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With the weather getting colder, you might be tempted to start your vehicle up, let it idle for 15 or 20 minutes and then get in the nice, cozy cabin. Some vehicles offer remote starting that let you do that from the comfort of your home or apartment. But is letting your vehicle idle like that good for it?
Manufacturers say it doesn't harm the vehicle. They say it's because modern vehicles are made differently from those in the past. Just about all newer vehicles employ fuel injection which uses computers to adjust the amount of gasoline that goes into the cylinders. The engine gets only the fuel it needs, taking conditions into account.
Older vehicles, on the other hand, used to use carburetors. When you started a cold engine, the carburetor wasn't able to adjust the gasoline amount depending on conditions. Some of the gasoline would mix with oil and the pistons wouldn't get the same lubrication as they would with undiluted oil.
So yes, you can warm up your newer vehicle for your own personal comfort. But consider how much fuel you are wasting. That is not only throwing away money, it's a waste of natural resources. And it puts more carbon into the atmosphere.
Automakers have to be mindful of what fuel economy their vehicles can achieve. So the flip side of the remote starts they offer is a "stop-start" feature. When you stop your vehicle, even at a stoplight, your vehicle will turn the engine off. When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator, it starts up right away. That feature can save as much as 10 percent of the fuel your vehicle uses.
Your vehicle may not have that start-stop feature, but you can still save fuel by shutting off your engine manually if you are waiting somewhere, like a parking lot or perhaps sitting outside your child's school waiting to pick him or her up. It saves you money and contributes to a healthier atmosphere for our planet.
Cruisin' on Down Main Street
When automakers first came out with cruise control, it was a real luxury item. The older cruise controls used a mechanical vacuum system but it worked. Well, some of the time.
Now days, cruise control is all electronic, thanks to computers. It's reliable and a real convenience on long trips. Cruise control is offered on most vehicles and standard on a lot of them. Because it's electronic, when it breaks, it's usually some electronic component. Your vehicle's cruise can be the victim of a blown fuse. Or your vehicle's speed sensor, which—not surprisingly—measures your vehicle's speed, can also stop working. And that will cause your cruise to stop cruising.
Vehicles with cruise control also have a built-in feature that, when the brakes are applied, turns off the cruise. With electronic cruise control, that happens thanks to the brake pedal switch, and if a problem develops in that switch, the cruise might not work.
The newest cruise control is called "adaptive." What that means is that it will maintain your vehicle's speed as well as the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. That means if a car ahead of you slows down, your vehicle will slow down to the same speed and even stop if the car ahead stops. Pretty cool, right? As you can imagine, adaptive cruise control is more sophisticated and has many more components than standard cruise. The systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they use on-board radar units and cameras to calculate what your vehicle should do to maintain a safe distance and speed.
Finally, there are still some of the older style cruise controls out on the roads. They'll stop working when the vacuum actuator develops a problem, a vacuum hose starts leaking or breaks or the cable between the actuator and the throttle kinks, breaks, seizes up or becomes detached.
If your cruise control isn't working, your service repair facility will be able to determine what kind your vehicle has and what it will take to fix it. Good news for the cruise blues.
The Best Test
Would you buy a jacket without even trying it on? Probably not, but it might surprise you that one study shows about half the people buy a vehicle after a short test drive around the block or none at all. If you're in the market for another vehicle, make sure you check out the most important things so you'll know if that's the right vehicle for you.
Check out the gadgets. Love a good sound system? Then turn it up loud. Does it have enough bass for you? See how you like its navigation system if it has one. Try pairing your Bluetooth smartphone with the vehicle. Test out how to set the cruise control and how steady it keeps the speed. Back up and check out the rearview camera. If you buy this vehicle, you'll have to live with all of these things every time you drive.
Test the vehicle on roads you know. See how it handles bumps and potholes, how it takes that tight curve that you drive every day to and from work. Driving on familiar roads gives you a chance to compare what you know with what you're thinking about buying.
Check the fit. One suburban mom drove a full-sized SUV and loved it until she got it home and realized it was too high for her old garage. Remodeling the garage would be the only answer! Try installing your child seats. Size matters, especially in a vehicle.
Gauge the fuel economy. Many vehicles have a trip computer that will calculate fuel economy quickly. Here's a tip: you can reset it before your test drive and when you're finished, check it and see what fuel economy you got. It will be a smaller sampling than would be ideal, but it will give you an idea.
Take as much time as you can. A lot of sellers will pressure you to restrict your test drive to 10-15 minutes. Ideally, you'd like to have that vehicle for a week, but that's usually not possible. So, try for something in between. Remember, this could be your vehicle for years to come.
Keep in mind that every vehicle will feel strange to you at first. Buying a vehicle is a little like getting married. You want that marriage to be happy, and you want it to last, so take the time to get to know it as well as you can.
The Edible Engine
You may have had a friend whose vehicle was the victim of hungry rodents. After all, mice, rats and squirrels—even rabbits—have been known to gnaw on wires in engine compartments, causing vehicle electrical systems to go haywire. They can disable a vehicle completely and be very expensive to fix.
In 2017, some drivers noticed their vehicle's wiring was being chewed and found out the automaker was using a relatively new material for covering their wires: soy. Many of the repairs to their new vehicles weren't covered under warranty by the manufacturer when it was discovered rodents were eating the wiring. So the owners filed a class action suit, saying the soy covering was essentially baiting the critters.
The automakers tell a different story, saying mice, rats and squirrels have been chewing through wire insulation long before it was made out of soy.
Regardless of what the insulation is made of, vehicle owners should make sure rodents aren't chowing down and creating a problem in the engine compartment. They can have their repair facility check for these signs: Little bits of acorns, leaves, chewed up plastic and animal droppings in the engine's nooks and crannies. Using a black light, your technician can detect animal urine, a sure sign that they've been using your engine compartment as a warm apartment, a nest and a dining room.
You can take steps to prevent rodents from chomping your vehicle's parts. Honda—one of the vehicle manufacturers that uses soy-based wiring covering—makes a rodent tape. It contains a spice called capsaicin that rodents find too hot to handle. Other preventative measures include installing metal mesh around wiring harnesses or spraying the engine compartment with special rodent-repellants.
Rodent damage can cost one vehicle owner thousands of dollars to fix, not the kind of bite anyone wants taken out of their bank account.
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