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Preparing your summer toys for winter storage.

Once again, as fall winds down towards the short days of winter and much colder temperatures, it is time to store away that classic or summer recreational vehicle. The effort you expend into properly storing your recreational vehicles and classic cars over the next few months will pay large dividends when the thaw of spring and the warmth of the returning sun urges you to begin outside enjoyment once again. Most of these suggestions are easily available and not very expensive, but they can be cheap insurance against the cold and also against future maintenance problems. These procedures could also apply to storage of your snow blower, roto-tiller, string trimmer, and chainsaw or back-up generator at other times during the year, when long-term storage will occur.

*Leave the tank half-full and add stabilizer. Straight gas without ethanol can use the red-coloured fuel stabilizer. A fuel stabilizer should also be used in the tank, red stabilizer for pure gas and blue for any E85 or E15 pump gas to diminish the corrosive nature of the ethanol. Anything with carburetors should have their petcocks shut off and the engine run until the carburetor is empty.

*Engine oil – Your best bet here is to remove the dipstick and wipe a small quantity on a white towel. Is it still yellowish? Is it still transparent? If the oil is creamy or has a lot of air bubbles, there could be anti-freeze or water in the oil indicating a much larger problem. Condensation is a common problem with engines that sit for long periods of time, but that dampness does not usually get into the oil. Is there metal particulate in suspension? Can you smell gasoline in it? If it looks dirty or smells like gas, it would be a good idea to change the oil before storage.

*Tires –. Tire pressures should be checked to rule out any concerns with air leaks. It is a good idea to write the pressures on each tire at time of storage with a tire crayon. These can be used as a reference point in the spring and as an indicator of possible future tire problems.

*Exterior – one final wash and application of wax will keep the car from accumulating dust while being stored, even if the car is covered. The car should be totally dry from its last wash before it is covered with a breathable cloth cover. Crack a door or vent window slightly to prevent humidity accumulating in the interior while the car is covered.

*Batteries – Old-school refillable batteries should be topped off with deionized or distilled water. New sealed batteries will not need any additional maintenance. For either style of battery, adding a protective coating to the terminals will prevent corrosion during storage. Many classic car enthusiasts also add a battery shut-off to the charging system to prevent parasitic power draw from powered accessories, such as radios and clocks. Removal of the battery is not necessary, however, an alternative would be to invest in an automatic trickle charger that you can leave attached to the battery throughout the year. Most trickle chargers today are designed for 6-or 12-volts and maintain the batteries by charging them at between 500 milliamps and 3 amps for short periods of time. The charger senses when the battery is at full charge and shuts off automatically. The automatic shut-off prevents batteries from overcharging or leaking acid out of the old-school vented caps. Many of the smaller amp-rated chargers also come with a “leave-it-on” adapter you can permanently attach to the battery posts, making the hook-up much easier to accomplish when needed.

Energy is dangerous in all forms when it is compressed. Many laptop owners has found this out as their batteries, minute in size and capable of operating times of up to many hours, have set themselves on fire from time to time.

Hybrid cars have been known to burn themselves down to the ground and when an accident occurs, rescue crews and firemen approach the tremendous energy stored in hybrid batteries with great caution, knowing how much potential damage they can represent.

A stick of dynamite, a gallon of gasoline, a tank of liquefied natural gas and/or hydrogen, all these compressed forms of energy can bite back very hard if they are suddenly released.

Years ago, the local fire department invited me to a demonstration. It seemed that they were being called to more and more truck fires and the cause had been hard to find.

However, it seems that most trucks at that time, had their high powered batteries stored under the drivers seat, with a cover on top. Over time, the cover got misplaced and the springs in the seat sagged until they shorted out the battery.

Maybe that's where the idea of heated seats started out, but the ensuing blaze was not funny in the least.

The demonstration I observed consisted of throwing an old drivers' seat onto the top of a battery and retiring. Within seconds, the wire in the seat glowed bright red and within a minute or so, the seat was turned into ashes.

So this winter, some of you will probably get involved in the jump starting of another vehicle.

The dangers of treating your battery with the contempt it doesn't deserve can be catastrophic.

The easy way out is a call to the CAA, but there are always circumstances where you are beyond reach and help is needed immediately.

Since using jumper cables incorrectly can be dangerous, follow these steps precisely. 

With a car to serve as a boosting car.

If the dead car will turn over, but still won't start, the injection system is probably flooded. The last resort, is pushing the gas pedal to the floor, which tells the computer to cut off fuel flow, then try again. If that doesn't work, it's time to tow the car. There are no more screwdrivers in the carburetor techniques, except on vintage cars and they are probably all alredy asleep for the winter.

My first car.

Machines that have possessed the last three generations of humans will never let us go. 

I speak, of course, of the automobile and the computer. With each generation they control us more.

In my father’s generation, of the 1930s, cars and professional mechanics were still few and far between, having just shaken off the threat of the man with a red flag to walk in front. A large percentage of the first car owners were amateur mechanics, they had to be.

If a car malfunctioned and stopped, as they frequently did, the car could not fix itself.
If a car stopped running, the owner was his own mechanic.

That wasn’t so horrible at the time. You didn’t have to be a genius to take an engine apart and put it back together.

The wizards of the car factories back then kept adding improvements to the automobile – headlights, heaters, brakes that worked, even radios playing Bing Crosby hits – but no cup holders, not for a while. Today, a person can’t drive without cup holders.

Fortunately, there were no smart phones then nor any drivers stupid enough to be texting.

As the years went by, cars acquired extraordinary advancements. Today, few among us can cure a sick automobile. One day we awoke and realized we were at the mercy of modern cars. And now, self-driving cars are on the horizon. (It’s time to scream.)

The best we could hope for today is that we know how to turn a key or push a button and listen to the engine sing. We are indentured servants of the machines that almost own our souls.

But it gets worse. The Commodore and the Apple IIE arrived

Computers are a godsend to people who type for a living – writers, secretaries, scholars, business people, even texting if you are dumb enough to type while driving.

In fact, a computer is to a writer or a secretary the equivalent of a power saw or a nail gun for a carpenter.

Best of all, a computer is like an electronic committee of wise people who sit there  finding countless nuggets of knowledge. Virtually everything you need to know in any line of work or play is at your fingertips.

Just as automobiles eventually took charge of us, we now have a world of dominant computers that stifle the minds of normal people. Computers and jargon-spouting techies now rule our lives and our bruised brains.

So I say to you, my fellow victims of complicated machines, forget your silly paranoia about pretty boys running the country, huge meteors in the sky and half-baked politicians to the left and to the right, bureaucrats that want to take your car away or condemn you to a silent, and utterly boring battery car and take a few more runs up that curvy piece of two lane hard top on a nice day and, at this time of year, admire the fall colours.

Someday it may all be beyond your reach, but for now..................

How self-driving cars could easily turn into a nightmare

The year is now 2050. It seems like only yesterday that I read the news about the recall of  millions of cars after a group of cyber enthusiasts proved they could hack into the “safety-critical” systems: code for the important stuff that slows you down or steers you away from death.

I thought that would spell the end for driverless vehicles. Imagine being locked inside your car and taken for a terminal joyride into the side of a building. But the transition of control to non-human hands was done so gradually that we have hardly noticed it.

Self-parking vehicles seemed innocent enough until new drivers stopped learning how to park for themselves – why bother? The three-point turn was the next driving skill that was lost.

Therein lies the self-fulfilling prophecy of safety. The more “driver aids” you add to a car, the less engaged and less safe the driver becomes, necessitating further aids and so on, until finally you have complete automation and the driving test is a relic of the past.

Take ABS (Please!).
Heralded as the greatest breakthrough in car safety since the stop sign, anti-lock braking systems were designed to enable drivers to steer during emergency braking situations. However, the negatives outweighed the positives.

Freed from the minor fright that accompanies the n oise of a skidding tyre, drivers followed each other more closely and braked later for corners under the mistaken belief that the brakes were more effective with a computer in charge. They weren’t, but ABS stayed.

Then the car manufacturers joined the tech giants in race for driverless cars

Next, car manufacturers replaced hydraulic powered steering with electric. As any top chef will tell you, a hot soup might burn your mouth, so it’s better to test the temperature using your finger, which is less sensitive. Electric power steering makes the road feel so numb that it’s like driving with your elbows.

All of this was before I became obsolete, of course. I remember putting one such car through its paces and suddenly discovering that I was departing the asphalt and heading for a tree. In the old days a gentle judder from the wheel would have signalled the loss of grip before my eyeballs turned into saucers, but not in this car with electric steering.

Back here in 2050, I can peer through my Google glasses at the Barista serving me my cortado and automatically filter his Facebook profile; his lifestyle montage proves too intimidating for me to strike up a conversation, so I take my coffee “to go”.

I walk everywhere in the city now because traffic is worse than ever. Who needs parking spaces when you can send your driverless car around the block while you do your shopping? And commuting distances have doubled, with vehicle occupants happy to zone out in their pleasure booths, watching movies or working themselves to death, seemingly losing track of time.

In 2050, how do driverless cars work?

One new model has no windshield at all, offering instead a curved 3D TV. Our simply evolved brains still struggle to adjust to this wobbling paradise, but the added screen time is apparently worth the gut rot.

As for the driverless taxis, we now call them “Johnny Cabs”, like in the movie Total Recall. But it’s not because of the smiling buffoon behind the imaginary steering wheel, but because Johnnies litter the floor; there are no inhibitions aboard a driverless carriage.

When Google introduced the first self-driving cars in 2015, they were limited little devices, but with no human controls such as a steering wheel or brake pedal to override the robot at the helm they set the precedent and served as the perfect Trojan horse.

These cute robo-cars did only 25mph, and consequently developed an enviable near-zero death rate, other than by boredom. The safety lobby licked its lips and used this as “evidence” to spell out the doom facing those souls with the temerity to insist on driving themselves. These selfish egotists were a danger to the robotic order and had to be saved from themselves.

Self-driving cars found support among environmentalists, too, because linking vehicles together on a motorway using radar and Wifi reduced the energy and fuel wasted by individuals slowing down and speeding up. Occupants could put their feet up, read a book and sip lattes while the robots synced together like a daisy chain.

Now, cars are outsmarting their drivers

Traditional carmakers needed sales to stay afloat, whereas Apple and the other tech companies making driverless machines did not. With account balances bigger than those of most Western governments and countless entertainment products on the peripheral market, they could afford to run a loss leader. They undercut the entire insurance sector by self-insuring their machines and within a year the cost of insuring a self-driver went through the roof.

As a result, this is the last year I’ll be able to afford to run my car: a classic Porsche 944 that’s been retro-fitted with an electric motor. It goes like stink and saves the planet but, like me, it’s a dinosaur.

So fit me up with some virtual reality goggles, plug me into a mobility chariot and make me an obese non-thinker like the creatures in Wall-E. I feel certain that the purveyors of all this technology have my best interests at heart, and are not simply interested in harvesting my personal data and knowing my every thought and movement for commercial exploitation. Giving away my personal freedom seems a small price to pay for the enhanced customer service I will receive.

As Bill Gatesremarked on the subject of Artificial Intelligence: “I don’t know why so many people are not the least bit concerned.”

As the song goes, "The Autumn leaves drift past my window, the autumn leaves of red and gold."

What the song fails to mention, however, is that those autumn leaves drifting past your window and straight into the air intake
ventilation system on your car.

At this time of year, many strange things happen, but the most common is a huge build up of Fall debris under the hood of your
car, usually right in front of the windshield and right on top of the air intake.

Many cars now have a built in cabin filter to keep dust and pollen from entering the cabin, but autumn leaves will block that
filter really fast as soon as the fan starts and some of these filters are difficult to replace and expensive to buy.

So you really need to check for leaves and twigs and heaven knows what else under the hood of your car at least once a week at this time of year.

While you're there you could, of course, also check the engine oil and all other fluid levels.

At this time of year, many people go fishing, or hunting, or just hiking to admire the fall colours.

Oneowner left his SUV for a week and when he got back, he started the air conditioner, only to be bombarded by
a hail storm of sunflower seeds. Some mice had discovered his intake system and started to store their whole winter supply
of food in there.

In another case I know of, hikers got started back to civilization, only to have their engine almost immediately over heat and
expire in a large cloud of steam. Apparently, racoons like the taste of rubber. It seems to have a slightly salty taste, and they
had chewed through all the water hoses down at the bottom of the radiator.

If it's possible to park in a protected space while you're away enjoying natures' bounty, all well and good.

If not, a careful check of your vehicle before you drive away is a very good plan.  

In one case I know of, a vintage BMW came in for repair and the owner said the tech manual was in the glove
compartment. The car had been in storage in a barn over the winter. When I opened up the glove compartment, I found
a shredded tech manual, all neatly wound up into the dearest little mouse nest you ever saw.

The debris falling from trees combined with wild animals that need to store food for winter can play havoc with cars and trucks
of all kinds.

A top notch security system will not stop a squirrel for more than a few moments. If he wants in, he'll get in and he may find
your upholstery just what he needs for reinforcing his nest in the tree next door.

Keep an eye open and be aware that this is the most dangerous time for outside natural forces to interfere with your vehicles,
ability to run smoothly and reliably during the winter months.

Another attempt to overcome disc brake rust. That is not working out too well.

People always find it incredible that discs that were new only eighteen months ago are now beyond repair.

The problem, as always, is rust build up in the centre of the disc that stops the cooling fins from pumping air, causing the
discs to overheat and therefore, to distort.

Machining such discs does very little good, since this does not remove the rust in the centre of the disc fins and now the steel
is thinner and without any cooling, even more susceptible to warpage, which causes severe brake pedal vibrations.

It's quite likely that in a dry, always warm, atmosphere as we find in Arizona, for example, discs will last longer, but from Fargo to Chicago
to Montreal, wherever ice melting rock salt is used, brake systems take a real beating from corrosion.

Fortunately, the cost of high quality discs has been substantially reduced and now the cost of a new disc, on the average
new car, is not much more than the cost of technician time on a lathe to machine the old ones.

I've always wondered if other, non rusting materials, could not be found, although I know that stainless steel is not an option, due to
its' galling tendency. It is a very difficult material to machine properly and it's obvious that its metallurgical characteristics disqualify
it for use as a friction surface.

Now, finally, the high tech ceramic discs have started to become noticed and although I may never see it happen, the non rusting,
"lifetime warranted" disc may be on the horizon.

Carbon-ceramic brakes have built a glamorous reputation in Formula One racing, creating vivid images of discs glowing red
during hard braking at the end of long straightaways.

Their high cost limited them to exotic performance cars. But carbon-ceramic brakes are now available on cars priced
as low as 60,000 euros (about US$80,000 at current exchange rates). And a new manufacturing process could make them
affordable for even budget-minded enthusiasts.

In the meantime, coated brake rotors are starting to show up on aftermarket shelves. Costing 10% more than regular high grade
bare metal rotors, they are coated with zinc to extend their life.

But this isn't working out as well as could be expected.

The experience at my erstwhile garage is that these coatings tend to flake off and embed themselves in the brake pads.

This produces the most incredible squealing noise that we first experienced years ago, when asbestos was banned as a brake material.
It turns out that this misguided bureaucratic maneuver was not necessary and has caused terrible problems in the automotive industry.

For the time being our advice is to save a few bucks  and opt for regular uncoated rotors when brake repairs are required.

The coated disc story is not yet over. Maybe some day..............

Last week we took a long run from Montreal to Midland Ontario, and onto the Township of Tiny (Yes, it really exists) on Georgian Bay.

A distance each way of more than 700 Kms.

On the way out, we were fortunate enough to find Highways 401 and 400 running well with very few hold ups.

However, we noted on-going repaving activity on the 401 and a 2-lane section of 400 that were both causing major traffic back ups .

So on the return journey, we took the slower route over the top of Lake Simcoe and highways 12 and 35 to join 401 at Port Hope.

All this to say that I had an opportunity to run some fuel economy tests on the car using the on board computer which updates every one minute.

Running down 35 we set the cruise at 80 km/h and the read out gave us 4.8 litres/100 km, or 56 mpg.

Once on the 401 we cruised for a while at 100 km/h and got a readout of 5.4 l/100km, or 48 mpg.

As traffic thinned out, we upped our cruising speed to 118 km/h and the readout increased to 6.1 l/100km. Or 44 mpg.

At the border with Quebec we filled up with "cheap" Ontario gas and the range readout said we could go for another 760 kilometers before needing another fill up.

Ironically, we passed a couple of Teslas on the way back on the 401 and they were both going at about 90 km/h in the right lane along with the old Tercels and Cavaliers.

Obviously someone was trying to squeeze a bit more range out of the battery, but what an anxiety inducing way to drive long distance.
In fact, a Tesla based in Toronto cannot get to Montreal without a long lay over in Kingston to recharge.
That over hyped initial sprint to 100 km/h. is long gone.

A Tesla costs four times more than a well equipped Mazda3 and is obviously a pathetic long distance car.

By comparison, the Mazda is quite capable of producing Prius style fuel economy and comfortable, quiet long distance running.

You'd have to be an econazi, or stupidly rich to want to buy a Tesla for cross country travel.

Other blogs worth reading

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

45) Overheating engines.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.