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.