At the Car Wash

Dear Tracy,

I received a pack of car wash coupons as a gift. An automatic car wash seems like a great idea, especially in the winter when I cannot wash the car myself at home. But it seems like I remember hearing that regularly going through an automatic car washes is not good for a car’s paint finish. Is this true? I was also wondering if when using an automatic car wash it is best to have the recommended extras performed.

Candace B.

Dear Candace,

Don’t be worried about taking your car through an automatic car wash. While the brushes used in the car washes of the past could be a problem, the newer “brushless” car wash systems are safe. It is very important to keep your vehicle clean because long term exposure to dirt and grit will have a negative impact on paint finish, giving it an old and dull appearance. Depending upon whether the car is kept in a garage at night, parked in a lot all day, or located for extended periods under bird inhabited trees, you should typically wash your car at least once a month.

The car wash recommended extras can quickly add up from the price of a basic wash, and may not always be necessary. For example, undercarriage rust-proofing may not be as beneficial as it sounds. Rust-proofing is effective when it is applied to brand-new metal, which seals it from contact with road corrosives like salt. Typically new cars receive a thorough rust-proofing at the factory during assembly. This treatment should be sufficient, with no further treatments required. The one extra that may be wise to indulge in a few times a year would be an underbody wash. It is important to keep that area of the vehicle clean of damaging debris, and it may not be as easy to do a thorough job with a home wash.

One final tip when going through a car wash is to come prepared for the last step – the towel dry. Although most automatic car washes have high power blowers for drying, the car may still come out wet. Bring a clean towel from home and dry it yourself before heading back on the road. Some car washes may do this step for you, but make sure they are using fresh towels on each car.

Holiday Road

According to the American Automobile Association Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast, 93.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holidays. Of those traveling, 90% or 84.4 million of them will be on the road in an automobile. Holiday road trips can be a fun part of the season’s festivities, as long as you are safe and prepared. Before you head out over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, here are a few tips for preparing the car and the passengers.

  • Make sure your vehicle is ready for the journey with a service check including: battery, brakes, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, fluids, and tire pressure.
  • If you have a smart phone, download an app like GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices along the way.
  • Make sure your maps are current, whether it’s updating your GPS or getting the good old paper kind from a gas station.
  • When packing the car, you may need to remove things you normally keep in the trunk in order to make room for gifts and your luggage. Be sure not to leave behind your roadside emergency items such as jumper cables or a folding shovel.

Lastly, if you are traveling with kids, make sure they have something to do to pass the time. You don’t necessarily need a DVD player or an MP3 player to keep kids occupied. A bag of books and travel games is great for keeping the choruses of “are we there yet” at bay. Or try making a list of car games to play – this is a great way for busy families to get some quality together time. Of course you can also sing some carols!

Whatever your plans may be, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays!

Gift Ideas for Car Enthusiasts

Many of us still have Christmas shopping to do, and time is rapidly running out! With that in mind, I am devoting this week’s post to gift ideas for the people on your list who, like me, love all things automotive!

  •  Auto Accessories  There are options to suit every taste from team logo floor mats to Hello Kitty seat covers to Yosemite Sam mud flaps.
  • Car Adapter for MP3 player  For some, singing “99 Bottles of Beer” is just not an option for passing time while on the road.  Being able to plug in and listen to an audio book or play list will be a welcomed alternative.
  • Vehicle GPS  We all know them – the folks who can’t find their way out of a paper bag. Put them on the right track with a reliable GPS. Be sure to get one with life time maps.
  •  Folding Shovel  Have any drivers in the great white north on your list? A folding shovel is a great item to keep in the trunk for emergency dig-outs.
  • Car Wash Coupons  Even those who prefer to do their own washing will appreciate having these in the winter. After all, no one wants to be caught riding dirty.
  • Digital Tire Pressure Monitor  Nothing says “I care” like a digital tire pressure monitor. Seriously, tire pressure is important for safe driving, and this is such a handy way to check it!
  • Portable Air Compressor  Not only is this a great emergency item to have in your car, a portable air compressor will be useful for filling a leaking tire until it can be fixed or even inflating a camping mattress.
  • Parking Sensors  If you buy this for a teenager who drives your car, it might be more of a gift for you. Some systems include backup radar which is an excellent safety feature. 
  • Cordless Wet/Dry Vac  For someone who has a Cheerio munching toddler or a road-trip loving dog, this will be a priceless gift. One of these makes keeping the car interior clean a whole lot easier.

Problem with Tire Repair

Dear Tracy,

I recently experienced a leaking tire problem after running over an unavoidable pile of road debris. My brother was able to locate the object that punctured my tire, remove it, and patch it with an inexpensive plug kit he purchased. The tire is now leaking again, and I don’t see any signs of a new puncture, so I am guessing the plug did not work. Do you think he installed the plug incorrectly, or is it always best to just replace the tire after damage?

–Maureen M.

Dear Maureen,

In the event of tire damage, it is not always necessary to replace the tire. Tires are expensive! If the tire is in decent condition and has plenty of tread left, it makes sense to try a repair. And if the tire is relatively new, you may have warranty coverage for the damage.

There are a number of reasons that could explain why your tire is still leaking. It could be that the plug was not installed correctly, but it also may be that the damage was not conducive to plug repair. Plugs work best for repair when the angle of the penetrating object is straight, and when the puncture is between the treads. Other types of punctures may require patching, which is often done in conjunction with a plug. Also, it is entirely possible that your tire actually has another leak, since you ran over a pile of debris. Just because you don’t see something sticking in the tire does not mean there was not a second puncture.

At this point, it would probably be a good idea to take the tire in to a professional and have it inspected. Your tire dealer has methods for finding leaks, and also determining the best type of repair for the job.