Sunday, February 24, 2008

Diagnosing a high performance modified engine is a hard work and it is plenty of secrets

A very common way to diagnose and tune-up a modified or racing engine is by looking the spark plug firing tips because its appearance can reveal if your engine has a problem that need correcting. But you need to be aware that the same spark plug firing tips appearance can have different root causes:

A) Mixture or timing misadjustment or other possible mechanical troubles.

B) High performance modifications that increase the horse-power level, augmenting therefore the combustion chambers temperature and stress at high RPM.

C) Colder racing spark plugs fouling at idle, stop and go, and lower speeds.

Unfortunately, for each spark plug firing tip appearance, the traditional spark plug troubleshooting charts only are considering as possible trouble causes the first list A.

But in high performance modified engines and racing applications, the list B is usually the main cause of the higher temperatures in the combustion chambers that generates overheating, pre-ignition and detonation; and the list C is the main cause of fouled spark plugs that generates misfiring, hard starting, black smoke and great loose of power.

In spite of that fact, carefully review of almost all the troubleshooting charts, reveals that the causes of the B and C lists are not included, or at least mentioned. However when talking on the high performance field, these causes are with extreme frequency the main guilty of most of the troublesome spark plug firing tip appearance.

As result of this lack of information, never was sufficiently clear that the undesirable spark plug firing tip might be attributable to an inappropriate spark plugs heat range. Either never was mentioned strongly enough the transcendent importance that have to customize the spark plugs heat range, so it was never taken into account.

Forasmuch it should not surprise that even experienced engine builders, modifiers and tuners often confuse an overheated spark plug caused by the new level of power at high RPM, with a lean mixture trouble, because the appearances of its firing tip look exactly the same; making wrong diagnostics, and enriching the mixture, instead of customize the heat range to the engine's power.

And worst, when the heat excess level provokes pre-ignition or detonation (which is very frequent due to the high levels of demands that the racing engines are submitted) most of the times the traditional troubleshooting charts are guiding them erroneously to believe that their engines are having some mechanical troubles and therefore they are engaging unnecessarily in repair nonexistent mechanical problems, like cooling system failure: or to suppose that it is owed to a mixture or timing misadjustment, consequently enriching the mixture and/or retarding the ignition timing, arriving inclusive to decrease the boost pressure, the nitrous flow, the compression ratio, etc. losing by this way tons of power, instead of the unique right, simplest, fastest and cheapest solution that is to customizing the spark plug heat range to the huge power, stress and heat achieved at high RPM.

Due to the same absence of information, they can not either distinguish when the cold racing spark plugs are fouling at idle, stop and go, and lower speeds, from when has a rich mixture, because both have the same carbon fouled firing tips appearance; and what is still worst, they can not either distinguish when the colder racing spark plugs for heavily modified engines are fouling at idle, stop and go, and lower speeds, from when the engines has worn-out piston rings and cylinders, because both have the same oil fouled firing tips appearance.

Those wrong diagnostics are leading them to wrong solutions: trying to adjust unnecessarily the air-fuel mixture when they see carbon fouled spark plugs, and being bottled without need in overhauling the engine to repair mechanical troubles that do not exist, when they see oil fouled spark plugs, instead of avoiding idle and lower speeds in engines built for run at high RPM, or to customize the spark plug heat range for these type of show off usage.

Also when the traditional spark plug troubleshooting charts mention "wrong heat range" or "check for the correct heat range", because it is not enough clear, a great majority of they are quite familiarized with the concept that "wrong heat range" only could be a spark plug different than the stock or the suggested by the manufacturers, ignoring that they should switch the spark plug's heat range.
And, as if was not sufficient with this confusion with the information, until very short time did not exist method neither tool to perform the important task of customize the heat range of the sparkplug, according to any specific high performance modification level, so, the election of the aftermarket sparkplug that best works at any RPM load or stress, was left to the intuition, experience and the criterion of each technician, who only had the unfriendly guesswork of never-ending trial and error proofs, testing different spark plug sets, with inexact and risky results.

But the racing field is no place for mistakes.

Is for that reason that the traditional troubleshooting charts are not the most adequate guide to properly and accurately diagnosing your expensive high performance modified or racing engine, risking you to lose your engine and that is still worse, to lose the race.

What is then the right way to correctly diagnose the spark plugs in the high performance field?
Be sure that, if you are not having real mechanic problems, you must check the heat range of the installed spark plugs, and select the replacement with the colder heat range better suited to your exactly high performance modification level.

Is it a hard work? It depends. If you are using the right tool, that allows you to see, confirm, verify, select, and choose the exact heat range you must install in your high performance modified engine, it is a piece of cake!

Of course if not..... it could be unending, unfriendly, blind and risky guesswork.

You decide!

By Elena Maria Db Orsos

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Motorcycles for 16 Year Olds

Motorcycles are great vehicles to get you around town. They have low insurance costs, they are cheap to operate, and they can get you to places quicker because of their smaller size. However, motorcycles are not for everybody and can be dangerous or deadly in the hands of a wrong person.

When a 16 year old has recently acquired his driving permit, there are many things to learn and many experiences to gain on the topic of driving. Some of these things can be taught, but others will only come with age. A motorcycle is not the best mode of transportation when a person is just beginning to get experience in driving. Driving is more than just pointing your wheels in the direction you want to go. Driving is about self-control and obedience, both of which may not exist exist in a 16 year old. It takes time and experience before all immature driving behaviors and tendencies can be suppressed by a first time driver, yielding to common sense and safe driving practices. Some of these tendencies include the urge to stunt, race, speed, and in general, show off. There is no room for behaviour like this on a motorcycle because there is so little margin for error and the effects are usually devastating should something go wrong. At least a car gives you some protection should you screw up.

There is also the need to get used to driving in all kinds of traffic conditions and being adaptive to those conditions. There are things like road markers and signs that must be obeyed. As a new rider, you have to understand all the rules of the road and react to them accordingly. You also have to drive attentively and defensively, always being prepared for what the other driver may or may not do. There is also the issue of driving according to the environments, road conditions, and other random and uncontrollable factors. Driving is not a simple task and requires ample concentration. A young driver only has to learn how to drive a manual transmission car in traffic to understand the complexities of driving. A motorcycle is 10 times more demanding on your concentration than a car with a manual transmission. If you didn't already know, 99.5% of motorcycles only come with a manual transmission.

When motorcycling, all limbs of your body are being used to control the bike. Your left hand works the clutch while your right hand manages the front brakes. Your left foot changes the gears on your bike, while your right foot modulates the rear brakes. In addition, there are other controls that must be done by the rider at any given time which includes turning on the signals, turning off the signals, powering the headlights, switching the fuel reserve tank, and much more. Finally, a motorcycle is not enclosed in a metal cage. In a car, if you make a mistake and get into an accident, that metal cage will protect you. In a motorcycle, you get only one chance. Screw it up and you are done.

There have been many new motorcycle riders that have come up to me for feedback or opinion on riding motorcycles and selecting the right bike to learn. I have always turned young drivers away from motorcycles unless they have had at least 1 year or 15,000 miles of driving experience. I feel that this driving experience is detrimental to the survival of all motorcycle riders. You cannot shortcut this life lesson and in doing so, you would be unwisely taking a chance. Please spend at least 1 year on a car before considering a motorcycle. Bikes are not everyday vehicles. They should be avoided on windy, snowy, rainy days. They should be avoided when the roads are slippery due to sand, dirt, or gravel. You don't get air conditioning (A/C) on hot days. And finally, you cannot pick up 4 friends to go out for a night into town. If you are selecting your first vehicle, avoid a motorcycle for all the reasons stated above. As a 16 year old, you just do not have the self-control and common sense to ride a motorcycle safely.

By Melvin S. Tan

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Auto repair shop true stories

This next customer had a common complaint of the a/c not blowing cold air. They took their Chevy cavalier into a local auto repair shop and asked for an estimate to repair the a/c. The auto repair shop provided a whopper of an estimate for replacing almost every component in the a/c system. The shop wanted to replace the a/c compressor and almost all of the parts that attached to the compressor.
The customer got me involved before any repairs were approved. After making some notes on what the vehicle owner was told I called the auto repair shop.
The service advisor notified me that the compressor had internal damage and spread metal through the system. This was believable and I have seen this happen before.
But I decided to ask a few questions before I recommended the owner approve the repairs.
I asked the service advisor what the pressure readings were on the high and low side. The advisor stated he would find out and call me back.
Two hours latter he called back and notified me that the system was empty and the freon had leaked out. The red flag went up.
When an a/c system is empty the compressor will not come on and testing is not possible.
The procedure would be to test charge the system and with the compressor running to properly diagnose the failure.
I asked the auto repair shop how they determined the compressor was bad and spread metal through the system without having run the compressor. He said he would call me back.
When he called back he stated that his technician was familiar with this make and model vehicle and that compressor failures are common on this type of vehicle.
At this point I called the customer and recommended to move the vehicle to another auto repair shop.
I informed the vehicle owner that this shop did no diagnosis and was planning on replacing all the parts and hoping the vehicle would be fixed.
The customer agreed and moved the vehicle to an a/c specialty auto repair shop.
I decided to tell this story because the results are funny to me. The a/c shop test charged the system and found a leaking evaporator.
This was the one part that the first shop left out of the estimate. The first shop would have replaced all of those good parts and left the one bad part remaining.
Why did they leave the evaporator out of the estimate? The reason is that the evaporator is hard to replace. The first shop was only interested in doing the easier repairs and hoping it would fix the problem.
Now the car is fixed and the owner avoided replacing $1500.00 of un needed a/c components.
Case study # 3
This next case was a problem with a 2002 Toyota corolla. Yes even Toyotas can have mechanical problems.
In this case the vehicle owner notified me that her engine was leaking oil and wanted to know if this would be covered under warranty.
The vehicle warranty was 3 years or 36,000 miles which ever came first. The customer had 36,125 miles on the vehicle, just over the warranty limit. I was surprised that the vehicle was having this problem because Toyotas are very well built.
I did some research and found out that the vehicle had brand new technology in the engine compartment. This vehicle had the first year for a new engine know as the vvti (variable valve timing).
I used all data to research TSB’s (technical service bulletins). The very first bulletin was about engine oil leaks from the front timing cover.
I called the customer and asked if the oil leak was from the right side of the vehicle. The customer put some cardboard under the vehicle and confirmed the next day that it was on the right side.
I faxed over a copy of the TSB and the owner took her vehicle to the Toyota dealer instead of an auto repair shop. The dealership performed the repairs under warranty even though it was technically out of warranty by miles.
As a side note the dealer has some lead way when it comes to warranty coverage. If the vehicle is out of warranty but close the dealer can still cover the repairs under a grace period clause provide by the manufacture.
The dealer can do this for customer satisfaction and brand loyalty reasons. Most dealers will not do this unless you ask.
If they refuse to offer you a slight grace period you can call the manufacture and explain that if they assist you, the next time you buy a car it will be their brand because of the support received.
Back to the Toyota story. The owner of the vehicle picked up the car and the oil leak was fixed.
The customer was looking at her receipt and the repairs did not match the repairs that I sent her in the TSB. I had her fax me a copy of the receipt.
The warranty paper work stated that the dealer replaced the cylinder head gasket and not the timing cover seal that had been updated by Toyota.
I called the dealer to find out why the receipt did not match the repair. I wanted to make sure that the redesigned timing cover seal was installed on this vehicle to avoid future problems.
The service advisor’s honesty surprised me.

He stated that the timing cover seal was replaced with the updated part number but they had charged Toyota to replace the head gasket because the head gasket operation paid more labor from Toyota.
So what this meant was the dealership was actually stealing from the factory.
When I went back to the customer and told her the story she asked me to drop it and not get the dealer in trouble because as far as she was concerned the car was fixed properly. The customer felt that looking out for Toyota was not her concern.
I agreed to drop it but I wanted to tell you the story. If the dealer cannot scam you they can still scam the factory. The dealerships lust for money knows no boundaries.
This is a good time to touch on warranty repairs and the relationship between the dealer and the manufacture.
I have worked at dealers that scammed the manufacture worse than they did the customers.
This affects all of us as in the manufacture takes these loses in account when pricing new vehicles and passes the cost on to the consumer at the point of sale on new vehicles.
I have worked for dealerships that pushed the manufacture to the point of the dealership being audited by the factory.
This process is very interesting and I wanted to share it with you.
When a dealership performs warranty repairs the factory requires the dealership to turn in the old parts for inspection.
Yes the manufacture uses the same techniques I recommended earlier in the verifying the repairs chapter.
The factory doesn’t trust the dealership either.
When the dealer’s warranty claims exceed what the factory considers normal an audit is performed.
The manufacture will send out a factory representative to review warranty claims and old parts.
The dealership is then responsible to pay any charge backs that the factory feels is necessary.
If the dealership refuses to pay, then the franchise is pulled and the dealer is out of the new car business.
I hope you found these auto repair shop stories entertaining.

by Mark Gittelman

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Self Diagnose Your Car And The Check Engine Light

Even for the most mechanically inclined, determining exactly what is going on with your car behind the check engine light can be very complicated. Some people are willing to hunt out the problem through trial and error while others will be quick to drive their car to the mechanic to get the diagnostic test run and then take the car home to resolve the issue themselves. Either way, this can be a costly process. There has to be an easier way.

Why the Check Engine Light is On

No one likes to think of having to take a trip to the mechanic each and every time the check engine light comes on. In the last ten or so years, cars have been designed so that this light will come on for just about every problem imaginable, not just because the engine needs some type of repair. A problem as simple as the gas cap not being tightened enough last time you went to fill up your car can cause the light to go on. This makes the light almost impossible to decipher without the use of a computer device.

Car Error Codes

In your car's computer, all problems will register as a code. If you were able to extract these codes from your car's computer and decipher them for yourself, you will know what needs to be done to have your car running smoothly again. So why would you spend hundreds of dollars to find out what is wrong and then spend the money to fix it yourself when you can diagnose the problem yourself?

Codes Explain the Check Engine Light

These problem codes that register through the check engine light are the answer to all of the problems that could possibly occur with the car. Extracting these codes will tell you exactly what is going on with your car and you will be able to figure out what exactly needs to be fixed rather than swapping out part after part until the issue has been resolved. Not only can you cause more damage to your vehicle by swapping out parts but you will also spend unnecessary money on parts that it turns out you do not need.

Working as your own mechanic can definitely have its advantages. You will be able to save yourself the high cost of labor as well as the time that a mechanic might take. Many other people also use mechanics so if you need to use one, you will likely need to wait your turn, but it could be worth waiting to find out why the check engine light is on. When you do it yourself, you can work when you have the time.

by Andre Zayas