An “Apple” a Day…

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You’ve heard about eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away. It’s good advice. Eating healthy can’t hurt, at any rate. Well, here are some things you might want to do to avoid hurting your car – in order to keep the mechanic away:

* Parking brake on firstparking brake

By engaging the parking brake on before you put the gear shift lever into Park you avoid using the transmission to hold the car’s weight in place. You use the car’s brakes instead. Many people make the mistake of putting the transmission into Park first – then engaging the parking brake. This may assure the car stays put – but it also assures tremendous loading of the transmission – which isn’t good for it.

Which ultimately means, not good for you.

PS: Same advice goes for a manual transmission. If you “park” it by leaving it in gear – without first applying the parking brake – you are making the transmission hold the car in place. That’s several thousand pounds of force being exerted on components not designed to take that kind of load. The parking brake is designed for exactly that.

Use it.

* Idle it with the clutch outclutch pic

Want to do your manual transmission – and yourself – a favor? When you first start the car in the morning, ease the clutch out right after you start the engine – with transmission in neutral, of course (keeping your foot on the brake pedal, obviously). Let it idle like that for 30 seconds or so.

Why do this?

With the engine running and the clutch out, the transmission is engaged (connected to the engine) and the gears inside are turning – which will coat them with fresh lube and also speed their warm-up. This will reduce wear and tear and will noticeably improve drivability on very cold days, when the lube has congealed due to the low temperature.

Also – whether its cold or hot outside – doing this will take pressure of the clutch/pressure plate/pilot bearing. This will increase the life expectancy of those parts. Even when the car is fully warmed-up, try to avoid keeping the clutch pedal depressed. When you roll up to a red light, put the trans in neutral and let the clutch out until the light goes green – and it’s time to get going again.

Your car will thank you for your consideration- even if your mechanic doesn’t.

* Battery disconnect switch/battery tender –battery disconnect

If you have a vehicle – car or bike or riding mower – that sits for weeks at a time without being used, you might want to look into a disconnect switch for the battery. This is less hassle than physically disconnecting the cables.

Or, hook up a battery tender.

Why do this?

If you leave the battery hooked up in a vehicle that’s sits for weeks at a time and there’s even a slight current draw from the vehicle (this is fairly common) the battery will likely be be either dead or low next time you use the car. Dead will be obvious, but low will not be … for awhile. However, over time, your battery’s life will likely be cut short. Excessive discharge-recharge cycles are the reason why.

Maintaining a battery at or close to peak charge is one of the keys to long battery life.

Disconnecting the battery – either via a convenient switch (as opposed to manually removing the cables) or – better – hooking the battery up to a tender that keeps the battery “topped off” – will not only keep your vehicle ready-to-go, it will help you avoid having to spend $100-plus to replace a prematurely croaked battery.

* Vacuum caps on grease fittings –

C64659 26-105
C64659 26-105

You’re supposed to make sure a grease fitting is clean before  pumping fresh grease in – otherwise you’ll also pump some fresh dirt in, too.

A simple – and cheap – way to keep grease nipples clean (and free of rust) is to slip a rubber vacuum cap onto the nipple after each servicing. You can buy a pack of generic vacuum caps for a couple of bucks at any auto parts store. Find the size you need – and buy a handful.

Next time you’re greasing the ball joints, slip a cap onto the nipple after you’ve finished. It’ll keep crud off the nipple – and make the next time you grease the fittings much easier.

This also works well on threaded shock absorber studs, too. By covering up the threads, you’ll have a much easier time turning out the bolt next time you need to replace the shocks – because the threads won’t have rusted up. That makes getting the nut/bolt off the threads – and getting the old shock off the vehicle – easy and quick rather than a vise-grips and PB Blaster PITAS

* Use a syringe to suck out brake/clutch reservoir fluid –

Most cars built since the ’80s with manual transmissions have hydraulic-assist clutches, with a small reservoir of fluid (brake fluid) that should be periodically changed out. And of course, all cars have hydraulic-assist brakes, with another reservoir of fluid (also brake fluid) that should be periodically changed out.syringe

If you don’t do this regularly – at least once a year – the fluid gets contaminated/degrades. And that will eventually lead to expensive problems.

You can change all the fluid at once, by bleeding the system – but this requires tools/skills you haven’t got – in particular, if the car has anti-lock brakes.

But if you have a syringe and a catch can, you can remove a third to half or more of the fluid without removing a single bolt or using a single tool.

Just open the top of the reservoir and draw out fluid – being careful not to expose the little holes at the very bottom of the reservoir (or you’ll let air into the system and then you will have to bleed the entire system). Then top off with fresh fluid to the proper level. If you do this a couple of times (takes about five minutes per time) you’ll have effectively replaced most of the fluid within the system.

It’s an almost no-cost, no-tool and no-skill way to keep brake/clutch fluid reasonably fresh without having to actually bleed the system – or pay someone else to do it.

Done regularly, you may never have to replace your car’s slave cylinder (manual transmission-equipped cars) or deal with expensive brake system work. Fluid contamination/degradation is probably the main reason for major problems with either system. People just forget to change the fluid.

They inevitably get a “reminder” from their car… and then a “thank-you” note from their mechanic. depends on you to keep the wheels turning! The control freaks (Clovers) hate us. Goo-guhl blackballed us.

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    • I put on my e brake as soon as I’m stopped and then stick ‘er in Park. When I stop on any incline I do this. Back in the 70’s Ford made a lot of C6’s and C4’s with bad parking palls. i knew several people who got knocked down, their pickup wrecked on some solid object or another vehicle. A guy at work was checking meters on outside walls of the plant one day. He pulled up, got out leaving the door open since he just had to take a few steps and record the meter. This day the old Ford took off in reverse with the front wheels right turn full lock. He tried to run it down and it knocked him down nearly running over him. Not satisfied with that he waited for it to circle back and tried again. This time it knocked him down and ran over him, nearly getting his head. A young guy ran up and stopped the truck before it finished what it had started. This wasn’t the first time that had happened with a fleet of pickups that company owned. Right after that they traded them all on new Chevy’s.

  1. About the hand brake. Unless you’re on a slope of some sort you really don’t need to set it. I see ads for used cars sitting on a level lot with the shifter in neutral and the hand brake at about 12 o’clock. Seems like unnecessary usage of a mechanical device. I realize you live in them thar hills of SW Virginny but, most folks don’t.

  2. Brake fluid needs to be flushed. Brake fluid is hydroscopic ,i.e. attracts and holds water, once enough water molecules are collected they bind into a drop or several. Since water is heavier then brake fluid it migrates to the lowest position in the brake lines and other parts and rust them from inside out. Therefore simply changing the reservoir does nothing to the water in the lines since the fluid doesn’t not cycle through the system, except a small amount when ABS when activated.
    Also even if your brake system is rust-resistant, the water lowers the boiling point of the combined fluid. Skip the fluid change a few years then romp through the mountains at full clip and suddenly the pedal will hit the floor and a quick pump only get you a bit of brakes since there is now air in the lines.

  3. These days the clutch hydraulics just use the brake master cylinder’s reservoir. And with the in-bell housing slave cylinder and no bleed screw a pain to keep with fresh fluid and the benefit of clutch dust working its way up to the reservoir.

    Best I can tell GM started using it first and its spread through the auto industry. Other than manufacturing cost I can’t think of a single benefit. Everything else takes a hit. And of course turning the easy job of replacing a clutch slave cylinder into a transmission removing affair.

    • My ’93 Chevy pickup had its own hydraulic system for the clutch and the bleed screw was outside the bell housing, only two bolts that held the slave cylinder in so changing it was easy. I never had any problems except with the hose that blew cause the clutch was so old it was really hard to push. Those dual mass clutches(diesels) are tough and tough to operate when they’re old. I didn’t know it since I was accustomed to that but my buddy with the body shop got in it one day and asked how big my left leg was. To be truthful, larger than my right one.

      I had a Schiefer racing clutch in my Malibu that was just as tough.

  4. eric, excellent tips and one I have never used, the vaccum caps…..learned something today. Speaking of protecting threads I use pure nickel never-seize on everything but the old lady and CJ. I also use capnuts on everything including trailers. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since a wheel was removed the never-seize(I know some people say not to use it on wheel studs but I’ve never had a problem and this is since about 1980 when the Glenn Rose reactor was being built and lots of expensive stuff like pure nickel was “going around”).

    I have an old 100 ml syringe with a piece of vacuum tubing on it I use on the master cylinder. When I do a brake job I push that line over the brake bleeder and fill each wheel line from the brake into the master cylinder.

    An aside to this, the company that makes the automatic brake bleeder/filler makes breast pumps that are identical except for the fittings for the suction line. A buddy picked one up(breast pump)at a garage sale for a couple bucks that looked to be brand new and showed me it was the exact same pump they were getting big bucks for at the parts store.

  5. This is great stuff, eric. Thanks for the reminders. I will be stopping for some vacuum caps on my way home!

    Regarding the hydraulic fluid, what do you do for an old car that mostly sits? Still change it once a year?

      • Eric – will a regular fluid exchange as described in your write up substitute for a flush? I thought the brake fluid did not circulate around….


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