Pays To Know Used Car Milestones

Just like Sweet 16 or the Big 4-Oh, a used car has significant turning points in its lifetime. In the case of a used car, these aren’t birthdays but instead mileage milestones, and they can affect the car’s value. If you’re planning to sell or trade in your car soon, keep your eye on the odometer and sell before hitting these significant mileage points. If you’re buying a used car, you should also know about these milestones and understand that extensive maintenance may soon be due — or should have been done already.

While the mileage always affects the price of a used car, and is factored into the Edmunds.com True Market Value (TMV®) appraisal tool, three mileage markers have a greater impact on a used car’s price. Here’s the breakdown.

First Turning Point: 30,000-40,000 Miles
Most cars come with a bumper-to-bumper factory warranty that expires at either 36,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first. This is the point at which many cars are returned to the dealer from the first “owner,” meaning the person who leased the car.

In addition, a car’s first major service visit usually comes in the range of 30,000-40,000 miles. This is when the carmaker calls for more than just an oil change and tire rotation, and it’s not uncommon for this major service to cost more than $350. In addition, certain “wear items” may soon need service. Wear items are things such as brakes and tires that are expected to wear out, as opposed to things that break and need to be repaired.

With this in mind, anyone getting ready to sell a car would want to put it up for sale a few thousand miles before the 36,000-mile mark or before the major service visit. Anyone shopping for used cars in this range should check that the required maintenance has been done. A savvy buyer could use the fact that the service hasn’t been done yet as a bargaining chip to make a lower opening offer.

To find out more about the major service visits for different cars, check the Edmunds.com Maintenance Guide.

Second Turning Point: 60,000-70,000 Miles
The second major service visit is sometimes even more expensive than the first. This is particularly true of cars that have timing belts, which coordinate the turning of the pistons and the camshaft. If this belt is not changed, it will eventually snap and could cause engine damage. This service item alone costs at least $300.

By the time a car has 60,000 miles it will almost certainly need tires and brakes, although more modern cars are going farther with less maintenance. Still, a seller can save money by selling or trading in a car well before this work is required. Edmunds’ article, “Fix Up or Trade Up,” can help guide the decision.

A buyer shopping for a good used car should look up the major service visits for the specific make and model and make sure the work has been done on the car under consideration. Also, buyers should check tires and brakes and use the information on their condition when negotiating the price.

Third Turning Point: 100,000 Miles
Twenty years ago, if a car had 100,000 miles on it, it was likely to be running on borrowed time. But cars are becoming more reliable and long-lived, so today’s 100,000-mile car is likely still in its prime. Perceptions haven’t kept pace with engineering, however, and at the 100,000-mile mark, there is a significant drop in a car’s value. For example, CarMax, the used-car store, will buy cars with 100,000 miles on them, but it won’t resell them to consumers. It will send them to used-car auctions, where other dealers might buy them at deeply discounted prices.

With this information in mind, consider selling your car while it still has fewer than 95,000 miles on it. By doing so, shoppers using online sites will find your car if they set mileage limits below the dreaded 100,000-mile mark.

To Infinity and Beyond
Once a car hits 100,000 miles, the service schedules begin to repeat themselves, requiring a major service every 30,000 or 40,000 miles. But by this time, the car’s interior and exterior condition begin to overshadow other factors. After 100,000 miles, the paint might be showing its age. There’s likely to be some wear and tear to the seats and other parts of the interior. In many cases, it will need other repairs as well, so the standard milestones become less important.

Knowing a car’s milestones and anticipating when your car will reach them can help you get the maximum value for your car when you sell it. The milestones are also important for used-car shoppers, helping them make smarter decisions when they’re negotiating and buying. By keeping an eye on the odometer, both seller and buyer can strike a better deal.

Tips for Selling Your Car

Here are 10 simple steps that will help you turn your used car into cash. Everything from pricing to advertising and negotiating is covered in this short, easy-to-follow process.

Steps to Selling Your Car

  1. Know the Market
  2. Price Your Car Competitively
  3. Give Your Car “Curb Appeal”
  4. Where to Advertise Your Car
  5. Create Ads That Sell
  6. Showing Your Car
  7. Negotiate for Your Best Price
  8. Handling Complications
  9. Finalize the Sale
  10. After the Sale

 

Step 1: Know the Market

Is your car going to be easy to sell? Is it a hot commodity? Or will you have to drop your price and search out additional avenues to sell it?

Here are a few general rules to answer these questions:

  • Family sedans, while unexciting to many, are in constant demand by people needing basic, inexpensive transportation.
  • The sale of convertibles and sports cars is seasonal. Sunny weather brings out the buyers. Fall and winter months will be slow.
  • Trucks and vans, used for work, are steady sellers and command competitive prices. Don’t underestimate their value.
  • Collector cars will take longer to sell and are often difficult to price. However, these cars can have unexpected value if you find the right buyer.

Your first step is to check on-line classified ads to see how much other sellers are asking for your type of car. Keep in mind that dealers will have different prices than private party listings. The eBay.com classifieds and other Internet sites allow you to search with specific criteria. For example, select the year and trim level of your car and see how many similar cars are currently on the market. Take note of their condition, mileage, geographic location and selling price so you can list your car at a price that will sell it quickly.

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.

How to clean your car without washing it

Triage Tip 2: A clean windshield is (almost) a clean car. Glass is easy to clean and it sparkles like a jewel once you remove the haze and grime. Visibility is a huge safety factor, but a clean windshield also just makes you feel better about your car. When you’re finished with the outside of the windshield, clean the driver-side window and side mirror, too. And for bonus points, clean the inside of the windshield and rearview mirror.

Keep a bottle of glass cleaner in your trunk, along with a roll of paper towels or the aforementioned microfiber towels. A foam spray cleaner also works well. For the really lazy folks, there’s a squeegee. In addition to cleaning, a squeegee works well in the morning when there is dew all over the windshield. Squeegee off the morning moisture and your glass won’t be left with those horrible drying marks.

Triage Tip 3: Take out the trash. It’s a car, not a dumpster. Pull up next to a trash can somewhere and throw away papers, food or other junk that dates from the second Bush administration. Better yet, put a small trash bag in your car and empty it often, Pennington suggests.

While you’re shoveling out your car, you might find a couple bucks’ worth of change. Use it to buy a car deodorizer. Pennington says car interiors can absorb smells, but there are new products that actually absorb dreaded foul odors rather than just mask them. We’ve tested a few and they seem to work.

Triage Tip 4: Shake out the floor mats. When time is tight and you don’t have a vacuum, you can simply grab your floor mats and shake off all the gravel, loose dirt, sand or — heaven forbid — used ketchup packets. The mat on the driver side probably is secured, so you’ll have to work it off the anchors first. But the other floor mats are unattached and you can simply whisk them out for a quick flapping.

Triage Tip 5: Clean the wheels and tires. Pennington says that having dirty wheels on a clean car is like wearing old shoes with a new suit. So it makes sense to make the “shoes” look as sharp as possible.

The absolutely laziest way to go is just to use a cotton rag to wipe off the flat center section of your rims. (There’s too much dirt on the rims for one of your microfiber towels to handle.) If time allows, work the rag into the spokes or crevices. You also can use a brush for the hard-to-reach areas.

Foggy headlights for your auto

download-60Most headlight restoration kits include an abrasive compound and sandpaper (in grades of varying roughness) to remove the outer layer of yellowed, oxidized plastic and clear the lens. Some include a buffing wheel that can be attached to a power drill. One YouTube video even shows headlights being cleaned with toothpaste (which is slightly abrasive) and a clean cloth towel.

One difference between the two kits — and probably the reason for the price difference — is that the Sylvania kit includes a glove, tape and a liquid “UV Block Clear Coat” to protect the lens from refogging once it has been cleaned. I have one gripe with the Sylvania kit, because the clarifying compound comes in a little packet that can’t easily be stored. This means this kit will probably be a one-shot deal. The Turtle Wax kit doesn’t have the extra goodies, but the pads can be reused and the bottles contain a larger amount of the clarifying compounds.

To be clear (so to speak), what we’re actually tackling in this project is the plastic lens covering the headlight bulbs, as shown on this 2001 Acura TL. This plastic lens protects the headlight from dirt and debris blown around on the road. Over time, these lenses become scratched, pitted and clouded by exposure to the sun. Replacing the lenses is expensive, so many car owners opt just to clean them.

The following steps are an overview of the ones I took with these two kits. Whichever kit you use, make sure you follow the included directions carefully. Use the products in the correct order and keep in mind that the headlights won’t look clear until you are finished and the residue is washed off.

Smog Check fro Passing

Before you take your car in for a smog check, is there anything you can do to give it a better chance of passing? The obvious answer is to make sure your car is running well in the first place. A well-maintained car, with all its systems operating correctly, will probably pass the smog test.

If you think your car isn’t running at 100 percent but you want to avoid the expensive repairs that would be required if you fail, there are simple steps you can take to tilt the odds of passing a smog check in your favor.

We’ll get to the details in a minute, but first it’s important to understand that smog testing, introduced in the 1970s as part of the Clean Air Act, is an essential step to keeping health-threatening pollutants out of the air. Smog check programs are in effect in 33 states to verify that your car’s emissions system is functioning properly. For more information about your local smog check requirements, check with your state’s motor vehicle registry.

“I can remember crying during recess in elementary school because the smog levels were so high,” says Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer with the Automobile Club of Southern California. He adds that in the 1960s, Los Angeles had 100 smog alerts each year. In the past 10 years there have been only two in the city. “That is almost entirely because of the improvements in emissions systems in cars,” he says.

Still, smog tests can be a bureaucratic hassle for car owners. Understanding the rules, and how to prepare for and take the test, was so confusing for the average motorist that smog check technician Eddy Asmerian created SmogTips.com with information about how to pass.

“Most people leave the smog test until the last minute,” Asmerian says. “They think, ‘If I don’t pass, I’ll worry about it then.'” But he says there is a lot they can do ahead of time to help make sure their car will get a clean bill of health.

Here are the top tips from our experts to prepare your car for a smog check:

1. Clear that “Check Engine” light.
If your car displays a “Check Engine” light, that’s an automatic smog check failure. You’ll need to get a diagnosis and fix before you test.

The most common reason for a Check Engine light is a faulty oxygen sensor, says Kristin Brocoff, director of corporate communications for CarMD.com, which sells an automotive diagnostic tool and provides repair information. Sometimes, even before an oxygen sensor fails, it becomes “lazy,” not properly regulating the gas/air mixture, and that will cause a smog check failure, Mazor says.

An oxygen sensor in an older car is a $168 part, according to CarMD data. Replacing it is a good idea. Ignoring it can lead to a more costly catalytic converter repair, which can cost more than $1,000.

2. Drive the car at highway speeds for the two weeks prior to the smog test. This gets the catalytic converter hot enough to burn out any oil and gas residues. The catalytic converter, mandated by federal law in 1974 for all U.S. cars and trucks, converts harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they leave the exhaust system. The worst thing for the proper operation of emissions systems is a series of short trips: The catalytic converter never gets hot enough to do its job, Mazor says.

3. Change the oil, but only if it needs it. Dirty oil in the crankcase could release additional pollutants, which could cause the car to fail the smog test, says Asmerian. While the mechanic is changing the oil, ask him to do a visual inspection of the car’s engine to see if any hoses are cracked, broken or disconnected.

4. Do a tune-up two weeks before the smog test. Have any required maintenance performed well before the smog test, Mazor says. Most mechanics disconnect the battery while doing a tune-up and this resets the car’s onboard computer. The car then needs two weeks of driving to run all the diagnostic tests needed to pass the smog test.

Car Owners Manual Online

Owner’s manuals may not make exciting reading, but they are packed with valuable instructions, information and warnings. We have made it easy for you to find a car owner’s manual without any digging. And by having access to a manual online or by storing it on your computer, you have convenient answers when you’re not in the car.

Almost all automakers have made owner’s manuals available on their Web sites. All of the online owner’s manuals are free, while the paper versions cost anywhere from $25-$40. Below is a list of links to help you get an online manual from a car’s manufacturer. In most cases, you can just search for a car’s year, make and model, and then view the manual. In some cases however, you’ll need to register at the carmaker’s site. Occasionally you’ll need to provide a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). You can find the VIN on the vehicle registration document, an insurance card or on the vehicle itself.

Other resources for car owner’s manuals are Web sites such as glovebox.net or “Just Give Me the Damn Manual.” They archive manuals and share them with other owners.

Many of the online car owner’s manuals also include maintenance schedules, but Edmunds makes caring for your car even easier with our Maintenance Guide, which shows the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, recalls and technical service bulletins for your car in one convenient location.

The Paper Chase
If you need to order a paper copy of a manual, you can often do so from the same site link that you would use for a downloadable manual. You also can order a manual through a local car dealer. Helm publishes manufacturer-written paper manuals for Acura, Ford, all GM brands, Honda, Isuzu, Jaguar, Lincoln, Lexus, Mercury, Toyota and Scion — for a fee. You can purchase paper manuals for Audi and VW at the links above. And if a used owner’s manual is OK with you, or you’re after the manual for an obscure model, eBay is always worth a shot.