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How to Make Your Car Last Forever: Auto Q&A with Tom Torbjornsen | Business

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How to Make Your Car Last Forever: Auto Q&A with Tom Torbjornsen

Ol’ Man Winter has arrived, so it’s time to talk about some common winter-related automotive mechanical failures and how to avoid them to save time, aggravation and money. And most importantly, keep you safe. 


Drivetrain Abuse

On snowy, windy days, it’s easy to get stuck in a snowdrift, especially if you don’t have adequate winter tires or all-season tread. As a technician of many years, I have seen numerous drivetrains destroyed from abuse during a snowstorm: broken driveshafts and universal joints (as well as CV joints) disintegrated, transmissions cooked, differential ring and pinion gears literally sheared off, transfer cases locked from internal damage. Why this mechanical carnage? Because the operators of these poor, unfortunate vehicles refuse to call a tow truck when they get stuck in the snow. 

When stuck in a snowdrift, many people get frustrated and start gunning the engine, shifting back and forth while keeping the gas pedal floored. They think they can “rock” the vehicle to get enough momentum to get out of the drift. What abuse! It’s like setting off a grenade in the drivetrain every time you reverse direction. Internal hard parts of the drivetrain (like sun & planetary gears, differential ring and pinion gears, axles and differential carriers) are made of steel that goes through a special heating process during manufacturing. This process hardens the steel so that it resists steady wear over long time periods under normal operating conditions. However, there is one drawback to hardened steel. Although it resists wear, it is also brittle and cannot sustain hard and sudden shock. Impact of this sort causes stress cracks and sometimes shearing and twisting of splines, gear teeth, shafts and yokes. Transmissions, differentials and transfer cases fail under such strenuous operating conditions. Repair and transmission shops thrive when winter weather hits because of this carnage. Want to stay out of the repair shops this winter? Call a tow truck when you get stuck in the snow. It’s cheaper in the long run.


Window and Door Abuse

Doors and windows are victims of winter’s onslaught, too. When snow and ice hit a warm window on a parked car, it melts and runs down to the base of the glass. There’s a squeegee gasket made of rubber designed to stop water from going down inside the door. If this gasket is worn or maladjusted, water gets inside the door and soaks the door linkage, lock mechanisms and window regulator. The water then freezes causing the lock and window mechanisms to freeze. The next time you try to enter your vehicle the locks are frozen, so you force the lock or door handle to get inside the vehicle. Suddenly something pops and the latch feels sloppy. My friend, you have just broken a lock linkage or latch assembly! The door has to come apart and the lock and/or latch repaired. 

Here’s another scenario. You are able to enter the vehicle and you try to roll down the window. The window doesn’t move so you keep the motor engaged to get the window down. All of the sudden you hear a pop and the motor sounds like it’s running freely. You have just broken the internal drive of the window motor and it now has to be replaced. More unnecessary dollars spent. If you wait patiently for the vehicle to warm up, the window will free itself and go down effortlessly. Lesson learned ... or not?


Steering and Suspension Abuse

Snow covered roads conceal dangerous road imperfections. Driving through them can result in steering and suspension carnage. Deep potholes, speed bumps, curbs, large rocks or small glaciers can do massive damage to the underside of your vehicle, especially if it’s a car that’s low to the ground. Ball joints, control arms and steering linkages have movable joints that are either a pivot design or a ball-and-socket design. Hard and shocking impact on the road can actually cause joint separation. I have seen cars after a snowstorm sitting on the side of the road with a front wheel folded up under the vehicle’s body! This is usually the result of a hard shock with a road hazard such as a curb, pothole or a large ice block. The moral of the story? Slow down and navigate the snow-covered roads with caution, or pay the consequences.


Windshield Wiper Abuse

A gentle snowfall is adorning the landscape. Caught up in the beauty of it all, you cheerfully get in your car to venture out for the day. You start the car and turn on the wipers to clear the snow ... and nothing happens. Last night, after parking your warm car, snow fell and melted at the base of the windshield, encrusting the wipers in a mini glacier. When you turn on the wipers the next day, they are forced against the ice at the base of the windshield. Either the wiper motor burns up, the wiper linkage breaks, or the wiper arm splines are stripped when forced against the ice. This results in a major repair bill simply because you didn’t clear the windshield of ice before turning the wipers on. Remember, they are called windshield wipers, not windshield plows! 

Save yourself inconvenience, time, money and possibly your safety. Drive smart this winter season. Be kind to your car and it will serve you well. Happy winter driving!

Find Tom’s new book, “How To Make Your Car Last Forever” in local Barnes & Nobel, Borders and Walden booksellers. You can also find it online at Amazon.com. It’s a great holiday gift for anyone who wants his or her car to run efficiently and last longer.

For more great advice from auto expert Tom Torbjornsen, visit the America’s Car Show website at www.americascarshow.com or become a fan on Facebook for frequent updates. You can also hear Tom’s radio show at noon EST Saturdays on the SSI Radio Network and at 10 p.m. EST Sundays on Stars Too — Sirius 108 & XM 139. And, pick up a copy of Tom’s latest book, “How to Make Your Car Last Forever,” on Amazon.com. Follow Tom’s Q&A blogs every week on WGRZ.com, Buffalo.com and Examiner.com. If you have an automotive question for Tom, send him an e-mail: tom@americascarshow.com.

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