Drivetrains: A Newbie’s Guide

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Unless you have an off-road or 4×4 vehicle, you likely never think about how your car’s power gets to the road. This is called your drivetrain, and it describes which wheels on your car receive power in order to move it forward. It matters a lot for understanding car marketing, maintenance, and how to drive in severe weather!

The last part isn’t as much of a concern here in North Carolina’s triangle, but it’s still important for the occasional blizzard or downpour. The first two matter year round, and make you a smarter consumer! Today we’ll talk about major kinds of drivetrains.

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-wheel drive – or FWD – is by far the most common drivetrain. This layout connects your engine to your front wheels, with the rear wheels rotating freely. FWD emerged in the 70s and 80s due to the compact layout – perfect for small cars during the fuel crisis – and lower building costs.

FWD cars do not easily spin out, making them ideal for the average driver. Engine weight over the drive wheels also makes them better than rear-wheel drive for bad weather. However, FWD cars struggle with high power engines and precision turning, making them a poor choice for sports cars. Exceptions to this rule include “sport compact” cars like the Volkswagen GTI.

Front-wheel drive cars have one unique maintenance item: CV axles. These complex mechanisms can wear out over time, and cost several hundred dollars to replace.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) cars are the oldest type of drivetrain. They send power through a fast-spinning driveshaft to a differential that drives the rear wheels. Your steering remains in the front.

Rear-wheel drive is capable of much more power than front-wheel drive. As a result, it’s the layout of choice for sports cars, luxury cars, and trucks. However, RWD cars do not have the traction benefits of FWD, making them exceptionally poor choices for severe weather.

Unique RWD maintenance is mainly centered on the differential. Its fluid may need to be regularly changed.

Four-Wheel and All-Wheel Drive

Four-wheel (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) operate on the same principle: applying power to all four wheels of a car. They differ in their marketing. 4WD is usually a part-time feature that the driver can turn on or off, like in many SUVs. AWD is usually on full-time (as in most Subarus) or activates when the car detects a loss of traction (like in the Honda Pilot or Nissan Rogue).

AWD and 4WD have superior traction in bad weather, allowing even the weakest engine to work its way out of snow. However, full-time setups lessen gas mileage, and even part-time setups add fuel-guzzling weight.

Full-time AWD cars must have their tires rotated regularly; uneven tread can cause the drive system to break. All setups may require regular changing of differential fluid.

Does your SUV, sports car or family sedan need maintenance? Fast Lube Plus offers service to all vehicles in the Triangle area. Call us today or drop by!

3 Reasons You Should Use Synthetic Motor Oil

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Cars have come a long way from the rattly metal boxes of yesteryear. Even the most humble economy box features advanced technology.

So it’s a bit strange that many car owners still use the same old gunky oil that their forefathers did. Many new cars call for synthetic oil, oil that is man-made from both petroleum and other materials. While it might sound like marketing mumbo-jumbo, there’s a reason manufacturers are making the switch. Even for your old car, synthetic oil offers some useful benefits!

Better Engine Protection

Synthetic oil has been used for years in professional racing for its duration at high temperatures. Now you can buy economy cars with race-tested technologies, like the direct injected and turbocharged VW Golf.

These new technologies can generate more heat, heat that can overwhelm old-fashioned fossil oil. Synthetic oil, however, has no problem handling it! This comes in handy in traffic jams during those hot Triangle summers.

On the cold side of things, synthetic oil also gives better lubrication during cold starts. During a cold start, conventional oil is thicker and takes longer to enter the engine. This brief lack of lubrication can add up over time, shortening the life of your vehicle. Most synthetic oils lessen this problem by staying slick at low temperatures.

Longer Service Intervals

If you travel a lot, you’re probably accustomed to frequent oil changes. Most conventional oil needs to be changed every 3,000 to 6,000 miles, depending on operating conditions. It’s an expense and inconvenience that adds up.

Synthetic oils retain their strength longer, so long that on some vehicles (including the VW Golf mentioned above) you don’t have to change your oil for 10,000 miles! While the initial cost of a synthetic oil change is higher, you save money over time by not having to change it as often.

Better Fuel Efficiency

A high friction, heavy oil (like 10W-40 or 20W-50) is harder for your engine to move against. This is good because it provides protection, but bad because it can have an effect on your car’s fuel economy. Synthetic oil often contains additives that reduce this friction, meaning it maintains its slippery qualities while protecting your engine.

Long-term, synthetic oil also runs cleaner. This prevents the gunky deposits that years of conventional oil usage leave inside your engine, gradually reducing its fuel economy. Note that synthetic’s effect on fuel economy also depends on your engine and car, but you may experience a 2-3% increase!

Next time you change your oil at Fast Lube Plus, ask about our synthetic option. We use Castrol EDGE, one of the highest quality synthetic oils available.

When Do You Get an Oil Change?

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To calculate how often you should have your oil changed, you can consult your driver’s manual or visit checkyournumber.org.

Manufacturers suggest you change oil more often for “severe” driving conditions.

 

 

But what constitutes “severe” conditions?

  • Drive on short trips of less than 5 miles in normal temperatures or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures.
  • Drive in hot weather stop-and-go traffic.
  • Drive at low speeds of less than 50 miles per hour for long distances.
  • Drive on roads that are dusty, muddy or have salt, sand or gravel spread on the surface.
  • Tow a trailer, carrying a camper (if a pickup truck) or transport items on a roof rack or in a car-top carrier.

These conditions attract moisture and dust into the engine. If the engine isn’t run long enough to burn off the accumulated moisture, the acid compounds build up and adhere to engine parts, hamper operations and accelerate wear. This sludge can cause permanent engine damage, and negate the oil filter’s job of sifting contaminants, which reduces fuel economy, increases emissions and can potentially lead to engine failure.

Therefore, more frequent changes and part replacements can be necessary.

Is Your Car Engine Happy and Healthy?

If you’re like most car lovers, you take pride in keeping the outside of your car clean. Sure, looks are important, but what about what’s inside, under the hood? Should you be just as finicky about keeping your engine clean? You better believe it! Here’s why…

Over time, thick, gummy deposits form and settle throughout your engine. Unfortunately, deposits clog oil passages and restricts oil flow to vital engine parts” especially the upper valve train areas. A lack of lubrication in this area will increase engine wear and fuel consumption. Even worse, it decreases engine power. That’s why the motor oil you choose is so critical. Your engine needs protection against this kind of harmful build–up.

Even if you follow a routine service schedule, driving conditions are anything but routine. Your engine performance is constantly challenged by factors that contribute to deposit formation, including:

What Causes Engine Build-Up?

  • stop and go driving
  • prolonged periods of idling
  • short trips that don’t allow your engine time to warm up
  • towing trailers or other heavy loads
  • airborne dirt
  • fuel dilution
  • condensation
  • longer drain intervals

Industry experts say some modern engines are more prone to deposits than older engines. Here are some additional reasons:

1. Engine breathing
Water vapor and combustion gases that develop inside an engine must be purged, usually by burning in the cylinders. If the combustion gases and water vapor are not disposed of, deposits can form.*

2. Hot and cold spots
To warm engines quickly and reduce emissions, engineers in recent years have moved the catalytic converter closer to the cylinder head. In some cars, the converter has been integrated into the exhaust manifold. Both scenarios bring a major heat source closer to the engine, causing hot and cold spots. Hot spots bake oil causing deposits. Cold spots cause acid and deposits.*

3. Tighter tolerances
Engines now burn less oil because more accurate machining has created an extremely tight fit between the engine’s moving parts, such as piston rings, bearings and valves. The result: low oil lights don’t flash, and customers neglect oil changes.*

Do your engine a favor and keep it just as clean as you would your car’s exterior. You’ll see a big “thank you” in the form of increased performance and longer engine life.

* Automotive News April 18th, 2005.

Time to Fall Back Into Your Auto Maintenance Routine

(NUI) – As summer winds down and fall begins in earnest, auto-care experts say that getting your vehicle serviced for cold-weather driving should be high on your list of things to do.

Here are some tips from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) – the nonprofit group that certifies automotive technicians – on preparing your car for winter weather.

  • Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual. Do this more often – every 3,000 miles or so – if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.
  • Get problems such as hard starts, rough idling, stalling and diminished power corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather will make existing problems worse.
  • Replace all dirty filters.
  • Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Keep your gas tank filled to help prevent moisture from forming.
  • Have the cooling system flushed and refilled as recommended. Periodically check the level, condition and concentration of the coolant.
  • Have a certified auto technician check the tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps and hoses.
  • Make sure that the heater and defroster are in good working condition.
  • As part of routine battery care, scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces, then re-tighten all connections. If the battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. Note that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data on some newer vehicles, so check your manual. Also, be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid; wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
  • Examine the exhaust system for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes.
  • Examine the tires’ tread and look for uneven wearing and cupping. Also, check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Rotate the tires as recommended.
  • Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking them. Don’t forget to check your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
  • Prepare for emergencies. Stock your car with gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or cat litter, tire chains, a flashlight and a cell phone. Put a few “high energy” snacks in your glove box, too.

For more tips on preparing for winter driving, visit www.ase.com.