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How to Save Big Repair Bills by a Few Simple Precautions

A few days ago a car-owner from out of town paid me a bill of about $125.  The bulk of the work for which the charge was made consisted of reboring a scored cylinder and refitting it with piston and rings. To me, though, the most interesting item on the bill was the last, and one of the smallest

   "One fan belt and fitting same, $1.25."  For neglect to supply that car with a new fan belt - even a new lacing might have been enough - was the cause of all the trouble.

   The owner of the car had noticed that the metal lacing of the belt was cutting through the leather - a sure sign that sooner or later they would part company - but instead of replacing the belt, or the lacing, he merely tightened up the belt with the adjusting device.  This, of course, just put an additional strain on the weakening leather, and one day the lacing cut clear through the belt, and the fan ceased to revolve. 

   This happened somewhere on a country road, just where, the owner doesn't know.  Eventually, though, he saw steam issuing through his hood, and when he got out to investigate, he found that a couple of gallons of water had boiled off from his radiator, the steam being forced out through the lower hose connection.  He had no materials with which to make repairs - not even a piece of wire - so he attempted to hold the fan belt together with a couple of hairpins that he borrowed from his wife.

   You can guess how long that "repair" lasted!  By various makeshifts he managed to get the car to within a few blocks of my garage.  Then the car stopped because one piston was "frozen" by expansion to its cylinder.  That, of course, was the cylinder we had to rebore.

   Neither was that an extreme case.  Rather, I'd say, after handling many thousands of cars in the last several years, it was almost typical.  For in nearly every case where a car is brought to this shop for extensive repairs, the fault lies not in the automobile itself, but in the ignorance of neglect of the owner.  There is probably no article of equal value in the world that is treated so carelessly and so recklessly as the average automobile.

   Take the matter of lubrication.  There are some 60 essential parts of an automobile that require either oil or grease at intervals that very roughly between every few days and every few months.  Every car-owner has received from the manufacturer an instruction book that explains by means of a simple pictorial diagram just where and just how often oil or grease must be applied to the car.  Oil companies also send out similar charts, and publish booklets and advertisements telling exactly what grades of oil and grease are required by different makes of automobiles to get the best results.

   There is, in fact, no reason why every car-owner should not know everything about lubricating his car, which is a simple job though not the most pleasant in the world.  Not more than three cars in 10, though as far as I can judge from those I see, are properly lubricated.

   Not long ago one of my customers noticed that the oil gage on his dashboard was not working.  He was in a hurry to go somewhere, so he paid no attention to what should have been a warning.  He got through  the day without mishap, and continued to drive his car for about a week.  Then one day the car began to behave like a bucking bronco, and he brought it round to us for an inspection.

   The reason the oil gage hadn't worked was that the pump gears were worn, and, of course, oil hadn't been circulating through the motor.  If he had brought the car to us immediately, we could have repaired it for about five dollars.  As it was, though, it cost him more than $100 in labor and materials to replace burned-out bearings. 

   Another man heard a little noise in the rear of his car and paid no attention to it, even when it grew louder.  In fact, he didn' run the car into the garage until it showed unmistakable signs of readiness to quit for good and all. We took down the transmission, and found what might he described as a pile of powdered steel sawdust.

   It's almost unbelievable, yet this man, who had an instruction book telling him to fill his transmission case with a certain grade of grease every 3000 miles, had never inserted an ounce of grease in the two years he had owned that car.  Small wonder that the gear teeth began to break off, circulate through the mechanism, and "chew up" everything within reach!  His repair bill was about $75 - and less than a dollar's worth of grease would have saved it all!

   Another man paid me around $30 recently for a new spring and for resetting the spring on the opposite side that went out of shape when its mate broke.  Another case of failure to lubricate!  Any mechanic could have spread and oiled that spring in 15 minutes when it first began to squeak.

   I sometimes think it's too bad that most cars aren't equipped with non-adjustable carburetors or with some kind of locking device that would make it impossible to change the adjustment, once it was made by a competent mechanic.  Haphazard tinkering with carburetors by people who don't know what they're doing causes more trouble than you'd ever imagine.  I wish I had a small percentage of the cost of the gasoline that's consumed unnecessarily every year, due to improper carburetor adjustments!

   The carburetor is easily accessible and you need no tools to monkey with it.  For that reason it's usually the first part of the car that the average inexperienced driver starts to play with when his car begins to run badly.

   A man in my town bought a second-hand car a few months ago.  It was in good condition, and he drove it without trouble for several weeks.  Then one day on the road the motor began to lose power and to miss and cough.  The owner didn't know what to do about it, and was standing by helplessly when another motorist stopped beside him and asked if he could help.  The man who was in trouble explained what had happened, and the other, without making an inspection or a test of any kind, announced immediately that the trouble lay in an improper carburetor adjustment and that he could fix it. 

   He did fix it, too.  He gave the gas adjustment couple of turns, and the car immediately began to hum like a racer.  The owner completed his trip, then when he got home, related his experience to a neighbor.  The latter had been driving for about a year, so of course, "knew everything about automobiles."  He decided that he ought to look over the work the volunteer repairman on the road had done, and was very gleeful when he discovered that the filter in the top of the vacuum tank was clogged with sediment.

   "See, your trouble wasn't in the carburetor at all," he reported, removing the filter to clean it.  

   Like many amateur repairmen, however, he forgot something - to readjust the carburetor to compensate for the greater amount of gas that was being fed to it through the clean filter.  The result - one of them, anyway - was that the owner of the car ran out of gas about a week later 10 miles or so from home.  The car had been giving from 15 to 16 miles to the gallon; now though, with the new carburetor adjustment, it was giving only seven, and he found himself without gas when all his calculations indicated that his tank should have been half full.

   Of course, he had to pay for having his car towed in from the road; also for the removal of carbon from the cylinders, for the excessively rich mixture he had been using had caused his motor to carbonize alarmingly.  All of that expense and trouble could have been obviated by spending about 75 cents to have that filter cleaned and the carburetor properly adjusted.

   Batteries supply an enormous annual list of unnecessary casualties.  A good storage, battery on a car that is run regularly ought to last for years.  Few of them do, however.  Not a week ago I replaced a $25 battery that was only a year old.  Never once had the owner put distilled water in it, nor tested it, as he might have done with a 50-cent hydrometer. Any garage or battery service station would have tested it for him and added water for 25 cents, or charge it for him when it was necessary for about two dollars.

  He neglected it, though, with the result that, after a few weeks of idleness, the battery proved incapable of turning the motor over.  When we inspected it we found its plates so badly sulphated that it was useless to attempt to charge it or repair it. Whey anyone should prefer to spend from $10 to $40 for a new battery rather than from two dollars to five dollars for needed battery service, I can't understand; yet they do it.

   Almost any set of standard tires sold today ought to last for between 15,000 and 20,000 miles.  How many motorists, though, can boast of getting any such tire mileage?  Once again ignorance and carelessness are to be blamed.  To get 15,000 miles, at least, at least, out of a tire, it is necessary only to supply yourself with a good gage, to keep the tire pumped up to the pressure specified by the manufacturer, and to repair all small cuts as soon as they occur. 

   Recently an indignant customer came to me complaining that a cord tire I had sold him had blown out at the end of 4000 miles.  I gave him a new tire, but actually he didn't deserve it.  On one of his first trips he had gashed the side of the tire by running over a trolley switch.  He made a great point of the fact that the blowout had not occurred at the place that was cut.  Nevertheless, the cut was responsible, for moisture, entering the fabric through the break, had traveled along within and settled at the place of the blowout, gradually rotting the fabric away until at last a sudden jar caused the rubber casing to give.

   Those small cuts, to which the average owner pays no attention, frequently result in expensive tires blowing out before the tread shows any appreciable wear.  They are caused generally by sharp stones on macadamized roads, steel slivers in car tracks, and the rough edges of curbstones.  You should inspect your tires at least once a week, and if any small cuts are disclosed, the break should be cleaned thoroughly with gasoline and repaired with rubber cement.  Either that, or have the place vulcanized. 

   Backing into a curbstone may bruise your tires so badly that a couple of thousand miles are taken from their life.  Scraping the curbstone may produce a similar result.  Misalignment of the front wheels, which causes the tires to wear on the relatively thin sides, likewise soon may make them ready for the scrap heap.  A man who keeps his car at my garage recently destroyed an expensive balloon tire because his brake rods were improperly adjusted.  The right-hand wheel was doing all the braking, with the result that the tire wore out in record time.

   How many cars are ruined almost irreparably every year because ignorant owners drive them too fast when new, I wouldn't care to estimate.  The man with his first automobile is more likely to "drive it to death" than the man who has owned cars before. 

   Manufacturers advise not to drive a new car faster than from 20 to 25 miles an hour for the first 1000 miles. I'd say don't do it for the first 2000 miles.  You'll have plenty of chance to try your car out after that, and if you curb your impatience you'll find you have a faster and more efficient vehicle.

   A man who bought a new model of a popular make of car the first of this year has been running between my garage and the service station of the manufacturer ever since, because he drove it too hard when he first had it.  The bearings, of course, were excessively tight, and when he drove at high speed, naturally the bearings became "starved" for oil.  Eventually they gave way, the "stiffness" disappeared from the car and the owner went on his way happily.  But his happiness was short-lived for he has had nothing but  trouble ever since.  The bearings are pitted, and almost daily some new "defect" discloses itself.

   These are only a few instances from thousands that have come under my attention of the harm done to cars and the unnecessary expense caused by the ignorance and carelessness of owners.  Automobile engineering has advanced wonderfully since the days when a motor trip, no matter how short, was a hazardous adventure, but engineers are not yet able to produce a car that is proof against flagrant misuse.  They can and do produce cars, however, that ought to last a great deal longer and cost considerably less for upkeep.

   Gas, oil, and grease, water for the cooling system, frequent inspection of the battery, the ignition system, and the tires and an occasional check up of the carburetor adjustment - if intelligent care is taken in these particulars, necessity for repairs is not likely to arise at all. 


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