Car talk


Let’s talk cars today. Here are three items:

1) The April edition of Consumer Reports magazine has been released. This is the annual automotive issue. It’s very much worth the $6.99 cover price. As of mid-week this week, however, Saipan’s Bestseller Bookstore was still awaiting its shipment. I am advised that only two copies are normally stocked.

As always, the feature I find of most interest is the car repair data, which provides an objective index of reliability. This is based on surveys given to car owners. This year’s magazine covers the period from 2009 through 2016. The data I’ve seen over the years has jibed very closely with my experience for any given model of car.

The automotive edition also reviews new cars and carries related features.

2) Have you hugged your engine air filter lately? You might want to. It has a tough job, preventing your engine from inhaling abrasive coral dust, road dirt, and other contaminants.

Changing the air filter is one of the few items that a casual do-it-your-selfer can tend on a modern auto. I reckon that we might as well make the most of this interaction lest we get entirely alienated from the mechanical loop.

For decades I was blithely using a major brand of air filter that’s widely sold at discount stores. When I recently pulled a new one of the box, though, I noticed that is was poorly constructed. I returned it to the store, inspected a few more examples on the store shelves, and gave up.

Since I don’t have some kind of laboratory to test air filters, I assume that the readily-observable elements of a filter’s construction are consistent with its overall quality. No, I can’t prove that theory, but that’s the way I’ll place my bets.

As a result, I’ve switched from the discount approach to going to a real parts store, in this case NAPA, which carries a brand called “Wix” under the store label. That’s a brand I remember from when I worked in a garage. Again, I have no way of doing scientific tests on this stuff, but the Wix filters, to my eyes and to my touch, seem far better built than the brand I recently abandoned. So I hoisted the black flag, yanked the air filters from the family cars, and replaced them with fresh, and presumably better, ones.

3) Santa gave me a Craftsman Mini LED Work Light for Christmas. This device, about the size of a cigar, is very useful. The catalog price is $6.99. It looks a little bit weird because the light comes out of the side via a line of six LEDs instead of coming out of the top via a lens and reflector.

I didn’t appreciate the utility of this thing until I actually found myself poking around under the hood at night. Having a line of lights seemed to provide better depth-perception than a single-point light source does. The small size made it easy to maneuver around the engine and its accessories.

One of the light’s end caps is magnetic so it can be self-supporting if you can find a ferrous surface under the hood. Of course, finding such a surface is harder and harder to do in this age of aluminum and plastic. Still, having such a magnet makes it a useful tool for retrieving dropped fasteners.

The flashlight body is plastic and well-suited to being held by the teeth, an inelegant but practical reality for anyone doing repairs at night. It runs on a trio of AAA-batteries (included) and claims 11 hours of continuous run time.

Mindful of Saipan’s vulnerability to blackouts, I’ll note that this light will illuminate an entire room, maybe not to the point that you’d want to overhaul a Swiss watch, but certainly to the point where you can read it. The trick is to diffuse the light somehow, since the direct glare will zap your vision. A sheet of folded paper can make a serviceable lampshade.

On that note, I’d suggest keeping these lights out of young or careless hands. The sweep of the beam is far broader than a normal flashlight’s and it’s easy to wind up looking at the wrong side of the equation.

There are similar designs from other brands. Thus far, however, I’ve only tested this example from Craftsman. Now that I’ve been sold on the idea, I have to admit I’d enjoy seeing a refinement that would allow the user to vary the brightness. If anyone knows of such a product I’d like to hear about it.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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