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Mechanically Speaking: Hot weather can be torture on a vehicle

Mechanically Speaking - Trail Times File Photo
Mechanically Speaking
— image credit: Trail Times File Photo

Sometimes people’s vehicles have a serious breakdown prematurely. The owner may cry foul and immediately seek compensation from the manufacturer. Sometimes vehicles do have serious flaws but usually those flaws will show up during the original warranty period.

Many failures that occur after the warranty can be attributed to lack of maintenance or improper use of the vehicle. Yes, I know you’ve had your oil changed around when the warning symbol told you too. An oil change is not the only maintenance your vehicle requires. I know that all the vehicles we work on at our shop still have severe service requirements.

As the mercury rises I am reminded that a seemingly simple drive to Rossland is severe service. It comes under the description of mountainous driving. A very long hill climb on a very hot day will stress all the lubricants in your vehicle’s drivetrain. Transmission fluid, differential fluid and transfer case fluid are all susceptible.

In most vehicles there are no indicators that notify the driver when these fluids exceed a temperature that actually leads to rapid deterioration of the lubricants’ protective properties.

It is not only the fluid that starts to fail at high temperature. You may have installed the highest in quality transmission fluid that will not oxidize at 150 degrees celsius but there may be materials in your transmission that cannot survive at those temperatures.

Towing a trailer? I see a lot of travel trailers being towed by smaller SUVs and minivans these days. Many of these vehicles are overloaded. When determining the size of trailer your vehicle can tow remember a 5000 pound towing capacity includes the weight of the passengers in the vehicle and the luggage.

So if there are three passengers and some luggage you could easily have reduced the allowable trailer weight to 4000 pounds. Then consider the weight of all the stuff you added to the trailer. Don’t forget the fresh water you are carrying to that remote campsite. 30 imperial gallons of water equals 300 pounds.

That 3000 pound ultralight trailer will quickly crack the 4000 pound mark when fully loaded.

That last 500 vertical feet on the Coquihalla at full throttle fully loaded is not just severe service. It is closer to a torture test. Your transmission may have nine lives but you just used up one of them.

Remember that last swarm of grasshoppers you just drove through on the prairies? Your vehicle’s cooling system may now be severely compromised.

Until you take the time (after letting your vehicle cool down) to clean the grill area of your vehicle (radiator, condenser, transmission cooler and power steering cooler) your vehicle’s cooling systems will be compromised. Again your 4000 pound towing capacity is now reduced severely.

How about that horribly muddy section of the Dempster highway? That stuff was like gumbo. Yes, you went to the carwash. Your truck looks clean again. Not clean enough though. You might be carrying a 100 pounds of mud underneath, stuck in the frame rails.

There are many instances of driving that will seriously stress your vehicle’s systems. It makes sense to avoid these but when you cannot, remember that some maintenance is in order. That maintenance is not a trip to the quick lube for an oil change.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: nutechauto@telus.net

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