The other day, I changed the oil/filter in one of my old cars. Because I have a small fleet of antique vehicles, as well as several “daily drivers” (plus a lot of equipment, including a tractor, riding mower, generator – you get the drift) that also need their oil/filters changed periodically, it is easy to lose track of which gets what – and most of all, how much.
The old car, for instance. It’s an old Pontiac (’76 Trans Am). I know – because I am an old Pontiac guy – that all classic Pontiac V-8s (the 455, as in my car, bu also the 428, the 400, the 350 and the 326) take not the usual five quarts of oil that most American V-8s need but six. A person not into Pontiacs – or knowledgeable out them – or lacking a service manual – could easily make the mistake of under-filling the crankcase. Oil is important. You want enough of it inside your engine.
And, the reverse.
My four cylinder pick-up trucks only take a bit more than four quarts. Overfilling can be worse than underfilling the crankcase – but either can lead to troubles easily avoided by being sure to check before you pour.
It’s pretty common today for oil to be sold in five quart jugs. But what if – as in the case of my Nissan pick-ups – you need 4.2 quarts? Some jugs have marker lines, but some don’t – and sometimes, the gradations are not very precise. To be sure, you can measure out the oil into a beaker – or use a quart bottle.
And, if you don’t do your own oil changes, be sure to check the work of whoever does. At most oil change joints, they do not pour the oil in a quart at a time. They use a gun that meters out “x” quantity from a 50 gallon drum. It is not uncommon for the guy wielding the gun to over (or under) fill the crankcase. Which is why the first thing you ought to do after getting your keys back is pop the hood and pull out the dipstick. Be sure it’s right before you drive away.
Here’s another – tire air pressure.
If you own several vehicles – especially if some are much older and some much newer – you will discover (or may already know) that tire pressure recommendations can vary a lot from one vehicle to another. For one thing, the old 28-32 psi rule that used to be a good rule of thumb for most cars does not apply anymore. Some of the new cars I test drive recommend 40 psi – or even more. Thus, 32 psi would be significantly under-inflated, and your car’s handling would be sloppier, its braking distances longer – and its gas consumption higher. On top of all that, the tires will wear faster, too.
Then there are old cars – and motorcycles – if you have ’em. One of my old bikes (40 years old now) wants no more than 28 pounds. But the more modern sport bike likes 35. As anyone who rides will tell you, inflation pressures are even more crucial on two wheels than on four. Drastic differences in handling – the kind you don’t want – can happen if you’ve put too much or tool little air in your tubes. Speaking of which. Bike tires seem (to me at least) to be more prone to leakage than do car tires. It may be due to the fact that virtually every car tire is a tubeless radial – while many bike tires still use tubes. But, regardless – and especially if the bike sits for days/weeks at a time – they seem to lose air faster than car tires. Given the potentially negative consequences of low inflation pressure, it’s a wise man who always checks the tires before he rides. With a car, it’s usually ok to do it every couple of weeks – unless you’ve got a known “leaker” – one tire that seems to lose air faster than the others. In which case, do it more often – and maybe take that wheel/tire in for a look-see. It might not be the tire, you see. Modern car wheels are often aluminum alloy wheels – and sometimes, during the casting process, imperfections happen that can’t be seen by the eye but nonetheless result in aggravating minor leaks, no matter what you do to the tire.
Air conditioners. Some of my stuff is pre-1990s – and so, the refrigerant in the AC systems is R-12 (Freon). Not the current R134a stuff. Most cars made after about 1995 or so use 134a – and while it’s not easy (because it’s not legal) for the average person to get hold of a can of Freon, anyone can buy a can of 134a – and a recharge kit – at any car parts place. This is great – if the system you’re about to recharge is a 134a-compatible system. But if it’s not . . . you most definitely do not want to stuff it full of 134a. Because if you do, the result could be major expensive damage to the system. (I’ve read and heard about people using 134a in R-12 systems without trouble, but the recommended procedure is to thoroughly evacuate the R-12 refrigerant and purge the lines before adding 134a. Mixing these two refrigerants and their lubricating oils is a bad idea.)
Also, if you’re going to attempt the DIY AC system recharge with one of those kits, spring for a kit with a gauge that indicates when the system is charged – and which will prevent you from overcharging it. Just as is true of engine oil, too much refrigerant (and pressure) is as undesirable as too little.
All the foregoing is the mechanic’s equivalent of the carpenter’s measure twice – cut once.
Words to live by – and wrench by!
Throw it in the Woods?
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