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The famous dictum “If you look after your car, your car will look after you” is certainly true in many respects. Sadly, though, few motorists are knowledgeably caring for, or fully understand, the way their vehicles work. Some functional knowledge will keep your relationship with your automobile running smoothly!
Many drivers are actually unknowingly damaging their vehicles or, at the very least, making themselves quite vulnerable to some mischievous roadside mechanics. The following are the 10 of the most common mistakes motorists make every day while completely oblivious of the damaging consequences.
Most of these points will, at the very least, hit us in our pockets in the near future. How many, if you can eat the humble-pie, are you guilty of?
Oil changes and servicing: Engine oil is a vital component in your car. Some people will wrongly assume that if the car takes five litres of oil and they have topped up this year by five litres, then there is no point in changing the oil. Oil degrades, and the reduction in oil level is due to the thinner high-quality oil getting burned or just seeping out of the engine; the sludge, grime and metal particles build up in the residue. So topping up is not the same as changing the oil. The oil level is dangerously low in over 70 per cent of cars – check your oil levels today.
Incorrect tyre pressures: This (overinflation, in particular, which is very common in Nigeria due to the ignorance of roadside “vulcanisers”) causes additional heat to build up in the tyres due to extra-flexing. The car has to work harder, reducing fuel economy. With under-inflated tyres, the handling becomes unpredictable at best because the tyre naturally goes bouncy. Braking is also significantly reduced.
Not allowing turbo to cool down: How many people with turbo-driven engine drive it hard and then fail to allow the turbo to cool down properly? In Europe, increasingly production cars have turbos to meet emissions and power requirements. The turbo is spinning at between 100,000 rpm and 200,000 rpm and gets very hot. The moment the engine is turned off, you starve it of fresh oil, unless your automobile’s oil pump keeps running. The oil in the turbo gets fried and essentially leaves your turbo spinning with no lubrication! Your turbo will soon need replacing if this is your driving style.
Driving hard on a cold engine: Don’t use higher engine rpm’s (like revving or over-revving the engine) when it’s cold (especially early in the morning), until an engine is warm; it will run rich—i.e. dumps fuel into the combustion chamber. Your engine is most at risk from damage when cold, so putting undue stress on it by high revving will exponentially increase the damage done. The combustion process does not become efficient until the engine reaches its operating temperature. An inefficient burn leaves acids and other toxins that eat your engine. The oil also takes a short while to flow properly at start up; so, ideally, you should let the engine tick over for three to ten seconds, then drive off at a steady pace keeping under 23,000 rpm. Do not use the top half of the rev range until the engine reaches operating temperature. This applies as much to modern engines with catalytic converters as it does to older engines. Don’t leave the engine idling to warm it up, just drive it (after giving it 30 seconds for the oil pressure to come up and get the oil to fully circulate).
Short journeys: Just as driving off too quickly damages an engine, so will doing short journeys. The problem with a short journey is that the engine never reaches its operating temperature. So, for the reasons detailed in the ‘driving off too quickly’, do not drive many short distances regularly.
Use the under-one-mile walk philosophy!) While cold, the catalyst is unable to operate at peak efficiency, thus, reducing the life of your expensive catalyst.
Revving too high: The red line indicates the maximum permissible engine speed. At this point, the engine is under enormous stress and the components are moving at their fastest speed. Slight imbalances in the engine are emphasised at high rpm and if you prolong the high rpm for a period of time, you will more than likely throw a connecting rod through the sump (or worse). The older an engine is, the lower the red line should be. As an engine starts to produce most of its power across the middle third of its rev band, there is little point exceeding this.
Hand on gear stick: So many people do this but it can actually cause premature gear wear, especially if you wiggle the stick around. The stick is connected directly to the gearbox (in many cars), so the slightest pressure is transmitted to the gear selector. This is enough to cause wear and eventually your gearbox will start to grind and crunch as you change gear.
Riding the clutch in a manual transmission: Again, keeping a foot on the clutch is enough to prevent it from fully engaging. The clutch plate will tend towards slip and will prematurely wear. Keeping the clutch depressed in traffic or at traffic lights is also a bad idea. Just put the car in neutral when you are stationary. When the clutch is depressed you’re forcing the clutch against the release bearing. Eventually, the release bearing will just give up, having done 60,000 miles worth of pressure in just 10,000.
Also in manual, wrong gear selection: Nothing puts a strain on the engine like forcing it to pull the car in the wrong gear. Too high a gear strains the bottom end of the engine around the crank and con rods. Too low a gear will mean you are revving more than you need to, so the top end of the engine around the valves, cams and lifters are working too hard.
Driving a dirty car: This one is a little contentious but corrosion takes effect more easily on a car which is covered with a layer of dirt. A thorough clean each month and a coat of good quality wax (not polish) will do much to enhance the cars defence against corrosion.
N.B: Protect your car against the rain this season: The rains are here now and the electrical architecture with, particularly, the electronic controllers cum components of an average vehicle are the most susceptible to getting easily damaged (as a result of any vehicle getting flooded!)