What’s Worse?

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Well-intended people often do bad things to their cars – without realizing it, or understanding what the possible consequences could be. So, which is worse?

* Under or over-inflating tires?

Excessive air pressure in your tires will result in a harsher ride – as well as faster (and uneven) tread wear. You’ll be paying more for tires – more often. Handling and braking performance may be negatively affected, too.

On the other hand, under-inflated tires are more insidious because people often don’t know – or notice  – that their tires are low on air – mainly as a result of benign neglect and because tires, air valves (and wheels, if they’re aluminum) commonly leak air.  A tire usually has to be really low on air – maybe even close to flat – before it’s visually obvious. Meanwhile, you’re driving around on a tire (or tires) 5, 10 or even 20 psi below the recommended pressure – which can lead to weird handling/poor braking, even a sudden failure due to the heat build-up. The classic case being the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire debacle of the late ’90s. People were driving at high speeds,  on hot days – on under-inflated tires. Which failed catastrophically – and suddenly – leading to numerous wrecks and deaths.

Point being: Check the air pressure in your tires with a gauge – not just by looking at them – at least every two weeks. Be sure they’re all filled to the specified pressure – neither too much nor too little.

* An extra quart in the crankcase? Or down a quart?

Many people take their cars to a quick lube place for oil changes. These places typically use a gun to shoot new oil into the engine – as opposed to pouring it in a quart at a time. It’s not uncommon for the result of this to be too much – or too little – oil in the engine. What’s the difference?

Running a quart low is less potentially damaging than running a quart over. Reason? If there’s more oil in the crankcase than the engine was designed to hold, that oil has to go somewhere. What happens is it gets turned into a foamy froth as the engine’s reciprocating parts churn it around. This foamy frothy oil is less able to lubricate vital parts -which can lead to a catastrophic engine failure. Or, the excess oil might get sucked into the combustion chambers, where it gets burned – partially – with the resultant oily residue ruining expensive 02 sensors and catalytic converters.

On the other hand, most engines will not be harmed if run a quart or so low for a little while. Since all internal combustion engines use a certain amount of oil during normal operation, it’s expected the level in the crankcase will occasionally be less than “full.” The engineers who designed the engine designed in an extra margin of total oil capacity for just this reason.

The key thing is to be sure to check the oil level immediately after every oil change, if you have your oil changed by someone else – and at least every couple of weeks thereafter.

* Drive off right away – or “warm it up” a little first?

One of the biggest differences between “old” cars – those built before the widespread adoption of electronic fuel injection and computer controls in the mid-late 1980s – and “modern” cars (everything made after that time)  is the warm-up protocol.

Older cars without computers – and with carburetors -needed more cold start hand-holding. It often took a couple of minutes for the choke to turn itself off and the engine to settle into a comfortable (and stall-free) idle. With modern cars, warm-up happens much faster. Most owner’s manuals say it’s fine to drive away normally  immediately after start-up.

Nonetheless, you’ll do your (modern) car a favor by taking it easy for the first 5-10 minutes of driving. Wear and tear is still highest when the engine and other driveline components are cold – even if a modern car’s cold start drivability is much better than an old car’s. By avoiding full throttle starts and being gentle until the entire driveline – engine, transmission, brakes, etc. – and the oil/hydraulic fluid/grease that lubricate these components –  have reached normal (optimal) operating temperature – you’ll help the car last longer.

Tip: If your vehicle has a manual transmission, let the clutch out (with the transmission in neutral) during the initial few seconds after start-up, before you actually drive away. This will circulate gear lube inside the transmission, coating all the critical parts. Reduced wear and tear – and easier shifting – will be your reward. (Automatic transmissions do this automatically, whenever the engine is running and no matter what gear the vehicle is in – so you don’t need to do anything.)

* Ride the brakes – or “gear down”?

Descending a steep grade, which is smarter: Using the brakes to keep the car from picking up too much speed? Or downshifting to a lower gear and using engine braking to achieve the same thing?

Replacement brake pads (and even calipers and rotors, etc.) are a lot cheaper, usually, than a new clutch or rebuilt transmission. So the argument from the economical perspective is: Use the brakes – and save the wear and tear on your clutch/transmission.

On the other hand, how much is your life worth? Riding the brakes for extended periods on steep downhill grades may heat them up to the point that braking power starts to fade. If that happens, you might not be able to stop the car as quickly (maybe not at all) if an unexpected emergency situation comes up. Cars with high-performance brake pads/systems are more fade-resistant, but they’re not immune from this problem, either.

So, it’s arguably more sensible to put the transmission in a lower gear to keep the car from building up too much speed on extended downhills.

If your car has an automatic, going from “OD” to “D” (turning off the overdrive by pushing the button, if applicable, or just moving the gear selector down one range) is usually sufficient, but you can always go down one more to 3 or even 2 if need be. With a manual, downshift to the gear that maintains the speed you want without your needing to ride the brakes.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. People! People! stop all this bickering! The work has already been done. No need to re-invent the wheel. Just read this lengthy but entertaining treatise and all your questions will be answered. You’re welcome.

  2. I have a 96 Ford Escort that I bought brand new in 97. It now has 267,000 miles and counting. The first few years I was using Mobil (not the synthetic) then I switched to Royal Purple which is what I’ve been using until now. The engine is still running well. I hardly have to add oil between oil changes. As for the rest of the car, they’re not in as good a shape as the engine.

    • I’m also a RP user – chiefly because RP sells oil that has the additives that have been removed from most mainstream oils which older car engines need for long life. But I have also been using the stuff in my outdoor power equipment with excellent results.

  3. Only check the oil level after shutting down for awhile to let the oil drip back into the pan. Only check tire pressure on a cold tire. Pressures typically change one pound for every 10 degrees of heat rise or fall. This is really important during the spring and fall when outside temps begin to change a lot.

  4. Hello all,
    Interesting to hear all the comments further up the post on the oil subject. Absolute bottom line is that synthetic oil is far superior to a petroleum based conventional oil. That said, AMSOIL is in fact (you can do the research) the very finest true synthetic on the market truly proven in multitudes of tests, etc. It has withstood the test of time since the company pioneered and developed the very FIRST synthetic for internal combustion engines. They still spend the most time and money in lubrication technology research and testing.

    THAT said, you can easily start your engine and drive away immediately even in very cold weather without any worries! They have the best for all and any make or model of engine or drivetrain, etc. With their extended drain intervals it will save you time and money and NOT affect your equipment or warranty.

    Yes I’m a dealer and very proud of it with many a happy customer who would never think about going back to whatever they were using, conventional or so-called synthetic oil. I have allot of testimonials too many to talk about here. Please go to amsoil.com and check out their many lubricants and additives to further professionally maintain your expensive vehicles, etc. You can order online and if you do, please use my name John A Feider or customer order number 375607. Thanks and happy motoring!

    • Hey John. We had another guy around these parts that was a dealer as well. I forget his name, but he said the same thing. I’ve never tried AMSOIL products. Matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them on a shelf. Are they for order only?

        • Yes, most Amsoil products are sold thru registered dealers but can be found in rarity on various auto parts store shelves via what’s called an on-the-shelf account. They can also be found at various ‘quick lubes’ via commercial accounts. If anyone is interested in becoming a dealer, please contact me for more info at either jfeider@q.com or 719-687-3274. later…..

  5. Good tips. I give my tires brand new air every few months don’t want any thing to decrease performance. Laughing gas seems to work best it cuts down on the road rage too.

    What’s Worse is a timeless question. Reminds me of a Smashing Shakespeare concert I attended via my Hot Tub Time Machine.

    Thw world is a vampie. A prison planet of painy ainy ain. Do you suffer the slings and arrows of outageous clovers. Or conform to the big lies of empire and slowly go insane?

    Despite all my rage I’m still just a rat in a cage. Someone will say what we lost can never be saved.

    I choose to be free. Or to risk it all even if it means I am not to be. That lies beyond all question.Undertaking an array of asymmetric arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

    Let the others sleep and dream amid the heartache and the thousand shocks we all are heir to.When I shuffle off this mortal coil I’ll have fond memories of my life as a bullet with butterfly wings. Bearing the whips and scorns of time. The oppressors wrongs and the pigs contumely. The pangs of unrequited lust and love. The law’s delay.My own quietus I’ll make with self fashioned bare bodkin and fardels. Choose I will bear.

    To grunt laugh and sweat beside my brood and wife – my fair Torina: Nymph. In thy orisons be all my triumphs and travails remembered. In spite of the native hue of my once firm resolution gone soft and sicklied over with the pale cast of advancing shadows and addled aged thoughts.

  6. So my car’s recommended tire inflation is 32psi for stock tires, but my aftermarket summer performance tires have a max inflation of 50psi. How do I chose the appropriate pressure? Do I go with stock recommendations with my aftermarket tires?

    • Hi Greg,

      The factory recommendations assume the stock wheel/tire package. If you swap out the stock wheel/tire package (especially if you’ve changed diameter/width, etc.) then those recommendations no longer apply. I’d go with the recommended psi (not max) given by the manufacturer of the tires for the application (your particular car).

  7. I know I’m speaking to a bunch of car guys but engine brakes have been around forever and the new diesel pickups come with them in different form. Jacobs Engine Brake used to be the norm for all big rigs. It can generate up to 150% of the power of the engine in braking force. Now, the big three have mainly exhaust brakes on their pickups. This is not news to the people who first purchased a Duramax diesel GM pickup. They have a trailer towing setting on the shifter that engages the engine brake and also increases the rpm of the upshift when engaged. It works beautifully and the other pickups of the other two of the Big 3 have something similar. It’s nice to let off the accelerator and have that big engine braking automatically. The big rig Jake Brake was an on/off switch which is why you see in places the signs saying “No Engine Brake” since they make the big rigs really loud. If you hear a big rig that sounds like it’s dying with a huge blatting sound, it’s the engine brake that will wake the dead. I’d hate to be in the mountains(and have been)without one. In Mexico where the engines are much larger due to having many more axles and much greater gross weight you can hear the trucks from many miles away. They also exhaust toward the pavement for reasons I’m not sure of. Maybe it’s the tropical places they run where the trees might be very dry in a one season and they don’t want heat from the exhaust up high but it’s rare to see a truck there with overhead stacks.

  8. Another reason to gear down– I don’t know about all cars but I guess for any modern car, but in my Škoda TDI when I go down the hill in gear fuel is cut off to the engine. When you instead brake going down the hill in neutral, you’re using more fuel since the engine still has to idle, instead of having the drivetrain turning the alternator, etc.

  9. 2 comments, and a question below:

    You recommend to “fill to the specified pressure”.
    on principle I agree of course.
    But as you are surely aware, our nanny-state overlords decided years back that we are TOO stupid to adjust the pressure to the load-circumstance (and they’re prob. right for most of the clovers in fact).

    So, the “specified pressure” is for a car with all seats and the trunk filler, at full max. permissible load.
    In real life, that doesn’t happen all that much:
    most of the time its just the driver commuting, so no more than 1/2 load.

    The European system specifies TWO pressures, for the 1/2 and full load.
    It is the former that should be used for most instances, using the latter for a 1/2 load actually still overinflates the tires.

    It is not that hard to find out what the manufacturers specify in Europe for both situations via the net (so long as the models are marketed in both markets).
    i highly recommend finding out.
    Ex: on our 2006 Phaeton, the DOT pressure all around is 48psi, yet for the same 2006 V8 at 1/2 load is only 43 psi all-round, which makes a very noticable difference driven driver (and even with 1 passenger) only.
    And, if one DOES load up fully, at least for anything more than a short jog, the pressure should be increased.
    You just KNOW that hardly anyone does…

    having driven a number of TFI/TFSI v-dubs, these efficient engines warm up very slowly, esp. at idle. On a 20F day, idling for 10-15 min is still not at full operating temp.
    Even then, being so efficient, if one turns on the heater just when op. temp is reached, you can really see the temp drop by 20+ degr. just from that heat drain (estimated drop, really from 12 oclock to about 10:30).

    Now my question, about engine-braking:
    I thought that once a gear is engaged (manual tranny, or in my case DSG), the clutch does NOT see any more wear?

    If so, why would engine-braking wear the clutch out faster?
    With a manual, will blipping up the rpm’s help here?
    With the DSG, not possible, but rather than just causing the tranny to jam into the lower gear, and jolting everyone BTW, I brake into the lower gear for a smother transition.

    Even if one is leery of using engine braking, at least let the engine pick up some of the slow-down, so that the brakes can do lighter work.

    So, to restate:
    is the clutch being worn from engine braking during the whole process, or just during the downshifts that dig into the tranny?

    • Clutch wear while downshifting is a problem only if you cannot manually match the speed of the engine to the gearbox. It takes practice since none of us were born knowing how to do this, thus heel and toe gear changing and braking simultaneously. I spent decades doing this in just about everything. It’s something a trucker does and without the clutch pedal since he has an unsynchronized transmission. You ease into the throttle just enough to neutralize the load on the drivetrain so that the shifter comes easily out of the taller gear and blip the throttle(accelerator actually on a diesel since they are not throttle controlled)to match engine speed with transmission gear speed. If you’ll notice, a good trucker never uses the clutch unless he’s stopped and taking off or when coming to a complete stop. I have lost a clutch linkage in a big rig before and used nothing but engine braking to drive 500 miles to the house, even using it to time lights at low speed so that I never had to stop completely and could simply power on when the lights changed. It ain’t fun but it can be done. The worst part is being drymouthed from holding your water and not consuming more. I had my wife with me one time when this happened and had to stop so I did so on a very steep hill pointing down. We both did our thing, got some refreshment, our last for 200 miles or more, and then clutched it when there was enough rolling speed to start the engine and I used the starter also. A friend had a new BMW and was showing me what it could do and would downshift using only the clutch. Good thing the car was new and I was able to show him how to match his engine rpm with the transmission speed or he would have gone through a clutch pronto. Just remember and ask someone if you know a guy who owns his own truck. He’ll tell you he never touches the clutch neither accelerating nor decelerating.

    • I think the 09 Jetta uses the ABS sensor wheel differential speed method for it TPMS.
      Those systems are simple and reliable, but not very accurate I believe. Prob. a difference of more than 3-4 psi would have to exist before they sound a low warning.
      I have also wondered how these systems work, when ALL tires are too low by a similar amount? Not likely perhaps, but can the system even figure that out?

      If you have an internal sensor per wheel, they are much more accurate, 1-2 psi, but somehow more trouble prone (chech the Phaeton forum for that frustration– BERU system also found on the Bentley Continental btw)

      • Yes–the dead-reckoning systems that work by wheel speed differentials are crap.

        The M5’s will pick up a difference of about 4 psi. It’s very clever if you think how tricky all the signal processing must be…but I’d prefer a built-in system.

        That said, it’s yet another thing that can break–and Germans are notorious for flaky electronics. I think they’ve taken over from England’s Lucas Electrics–aka “Prince of Darkness”.

        My Dad and I laughed back in the mid to late 80’s when Mercedes was still insisting on using the Rube Golbergian CIS injection system. It was an octagonal hunk of metal with eight metal fuel tubes, like an octopus sitting in the valley, with a big metal diaphragm in the intake venturi. The diaphragm operated a metal plunger that controlled fuel channels in the metal octagon.

        Meanwhile the Japanese had adopted EFI. I think the Germans are still getting the hang of electronics in cars, judging from the failure rate of electronic doo-dads on the M5!

  10. Couple of points:

    1) Engine breaking. Living in the extreme mountains of Colorado, I see people riding the brake down grades that they really shouldn’t be on, and usually will smell them at the bottom of the hill. It is very frustrating to follow these people since they can’t maintain a steady speed. First they coast up to about 75(!) or more, then they brake down to below 60/whatever 5 under the posted limit is, then repeat. Meanwhile I found the happy gear to maintain speed, but I end up braking to stay out of their trunk. I’ve never had any trouble with my personal cars or most of the work trucks I’ve driven (average about 50K miles annually), other than one old beater with about 200K miles. That one lost the 4WD transfer case going down to Silverthorne from the Eisenhower tunnel. The funny thing about that was that once I realized what was going on I coasted down to the exit and made it a fair way to the dealer (got lucky on green lights) just on momentum from the hill.

    2) Oil changes – If you have a VW or Audi make sure you pay attention to the approved oil list. If somehow they find that you used the wrong oil they WILL void your warranty. There is some debate about Mobil 1, since not all formulations are approved. This causes heated debates in most of the VW forums, as it should. I’m sure with tollerances getting tighter and compression going higher I bet we’ll see the same thing from other manufacturers in the future.

    • No dealer can legally void your warranty for using a different oil than they specify if the oil meets the requirements they have set. If you want proof, call up Amsoil and tell them the dealer and the person who told you that and they will straighten them out in a hurry. Sure, they want you to believe they can void your warranty but it’s not legal and there’s nothing they can do except eat crow. VW is just one of every one of the dealers that will tell you that. It’s not true.

  11. Eric, you are usually right about autos, but my experience says your tire advice may not really be true for runflat tires. I got nearly 40K miles on Bridgestone RFTs by following Internet advice to keep them at 40 psi, when many people raged that their RFTs were worn out at 20K miles. Those tires kept dependably at 40 psi actually looked slightly like underinflated tires with the edges slightly more worn than the center from 20K miles onward. I put those old tires in my storage area because they are still quite legal based on tread wear and immediate replacement RFTs can be hard to find. The tires with high pressure rode and stopped appropriately even in heavy down pours of FL rain. If there was any loss of traction I didn’t notice it with spirited driving of an AWD Toyota Sienna minivan. A Discount Tire service writer said that RFTs seem to wear more off the shoulders because the sidewalls are so stiff. Your comments?

    • Hi JD,

      The important thing is to go by the recommendations for your particular vehicle (and tire). If the manufacturer recommends, say, 42 psi, that’s what I’d stick with. I would not go higher – or lower – with the exception of temporarily (for example, dropping the pressure to deal with off-road/snow/mud).

    • Hi Jerry,

      Perhaps tractor manufacturers don’t recommend synthetic oil, but I know of no reason why you could not use synthetic oil in a diesel tractor engine if you wanted to, provided it met the OEM standards.

      I can’t see how it would cause any harm, provided (again) it met the necessary specifications. And you’d get the benefit of superior cold weather/hot weather performance.

      Bear in mind that most car engines don’t require or even recommend synthetic – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to consider using it.

      PS: Diesel fuel, as you know, is itself a lubricant. Off-road (red) diesel still has the necessary lubrication qualities. But the on-road stuff may not, due to low sulfur requirements and so on.

      • I don’t know why you think diesels are exempt from synthetic oil since they have been using it in all types of diesels, big rigs to pickups, since 1970 or so. I wouldn’t think of using anything but synthetic oil in a diesel. I used the same 15W40 in my diesel pick up I used in my tractor and would use it in a big diesel in a heartbeat. Every time I’ve changed to a synthetic I have had oil usage go down.

  12. Ride the brakes – or “gear down”?

    Descending a steep grade, which is smarter: Using the brakes to keep the car from picking up too much speed? Or downshifting to a lower gear and using engine braking to achieve the same thing?


    … it’s arguably more sensible to put the transmission in a lower gear to keep the car from building up too much speed on extended downhills.

    If your car has an automatic, going from “OD” to “D” (turning off the overdrive by pushing the button, if applicable, or just moving the gear selector down one range) is usually sufficient, but you can always go down one more to 3 or even 2 if need be. With a manual, downshift to the gear that maintains the speed you want without your needing to ride the brakes.

    I can’t resist mentioning those old 2 stroke cars. It was different for those, particularly if (like most) they had crankcase scavenging and oil carried through from that. If you tried gearing down, the closed throttle would stop enough oil getting in for the r.p.m. it was doing, and you could end up damaging the engine. Some cars had a free wheel system so the engine couldn’t be pulled faster than it was being driven, and with those you couldn’t gear down anyway but had to rely on the brakes.

      • Eh? I can understand the belt and braces thinking, but it’s the oil that’s mixed with the fuel that doesn’t get fed enough when the road is pulling the engine. Oil that’s injected separately gets pumped in with every revolution, so that gets in regardless.

        • Depends on the bike!

          The Kaw system is throttle-controlled. So, if the throttle is closed, no oil is being pumped. But also (and more important, to me): There is no way to know when the oil pump has ceased working properly. Well, there is – a seized-up engine – but I’d like to avoid that, especially given that these antique engines are no longer cheap to replace. So I run a little oil in my gas, just for the extra margin. There’s no real downside – other than slightly smokier exhaust (a plus, to me) and, of course, more rapid plug fouling….

          • Eric, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the oil injection on all of the 70’s major Japanese manufacturers (Kaw, Yamaha and Suzuki) 2-stroke bikes was designed to be both throttle and RPM dependent. This was done intentionally to prevent oil starvation while engine braking (since a lot of guys buying these early crotch rockets were 4 stroke riders). Now I’m not saying that the oil injection pump is fail-safe (it isn’t) and that running at least mild premix alongside it isn’t a good idea (it is). But these systems are pretty darned reliable (I’ve never know one to fail) and what P.M. describes is quite accurate.

            I sold my 75 RD350 to a friend of mine who raced 2-strokes (he ran his dad’s modified TZ750 in dirt drags). His logic was like yours: premix doesn’t quit working…unless you close the carb slides…so no engine braking. And in the interests of weight reduction, he removed the oil injection system. Well…I bought the bike back from him. I did little work on it and decided to try it out, still thinking I could ride it like I used to. At somewhere between 105 and 110 it went into a high speed wob, so I shut ‘er down…hard…braking and downshifting. The bike engine-braked just fine down to somewhere around 85 or 90 and locked up tighter than a frog’s butt (and they’re waterproof). I laid down about 75 feet of rubber and had the rear wheel almost sideways and the handlebars locked up to the right before I realized what was happening and remembered the clutch (all of this only took milliseconds). I left a serious pucker on the seat cushion let me tell you.

            Premix, NO oil injection and engine braking damn near killed me. Just sayin’…

            • I can’t say for the others; but for the Kaw triple series, oil volume is mechanically controlled by a cable that is synched with the throttle cables. It’s very important that the play is adjusted right – so as to get the proper pump stroke for a given degree of throttle twist. Also, of course, to make sure you’ve purged any air out of the lines!

              I agree these systems were reliable when new, but now we’re talking about parts that are pushing 40 years old … so (for me, anyhow) better safe (pre-mix) than sorry!

          • I think you’ll find (on the H2 anyway and I suspect the S1 is the same) that the oil injection pump injects into the sides of the cylinders and into the crankcase. There should be a ball check to prevent crank case pressure from backing up into the system as well. I haven’t been able to find the Kawasaki info, but Suzuki warned that if you ran premix in some of their bikes (like my TS400) it could cause inadequate lubrication to the bearings and engine damage. I know that pump output was indeed governed by throttle position, but I’m pretty sure that closed throttle didn’t mean OFF on a Kaw. I’m digging to find more info, but I’ll bet it keeps injecting, if only minimally, with the slides closed on the carbs based on pump shaft RPM. Otherwise engine braking would eventually seize the rings to the cylinder walls.

            • It definitely does; the ports are clearly visible when you have the cases apart.

              I mainly run pre-mix for “just in case.” Can’t hurt – and I like the additional smoke!

  13. As I started reading the downhill section I could feel my blood-pressure rising…

    Then you saved the day by talking about brake fade :o)


    It’s incredible to me how few people seem to know about brake fade, even heavy truck drivers who really should know better. Worse, even when I’ve tried to explain it to someone they’ve had this ‘Oh that sounds like some old wive’s tale” look..!

    One guy actually said to me “Overheating is when the engine gets too hot, not the brakes.”


    People living in flatter areas have probably never experienced brake fade in their lives. When they start driving in the hills they can be a serious menace to themselves and others.

    I’ve found the words that actually seem to get the point home are:

    Your car’s forward motion is kinetic energy, your brakes turn this into heat energy via friction. If the brakes are already hot that heat can’t be transferred and your brakes don’t work any more, capiche?’

    THAT, for some reason, seems to get through to the people who wave away warnings of ‘brakes stop working when too hot’.

    As an aside, an aunt of mine was rolling down a steep hill in her new car and asked her friend what to do because it was her first time driving an automatic and the car kept going too fast. Her friend, wrongly, suggested putting on the parking brake…

    See if you can guess what happened..?


    • Hi Alan,


      Experience it once – and you’ll never want to again.

      It’s less common today – because almost all modern cars, even the cheapies, have pretty good brakes (whereas in the past, even “good” cars often had marginal brakes) but it’s still something that can (and does) happen, depending on where (and how) you drive.

    • I was discussing brake fade at a mountain rest area with a trucker years ago. I was pulling a heavily laden dual axle utility trailer behind an 83 Dodge van. My brakes started fading during one descent and had it gotten kind of hairy (that’s why I stopped). In fact the trailer brakes were smoking and the van’s brakes weren’t too far behind. His advice worked and has stuck with me ever since: Brake hard to well below the speed you want to travel, let completely off the brakes and the gas, let the load push you back up to your comfort zone speed (only using the gas to control sway), then repeat the process. If done properly, this gives you more cooling time than braking time and allows the heat to dissipate before you need to apply the brakes again. Using this technique I haven’t had a problem with overheated brakes, even on severe grades, since that day.

    • Here’s sacrilege on a car forum:

      I have a new ’12 Camry Hybrid. It comes with 0W20 synthetic oil from the factory so I guess that’s the stuff to use.

      As for “engine braking,” the traction (electric) motor is engaged (in reverse??) by pulling the shift lever down from D (drive, it’s a CVT) to B (brake). The charging indicator jumps when you do this, so I’m assuming the electric motor is acting as a generator to change the NiMH battery as the car noticeably slows. This seems to happen even on a downhill while the cruise control is on, to a lesser extent.

      All I can say is, it better not reduce the life of the tranny or any other component, as it looks to me like it’s designed to operate this way routinely. I live in the flatlands, but use it frequently to charge the battery/avoid wearing the brakes. Driving the thing takes some getting used to; it’s a bit of a toy.

      And averaging about 43 MPG in a 3200 lb car isn’t bad.

      • A friend has a car just like yours. He loves it and told me he use 3 tanks for 2,000 miles of driving. I’m impressed. If you will check it out, the Amsoil people have found that 0W30 for that engine will deliver something like .0004mpg less than using the 0W20 and have gobs more protection. This is another time the dealer will try to force you to use the 0W20 Nissan oil but it still isn’t legal. Good luck with your choice. I’d buy one if I could. They seem to be great cars and that 4 cylinder is a screamer. You are correct that the charging system is the engine brake so to speak. It works well with no wear and tear on the tranny.

      • It is VITAL that you use their 0W20 in the hybrids!
        The 0W16 oils are coming soon. You do not need more than 2.6cp for protection…You DO need low temp flow in any hybrid!

      • That’s exactly right, it’s using the motor as a generator. Nothing new here, this is exactly what diesel-electric train engines have been doing forever. If you look at the back of an engine you’ll see a large grate at the top, sometimes oversized and hanging over the edge of the train body. This is the resistor pack, several large carbon tubes that the engineer can route some or all of the power generated by the traction motors into the resistor to act as a brake. The carbon gives off the electric power as heat. In the case of your hybrid it goes back into the batteries to be used later.

        This is much more effective than a mechanical brake for holding back a train, since all the engines’ traction motors can be used, and because the engineer can make fine adjustments to how much electricity gets fed into the resistors to prevent the wheels from locking up. In the case of the train the engineer just sets a dial. I imagine in your car the computer figures out the best amount of regenerative braking for the given speed.

  14. Nice!

    And always…Always…ALWAYS run the engine oil 3/4 up between ADD and FULL line. There is a big myth out there that running over the full line won’t hurt anything. Transmission fluid should be close to full line without going over.

  15. Eric – Great article. If you drive a diesel, overfilling the crankcase can be catastrophic to you and the car. The oil will be sucked into the engine to be burned as fuel, causing runaway engine acceleration. If someone panics under those conditions…..

  16. Good point, Eric. A couple of thoughts – even brand new cars often come with poor alignment. I damaged a set of performance tires on a car once because I ASSumed that the factory alignment would be spot-on. It’s worth it to take to time to find a good alignment person in your area and take your vehicle in – could save a lot of money in tire costs, as well as provide better handling. Not all alignment people are good – ask around.
    Thanks for the cold starting tip about clutches – never heard that. For the vehicles that have to sit outside in cold weather, I also go down a viscosity level in the winter – say from 10W30 to 5W30, to help more quickly get lubrication to all the parts of the engine. Just me, but I also use Mobil One FULL synthetic in everything, since I regard it as cheap insurance. Again, not everyone sees the need, but I do.
    Good stuff and timely, too.

    • Thanks, DR!

      I also use Mobil 1 gear oil in both my trucks – the transfer cases/rear axles as well as the transmissions. Noticeably easier operation in very cold weather makes me a believer.

      • Eric I’ve written before on the outstanding virtues of Royal Purple…

        I send my oil off for analysis at Blackstone every change; if you buy their 6 or 12 pack bulk tests, it’s about 15 bucks a pop.

        I was running Mobil 1 in my wife’s car, and the analysis after 6000 miles came back very unfavorable–TBN (total base number, indication of remaining additives to counteract acids etc) was exhausted, and there was some bearing metal in the oil.

        Switched to Royal Purple–which is what I run in the M5–and now change hers only every 10K miles, and Blackstone keeps pushing me to go further…the oil’s like new.

        She gained 5% in mileage; my father-in-law gained 10% from switching to Royal Purple of the same viscosity, indicating to me it reduces friction more than other synthetics.

        I just had a leak-down test performed on the M5 to gauge how much life’s left in the engine–trying to decide if I’m going to keep servicing the expensive but wonderful beast. All cylinders within 5% of factory high tolerance. I’ve been running Royal Purple in it for 55K miles; it’s at 118K, and the engine’s tight as a drum. I drive the hell out of that car, too.

        I use Royal Purple gearbox and differential fluids, too; they made a huge improvement in shift action cold and hot.

        • Hi Meth,

          I should have mentioned I use RP in the Trans-Am. The have a formulation (you probably know all about this) with higher levels of the additives that have been disappeared (for emissions reasons) for most mainstream oils.

          I will be using RP next time I change out the lube in the trucks, too!

          • Cool! Made right next door to me in Conroe, Texas. I should buy stock; I advertise them enough.

            Yes–their HPS and XPR formulations. The HPS has circa SJ levels of ZDP etc. The XPR is off the charts, chock full’o goodness. Lots of nice slippery ZDP to soother flat-tappet engines.

            I use it in the M5. I suppose eventually it will blow out the catalysts…at which point I’ll have to get a post-cat O2 sensor cheater 🙂

        • The problem with royal purple and other brands is that I find their application tables to have force fits and then there is meeting of automaker specifications. More so with transmission lubrication now than engine oil as API certification is more common now.

          • Brent P, my same name and last initial also, strange that, if you’ll go to the Amsoil website they have a lengthy explanation about those very issues. A few years back I saw an ad on tv claiming Mobil 1 to be the finest oil money can buy. I knew this wasn’t so and wondered how they got away with it. They didn’t, Amsoil took them to court and the commercial was pulled toot sweet. Amsoil if the best of the best and they have the tests to verify that. They don’t spend big bucks advertising and in my mind they don’t need to since their oil is actually That much better than anyone elses. I have changed many people over to it and their extended drain intervals with their EAO nanotech oil filters and by-pass filter kits that allow you to possibly never change oil again, just do as methylamine has done and have it evaluated every 25,000 miles. I am not a dealer, just a believer.

          • I’ve heard great things about Amsoil, too.

            Mobil 1 is no longer the best, by far. It’s not even truly synthetic; it’s a Group III oil, highly refined…but NOT built up molecule-by-molecule from polyalphaolefins or esters from gas-to-liquid.

          • I’m well aware of Amsoil’s case. It comes down to trust them and trust the manufacturer of your car to trust amsoil regarding warranty.

            It comes down to which engineer I am going to listen to. The engineer who has warranty cost hanging over his head or the one trying to sell me oil. When the two meet, fine. When they don’t I’ll go with the guy who has a performance objective to make the engine in my car last the length of the powertrain warranty. (and it’s not break down 1 mile after it expires, but rather a distribution that puts the odds in my favor of it lasting many times as long as the warranty)

            Mobil 1. Best I can tell it’s a conspiracy theory based on the mobil 1 taking a competitor to BBB regarding what makes a synthetic oil. The theory is that because mobil 1 lost, they switched to the cheaper method. Indication of that is given as notices regarding availability with regards to katrina storm damage at facilities. It’s all conjecture.

            The rest is that mobil 1 has been cheapened over time. A possibility. This same theory claims the extended performance variety is actually something like the ‘old’ regular mobil 1 we got back in the 80s. Again all conjecture.

            Mobil will only state this:

            That said, my ’97 has used mobil 1 since the first oil change. It has over 198,000 miles on it. I don’t intend to change now… except maybe to go to the extended performance oil.

        • Very good information, but let’s not get absurd over the Royal Purple. There’s a LOT more/better technology and engineering in your M5 engine than a bottle or RP. BMW engines are a special breed. I have a ’98 323ic with 138k that in 2012 gets 1 mpg more than was advertized when it was new. I assume I’d come back with similar results from a tolerance test and I’ve never used RP once. That said I do swear by 1 qt of Lucas Oil Treatment mixed in with 6.5 qts of Valvoline Durablend. I can get 6k between changes, and my engine has not had so much as a hiccup in 4 years.

          I’ve heard many good things about Royal Purple, but from any realistic perspective, it’s hardly due credit for the near-perfection that is the M5 engine. Keep it in perspective.

          • @Dutch: Good points.

            I have a timing problem on my Bank 1 intake VANOS. My mechanic thinks it’s because of wear on the chain guides or stretch on the chain itself…it’s off by 4 degrees, or at least that’s what GT1 says.

            I’m investigating the VANOS solenoids, a well-known weak point, before I go further. It’s highly unlikely a dual-row chain would stretch that much…you could run a turbo Hayabusa off that chain!

            He ran a bore scope as far as he could, and the guide looks fine. No plastic pieces or filings in the oil pan, either…

            …I think it’s VANOS.

            So yes–near perfection, the operative word being “near“!


            P.S. still, can’t complain. Anything that pulls hard at 140mph with 100K+ miles on it is pretty decent.

      • Let’s talk synthetic oil.

        I had a valve crack on a motorcycle with 100,000 miles on it. When the mechanic had it in pieces, he came to me with a very funny look on his face.

        “What do you use for oil?” he asked.

        “Castrol Syntec, or Mobile 1 if the first isn’t available, why? You know I’ve brought oil for you when you do tune-ups.”

        “Because I know your bike, and I know you ride hard, and your bearings have no wear. None. I’m sold, I’m changing over to synthetic oil myself right away.”

        Downrange mentions going to thinner oil during winters. Yes, if you live in a cold climate, that’s been common advice from manufacturers from when I started taking care of cars too many years ago. However, with my present car already using 5-30, there’s nowhere for me to go.

        Funny thing about synthetic and my 98 Isuzu with 160K miles on it, if I use synthetic oil it uses oil about a quart every thousand miles. If I use petroleum oil, the usage slows dramatically. I think that since I bought the car with over 100K miles on it, the synthetic slips through where the cylinders were already worn by the previous owner not being as nice to it as I would have been.

        • Bob,

          As you’ve experienced, the first time I tried a synthetic 5w20 in my old car (with 140k+) that was used to being fed 10w30 dino, she lost over a quart before the next change.

          Since that time, I’ve begun adding TCW3 to the gas tank at each fill (at ~1oz/4gal as recommended here: http://www.ls1.com/forums/f48/been-testing-91206/ ). Sounds like a strange thing to do, I realize. After reading every post & kicking it over with a couple mechanic types, I decided what the heck, it couldn’t hurt.

          First thing I noticed different was that the fuel pump got quiet after about the third start up. It’d been whining a bit, but is such a low hum now that if I don’t really try to hear it, I won’t.

          Then I noticed the old engine smoothing out. It was only ever noticeable to me, the driver; but she’d developed a tiny bit of a random stumble at idle. After a couple months that was all but gone.

          My thoughts then returned to the previous experiment with the 5w20 synth, and I decided to give it another whirl. Three months are nearly up on this change, and the level hasn’t moved a bit!

  17. Nice post, Eric. I’ve wondered about each of these points at some time or another. As far as tire pressure goes, what do ya’ll use at home to inflate tires? We have one of those cheap but portable pumps that you plug into the cig lighter. It takes way too long to get to the correct pressure and the gauge is dubious anyway. I’ve been looking for alternatives, even ones that are not necessarily portable. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • I’ve got a big compressor, but this is not practical for people just looking to inflate tires. There are smaller units (they plug in to 110V outlet) available that will do the job just fine – and which are inexpensive and portable, too.

    • Mikehell, like Eric I have rather large upright compressor suitable for running fairly high consumption air tools. They make smaller vertical units with wheels and a handle you can move around like a hand truck. A unit like that takes up less floor space than a horizontal (suitable for a corner in a one bay garage) and still gives you enough capacity for running an impact driver or die grinder from time to time.

      If you do much home improvement, you might want to consider a “pancake” compressor. These will inflate tires, are quite portable and are suitable for running air nailers. I caught a Bostich package deal on sale with the compressor, finish nailer, air stapler, brad nailer, hose and a bag for the nailers for $279 (it all works great). You’ll spend more than that on a bigger compressor alone. Just a few tidbits to mull over…

    • Thanks, y’all. I’ve been reading lots of bad reviews of the air compressors that are in the price range that I can afford, but I’ll look in to the Bostich. I think this is one of those pieces of gear that you can’t cut corners on.

      • Mikehell I picked mine up on sale at Lowe’s. It’s seen quite a bit of use. I bought that and a compound mitre saw for my wife so she could put up trim around the house herself. 😉 We’ve both used it a lot and we’ve haven’t had any trouble with it (or the nailers) at all. Just be sure to keep the tank drained of any moisture (this applies to any air compressor) or it will rust through from the inside.

        • I bought several Coleman dual air tank portable compressors back in ’07 for my roofing crews. I had tried countless compressors of this type and none would last a season. I let a crew run one of these and changed the compressor oil after the first day. Once that oil was gone(extra oil was provided with it), I changed to a Mobil synthetic 20W oil for regular engines. I couldn’t find a synthetic compressor oil so I used that product since I’m a big believer in Amsoil, having used it for 12+ years and love the stuff. Anyway, I’m still using that original compressor and every compressor I bought for a crew I followed the same things I had done to the first one. They all were running fine at the end of ’08 after the housing crash that crashed the roofing biz too. I still use the original compressor(knock on wood)and recently had to move it from the pump house to the barn since my big compressors pressure regulator gave up after use since 1979. I’ll replace it when I have time to make a 120 mile trip to get one.

      • Mikehell…the little pancake compressors available at Harbor Freight for $40 are good enough for a garage kept tire inflater…don’t pinch pennies on a tire pressure gauge or hose chuck (nozzle for connecting air hose to your tire). The little pancakes may last a couple of years and die, but buy another…they are throw away and better than a hand pump. They are much good for any real heavy service (pneumatic impact tools, nailers, serious paint sprayers, etc.) but airing up tires they are fine.

    • You’re focusing on the wrong thing.

      Buy a decent digital gauge, $20 will certainly do it.

      And the cheapest compressor you can find: try yard sales.

      I can always finfd ten minutes of necessary clean up around the car to do.

    • Check out Harbor Freight Tools. They have all kinds of compressors, very reasonably priced. You can get a compact, portable pancake unit for under $100. The conventional horizontal cylinder tanks with wheels are great too. You will want 1.5 CF+ of air storage if you want to air up four car tires without plugging in after a tire or two.


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