QOTD #61: Does idling hurt your car’s engine?

During my time as a driver manager with a fleet of 40 vehicles, I have noticed that some of our vans have developed catalytic converter problems. The most recent was a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan (with 123k miles) which developed a check engine light with a P0420 code. The local mechanic told me it was the bank one catalytic converter needing to be replaced. This expensive repair caused me to wonder why the unit went bad.

The company I work for transports railroad crew members from one place to another. However, there are times when the crew is not ready to go for up to three hours. As you can imagine, if it is hot, the driver will keep the van running with the AC on. Now that colder weather has arrived, our drivers keep the van running for the heat. While I don’t have a problem with our drivers being comfortable, I am wondering if the idling of their vehicles is causing problems to develop inside the engine or catalytic converter.

Search the internet and you will find forums arguing about this:

“Not true. 90% of all wear is done at start up. Once an engine is running it’s best to leave it running. Letting it idle will not harm a thing. Not back then and not today. As long as the engine has oil pressure you’re not hurting a thing. Sorry but dad was wrong.” 1

“The main problem with extended idling was the wasted fuel, fouled spark plugs, and carboned up combustion chambers from the carburetor delivered fuel system and lesser ignitions systems of the era. … But, the company my mom worked for at the time in the mid-1960’s used a fleet of Corvairs, including the van version, and without any particular problems for all of the extended idling that the delivery units were subjected to.” 2

So… who is right? And how about with newer, fuel-injected engines today? Does idling cause your vehicle’s engine to foul spark plugs, wear out quicker, and mess up your catalytic converter? Instead of relying on the forums, I decided to visit the Car Talk website to find the answer:

These days, with fuel injection and computer engine management, cars and trucks can idle until they run out of gas without doing any extra damage to the engine (assuming the cooling system is working properly). Idling does add wear and tear to the engine –anytime the engine is running, you’re decreasing the useful life of the oil and slowly wearing out parts. But it’s no more harmful than driving. 3

What do you think? Is Car Talk right about this?

Whose responsibility was it?

A company driver was driving a crew alongside the railroad tracks two weeks ago, when one of the crew members told him to drive on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was dark that night and snow covered most of the ground. So, when the driver crossed to the other side and drove along the flat, snow covered “road”, he was very surprised when the van crashed through the ice into the drainage ditch.

Two weeks later, after trying a tow truck and bobcat with no success, a nearby landfill pulled the van out with a bulldozer. Unfortunately, the van will now need some expensive repairs and the driver has no work vehicle. This all brings up a very important question. Who was responsible for what happened that night?

Was it the crew member’s fault? He was the one who told the driver to go to the other side of the tracks. And if the driver had never been there before, he would need to rely on the knowledge of the crew member to know the lay of the land. And when you are hired to transport people, you do what they ask, right?

Was it the driver’s fault? Every driver is responsible to make sure the vehicle and it’s occupants are safe at all times. And every driver should use common sense. But it is difficult for me to blame the driver for doing what he was told especially under the circumstances.

So what is the correct answer? It is not always easy to know what to do in difficult situations. But knowing what happened to this driver, it isn’t as important to know who was responsible than to know what to do if you face a similar situation. Instead of doing what you are told, you might stop for a moment and ask a question. “Sir, are you sure this is a road?” Or you might say, “I am going to step outside and check the road before going any further.” And if necessary, you might go So far as to say, “I am sorry if it causes you a problem but I do not feel comfortable driving down there. You will have to walk from here.”

Most drivers wouldn’t feel comfortable causing a conflict. It is easier to do what you are told than to get into an argument. But I would imagine that every driver would also like to have a van to drive the next day instead of waiting 2-3 weeks while their van is being repaired. Think about that the next time you are asked to do something questionable. Your ability to say no may make a big difference. Be prepared.

QOTD #59: What wheels will fit on a 1984 Pontiac Fiero?

Remember when the 15″ tires on Classic SAAB 900s looked huge? They were huge because normal cars came with 13″ tires. But it’s not like that anymore. Now that 16″ tires are the new norm for Honda Civics, it is more difficult to find 14″ tires for cars like my 1984 Pontiac Fiero. Even TireRack.com (which usually carries a huge selection) offers only one choice in the size 215/60 R14. With that in mind, I have begun to wonder about future pricing and availability of non-normal tire sizes for this car. Perhaps finding some used 15″ or 16″ wheels would be a better solution with more options for the future. But what rims can replace my 1984 Pontiac Fiero wheels?

1984 Pontiac Fiero

As you may know, it takes more than the same bolt pattern to fit wheels on a car. You also need to consider the wheel’s bore size (the hole in the middle of the wheel) and offset (the distance from the inside mounting plate to the inside edge of the rim). So, if you can find a car with similar specs, this might just work.

Fiero Wheel Specs

Bolt Pattern 5×100
Bore 57.1
Offset 42

A quick Google search will provide you with a variety of ideas. However, all ideas are not equal. Be careful what advice you follow. Even the answers on some Fiero forums are a bit suspect. The best information I found was at Wheelfitment.eu. Although they include some European only models, they list a number of North American models that match exactly. Here are the best options that have the exact bolt pattern, bore, and offset sizes:

Perfect Matches

82-90 Buick Century
82-88 Cadillac Cimarron
89-96 Chevy Beretta
82-05 Chevy Cavalier
89-96 Chevy Corsica
95-07 Chrysler Sebring
92-99 Olds Achieva
95-05 Pontiac Sunfire
98-11 Volkswagen New Beetle 16″

There are a couple of vehicles that come very close to the specs. If you don’t mind an offset of 40 instead of 42, try these wheels at your own risk:

Almost Perfect Matches

87-95 Chrysler Lebaron
94-05 Chrysler Neon
00-10 Chrysler PT Cruiser
95-00 Dodge Stratus
91-96 Volkswagen Passat B4 VR6

One other thing needs to be mentioned. If you are going to search the junk yard for a used wheel and tire combo, you need to consider whether the existing tire will fit inside the wheel well without rubbing. Thankfully, Tiresize.com makes things easy with a Tire Size Comparison Calculator. This tool will keep you from making some bad decisions.

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QOTD #58: How good is your gas mileage?

Whenever I buy a new car, I like to see what kind of gas mileage I get. If the car has a trip computer that makes the test easier. But I still like to write down the miles on the odometer and fill up the tank to get an accurate reading. I have yet to do that with my latest acquisitions. The 1984 Pontiac Fiero is not running at the moment but is supposed to get anywhere from 29-32 mpg hwy with the automatic transmission. The manual transmission is supposed to get as much as 40 mpg. Wouldn’t that be nice?

MPG 84 Fiero 2

The one that may be an issue is the 2002 Mercedes-Benz ML320. Fuelly.com says that four owners tracked their mileage and averaged 17.1 mpg. Apparently, the combination of AWD and a 215 hp V6 will have me visiting the gas station more often than not. Thankfully, most of my drive to work has a 45 mph speed limit. So, maybe it won’t be too bad.

MPG 02 ML320

All this makes me curious about your experience. How good is your gas mileage? Are you one of these people who coast as far as you can to save money? My uncle does that. Or are you the type that doesn’t care? As long as the car performs as it should, you don’t care what it costs. Let me know in the comment section below.

QOTD #57: How do I sell my car?

Chances are you may be thinking about selling your car or trading it in. But how can you sell your car for the most amount of money? Whether you sell it to a private party or trade the car in at a car dealership, you should consider a few tips before putting the car up for sale.

Clean your car.

Most buyers are looking for a car that looks good to them. Keep in mind that the first impression may be what eventually sells the car to them. So, be sure to clean the car before presenting it. A good wash and vacuum will go a long way in showing the next owner that you took care of your car.

Take good pictures.

Speaking of first impressions, your pictures can make or break the sale. Take nice corner shots that make the car look good. Hold the camera level with the windshield for the best angle. Be sure to make the car look good but also show any major problems so that the next owner is not surprised.

Research your car’s value.

Determining your car’s value can be done a number of ways. You can look up its value at KBB.com. Be sure to input the actual options, trim level, and condition. But remember that their values are not guaranteed. Look also at what similar cars are selling for on your local Craigslist site. Knowing what you are up against will help you to price your car appropriately.

Be realistic.

If you sell your car yourself, realize that it will take time. Holding out for a big profit may prolong your ownership of the car. Price it below the competition for a quicker sale. If you decide to trade it in, however, realize that trade-in price is not the same as private party value. A used car lot pays less because they may need to make repairs, detail the car, and are in business to make a profit themselves.

Selling your car doesn’t need to be a hassle. If you take the time to prepare yourself and your vehicle, you will do much better than most sellers. A little hard work will keep you from a big headache. So get to work!