Monthly Archives: June 2016

When Windshield on the Right Way

When faced with replacing a windshield, many car owners default to the lowest-price option. But if you take this route and are in a serious accident, your decision could cost you your life.

An incorrectly installed windshield could pop out in an accident, allowing the roof to cave in and crush the car’s occupants. Furthermore, when the front airbags deploy, they exert a tremendous force on the windshield and will blow out one that is not firmly glued in place.

“There are a lot of schlock operators” installing windshields, says Debra Levy, president of the Auto Glass Safety Council, which offers certification for installers. She says using original manufacturer’s glass is a plus, but choosing a good installer is even more important. To find a certified shop, visit Safewindshields.org and type your ZIP code into the box at the top of the page. Certification is valuable because it keeps installers up to date on advances in adhesives and changing automotive designs.

David Beck, one of two technicians at Windshield Express, near Salt Lake City, installs eight windshields a day and has been working in the auto glass business for 18 years. Beck agrees that certification is important and warns that there are many “tailgaters” — installers with no brick-and-mortar shop — who quickly “slam” windshields into cars with little regard for safety. They don’t handle the windshield correctly, don’t use the proper adhesives and leave the car unsafe for driving and prone to rusting and leaks.

“The thing I wish that drivers knew was that the windshield is the No. 1 safety restraint in your vehicle,” Beck says. The windshield is two sheets of glass held together by an inner layer of strong vinyl. When the windshield breaks, the vinyl holds the glass in place rather than allowing the shards to fall into the car and cut the occupants.

The windshield is a layer of protection that “keeps you inside the car and things out of the car,” Beck says. “This is not the place to cut corners on and go with the cheapest price.”

Steve Mazor, the Auto Club of Southern California’s chief automotive engineer, adds that if the windshield isn’t strong enough and an occupant is thrown from a speeding car, “the odds of survival are much less.” Thirty percent of all fatalities, he says, are due to people being ejected from the car.

An investigation by the ABC News program 20/20 on windshield safety shows technicians incorrectly installing windshields by not wearing gloves. The grease from their hands prevents the adhesives from bonding correctly, Beck explains. Another error that 20/20 caught was technicians failing to use all the necessary bonding agents, such as primer.

When you are looking for a good windshield installer, Levy recommends calling three shops and asking a few qualifying questions beyond just price and certification.

Levy says to ask the shops if they use original equipment glass, which is usually of higher quality and fits better. Also, she suggested asking how long the car should sit after the installation is complete. “If they say you can take the car right away, you should run in the opposite direction,” Levy says. A car should sit at least one hour before being driven and sometimes up to 12 hours, she says.

Beck says if you take your car to a dealership for a windshield replacement, it will just subcontract the job to a glass shop and then mark up the price about 30 percent. He recommends going directly to the glass shop to save money. However, when a car is new, the dealership might be the only place to stock the glass, as was the case for a 2011 Infiniti M56 Edmunds long-term test car where the windshield replacement cost $1,300.

Most windshield installation jobs take only about an hour and can be done at your home or office, Beck says. Once the installer is finished, check for signs that the job was completed correctly. Make sure the molding is straight and that there is no sign of adhesives visible inside the car, Beck says. The car should be clean inside. Debris or dirt left in your car could be the sign of sloppy workmanship, he says.

In some cases, a rock chip or star in the windshield can be repaired, saving you the cost of a new windshield. Mazor says some installers claim that cracks can be repaired even if they’re up to 15 inches long, but only if they intersect just one edge of the windshield.

Beck says rock chips, which he also fixes, are easier to repair when the damage has just occurred. Over time, rain washes dirt into the crack, making it harder to seal. He suggests carrying a roll of clear tape in the glove compartment to quickly cover a crack until it can be fixed.

Beck injects polymer into rock chips and cracks. After the polymer cures, he smoothes the area so it doesn’t affect the travel of the windshield wipers. Beck says that if he gets to the repair within a week of the damage, he can generally make it disappear. Windshield Express’ owner, Bryan Petersen says his rate for rock chip repairs is $29.95 for mobile jobs and $19.95 in the shop.

In the Los Angeles area, the rates for windshield repairs are higher — in the range of $65. Windshield repair kits are available at automotive stores for the do-it-yourselfer, but they don’t do the job as well as the professionals can do it. The pros have better equipment and much more experience.

The Auto Glass Safety Council’s Levy says studies show that windshield rock chips or cracks that are in your field of vision can actually slow your response to emergency traffic situations. She also says that old windshields that are pitted or hazed should be replaced — even if they are not broken — since they can magnify the glare of the headlights from oncoming cars at night.

Mazor says that a new windshield might be cheaper than you would think. In many cases, windshield repair is covered by car insurance (under your comprehensive coverage — not collision). The deductible for comprehensive coverage is sometimes only $50 or $100, so that would be the cost of a new windshield.

Change Your Brake Pad

download-58You will be pleasantly surprised to find that you can change your car’s disc brake pads quickly, easily and without specialized tools. Doing it yourself also will save you a lot of money. But even if you’re not interesting in doing this yourself, knowing what’s involved makes it easier to understand what your mechanic may someday tell you.

Nearly all cars these days have front disc brakes. Front brakes usually wear out more quickly than the rear brakes (which could either be disc or drum brakes), so they need to be changed more often. You need to change brake pads when they get too thin, especially if they begin to make a persistent metallic squeaking or grinding noise when you press the brake pedal. But noise alone isn’t always the best indicator, so it’s best to anticipate when this will happen by periodically inspecting the thickness of the brake pads.

Note: If the front end of the car vibrates when you apply the brakes, your brake rotors may be warped. If the rotors appear grooved or uneven, they may be scored. In either case the rotors may also need to be replaced or “turned” on a brake lathe, a procedure not covered here. You may need a professional’s help for this, but you can see what’s involved in a rotor change by looking here.

Money saved: About $250 for most cars and much more for luxury or performance cars

Time Required: 1 hour

Tools Required

  • Disposable mechanic’s gloves to protect your hands and keep them clean
  • Jack and jack stands
  • Lug wrench
  • C-clamp or length of wood to retract the piston
  • Wrench (choose a socket, open end or adjustable wrench)
  • Turkey baster for drawing out brake fluid
  • Plastic tie, bungee cord or piece of string

Materials Required

  • New brake pads. Since you are saving money by doing this yourself, you might want to consider splurging a bit by buying original manufacturer brake pads, which are more expensive.
  • Can of brake fluid — check your owner’s manual for the proper type.

Had You Tires With Nitrogen

A member of the Dodge Challenger owners’ forum was buying a new car from a dealer and noticed green valve-stem caps on all four tires. The salesman told him that the tires had been filled with nitrogen, which would keep the tire pressure and temperature more consistent and that it would prevent tire rot from the inside out. It wasn’t a free add-on, though. The “nitrogen upgrade” was a $69 item on the supplemental window sticker. Another forum member later posted that his dealer was charging $179 for this same “upgrade.”

Some dealerships and tire stores claim that filling your tires with nitrogen will save you money on gas while offering better performance than air. But a closer look reveals that nitrogen has few benefits and much higher costs. For starters, a typical nitrogen fill-up will cost you about $6 per tire.

Why Nitrogen?
The Get Nitrogen Institute Web site says that with nitrogen tire inflation, drivers will note improvements in a vehicle’s handling, fuel efficiency and tire life. All this is achieved through better tire-pressure retention, improved fuel economy and cooler-running tire temperatures, the institute says.

This sounds great in theory but let’s take a closer look at each of those claims.

  • Better tire-pressure retention: Over time, a tire will gradually lose pressure. Changes in temperature will accelerate this. The general rule of thumb is a loss of 1 psi for every 10-degree rise or fall in temperature. The institute says that nitrogen has a more stable pressure, since it has larger molecules than oxygen that are less likely to seep through the permeable tire walls.

    In 2006, Consumer Reports conducted a year-long study to determine how much air loss was experienced in tires filled with nitrogen versus those filled with air. The results showed that nitrogen did reduce pressure loss over time, but it was only a 1.3 psi difference from air-filled tires. Among 31 pairs of tires, the average loss of air-filled tires was 3.5 psi from the initial 30 psi setting. Nitrogen-filled tires lost an average of 2.2 psi from the initial setting. Nitrogen won the test, but not by a significant margin.

  • Improved fuel economy: The EPA says that under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. The theory is that since nitrogen loses pressure at a slower rate than air, you are more likely to be at the correct psi and therefore get better fuel economy.

    If you are proactive and check your tire pressure at least once a month, you can offset this difference with free air, and you won’t need expensive nitrogen. We think this invalidates the “better fuel economy with nitrogen” argument.

    For many people, however, this kind of maintenance is easier said than done. Most people either forget to regularly check and top off their tires, or never learned how to do it in the first place. Even Edmunds employees (typically a pretty car-savvy group) were under-inflating or over-inflating their tires, according to a tire-pressure study we conducted a few years ago.

    And though tire-pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) now come standard on cars, a 2009 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that only 57 percent of vehicles with TPMS had the correct tire pressure. That’s because most systems are only meant to signal that a tire has very low pressure, not to show that the pressure is optimal.

  • Cooler running temperatures: When air is pressurized, the humidity in it condenses to a liquid and collects in the air storage tank you use at the local gas station. When you add compressed air to the tire, the water comes along for the ride. As the tire heats up during driving, that water changes to a gas, which then expands, increasing tire pressure. Because nitrogen is dry, there is no water in the tire to contribute to pressure fluctuations.

    But this fluctuation in temperature isn’t as significant as you might think. A 2008 ExxonMobil studyplotted the changes in temperature over the course of various inflation pressures. The lines on the graph were virtually on top of each other. In other words, the change in temperature when using nitrogen was negligible.

  • Prevent wheel rot: Nitrogen proponents will also point out that water in a tire can lead to wheel rot. A tire engineer who anonymously maintains Barry’s Tire Tech, a blog on a number of tire issues, says this isn’t really a problem with modern cars.

    “Alloy wheels don’t really have a problem with water inside the tire,” the engineer writes in a post on nitrogen inflation. “They are coated to keep aluminum from forming aluminum oxide, which forms a crust, which isn’t very attractive. But even then, this crust protects the aluminum from further corrosion from the water.”

    Where wheels have problems is when the aluminum alloy contacts steel, such as the steel spring clip used on wheel weights. It’s a particular issue when salt is present, the engineer writes. “But this problem is totally independent of the inflation gas,” he says. “Steel wheels only have a problem if the paint is damaged.”

Gas Bad for Your Car

Gasoline is expensive and you’re looking for every way possible to save money at the pump. You already shy away from premium fuel, knowing that your car doesn’t require it. You’d like to save a few pennies per gallon more by going to an off-brand gas station. But you can’t get rid of the nagging fear: Is the cheap gas going to damage your car’s engine?

Edmunds.com put this question to experts in several fields, including an automotive engineer at a major carmaker, gasoline manufacturers and two engineers with the American Automobile Association (AAA). It boils down to this: You can stop worrying about cheap gas. You’re unlikely to hurt your car by using it.

Because of the advances in engine technology, a car’s onboard computer is able to adjust for the inevitable variations in fuel, so most drivers won’t notice a drop off in performance between different brands of fuel, from the most additive-rich gas sold by the major brands to the bare-bones stuff at your corner quickie mart.

Still, spending a few extra pennies per gallon might provide peace of mind to someone who just purchased a new car and wants to keep it as long as possible. People with older cars might not be as concerned about their engine’s longevity. They can buy the less expensive gas and still be OK.

Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer with the Automobile Club of Southern California, summed it up this way: “Buy the cheapest gas that is closest to you.”

Recipes for Performance — at a Price
But this doesn’t mean that all gas is the same, even though it starts out that way. The fuel from different filling stations comes from a common source: the “base gas” from a refinery. Workers there mix additives mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency into the base gas in order to clean a car’s engine and reduce emissions. Then, the different gas companies — both off-brand and major brands — put their own additive packages in the gas to further boost both cleaning and performance.

A key difference is that the major brands put more additives in their gas and claim to have some secret ingredients. This extra shot of additives provides an additional level of cleaning and protection for your engine.

But is this extra helping of additives, which jacks up the price, really necessary? And, if you don’t use more expensive, extra-additive gas, how soon will your engine’s performance suffer?

“It’s not like any of the fuels are totally junk,” says John Nielsen, director of engineering and repair for the AAA. “If you buy gas from Bob’s Bargain Basement gas station because that’s all that’s available, it won’t hurt your car,” he says.

The real difference is the amount of additives that are in the gas, Nielsen says. More additives essentially afford more protection — but they also cost more.

Some automakers and oil companies believe that the amount of government-required additives isn’t enough to protect engines. They have created a Top Tier gasoline designation. It means that those gasoline brands sell fuels that provide more and better additives.

Nielsen recommends that drivers look in their car’s owner’s manual to see what the carmaker recommends and, when possible, follow that guideline. People who are still concerned about gasoline quality can ask a specific oil company if it has performed independent testing to substantiate its claims.

Selling the Secret Sauce in Gasoline
The major oil companies spend millions of dollars convincing buyers that their gas is superior by creating ads that feature smiling cartoon cars, lab-coated nerds and sooty engine valves. Buy Shell’s nitrogen-enriched gas, for instance, and you won’t get a buildup of “gunk” in your engine, company advertising promises.

Is all this just a marketing gimmick?

“I am a Ph.D. chemist, a nerdy guy who wears a white coat,” says Jim Macias, Shell Oil Company’s fuels marketing manager. “We really believe there are differences in fuels. We can see it, feel it and measure it.”

Macias says the gunk caused by fuels with insufficient additives can foul fuel injectors and even trigger “Check Engine” lights in as few as 10,000 miles.

But not everyone is keen to talk about gasoline quality and whether additives really make the difference.

Edmunds sought comment from one well-known seller of low-price gas: Arco. Arco also often finds itself targeted as being a lower-quality product. BP, Arco’s parent company, did not respond to Edmunds’ interview request.

The American Petroleum Institute provided background comments about fuel additives and promised to provide an expert for an interview. The API spokesman never called back.

Finally, Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, an independent, nonprofit testing facility, also declined to comment on the question of gasoline quality.