Newsletter No 34
MECHANICS & KITTENS
Life at the Foreign Service is never boring.
week, we rescued four abandoned kittens (eight weeks old and all
adorable). Their names are Tiger Lily, Houdini, Beatrice and
Little Chester. Houdini has already been adopted (thanks, Mike!)
and we are looking for good homes for the others.
is a tiger-striped tabby with white markings, and her sister Beatrice
is a striking black and white beauty. Little Chester is (like his
happily retired namesake) an orange and white tabby. They’ve all
been to the vet for their first check-up and first round of
If you are interested in adopting one of the little ones, please let us know!
LET THERE BE LIGHTS
know that many of you have kids old enough to drive. We’ve had
many cars in here recently because one of the warning lights came on
and the young driver didn’t think it meant anything.
it’s a good idea to spend time with your teenage drivers explaining the
consequences of ignoring certain warning lights. Also, every
driver should be able to pop the hood of a car and at least be able to
check the oil level. Here’s a brief rundown of lights and
OIL LIGHT: If this light ever comes on, the
driver should pull over as quickly as possible and shut the car
off. The oil light can have many causes. One of them
is that the engine has lost all its oil. It only takes seconds to
destroy an engine if there is a sudden loss of oil.
If the oil
light is coming on or flickering on only when the car is hot and
idling, this MAY (or may not) be normal. If this happens, stop
the engine and check the oil. Fill it if low. Then check
the due date for your next oil change. You may find that it is
overdue. If these two things are okay, drive it until you can
call us for further consultation.
BRAKE LIGHT: This one is
also potentially severe, and can harm more than the engine. It
can have many causes; some of them more potentially catastrophic than
others. A failing brake master cylinder or a loss of brake fluid
will trigger this light, and a total brake failure may be
imminent. Checking the brake fluid level is the first place to
If the pedal suddenly is feeling different, this is a bad sign.
COOLANT: Tell your drivers to always keep an eye on the
temperature gauge. If the car starts to run hot (the gauge close
to red), the car should not be driven until the problem is
resolved. If the coolant reservoir is low and you decide to fill
it, MAKE SURE that the car has been off for at least two hours and
always shield your face when you open the reservoir cap (these systems
operate under pressure).
CHECK ENGINE LIGHT: If the check
engine light comes on and stays on but there is no change in the
driveability of the car, it’s probably okay to drive it until the car
can be checked out. What the check engine light means is that the
main computer of the car has picked up a signal that something isn’t
right with a component. When we work on a car whose check engine
light is on, we use a tool to “pull codes” out of the computer (each
code points to a unique component). Sometimes the code is a
“garbage code” (meaning nothing is wrong, other than an errant signal).
And sometimes a component has failed or is in the beginning stages of
BATTERY LIGHT: If this starts to flicker
or comes on and stays on, the car will strand you sooner or
later. The charging system has developed or is developing a
problem with one of its components. You can drive the car until
it turns into a no-start, if you like living on the edge and have a
working cell phone!
It would be nice to be more specific about
what the lights mean and what you should do when they come on.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really possible, since the different lights
have somewhat different meanings between the different types of
cars. Also, the circumstances and associated symptoms will affect
what course of action you can take. When in doubt, call us
ASAP. In a pinch, you can read the owner’s manual.
BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL
of our customers called recently, asking what we thought about the AC
conversion kit ($30) on special this week at your local K-Mart.
we discuss the specifics, I’d like to say that I think this is
outrageous. These kits are plastered with advice to “take
your car to an AC professional”, but by the very existence of these
kits, they’re encouraging purchasers to try and fix broken AC systems;
and when that fails, take them to an AC technician.
I’m opposed to “do it yourselfers”. I’ve helped some of my
customers work on their AC system, but this is under my guidance and
the customers have experience in other AC fields. As a
matter of fact, the customer who called us has a great deal of
experience in converting commercial AC systems to the new refrigerant,
and he is still undecided about whether or not he will try this on his
Many AC systems still use the old refrigerant (freon, also
known as R12). It is illegal for anyone to vent freon into the
atmosphere. If a car is not cooling very well, this does not
necessarily mean that the system has no freon in it. Freon is
invisible and if someone is tinkering under the hood of their car on a
Saturday afternoon, no one knows what they’re up to. Freon needs
to be removed from a car using an AC evacuator and a recycling
machine. This equipment costs thousands of dollars!
these kits don’t include a new receiver-dryer or a high pressure
cut-out switch -- something we recommend in an AC conversion. Why? The
receiver-dryer is a filter removing contaminants from the system, and
has a lot of R12 in it. The system needs to be as free from R12 and R12
residue as possible in order for R134a to work most
effectively. The high pressure cut-out switch shuts the
compressor off if something has gone wrong. The compressor is an
expensive part worth protecting.
You have to remember
that if someone’s converting their freon-based AC system because it
doesn’t cool, the system most likely has a leak. Doing a
conversion (changing a few fittings and charging it with R134a) isn’t
going to fix the leak! This all strikes me as a marketing gimmick, and
the likelihood of obtaining a successful (and legal) conversion are
Since we’re on the topic of how
to spend money foolishly, how about a “fuel injector cleaning” for the
low price of $100 at your friendly neighborhood franchise place?
waste your money. Go to NAPA or some other auto parts store and
buy a can of Seafoam. Wait until you need gas, and put the
Seafoam in the gas tank prior to fill up. Total cost to
you? Under ten dollars and it works just as well.
tempted to run Seafoam in the crankcase (as the can suggests).
Sometimes this will suddenly loosen up so much carbon that the car will
develop severe running and stalling problems until the carbon deposits
work their way out. This treatment is best done in the shop under
a mechanic’s supervision.
IT’S SEVERE HERE
Severe driving conditions. That conjures up an image of driving through Siberia, doesn’t it?
you look at the fine print in your new car manual, you will see that
cold weather is not the only definition of severe driving conditions.
changes in weather (click), city driving (click), “cold” winters
(click), salted roads (click, click, click). I’m kind of
wondering who doesn’t fall under the severe designation.
What does this mean, beyond the classification?
driven in severe conditions need more frequent maintenance (especially
oil changes) . In other words, don’t wait 100,000 miles and a
ruined cylinder head before you get the spark plugs changed.
There is some improved longevity with the advent of mid-90’s cars, but
don’t be fooled into thinking that your car is basically
maintenance-free. And please don’t ignore your oil changes!
Irreparable damage can occur to the engine long before it becomes
apparent. Please have it changed every 3,000 miles or 4 months,
whichever comes first. If you’re using synthetic oil, the
interval is 3,000 miles, regardless of the number of months.
owners: Honda has officially reduced the timing belt replacement
interval on their 93 - 97 Civic timing belts from 90K to 70K, in severe
conditions. There have been many reports of premature belt
breakage on these cars.
Timing belt replacement is not something
you should ignore. When a timing belt breaks, it may bend engine
valves. Valve jobs are expensive, compared to a timing belt
NOT THE DAY BEFORE!
planning a big road trip, please schedule your pre-trip check
accordingly. In other words, don’t bring the car in the day
before you leave! We may find safety-related repairs that can’t
be completed in the time frame we have. You don’t want to
ruin a vacation by worrying about the reliability of your car.
I NEED A LOANER CAR
I’m glad our loaner cars are so helpful, but I need to clarify their availability.
tend to be spoken for days in advance, and are usually signed out to
people scheduling routine maintenance or other repairs. They are
primarily a convenience for people who are planning ahead. If
your car comes in as an emergency, it’s really unlikely we’ll have a
loaner car available.
Stop in to visit us, or if you have any questions about your cars, call us at 651-635-0395.