This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Interior Motives – The Basics of Interior Detailing

In our last installment (It Takes More Than the Occasional Wash and Wax to Keep Your Car Looking its Best), we covered the basics on getting that showroom shine back to your vehicle’s finish. In our second of three installments, we’re going to take care of your vehicle’s living room — the interior.

If you’re like most of us with hectic schedules, we wash our cars periodically, but normally don’t have the time to vacuum the interior, let alone clean it. For most commuters and small families, the interior becomes the common dumping ground for all sorts of items, and a treasure-trove for junk collectors. So let’s grab that trusty vacuum and get to work.

As before, there are some simple rules to remember. First, always have the car parked in a cool, shady place when you’re cleaning the interior. Direct sunlight can bake cleaners into the upholstery, which will pull the natural oils out of leather.

Second, be sure to have a good stock of 100 percent cotton, terry cloth towels on hand for applying and removing detail products (the “nap” of terry cloth towels helps draw dirt and other contaminates away from the surface, thus minimizing the chance of grinding dirt back into the interior surfaces).

Third, you want to be sure to utilize the correct products at the correct stages to prevent unnecessary damage to your car’s interior. Trying to “protect” your leather seats with plastic polish will only lead to a big mess.

The first order of business is getting all of the crud out of the interior – loose gas-card receipts, gum wrappers, toys and the handful of parking tickets that have been hiding under the seat – anything that is too large to vacuum up or you want to save. Don a pair of rubber gloves if you need to and pull it all out. Of course, you’ll probably find at least $4.68 in loose change, along with the McDonald’s wrappers and ground-to-death French fries you intended to throw away three months ago.

With all of the large debris removed, take some time to evaluate the condition of your interior. Is it primarily dusty with a stain or two in the carpet, or are food stains, pet odors and ground-in dirt more prevalent? Assess the damage and let’s start cleaning.

Starting from the top down, attach the soft brush attachment to the vacuum and start with the dash, headliner, gauges and console. You want to use a gentle “stroking” motion with the brush. This will loosen most of the surface dirt, which is readily sucked up. If the headliner is heavily grubby, consult with a detailing professional. Most headliner adhesives do not react well to cleaners and the last thing you want is a droopy headliner. After vacuuming, wipe the dash, gauges and console with a damp terry cloth towel in a circular motion. This will help to remove any additional surface dirt prior to deep cleaning.

If you’re like most people on the go, the cupholders in your vehicle see more mileage than the tires…and they get just as dirty. Depending if your cupholders are swing-away or molded into the console, cleaning the holders can be a breeze or a pain. Either way, the process is still the same. Since most of us drink sodas while driving, cupholders tend to get covered with sticky soda goop. To cut through the cola sludge, mix a batch of Simple Green and water in a 1:4 ratio. Spray the cupholder and allow the mixture to soak in before wiping with a terry cloth towel. Depending on how gooey the holders are, you may have to give them another round of cleaning. Be sure to wipe the cupholder with a damp terry towel (water) and then dry.

Move on to the front seats, package tray and rear seats, using the same technique as before to take the bulk of the dust and dirt off the seating surfaces. To get in the nooks and crannies in and around the seats, console and transmission tunnel (you know, where those doughnut chunks tend to hide), attach the crevice tool (that long needle-nose looking thing) and have at it.

In most cases (that is, if you’re lucky), the floor mats have taken the brunt of the interior’s wear and tear from dirty shoes, spilled drinks and road grime. Vacuum the mats well with the carpet-comb attachment and remove them from the car. Shoe scuffs on the door panels are another area which is quickly remedied by our Simple Green mixture. Simply spray the product on the door panel and scrub with a soft scrub brush. Rinse with clean water when done.

Now let’s turn our attention to the swath of carpet. Using the carpet-comb tool, vacuum as much dirt and…well, other stuff, as you can, taking note of those tie-dyed areas of coffee, Coke and melted ice cream. If the stains on the carpet and floor mats are small, or the stains are light, a “spray, scrub and vacuum” product such as 3M Scotchgard Carpet Cleaner will more than likely do the trick. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for best results. If the area is large, or the stains are more obvious, it’s best to break out a professional carpet-cleaning machine.

Cleaning your carpet and floor mats with a machine is not rocket science. The machine “infuses” the carpet with the cleaning solution, breaking down the dirt particles and forcing them out of the carpet. At the same time, the machine vacuums the dirty water mixture out of the carpet, leaving it fresh and clean.

If you don’t own a carpet-cleaning machine (like a Bissell Little Green Machine), you can rent one at your local supermarket or rental agency. Since most machines infuse the carpet with cleaner and water, be sure to get a good quality cleaning solution. If in doubt, ask a sales associate for assistance.

Oils Well That Ends Well

Some of you may not know this, but oil is the lifeblood on which all internal combustion engines must operate. It’s more crucial than any other engine fluid, including gas and water, because it has the potential to cause the most damage in the shortest time if it’s quality or quantity is compromised. If you remember those Castrol GTX commercials from a few years back you already have a sense of what can happen when engine oil is neglected.

But enough horror stories. If you simply change your oil and filter every 3000 to 5000 miles (or every 3 months, whichever comes first) and check its level regularly, chances are you’ll never experience an oil-related problem. For drivers using synthetic oil, intervals as long as 5,000 miles or six months between changes are considered acceptable. Some service centers (usually the ones that will benefit economically) will tell you that extreme driving conditions like stop-and-go traffic or extremely cold weather require more frequent changes. The truth is that every three months or 3,000 miles is pretty extreme. If you aren’t driving in stop-and-go traffic, through minus 20-degree blizzards, or up mountain passes with a 5,000 pound trailer, you could probably go longer between changes and there’s certainly almost no condition that would warrant even more frequent changes.

O.K., so your oil has been in there for longer than 3,000 miles (maybe a lot longer…) and it’s time to do something about it. At this point you basically have two options. You can change it yourself or you can go somewhere to have it changed for you. Which option is better? You may not like this but the correct answer is “That depends.”

If your vehicle is an older or vintage model that is easy to work on and if you live in a small town or rural community, changing your own oil is a viable option. It will cost you less than if you paid someone to do it (around ten dollars) and if you have a decent set of tools and/or access to a vehicle lift, the whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. The concept of parking your vehicle in the driveway while oil runs out of it probably won’t offend your neighbors or landlord, either. Of course, just living out in the middle of West Texas doesn’t excuse you from properly disposing of the oil which, even in West Texas, means you can’t go dumping it into the ground. To find out about your local area recycling programs check the phone book or ask around at automotive service centers.

What about the car owner who lives in a downtown New York or Los Angeles apartment, drives a 1997 BMW 7-series, and has never seen the underside of an automobile (except during those rollover crashes on “Wildest Police Videos”)? Well, first of all, if you own a late-model Bimmer you should have all maintenance duties covered for four years or 50,000 miles as part of the purchase price. This type of extended service contract is standard on many new cars, which means all these owners have to do is bring the vehicle in for service as scheduled. Obviously you’ll want to confirm whether or not you have this type of agreement before running off to the nearest Jiffy Lube.

If you don’t have a service agreement that includes oil changes but still would rather leave the job to someone else, there are two service centers that specialize in keeping your oil squeaky-clean. Both Jiffy Lube ( and Grease Monkey ( are national chains that not only change your oil and oil filter but also check and fill your other vital fluids, lubricate the chassis, perform an overall vehicle inspection, vacuum the interior, and even clean the windows. Grease Monkey does all this for $26.99 while Jiffy Lube charges $28.99. I don’t know about the rest of you, but not having to wash my own windows is almost worth 30 bucks by itself.

Since it would cost at least 8 to ten dollars for just the oil and filter, plus whatever it costs to top off the washer reservoir, brake fluid, power steering fluid…well, you get the picture. Remember that any automotive service center is capable of changing your oil, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one as cheap as either Jiffy Lube or Grease Monkey. And, since this type of work is all these companies do, they’ve pretty much got it down to a science and can usually perform the entire service in less than 20 minutes (Grease Monkey claims “All In About 10 Minutes.”)

So there you have it. Spend ten minutes and 30 dollars every three months or 3,000 miles, and the most vital of vital fluids, plus all the other ones too, is handled. Take it from someone who knows, it’s easier and cheaper than replacing a set of rings and bearings.

A Quick Guide to Recalls

We’ve all heard the word “recall” tossed around at one time or another, but it can be hard to pin down what it actually means — in an automotive context anyway. With both the government and auto manufacturers issuing bulletins for everything from faulty seatbelt harnesses and cruise control cables to poor AM radio reception and warped plastic wheel covers, it’s no wonder the distinction between formal recalls and other types of bulletins is unclear. For starters, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for investigating possible design and manufacturing defects in the vehicles we drive. Most often, consumers complain to the NHTSA, and after several people complain about the same mechanical or safety-related problem, the NHTSA will investigate the issue to determine whether the consumer or the manufacturer is at fault.

If the manufacturer is found to be responsible for a serious defect that may compromise the safety of the vehicle, a recall is issued. In other instances, an auto manufacturer may find a defect that occurred during the design or manufacturing process of a vehicle and issue a recall voluntarily (the NHTSA still receives notification, though). Whatever the circumstances, a recall requires the manufacturer to send an official notice to owners of the vehicles found to be defective. Dealer service departments will then make the necessary repairs free of charge. Ordinarily, recalls affect only a portion of the production run of a given year, make and model.

You can easily find out about recalls that may apply to your vehicle by using our Maintenance Guide. Enter the year, make, model, trim level and drivetrain configuration, and you’ll have access to the full text of all the recalls issued for that particular vehicle. For instance, we decided to check out the recall listings for two vehicles we used to have in our long-term test fleet — a 2003 Honda Pilot EX and a2000 Ford Focus ZX3. Our search turned up one recall for the Pilot, which definitely applied to our vehicle, and 10 recalls for the Focus, two of which applied to our long-termer while it was in our care.

Of course, only a dealer service department can determine whether your vehicle is actually affected by a recall by running the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through the manufacturer database. Nevertheless, the Maintenance Guide is a good check-and-balance for consumers, as we know of more than one person who failed to receive a manufacturer’s recall notice sent by mail.

Recalls are not to be confused with technical service bulletins (or TSBs) issued by the manufacturer for less serious problems that affect the normal operation of the vehicle. Sometimes called “secret warranties,” TSBs cover known problems and provide repair instructions for service technicians, and accordingly, are distributed to all of the manufacturer’s dealerships. (Some bulletins don’t address any actual problems and merely provide updated information on parts and maintenance protocol.) The NHTSA maintains a database of TSBs issued by every manufacturer, but consumers only have ready access to summary information, which is usually quite vague.

Unlike recall-related repairs, which are performed on a no-questions-asked basis, TSB repairs are made only to resolve problems that can be verified by dealer service technicians. And generally, these repairs will be free of charge only if your vehicle is still under warranty. If you want to learn more about TSBs, check out these related stories, “You, Your Vehicle and the Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)” and “The Secret Warranty.” You can also search for TSBs that may apply to your vehicle with theMaintenance Guide.

What’s a Cabin Air Filter and When Should You Replace It?

The cabin air filter, a feature found on most late-model vehicles, cleans the air that comes into the interior through the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. It catches dust, pollen and other airborne material that can make riding in a car unpleasant, particularly if you have allergies or other respiratory problems.

Recommendations on when it should be replaced vary by manufacturer — some say every 12,000 or 15,000 miles, others longer — and how often can depend on how much you drive and where. Check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. If you drive in heavy traffic in an urban area that has poor air quality, you could need to replace the filter annually or even more often. However, that also could be true in a desert climate where there is a lot of dust.

Some signs that you need a new cabin air filter are reduced air flow through your climate control system, such as when you crank up the fan too high and get more noise than results. Another is persistent bad odors. Even if you don’t have these warnings, you should have the filter checked at least once a year, and you may be able to do that yourself.

Many cabin air filters are located behind the glove box and are easily accessible by freeing the glove box from its fasteners (instructions should be in the owner’s manual). Others are located under the dashboard and may not be easy to reach, or under the hood where fresh air enters the climate control system. Some of these filters are expensive, as in $50 or more at dealerships, so you could save money by buying a replacement at a parts store and doing it yourself.

If a dealership service department or repair shop recommends you get a new cabin air filter, ask to see the current one. Depending on how long the filter has been in service, you might be shocked at what you see: leaves, twigs, insects, soot and grime that literally cover the entire surface that comes in contact with incoming air. You’ll know it’s time for a new cabin air filter.