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A DIY Car Repair, or a Job for an Expert? Five Questions to Ask Before Doing It Yourself

A DIY Car Repair, or a Job for an Expert? Five Questions to Ask Before Doing It Yourself

A DIY Car Repair, or a Job for an Expert? Five Questions to Ask Before Doing It Yourself

 

Guest post by retired ASE master technician Mark Gittelman.

It happens to the best of us: We take on a car repair only to find out the hard way that it’s more involved, more time-consuming and more expensive than we thought. Do-it-yourself repairs can be rewarding (and often cost-effective), but there are some jobs that are better left to the pros.

Here are five questions to ask yourself before taking on a weekend repair job.

#1 Is it Worth the Time and Clean-up?

Raise your hand if you can change your car’s oil with your eyes closed? While it’s true that changing oil is relatively routine and easy on most vehicles, that may not be the case with transmission fluid changes, coolant flushes or other tasks that can be messy and tedious. These jobs are among the most affordable tasks to pay a mechanic for, and the time it saves you in clean-up may be well worth it. Weigh the cost of the job against the value of your time.

#2 Could the Diagnosis be Dubious?

Sometimes a defective automotive part is obvious. Let’s use an example of an upper-radiator hose with a pinhole antifreeze leak: The brightly colored stream of engine coolant will point to the problem area, making diagnosis and repair straightforward and the parts and time involved to complete the operation minimal.

However, in many other scenarios, diagnosis can be much harder to make at home. Many automotive systems have become so complex it’s difficult for the average DIY driveway warrior to successfully fix the problem. The expense of parts and the amount of labor involved in replacing those components can make the repair financially risky as well.

Here’s a classic example of a situation where you might want to seek an expert opinion: If your modern fuel injected vehicle won’t start, you might be tempted to replace the fuel pump (although it should be pointed out that removing a fuel tank isn’t fun in the driveway – it can be dangerous, and the replacement parts are pricey). However, the issue could have nothing to do with the fuel tank at all and could instead lie in a clogged fuel filter, a bad fuel-pressure regulator or an electrical issue with the fuel injection system. A mechanic will have the tools necessary to pinpoint a diagnosis more quickly.

#3 Do I Know the Scope of the Fix?

In the example above, removing the fuel tank when the real issue lies in the electrical system can open the door for you to introduce unnecessary errors while you’re taking things apart. Similarly, taking on a repair that takes on a life of its own can mean you end up at the mechanic, spending more than you would have from the start. A mistaken home diagnosis, or a repair job that ends up being out of your scope, can ultimately lead to added expense and frustration.

#4 Do I Have the Special Tools Needed for the Job?

When you look through a factory-issued service manual and dig into the individual repair procedures, they often quote the use of special tools. Every dealership service department has a tool room filled with these required tools. In fact, in the case of an American car manufacturer, this specialized equipment is sent to each franchise operation automatically.

It’s true that in some cases you can find a way around using a tool designed specifically for a given procedure. However, this usually increases the repair time. It can also lead to the possibility of damaging surrounding components.

Take the example of the water pump on a North Star series V-8 engine. The water pump physically locks into a cooling jacket using a specialized socket. When reinstalling the water pump and aluminum water pump cover, you need two different torque wrenches. Now you’ve purchased three tools for one job. Buying two different torque wrenches and a special socket you’ll only use once in a lifetime makes this operation cost-prohibitive.

#5 Do I Need an Automotive Lift?

One of the best arguments for taking your vehicle into a professional auto repair center is when the job requires raising the automobile up on a hoist. Although it might be possible to set the car up on jack stands, you could find the height insufficient to perform the repair.

In some cases, the degree of difficulty increases exponentially when you can’t walk around underneath. Although you might be able to remove a transmission in your driveway, you will find the task difficult.

Research the project thoroughly from start to finish before buying any parts and breaking out your wrenches. While DIY car repairs can be cost-saving (and even fun), consider the implications of the task and whether a pro is more suited for the job.

Mark Gittelman is a retired ASE master technician with more than 30 years of experience. He shares tips on DIY repairs and how to maintain car value as a writer for CARFAX, an online resource for used car buying.

How to Fight Ethanol Problems in Small Engines

Phase separation

How to Fight Ethanol Problems in Small Engines

 

In 2005, Congress instituted a new renewable fuel standard that you didn’t get to vote on. In response, refiners made a wholesale switch, removing methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and blending fuel with ethanol. Ethanol helps reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, well in special engines made for ethanol only – but you’re not suppose to know that..  (even though you end up using more fuel to make up for the losses). Derived from corn (Round-up ready which destroys our health), ethanol supports U.S. agriculture (as long as they don’t ask questions and buy the seed they are forced to) and helps support energy independence. (as if allowing private railways wouldn’t but competing with AMTRAK is against the law currently).

Ethanol, however, can cause a number of problems, particularly in small engines. These problems center on the two following issues:

1) Dissolving plastics and creating deposits

Ethanol is an excellent solvent and drying agent that dissolves old gum and varnish deposits from the gas tank and fuel lines. However, it can also dissolve plastic and create deposits. Honda states that the dissolved material can clog filters or pass through and leave deposits on fuel injectors, fuel pumps, fuel-pressure regulators, carburetor jets, intake tracts, valves and valve guides.

Small-engine manufacturer ECHO agrees, stating in its warranty that these deposits can lead to poor engine performance; loss of power; overheating; fuel vapor lock; improper clutch engagement caused by increased engine idle speeds, which allows cutting attachments to turn while the unit is idling; and premature deterioration of fuel lines, gaskets, carburetors and other engine components.

2) Ethanol and water don’t mix

Small engine manufactures have spent considerable time studying the relationship between ethanol and water.

The white flaky deposits in this carburetor are attributed to ethanol.

ECHO warns that ethanol will absorb a small amount of moisture and stay in suspension within the gasoline for a while. However, the ethanol will only absorb up to ¾ of an ounce of water in a gallon of gas before it reaches its saturation point. Once the ethanol has absorbed enough moisture to reach its saturation point, phase separation occurs. Phase separation means the ethanol and absorbed water drop to the bottom of the fuel container since it is heavier than the gas and oil, leaving the gasoline and oil mix to float on top of the tank. Most operators never notice water in the can when they refuel their equipment. The end result is often a carburetor ruined with rust and corrosion. These expensive repairs can cost more than $75 and are not typically covered by warranty.

Stihl stresses that the layer of gasoline left floating on top has a lower octane level than the original ethanol-gasoline blend, which can result in unstable engine operation, power loss and major engine failures.

Ethanol’s affinity for water explains why so many ethanol-related problems surface in the marine industry. In fact, some marina personnel say up to 65 percent of their service orders are attributable to fuel-system problems.

Combating ethanol problems

Although some fuel additives on the market claim to reverse the effects of phase separation, there’s no way to reintegrate gasoline and ethanol once they’ve separated. Instead, it’s best to prevent it.

One solution is to use non-oxygenated, ethanol-free gas in your small engines. It costs a little more, but it eliminates problems
associated with ethanol. Another solution is to treat every tank of fuel and container of gas with AMSOIL Quickshot. It helps keep water molecules dispersed in the fuel to prevent phase separation. It also cleans varnish, gums and insoluble debris while stabilizing fuel during short-term storage.

Quickshot was tested in fuel containing 10 percent ethanol. Controlled plugging of injectors showed a 70 percent flow improvement, while oxidation stability improved 44 percent over untreated fuel.

Regardless whether you’re pro- or anti-ethanol, we can all agree on the importance of taking care of our small engines.

Are all Synthetic Oil Groups the Same? Group III vs IV vs V

Amsoil Lab

Are all Synthetic Oil Groups the Same? Group III vs IV vs V

The simple answer

No. In fact, there are wide performance differences between base oil categories. Generally speaking, Group IV base oils offer the best performance, Group III second best, and so on in reverse order. But be forewarned – there are exceptions. And, you can’t judge motor oil performance solely on base oil type. You must take into account its entire formulation, including the additives.

The detailed answer

Ever find yourself in an awkward conversation from which you want to escape? Start talking about base oils and the relative merits of each category. Your adversary will immediately excuse himself.

To ease your study of the topic, it’s broken down into the following common questions:

What are the different base oil categories?

The American Petroleum Institute (API) developed a classification system for base oils that focuses on the paraffin and sulfur content and degree of saturation of the oil. The saturate level indicates the level of molecules completely saturated with hydrogen bonds, leaving them inherently un-reactive.

Translation: they’re more resilient to chemical degradation, meaning they last longer and perform better.

There are five groups in the classification system, ranging from Group I – Group V:

 Group I Characteristics

Group I base oils are the least refined of all the groups. They are usually a mix of different hydrocarbon chains with little uniformity. While some automotive oils use these oils, they are generally used in less-demanding applications.

• Group II Characteristics

Group II base oils are common in mineral-based motor oils. They have fair-to-good performance in the areas of volatility, oxidation stability, wear prevention and flash/fire point. They have only fair performance in areas such as pour point and cold-crank viscosity.

• Group III Characteristics

Group III base oils consist of reconstructed molecules that offer improved performance in a wide range of areas, as well as good molecular uniformity and stability. These synthesized materials can be used in the production of synthetic and semi-synthetic lubricants.

• Group IV Characteristics

Group IV base oils are made from polyalphaolefins (PAO), which are chemically engineered synthesized base oils. PAOs offer excellent stability, molecular uniformity and improved performance.

• Group V Characteristics

Group V base oils are also chemically engineered oils that do not fall into any of the categories previously mentioned. Typical examples of Group V oils are esters, polyglycols and silicone. As with Group IV oils, Group V oils tend to offer performance advantages over Groups I – III. An example of a mineral-based Group V exception is a white oil, a very pure lubricant used in industries ranging from cosmetics to food processing.

Are the API group classifications progressively better?

In other words, is a motor oil made from Group III base oils better than one made from Group II base oils, and so on?

In general, yes. Unlike your food, which generally gets less healthy the more it’s processed, base oils offer improved performance as the level of refinement/processing increases.

But there are side cases that smash that rule of thumb.

Some motor oils made from Group III oils can outperform some Group IV motor oils. That’s because the final formulation is a function of the base oils and additives working in tandem. Like base oils, additives come in a range of qualities. So you could have a Group III oil with top-shelf anti-wear, anti-oxidant and other additives that outperforms a Group IV motor oil, even though Group IV base oils provide more pronounced benefits than Group III base oils. The point is, a motor oil can’t be judged solely by its base oils – you need to take the entire formulation into account.

Then we have the Group V category, which is a sort of catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit into the other four groups. In fact, some Group V oils are completely unsuitable for automotive use.

Are Group III base oils “synthetic?”

Yes, in most countries anyway.

A true definition for the term “synthetic oil” has been difficult to reach, although it has generally been accepted that the term represents those lubricants that have been specifically manufactured for a high level of performance. Group III base oils with very high viscosity indices can be called synthetic oils in most countries.

Historically, it was widely accepted that only Group IV base oils made from PAOs were true “synthetics.”

A famous lawsuit between Mobil and Castrol changed that. Mobil charged that Castrol was falsely marketing its Syntec motor oil as a synthetic oil although it wasn’t made from PAO base oils. Mobil’s claim was based on results of independent lab testing that showed samples of Syntec it obtained as early as December 1997 contained 100 percent mineral oil.

The two sides battled it out, but in a landmark 1999 ruling, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled that Castrol Syntec, as then formulated, was a “synthetic” motor oil.

Debate raged then, and still rages today. You can find all kinds of purists populating Internet forums who refuse to recognize Group III oils as “synthetics.” For them, it’s PAO or nothing.

Try not to get caught up in the “my-base-oil-versus-your-base-oil” cage match. The base oils that go into the oil aren’t as important to your engine as the performance that comes out of the oil. Look for motor oils that offer performance claims backed by industry-standard testing or real-world results. That’s what’s really important.

If you really need to know which base oils a formulation uses, you’ll have to do some investigative work since oil companies protect that information as proprietary.

For details, check out this post: How Much “Synthetic” Is In My Oil?

Are synthetic base oils magic?

Ok, that’s not what people really ask. But many falsely think synthetic base oils are not refined from crude oil and that switching to only synthetic lubricants could drastically reduce our dependence on foreign oil and non-renewable sources. If synthetic base oils aren’t made from crude oil, from what raw material are they made? Unicorn horns and rainbow dust?

Synthetic base oils are made from crude. But they’re much more highly refined than conventional base oils. The chemical reaction process used to make synthetic base oils removes the impurities inherent to conventional base oils, such as sulfur and waxes. This results in a higher-performing product that’s much better for your engine.

Your Complete Guide to the 2018 King of the Hammers

king of hammers

Your Complete Guide to the 2018 King of the Hammers

Updated Feb. 6, 2018

Happy February, race fans!

Every year in this wonderful month of love, tens of thousands of spectators and more than 400 competitors descend upon Johnson Valley (a.k.a. Hammertown) for King of the Hammers (KOH). This week-long event includes five off-road races throughout the week, with the granddaddy of them all – the Nitto King of the Hammers – wrapping up the week on Friday. This race combines desert racing and rock crawling spanning 200 miles of grueling trails. It’s no wonder 40,000 people flood this otherwise deserted desert valley to witness all the havoc.

So, if you happen to find yourself in the middle of the California desert this week or maybe just happen to check out the live stream coverage, we’re about to breakdown everything you need to know before witnessing this one-of-a-kind event. Load up the RV, grab your bonfire hoodie and get ready for the world’s toughest one-day off-road race.

The Background

Conceived in 2007 on a napkin in a bar, the inaugural KOH was devised by two racers in search of bragging rights and a case of beer. Dave Cole, a championship rock crawler, and Jeff Knoll, a desert racer, sought to combine the best of both racing worlds and invited 12 pals to the middle of the California desert to race more than 35 miles with 12 checkpoints.

The first race was run in secret with no spectators or vendors – just a bunch of off-road/rock-crawling dudes having a bunch of fun. Ten years later, the race has grown into a full week of racing, with hundreds of competitors and tens of thousands of spectators.

The Race

Saturday, Feb. 3 kicked off racing with UTV/4600 qualifying and part one of the King of the Motos. Racing continues throughout the week leading up to the namesake King of the Hammers on Friday, Feb. 9. Competitors start side by side, with two vehicles leaving the start every 30 seconds.

Racers must complete the gnarly 200-mile desert/rock course and seven checkpoints in less than 14 hours, all while staying within 100 feet of the centerline of the course while stopping to rest. No chase cars are allowed, and any repairs must be done on the track by the racers or in the designated pit area. First one to cross the finish line encompassing all the above tasks is declared the winner and, subsequently, “King.”

The Competitors

What does it take to participate in the toughest one-day race on the planet?

First, you need a vehicle. Vehicles are unlimited four wheel drive and capable of competing in multiple racing disciplines (extreme rock crawling, high-speed desert racing, short course) termed “Ultra4 Unlimiteds.” Competitors typically compete in the Ultra 4 Series, but it is not a requirement. Past multi-time champs like Erik Miller are looking to take the checkered flag once again, but there will be a slew of newcomers hungry to take them down, or maybe at least just finish the grueling course. With only 17 out of the 129 cars finishing in previous years, carnage is sure to be witnessed.

The Spectators

If paying with cash only, having no cell service, scaling rocks to get a great view and leaving covered in dust isn’t enough to scare you off, the KOH provides an experience like no other. Tens of thousands of fans trek out each year for this “Burning Man meets Off-Road Racing” event, which some say resembles a scene from Mad Max. With no hotels nearby, the desert becomes flooded with RVs, campers and tents in this once-a-year resurrected city called Hammertown. And, with community bonfires held each night, you’re sure to leave with more friends than you came with.

And let’s not forget why all these enthusiasts trek out here: the racing. With highlighted spectator areas like the “Backdoor,” “Chocolate Thunder” and “The Hammers,” there are plenty of options for witnessing all of the KOH carnage.

Oil Recycling at This Year’s King of the Hammers

All visitors coming to Johnson Valley are encouraged to dispose of their motor and gear oils properly by visiting the BF Goodrich garage located just outside of Hammertown.

Stop by the AMSOIL booth inside Hammertown on AMSOIL Ave. for more information and to enter each day for a chance to win a free UTV oil change.

Don’t worry, it’s not too late to get your tickets to the toughest one-day off-road race on the planet. Spectator information can be found here. A complete schedule of events for this year’s KOH race can be found here.