Tech Stuff

Tech Stuff

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.

The 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 discussions 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 to the noise your free flow exhaust makes? That's the sound of your pistons going *ouch*!

Redlining the Indian Automotive Scene