That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It – Not With Today’s Vehicles


Nostalgia is history seen through rose-tinted glasses. While people may wax on about the “good ol’ days” of cars, technology has moved onward and that has changed how we maintain our vehicles. The following old saws about car maintenance no longer apply.

Feather your brake pedal to stop faster

In the old days the fastest way to brake was by keeping the brakes applied as hard as possible without locking up to get the shortest stop. Today nearly all cars have anti-lock brakes: This system releases pressure from the brakes to prevent lockup in much the same way a human can do this by pushing and releasing, or “feathering,” the pedal.

These systems can get about 95% of the total brake force available in a stop. It is possible for a skilled human to get 96-97% of the total brake force, but unless your last name is “Andretti” it’s unlikely that this will happen in the real world, particularly when faced with a panic stop. ABS systems can also control individual brakes, releasing pressure only on the wheels near lockup, increasing stability.

Engine oil must be changed every three months or 3,000 miles

Lubricant and seal technology has improved greatly over the past twenty years while improvements in machining have reduced gaps between parts, increasing the life of oil. Most new cars recommend an oil change no less than every 5,000 miles. Some cars now have oil wear sensors that tell you exactly when your oil needs to be changed.

Joints and bearings should be lubricated with each oil change

Lubrication improvements apply to grease just as much as they do oil. Modern lubricants have a service life longer than some bearings, so automakers have turned to making sealed systems. This has the added benefit of protecting these parts from dirt and grime from the road. If the grease fails the part will need to be replaced, but that may not happen during the vehicle’s lifetime.

The fuel system and timing need to be retuned every time you make a performance modification

Today fuel mixtures are handled by injectors controlled by a mass air flow sensor. No matter what kind of intake system you put in front of the sensor, it will adjust the fuel mixture accordingly.

Likewise, modern distributorless ignition systems can adjust timing based on sensor information. If you use higher octane gas or install a better coil the system will move ignition closer to the pistons’ “top dead center” position, increasing performance.

Of course both systems have limits. More advanced modifications often come with “chips,” small modules that plug into the car’s computer system to allow changes beyond stock capabilities.

You need a lot of complicated equipment to diagnose a car

With the exception of a few Mercedes Benzes, all cars sold from 1997 on have an OBD-II port. This diagnostic port can give you information on trouble codes as well as engine RPM and fuel usage.

Many parts stores will let you borrow a diagnostic computer that reads data from this port or you can buy an aftermarket computer for around $150. This is a far cry from the complex diagnostic machines once in use by garages. While a diagnostic code may not tell you everything you need to know, it’s a lot easier for a layman mechanic to understand than an oscilloscope reading.

Your tires should be replace your tires when the tread touches Lincoln’s head

This is one time when modern conditions are worse than old time advice, but it’s because we know more than we did then. One common measurement for reading tread depth is by placing a coin inside a groove and seeing where the tread ends on the coin’s features. If you place a penny upside-down into one of these grooves the tread should just touch the top of Lincoln’s head if it is 1/16 of an inch thick. This is the maximum wear for most tires.

However, tire grooves this shallow will severely compromise traction in wet weather and can make driving in snow next to impossible. Wet weather drivers will want to do this test with a quarter: A tread at the top of Washington’s head will be 1/8″ thick. Snow drivers will want to look at the back of a penny: A tread at the top of the Lincoln Memorial is 6/32″ thick. This leaves enough space to channel snow and water away from the rubber

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