Air conditioning was working perfectly with R-12 so there was no change for 55 years (1940 to 1995).  Then, scientists suspected R12 refrigerant was associated with ozone depletion and larger atmospheric “holes” in the north hemisphere.  R12 eventualy was traced to the dereased protective ozone layer and UV radiation levels in Canada and Alaska soared and R12 played a major role in increasing Artic solar radiation damages. The effects of R-12 on the Northern Hemisphere ozone levels resulted in the EPA beginning in 1994 requiring manufactures to fill A/C systems with R-134a. By 1997, R12 was completely banned by the EPA for auto manufacturer A/C use at the factory.

Now just 17 years later it’s R134a turn for environmental phase-out because of “Global Warming” concerns. See, R134a has a carbon pollution rating of 1433 (bad).  HFO-1234yf on the other hand only has a global warming friendly carbon pollution rating of just 4.  By the end of this year the switch to HFO-1234yf automotive A/C refrodgerant will be underway.

For the most part, systems filled with HFO-1234yf are substantially identical to R-134a systems. Both systems work at very similar pressures, which became an attractive trait in helping the industry choose HFO-1234yf over carbon dioxide (CO2), which requires higher pressures. Of course, HFO-1234yf must have its own fittings and service label, which is typical for different refrigerants.

Cool. Then there is the not so cool other side to the story. This new refrigerant will bring a multitude of expensive changes to the A/C service landscape. One most noteworthy downside of the new refrigerant is that it is flammable and release into the atmosphere and sparks or flame will cause a fire in some settings.

Costs are noteworthy too. For instance, until manufacturing plants are in full swing in 2014, HFO-1234 will cost 10 TIMES more than R134a and the EPA has not yet made provisions for over the counter sales to the public. No shade tree mechanics unless trained and liecenced by the state, will have access to HFO-1234yf. On the other hand, every shop servicing A/C will need to have  all techniciqans HFO-1234yf trained and state licensed and the shop also must have the EPA required HFO-12234yf separate and specific A/C equipment that will require an inverstment of over $12,000.00!

2012 American cars using this new refrigerant is the Cadillac ATS and all 2012 Subaru’s. Dealerships will need to consider service equipment for HFO-1234yf during this year. This may also be the case for collision shops, depending on whether they perform A/C work in-house. Your local independent shop will need to consider HFO-1234yf-ready equipment within the next couple of years.

We can appreciate that the Supreme Court that ruled CO2 was a “greenhouse gas”, and this ruling opening the path in 2012 for EPA regulations specifying a new refridgerant for automotive use in 2010.

Don Wollum ASE Master Technician and owner of Tech Check automotive services in Hillsborough NC;

Today’s performance cars have as many as 8 gears and many small cars have stick shift or automatics with 6 gears.  Gas mileage has never been more important to new car sales and 8 gear ratios are mainly offered to ensure that smaller engines can accelerate like larger engines. This gives you a zippy small car and the manufacturer can gain credits that improve the corporate fuel economy averages.

Thinking outside of the (shift) box, you may want to consider skipping over some of those many gears.  Not because you are lazy, but because you are interested in improving your fuel mileage. Yes, it’s true, studies have shown that “non-sequential” gear shifting improves your gas mileage. Here are the main reasons why.

Having established that engines run best under partial load at low-to-moderate engine speeds, overall engine efficiency peaks between 1800 to 2400 RPM. Piston loading per fuel BTU charge is fully expressed in the longer duration exerted by the piston pressing on a slow turning crankshaft.  For example: When biking on a flat road we select a higher, slower turning pedal gear and reduced our leg pressure for better endurance and use of our available muscle energy.  Your engine responds to low RPM and moderate throttle with better gas mileage in much the same way.

The second mileage improving benefit of non-sequential shifting is reducing your average engine speed down so that the rotational friction is also reduced.  Piston and crankshaft rotating at high RPM create turbulence with the crankcase and the oil. Slow running engines also reduce oil film adherence properties that are indeed a form of “friction”. The faster an engine spins, the greater the rotational resistance values are.

Today’s car manufacturers now specify 0W-20 or 5W-20 viscosity engine oil in the crankcase leaving no stone unturned in the quest for improved fleet fuel economy averages.  Compared to 10W-40 oil, rotational resistance values at engine speeds above 3000 RPM are reduced by one third. It is much easier to rotate an egg beater in water than maple syrup.

How to put Non-sequential shifting in practice:  NOTE: For Flat road use only!

Manual transmission cars: Start from rest in 1st gear to 20-25 MPH, then shift to 3rd to 40-45, then 5th gear for cruising.

For automatic cars with floor shift or paddle shifting: start from rest in 2nd gear to 35 MPH, then select Drive above that.

Results will vary, but with regular low RPM shifting and moderate throttle use, 1-2 increase in MPG can be experienced.

Don Wollum, 25 year ASE Master Technician and Owner of Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections in North Carolina

What are “Green” “Blue” or “ECO” Tires and do they Save Gas and Lower Driving Costs? YES!

Recent Tire Rack analysis confirms that a $600.00 dollar set of “green” tires over 6 years will indeed be less expensive than a set of $500.00 tires.  How is this possible without a Government rebate? Read on to find out!

Before I give the wrong impression, “green” tires are still black, have all-season tread and come in sizes that fit most cars on the road today. Green tires are In showrooms today, as you will find “green” tires are fitted on most new cars to improve gas mileage. Every increase in MPG posted on the window sticker greatly increases car sales. This makes sense for car makers subject to mileage mandates, but fitting “green” tires to a car you already own makes sense for you too!

“Green” tires have been around for about several years and are rapidly gaining acceptance for not only improving gas mileage, in addition “green” tires last longer and carry a long 6 year/ 90,000 mile warranty. “Green” tires have advanced internal ply structures and special rubber compounds and new tread designs that  significantly reduce rolling resistance.

Some “green” tire brands available:

  • Michelin Defender, Green-X  technology
  • Yokohama Avid Ascend, BlueEarth technology
  • Continetal CrossContact LX20, ECOplus technology
  • Bridgestone Turanza Serenity Plus, ECO-Products

A set of 4 green tires (P215/60R16) costs $600.00, same size 4 standard radials is $500.00.

There really are good economic, time saving reasons for spending $100.00 more for a set of “green” tires.

1. Gas savings of $240.00 over the 6 years/90,000 miles of ownership: 17% reduced rolling resistance translates to 2% improved MPG. A 30 MPG car driven 15,000 miles/year will save 10 gallons or $40.00 a year, and over 6 years that totals $240.00.

2. Savings of $60-100.00 for mounting and balancing a set of “green” tires ONCE over 90.000 miles. Non green tires are often worn and need replacement at 45,000 miles. So, you will save the mounting/balancing costs by NOT having to get new tires at 45,000 miles.

3. One less visit to the tire shop saves you 1-2 hours of your time keeping you productive and happy. Compared with conventional radial tires, many drivers need 2 sets of tires over the same 6 year/90,000 miles of driving. What is your time worth at 50,000 miles to NOT visit the tire shop to replace worn regular tires?

Over 90,000 miles, green tires lowers the total out of pocket costs of driving your car by over $300.00!

Get ready to say yes to green tires! The economics and time savings away from the tire shop are worth it!


Don Wollum, ASE Master Technician and Owner of Tech Check:

Article based on Tire Rack Articled:

We are living in the future! Your car will self-initiate a SIRI like voice saying you need “tires” is possible!

Next year, you may indeed hear a SIRI like voice coming from the dash of your new car. That is nothing new but you did not ask a question! What is it like to hear the voice of your car speaking to you? Under development by Nuance Limited and other companies are imbedded car talk programing to initiate conservations about an amazingly accurate reminder your brake pads will need replacement soon. The verbal message will likely speak to you just after starting the car in the morning.

SIRI like software may use odd phrases like: “front tire is low” on air, or even “new tires are needed soon”. Later on, 4 months from now the SIRI like voice will then say: “an oil change is due in 1,000”, or “the front tires are near the wear minimums” “consider purchasing new tires before Winter”. Does SIRI like automotive software appeal to you and would it have your best interests in mind? Or, will SIRI like verbal messages just worrying you into bringing the car into your shop. Whether the messages are trustworthy or not, for the technology to be accurate will depend on the sensors and logic of programing maintaining close to 100% accuracy. Engineers are so confident that owner field testing for accuracy is now underway.

We already have silent versions of SIRI like systems in new cars today: the oil life monitor systems. In the computerized oil life monitoring system, a digital display message from the power train control module uses oil life algorithms that accurately factor in the good: long driving cycles of 15 minutes or more that fully warming the engine oil, or the bad: stop and go traffic, under 4 minute trips, severe use as heavy towing or operating in severe temperature range. If the good operating conditions 10,000 mile oil changes are suggested, if the bad operation conditions are severe, the digital display messages suggest 4000 between changes.

How it works: Data from throughout the car enter the SIRI like processor and following manufacturing engineering algorithms will combine to give an accurate prediction of car wear items and operational condition reporting. The SIRI like messages are then given a synthesized voice to verbalize the next message through the cars entertainment system.

For an example of how cars already use logic to reach out to you about repair issues, OnStar pioneered the ability to contact you and speak with you that your check engine light is on! How is this done? By using data already captured on your car, OnStar connects to fuel system data that correctly identifies you refueled yesterday, and now one day later, there is a good chance the light is on because the gas is loose.

How will SIRI like systems know about your brake use or even tire wear? The data will come from the Anti-Braking System and Traction Control and Vehicle Stabilization Systems. Wheel sensors will record how quickly you decelerate from what speeds and frequency and calculate brake pad wear. YAW sensors will also calculate cornering forces that directly correlate to tire wear along with acceleration rates and heavy braking will let SIRI like system processors accurately predict when your tires are worn.

Sounds like the future is here!

Don Wollum, ASE Master Technician owner of Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections,

If paying for regular gas is expensive, believing that the use of premium gas will somehow save you money is patently false. You might as well throw $8.00 of your hard-earned money you paid extra for premium gas in the trash. The belief that the use of premium rather than regular will save you money is a legend and a myth.

As recently as March 2012, several callers to a National Public Radio station made the claim that using premium gas over regular gas will save money in the long run. This sounds believable at first blush because there are cases where premium paint actually will cover the wall surface better in less time and effort than the regular house brand paint. Similarly, premium detergents will do a better job cleaning your laundry with less soap. In the case of gasoline, however expecting more miles per gallon (MPG) with the use of premium gas is completely false!

Do the math: My 25 MPG Camry holds 20 gallons and uses regular gas at $3.70 and filling costs me $74.00.
Filling my 20 gallon tank with premium at $4.10 will cost $82.00.The $8.00 difference will buy 2 gallons gas.

Bad news #1: 2 additional gallons of regular added to the Camry 20 gallon tank, I travel 550 miles for $82.00

Bad news #2 My 20-gallon Camry tank using premium will need to get 27.5 MPG to reach 550 miles.

Conclusions: It is preposterous to expect the use of premium gas in my Camry to boost MPG from 25 to 27.5! There are no published data or studies that show that the use of premium over regular gas will significantly improve any cars MPG by 2.5 in a constant road speed or the average commuting driving cycle. Using regular gas will actually save you big dollars over the use of premium, end of story, period. Using premium costs $8.00 extra and will return no measurable MPG improvement.

Gas savings tips #1: Please drive responsibly, avoid excessive speeds to lower aerodynamic loss, keep your tires properly inflated drive, and prudently avoiding jack rabbit starts and resisting full acceleration when ever possible. Maximum engine power and torque will improve about an average of 5% using premium fuel only if owner’s manual specifies premium fuel (approximately 25% of the cars on the road today). Please note that wide open throttle requests and maximum power situations are less that 1% for the average driver.

Don Wollum, 30 year ASE Master Technician, owner of Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections,

Statistically Few Hybrid Owners Repeat Hybrid Purchase.

Imagine paying several thousand dollars more in purchase price for a hybrid car over a conventional gas model and then only saving $610.00 a fuel/year in operational costs! Over time, saving $610.00 does not pay back the $5,000.00 increased hybrid purchase price for a very long long time. Up to 10 years in fact.

People who own a hybrid car are unlikely to get another one the next time they buy a new vehicle, according to a study released April 9, 2012 by the consulting firm R.L. Polk. The driving public are clear: 75% of hybrid owners decline to buy another hybrid vehicle.

That means 25% of hybrid buyers buy another Hybrid car when buying a new car. Interviewed owners who buy a hybrid find the operational savings over several years’ time to be less than predicted, many re-enter the showroom in 4 years seeking true cost of ownership savings from an less expensive conventional gas powered car.

The New York Times recently released information provided by, showing “that it often takes years for the money that a hybrid car saves on gas to offset the higher up-front cost”.

The study by Polk said that, “based on data from the past four years, gas prices did not appear to have any effect on the likelihood that a hybrid owner would buy another hybrid, even though overall hybrid sales tended to rise along with gas prices”.

The New York Times article believes that buyers look at the “so-called “payback period,” the time it takes to recover your up-front investment. On some models, the extra cost for that “eco” package can take you a decade – or more – to get your money back in the form of lower fuel bills”.

For example, states that: “a Ford Fusion hybrid is estimated to save $610 a year in gas, but its price is more than $5,000 higher than a comparable gas-powered Fusion”. This translates into 8.4 years before you will recoup the additional purchase price.

“The price of gas has consumers thinking about fuel economy but there’s a financial investment involved with most of these fuel-saving packages,” says Jesse Toprak, Vice President of Market Intelligence at “It’s important to compare the improvements in fuel economy and the extra costs of the package before purchasing a new vehicle.”

To add insult to Hybrid injury, those who intend to keep their hybrid vehicles a full 10 years to recoup the additional purchase costs, predictably must also be prepared for the cost of battery pack replacement! Hybrid battery packs currently average 2,500.00, then add another $700-1,000.00 in labor and recycling fee’s and suddenly hybrid owners are investing $3-4,000.00 dollars more in operational costs. Hybrid owners are then back behind the 8 ball again! The very probable need for a hybrid battery pack to be replaced would then make your payback in operational Hybrid savings take a whopping 15 years!

Don Wollum, 26 year ASE Master Technician, owner Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections.

I change the oil, check tires, brakes, and take the car in for recalls. Then I trade the car in at 5 years.   

The average new car is owned 5 years and will have 60,000 miles on the odometer. Many owners are convinced they should just do the minimum:  “Once a year, I change the oil, rotate the tires and inspect the brakes and at the end of 5 years I trade in for a new car!” Why bother with regular maintenance? Why test known good items on a brand new car”?  “If I am just trading the car in after 5 years, it is very illogical to perform every single maintenance, especially the most expensive 60,000 service”.

The belief described above is very prevalent among today’s car owners. That is one of the reasons that many manufacturers now offer free Pre Paid Maintenance (PPM) services. These PPM services include oil changes, tire rotations and brake inspections and afford the manufacturer time to perform recalls, module reprogramming, and more.  Also manufactures want to get the car back into the shop where little problems can be caught before they become big problems. Do PPM’s work? Yes, owner satisfaction scores are certainly improved. Remember the manufacturer wants you to buy another car from them. Obviously dealers recognize that you must feel that non covered maintenance is reasonably priced and of a measurable value to you.

Will skipping the dealer’s full maintenance schedule up to 5 years past purchase de-value your car? Likely not. Please keep in mind owner’s manuals are, in fact, legal documents and the warnings posted are legally binding in court. If a car problem arises and the posted maintenance for that item was skipped, you will bear the responsibility to pay repair costs. If it’s in the service manual, it’s mentioned for a very good reason.

Many owners manuals list maintenance or servicing as suggested and required.  Required services include service recommendations that are necessary in order to keep the vehicle warranty in effect. Suggested services are just that, suggestions that may be worthwhile in the view of the dealer or independent shop. Suggested items are generally valuable and have a basis in reported repair statistics. Remember dealers and independents routinely work on your make and model of car, day in and day out, year after year.

Let’s look deeper into what it takes to keep your car from developing problems due to true neglect or abuse.  ASE Technicians confirm from shop experience that after 5 years and 60,000 miles, many fluids actually break down and need replacement while many other under hood items need cleaning, adjusting, and servicing. Driving to 80,000 to 100,000 miles and beyond without servicing is likely to result in damages due to neglect and will cause many expensive future repairs.

If you are determined to stay away from the dealer in the first 5 years, there are 2 important service items that most technicians would recommend:

#1.  It is IMPERATIVE that the engine oil and filter are changes every 6 month and 6,000 miles if you chose conventional oil, and if you use synthetic oil, the change minimum change interval is 1 year and 12,000 miles.

#2. Always change the engine air filter and the cabin air filter every 3 years or 30,000 miles. If you drive beyond 5 years and 60,000 miles, have the coolant and brake fluids flushed and the transmission serviced too. Those who drive beyond 10 years and 120,000 miles would do well to repeat the maintenance schedule all over again from the beginning.

Don Wollum, ASE Master Technician and owner of Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections.