Does it Make Sense to You?

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Some ideas sound great… or at least,  ok – until you think some more about them. Let me give you some examples:ideas 1

* Nitrogen (vs. plain old air) in your tires – 

The idea here is that nitrogen, being an inert vs. reactive gas like oxygen, will help tires last longer – with the added side benefit of maintaining air pressure better because nitrogen has a tougher time permeating through the tire (and porous alloy wheels) than oxygen, because its molecules are larger.

Well, what about the air – the oxygen – that’s already in the tire? Unless a vacuum is created first – and all the air sucked out  – the tire is only partially filled with nitrogen. Which means, reactive oxygen is still inside the tire. Maybe not as much, but it’s still there. And of course, reactive oxygen surrounds the outside of the tire – and there’s not much that can be done about that.

Plus, what happens when you need to top off? Nitrogen pumps aren’t exactly on every street corner.

So – I dunno. Filling up your car’s tires with nitrogen might have some advantages – such as maintaining the proper pressure over a longer period of time. But I’m skeptical about the other claims made.nitorgen 1

* Blinking third eye –

In the late 1980s, a federal regulation went into effect requiring all new cars to have a third brake light – formally, the Center High Mounted Stop Light, or CHMSL, in government-speak. Aesthetically atrocious, the CHMSL supposedly decreased rear-ender wrecks by decreasing the reaction time of the not-paying-attention driver in the following car. He noticed the brake light earlier and so was able to stop sooner. Arguably, maintaining adequate following distance – and paying attention – would work as well or better than a CHMSL – and without uglifying the car. But that debate came and went 25 years ago.

Fast forward to the present. Someone has come up with the idea of a blinking CHMSL. You may have seen one, because they’re becoming fairly commonplace. The driver brakes – and the third-eye CHMSL blinks three or four times in quick succession. Apparently, the idea is this will make the CHMSL even more noticeable – and thus, reduce the number of rear-ender wrecks some more. But what happens when you’re in a sea of  heavy traffic, all those CHMSLs dancing like spastic Christmas lights? Seems like a … distraction to me. CHMSL

But hey, the government knows what it’s doing.

* Electric parking brake –

A growing number of new cars come with electrically-activated parking brakes – apparently, because it requires too much sweat effort to pull up on a lever or depress a floor-pedal with your foot. So, laziness – rather, appealing to people’s laziness (and love of gadgets) is part of the reason why. But there is a practical reason, too: Limited space inside the car. A pull-up emergency brake (more on this in a second) handle takes up a fair amount of space that could otherwise be devoted to important things like cupholders and iPod hook-ups.  A little switch – to electrically engage/disengage the parking brake – takes up less space plus looks “hip” and high-end.

Now, for the semantics – and italics. Electric parking brakes are exactly that. They hold the car in place once it’s parked. But as emergency brakes – something to slow/stop the car in the event the primary braking system fails – they are useless. Because they cannot be modulated, as a pull-up/cable-actuated emergency brake can. Electric parking brakes are on – or off – no gradation in between. Engage it while the car is moving, and the rear wheels will lock – and the car will skid.

With a pull-up emergency brake, you can control the amount of braking force applied and slow the car safely, without skidding.

It’s not “hip” and high-end. But it does serve a worthwhile purpose.  park

* Clear-coat paints –

All new (and recent-era) cars have what’s known as “two-step” finishes. There’s the color coat –  and on top of that, a thin layer of translucent paint – the clear coat. The clear coat is protective as well as what gives the finish its shine. But therein lies the rub – literally. Once the clear layer is damaged – by bird droppings, for instance – no amount of rubbing or polishing will ever bring back the shine.

The only thing that will is repainting the area.

Before the advent of clear-coat finishes, it was often possible to use a light abrasive compound to buff out damaged (or sun-faded) areas. The paint itself was thicker, too. Thus, it was possible to bring back heavily faded finishes, without repainting the car.

That won’t work with modern clear coats.

The upside is, they do last longer – usually –  and look better longer. I’ve got a 14-year-old truck that still looks nice, even though it sits outside and only gets a wash every once in awhile. pINT

But once damaged, there’s not much you can do to bring back the shine – without bringing out the sandpaper and the spray gun.

Throw it in the Woods?






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  1. Blinking eye-level brake lights came out in Australia (if not the world) in the early ’80’s. Several permutations were available. They were causing such distraction in Holland they were banned there. Here they just phased out I think. I’d hate to see that crap come back as many would confuse it for a bicycle these days.

    On clearcoats, I’ve only seen problems on early ’90’s model metallics (maybe the new metallics ain’t old enough yet?). It’s mostly seen on the car roof where the lazy refuse to polish.

    • Here, the CHMSLs are ubiquitous – having been mandatory since the late ’80s. Gawd!

      On clearcoats: I recently had the tank/bodywork of one of my antique bikes done this way – the clear applied over the factory stripes. The end result is brilliant. I will probably do the same when the time comes to re-paint my old Firebird. However, I know people who still prefer the single stage method – sanded and rubbed out to perfection. I suppose there are pros – and cons – either way. The two-stage probably looks sharper with less maintenance, while the single stage can be kept looking sharp for longer because it can be buffed/polished out without re-spraying.

      • A proper clear coat, one that is hard enough and thick enough should allow just as long of a life and hold up to polishings just as long.

    • Leave the DRLs and flashing brake lights to the motorcycles. If everyone has them the motorcycles’ lights disappear in a sea of DRLs and flashing brake lights.
      Why do giant trucks and buses need DRLs? If people can’t see them they need to open their eyes, put the beer can down, quit texting.

  2. I’m waiting for fully automated seatbelt buckles. While there have already been automatic shoulder strap locks for several years in some car models (when you close the driver’s side door and start the engine the shoulder strap swerves into place), I’m waiting for the ultimate in automotive Clover technology: the seatbelt that completely buckles you up once you start the engine and won’t release the buckle until the engine is shut off.

    Now just sit back and imagine all the “unintended consequences” from THAT ONE…

  3. My grandpa had a 1973 Cadillac Sedan DeVille with an automatic parking brake release. When you shifted out of Park, the pedal automatically released (it was operated by vacuum). You had to set the brake with your foot, of course, and there was a release lever as a back up. It was easy to disable the system by simply disconnecting the hose (which also happened accidentally if your foot bumped the hose).

    My aunt had a 1956 Chrysler which had its parking brake on the transmission. You operated it with a big T-handle on the left side of the dash.

    • My Dad had a 1953 Ford with an offset T handle parking brake. It was located to the left of the steering column under the dash.

      Add sloping driveway…..

      Add curious 5 year old boy…

      Add 3-on-the-tree…

      Equals 5 year old boy with a heart attack.

      To my credit I did have the presence of mind to yank the handbrake back on before any damage was done. But it was the most intense 4-6 seconds of my young life up to that point.

      And I had the damp drawers to prove it.

      • I’ll raise you one!

        I used to have a ’64 Corvair. Old car guys will recall that back in ’64, cars still had single reservoir brake systems. Well, one fine morning I headed out in the ‘Vair. There was a long, steep downhill grade that fed the main road. Halfway down, I touched the brake pedal lightly to slow the car. Only it did not slow – and the pedal went all the way to the metal as hydraulic pressure was lost due to a burst line and no more fluid in the system. Hello!

        Thank the Motor Gods, the Corvair had a lever-type emergency brake handle under the dash – which I pulled on like a survivor of 15 days at sea pulls on a rope thrown to him by rescuers. That plus gearing down (the car was a four-speed) allowed me to slow/stop the car before I reached the busy intersection – and certain annihilation by SMooooVee!

        • JUST A NOTE

          Most folks do not know that brake fluid absorbs water and that it is wise to replace it at intervals.(I have actually made service calls in response to locked brakes only to experience no problem on arrival.(Steam had locked the brakes and while awaiting my arrival they unlocked due to cooling and condensation.))

          Brake fluid contacts ambient air as it recirculates thru the reservoir.

          When bleeding brakes on an aging system it is wise to short stroke the pedal to avoid having the cups pass over a rusted area. A single pass will wipe it out, and adding a master cylinder can really blow your agreed-on estimate. Bad estimates do not make for happy customers.

          And never, NEVER, NEVER refill a reservoir with used fluid or from a container that has been open and exposed to only Gawd knows what.!!!!


          • Every time I change the oil, I draw some brake fluid from the master cylinder using a syringe. Then top off. This puts a little bit of fresh brake fluid into the system without having to bleed the brakes. (As you would with a full fluid change…)

          • Modern cars, even going back into the single circuit days, have a “rubber” diaphragm that separates the fluid in the master cylinder reservoir from ambient air. As the fluid level drops from disc brake wear, the diaphragm drops.
            It is a good idea to replace the fluid every few years. Cars with ABS may require specialized bleeding procedures Old cars that do not have a diaphragm should have the fluid replaced much more often, especially in damp climates.
            It is best to pressure or reverse (pump fresh fluid in through the bleed screws) bleed as pushing the brake pedal all the way down may ruin the master cylinder cups due to corrosion of the cylinder bore, as TGS pointed out..

        • I had this happen to me about a month ago in my metropolitan. Whats worse is the parking brake was screwed up too. Narrowly made it past an intersection.

          Fixing that lever has become priority number 1.

          Fun related story. When I took the drums apart to have a look afterwards, the previous mechanic has greased the brake surfaces. The original asbestos pads were still in there, unworn.

  4. Clear coat isn’t too bad to work on, but it takes different tools and some maintenance. Stuff like bird droppings can still be buffed out, but not with the old #7 buffing compound. Start with clay and work your way up to scratch remover (although you’ll likely not need it). Avoid the automatic car wash or foamy-brush places and do it yourself. Get a few micro-fiber towels (cotton WILL scratch) and rotate them as you dry.

    I’ve learned a lot about modern finishes over the past year because I bought a black car. When it’s clean, it’s fantastic, but ANY dirt sticks out like a zit the day of the senior prom!

  5. I recently saw another TV programme in which someone tried to murder someone by tampering with their car’s brakes. I told my wife I’d like to see one where the would-be victim calmly brings the car to a stop by bringing up the handbrake, downshifting to fourth, third, second, and first, killing the ignition before the clutch takes on first – then surveying the damage and driving on on gears and the handbrake.

    It’s another instance of a shift from an artisan-and-tool mind-set to a master-and-servant mind-set.

    • Yup –

      And, get this:

      In numerous vehicles I’ve tested over the past couple of years that do have a pull-up emergency brake handle, the cable tension was set so minimally that the thing was useless for anything more than holding the car stationary (and that, barely). I suspect the reason for this is “safety” – to prevent someone from performing a hand-brake turn.

      • If that is the consideration, why not have the mechanical brake working on the front wheels, especially on a fwd car? It would be idiot-proof, though less fun.

        A cousin of mine had several Alfasuds, all engineered that way – albeit facilitated by the inboard discs at the front. It is useful to be able to brake the driven wheels of a 2wd vehicle on slippery surfaces while under power.

        • Don’t know if they still do, but Citroëns from the ’50s thru the ’70s had the emergency/parking brake on the front wheels. The D/SM and disc brake 2CV types had inboard brakes on the transaxle with separate parking/emergency brake pads.
          The CX had outboard front brakes with emergency/parking brakes built in the same caliper/knuckle casting as the service brakes.
          The Citroën DSs with hydraulic shift had a pedal operated parking/emergency brake that had a lockout for the ratchet so that the brake could be operated like a service brake. The purpose was to make it easier to start off on uphills by holding the car with your left foot on the manual brake as you took your right foot off the service brake pedal and stepped on the gas pedal with your foot.
          I can drive my Olds with rear parking brake on, dragging the rear tires. On a steep hill, especially if wet, snowy, icy or leaved, I wouldn’t want to try parking it nose-down. Only about ⅓ of the car’s weight is on the rear wheels and even less with the nose downhill due to weight transfer.
          The Park lock in the trans only stops one front wheel from turning at best. If the adhesion is overloaded the tire with more adhesion will roll while the opposite tire will turn backwards.

  6. This makes a point about those full-on electric PARKING brakes…

    A few years ago, my wife’s 4Runner got a rebuilt engine (she fried the original one day when the infamous, too-thin head gasket failed and she cooked the main bearings).

    As we were test-driving the rebuilt engine for the first time on the freeway, smoke suddenly poured into the cabin just as we started on a long, downhill slope. I realized the engine was on fire!

    I stepped on the brakes to slow and pull off the freeway but… the brake pedal went all the way to the floor and there was NO BRAKING! (I later determined the fire burned through the brake lines and the fire was caused by a screw up in the installation of the fuel injection system.)

    So, I pulled on the EMERGENCY BRAKE handle and carefully brought the car to a rapid, but controlled, stop off the freeway. The tricky part was when we hit the gravel on the side of the road and the car started to swerve as the rear tires locked up. I was able to meter the brake response and keep it going more or less straight.

    We got out fine but the car was totaled. With adrenaline making me the Incredible Hulk for a few seconds, I had NO PROBLEM pulling the emergency brake handle hard enough to control that SUV!

    Without that old-fashioned EMERGENCY brake system, I would have either locked up the full-on electric PARKING brake or would have just had to ride it out as it coasted to a stop down the hill and we asphyxiated.

    To me, simple solutions are better…

      • Thanks, John!

        It was pretty exciting. My wife was REALLY happy I was driving since it was her car and she would normally have been the driver.

        That car was like a curse on our house. I was a little glad it happened so we could finally kiss it good bye!

  7. A couple other “bad” (or maybe not completely thought through) ideas:

    – Timing belts. The only time I’ve pulled a timing cover off an engine with a timing chain was when I replaced the engine. Now I have to do it every few years. Supposedly needed for higher timing accuracy, but now many are switching back to chains.

    – Automatic (mechanically retracting) or passive restraint (always leave fastened) seatbelts. I know you don’t wear them, but to those of us who do this was an idea in search of a problem; it doesn’t take that long to put on.

    • My vote goes to “timing belts”. What an altogether criminal idea it was to put something on that’ll, once it snaps, cause irreparable damage to your engine. Timing chains are what I look for in an automobile if they’re available. The salesman told me that “timing belts are quieter”. Really? At highway speeds in a Nissan Maxima I never heard the chain. And if you’re that sensitive to the minor sonic fluctuations between a belt and a chain then you damn well deserve nagging seat belt alarms and all sorts of hellish government mandated shit.

      • I’m not a big fan of timing belts, either – but IIRC, most late model engines with timing belts are not “crashers.” That is, they’ll simply stop running when the belt snaps; the won’t destroy themselves internally. Of course, you’re still looking at a typical $800 job (if you pay someone to do it) last time I checked…

        • I think it might depend if the engine is an interference or non-interference design.

          If it is an interference design, then the belt snapping will cause damage to the engine.

        • All of the VW TDI engines are interference engines and you will destroy the engine if the belt breaks. I would imagine the Skyactiv engine is the same way. Maxing out compression means real tight tolerances.

          That said, VW has improved their belts so now they don’t recommend replacement until 100K miles. I’ll probably do mine before a little before that just to be sure… I’ve been stranded by a timing belt failure before and it’s not fun.

          • Good to know, Eric –

            Even at 100k intervals, it’s still an obnoxious thing to have to deal with. Especially if you have to pay someone else to deal with it. Figure $800 per – times two (assuming you keep the car for 200k-plus miles) and that’s $1,600 in basically mandatory maintenance you will probably never have to worry about with an engine that has a timing chain.

        • Subaru 2.5L H4 engines have a timing belt, that if it slips, tops of pistons start hitting bottoms of valves… not pretty. (Volvos and Mistubishis too.) It is a 100k service on Subarus, which costs ~$1000 as you mention. Hence, there are a lot of used Subarus for sale that have 100k on the clock.

      • Life of components depends a lot on use and maintenance.

        My original 93′ Miata, at 166,+++ miles, has all its as delivered major engine and drive line components, Including the clutch/timing belt/and water pump. The only major part replaced so far, is the radiator at around 150,000 miles. The replacement parts are on the shelf, still waiting for failure, or the full restoration, sometime this year or next. I don’t recommend going past the recommended replacement mileage with a timing belt on an ‘interference’ engine.

    • I dislike timing belts. Recently replaced one because a tensioner failed. Thankfully close enough to home to just push my car back and take one of my others. I think it was a failure due to poor workmanship by the shop that replaced the original belt before I owned the car.

      • There’s something not kosher about an engine design that needs $800 of “routine maintenance” every 70,000 miles or so. A timing belt change is typically a major job (especially in a FWD car) beyond the ability of most people to do themselves.

        In my life so far I’ve never had an issue with a timing chain. They may get a little slack, but that usually takes almost forever.

        • I’ve replaced one timing chain set. On my ’73. I had a strange ignition timing issue and nothing seemed off. I did a test for a slack chain and it failed so I replaced it. Then the distributor’s plastic bushings failed. I think it was the bushings all along. But regardless the chain was slack although it could have probably gone much longer as it was. Other than that no issues with chains.

        • The Maserati 90° V6 of the ’70s & ’80s had to have all 3 timing CHAINS replaced every 60,000 miles (100,000 kilometers). The upper 2 chains had to be manually tensioned every 6,000 mi. (10,000 kms). Very precise procedures had to be followed as making any mistake would bend a valve (at the least) the first time the crankshaft was turned. Definitely an “interference” engine; the pistons were “flycut” (actually cast) with valve head clearance recesses in the piston crowns.
          The Maserati V8s and IL6s never had any such demands.


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