Team-BHP (
-   On owning a car (
-   -   ARTICLE: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving (

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 11:36

ARTICLE: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving

ABC Company makes bad tyres. My tyres developed bulges on the sidewalls within 10,000 km.

My shock absorbers keep failing every 20,000 km. I think the OE dampers are useless. Should I go for DEF Co. aftermarket replacements?

My brake pads don't last more than 15,000 km. Is something wrong with my brake discs?

My engine started making funny noises / giving a strange burnt smell after I covered the NE-1 in 35 minutes. I think I need to switch to synthetic oil. Do you think PQRS Co. makes the best synthetic oil?

My clutch needed to be replaced after 15,000 km. I am not a bad driver, mind you! JKLM cars just have bad clutches.

XYZ car has a bad suspension. I had a bent wishbone. I strictly use my car according to how it is meant to be used.

Disclaimer: None of the above comments was quoted from any individual's post, and none is meant to point fingers at any member on the forum.
However, a lot of these comments sound very familiar all over the forum.

This thread therefore sets out to analyse if, in some cases at least, a deeper understanding of the limitations that all mechanical things have, may have averted some of the heartburn, the expenses and the complaints by members here. Some might like to call it mechanical empathy, I call it the do's and don'ts of extending the service life of a vehicle's components while driving.

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 12:36

Mechanical Empathy | Engine
The most complicated part of a car, yet the one that lasts one of the longest, is the engine. Service life before overhaul can extend from 100,000 km to 500,000 km, depending on a number of factors. So what can we do to extend the life of the engine?

The engine oil is the most crucial factor that keeps an engine healthy. Yet, this is one of the least understood aspects of vehicle ownership. Loads of discussion have happened here, and we are of the firm belief that synthetic oils can do miracles while mineral oils are useless. Not quite so. Within its service life, and in most city- or highway-based conditions that our cars are subjected to, a mineral oil will perform the same task that a synthetic oil will - unless the operating conditions are really extreme. But then, is 3x the cost worth spending for the times when you are not drag racing?

Like the proverbial wife with the cleanliness fetish, our engines too start cribbing as soon as their operating environment gets dirty. Only problem is, it is the engine itself that is responsible for creating the mess. And cleaning up that mess is the responsibility of the engine oil (apart from keeping everything running with minimal friction of course!). Mineral oils are capable of cleaning as well as synthetic oils, and synthetic oils get as dirty as mineral oils.

Now imagine that cleaning cloth that you use to wash your car - as soon as it gets dirty, it not only stops doing its job, it leaves a bigger mess when you use it to wipe a not-so-clean surface. Under ideal conditions, your vehicle manufacturer might recommend that you use the oil for 15,000 km. But what about less than ideal conditions? Stop-start traffic, frequent cold starts, continuous high speed bursts on the highway, extreme climatic conditions, they all degrade that oil much, much faster. So why don't we use that oil for about 60-75% of its ideal recommended life? Dump the oil at 9,000-10,000 km if manufacturer says 15,000 km, and do your engine a favour. After all, the quicker the engine fails, the more the manufacturer stands to gain!

The redline has a meaning - that you are operating the engine at 100-110% of the performance it is capable of. So an engine is meant to perform at 100%, but remember, it can do so only for short periods of time, before it suffers terminal damage, or reduced service life. So when you are crossing the NE-1, must you take 100% out of your engine for the full length of the road? That Merc which overtook your Esteem was doing 190 km/h at a leisurely 3500 rpm, which is hardly 70% of its max rpm. You decide to race him all the way from Ahmedabad to Baroda using 100% of your engine, and what point do you prove? That Esteem engines emit smoke and steam on a full-speed run for half an hour in 45*C ambient temperatures. Right!

On a long drive (or even otherwise), avoid taking your engine to the redline for more than a few seconds. Keep it to 60-70% of its max rpm and you won't regret it. With a cold engine, keep it to less than 50% of the max revs your car can do.

Oh, and will you please stop redlining the engine in neutral just to listen the the noise your free flow exhaust makes? That's the sound of your pistons going *ouch*!

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 13:02

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Clutch
Clutches burn/wear out because they slip. And they slip because your left foot makes them. There's no way that I can prove how well or badly you drive, except by assessing how long your clutch lasts before suffering terminal slippage. Cars that I have owned and driven personally, usually had clutch service life of over 100,000 km. Similar clutch life has been reported by others on the forum, and off it.

Keep that left foot off the pedal as far as possible. A lower gear than what you are crawling along on, and a slightly higher rpm, will allow you to remove that left foot from the C-pedal completely, without making the car shudder. When crawling in traffic, get the car to roll a little, then shift back to neutral and let go of the clutch. Wheelspin on standing start impresses your friends, but murders the clutch as well as the driveshafts / propshaft / tyres. If you are stuck in mud and gunning the engine to spin the wheels, forget it after the first time - the car just won't come out unless you use the right technique. And the right technique might just be to call in another vehicle to tow you out.

The repair bill might be peanuts for some, but the hassle of repairs is something I am sure we can all do as little as possible with. Especially when we are on that 5,000-km driving holiday!

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 14:01

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Brakes
Nothing makes the brakes last longer, than by not using them. :D Ya, right, I'm ducking already, anticipating all the brickbats that you are going to throw at me. And that is the crux of the matter - anticipating that you need to stop, well before you do. Not only do you save your brake pads from wearing out, you save a lot of fuel in the bargain too.

Now, *techniques of anticipatory driving* is too vast a topic to detail in this one post, and cannot be developed overnight, so let me post these links for you to go through:
Situation Awareness for LEARNER Drivers

Sometimes, I get the feeling that some folks are so proud of their driving skills, they flaunt the fact that their brake pads / shoes wear out in a much shorter time than others'. Given that brake pads on some cars are pretty expensive, and faster brake wear is also indicative of more fuel being burnt (apart from greater tyre wear), give your pocket as well as the environment a small BREAK - anticipate when you need to BRAKE.

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 14:29

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Steering
The Ambassador and Fiat needed a LOT of muscle power to turn the steering wheel when the car was standing still. People who drive those spunky little Gypsys, CJs and MMs also develop nice biceps and triceps. They also learn not to turn the steering wheel when the wheels are not rolling. And when the tyres get fatter, the going gets even tougher.

But this is a problem that most hatch / sedan / SUV drivers don't have to suffer through today. Thank you power steering. So we are happy to swap our stock tyres with fatter, lower profile, soft compound tyres that grip the road really well. Without having the slightest empathy / sympathy with some of the bits and pieces under the car, that help the steering to turn the wheels left and right. There are these little things called tie-rod ends, ball joints, pinions and racks, along with the nuts and bolts that hold the whole assembly in place - and these bits are certainly not thanking the power steering.

Just because a motor or pump is helping you to turn that steering wheel effortlessly while you stand still, does not mean the strain of doing so is not being suffered by the steering components. Service life of steering parts reduces faster if you habitually turn the wheels on tarmac while standing still, and especially so if wider tyres have been installed. Get the car rolling a little while turning the steering wheel. One-off incidents are forgiven where you have been cornered into a tight parking slot by other thoughtless drivers - but generally, turning the steering when the wheels are rolling will keep your steering working much, much longer.

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 15:01

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Suspension
This is going to be short and sweet:

Negotiating bad roads at speed kills your suspension.

Rule of thumb: If you or your passengers are not comfortable at the speed you are driving on a bad road, your suspension is suffering much worse.

Could you please drive AROUND that rock on the road rather than OVER it? The rock does not understand that suspension components tend to bend / break when it reaches out to shake hands and say hello to them.

Slowing down over bumps and potholes and shifting to a lower gear might add 30 seconds to your travel time, but will save hours and $$$ at the workshop.

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 15:29

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Tyres
Here is a vehicle component that everyone knows everything about. These are the little palm-of-the-hand-sized patches of rubber that keep our cars firmly attached to terra firma - and if we buy and fit fatter tyres, those palm prints will convert from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's delicate ones to Khali's bruisers, giving us better control over our cars.

You forget something in the process - tickle Khali in the armpit, and he'll giggle so much that he'll lose his grip. Tyres are designed to run well under certain ideal conditions. Your 50-profile asymmetric racing tyre is NOT designed to handle mild off-roading. European-spec soft compound high-grip tyres don't like being banged into potholes at 150 km/h. If you do that, they get hurt. And what happens when you hurt yourself? That's right, you develop a swelling - as do your tyres.

Remember every tyre's Achilles' heel - it's sidewall. The majority of tyres that are changed prematurely, were replaced because the sidewall was damaged. The best of tyres will suffer from it, when running in less than ideal conditions (i.e., flat and smooth tarmac). A little bit of care makes tyres last a very long time.

Do keep your tyres properly inflated, aligned and balanced (yes, yes, I know all of you depend on your ASC to do the job, but how many of you check afterwards?)

Don't ride up footpaths and other sharp edges obliquely.

Don't ignore that pothole and crash right through it at 150 km/h.

Mind those rocks and bricks on the road.

Don't brake hard on a turn (yes, anticipate and slow down! - unless it's an unfortunate emergency) - the outer front tyre is trying to stop the full load of your car, and the poor fellow can rupture and breathe its (and God forbid, your car's) last.

ABS doesn't lock up the tyres and leave an ugly black mark on the road - but don't let that delude you into believing that they are not wearing out. No point in checking out on tarmac whether ABS is working or not in your car; find a sandy track to do the checking.

SS-Traveller 16th March 2012 17:58

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Bearings, Electrics, Other Small & Expensive Stuff vs. Water
Boats and ships love water. Horses, donkeys and elephants like wading into water too, even though you might be on board. The one that certainly does NOT like water is your car.

Unavoidable it may be, to venture into a few inches of water during the monsoons, but the absolute upper limit of how much water can be considered safe for your car, is given on a depth gauge fixed on the outside of your car. It is the vertical height between the road surface and the centre of your wheels. Any deeper, and water starts seeping into bearings, creating havoc inside. Creating a nice bow wave as you speed through water is a great way to suck water into your engine, as well as short up the electrics (dogs, alternators and starter motors don't like bathing).

Also remember the other moving things under your car. Gearbox and differential, for example. These need oil to run smoothly, not an emulsion of oil and water. And contrary to popular belief, these are not sealed water-and-oil-proof boxes. They have little openings that vent gases into the air, and these same vents let in water inside too (mixed with a few grains of sand and muck too. Have you seen distilled-water-logging on the roads yet?).

If you are unfortunate/brave enough to have got your car into water above the hubs, a day at the workshop to check and clean out traces of water from every moving part would be a great idea. If this happened during your 5000-km roadtrip, you would do well to carry out the checks locally, rather than wait & drive back 2,500 km before having your FNG attend to the same once you are back home. The resultant bill may just hurt a lot more (apart from the risk of being stranded 1,250 km from home).

Happy (and a little less expensive) driving.

Eddy 16th March 2012 18:48

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
Thread moved from Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing.

jinojohnt 16th March 2012 19:58

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
1. Be kind on the batteries - avoid headlights when the engine is off.
2. If possible, reverse in nuetral down a slope when you want to turn, rather than reversing up a slope in reverse gear. It puts less strain on the clutch.
3. Press the clutch fully before you change the gears.
4. It won't cost much to change the coolant, gear-oil and brake-fluid regularly. It would save you a lot in the long run.

fine69 16th March 2012 20:08

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
All these tips have been shared by a lot of bhpians time & again but I guess a thread consolidating everything was needed, thanks for that! I guess this can be a sticky, in Technical Stuff section for now but maybe in the newbie section later, if we ever plan to have one.

EDIT: For tyres I can think of one more thing, rotating the tyres every 5k kms enhances the life of the tyres.

I religiously get the oil & oil filter changed every 5k kms along with 5 tyre rotation as meant for a FWD vehicle.

pganapathy 16th March 2012 20:45

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
@SS-Traveller: Thank you so much for that wonderful article. Too many people forget these small things.

One more issue is to do with ensuring we use the correct, and good quality fuel at all times. In addition, never drive your vehicle till it is almost empty and then refuel. All such behaviour just lets more dirt into the engine which is not good for it.

Sutripta 16th March 2012 21:30

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
Hi SS,
A slightly different viewpoint.
I don't believe in babying my cars. But then neither do I believe in abusing it. (Pls. note, my use of it, not them or him or her!) If necessary, I'll take it to 100% (or beyond) but knowing fully well that corrective action will also need to be taken. Possibly soon.

Acceptance (or otherwise) of shorter service life is a matter of philosophy. But one has to have a good feel of the car (mechanical empathy!) to avoid breakdowns.

Just to give an example, if I have to, I'll drive through (deep) water, knowing fully well that corrective action will have to be taken very soon if a breakdown is to be averted. In my philosophy, reaching shelter (at night) takes precedence over use/ abuse of vehicle.

Knowing, and taking a call is one thing. Not knowing/ caring and doing it is folly. That is what I think you are referring to.


Blow Horn Ok 16th March 2012 21:39

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
Thanks Traveller for the concise guide for mechanical care of a car. Even though, I use to follow most of the points you have mentioned, seeing them properly listed on a single page refreshed every bit of it. I am so much concerned about the engine bay wash that i personally stand near the car when its being washed and give strict directions not to pressure wash the engine bay.

1. Being in right gear at a given speed is very necessary. Pushing the engine to max RPM in a lower gears or lugging it at low RPM in a higher gears will harm the engine as well as gear box components.

2. I prefer to start the AC only after travelling around 0.5-1 km after cold starts and thus not putting any extra load on a cold engine.

3. I notice that around 40-50% of the car drivers rev the engine very high either after a cold start or before switching it off just like a trucker. What it does? Charge the battery? or quickly warms the engine? All i know is it just speeds up the wearing the components of engine and the turbo charger (if fitted).

4. Checking the vital fluids often and tyre pressure weekly.

@Sutripta: Fully agree with you. I push my car to its limits only when there is an ideal condition. I become a lion in a jungle and remain a cat within the home rl:rl:.

bluevolt 16th March 2012 22:01

Re: Mechanical Empathy | Preserving the Car While Driving
Excellent thread!

Along with these points I would like to add few more points

-> Guys please inflate your tyres to correct pressure. I know many people who don't check the tyre pressure for months.

Please ensure you check the tyre pressure at least when you do the full tank or every 2-3 weeks.

Correct Tyre Pressure - Tyre life will increase + Mileage will increase + You will have a comfortable and safe drive.

-> I see people complaining about poor life of OEM batteries. How many of you top up/check the distilled water lever in your batteries? I do and my WagonR's stock OEM battery will complete five years on 4th April, My Karizma's stock Amco battery completed three years in Feb and I always use self start in morning.

If you feel uncomfortable doing this job yourself then please pay 20 rupees to friendly neighborhood battery guy and he will do the job happily for you. And don't rely on the SVC for this job. Pay 20 and save at least 2000!

All times are GMT +5.5. The time now is 19:03.