From Headlights to Taillights: Bells and Whistles

By Mark Kozemko ’79, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the April 30, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage. https://www.thevalleyadvantage.com/community-columns/from-headlights-to-taillights-bells-and-whistles/article_d79d0f20-6e24-5669-be24-be5127360161.html

Did you ever get into a vehicle to test drive it and wonder, “Why does this vehicle have so many gadgets? What do they all do? Will I ever use them all?”

I know it sounds funny, but many new car buyers don’t even use some of the standard options, never mind all the extra “bells and whistles.” This month I’m fielding questions about what some of these extra options — or gadgets as I call them — are and how they work.

Before I get into the questions, I want to point out that the reason new vehicles come with an abundance of these options is mainly due to consumer demand. When manufacturers receive a high number of requests from their modern, tech-savvy customers for a specific option, they respond, as long as the request is within reason.

Our first question is, “What is adaptive cruise control and how does it work?”

Adaptive cruise control allows a driver to not only set a speed to travel but also set a specific distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. This option doesn’t come in all vehicles yet, but as we all know, when it works in certain vehicles, it won’t be long until most manufactures will offer it as standard equipment.

Once the driver inputs the cruise control settings mentioned above, other than steering, the vehicle is basically in control. When cruising, if the vehicle in front of you slows, your vehicle will reduce speed to maintain a safe distance. When the vehicle in front either moves out of the way or speeds up, your vehicle will accelerate to return to your preset speed. This is accomplished by a combination of sensors and cameras. This option is often paired up with additional options like lane-keeping assistance, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.

I can tell you from experience, driving a vehicle equipped with adaptive cruise control is awesome. If you have an extended commute, you may want to check out vehicles with this option.

The second question is, “What are active headlamps?”

This active headlamp option, which was designed to give the driver better visibility when traveling on winding roads, gives your headlights the ability to move to the right or left from the straight-ahead position. The headlight movement is accomplished using motors controlled by sensors in the steering system. The sensors send a signal to a control unit telling it what direction the driver is steering, and, in turn, activates the motors to move the light assemblies in that direction.

At this time, this option is only available on select models and is not very useful unless your commute involves very winding roads.

The third and final question this month is, “Is the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ option worth getting for my Ford truck?”

Per Ford.com, a driver enters a few measurements into the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ system, then a camera tracks the trailer position while you’re backing up your truck and guiding the trailer. You rotate the knob left or right in the direction you want the trailer to go while the system controls the steering wheel.

It all depends on your comfort level when backing up your trailer. If you are new at trailer backing, then this option is definitely for you. If you’ve had your trailer for a while and used it several times, I don’t believe an option like this is worth it.

I have a great deal of experience towing. I’ve towed everything from a 53-foot trailer to a short 15-foot water buffalo when I was in the Navy. It was always more difficult for me to back up the shorter pieces of equipment than the larger ones. I still do my fair share of towing cars, boats and Jet Ski trailers. I think I would find myself fighting with a truck that is trying to do something for me that I am very comfortable doing myself.

Keep in mind that all of these options or gadgets, as I call them, come with a price tag. Always weigh the pros and cons of any option to determine if it is worth it to you when buying a vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the “What is this? What does it do? Will I use it?” questions you have. Make sure you get the answers and try out every option and gadget before you take any money out of your pocket.

From Headlights To Taillights: Springing Ahead With Vehicle Maintenance

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director. Originally published in the February 26, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage. https://bit.ly/30cbvdk

It’s been a snowy February, but per Punxsutawney Phil, spring is on its way. It’s just going to take a little while longer to get here. As we’re preparing to say goodbye to snow and hello to warmer weather, we’re receiving questions about car maintenance that may be required after the long, cold winter. Let’s get to them so you can plan ahead.

Our first question is, “Should my car battery be replaced after the long winter we’re experiencing this year?”

Before you go and replace your battery, I recommend having it inspected and tested first. As I said in a previous column, your vehicle battery is one of — if not the most — important component to get your vehicle through a rough winter. If you had your battery inspected and tested in the fall, you should have it re-tested. Even though it had enough life to get you through the winter, that doesn’t mean its power is stable enough to keep you going throughout the spring and into summer. Extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, which we’ve experienced this year, weaken and take a lot out of a battery. Take the time now to get a new inspection and test to determine if your battery requires replacement.

“Does my engine oil need to be changed after the cold winter months?” is our second question.

When we discussed oil change intervals in a previous column, I recommended that you keep your maintenance schedule on track throughout the year and I’m sticking with that recommendation. Oil changes are the most economical maintenance you can do to drastically extend the life of your vehicle’s engine. Don’t go beyond the recommended time or mileage between oil changes, but you can change your vehicle’s oil sooner or more often than recommended. As the vehicle owner, it’s your call on whether you think the mileage or time is close enough to put fresh oil in your engine.

“Is there such a thing as summer and winter air that I should put in my tires?” is our third question.

There is no such thing as summer or winter air. It’s just compressed air.

You can, however, have your tires inflated with nitrogen, which helps eliminate oxidation and corrosion. Nitrogen pressure in a tire will bleed off or dissipate much slower than compressed air and you’ll see slightly higher fuel mileage with it. If you’re thinking about using nitrogen, it is considered a green alternative, which means it’s better for the environment. One thing to keep in mind, with compressed air, you can check and adjust your own tire pressure. If you use nitrogen, you’ll have to find a repair shop equipped with it to adjust your pressure. It will cost you to have your tires inflated with nitrogen more than you pay for compressed air.

Our final question is actually two questions, “How do I clean the buildup of salt and chemicals that accumulated under my car over the winter?” and “Can I do it myself?”

The best way to clean the underbody of your vehicle is by using a pressure washer. Most repair shops have pressure washers that are used for a variety of jobs, including cleaning customer vehicle undercarriages. These pressure washers come in many different pressures and gallons per minute. They also have several different spray tips, from wide-angle to a pencil spray, and include attachments that connect to the hose and slide under the vehicle, making it easier for technicians to get the undercarriage clean. Prices range for this service at repair shops or body shops.

Can you do it yourself? Yes, but you’ll have to purchase a pressure washer and attachments. The consumer versions come in a variety of pressures and usually two power options, gasoline or electric. The good news is, you have choices for your individual needs and situations. Keep in mind, to make any of these pressure washers work as designed, you will need a water supply. Lastly, you have to be ready to get wet!

With these steps and, of course, guidance from your automotive technician, your vehicle will be back in shape after enduring a cold and snowy northeastern Pennsylvania winter. I’m not sure about you, but I’m hoping next year Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow and we’ll get an early spring.