles can be had with a manual transmission, but using one definitely enhances one’s understanding of how engine power translates to motion.

One fourth of the respondents said they could not fix a flat tire.  Also, not as imperative as it once was, since flats are rare — some models no longer even have a spare tire.  Still, being able to change a tire shows some understanding of an auto.

More alarming, since tire pressure is so important to vehicle safety, handling and tire life, a fourth of the study group said they don’t know how to use a tire gauge.  Although tire pressure monitoring systems are alleviating a degree of this responsibility, it’s good to know of a leak before the 15 to 20 percent air loss that triggers the warning light.

With no expectation that everyone should become an automotive expert, knowing your vehicle can enhance the life and operation of it.  Also, some knowledge can ease concern over dealing with technicians appointed to make repairs.

 Always stick with a service and repair facility that you trust.  Even the sharpest owner can’t do everything themselves these days — diagnostics for newer vehicles requires substantial equipment investment, and trained technicians.

It doesn’t have to be your hobby, but having knowledge of your car’s operation and maintenance is vital.  The owner’s manual is a good place to begin this education — a wealth of information is contained therein, such as operational instructions, fluid recommendations, maintenance intervals and visual inspection procedures.  You might even consider a basic auto information class at a community college if you feel lost around mechanical stuff.

Your gauges monitor crucial items like coolant temperature, oil pressure, charging system, and fuel.  Get to know the normal operating ranges of these indicators, keeping an eye on them for advance warnings of potential disaster.

Make note of unusual noises while driving.  To better communicate with technicians about them, decide if you are hearing a thump, click, clang, bang, whir, buzz, scrape, or pop, and be able to describe when they occur.  Some noises are heard only when cold or when hot, at certain speeds, when accelerating, when braking, et cetera.  An accurate description of the noise, along with where it is coming will aid technicians attempting diagnosis.

Fuel leaks are detected by smell as much as sight — if you smell fuel during normal operation, it is not normal.  Coolant leaks are not normal either, and often appear as greenish-yellow puddles under the engine area.  Newer cars, though, use a reddish-colored coolant that appears much like automatic transmission fluid when it makes a puddle.  Older cars may leak a bit of oil or transmission fluid without much harm, but if coolant is leaking, a fix is in order.

A little knowledge can be a good thing.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at