Car Maintenance Tips

How Can I Tell If My Radiator Is Leaking?

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When the temperature gauge on your dashboard reads high or a temperature warning light comes on, you have a cooling system problem that may be caused by a leak — be it in the radiator itself or some other component.

First, make sure it’s coolant that’s leaking, not another fluid. (Coolant is often referred to as antifreeze, but technically coolant is a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.) You can easily check the coolant level in your see-through overflow tank. If it’s empty or low, the next step should be to check the coolant level in the radiator, but that should be done only when the engine is cool.

Once you know you’re losing coolant, the radiator is a good place to start. Some radiator leaks will be easy to spot — such as a puddle underneath the radiator — but others not so much. It’s best to check the radiator from every angle, not just from above, and pay particular attention to seams and the bottom. Corrosion inside the radiator or holes from road debris also can cause leaks.

Antifreeze comes in different colors — green, yellow and pinkish-red, for example — feels like slimy water and usually has a sweet smell. If you can’t see coolant dripping or seeping, look for rust, tracks or stains on the radiator. Those are telltale signs of where it has leaked.

If the radiator appears to be OK, the cooling system offers several p

If you can’t find a leak, have it checked by a professional. Coolant has a way of escaping only under pressure when the car is running — possibly in the form of steam, which may not leave a trace.

Do I Need to Replace More Than One Tire at a Time?

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You can safely replace only one tire if the others still have most of their tread.

Unlike the old days, when a pair of tires would be mounted to the drive wheels only for  cold weather use, today we recognize that a vehicle should have four matching tires: same type, same model and, yes, even same degree of wear. The reason is simple: A car with four tires that behave the same — whether accelerating, braking or cornering — is balanced and predictable. If any of these factors are different at one or more wheels, traction characteristics can vary and performance will be unbalanced.

Tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch, and most new tires typically have 10/32 to 12/32 (5/16 to 3/8) of an inch of tread. If a car’s other tires have lost only 2/32 or up to maybe 4/32 of their original tread depth, it’s probably OK to replace just the damaged tire.

There can be exceptions, though. Some manufacturers of all-wheel-drive vehicles recommend that all four tires be replaced, not just one or two, because a new tire will have a larger overall diameter than the other tires. The ones that have lost just a few 32nds of tread depth will spin faster than the new one, and the difference could cause an all-wheel-drive system to engage on dry pavement and possibly damage the system.

On an all-wheel-drive vehicle or one with a conventional four-wheel-drive system, all four tires would ideally be replaced at the same time so they all have the same amount of traction as well as the same diameter.

On a front- or rear-wheel-drive vehicle, similar guidelines apply. If half or more of the tread on all four tires is gone, replacing just one tire will result in one wheel spinning at a slower rate than the others, possibly sending false signals to the traction control and antilock braking systems. It also will result in one tire having more or less raction for acceleration, braking and cornering grip than the others, which can affect a vehicle’s behavior. On a two-wheel-drive vehicle, a better approach would be to replace both tires on the same axle. The best approach, though, is to replace all four if the tread on the old tires is significantly worn.

One way to avoid buying more than one tire is to have the tread on the new one “shaved” so it matches the depth of the others. Some tire dealers will shave off some tread depth on a special machine for a fee.

If you decide to replace only one tire, it should be the same model, size and tread pattern as the others. A different brand or model tire will have even greater differences in traction and number of revolutions per mile, and it’s likely to wear at a different rate. That means it could conceivably wear out faster  than the others, even if it starts out with more tread depth.

Whether you decide to replace just one tire or more, tire experts advise that the new rubber should be mounted on the rear. If new tires are mounted on the front, the worn tires in the rear would be more susceptible to hydroplaning — riding on top of water on the road — and possibly causing the vehicle to spin in a turn.

Does My Car Need Synthetic Oil?

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If your car’s owner’s manual says it does, you do.

For many consumers, whether to spend extra money for synthetic oil for an oil change is a difficult question to answer.

Manufacturers of synthetic oil promise more miles and better performance when compared with conventional motor oil, but it comes at a higher cost — sometimes twice as much per oil change. Is it worth the extra money?

Typically, high-performance vehicles will be more likely to require synthetic oil, as will vehicles that have a turbocharged or supercharged engine. However, if your vehicle does not require synthetic oil, the choice is trickier – and there is no clear answer.

Synthetic oil generally resists breaking down for longer than conventional motor oil (typically 12070.08 km to 16093.44 km, sometimes up to 24140.16 km, as opposed to 4828.032km to 12070.08 km for conventional oil). That makes the extra cost a wash, if you have half the number of oil changes, but each one costs you twice as much. Other touted benefits include cleaner engines, better flow in cold temperatures, better protection when it’s hot outside and better performance with turbocharged engines.

There are also synthetic blends. As the name implies, these are blends of synthetic and conventional oils. They straddle a middle ground — they cost more than conventional oils but less than full synthetics, and are said to last longer than conventional oils but not quite as long as synthetics — but again, that’s a hard number to pin down since manufacturers are vague with their claims. An independent testing lab we spoke with said that synthetics often didn’t perform much better than conventional oils do.

Still, older engines may benefit from synthetics because it is less likely to form sludge.

If your car doesn’t require synthetic oil you should perform a cost/benefit analysis, but that can be difficult to do due to vague claims made by manufacturers. There may be no reason to spend more on synthetic oil, except for peace of mind.

Are Manual Transmissions Cheaper to Repair and Maintain Than Automatics?

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Manual transmissions are usually cheaper to maintain and repair than automatics because the latter are far more complex and have more parts and functions that can fail, but it may depend on your driving style.

An automatic has hundreds of mechanical, hydraulic and electronic helpers that have to work in harmony to shift gears smoothly for you. In contrast, a manual transmission is mostly mechanical gears that rely on the driver to engage the clutch and shift when needed.

The cost of replacing automatic transmission fluid generally ranges from about 40,000 to 80,000 naira, depending on the vehicle and who is doing the work. Manual transmissions also require periodic fluid changes, but the cost tends to be about half of that.

Transmission repair costs vary widely based on the vehicle and what it needs. Repairing a leak might cost a few hundred dollars or less, but tearing apart a transmission to find the cause of problems can be much more expensive. That is why many repair shops recommend replacing a transmission instead of trying to fix internal problems — especially in the case of newer continuously variable and dual-clutch automatics, because parts are more difficult to come by and there’s less repair know-how when compared with conventional automatics.

Transmission replacement costs also vary widely, but manual transmissions typically are cheaper, falling into a rough range of 520,650 to 1,041,300 naira for non-luxury vehicles. Automatics are more expensive, with a range of roughly 800,000 to 1,600,000 naira for a remanufactured transmission for most vehicles from mainstream brands. CVTs lean toward the higher side of the estimate: One shop estimated that replacing a CVT on a Nissan Sentra would cost 1,600,000 naira versus 867,750 naira for replacing a six-speed automatic on a Chevrolet Cruze. For a luxury vehicle, a new transmission can cost closer to 3,471,000 naira.

Here’s something else to keep in mind on cost: Some automatic and manual transmission parts are covered by the manufacturer’s powertrain warranty, which on many vehicles lasts for 96560.64 km and on some as long as 160934.40 km. The clutch for a manual transmission, though, is considered a “wear” item and is generally covered for only 19312.128 km. Clutches and related parts also usually are excluded from extra-cost service contracts (or extended warranties).

If you burn through clutches rapidly because of your driving style, you could shell out more for repairs than you would with an automatic. Likewise, if your foot-hand coordination isn’t great, you frequently could grind gears or chip gear teeth with a manual transmission, and over time that will take a toll.

Automatic transmissions also can be damaged by abuse, but they are less susceptible to wear caused by individual driving styles. Most people put them in Drive and just drive, and they seldom even think about the transmission. Thanks to computer control and other advances, modern automatics are more durable than ever, even when driven enthusiastically. 

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