Automotive Advice for Clean Hands – Tires #2 The Rubber Messenger

autoreifenLast time we talked about tire pressure and how it can effect your vehicle: altitude, temperature, age. But, how does your vehicle effect your tires? It turns out the relationship between tire and vehicle are symbiotic. True, tires won’t tell you your engine is out of oil, and they can’t tell you why your stereo isn’t working, but they can tell us if the alignment is off and if there is something wrong with the suspension or frame.

There are several types of wear to keep in mind when looking at your tires.

  • An Even Wear is ideal. No part of the tread is wearing faster than any other part of the tread. The rubber is free of cracks and other oddities, which may include bulbous tumors in the side of the tire — commonly called the sidewall. Even so, there are problems that may occur in the tire that you are unable to see on the surface, but you will feel when driving. A gradual Tire Pull can be a symptom of a bad tire. A quick lesson on how tires are made. The tread of the tire is where the bulk of the rubber gets the most abuse. Beneath that thick layer of rubber there are other layers. Some of those layers have steal cords that overlap to create a flat braid or sorts. If the curing process is not perfect, those cords can slip allowing air to seep in and create a bubble over time. I’m sorry to say, but it happens ALL THE TIME. Tires are not perfect. As humans our technique is very good, but when a company ships out millions of tires a month a portion is going to be defective in some way, and in most cases the issue is resolved. The problem is spotted. The tire is replaced. The customer has a perfect day from there on out. Can brand new tires have issues? Yes, they can. A lot of defects slip a visual inspection. Should you worry? No. If you don’t feel any abnormalities while driving there isn’t need for concern.
  • Over-Inflation and Under-Inflation of a tire is one of the easiest issues to spot. If the tire is Over-Inflated the tire will ride on the center of the tread, wearing it thin. If the tire is Under-Inflated the tire will wear on the inner and outer edges of the tread. Fixing the issue is easy. Check your tire pressure at each tire to make sure they have the same PSI . Most domestic cars will require 40-45 PSI, while trucks can take as much as 80 PSI. When in question be sure to check the sidewall for the correct amount.
  • Inner or Outer tire wear — this is where it gets a little complicated. This wear pattern looks similar to the inflation issues I mentioned above. The only difference is that Inner and Outer tire wear is usually only present on one side of the tire. Both front tires will also wear opposite of each other. Here’s another good way to look at it: if you stand up and point your feet straight forward that is how your tires are suppose to roll down the road. Now point your toes together. This is what your tires look like when they are Toed In, which would also mean they will probably wear the outside of each tire because that is the edge with the most force applied when the car is moving. Now point your toes out. Can you guess which edge this will wear? If you said the inside, you get a gold star. But, what does this type of tire wear mean? It can be alignment issues or it can be worn parts. 9 times out of 10 it will be the alignment. Once in a while it will be tie rod ends that need to be replaced. You can check the tie rod ends on your own, but this will require crawling around on your back, and perhaps even a jack to lift the tire off the ground. Since this is about keeping our hands as clean as possible, it’s usually best to have a mechanic check it out. I would also recommend having different shops do an estimate so you can see if anyone is trying to throw you a curve ball and replace parts that aren’t needed. If you are strapped for time and don’t want to spend all day getting estimates, ask the mechanic if they can show you the worn parts while the vehicle is on the lift. If they tell you no, I would go somewhere else.
  • Inner and Outer tire wear can also mean something else, what mechanics call Camber issues. Let’s get back on our feet and keep those toes straight. Move your feet shoulder length apart. Good. Now, without moving your feet, bring your knees in until they touch. Do you see the angle yours calves make? This is called Negative Camber. If you were to spread your knees and stand bow-legged this would be called Positive Camber. Similar to Toe, Camber can wear on the inside if it’s Negative, or on the outside if it’s Positive. Again, similar to Toe this issue can result from alignment issues or worn parts. In some cases, aftermarket parts are needed to add additional adjustment to the alignment settings. I wish I could go through every car out there, and realistically I wouldn’t have to because a lot of suspensions are almost identical to one another. The problem is diagnosis. Even a trained, educated, and experienced mechanic can misdiagnose a vehicle. It’s nothing personal. There are a number of moving parts connected through your steering wheel: Rack and Pinion, Inner and Outer Tie Rod Ends, Steering Knuckles, Ball Joints, Control Arms, Sway Bar, Wheel Bearings/Hub Assembly, Struts/Shocks, and that’s for most of the domestic cars out there. Once you get into trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles there are even more parts on top of what I’ve already mentioned: Drag Links, Idler Arm, Pitman Arm, Gear Box, Track Bar, Steering Shock. It’s not always an easy or inexpensive fix. On a daily basis if I were to replace all four Ball Joints, plus alignment afterward, I come out to about 800-900 dollars. That’s including parts and labor. Dodge trucks I have to charge more on labor because they take longer to remove. Prices on parts are getting more expensive all the time. A semi-new truck, one that is fresh out of warranty with the dealer, will have to get their parts from the dealer for the next year or two, or at least until the parts are picked up by other manufactures and distributed to your local part stores. One Tie Rod End for a newer Ford can cost as much as 150-200 dollars, depending on how it is marked up. If it comes from the dealer, it could cost even more. (Rambler.)
  • This last group of tire wear is odd and can vary depending on the issue. Flat Spots and patchy wear can indicate your tires need to be balanced, rotated, and perhaps replaced if the damage is too great. Cupping and Feathered Tread can point to bent control arms, bent strut/shock, or even frame issues. If you suspect frame damage a quick way to get an over view is to flatten your hand stick your fingers between your tire and the body. Do this for both the front and back of the front tire, then go to the other side of the vehicle and do the same thing. If the space is equal to each other it’s safe assume your frame is straight. If for instance you can fit three fingers on one side and four on the other side, it could mean one of the tires is shoved back. Back to using our toes for a metal picture, stand with your feet shoulder length apart and even with each other. Now, take your left foot and scoot it backward a couple inches. It doesn’t look like it would be much of an issue, but it is. When the tires aren’t even with one another, it may produce shaking in the steering wheel and the floor. It could’ve happened when you turned too sharp into the parking lot and hit the curb, or maybe the roads were icy. Either way its a problem and it will eat tires as if they were candy. This kind of situation will also start wearing other parts on the vehicle if it’s not addressed.

 

A combination of any of the above will do bad things to your day, and you should get it checked out at your earliest possible convenience. It’s kind a lot to keep in mind when looking at a tire, but it’s good knowledge to have. Without getting into future subjects like alignment and brakes, there are a few other things to mention to your mechanic before they check out your vehicle. Shaking and Pulling are two symptoms that can help someone diagnose what’s wrong. Whereas Pulling happens in the steering wheel and usually indicates an Alignment Issue or a Tire Pull, Shaking can occur in several place. If you feel Shaking in the steering wheel it can indicate a need for tire balance, alignment, or worn parts in the suspension. If you feel Shaking in the brake pedal it can indicate brake service and possibly rotor replacement. If you feel Shaking in the seat or floor it can indicate an issue elsewhere in the car.

 

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough about tires. So, until next time, keep those hands clean.

 

Future Topics:

-Alignment

-Brakes

-Steering

-Suspension

If you have any questions, or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment.

 

 

Automotive Advice for Clean Hands – Tires #1 Under Pressure

The Tire

To you, a plethora in evolution and unequaled versatility,

cracks and potholes tremble at your approach.

Without the speed of your embrace,

feet drum against the earth in an endless quest.

(And that is the extent of my poetic talent for this portion of the tour. If you’d like to know more, please see the vendors in front of the venue.)

But what are tires? We put our lives in the figurative hands of tires everyday. Most of us don’t pay attention to them at all, unless they fail. We’ve all been there. You wake up late. You get ready for work in record time. You crack your head on the door as you practically dive into the drivers seat, but after the vehicle starts to roll you hear the undeniable sounds of a flat tire. It’s in those moments that the tire becomes one of the most hated objects on the face of the planet. It was holding air just fine yesterday, you tell yourself. So how could it go flat in the last eight hours between eating dinner and hitting your head on the car door? Sometimes the answer will come in the form of a nail, but most of the time your tires have been trying to talk to you for the past few days, if not longer.

“Check your oil, and check your tire pressure.” The mantra is something worried fathers’ repeat around the world. If you’re really lucky in the father department, he’ll remind you to change your blinker fluid on a regular basis as well. The grin on his face should tell you to stop listening at that point. There’s no such thing as blinker fluid. Not yet anyway. Leave it up to a bunch of engineers to do the impossible. I’m getting off track here, though. Where were we? Tire pressure.

 Age, temperature, and altitude can all effect the air inside your tires. Temperature and altitude can be dealt with in similar fashions. High altitudes, like hot temperatures, will increase the pressure inside your tires, which increases the chance of a blowout. Low altitudes, like cold temperatures, will decrease the pressure, causing a flat.

Here’s a couple examples:

Spring is early, bringing in a premature summer with temperatures teetering on ninety. After two days of shorts and tank tops, a cold front moves in reminding you it’s still mid-February. Bundled up and cursing Punxsutawney Phil, you go outside to start the car and what do you find? A flat. You can thank the drop in temperature for that.

Or,

Lets say you live in New Orleans, down where the food is spicy and the French Quarter is never closed. Feeling excited about that summer vacation, you and your lovey-dovey pile into the Ford and take a road trip to the Rockies. The two of you push through, night and day, alternating drivers to reach your destination as fast as possible. The two of you sing Kumbaya as the Ford makes its way up another steep mountain. Your journey is almost at an end, and then BANG! A tire blows out. Not a great place to stuck on the side of the road.

Now, these are somewhat extreme. It’s not everyday you decide to take a twelve-hundred mile road trip. Nor does the weather rise and fall drastically enough to effect most tires. Also, there are loads of other factors to consider, most of them outside forces: nails, quality of the tire, over/under inflation, and age. I know now, you probably want to know how often you should change tires, and I hate to say it but I don’t have much more than a vague answer, “Change them when they need to be changed.” Tires are rated for so many miles, but depending on how you use them is what will determine how long they last. For the most part, they should be visually inspected every 2-4 weeks, which is a mechanics way of saying, “Let’s see if I can find any nails.” Want to know a secret though? You can do the same inspection any day of the week. Or, if you’re like me, you can wait until you’re sitting on rims. It happens.

The point is to check your tires. Tire pressure can effect your vehicle enormously. It will change the way the vehicle handles and how it reacts. Outside forces can also effect your tires. A casual inspection of your tires can catch a lot.

I don’t mean to cut this short. There’s much more I want to say on the subject of tires, but I don’t want to get into the habit of making crazy-long posts. So, until next time, keep those hands clean.

 

Future Topics:

-Tires #2 The Rubber Messenger

-Alignment

-Brakes

-Steering

-Suspension

If you have any questions, or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment.

 

Automotive Advice for Clean Hands – The Mechanic

IMG_0115For those who’ve had any experience with mechanics, you will surely understand what I mean when I say they are one of the most unique beings on the face of planet earth. They have their own language. They come in a variety of shape, color, and temperament, and inanimate objects seem to have an unyielding grudge against everything they do.

There are several types of mechanics. Each of them utilize different means and methods for completing their job, but the rate of success is dependent on a plethora of circumstances, the least of which is their decision to start turning wrenches in the first place. Granted, not all mechanics are going to bemuse their fate with dreams of green pastures and clean hands. Some love their jobs, and rightly so. They’re damn good at doing what they do.

  • The Good – These people are among the most helpful when it comes to explaining what a vehicle needs to stay road worthy. The best mechanics will even take you out to the vehicle to show you what repairs need to be made. On top of that, they will only do the repairs that the two of you agreed on. No swindling here, folks. These people are 100% there for you.
  • The Bad – This section probably should’ve been called “The Shady,” but then my bullets would look all kinds of weird, so that’s a no. Anyway, these mechanics are the ones to look out for, and believe me, unless you’re living the fabulous life of the rich and famous, you will have to look out for them. They’re the ones that give you an estimate for over a thousand bucks when you just wanted an alignment. Don’t freak out yet. There are ways around these people. First and foremost, ask to see the worn parts before they do the repairs. Most of the suspension and brakes systems I’m going to talk about can be seen under a lift or after removing the tire. Engine and electrical can be a lot more involved but there is usually a visual symptom. At that point, if you don’t feel satisfied, take your vehicle to a different shop and get a second opinion. Hell, blame it on an outside source. Tell them you have to get your significant other’s permission before you can spend that kind of money.
  • The Ugly – By the time you get to this point you might be expecting me to give you something worse that the category above, but that’s not the case. These mechanics are rough around the edges. In appearance, you usually see them with scraggly hair, grease stained coveralls, and a healthy layer of dirt coating their back. The shops you find mechanics in are no better. Now, I’m not saying these places are bad. In fact, the shop I work in is one of these. Its old, used, and outdated, but it gets the job done, and we make sure we get the job done right.

Future Topics:

-Tires

-Alignment

-Brakes

-Steering

-Suspension

If you have any questions, or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment.

Keep those hands clean.

Automotive Advice for Clean Hands – Intro

 

What to doFor a long time I tried to think of what I had to offer the writing community. (You know, aside from my devilish good looks and my witty South Park jokes.) As an author, I have a little knowledge on how to preform my self-appointed job, but a little is as far as I dare reach. After all, when so many helpful blogs exist what can I contribute that hasn’t already been said, and said well?

Write! Write! Write!

That’s the mantra we live by as authors. Want to be an author? Write. But, don’t forget to listen, watch, take notes, brain-storm ideas, create compelling characters, use real situations, write what you know, and then write some more. With all these things to remember, do our creative minds have any more room for daily redundancies like the gate code for the apartment complex or eating? “I think not,” says the single-tracked muscle between my ears. But that muscle of mine is wrong. We do have to remember the gate code. We do have to eat; at least once in a while, I’ve learned.

So, what am I getting at?

classic-car

Semipickup-trailer

Cars, trucks, SUV’s, minivans, semi’s, oil rigs, 4-wheelers, trailers. Over the years, I’ve worked on all of them, and one thing I can tell you for sure is how much I don’t want to be working on cars. They are objects made to break and wear out as fast as you can drive the thing. Don’t get me wrong. I love my car, but I’d rather keep my hands clean, which is exactly what I’m going to try to do for you.

 

This is Gene’s Frame and Alignment. It’s owned and operated by my grandfather, Gene Elliott. He moved into the Four Corner’s area back when the roads were still dirt. After driving trucks for the oilfield, he opened his first shop. A few years later he moved to the location you see in the picture above. (The little Ford Focus on the right was my old car before I sold it and bought the Fiesta I have now.) He been at this location for over forty years. I started sweeping the floors when I was eleven. Today, I’m thirty-four.

Now, I’m not the know-it-all-type when it comes to cars. Engine work goes over my head like a supersonic spy plane, but the engine is only one part of the car. Even if the engine may purr like a kitten, that doesn’t necessarily it’s drivable. Tires, brakes, steering, suspension, all of them are crucial for driving, and all of them are simple to understand. There are also a lot of tips and tricks to keep in mind when diagnosing random noises and visiting your local mechanic. Hell, with any luck, I might even be able to save you some money.

Future Topics:

-The Mechanic

-Tires

-Brakes

-Steering

-Suspension

If you have any questions, or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment.

Keep those hands clean.