Saturday, September 18, 2010

How often should you change your oil?

How often should you change your oil? If you lived in the era of the shade tree mechanic or run a garage, your answer is probably "faithfully every 3,000 miles".

That answer may have been correct in the era of carburetors and bias-ply tires, but not today. Oil, like the cars that use it, has changed over the last thirty to forty years. Now you can go 5,000, 10,000, even 15,000 miles between oil changes. And if you use synthetic oil, that interval is even longer.

Some cars like most late model BMW, Honda and GM cars equipped with OnStar have onboard diagnostic tools to measure remaining oil life. All cars have the recommended service intervals published in their owner's manuals. And all manufacturers now recommend changing the oil between 5,000 and 10,000 miles depending on your driving conditions.

In my opinion, the only time you need to change the oil earlier than 5,000 miles is if you bought a brand new car and want to change the oil after the car's break in period. After that, just follow your owner's manual. Doing so will prevent you from voiding your warranty and save you money.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beater Challenge Update for September

I've gotten to know the Cutlass pretty well in the last month and I've discovered there's things I like about the car and things I don't. It's not as refined as my old Infiniti and it lacks that car's performance. If you've ever driven a mid 1990s GM car back to back with a Toyota Camry from that era, you know what I'm talking about. The Cutlass came standard with features like keyless entry, ABS, and traction control but the design and execution of those features leaves you wondering if GM was even trying in those days. The fog lights are a prime example. On the Infiniti, they useful, adding visibility to the sides of the car and beneath the headlights. On the Cutlass they're afterthoughts that cast a feeble glow just bright enough to reveal their location which is buried deep inside the bumper.

There are other examples of shoddy work as well, but since I bought the car for less than I sold the Infiniti for, I'm reluctant to complain. Ultimately the Cutlass is a good, solid, reliable car. And except for some dents and scrapes which make it look a little like Mickey Rourke, there is nothing wrong with it. In the month that I've owned it, I've done nothing but fill it with gas and give it a good cleaning. If I owned the fictional Honda Accord in our challenge, I would have done all of that and written a check for $400 for the first payment.

So the score for the first month is Accord $400, Cutlass $0.

And that makes up for a lot. Even the fog lights.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Curse of the Jaguar

I have to confess that I get weak kneed at the sight of a Jaguar. Like malaria, a fever comes over me long years after the bite of the mosquito.

Only my mosquito was a late-seventies Jaguar XJ-S, a sleek coupe adorned with sail panels framing the rear window like flying buttresses adorn a Gothic church. I saw my first one on the way home from forth grade. It was parked behind a chain link fence at a local import garage. For two weeks I'd rush to the fence, gazing at its captured majesty.

Two weeks at a garage. That illustrates the problem with most Jaguars and all Jaguars made in those days.

In my opinion, Jaguar never made a bad looking car... or a reliable one. Most, like the early XK, Mark II sedan, XJ-6, and XJ-S are stunningly gorgeous and prone to more bad behavior than Jesse James at a topless tattoo parlor.

But I still want one. A late-eighties XJ-S with Dayton wire wheels calls to me with its twelve cylinder siren song, tempting me towards the rocks or at least to the side of the road, overheating and on fire from a gas leak or electrical short. Jaguar owners will admit they're cursed. The smoldering ruin of their last car will have hardly cooled before they seek out the soft leather, burled walnut, and lambswool carpet of another.

But there is hope. Most of the Jaguars built after Ford acquired the company in 1989 are somewhat reliable, or at least don't overheat and catch fire. Not counting the 1988-1994 XJ sedan with its homely squared off front end, Jaguar still has not made a car that is less than beautiful. And because of their reputation for bad behavior, you can pick up a good used one for about the price of a Kia Soul.

But to be safe, just make sure you're on a first name basis with a good mechanic.