Three Important Things You Should Know About Your Vehicle (But Probably Don’t)

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Following in the tradition of blogs everywhere, I have a classic* three-point post today with some interesting and helpful things I learned about my car recently. The first one nearly stopped me in my tracks.

1. Vapour lock: don’t be a victim!

I was part-way through a road trip on a hot day. I had been driving for a few hours when I stopped to get gas. Much to my surprise, after I was all fuelled up, my car wouldn’t start! It tried really hard, turning over and over, coughing and making sounds I’d never heard it make before (of a sputtering sort). But, try as it might, it just wouldn’t start. So, a lady who had come to fill up her truck drove over to the cardlock owner to get some help. I had to wait a while, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to be a pest and go bug the guy who was going to help me, so I just putzed around, checking my oil, picking dead bugs out of the front and whatnot.

After about 15 minutes, Mike (not a mechanic, just a regular guy) drove up and we discussed the problem. He suggested that my fuel injectors might be clogged, and that’s why it wouldn’t start. I decided to turn it over so he could have a listen and see if that sounded like the problem. Right before turning the key, I joked, “maybe it will start, just because you’re here!”

Mechanics across the nation know what’s going to happen next — my car started. It wasn’t pretty, but it coughed to life. And the fuel injectors weren’t to blame. A mechanically-minded friend explained it to me later that night — on a hot day, the gasoline in your engine and fuel line becomes vapour and then when you stop, the liquid gas can’t get to the engine. The fuel pump tries to move it, but it can’t, so it just coughs. It is vapour locked. The only solution is to let the engine cool down a bit (which happened as I waited for Mike) so the vapour condenses, and then it will start.

The rest of the story? After my car started, I went to the local mechanic shop, explained things to the mechanic, and got some fuel injector cleaner (I left the car running the whole time, just in case it decided to die again). After driving another 4 hours or so, I stopped to get gas again. I left the car running (which I NEVER do, not even in winter, so it felt very strange), and as I poured the first litre in, the engine coughed and very nearly died again! I was mystified! I added a little more and again, it nearly stopped. So, I said to myself, forget this! I still have half a tank — enough to get home. Once I heard the explanation, it made sense — the cold gas wasn’t mixing well with the hot, vapourous gas, and the car wasn’t able to compensate for the change. Your vehicle has to mix air and gas at a certain ratio for combustion to occur, otherwise, nada. Or should I say “no va?”

2. Don’t brake over bumps.

I helped my friend Michelle move at the beginning of July, and as we were driving out for a second load, I learned something new about brakes. Two of the other people helping Michelle worked at a mechanic shop, and I was yammering on about how I’m getting pretty good at driving on all sorts of gravel roads — loose gravel, packed gravel, washboardy, pot-holey, whatever. I can just tap the brakes and then cruise over most spots easily.

All of a sudden, Karen said “At least you’re doing it right! You’d think people would know that you shouldn’t brake when you’re going over a bump! It wears your brakes unevenly and causes them to wear quicker overall.”

Well, I quietly sat there nodding, but truth be told, I didn’t know that. It was just instinct to me to brake before a bump and then cruise over it, and luckily for me, I had been doing it right. When you brake, it causes your suspension to compress, which makes the brakes wear much worse.

So, now you know: if you are coming up to a bump in the road you need to slow down for — be it a pot-hole, uneven bridge deck, construction, or whatever — slow down first, but when you get to the bump, let off the brakes.

3. Don’t Pass the Pilot Truck.

It happened last year on Hwy 35 near Steen River, and last week on Hwy 1, well, in the middle of nowhere: pilot trucks were put into effect to guide drivers through areas where forest fires were burning near the road. I thought it was just to make sure no one decided to go joy-riding on a quad trail — someone in danger of being charged and convicted under Darwin’s Law — or to make sure people didn’t speed when passing wildland fire fighters. Well, I was wrong.

Last week, driving back to Fort Simpson, I decided to drive through an area where the Department of Transportation had been using pilot trucks the day before. There were no piloting vehicles or road workers around — it was too early in the morning — and as far as I knew, the road was open. As I went by a small fire burning about five feet into the bushes on one side of the road, I noticed a wide, pink stripe across the highway — the mark left by a tanker aircraft who’d dropped his load of fire-retardant on the fire! Now, that made sense — you wouldn’t want to accidentally drive by when that happened! You’d get red, frothy gunk all over your vehicle! But then again, why not just close the road altogether? Why do we need pilot trucks to drive through areas with forest fires burning?

smoky drive
I was telling my story of driving by the fire to a friend, Mickey, who works for the DoT. He “tusk-tusk-tusked” at me, waggled his finger, and explained. The real reason for pilot trucks, he said, is because if your car ingests an ember from a flame into the air filter and catches on fire, you would be stranded with a burning car in an active fire zone! Aaah… now, that would be bad. The pilot truck is there to make sure everyone gets through okay.

So, if you are tempted to pass a pilot truck, or drive through an area with a lot of ash where a pilot truck hasn’t been established yet, just be aware that besides risking a hefty fine, you’re betting that your vehicle won’t catch on fire! Not sure what the odds are on that bet, but I’m not willing to take the chance!

*Ain’t it concise, informative and story-oriented? 🙂

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