Car Care: Part II

A gallon of Nissan’s Blue Long Life.

Internal combustion engines are cooled by a colored liquid called the coolant, stored in a transparent reservoir connected to the radiator. A mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent anti-freeze, it absorbs heat from the engine and dissipates it through the radiator to the atmosphere.

So, why won’t pure water do the trick? Only because when the mercury drops to 32 Fahrenheit—which is the freezing point of water—it’d freeze, jamming the engine. On the flip side, on a searingly hot day, with the engine generating its own heat, it’d boil over at 212 Fahrenheit, the boiling point of water.

Mixing it with the chemical—typically, ethylene glycol—gooses its tolerance for both cold and heat. Water then freezes at a lower temperature and boils at a higher temperature. This particular formula, Nissan’s Blue Long Life, protects it from freezing till it chills down to minus 36 Fahrenheit and from boiling till it hits 265 Fahrenheit.


Car Care: Part I

A bottle of engine oil.

A little care goes a long way in keeping anything in a good shape, from a piece of furniture to a gadget. The best way to keep das auto running smoothly is to regularly inspect the numerous fluids that slosh around under the hood.

The most important of these is the “engine oil.” Stored in a receptacle called the “oil pan,” placed at the bottom of the engine, typically, underneath the “cylinder block,” it’s analogous to blood in the human body.

Vital to the overall health of the car, it flows between the various moving parts of the internal combustion engine, acting as a buffer between metal surfaces, minimizing direct contact between them. This helps to lubricate them and reduce friction and wear and tear. It also cools the machinery by carrying heat away from it as well as protects it from rust.

Over time, it gets depleted. So, it should be checked periodically to make sure that its level is within the range recommended by the carmaker. This is done by a tool called the “dipstick,” a graduated rod, located in the front of the engine. In most new cars, it has a circular, yellow handle for easy visibility.

  • Park the car. Apply the parking brake.
  • Start the engine and let it idle until it reaches the operating temperature.
  • Turn off the engine. Wait more than 10 minutes for the oil to drain back into the oil pan.
  • Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean. Reinsert it all the way.
  • Remove the dipstick again and check the oil level.

It should be between the H (High) and L (Low) marks on the dipstick. If it’s below the L mark, then remove the oil filler cap—by turning it counterclockwise—and pour the recommend oil through the opening.

  • Recheck the oil level with the dipstick.

As the oil circulates throughout the engine, it cleans it, but in the process, it also gets dirty, collecting deposits, such as “black sludge” (gelled oil), soot, dust, etc. When it turns black, it needs to be replenished with a new supply.

Choosing the correct engine oil is not quite as easy as picking up a jerry can of vegetable oil from the grocery store.

The API “Donut.”

Look for the Emblems. Only go for oils licensed by the American Petroleum Institute (API). There are two API engine oil quality marks—the API Service Symbol “Donut” and the Certification Mark “Starburst”—which, indicate that the oil has been rigorously tested to ensure they meet API’s engine oil standards.

The “Donut.” The top half of the “Donut” displays the engine oil’s API performance standard. The letter “S” followed by another letter, as in API SN, refers to oil made for gasoline engines and the letter “C” followed by another letter and number, as in API CJ-4, refers to oil made for diesel engines.

The center of the “Donut” shows the engine oil’s “viscosity grade.” (But more on that later.) The bottom half of the “Donut” indicates the engine oil’s  “resource-conserving properties.” I’m not sure what that means, though.

The API “Starburst.”

The “Starburst” A bottle displaying this mark has oil that meets the requirements of an agency that’s a joint effort of U.S. and Japanese carmakers.

Neither Too Thin, Nor Too Thick. Viscosity is a measure of the extent to which a fluid resists a tendency to flow or its “thickness.” The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has established a numerical code for grading engine oils on this property, known as the “viscosity grade.”

Monograde oils, such as those that power lawn mowers, can only operate efficiently over a narrow range of temperatures. But most modern automotive engine oils are multigrade oils—that is, they do their job over a wide range of temperatures.

Their viscosity grade has two numbers, as in 10W-40. The number preceding the letter “W”—which stands for “winter”— measures the oil’s performance in low temperatures; the second, after the letter, in high temperatures.

Once the engine is running, the oil heats up. And when it heats up, it thins. In this instance, 10W-40, the second number tells you that the oil will stay thicker at high temperatures than one with a lower second number, as in 10W-30.

Thicker oil makes a better lubricant, but if it’s too thick, it makes it difficult to rev up the engine on a snowy morning. That, in turn, reduces fuel economy.


Notes From The Asphalt

Every now and then, my attention is snagged either by the sound of a shopping cart rattling over the asphalt or a door slamming. Somewhere, an engine is turning on. Elsewhere, a pounding base is fading away in the distance.

I’m at the ShopRite parking lot, waiting in the car, because I’m not well. M. is doing the grocery for a change. As I look up from my phone, I see the windshield splattered with fat droplets of a sudden burst of rain, as if a minion in the ministry of meteorology in the troposphere, poured down a bucket of water out of sheer mischief before scurrying onto more pressing tasks. For soon afterward, the Sun peeked out of a rent in the magnet-colored sky.

For a Monday morning, the store is terribly crowded with shoppers. Suddenly, looking out the window, I realize how weary I am of careless motorists. What if, I wonder, the driver of the car next to mine opens his or her door so rashly that it scrapes against mine?

I’d come to know, of course. After all, he or she would leave behind a mark of that uncivility on my chassis. So, to buffer it on either side against careless drivers who bounce out of their seats without looking, I do my best to park my car perfectly in the middle of the two yellow lines of the parking space.

My mind is wandering. I’ll have to make a pit stop for gas next. Holding the nozzle of a gas pump that countless others have held is one of my least favorite things to do. Like every public object, it’s a hotbed of germs. But I don’t have a choice. My car doesn’t run on Dunkin’ Donuts.