Auto Q&A: Wash your undercarriage regularly this winter

Undercoating is supposed to last the life of the car. But there's more to do.

Your car's undercoating can trap the brine in winter, which, upon drying, can attract future moisture.
Your car's undercoating can trap the brine in winter, which, upon drying, can attract future moisture. –Dreamstime/TNS

Q: With winter fast approaching accompanied with salt-covered streets, do I need to check or redo the factory supplied undercoating that comes with my 2017 Nissan Versa?

— C.S., Lake County, Ill.

A: Undercoating is supposed to last the life of the car. Be sure to have the undercarriage washed regularly at your favorite tunnel car wash. Even undercoating can trap the brine, which, upon drying, can attract future moisture.

Q: Here in Pennsylvania, there are many old, usually small one-lane bridges still in use. Most times there will be a sign posted on both sides saying, “Yield to Oncoming Traffic.” In my area when there is heavy traffic at rush hour, cars will back up on both sides as each side takes turns going one at a time.

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I think it would be much more efficient if, when traffic starts to back up, all the cars on one side would go and then all the cars on the other side would go. It would eliminate these long backups and waste of gas. This is akin to a construction zone where traffic is reduced to one lane and they either put up a traffic light at each end (for long-term construction) or have a person at each side directing traffic for short term events.

— D.P., Macungie, Pa.

A: If it were cost effective and more efficient, the Department of Transportation would erect traffic signals. But unless it is rush hour, they are not likely to be worth the cost. The take-your-turn method is actually quite efficient. I regularly visit family in Pennsylvania and often encounter lane reductions due to road work. This is the only state where I have seen signs directing motorists to use both lanes and then take turns at the choke point. It works quite well.

Q: I read with interest the question from BB, Morrison, Illinois, as we recently purchased a 2019 Jeep. I went to the NADA Guides site you quoted and find that we purchased the vehicle about $1,500 below the invoice price NADA shows for the vehicle with options. I’m thinking there must be other pricing the dealer has access to. Do dealers really pay anywhere near the “invoice” pricing?

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— G.B., La Grange, Ill.

A: The short answer is no, they do not pay the invoice price that they may show you. But you may be confusing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price with the dealer’s invoice price. The car dealer would like to get the MSRP and sometimes, with really hot models, they do.

I won’t go into things that affect the price the dealer pays because some of it has to do with the hold-back they get from the manufacturer as well as the volume of cars they sell and so on. It gets complicated.

Q: I have run-flat tires on my 2013 BMW. I do not like the hard ride these tires give. I would like to change to regular tires and carry a compressor and a can of fix a flat in my trunk. I also have different size tires on the front and back. Could I change to the same size on front and back.

J.D., Orland Park, Ill.

A: You may certainly replace your expensive run-flat tires with traditional tires. And, most new cars come with a compressor and tire sealer instead of a spare tire. It saves space and reduces weight. Because your front tires are a different size than the rears, I would advise against buying all four of the same size tires. Stick with the original sizes.

Indicator-based maintenance recommendation systems are not ideal

By Brad Bergholdt, Tribune News Service

Q: Honda doesn’t offer maintenance schedules in their manuals. You’re supposed to use the letter codes as they pop up. Unfortunately, the minder keeps getting reset at 5,000 miles for oil changes, and I don’t have a chance to see it. It’s a 2010 Fit with 96,000 miles. Have I passed the time for tune-up?

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–Paul

A: I agree, an indicator-based maintenance recommendation system doesn’t provide information on what atypical services may be looming in one’s future — or accidentally skipped in the past.

Tune-ups are a thing of the past, as other than renewing spark plugs and checking/resetting valve clearance (at 110,000 miles), renewing coolant (at 120,000 miles), and inspecting idle speed (at 160,000 miles), there just isn’t anything to tune on your L-4 1.5 liter engine. Replacement of the fuel filter is not recommended unless fuel pressure drops below the specified value. Doing so is also a pain, as it’s integrated into the fuel gauge sending unit/fuel pump/pressure regulator assembly within the fuel tank. The engine air filter, along with cabin air filter, are to be renewed every 30,000 miles.

Your 5,000 mile oil/filter changes appear to be based on the severe service schedule, as the normal service schedule lists oil changes each 10,000 miles. Severe service is defined as folks who (any of these): drive less than five miles per trip or in freezing temperatures, drive less than 10 miles per trip, drive in hot (over 90 degree) conditions, encounter extensive idling or long periods of stop-and-go driving, drive with a rooftop carrier, drive in mountainous conditions, or drive on muddy, dusty or de-iced roads.

Your Honda engine is equipped with a timing chain rather than a timing belt to connect the crank and cam shafts. This is a blessing, as a timing belt replacement can be a rather expensive service to perform each 90,000 miles or so. Chain replacement isn’t specified as a maintenance item, although to insure long life proper oil changes using high quality oil are a must. Additionally, modern engines typically employ sophisticated mechanisms to vary valve lift/duration/timing, and engine oil is used as the hydraulic fluid to make this magic happen. Tiny passages and control actuators are subject to sludge and clogging, again making routine oil changes important.

Likely, independent of the indicator based services, renewing brake fluid each three years is recommended, and transmission fluid would best be replaced every 60,000 miles (30,000 if towed behind an RV or other). Recommended owner monthly checks include exterior lights, engine oil and coolant reserve tank level, brake fluid level and tire inflation. And it’s certainly not a bad idea to keep an eye open for fluid leaks, odd sounds, parking brake effectiveness, unusual odors and unusual tire wear. Inspecting/renewing windshield wipers is a good idea with the upcoming change of season, and perhaps hold on to the old ones to be your summer wipers.

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