High technology cars, high technology problems? Not exactly.
There is a tendency to assume when a late model vehicle has a problem that it is going to be some computer issue or electronic problem and your vehicle is going to require some in depth analysis to get to the bottom of the problem. It is always a mistake to skip the simple checks. In many instances those simple checks are just simple maintenance items that are actually the responsibility of the driver.
The driver maintenance items are more important than ever since most vehicles only require oil and filter changes somewhere around twice a year. Most of you put 20000 kilometres on your vehicle each year. Many will drive 8 to 10 thousand kilometres between oil changes.
It isn’t uncommon for a check engine light to show up one morning at the 8 to 10 thousand kilometre range and this actually inspires the owner to make an appointment for an oil change and find a solution for that pesky check engine light.
The solution. Yep, you missed a whole lot of regular maintenance steps that last six months of driving. Check your oil level on a regular basis. You have to perform this step now more than ever.
When you used to bring your car in for service every 5 to 6 thousand kilometres you may have gotten away with never checking the oil. Many vehicles will go that distance and maybe burn a litre of oil. Drive ten thousand kilometres and it is very likely you will be down two litres of oil or even more.
Driving your vehicle while it is low on oil quickly provokes unnecessary wear and tear on your engine. Most vehicles still do not have any sort of electronic engine oil level sensing. It is likely the first warning of low engine oil may be a check engine light or unusual engine noise. The check engine light will come on when the variable valve timing system no longer works correctly on cold starts.
Cold thick oil moves slowly. On a cold start it takes seconds to supply oil under pressure to all the moving parts in your engine. If the oil supply is low the pump can end up sending all the oil up into the engine before enough of it gets back into the oil pan at the bottom of the engine. Instead of oil the pump will end up pushing air into the system. The variable valve timing components are super sensitive to a good oil supply with no aeration.
Inevitably the engine computer will see that the valves are not opening when they should be and on will go the pesky check engine light. You might notice a hiccup or two but maybe not.
When I use my diagnostic tools to see what was up I will immediately see fault codes related to valve timing. My first diagnostic step? Check the oil quantity and quality.
Something you should have been doing yourself.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org