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Common car problems, and why

By Staff | Dec 24, 2013

Following are some of the more common car problems experienced in south Florida. They will differ from those experienced in northern climates. We have few complaints about windshield defrosters, for instance. They have few problems with beach sand.

In no particular order, these problems include:

– Windshield wipers. May need replacement twice per year, because Florida sun causes rapid drying, hardening and cracking of the blades. The same thing happens to our skin. If your car has blades that are hidden under the hood when they are parked, they will last longer than ones that are exposed when parked. Like our skin would do if we stayed in the shade. Wipers are easier to replace than skin is.

– Batteries. Northern cold may be hard on batteries, but southern heat is no picnic either. The average lifetime is three years. The long storage time for cars left here through the summer causes more rapid deterioration than regular use would do. Like arthritic joints. Use it or lose it.

– Check-engine lights. There may be 50 different reasons for this one light, but the most common is a loose gas cap. The pressure in the tank is monitored by the computer, to prevent the escape of fumes. Could be a handy device to serve with Mexican food, to warn of impending fumes.

– Vibration at cruising speed. Almost always caused by tires, usually out of balance, sometimes out of round. Balance can be fixed; out of round tires need to be replaced. Egg shapes don’t roll well.

– Air conditioning not cold enough. Usually low on refrigerant. All systems leak, some more than others. Periodic recharging may be cheaper than repairing the leak, depending on the severity of the leak.

– Leaking brake lines. These steel tubes are rusting away much more quickly than they used to do. They may be made from Chinese steel, which is recycled from Japanese scrap, which was made from our old beer cans. Do you know how long it’s been since we had steel beer cans? This steel is a long way from its’ origins. Pennsylvania made better steel. And beer. What happened? Did we run out of iron ore?

– Snaps, crackles and pops on sharp turns or bumps. There are 5,000 moving parts in play when you go over a bump or while turning. (Maybe less, sometimes I exaggerate.) Wildly varying causes, from ball joints to sway bars to shocks or strut bushings. My knees do it without even being in a car.

– Fuel pump failure. They are all now inside the gas tanks. Little electric motors running inside a tank full of gas. Somebody lied to me in my early science education, because electric sparks obviously don’t ignite gas. These pumps often fail, usually without warning. They can cost hundreds of dollars, and the tank, in most cases, has to be drained and removed from the car to change the pumps. They are put there to provide enough pressure for the fuel injection system, and provide that pressure through fuel lines made from the same beer cans as the brake lines. But don’t worry, sometimes they improve the lines by making them out of plastic. Don’t think about those mafia movies when you start your car.

– Power windows. They have always been high maintenance items. They used to give us pre-drilled access holes to remove the screws to change the often-failing motors. Now they have improved by having them pop-riveted in place, made of plastic and aluminum foil, with cheaper motors and no access. The replacement parts cost hundreds. The new pop-rivets are not included.