Page One

Click and Clack talk cars

Tom & Ray Magliozzi
Saturday January 12, 2002



It is better to be happy than to be right 




Dear Tom and Ray: 


It gets a bit cold in the winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I have had an ongoing dispute with several wives and girlfriends about an important issue. When a car has sat outside all night and one starts it in the morning, I contend that one should keep the heater turned totally off until the temperature gauge moves, and then turn it on. My female compatriots, on the other hand, always wanted to turn the heater up high, with the fan blasting, even when the air pouring out was frigid. My theory is that by turning off the heater, you reduce the size of the circuit through which the coolant has to flow. Thus, it should warm up faster. Am I right? – John 


TOM: John, pay attention. I'm going to ask you a question that might save you from having even more ex-wives: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? 

RAY: My brother figured that out sometime in his fourth decade. And then again in his fifth, and again in his sixth. 

TOM: As to your mechanical question, you are technically correct. The heat exchanger under your dashboard is a little radiator. So when you have the heat on, you are removing heat from the engine and are transferring it to the passenger compartment. So if your goal is to get the engine to warm up as quickly as possible, you want to keep that "passenger compartment radiator" off until the engine is warm. 

RAY: Does it matter to the engine? Hardly. But technically, you are correct. 

TOM: The womenfolk, on the other hand, couldn't give two bits about the engine. They're interested in comfort. And if you want to be happy, John, you should get interested in comfort, too. And for maximum comfort, here's the procedure we recommend. 

RAY: First, don't turn on the fan right away. That's just dumb, and your exes are all wrong about that. It results in an arctic mass of Canadian air blowing up your pant leg – and no one finds that comfortable. Using the fan while the engine is cold does nothing to warm up the engine faster. In fact, it slows down the process. 

TOM: So make sure the fan is off. Then, after you start the car, turn the heat lever all the way to hot (or from blue to red). That way, as soon as an inkling of heat is available, it will begin to seep into the passenger compartment. But with the fan off, you won't get that awful northern gale while you wait. 

RAY: How long it takes to get heat varies from engine to engine and from day to day. But as a general rule, once the temperature needle moves at all – as soon as it moves from the bottom of the “C” to the top of the “C” – then you're cleared to turn on the fan. That generally happens in three to five minutes. And if, for some reason, you don't have decent heat by then, turn the fan back off and try again in a minute or two. 

TOM: And before you say “But! But! But! ...” go back and read the first paragraph again, John.  





Fancy oils  

probably aren’t necessary 



Dear Tom and Ray: 


I recently purchased a 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage. The previous owner bragged that he used only "the best" oil in it, and he showed me an empty quart of Mobil 1 synthetic oil to prove it. I bought the car because it was in good shape and had low mileage, and I couldn't have cared less about the high-tech oil ... until now. It's time to change the oil, and I really can't see spending the extra dough on the fancy stuff. However, the guy at the auto-parts store told me that once a motor has synthetic oil in it, I have to keep using it (unless I "flush it"). So I went to the Mobil Web site, and according to it, Mobil 1 is compatible with conventional oil. Can I switch back? – Bill 


TOM: You have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of any damn motor oil you like, Bill. 

RAY: There is no problem we know of with mixing synthetic and conventional motor oils. I think when synthetics first came out 25 years ago, some manufacturers weren't sure how well they'd work, whether they'd eat seals and gaskets, or whether they'd mix with conventional oils and create cement. 

TOM: But those concerns were largely dismissed long ago. For some reason – we don't know why – there are still a few manufacturers that warn against using synthetic oils and some that warn against mixing other synthetics with THEIR synthetic oil. We've never seen a problem in the shop related to this stuff, but you should check your owner's manual for a prohibition, just to be safe. 

RAY: But the vast majority of manufacturers now treat synthetics just like a premium, high-priced motor oil that can be mixed and matched with other oils at the whim of the customer -- that's you, Bill. So as long as your owner's manual doesn't specifically forbid it, do whatever you want.  




Kitty litter as a traction aid; waxing to preserve finish 



Dear Tom and Ray: 


Please advise your readers. Winter is here, and I've heard this "advice" again: Carry kitty litter in your car as a traction aid. I assume the idiot giving this advice doesn't live in the North, like I do. With a brief perusal of the contents of a bag of kitty litter, one discovers that it is basically clay. What happens to clay when it gets wet (like between the tire and the ice on the road)? It turns to mud. Very slippery mud. I tried kitty litter exactly once as a traction aid, and it only made things worse. – Don 

TOM: Yes, and there's also the problem of shooing away all those cats that gather around your spinning tire in anticipation. 

RAY: Kitty litter is basically clay, and it does turn to mud when it gets wet. It might provide very-short-term traction. But if it doesn't work right away, the friction from the spinning tire will heat up the surrounding snow and will turn the whole concoction into a slippery mud bath. 

TOM: So you're much better off carrying sand as a traction aid. Plus, it's a lot cheaper. Some communities even give it away for free in the winter. 

RAY: And if yours doesn't, you can always make a covert, midnight raid on the local playground.  



Dear Tom and Ray: 

I'm 74 years old and have a 1998 Mercury Marquis that will probably be my last car, so I would like to keep it looking nice. I run it through the local car wash at least once a month, and it has a feature where wax is applied to the surface of the car as you drive through. When it rains, the water always forms large beads, as though it has been hand waxed. Is this enough to protect the finish, or should I have it hand waxed regularly? – Wally 


RAY: The other day, my brother went into a place that advertised waxing. But he fled in horror after they asked him what kind of bathing suit he was planning to wear and if he wanted his back done, too. 

TOM: You're in good shape, Wally. If you can see water beading on the hood, then you've got wax on the car. And you're right that it will help maintain your car's appearance. 

RAY: Generally speaking, the spray-on waxes you get at the car wash don't last as long as the better waxes that you apply by hand. But in your case, since you get your car done once a month or more, that shouldn't be an issue. 

TOM: Just watch for the beading water. As long as you see those nice, large beads, you're all set. 

RAY: And don't be so pessimistic about the future, Wally. I have a feeling you're going to be looking at those 2015 Cadillacs.  





Can a jump start harm your car? 




Dear Tom and Ray: 


Following the advice of my mechanic, I recently refused to give someone a jump-start for fear of racking up another $250 bill for a new alternator. Was I a bad Samaritan, or was I justified in leaving this guy stranded? – John 


RAY: Well, many manufacturers now recommend against giving or receiving a jump-start. And at the garage, when possible, we "trickle charge" batteries – charge them slowly over many hours – instead of jumping them with a large surge of current. 

TOM: I guess the theory is that when you give a jump-start, you use your charging system to charge two batteries (yours and the jump-startee's), and that can place too great a demand on your alternator and can overheat it. 

RAY: And the reason they recommend against receiving a jump-start is that it's possible to fry the delicate electronics in today's cars with a voltage surge. And if you think ruining an alternator is bad, you should try cooking a thousand-dollar computer! 

TOM: In reality, however, this stuff is extremely rare. I can count on one hand the number of times we've seen problems due to jump-starts in the garage in the past 25 years. And most of those occurred when some knucklehead mixed up the positive and negative cables. So it's a risk, but, in my experience, it's a very low risk. 

RAY: And personally, I don't let it interfere with my Samaritan-ness. If I see someone who needs help, and I can help them, I don't think about my alternator. And I hope other people would do the same for me. 

TOM: What about me? Would you stop to help me if my battery was dead? 

RAY: Sorry, I'd love to, but I just had a new alternator put in.