Monday, April 28, 2014

Vehicle safety report

This afternoon, 13 students and one instructor from PS 3003 Sustainable Energy performed safety checks and pulled trouble codes on 39 student and staff vehicles. We checked lights, fluid levels, tire wear, and tire pressure. We also "pulled" check engine light "trouble codes" using a computer-based code-puller device, and dispensed advice as to what to do about them.

Several more dangerous safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a summer travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident:

The following is our report:
  • At least five vehicles with disturbing low engine oil levels. We added up to two quarts of oil. By the time a four quart oil sump is down to two quarts, there's only half the oil there should be circulating to do the job of cooling and lubricating the engine. If you are losing or using oil like this, you should monitor your oil every time you add gas to the tank, and find out where the oil is going. You want to know.
  • Several cars with failed disc brake calipers, resulting in rusty and/or scored brake rotors. One car had a brake caliper stuck on, a dangerously defective condition. In some makes of modern cars it is possible to check brake rotors for scoring, and to check the brake pad for wear, through the spokes of aluminum allow wheels. If your car is built like this, take advantage of this opportunity to check your brakes more regularly.
  • Several "customers" reporting "not worried" or "not bothered" by check engine lights being on. The problem with this theory is that the check engine light may come on one day for something fairly safe, say a small leak in the evaporative emissions system, but while the light is on, a more problematic defect can occur, and the driver never know. If your check engine light is on, you should find out what the codes mean. If you choose to ignore the defect, you need to regularly pull check engine codes, in case an additional defect occurs while the light is on.
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. One had completely bald front tires. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't enough for wet Maine spring driving conditions, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, and, until then, to pull over in heavy rain storms.
  • At least four vehicles had one or more tires with dangerously low tire pressure. When your tire pressure drops below 15 pounds per square inch or so, the wheel can no longer keep straight on the road and that corner of the vehicle will wobble dangerously on corners. The best that can happen is that you wear out a tire prematurely. The worst that can happen is that you get a nasty wobble at high speed on a corner or while passing on a highway. This can lead to loss of control, even a rollover accident. The remedy is to check your tire pressure more frequently. If the pressure in one or more tires is regularly down, you have a slow leak. Take it to a shop and get the leak fixed.
  • One vehicle with dangerously high tire pressure, above 50 psi. The correct tire pressure is not the maximum tire pressure written on the tire. It's the recommended tire pressure given in the owner's manual or written on a small sticker on the drivers-side door. Too much air in your tires can be dangerous too, just like too little air. You'll bounce more very time you hit a bump, and can bounce yourself clean off the road. You'll also wear out your tires unevenly.
  • Two vehicles, check engine light indicates loose gas filler cap. Recommend purchase OEM replacement  filler cap. Other check engine lights indicate evaporative emissions control failures probably secondary to filler cap problem, but recommend monitoring
  • One vehicle check engine light indicates lean mixture. Recommend check spark plugs for sign of overheating and/or knocking, if found fix tuning to increase mixture, or try higher octane gas.
  • Various vehicles check engine lights for oxygen sensor.
That concludes our 2014 spring vehicle safety report.

PS: I recived the following this afternoon:

Hi Mick,

Since I don’t have all of the names of the students who so diligently looked over our cars today, I wanted to send you an email in the hopes that you will pass along my gratitude for the service you all provided.

Thank you and take care.
With appreciation,

Brenda Bonneville
e-Communications Manager

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