Know You Car and Save Money #2

As we continue our Living The Dream Auto Care educational series, we figured that there will be many parts of a vehicle that you hear about only because something went wrong. However, there are two components you often learn about before disaster strikes – at your annual state inspection. And fortunately so.

If you’ve ever been rejected for a “sticker” because you have a loose tie rod or ball joint, consider yourself lucky. You’ll soon see that finding out about either of these suspension parts after it goes bad can lead to unpleasant consequences.

Ball joints are the part of the vehicle suspension system that connect the steering knuckle (or wheel hub) to the control arm. They work similarly to the ball-and-socket design of the human hip joint. A ball joint is essentially a flexible ball-and-socket that allows the suspension to move and, at the same time, the wheels to steer. Additionally, ball joints also help support the weight of the vehicle.

Bad ball joints are OK – NOT! That’s why a vehicle will often pass a state inspection with brakes that are completely shot, but not with a loose ball joint.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to determine, just by driving the car, whether your ball joints are going, going, gone. You frequently won’t feel anything before it’s too late – but your mechanic can tell by testing them. They (or preferably us) will put the vehicle on a lift and grab each tire at 9 and 3 o’clock, and try to push and pull it. They’ll also do the same thing at 12 and 6 o’clock. If the ball joint is good, there should be absolutely no back-and-forth movement in the wheel. If it moves at all, the ball joint is bad and should be replaced.

You can, however, tell if a problem is brewing if you hear a clunking noise when driving over uneven roads, or there is uneven tire wear. If you’re the person who turns the radio up louder when you hear noises in the car, the best indication of a defective ball joint is when the tire folds underneath the car while driving. Hope your favorite song is playing…

Tie rods are an integral part of your vehicle’s steering, as it ties the steering rack to the steering arm – which is attached to the wheel. To keep it simple, the steering rack will move when you turn the steering wheel, and the tie rods are the connection to the wheels of the vehicle. Without tie rods, your steering system will fail.

Like most automotive parts, tie rods don’t simply go bad at a specified time; they go bad because of normal wear and tear. Tie rods can last for years, but can be affected by certain driving conditions, such as potholes and other poor road conditions. Because of this, they should be inspected regularly.

There can be some warning signs for when tie rods are going bad. If your vehicle pulls to one side while driving or braking, or a knocking sound coming from the front end when turning at low speed, you probably wanna get this checked out. Of course, abnormal tire wear on the inside or outside of the tire can be an indication, as well.

The consequences of a defective tie rod is no better than that of a bad ball joint. If it goes while driving, you probably WILL lose control of the steering of the vehicle. Fortunately, this often happens during low speed turns (such as in parking lots), but it’s not advisable to test the exhilaration of a broken tie rod in two-way traffic at any speed.

If the risks of ignoring these issues scare you…good! Some maintenance and repair items on a vehicle can wait – often for quite a while. Ball joints and tie rods do not fall into this list. When you hear that there is a problem with either or both, get it fixed yesterday. And by the way, when you do, the vehicle needs to be aligned afterwards to ensure that the tires don’t get worn out, as each suspension component affects the alignment of the wheels.

It’s important to stress the necessity of the proper operation of these items. Now, if the red ‘R’ from the inspection station for a safety violation didn’t get your attention, seeing someone on the side of the road with the music blaring and three wheels on the car will.

The Difference Between OEM, OES, and Aftermarket Parts

It is believed by many that OES (Original Equipment Supplier) parts have to be purchased directly from the dealer. OES parts are made on the same assembly line as the OEM(Original Equipment Manufacturer) except it goes through a couple added steps. Branding of the part or stamping with the manufacturer logo IE: HONDA, and then gets wrapped and labeled in the manufacturers packaging. This OES part has just become more expensive to the consumer because of theses added steps and inflated by numerous middlemen. Due to the regulations of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification there are quite a few OEM companies on the market because multiple OES brands are required. For the Auto manufacturers to have a steady supply on the production line, they must have several supply sources that provide them with equal quality parts. This ensures if a manufacturer has any problems with one supplier it will not disable the vehicles production and allow for substitution of other brands for production, repairs and warranty replacement.

Aftermarket parts are copies of the OEM part. These parts are made to be a more economically feasible replacement parts than an OEM part. These parts are usually carried by your retail “chain” parts suppliers and are intended to be sold to the “do it yourselfer” who is more concerned with price than quality or longevity. However in my experiences there are some aftermarket companies that take OEM parts to the next level of quality. MOOG suspension components being a good example, they take for instance a ball joint, reverse engineer the part and and then recreate a replacement part that is of a higher quality. These products are most of the time equivalent in price to an OES part but carry an outstanding lifetime warranty.
In conclusion, there are several options to meet your repair, service and budget needs without sacrificing overall quality.

Know Your Car and Save Money

Welcome to the first installment of the Living The Dream Auto Care educational series – Know Your Car and Save Money.

Throughout the next few months, we will provide some relatively simple information to our guests (and anyone who wants to learn car care from the best J) regarding the basics of automotive terminology and care. Our intent is to de-mystify the lingo, help you know when your car needs attention, and – more importantly to you, we’re sure – keep your automotive costs low.

If you’re car savvy, congratulations. Feel free to add to the discussion – to help your fellow guests. And if you know someone who is not, please share this information. We’re going to cover this topic top to bottom – and hopefully, you’ll find it interesting…

Therefore, let’s start right at the bottom – where the rubber meets the road.

Proper At-Tire
Maybe someone can help us with this – who was the first person to suggest kicking the tires? Our initial car care tip: don’t do that – it just looks silly.

Now, everyone knows good tires are: 1) essential to a good ride; 2) important for passing state inspections; and 3) expensive. So, let’s talk about keeping tires good for longer periods.

To start, proper inflation of the tires is really helpful. (Actually, to start, buy good tires from the beginning – just sayin’…) Properly inflation gives your tires the best chance to wear evenly as they travel on the road.

Underinflation will cause a tire to become flatter while in contact with the road, causing:
* A significant loss of steering precision and cornering stability
* A loss of up to 5% of fuel economy
* As much as a 25% reduction in the life of the tread on the tire

Overinflation will mean that less tire touches the road, leading to:
* A greater possibility of damage when hitting potholes or road debris
* A harsher ride
* As much as a 25% reduction in the life of the tread on the tire

If either condition exists for a while, the tread will wear unevenly. Then, you may hear terms like cupping, feathering, scalloping. Sorry. Hopefully, we won’t use those types of words with you – but they do mean something that you oughta know.

Each of those terms are related to the pattern in which the tread in wearing. More importantly, however, there could be a greater issue that is coming to light.

Tires are supposed to run flat on the road. If one edge hits the road more than the other, then it will wear faster. In essence, the tire is tilted – and that’s not good. A tilted tire can be the cause of a future problem with the suspension parts of your vehicle.

Think of a tire like a shoe. If the sole or heel wears more to the inside or the outside, the foot will tilt – and so will the leg attached to it. And the leg bone connected to the hip bone, etc…you get the point.

Conversely, the suspension problem may be the reason for the tilted tire and uneven wear. A bow-legged person is going to wear out shoes differently. This is a bit beyond this presentation, but obviously, something that should be addressed.

The best preventative measures to ensure that tires last longer are:

1. Make sure that the inflation pressure is proper
2. Check your suspension every six months
3. Rotate and balance tires every 7,500 miles
4. Get a 4-wheel alignment once a year (discussed another time).

Of course, tires rotate – they’re round, aren’t they? Well, yeah, but…a rotation means moving the tires from one position on the car to another. Why? When birds fly in a V-pattern, the lead bird fights most of the wind, so when they get tired, they rotate to the back to get some rest. It’s the same thing with tires.

Because of turning, or front-wheel drive, or heavy engines, the front tires do the majority of the work – and wear faster. So, it’s essential to rotate them to the rear to give them a rest.

Tires should be balanced, as well. The weight of a tire is almost NEVER exactly the same all the way around. Matter of fact, the valve stem contributes to the imbalance. And when the tire goes spinning down the road, the imbalance in weight, however slight, will cause a wobble. The faster the car goes, the more the wobble. And when one tire wobbles differently than another, the driver feels it – usually in the steering wheel.

An unbalanced tire will also cause a vibration in the suspension. This imbalance will cause suspension and steering components to wear prematurely. Lastly, it will cause the tire to wear in an uneven pattern. Therefore, keeping your tires balanced is very important.

Weights are added around the rim to provide an even balance. Equal weights mean less vibration – and less potential damage to the suspension. If this, like rotation, is done regularly, you probably won’t need to replace them as frequently.