Friday, August 17, 2007

And tonight, for a change, some advice about cars

Some of you know that I have a whole 'nother life in the automobile business. For that reason, I have decided to offer some unsolicited - but nonetheless correct and valuable - car advice to all of you. Most of you - I'm sure - drive cars. For you, the tips below could save you ten dollars, or they could save your life, whichever is greater. Others among you drive carts pulled by mules or oxen. For you, the tips will have no cash or health value, but they may still entertain you as you watch the cars pass your wagon on the way to market. A few of you don't drive anything. But others around you drive, and an informed passenger is a happy passenger.

And so, with no further ado, we will begin with Tip Number One:

Do not, under any circumstances, stick your fingers into the engine’s moving parts while the motor is running. If you have long hair, avoid leaning over a running engine. Cats and other animals sometimes learn this lesson the hard way. I once saw an engine that had ingested a six-foot snake into the fan belt area. It was an ugly sight indeed. Luckily, the snake was no longer in biting order when the hood was opened.

Tip Two:

The advice given to Chicago voters – “Vote early! Vote often!” can be applied to checking tires. Check your tires early – before a drive, and do it often. The two biggest issues with tires: running them with insufficient air pressure ruins them, and tires frequently wear out on the inside edges, where the wear is harder to see. Your car should have a tire pressure decal in the door jamb or the fuel filler area.

Tip Four:

When is motor oil not oil? When you’re standing in front of the display at Wal Mart or your local parts store, wondering what to buy. Oils are not all the same, and they are often not interchangeable. Many new cars – especially high performance cars – have very specific oil recommendations, which you ignore at your peril. For example, Mercedes Benz cars use Mobil 1 0-40 oil, and the use of Mobil 1 15-40 oil might actually harm the motor. Look at your owners manual, and pay close attention to what’s being put in your car. Don’t count on the kids at the quick lube place to get it right. Remember, if you use the wrong oil, and the motor fails, it’s you that will be paying the bill.

Tip Five:

If you have to tow your car . . . use a flatbed. Old style wreckers that lift one end of the car are much more likely to cause damage, and they should be avoided. Also, if you have to ride somewhere in the wrecker, know that the people who drive flatbeds are of much higher caliber than the lunks who drive old-style tow trucks. Many surveys have shown that to be true.

Tip Six:

If you drive a car equipped with OnStar, TeleAid or any of the other voice-response systems, and you are a criminal, you should know this: Big brother may be watching. Agents of the Federal Government can obtain a court order that allows them to use the aid system in your car to listen to conversations that take place within the vehicle, and they can also use the vehicle’s navigation system to report its movements and position.

Tip Seven:

If you live among rodents, take steps to keep them out of your car. If you have mice infestation problems, mothballs will often drive them away. Mice will chew on electrical wiring, and I’ve seen many electrical fires as a result. Such damage is covered by the comprehensive section of your automobile insurance in most states.

And finally, Tip Eight:

Pay attention to your gauges. Modern cars use a lot of aluminum in their engines. Aluminum is not tolerant of overheating, and it’s all to common for an overheated aluminum motor to need replacement, not repair. In the case of a Range Rover, for example, that can mean a $12,000 bill. That’s a high price to pay for ignoring the temperature gauge. If your gauge goes to the top, pull over. Do not attempt to drive home. Do not attempt to drive 5 more miles, or one more mile. Stop now.

The oil pressure light in your car also only illuminates to warm you of impending disaster. Pull over immediately if you see that light too.

There are certain lights on most cars that can be ignored. But it's a mechanic's secret what they are, so I can't tell you here.

A select few of you may not see Tip Three. That's because Tip Three contained software that scanned your computer to determine what sort of person you are. Tip Three is, between you and me, only visible to the more mundane and sub-ordinary readers. Count yourself lucky if you see this explanatory paragraph and not Tip Three.

22 comments:

Holly Kennedy said...

Excellent tips. Fun post.
And NOW I have confirmation that I'm neither mundane or sub-ordinary.

What more could a girl want?

Woof.

kristen said...

Thanks John. I have OnStar, and though I am not a criminal, I have been known to talk to myself while driving. Guess I'll have to stop that because, really, how can I be sure no one is listening? After reading this, I will never feel alone again.

I am picturing the OnStar operators sitting around and having a good giggle over my rants. Sigh.

John Elder Robison said...

I have no idea if the OnStar people listen to YOU. But if you have concerns, the only way to be sure is to remove the transmitter module. Then you'll be safe.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I drive a bottom-of-the-line, tiny, very cheap 2002 Hyundai Accent (paid for; 58,000 miles), with absolutely no features or options of any kind.

That said, I've always followed maintenance tips like yours, and have never had a single problem with that car.

Kim Stagliano said...

Quite JERmorous!

I will ply you with chocolate cake for the mechanics secret. With homemade fudge frosting thicker than any motor oil you've ever seen come out of a poorly maintained car. And far tastier. I'll make you the Rolls Royce of cakes, rich, hard to come by, much envied by all who have to eat Ding Dongs instead of the cake that will be on your plate. You like cake, JER, I know that. Gotcha, yes? And I deliver within a 120 distance which I believe will include your neck of the NE woods. My minivan has GPS. But ho the heck wants to follow ME to Trader Joe's and Costco though?

Anonymous said...

Cars are scary to me. Because I'm not a mechanic, and I don't know if my mechanics are honest. I think I speak for a great proportion of people out here. With that said, I have two teenagers that are dying for a car. What would you recommend for them to buy? (cheap, obviously)

The Muse said...

You mean you have to change the oil? Duh, I can never buy a Lexus again. If I don’t have a light go on to tell me it’s time to change the oil, then I forget. That was a $7000 oops! I consider myself mechanically challenged... Machines and electronic things just confound me. I have begun to think that I have this aura of a magnetic field that breaks things- watches, computers, cars, cameras, phones, and anything electronic. When I am standing in line at the store and there is a computer that shuts down unexpectedly I secretly blame myself. (I did it again... It’s that evil spell!) It has become a standing joke at work. I know that I send out this jinxing energy to all electronic things. Have you ever heard about those people who spontaneously combust?

We have a beautiful state of the art wide screen TV in the family room with 5 remotes and I’m afraid to touch it. I’m sure that it would be disastrous…(It’s a wonder that I even have the courage to fly; but that’s another story.)

Thanks for the free advice about cars. But your damn spy ware in tip 3 crashed my computer! (Gotta go back to the Apple store again!) People like yourself that understand machines and electronic things elude me. You practice Voodoo! It seems to me that being a mechanic is more like being a magician than just simple logic…

Anonymous said...

Hey Kim,

So are we talking about bartering now for John's expertise and services? There you go again talking about desserts..

Katie Alender said...

Tip three is fantastic, thanks so much, best one in the bunch.

Is the "Low Windshield Wiper Fluid" a safe one to ignore? It's been on for a month now and I would certainly hate it if that caused my car to explode or something.

John Elder Robison said...

Katie, tip three was the best, wasn't it?

As to the low washer fluid lamp. . . operation of the washers with low fluid may cause the washer pump to overheat and fail. Modern washer pumps have been reduced in size and submerged in the washer tank to save weight and cost. They depend upon the surrounding fluid to cool them. That's why your car has a warning light. Low fluid = overheated pump = melted pump and wires = $300 repair bill.

All for a jug of water and Windex.

The Anti-Wife said...

I love tip 3.

The only reason I ever open the hood is to put in my windshield wiper fluid. I am totally intimidated by everything else in there.

I want OnStar in my Honda so I can talk crazy talk to my imaginary friends as I drive down the road and entertain the operators.

Irene said...

Quite entertaining! Great tips, I will be sure and keep them in mind and have my hubby look 'em over. I wish I knew something important so Kim would bake for me! :(

Kim Stagliano said...

Is tip three like platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross. Only believers can see it? :)

Katie Alender said...

Oh, dear! But as long as I don't try to clean my windshield I should be fine, right?

Michelle O'Neil said...

Now I'm thinking of getting a GPS (is that what they're called?) just to mess with the operators.

Laura said...

Hmm, my windshield wiper fluid light's been on a while, too. And the tires are always looking low. Guess I better go work on the car! Heheh.

james said...

That elusive tip 3 is actually advice to never use Cruise Control...it is far too lazy for real drivers AND never buy a car with a 6 CD changer. Yipes, Ryan Adams ALONE has released more than six CDs this year. Always go for the single disc player. It is easier to use and never holds you captive with complicated eject details.
That said...it feels like I know you from my long-gone TVR sport car daze and, anyway, anxiously await your book.

Trish Ryan said...

This is really great advice. Especially about the rodents - why do animals love to crawl up in engines so much? Is it the heat? A friend and I were on a long road trip when the car started making funny noises. He opened the hood only to see a CAT dart out into the gas station parking lot where we pulled over. It was so sad because we couldn't find the cat again, and it was a LONG way from home. Sigh.

Chumplet said...

My Check Engine light is always on. The mechanic doesn't know why it's always on. Sometimes it turns off for a day or two, and we celebrate. Then it's on again. Sigh.

Mary Witzl said...

I've only just gotten my driving license (well, last year) and now I find out about all of this. What am I to do?

Thank you, by the way, for reviewing my non-existent (at this point in time) book review blog. Soon I will review many books and post the reviews on this blog, but until then, it is just a test run of a blog.

But I do have another very full, fairly well-visited blog, and you are welcome to visit that one instead!

I have seen your book and I will definitely read it, having grown up with someone who had Asperger's. (We did not know what it was at the time.) I am currently reading Daniel Tammet's 'Born on a Blue Day' and have found it very enlightening.

John Elder Robison said...

Chumplet, if your mechanic does not know why the light is on, you should consider seeking a more skilled service person.

The biggest problem in the car repair industry today is ignorance.

And Mary, Daniel Tammet wrote a review for my book. I enjoyed his story too, and when you read mine you'll get a glimpse of the difference 25 years makes. If I had written my book at 25, as opposed to 50, it would have been very similar to his. The differences you'll see in mine are a result of continued growth and as such they should be particularly encouraging to younger Aspergians.

Tena said...

John, if you haven't visited my blog lately, please stop by and read "Why I Read Your Blog."

Your post is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Woof.