Thursday, June 5, 2008

How To Avoid Buying a Lemon

Did you hear about the guy who went out to buy a used car and came back with a lemon? For many years, used cars have been subject of vile humor because of their perceived lack of reliability and poor quality. However, increased consumer education about savvy used car buying and the improved reliability, performance, and safety features of recent-model used cars are changing car buyers' perception of used vehicles. That 44 million used vehicles are sold in the U.S. each year (more than twice the 17 million new cars sold annually) only confirms the car-buying public's unwavering faith in used cars and trucks. Still, the fact remains that a few lemons do slip through the cracks once in a while. Here are several steps you can take to avoid buying a trouble-prone vehicle.

1. Research the vehicle's reliability. Savvy used car buyers know that some vehicles are more reliable than others. But how do you know if the used car you're eyeing is a keeper or a stinker? You can find out about a vehicle's reliability by reading car reviews published in motoring magazines and auto websites. Car-related magazines and websites periodically come out with lists of the best and worst cars for every model year, as well as readers' choices for outstanding used car models. To supplement your research, ask friends and colleagues about what they may know or have experienced with the vehicle you are thinking of buying.

2. Check the information provided in the Buyer's Guide. Dealers are required by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to post a Buyer's Guide in every used vehicle they put on sale. The Buyer's Guide discloses certain information, such as whether the vehicle is being sold with a warranty or "as is", and what percentage of repair costs, if there are any, the dealer is obligated to pay. Information provided in the Buyer's Guide overrules any contrary provisions in your sales contract. For instance, if the Guide states that the vehicle is covered by a warranty, the dealer must honor that warranty even if the sales contract says otherwise.

3. Find out if any recalls were issued on the vehicle. A recall doesn't necessarily mean the vehicle is a potential lemon. If a recall had been issued in the vehicle you're interested in, make sure that corresponding recall service was performed on it. Ask the seller to furnish you with documentation on recall service. The automaker is obliged to perform recall service free of charge, irrespective of the age of the vehicle or how long ago the recall was issued. Call up the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or visit the agency's website ( for information on all official recalls.

4. Check the vehicle's history. Nowadays, even vehicles can't escape a shadowy past. Find out if the vehicle has "skeletons under the hood" by getting a vehicle history report from CarFax or Experian Automotive. A vehicle history report can warn you of possible problems with the vehicle, such as odometer fraud and past damage due to fire, flood, or accident, as well as tell you if any rebuilt or salvage title has been issued for the vehicle.

5. Give the vehicle a thorough inspection. No amount of background research can replace the essential act of physically inspecting the vehicle. If you know enough about vehicles, you can do the inspection yourself; otherwise, it would be better to have it performed by a qualified mechanic. Check the vehicle both inside and out. Look for any signs of disrepair on the exterior, the interior, under the hood, tires, suspension, and steering. Consult this Used Car Inspection Checklist for an item-by-item guide to performing an inspection.

6. Take the vehicle on a test drive. Don't stop at physically inspecting the vehicle; take it for a spin. A test drive could reveal operational problems that an ocular inspection might overlook. Some problems might start to show only after the engine has been running for some time, so plan to spend at least 30 minutes behind the wheel. Check for any unusual noises, vibrations, or unexpected mechanical reactions, paying particular attention to the engine, transmission and clutch, suspension, acceleration, brakes, and steering.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

RV Maintenance : Repairing External Lights on Older Units

As you enjoy your Recreational Vehicle, the years and the miles start to show themselves in the outside lights. Running lights flicker, then fail completely; backup lights work sporadically; indicator and stoplights do not always give fair warning to other motorists.


If a bulb is blown, it will never work but if it works on and off, and the filament inside is sound, suspect bad connections.

No need to rush over to a repair shop to get the connections repaired. This is a job you can do yourself, even with no electrical knowledge. Repair shops like to make it look like a very tough job when, in fact, it is one of the simplest tasks.

WARNING: if the shop starts talking about re-wiring your lights, jump in the cab and drive away as fast as you can. Either they do not know what they are talking about, and will wreck your vehicle, or they have marked you as an easy dupe and are about to take you for a lot of money. Here is why:

1. The wiring of the outside lights is very solidly done at the factory. The wires are stapled in place and will likely never need replacement. Almost all troubles with outboard RV lights are due to faulty ground connections, which are easy to remedy.

2. An outboard light has one wired connection, carrying the +12 volt battery supply. This is the only actual wire connecting to the bulb fixtures. (Two wires for brake-signal-backup bulbs.)

3. The connection to the negative side of the battery (the ground return) is through the vehicle chassis. In other words, the battery is grounded to the chassis, and the electrical circuits are normally grounded to the chassis, as well. This makes it simpler to supply power to the circuits; only one physical wire needs to be routed to each device. The negative connection for an outside light is a simple sheet metal screw fastened through the grounded aluminum siding of the vehicle.

4. Are any of the other running and signal lights working? If so, the fuses are probably OK.

Again: make sure the bulbs are still good, and that the metal spring contacts are tight against the bulb contacts. Running lights have only one filament in the bulb, while the signal-brake-backup bulbs have two, and therefore two wires and spring connections to the back of the bulb.

THE USUAL PROBLEM? The grounding screw! The ground return is through a screw fastened to the weakest part of the system -- the thin aluminum exterior siding of the RV. Bumpy roads, rain, dirt, all help weaken the connections. The older the vehicle, the more these screws work their way loose. Once the ground screw starts to loosen even a little bit, the electricity starts to arc; corrosion gathers in the joints between the screw and the bulb connector, and between screw and chassis.

THE FIX? Clean up the connections. Here is how:

1. Remove the plastic light covers. The larger ones will have little tabs on either side: push in the tab on one side and gently lift the cover off. The small running lights will pry off with gentle pressure from behind any one of the sides.

2. Inspect the grounding screw and the metal connection to the light underneath it. You will likely see some corrosion, and the screw may even be rattling around loose.

3. Remove the screw and polish up the connection with some fine emery cloth (not sand paper) You want as smooth and shiny clean a surface as possible for good electrical connectivity. Look behind, at the screw hole in the aluminum siding. Clean that up, too!

4. Replace the screw with a new one of the same size. If the screw hole in the siding has been enlarged through miles of vibrations, or over-tightening, then use a screw one size larger in diameter. This will cut a slightly larger hole, making a clean, new connection.

NEVER USE A LONGER SCREW! You never know what you might puncture behind the aluminum sheeting!

Finally, tighten the grounding screw firmly in place, but not so hard that you strip the hole.

5. Older light covers have flat putty strips on the inside for waterproofing. (Most people prefer instead to run a thin bead of silicone caulking around the outside edge of the colored lens covers to keep dirt and moisture out.) Clean away all the old putty first, though.

6. It pays to check all of the running or signaling lights once you are at it. Re-tightening ALL the screws ensures that all your lights will function well for a long time to come.
While you are at it, clean all those colored plastic lenses: brush the dirt out and then give them a wash-up with a little dish washing liquid. Your outboard lights will shine like new.

Now you are ready for many more years of road running with safe lights, and you will avoid fines for improper lighting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Take Awesome Care of Your Car's Interior

Caring for your car's interior can make the interior components last for many years. Knowing how to properly clean and take care of the surfaces of the interior will allow you to perform regular maintenance and make your car look great.

LEATHER SEATS: If your car has leather seats, be sure to clean and dress the leather with a good quality product made just for leather. Using other products which are not intended for leather an result in the leather cracking prematurely and causing your interior to look ragged much before its time. Leather upholstery is expensive to repair or replace, so care for it properly in the first place to avoid expensive damage.

PLASTIC INTERIOR SURFACES: The plastic surfaces inside your car can be cleaned with most any good, mild household cleaner or with plain soap and water. They can then be made shiny with any one of the many car interior shine products available on the market. See the warning below.

FABRIC SEATING: If your fabric seat becomes soiled, remove any excess dirt or food by scraping. Then clean with a good quality upholstery cleaner. Before tackling a stain in an area which will show, test the product on an inconspicuous area to be sure the fabric is color fast and does not fade the area or leave it with a bleached look.

WINDOWS: Use products specifically made for cleaning windows to remove the grease and soil build up on your glass surfaces. You can use simple home glass cleaning products and save yourself a lot of money versus the overpriced auto-glass cleaners. To prevent streaking, polish with newspaper. If you wish, apply a no-fog product to the windows by following product instructions.

One word of warning. When cleaning any interior area of your car be very careful in what you use. Items like Armor All are great for areas made of soft plastic, but are harder areas or hard plastic areas it can dry out the surface over time and make it crack.

While there are many other areas in your car's interior these are the major ones to keep clean. By doing so you're car will look great for years to come.

If you're interested in getting your car's interior a deep, deep clean contact a local detailing shop or search the Internet on how to detail your car's interior.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How to Save a Ton of Money on Auto Painting

Auto painting can be quite expensive if you want to have a really great paint job. Of course, you can find shops that offer really cheap paint jobs but auto painting is one of the situations where you truly get what you pay for.

A cheap paint job will look cheap. The shop will spend little time properly masking the areas that shouldn't have paint applied. You've probably seen a car where the trunk lock was painted; the formerly shiny chrome door handles were painted over; that is what you get when you elect to get really cheap auto painting.

However, you can get a great paint job and save money by doing some of the work yourself. About 90% of the cost of auto painting is the preparation before paint is applied to the car. This offers you an opportunity to save money on your paint job if you don't mind doing some hard work.

When you visit the auto paint shop, ask what you can do to prepare the car and reduce the price of the painting. Many shops will reduce the price if you remove chrome parts in advance. They may reduce the price if you clean the surface and remove old silicone-based wax and grease. To do this, you purchase a good quality wax and grease remover and find a well-ventilated place to work. Don't perform this task in a closed garage because the fumes can be hazardous.

You can also remove old wax and grease using scrubbing pads or an abrasive household cleaner like Comet. Use a bit of caution with these procedures because it is really easy to scratch chrome or even glass.

Another step you may be able to perform yourself is the feathering of scratches and paint chips. These areas must be smoothed and evened out using sand paper. The initial sanding can be performed with 80 or 100 grit and change to finer and finer sand paper until the final sanding touches are done with 220 grit.

Ask the body shop if you can do some of the larger masking yourself. Masking is simply the process of placing painter's tape over areas that should not be painted. Some body shops will not guarantee the quality of paint if you mask the car or any part of it yourself, so be sure this will actually save you money without infringing on the paint guarantee.

Critically Important Emergency Equipment for Your Car

Every vehicle should have certain emergency items on hand at all times. Should you be involved in a break down or other emergency, the items you have in your car can save your life.

Always have a spare tire and jack that are in proper working condition to allow you to get back on the road in case of a flat tire or damaged tire. Carry jumper cables in your trunk in case you accidentally run your battery down by leaving the lights on or other items in the car. These items should be in the trunk of your car at all times.

It is a good idea, if you live in areas where cold weather occurs, to always carry a blanket or two in your trunk as well in case you are stranded without being able to run the car engine for heat. If you do run a car engine for heat, be sure to allow the fumes to escape and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning which can kill a person very quickly.

Carry a basic tool kit in your trunk that includes screwdrivers, wrenches, and a socket set suitable for your vehicle, and other items. Spare fuses should be included in case a blown fuse prevents your lights from working. A tail lamp or even a headlight is not a bad addition if you are traveling extensively. If you are mechanically inclined, you might include a set of belts and hoses as well.

At all times, you should have a set of flares in your vehicle to alert other drivers if you break down in a place where you might present a hazard. This can save someone from hitting you, saving both your life and theirs.

Inside your car, preferably in the door storage area of each front seat, carry a tool capable of cutting throughout the seat restraints. Special tools are made for this purpose but a strong knife can work in a pinch. This can allow you to exit a car that has been in a collision before the fuel tank can explore or to escape the vehicle if it is underwater. Be sure the same tool can also be used to break the glass to exit the car if the windows will not go down.

Add a general first aid kit to your car and you are ready to go anywhere safely. Always use common sense if you break down or have an emergency. Use your cell phone to call for help before exiting the vehicle if possible and always stay out of traffic.