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Saturday, 09 December 2023


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I agree with Dori on carrying a jump start battery. I have a GOOLOO GP4000 and it holds its charge forever. It’s also a good idea to carry the few tools you will need to remove the battery terminals and battery hold down. This way you can jump start the car and then drive to the nearest Walmart or auto parts store for a new battery. I also carry a small 12V air compressor that has come in handy on several occasions. I have the cheapo Pittsburg Automotive (Harbor Freight) 100 PSI model. It easily fits under my front seat and has worked well for years. Because of how powerful this air compressor is (140 watt) I also carry an assortment of fuses for my make of car…just in case. Being able to deal with your cars battery, tires and fuses can turn a problem into an annoyance.

With an escape hammer, if you can't reach it from your seat when buckled in, it's probably not worth having. First, in the event of an accident, especially in the dark or if you're in water, most folks are going to be in shock and not thinking "oh hey, better grab the escape hammer from the glove box!" Second, there's a good chance that if you have an accident the seat belt will lock, meaning you might not be able to reach the glove box at all.

Regarding your battery, Acura/Honda has a history of equipping cars with undersized batteries. If you don't drive regularly, for long-ish distances, the battery won't charge fully and will degrade quickly. If you're not a frequent driver (e.g., my Honda Fit is often parked parked for weeks between drives) the easy solution is a trickle charger to keep the battery in shape.

Jump boxes are fine, and just the ticket if you find yourself stuck alone in the deepest wilderness. For most of us, jumper cables are just as good if not better. It takes about one minute to learn how to use them properly (most come with instructions on the carrying case) and they never need to be charged.

More generally speaking, the best tool any driver can have is basic understanding of how their vehicle works (hint: Youtube is your friend if you want to learn). While new cars are getting more complex, the underlying processes remain simple: air+fuel+electricity makes the magic happen.

In my opinion, the modern doodads like TPMS, backup cameras and blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control, auto dimming headlights, etc. are making drivers less safe and the roads more hazardous. It used to be that you had to engage your brain, just a bit, to operate a motor vehicle. That's no longer the case and I have observed other drivers doing all manner of activities (eating, reading, texting, putting on makeup, having... uh... intimate relations) that have no place in a (moving!) vehicle. Similarly, the number of cars I see driving with low tires, or weaving across lane markers, or speeding (dramatically) is higher than ever. Growing up in the Midwest I liked going for a Sunday family car ride or later driving myself around to see the sights. Now that I live with the crowded, aggressive, and selfish roads and drivers on the Northeastern US I avoid driving unless I absolutely have to.

"I'm going to ask Steve Wheeler the Mystical Honda Whisperer if one of those jumper boxes that Dori recommended yesterday Thursday would have gotten me home on Wednesday night."

Possibly not...

I went to rescue my wife once and whilst I could jumpstart her car, the on-board computer would not allow it to be driven. It proclaimed a 'Dead Battery Cell'

'Twas a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP.

Here in NC, we don’t have the winters you have, but I tend to carry what I think I’ll need:
Jumper cables — so you can help others
Small toolkit with a wrench, pliers, couple of screwdrivers
Ice scraper (since it’s December)
Flashlight (lots of websites will help you there, Surefire is a good and usually affordable brand)
Headlamp (Black Diamond Flare can be found on sale for under $20)
Old towel (if you need to fix a tire, dry off from the rain, or just cushion something)
Tire gauge (good one, not the pen-style)
Tire inflator (moved between cars when on road trips)
Tote bag (if only to keep loose things from rolling around)
Collapsible water dish for the dogs
Bottled water for dogs
Granola/energy bars (something that won’t melt in the summer heat)

For you, I’d probably add a blanket for winter driving and maybe some shoe spikes in case you encounter ice?

Not sure if this is easy to access, but my friend Ben Brooks, who lives in Houston, has a bag in his car to use in case he’s caught in flooded streets or something.

I used to have Safeco insurance, and they included a tow package with comprehensive coverage. Used it once, and my daughter used it more than once. Just a phone call and they call the tow truck, which is what you want. They give you a little sticker with the number for your car. I have some cheaper insurance now because Safeco inflated too much, and I probably should double check the tow insurance part. I also need tow insurance for my motorcycle. I heard that Geico is good for that.

Tests of jump starters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMXyoIBJyJA

We are AAA true believers out here. They will come to you and test not just the battery but the electrical system and get you back on the road. Nice
I buy the kids a membership every Christmas. I sleep better as a result.
We have family members with mobility issues and we keep an escape hammer in the car. It has an interesting secondary use. The pointed end is designed to slide into the door latch ring to provide a nice handle for entering or exiting the car.
It really helps to get my 103 year old mother in law in and out of our 2015 Passat.
And finally you may want to consider saving yourself the annual tire swap by going to all season tires. These should not be confused with all weather tires. You can spot all season tires by little mountains embossed on the side.
I replaced the original tires on the family Passat with Toyo all season ones.
They are a 60,000 mile tire and do 90% of what a set of dedicated snow tires will. I am told they pass muster in Canadian provinces that mandate snow tires but don't hold me to that.
We live in Western Iowa and can get serious snow but not every year.
These tires took a nice sedan that wasn't worth a s**t in the snow and transformed it into a bit of a beast.
They are a little noisier than the originals and I wouldn't recommend them for track day.
But like I'm doing that in an old Passat.

The men working on the new fence for my neighbor and me finish up for the day, get in their big, macho, long bed, crew cab, 4x4 pickup, driver turns the key and — click — nothing.

Old fart (me) comes over with a pocket book size black box.* They look from skeptical to one hiding a snicker. I hook up box, point to driver; he turns key and — Vroom!.

I think one of them spent part of his lunch break sitting in the truck and didn't fully close the door. [true story]

My AAA card says Member Since 1969. I wouldn't have been so for so long if I didn't think it useful and a good value. I'm a Plus member.

My '95 Olds convertible has always been a battery eater (even back when I actually remembered past time accurately). I and a garage have tried to find out why, with notable lack of success.

When it will be idle for three days or more, often much more, when we travel, I hook it up to a smart charger in the garage. That did the trick.

I always have a 110v tire pump in the garage. (And a 12v one in our van/RV.)

BTW: If worried about remembering to keep the starter charged, you may keep it plugged into a USB port in the car.

* Mine is 12000 mAh, latest is more powerful. On the same page, there are also ones with built-in tire pump. Looks like this one does more than the above, with full smart USB output up to 20v, 3 amp, which will run my portable computer.

Great news all around! To be fair, three years is the short end of expected 12v battery life, even if it is expected.

You do seem like a good candidate for a portable jump starter. The good ones will hold sufficient charge for a long time, and tell you how much charge is left. Hopefully you can add checking the charge meter to your "drive the car" checklist, or maybe keep it plugged in next to your car keys so it's always topped up. Many models can also recharge your phone, camera, laptop, etc., and also serve as a flashlight/lantern/beacon. That seems like a lot of peace of mind for $100.

Speaking of peace of mind, I think I speak for much of your readership when I say that we appreciate these updates about why you're not posting. Please don't apologize.

The last time I needed a tow truck, we had a wheel in a ditch and were wondering if we could even find a tow on a Sunday in rural Vermont. But a kind farmer saw our predicament while driving by and ended up pulling our car out of the ditch with his tractor.

Mike, I've had a AAA membership for many years and have used it for gas, jump-starts and battery replacement (after the technician found that my battery wouldn't hold a charge).
With that membership, I haven't felt that a jumper box (additional expense and maintenance "challenge") was warranted.

P.S. I guess I'm "older folks", now, because I'm living the time compression thing. Right now I'm eyeing a can of beans with a 6/22 "best by" date that I bought "not so long ago". It's like Einsteinian time dilation, but without the hassle of high speed travel.

Mike, look at the YouTube channel “The Project Farm.” He extensively tests all kinds of tools and other things, compares the very expensive to the inexpensive, really puts them through the wringer, so to speak, and shows you which ones performed the best, which fail and how they fail. He has tested the small jump starters as well as the 12 volt tire inflators. The way he devises his tests I believe he must have an engineering background. I find his tests fascinating to watch even if I’m not in the market for whatever he is testing weekly.

By all means, get the jumper. I checked NAPA and a lot of bad reviews on their cheapest one. . I suspect owners are not charging them. 2 or 3 times a year should do. I've had one for about 10 years. My first I overused and it swelled up and I had to replace it. The BEST part of owning one: When somebody asks if you can give the a jump start, say YES, I sure can. And you don't have to worry about a short or hooking up backwards will damage your car's electrical system. Just get your jumper kit out, hook it up and wait maybe 5 minutes, and tell them to give it a try. Harbor Freight has a Viking 1000 amp for $90 which will jump 30 times on one charge. Be sure you get one with Lithium-Ion cells.

I am routinely astonished that things have lasted as long as they do and that I've owned it much longer than I thought. Even cheap stuff made in China by near slave labour can last a long time with even a bit of care.

Now I try to remember to write the purchase date on manuals, or take a photo of the receipt for expensive items. Then when I think I've had something only x years, and it's some multiple of that, and it doesn't actually owe me anything, I don't feel so bad.

For example, today the lid for the metal thermos I use for keeping coffee hot till I get to the second cup broke apart. At first I was offended, then realized that thermos was some corporate swag from 1998 or 99, and the thermos has been in daily use for more than 20 years. I found another unused slightly smaller thermos of similar vintage with a lid that fits. Swap lids and I'm good for another 20 years, right?

How is the selection for the Baker's Dozen house from mid September going? Or did I somehow miss the results?

I have had AAA for years and would never be without it. But I don't think you need the premium membership. We had it when we lived in an RV for two years, but now that we're back in a permanent home, I moved down one level to the Plus membership.
I have been using Diehard batteries exclusively for about 55 years. Advance Auto sells them now, and they also install. They just replaced both batteries in my truck a few weeks ago under warranty at no cost to me. (Or as I told my son, no charge, no charge.

Check your spare tire periodically. By that I mean visually inspect and check the air pressure. It's not uncommon for tire pressure warning lights to be casued by an underinflated spare. Why the spares even have TPMS sensors makes no sense to me, but just add that to the list.
I keep a good plug-in battery charger in my garage (it gets used several times a year) and a trickle charger on my very old Miata. It's just nice to know I can crank it whenever I like with little or no prep.

Did you get the battery holder fixed on your ILX?

I had the same problem, the battery holder is a defective design that actually cracks the battery case. I reworked mine so it doesn't pinch the way it used to.

I have a bike floor pump, the type for inflating tubeless mountain bike tires (an example: https://www.topeak.com/us/en/product/1203-JOEBLOW-MOUNTAIN-X).
Low cost but very robust and dependable, analogue and precise gauge. The connector is simple and secure.
It takes about 10 strokes to go from 30 to 34 psi on my car tires (below which the TPMS aren’t happy). It will never fail, rust, freeze and won’t mind if I forget it a year in the garage.

[I actually have one of those. Can you really use it for car tires?! I had no idea. --Mike]

Colorado AAA includes battery service. I used it when my car battery died inside my garage. Does your AAA membership offer battery service?

Triple A is definitely worth it, if only for the peace of mind. Also, as you found out, you can use it for other people.

I don't know much. My wisdom is very limited. But it does live in the space that this post has opened. So, Mike, this is hard won (and religiously followed) wisdom;

Every 60,000 miles (100,000 KM) replace the water pump and starter motor during your routine oil/filter service.

They're two components that will fail. They're wearing out, even as I type this.

And they'll leave you stranded. And/or warp the head on your engine.

But by booking them in, the garage will have them ordered, ready to install when you turn up. So no waiting extra days for parts if they fail on you.

Starter motors can throw all sorts of intermittent issues as they approach the fail point too. So by replacing them as routine maintenance, you eliminate the wasted fault finding attempts and red herrings that they put out.

I warned you.

A previous comment about tires provides incorrect information.

"All season" tires, or as many car enthusiasts call them, no season tires, are the traditional tires we're all familiar with. They're the OEM tires you'll find on most new cars and are generally okay for most drivers in most situations without being great in any driving situation.

"Summer" and "Winter" tires are specialized tires with rubber, tread pattern, and structural characteristics designed to maximize both dry/wet (or ice/snow) handling and performance in those seasons. Note that summer doesn't strictly mean summer, but more generically refers to use outside of winter/cold conditions.

"All weather" tires are a newer product that aim to combine most of the ice/snow performance of a dedicated winter tire with most of dry/wet road performance and high temperature durability of a dedicated summer tire. They're marketed towards folks who don't want to or can't swap between more specialized seasonal tires.

All weather and dedicated winter tires can be recognized by the 3PMSF (three peak mountain snow flake) symbol on the sidewall of the tire.

I have something to say about nearly all of this post!

The CPAP machine is indeed better than the alternatives. I've been using one for about five years, and while it might be on all night long, I'm only wearing it for about ten minutes while I'm awake.

My main difficulty is using it while camping, as I can't carry a big enough battery on a motorcycle; I'm restricted to where I can access mains electricity.

I have a diesel car, and I have a cold start routine for the winter. I turn the ignition on, and when the preheat light goes out I turn the ignition off then back on again. When the preheat light goes out again, I count four seconds then start the car.

Those 4 seconds are the delay between the light going out and the relay supplying the glowplugs switching off their supply.

I have a tyre inflator that plugs into the cigar lighter in the car. It works well, but I made the mistake of not running the engine while I was using the inflator, and flattened the battery; don't follow my example! The gauge on the inflator under reads by about 2 PSI, so I prefer a separate gauge.

The last three times I've had to get recovered have been on my 70 year old bike, a BSA. The causes were:

1) A broken piston ring, so no compression.
2) Magneto failure.
3) Rear tyre blowout.

It's an interesting life with an old bike!

If no one else has mentioned it, add a few candles to your winter emergency kit. With a dead engine, you can keep the inside of a car surprisingly warm with candles while you wait for the tow truck to arrive. You'll need matches too then, I guess.

CAA (offshoot of AAA) has a battery service in Canada. I've never had to use it but in addition to testing your battery, they might even be equipped to replace it.

For a light use vehicle that sits idle for long periods, a trickle charger is a good idea. They must have models that warn you of a problem battery. There's no point trying to charge a battery that has a dead cell.

Also, isn't it funny how you almost always get all this useful advice too late?

Hi Mike, (I'm a he btw :), the battery jumper I mentioned is one I've bought multiples of. It's good and it lasts a few years, just have to buy it offset from car battery so they don't both die at the same time. It does keep the charge a long time. You have to make sure to go with one oversized than what the manufacturer says (they lie :). I set a calendar reminder for my car's battery. It does approximately every 3 years, so I get one with a 3 year warranty. I've had it replaced a couple of times for free.

I also use it with a tire inflator (no internal battery), and other brands don't always have the supplied amperage to do that. Now they make tire inflators that come with a battery. Some of them have combined jump start and tire inflator, but I haven't tried them.

Other items to keep in the car besides what's been mentioned already:
* first aid kit
* Mylar (space) blanket, it's the size of a deck of cards
* rain poncho, also comes in small form factor
* flares

These take more space but if you put them all in an organizer is not so bag:
* collapsible reflectors (but have to get the weighted ones)
* a good tire lug wrench as the one that comes with the car is hard to use
* a good jack, again the one that comes with the car if there is one at all, is not easy to use
* if it doesn't damage your tires, an aerosol Emergency Tire Repair and Inflator can, or a couple if you have the space. If you get more than one flat, you'll be in bad shape even if you have a spare. But this would be a more rare occurrence.
If you're getting AAA maybe you don't need all these.

Anything you want to share about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy is suddenly quite interesting to me. My own diagnosis came a month ago, and tomorrow I'm going to try out some CPAP hardware. I dread being cooped up in a mask all night, but it's just one more thing along with my anti-bruxism mouth guard and my earbuds. Better quality sleep would be worth it. The ability to be functional before 11 am might be a great assist to my nature and landscape photography, too, giving me two "golden hours" per day. So this is both disturbing and exciting. I'm interested in your warnings, advice and pep talks.

Three weeks ago my dad returned from an international trip to the airport in Houston where his car had been parked for 6 days. When trying to leave the airport, his normally reliable car was completely dead and would not start even with a jump from a friend. Triple A covered the cost to tow his car from the airport to his home, which is a two hour drive. It seems like a great deal!

When your car is running it uses the charging system. Your battery is only used to start the car. If the charging system is working properly a jump box would get the car running and you would be good to go. If your alternator is bad or you broke the belt you won't get to far. Years ago (x2?) at a convenience store the guy beside me asked for a jump. He had three children in the car. If he didn't get them to his ex's house on time there would be hell to pay. When I opened his hood I saw that the belt to the alternator was gone. I sent him into the store where there was an Egg's pantyhose display. I used the pantyhose as a belt, gave him a jump and told him to hurry. I wasn't sure how long they would last. Silk works better than nylon.

[You win a Bro Award for that one. --Mike]

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