Are Automatic Car Washes Safe?

Dear Tracy,

During the summer months I always wash my car at home, but in the winter I rely on an automatic car wash to get rid of the salt and sludge on my car. My dad recently told me that going through automatic car washes on a regular basis is not good for your car. Do you have any advice on automatic car washes? If it is okay to go, should I be getting all the services, or just the basic wash?

Cathy M.

Dear Cathy,

Taking your car through an automatic car wash is a good idea – especially in winter when the effects of salt can be extremely damaging to your car. Today’s car wash systems are safe, unlike the old brush systems your dad may remember. Keeping your car clean in winter is so important because long term exposure to salt, dirt, and grit will dull your car’s paint finish and contribute to rust and corrosion. It is a good idea to wash it at least once a month, or possibly more frequently if it is parked outside.

The car wash offers extra services that can quickly add up from the price of a basic wash. Though the car wash typically recommends them, they may not always be necessary. A service such as “undercarriage rust-proofing” may not be as effective as it sounds. Rust-proofing is beneficial when it is applied to brand-new metal, and will protect the metal from contact with road corrosives like salt. Most new cars receive a thorough rust-proofing at the factory during assembly, which should be sufficient, without any further treatments. The only extra you might want to splurge on a few times a year would be an underbody wash. It is important to keep that area clean and free of damaging debris. This is not as easy to do at home.

A final suggestion is to towel your car dry after a trip through the car wash. Even though automatic car washes usually have high power blowers for drying, the car may still come out wet. Use your own clean towel from home, or if the car wash does it for you, make sure they are using fresh towels on each car.

Do Fuel Additives = Better Gas Mileage?

Dear Tracy,

I can’t afford a more fuel efficient car right now, but the high price of gas in my area is killing my budget. I have heard that certain fuel additives are available that can improve the gas mileage of my car. Is this true?

Hayden R.

Dear Hayden,

While the claims of fuel additive makers may sound great, you are wise to be skeptical. Advertising can often promote substantial gas savings, however, according to  the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website, those claims generally have little to back them up.

Decades of research and technology have gone into the development of today’s vehicle engines. Engineers have a keen understanding of the demands placed on engines – they are engineered for optimal performance under the most taxing conditions, and built to be reliable with proper maintenance. While some fuel additives may provide some modest benefits, your engine was developed to provide optimal performance without the need for enhancements like these. If you still have questions, rather than trust a clerk at your local auto supply chain, check with your mechanic. He or she will have the knowledge and experience to advise you on the needs of your particular vehicle.

In the meantime, here’s a few quick tips that will help you improve your gas mileage:

Keep your tires at the right pressure

Always check your tire pressure and keep them inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Do not neglect  oil changes

Stay on schedule and use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil for optimal performance.

Regularly check tire tread

Remember that worn out tires are not only unsafe, they cause your vehicle to operate less efficiently.

Use cruise control  on the highway

Maintaining a safe and consistent speed will keep you from getting a ticket and improve your gas mileage.

Always combine trips

Plan your trips – you’ll be surprised to discover how much you can save on the gas budget.

Winter Tires: Does a Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle Need Them?

Dear Tracy,

This fall I replaced my car with a “new” used  four-wheel drive vehicle. The guy I bought it from said that with four-wheel drive I do not have to worry about driving in bad weather.  Now that winter is here I am wondering if this means I do not need snow tires for winter driving. Can you tell me?

Sandy T.

Dear Sandy,

While a four-wheel drive vehicle does provide some performance advantages, driving a truck, SUV or crossover with four-wheel drive does not eliminate the need for winter tires to allow for safe driving in snow and ice.

Four-wheel drive by design does offer more power than two-wheel drive. That is why four-wheel drive vehicles are less likely to get stuck and may accelerate faster. The problem is that winter driving is also about stopping and cornering; without the assistance of winter tires, four-wheel drive offers little advantage in these areas. Additionally, four-wheel drive vehicles tend to be heavier and may take longer to come to a stop.

Winter tires are made from a softer rubber than all season tires, which allows them to provide better road grip and handling. The open tread design is another feature that gives winter tires better handling capability on slush and snow.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles typically come with large, wide tires so it is especially important to consider the switch to winter tires, if you know you will be encountering a lot of snow and slush. Due to the larger surface area of the tires, they may not cut through snow as efficiently and may be likely to hydroplane.

Make a Resolution to Take Better Care of Your Tires

This time of year finds folks making new year’s resolutions to take better care of themselves, with goals such as losing weight, eating healthy, and exercising more. These are all great ideas that can help you feel better and live longer.

In addition to taking better care of yourself, you can also resolve to take better care of your tires. Here’s a list of simple tire care resolutions that will help your tires perform better and last longer. You will also enjoy the benefit of  better gas mileage and enhanced safety on the road.

Check Your Tire Tread

Insert a penny, positioned so that “In God We Trust” appears across the top,  into five different sections of the tire, paying attention to the visibility of Lincoln’s head. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible, your treads are worn out and it’s time to get a new set of tires.

Check Tire Pressure

Take a few minutes to check your tire pressure at least once a month.  It does not take long to do, and it could save you big by extending your tire life and improving gas mileage. Check your owner’s manual to confirm the proper pressure for your vehicle’s tires. Keep in mind that the maximum pressure is not the same as the recommended pressure.

Tire Rotation

Regular tire rotation is an important part of maintenance that will significantly extend the life of your tires. Manufacturers have specific recommendations for their vehicles. It’s important to refer to your owner’s manual tire rotation guidelines to maintain proper tread wear.

Tire Balancing

Tire balancing should be part of your regular service routine.  This should be done according to your owner’s manual recommended schedule. Tire balancing allows for a smooth ride and promotes even tire wear by correctly adjusting the wheel weight distribution around the vehicle.

Tire Alignment

Tires that are out of alignment will not only decrease the life of your tires with uneven tread wear, they also compromise the safety of your vehicle. Have the alignment inspected if you notice problems with your vehicle’s handling.

Spare Tire Check

Check to make sure your spare tire is in good condition. Monitor the tire pressure of your spare when you check the pressure of your other tires, so your spare is ready when you need it. Remember that a spare is intended for temporary use only, so you will need to go tire shopping as soon as possible.