Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Death of the CD Player

No CD slot here.
Car audio goes back a long way. Ever since Motorola made the first car radio back in 1930, we have enjoyed listening to just about anything while driving down the road. In the 50’s Chrysler even tried putting record players in many of their high end models. These required a very smooth road and some even had a special rotational speed that required you to buy records form the dealership. They were not your standard 45’s. It’s hard to imagine driving along listening to a stack of vinyl while trying to avoid even the smallest bumps in the road.

When I was a kid, and I mean a little kid, I remember cruising around in the old Dodge van that mom drove listening to 8 track tapes purchased from a local second hand store. The likes of Barry Manilow, Barbara Streisand, and the soundtrack to the Broadway show Hair could be heard loud, and somewhat clear from the two speakers in the dash. We even had a random speaker attached to a wire just floating freely under the back seat of the van. I used to lay on the floor underneath the 3rd seat with my ear to this speaker, rocking out as any 8 year old would. 
Nothing like getting lost on the eight tracks
of one continuous tape.
Now before you get the idea that I am that old, I need to remind you my parents drive really old cars. Growing up in the 80’s the old cars had 8 track players and the newer, fancier cars had cassette decks. Before long we too had a cassette deck in our Pontiac Parisienne station wagon. The U2, Joshua Tree album sounded really good, as did Depeche Mode, Metallica, and the sound track from the Phantom of the Opera. We listened to a wide variety of music. 

I don’t remember exactly, but I think that I had moved out of the house by the time my parents had a car new enough to be equipped with a CD player, in fact I’m fairly certain that I bought a car new enough to have a CD player before my parents ever did. This medium, and the stereo in which it plays, has been standard equipment on most vehicle for a much longer time period that anything else, but now that is slowly changing.

The CD player is dead as the standard audio player of choice in cars today. Honestly it has been dead for a few years now. I can’t remember the last time I used the CD player in any of my cars, I’m pretty sure it’s been years. Today we are to the point where auto manufacturers and even the aftermarket stereo manufacturers are selling car stereos that have no compact disc player.

The CD long box. In case you are
too young to remember
Some cars like the new Jeep Cherokee or any Cadillac, still offer a CD player but its hidden somewhere out of the way and no longer mounted in the dash. If you buy something like a Chevy Spark, or a Kia Soul there is no option for the optical audio drive. These cars come with more modern ways of listening to music, or “books on tape.” Cars such as the Spark are designed and built for the youngest drivers among us and this generation is comprised of people who have probably never purchased a CD from a music store and definitely have no idea what a “long box” is.

For many years now most new cars have been equipped with auxiliary audio jacks that allow any MP3 player to play through the stereo. USB ports are also common on most models to allow a direct interface between the car stereo and your iPod or thumb drive. Why carry a big stack of CDs when you can just carry a tiny iPod Shuffle.

Getting even more modern than this, now many cars are equipped with infotainment systems capable of streaming audio via cell phone and Bluetooth. Paring your phone to the car allows you to take advantage of services and apps such as Pandora or I Heart Radio. Some cars even come with a very large flash type hard drive so you can transfer all of your audio and even video files to the car where they are permanently available for play back through the stereo and rear seat video entertainment systems.
Not CD slot here. 2014 Kia Soul

The death of the car CD player will be somewhat slow as it’s expected to be available for a few more years, particularly in vehicles meant for the more seasoned driver. The cassette player died a slow death as well back in the day. The last year this feature was offered in any new car was 2010 and its amazing it lasted that long. I think the CD player will be gone by 2017. I guess we will all have to move on. At least AM and FM hasn’t changed…yet.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ethanol, E85, and Burning Your Food

In our modern day we are constantly being bombarded with the potential for new fuel alternatives that we can use to run our vehicles, or that we might soon be able to use to run whatever car or truck we might have in the future. One of the new technologies, or perhaps not so new is ethanol.

Ethanol works well as a fuel additive because it increases the octane rating of gasoline and it helps it to burn cleaner. When used as the primary component of the fuel, and not just an additive we usually refer to it as E85. This is a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Cars that are labeled “flex fuel” are capable of running on gasoline, E85, or any mixture of the two. These flex fuel vehicles are actually very common but most people who own them never run them on E85 and likely don’t even know that they can.

As an additive it’s great, as a fuel it leaves much to be desired. Ethanol takes so much energy to produce and provides so little energy in return that it is not very practical as a fuel. While it may be impossible to calculate the exact amount of energy return from E85 production, some experts say the return of energy with the production of E85 is actually negative.

Not everything about E85 is bad. The octane rating is somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 which is great. This makes it possible to produce a lot of power with E85 as a fuel. E85 is also completely renewable since it is derived from plant sources that are easy to cultivate. E85 burns very cleanly and produces fewer emissions than petroleum based fuels. If E85 is spilled or otherwise released into the environment it is much less harmful than most of the other fuels that we use.

The problem lies in the fact that E85 is not as energy dense as gasoline or diesel fuel. Because of this lack of energy things such as fuel economy suffer when running E85. Take the average midsize sedan that is flex fuel capable, with a V6 engine. Typically a car like this will be able to achieve a combined fuel economy rating of about 25 or 26 mpg. The exact same vehicle running on E85 will achieve about 14 or 15 mpg. Power output will feel the same but the engine will burn a lot more E85 to produce the same amount of power that the gasoline produces. The nationwide average price per gallon of E85 is currently $3.23 per gallon, while gasoline is $3.93. E85 is cheaper but not by much, and it’s certainly not worth the bad fuel economy. 

The FlexFuel badge found on the back of many cars. Most
people don't even know what it means.
Another problem with E85 is the feedstock that is most commonly used to produce it here in the U.S. is corn. This means that farmers who might otherwise grow corn that we eat, would instead grow corn for ethanol production. While the corn we eat is not exactly the same corn as that which is used in E85 production, the ground on which it is grown and other resources are the same. With ground and resources thusly diverted the amount of crops meant for human consumption goes down. Less food means more expensive food. And don’t forget, livestock eats corn as well, and if the cost of livestock feed goes up, the cost of food products derived from livestock also go up.

If we can get away from the idea of burning our food in our cars, we might be able to make something more useful of E85. One idea that is being developed is production of cellulosic ethanol. This is ethanol produced from things such as grasses and other plants that we do not eat, and that continually grow without the need for reseeding. Switch grass for example grows very well in many places around the country and can be used to produce E85. Switch grass grows very high very quickly and can be cut repeatedly without having to be replanted, kind of like your front lawn in the summer.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Removing Heat, Not Adding Cold

The air conditioning system in your car is one of those things that really has nothing to do with how well the vehicle runs, or how well the vehicle performs the tasks for which it was designed. However, it is a system that when not working can make the car more undrivable than something like an engine misfire. In the middle of July many people will put off getting new tires, or fixing that check engine light, in favor of getting the A/C system working.

So what is going on with this magical system of super coolness? Honestly it works the same way as the refrigerator in your kitchen. The principles at work are no different, and the first thing to understand is the fact that A/C systems do not add cold to the interior of your car, they take away heat.

Heat is a form of energy, and when it is taken away you are left with the absence of heat, or cold. Since heat is energy it can be stored and moved like many other forms of energy. The air conditioning system takes heat out of the air inside the car, moves that heat to the outside of the car, and dissipates it into the surrounding air. When heat is removed we are left with the absence of heat which leaves us feeling much more comfortable.

In order to do this, a refrigerant is used to transfer the heat around in the system. This refrigerant possesses specific properties that allow it to be pumped through the system in both liquid form under high and low pressure, and vapor form under high and low pressure.

The key to the refrigeration process is the diabatic expansion of the refrigerant in the evaporator core of the A/C system. This expansion causes heat to be drawn into the refrigerant. The evaporator is a small radiator type unit usually located under the dash. Instead of being a place where heat is released, the evaporator is a place where heat is absorbed. The refrigerant enters the evaporator as a high pressure liquid through a tiny orifice. As it passes through the orifice the pressure drops dramatically and the high pressure liquid can then expand and evaporate into a gas. This evaporative process causes the refrigerant to pick up heat. Air is blown through the fin-like structure of the evaporator so the refrigerant can take the heat from the air.

A/C compressor
All of this newly evaporated refrigerant is then pumped out of the evaporator under the dash to the front of the vehicle. As it moves, it passes through the compressor in the system that compresses the gas making it very hot. The hot gaseous refrigerant then passes through the condenser at the front of the car and condenses back to a liquid state as it gives off heat into the surrounding air. Think of the moisture that accumulates on the side of a cold soda can as condensation. At this point the process starts all over again.

If any of the components are not functioning properly, this cycle will not work to remove heat. The most common problem is a leak in the system causing loss of refrigerant. If this happens then the system lacks the capacity to remove the BTUs necessary to make the passengers feel cool and comfy.

Sometimes when ambient conditions are especially hot, the A/C system will struggle to keep you cool. Some things to remember about your A/C system: You can’t have instant cold. In order for the system to keep you cool it must first remove all of the heat from itself. This might take a few minutes.

Also, make sure to set your fresh/recirculate controls to recirculate. This means the system will draw air from inside the vehicle instead of the outside. If the system is drawing in air that is 100° it might not cool enough on one pass through the evaporator, but if it recirculates air that has already been cooled once, it can cool it a little more at it goes back through the system.

The last tip is to set your mode selector to discharge air from the dash only, do not split the discharge air between dash and floor. You need to move the heat away from around your head and shoulders in order to be comfortable. Nobody ever complained of feeling comfortable up top but feeling too hot around the feet. Not to mention the fact that the cold air coming out higher up on the dash is going to sink to the floor anyway. This flow will also help the recirculation mentioned earlier.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Owners by Federal Fiat

At the Chrysler Corporation things are changing dramatically and it’s certainly for the better. It’s been a rocky road for the house of the Pentastar over the last several years but since corporate restructuring that resulted from the bankruptcy of 2009 Chrysler is in new and seemingly capable hands.

Fiat S.p.A. based in Turin, Italy has been gobbling up shares of Chrysler.  The federal government was in charge of the Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings back in 2009 and declared by ummm, fiat, that the Italian automaker would be allowed to purchase an initial share of 20% of Chrysler. This allowed Chrysler to stay in business.

From 1998 to 2007 Chrysler was mostly owned by Daimler Benz (the Mercedes people) and the company was called Daimler Chrysler. During this time Daimler Benz tried very hard to keep the Mercedes line and the Chrysler/Dodge line of vehicles completely separate. They didn't

mix vehicles back and forth much so they could keep things distinctly American or German. This didn't prove very profitable for Daimler Benz so they axed the Chrysler part of the company to a capital management firm here in the U.S. back in 2007.

Sergio Marchionne
This, along with many other problems, caused Chrysler to start bleeding from the ledger so badly they had to declare bankruptcy in 2009. This is when Fiat stepped in to help. They had already righted their own ship back in 2004 when the dynamic Sergio Marchionne took over the helm of Fiat. They were now looking to grow dramatically and saw value in the Chrysler name, as well as an easy way to break back into the North American market. Fiat used to sell cars here in the U.S. until the mid 80’s when they had to pull out.

The 20% of Chrysler that was owned by Fiat has grown to about 60%. Recently it is being reported that Fiat is looking to increase ownership by another 15 to 20 percent. While Fiat is already completely in control of Chrysler Group LLC, the further increase in their share would allow Fiat more access to the revenues generated by the now growing Chrysler. Marchionne is also now the head of Chrysler.

With this new arrow in the Fiat quiver they are handling the situation differently than Daimler Benz did. Fiat is completely combining the companies into one corporation in every way possible. This means that products from other Fiat subsidiaries will be rebadged as Chrysler and Dodge vehicles, and Chrysler products will be rebadged and sold under the names of other Fiat product lines. A good example of this is the new Dodge Dart. This good looking little sedan is actually an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with a different body on it.
The New Dodge Dart

Many old Chrysler faithful are upset about the new owners of this American icon. They feel that somehow the products from the new Chrysler will be lacking the American heritage of the Chrysler products from a few years ago. What heritage exactly? The unreliable cars that few people wanted to drive? This is the reason Chrysler had so many struggles. Wouldn't it be best to do something completely different?

Actually the things that Fiat is doing for Chrysler are beneficial in many ways. The Dart is an outstanding car compared to the Neon and the Caliber which used to be the offerings in this segment. This car was only possible because of Fiat. The only other choice in this matter would have been to close the doors of Chrysler forever. The modern technology and the vast amounts of product lines that Fiat has under its umbrella provide substantial resources for Chrysler engineers back in Auburn Hills, MI. Don’t forget that Fiat owns Ferrari. Wouldn't it be interesting to see some Ferrari rub off on something with the Dodge name on it?

The other thing that is good is many cars that Chrysler builds here in the U.S. are now being sent to Europe and are being sold with Italian names on them. American workers selling more of the products they build, to people overseas is most certainly a good thing.

Considering the fact that Chrysler is now in the black and prospering nicely, it’s hard to make an argument against ownership by Fiat. Most of the naysayers are holding on to old time sentiments and that’s okay, but it doesn't sell cars. Not to mention that Fiat has no plans to mess with the Ram truck. It will still be the rugged beast it has always been. Keep the good stuff, replace the bad stuff with new stuff, and let’s watch Chrysler grow.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Anyone Can Be A Parts Hanger

The term “parts hanger” is commonly used among automotive technicians to describe someone who has no idea how to diagnose a car, but has enough tools and knowledge to be dangerous and can certainly replace broken parts. The fact of the matter is that most of the people who make a living working on cars are parts hangers more than they are technicians.

The automotive repair industry has no standards. This is a problem from top to bottom. Anyone can open a shop, anyone can sell service, and anyone can perform the service. It would seem that the only requirement is that you have your name on your shirt. Because the bosses don’t care about standards they hire parts hangers instead of technicians. What they need and perhaps what they want are technicians, but they may not have a choice but to hire are parts hangers.

Would you go to a doctor that was not board certified to practice medicine? What if he said he had all the tools and lots of experience? What if he said he could save you lots of money, you just had to trust him? You might say that this analogy is silly because doctors deal with life or death situations. Many medical procedures are not such dire situations but we would still never trust anyone who was not a certified doctor. If someone replaces the brakes on your car improperly we are talking life or death. If your car breaks down in a blizzard on some lonely road because of an incompetent mechanic we are again talking life or death, so I think the analogy stands.

The thing that must change is that technicians need to seek more and better education both before they enter the auto repair industry, and after they are already working in a shop. Education must continue because the advancement of technology never ceases. As time goes by this technological growth is exponential, and the need for frequent training becomes even more important.

Most shops provide very little opportunity for such training because they are too busy just trying to run their businesses, and honestly most of their technicians really don’t think about it much anyway. The bosses figure that they themselves don’t need any new training, so why would their technicians? As long as this is the way things work the quality of the diagnosis and repair work the customers are paying for will continue to go down.

What is the public to do? Not much. Once the public demands better service by only going to shops with better educated technicians, then things might change. The people who are tired of settling for mediocre service and shoddy workmanship can take a stand by going somewhere else and demanding that only the best technicians work on their cars. They could at least ask whether or not the technicians get to attend any kind of professional development training to make sure they are up on all the latest and greatest technologies.

The standard must be set by the customers. Businesses that do not respond to customer demands are businesses that go away. Some people will always look for the cheapest service without regard for anything else, but these people never really spend the kind of money they should to maintain their cars, so the budget shops that only they would frequent would still go away.

The automotive world needs parts hangers. We need people who can change our oil and mount and balance tires. These are jobs that don’t require great skill and if we have unskilled people doing these things for us it does keep the cost down. Those that work in these positions will never make much money and maybe that’s just fine. Everyone needs to find employment somewhere, and those that are really sharp can start in these positions and easily work their way up.

However, when it come to diagnosing complex computer control systems that manage everything on the vehicle from fuel control to the interface between the sat nav and the ABS system, only a highly trained technician will do.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Automatic Can Be a Stick

Back in the old days we used to have manual transmissions with a manual gear selector and a clutch pedal. We also had automatic transmissions that had a single selector used to shift the transmission to the mode of operation needed at any given time. Every car was either an automatic or a stick.

Regular 4 speed automatic.
Today it seems whatever manual transmissions are actually left, are not really any different from the old ones, but the automatic transmissions are very different. We don’t have the old PRND2L up on top of the steering column anymore. We now have all sorts of other things to choose from when operating the automatic transmission. As time goes by things always have to get more complicated.

Most of these features in newer automatic transmissions center on being able to select the gear you want in some fancy new way. Despite the fact that all automatic transmissions actually let the driver select the gear they want, the newer automatics now make something special out of it.

Paddle shifters are the two little levers with the plus and minus signs
used for shifting up and down.
Paddle shifters on the steering wheel or column are now common along with other things that allow the driver to very easily go from a fully automatic mode to a somewhat manual mode. Most cars that have one of these features will usually have a selection within the shift gate that allows them to use the gear selector kind of like a switch. The driver can push the gear selector forward to shift up or pull the selector backward to shift down. These transmission setups use names such as autostick, tiptronic, or manumatic. A few automatic transmissions with manual mode are a completely different thing called a dual clutch transmission (DCT), but this is a topic for another time.

The only difference between and autostick transmission and a regular old automatic is the programming. Automatic transmissions are completely computer controlled on all cars and trucks today. This means that the driver selects the mode such as drive or reverse, and the computer selects everything else such as what gear to use and how and when to shift. Vehicles equipped with an autostick transmission have a mode where the driver is allowed to select the gears manually, but the transmission control computer still does the actual shifting. So the job of gear selection moves from the computer to the driver when the transmission is in the manual mode. Neither the computer nor the driver ever has to worry about a clutch because all of the inner workings of the drivetrain are the same no matter which mode is selected.

In reality this is not that different from the old automatics from years ago. Many people probably remember how grandpa used to drive his old Ford truck with the three speed automatic. With any automatic, including old ones, it is possible to start out driving with the lever on the steering column or on the floor in the L or 1 position. This will not let the transmission shift out of 1st. Once the vehicle gets moving the driver would then move the selector up to the 2 position and the transmission would shift into 2nd. Then as the vehicle got moving even faster the driver would move the selector to the D position and the vehicle would shift into 3rd.

Manual mode is selected by moving the lever to drive then moving to
the right
How is this any different than what the fancy autostick transmissions allow today? The answer is, not much. This manual shifting of an automatic transmission even works when shifting back down from high gears to low gears. The thing is there is no good reason to drive an automatic vehicle this way. The notion that automatics don’t let the driver select the gear they want to use is not exactly true; you just can’t select it as precisely as you can with a regular manual transmission.

Even the autostick transmission will only allow the driver to do so much. If you try to over rev the engine by just letting wind up and not shifting into a higher gear, it will go ahead and do it for you whether you want it to or not. If you come to a stop and you don’t down shift back to first, it will do it for you.

So what is the advantage to this kind of automatic transmission that has become so common? They are slightly more convenient to use, and they give a feeling of more control even if they don’t actually offer more control. With just the right vehicle they can add a little bit of excitement to the driving experience. For some people little things like this matter but chances are most people don’t really care.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Considering Others

Why is it that when we are behind the wheel of a car we automatically think that nothing we do affects others? In reality driving down a crowded street is no different than walking down a crowded street.

We see many other people as we make our way along with the crowd. When we are walking everything seems to go smoothly. We nod a polite hello to strangers, we give each other space, and we generally interact in a polite manner. This simple interaction almost never leads to blatant offenses between two individuals, because we all know how to behave in these situations.  

Put us in a car and we become crazy jerks. We drive around like everyone else is some kind of moron and we are the only ones that have any business being on the road. We become quick to judge, quick to offend, and quick to let our sense of decency and courtesy go out the window. Every offense that we commit against another motorist we quickly brush off as ultimately being someone else’s fault. We try to teach others lessons from behind the wheel that we think they need, when in reality such things are dangerous.

The world would be a better place if we could consider others when using our automobiles. Just because you can’t look the other person in the eye doesn't mean that you shouldn't show them respect and decency. Any action you take while driving your car is ultimately your responsibility.

When you pull into a parking spot, keep the car between the lines. When you don’t, it becomes difficult for others to park in the space next to you. What makes you think that you deserve two parking spots? Maybe you have never even thought about it one way or another. If your vehicle is too big to efficiently pull into a particular parking spot then find another.

If you have to run into a store or quickly make a similar stop, you are still obligated to park in the parking lot. Nobody is allowed to leave their vehicle parked in front of the entrance where people are trying to enter and exit, and cars are trying to maneuver around each other. You are not the exception, even if it’s only for a minute. When you push your shopping cart around the grocery store, would you leave it at the end of an aisle so that it blocks other shoppers?

When driving on the interstate, the slower traffic must keep to the right. If you are driving slower than even one other car on the freeway, and that car wants to pass, you are obligated to move over. The passing car must not pass on the right. This is not a time for you to teach this other driver what the speed limit is and dawdle along slowly in the passing lane. Notice that name, it’s called the “passing lane” because it is for passing. If you were a pedestrian on the sidewalk would you not yield briefly to another who was trying to get around you?

The diesel pickup spewing black smoke from its tailpipe as it accelerates from a stop light is offensive to most other drivers. These toxins waft through the air all around the intersection for others to breathe. This smoke is the result of something that is broken. Either the fuel management on the truck is broken, or the driver themselves is broken.

Nobody is impressed with a diesel blowing smoke between stoplights, except those that do it. Get your truck fixed or run a different program in your engine computer. Most of the time these smoke blowing drivers are running a computer program that makes this occur.

If you want to blow black smoke from your exhaust, sign up for a sled pulling competition. Then you can see some real torque in action and learn how weak your truck really is. Your perceived right to blow smoke doesn't supersede anyone else’s literal right to not breathe your garbage. You wouldn't walk up to someone on the street and blow cigarette smoke right in their face would you?
Justice is real. Of course it's a BMW.
 While this seems like just a negative rant, it isn't  Most of the offences mentioned here are small and they don’t occur because people are genuinely rude, but rather because we as a society don’t consider others as much as we should. If we stop and think about how our actions behind the wheel have an effect on fellow motorists, even those whom we cannot look in the eye, we would all behave more courteously. This of course, would mean that we would all be happier drivers ourselves. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Like Perpetual Energy, Not Really

A device that creates electricity and then uses that electricity to create more electricity sounds like a great thing and indeed it would be. The alternator on your can almost do this but not really. Perpetual energy is scientifically impossible, at least with what we currently understand about the laws of thermodynamics.

The alternator is a type of generator so it essentially creates electricity, and to do this it uses electricity, quite often originating in the alternator. The force, or the energy that really makes all of this possible is the rotating force of the engine. The alternator is driven by a belt that is turned using a pulley attached to the crankshaft of the engine. This is the real driving force that makes electrical generation possible within the alternator. The rest is simply a matter of electromagnetic induction.

Electromagnetic induction occurs when a magnetic flux or field passes over a conductor. The point at which the magnetic field collapses around the conductor is the point where voltage is induced into the conductor. This voltage is the pressure that pushes electrons through the conductor, and electron flow is electricity. The alternator actually produces alternating current which is why it’s called an alternator. Before this current actually leaves the alternator it is converted into direct current so the power can be stored in the battery.

In order for this to happen, the alternator has two main parts, the rotor, and the stator. These parts do what their names imply. The rotor rotates or spins and the stator stays in place surrounding the rotor. The rotor contains a large electromagnet that creates the magnetic field necessary for induction. The stator is the conductor that the magnetic field moves through. As the rotor spins, the magnetic field passes through the stator over and over again, thousands of time per minute. The voltage that is induced is then sent to charge the battery and to run all electrical accessories. This electricity even powers the electromagnet in the stator. This may seem like perpetual energy but it’s not even close because the energy to turn the rotor has to come from the engine. The energy to turn the engine of course comes from the gasoline.

Alternator failure is a fairly common problem that most cars will experience at one point or another. When this happens while the vehicle is being driven alternator voltage output goes to zero, or to something very low. Anything electrical on the vehicle will begin to draw power from the battery. This will slowly draw the battery dead until there is not enough voltage to run the fuel pump and fire the spark plugs. The engine then dies. When you try to restart it, the motor won’t even crank because the battery is dead. A jump start can get you going again but only for a few minutes until the car stalls again.

So what can you do the make your alternator last longer? Not much really, it is largely a maintenance free device. Just make sure that the belt is tight and doesn’t squeal. Also, if you run your battery dead because you leave your headlights on or something like that, or if you have a battery that is going bad, this puts considerable strain on the alternator. If you battery goes dead, it is best to recharge the battery with a battery charger rather than just letting the alternator do it. Recharging a dead battery with the alternator once or twice over the life of the car isn’t a big deal, but don’t make it a habit. Be sure to have your battery checked regularly to make sure that it doesn’t slowly go bad and drag the alternator down with it.

Keep these ideas in mind and your own personal power generator will last a long time without much fuss. Perpetual energy it isn’t, but it is essential to the proper operation of your vehicle, not to mention your rear seat DVD player.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Roll In Style Not In Danger

Rolling down the street in your SUV with 22 inch rims can be something that makes you feel like you are king of the road. Oversized rims are all the rage on all sorts of vehicles and nothing adds bling to your ride like wheels that are huge and loaded with chrome.

While you might think it makes your ride look good, and I’m not saying it doesn’t, there are a few problems that you have when you put big custom rims at each corner of your ride. The biggest problem with this type of customization has to do with what we call unsprung weight.

Anything on the vehicle or in the vehicle that exerts the force of its weight on the springs of the suspension system is sprung weight. This would be most of the vehicle, such as the body, frame, engine and transmission, or anything that is placed inside the vehicle like passengers and cargo. This is sprung weight because it is all supported by the springs, and suspension system action can control the force of this weight.
Anything that exerts the force of its weight on the tires only, and not on the springs, is unsprung weight. This is because the weight is below the springs. Things like rims and tires, steering knuckles, brake assemblies, and drive axles fall into this category. These are all items that spring action and suspension articulation cannot control.

Generally speaking the more unsprung weight a vehicle carries, the harsher the ride is. Pickup trucks and many SUV’s that are built for heavy-duty applications tend to have more unsprung weight and therefore have a ride that is not so smooth. Higher unsprung weight can also lead to handling characteristics that are undesirable. All that weight causes the wheels to bounce around more and lead to more situations where they are not firmly planted. Wheels that are not firmly planted cause poor ride quality and poor directional stability.

Oversized rims are very heavy and add a tremendous amount of unsprung weight to the vehicle. Even if the rims are made of aluminum they can still add hundreds of extra pounds, especially if you add bigger tires with the bigger rims. Many times the tires are not much bigger in diameter than the stock tires, but the section height, or the height of the sidewall, is narrower to accommodate the larger rims. This low profile tire adds to the modern, sporty look of the large rims but it further decreases ride quality.

Another common mistake when having custom rims installed relates to the overall fit of the rim and tire assembly. Obviously the tire and rim assembly must fit within the wheel arch and not be so big that it rubs on any of the body or suspension parts. In order to get some wheels to fit properly, or to provide the look that the owner of the vehicle wants, wheel spacers are added to the hub of the wheel and then the tire and rim assemblies are bolted to the spacers.

Wheel spacers can cause big problems and are actually illegal in some states because they can make the vehicle handle dangerously, and they are easy to install improperly which may cause the wheels to fall off while driving. Like the over-sized rims, they can cause excessive wear and tear on the steering and suspension components as well because suspension geometry is changed.

None of this means that you can’t customize your wheels but it just means that you need to be careful. Just because a wheel assembly bolts on doesn’t mean that it will work just fine. With so many different types of custom rims available for nearly every vehicle on the road there is no reason not to find something that will fit just right, and give you the look that you want.