Protect Used Cars: filters keep the dirt out

FILTERS KEEP THE DIRT OUT

TO RUN, CARDS need more than just gasoline. Air is used to turn that gasoline into an explosive vapor to be ignited by the spark plug. And oil circulating through the engine is needed to keep parts moving smoothly and to help dissipate heat.

Unless these elements – gasoline, air and oil – are kept clean, they can carry dirt right inside the engine. Dirt quickly fouls and damages fast-moving engine parts that work under great pressure at high temperatures. I recommend this website to help you choose the best fuel injector cleaners for your used cars.

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To prevent this, car makers have designed filters that remove impurities from fuel, air and oil. These filters collect dirt and must be replaced regularly.

Fortunately, the filters on many cars are accessible to the home mechanic. And filters cost only a few dollars to replace.

Until you are old enough to drive, though, you probably shouldn’t attempt to change a car’s filters by yourself. But car owners you know, including your parents, may allow you to help them as they do the job.

Ask an adult to open the hood of his car and help you locate these filters:

Air cleaner

This is a large, round, flat metal container with a funnel-like tube sticking out of one side. On its way to the carburetor, air is drawn into the intake tube and passes through the air filter inside the air cleaner.

Most air cleaners are opened by unscrewing a wing nut in the center of the lid. Other air cleaners have clamps around the sides.

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Cars with dirty air filters run roughly and burn too much gas because they can’t breathe properly. Remove the air cleaner lid and lift out the doughnut-shaped filter. Look through the paper pleats toward a light source. If the dirt blocks the light, it’s probably time to replace the filter.

Most air filters should be changed at least once a year or every 20,000 miles. Each car has an owner’s manual with specific guidelines.

Fuel filters

These small metal or plastic cylinders are located somewhere on the metal fuel line that runs between the fuel pump and the carburetor (on many cars). On some other cars, the fuel filter is located inside the carburetor or the fuel pump.

Cars with fuel injection usually have two fuel filters because the fuel must be very clean so it won’t foul the tiny valves in the fuel injector nozzles.

Fuel filters usually aren’t difficult to replace, but sometimes they’re difficult to locate.

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Oil filters

These are cylindrical metal cans that screw right onto the side or the bottom of the engine block. As the oil circulates through the engine and back to the crankcase, it passes through the oil filter. The filter collects dirt and tiny particles of metal from the oil.

Most oil filters are simply unscrewed by hand or with an oil filter wrench. This is done after the oil has been drained out of the engine during an oil change.

On the new filter, the seal around the opening is moistened with a small bit of oil before the filter is screwed into place.

On most cars, the oil should be changed every couple of months. And every other time the oil is changed, the oil filter should be replaced too.

Pull-ahead programs supply used-car lots

With late-model used vehicles at record prices, some dealers are putting new spins on programs designed to get customers out of their car loans or leases early. The payoff: snaring the customer’s former vehicle for the used-car lot, often as a certified used vehicle.

The incentives vary: new vehicles at lower monthly payments, cold, hard cash or a way out of a burdensome payment.

Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in New York City is one of the dealers turning to lease customers for used cars. He became concerned about his future certified used-vehicle inventory in 2008, when new-car sales and leasing plunged. So he started coaxing new-car customers into leases of 36 months or less.

He figured that 24 months into those contracts, many customers would have enough equity in their vehicles to get out of leases early and into another new Honda or Acura at monthly lease payments comparable to or less than their current payments.

Benstock’s efforts started bearing fruit last year. Of the 3,000 certified Hondas and 1,000 certified Acuras he sold in 2010, 60 percent were off-lease vehicles generated from his customers, up from 35 percent prior to last year.

A certified factory

“I call it my certified used-vehicle factory,” says Benstock, who, Honda Motor Co. says, was the top seller of certified used Hondas and Acuras in the United States last year. “The loser wins at the auction. It’s always the person who pays the most that buys the car.”

Record used-vehicle prices — driven by tight supplies, soaring gasoline prices and the threat of a new-car shortage as a result of the earthquake in Japan — are making it difficult for some dealers to find reasonably priced used vehicles, especially at auctions.

Prices of compact cars typically are flat from March to April because of seasonal factors, says Jonathan Banks, senior director of editorial and data services at NADA Used Car Guide. But the average wholesale price of a 2010 Honda Civic sedan LX jumped to $14,316 on April 12, up from $13,786 on March 29, the guide says.

Banks believes the industry will see higher prices for much of this year.

Exchanging equity

Marty Cumba’s goal is to get owners with equity in their used vehicles into his dealership — even if he doesn’t sell them a vehicle.

About six months ago, the owner of Sun Chevrolet in McMurray, Pa., began offering to buy consumers’ vehicles and pay them the difference between what they owe and the vehicle’s value.

“We call it exchanging your equity for cash,” says Cumba.

Cumba advertises the program in free local newspapers because those publications typically target bargain hunters and because his program appeals to people who can’t afford their payment or who are looking for quick cash.

“It brings in about 20 to 30 percent of our used-car inventory, versus auctions, trades-ins and what have you,” Cumba says. “It’s been really successful.”

New idea from BMW

BMW Group Financial Services, which has conducted pull-ahead programs for lease customers for years to bolster the loyalty rate among those customers, started a similar program last fall, targeting retail loan customers with equity in their vehicles. The finance company identifies customers who have equity in their vehicles and passes those names along to local dealers, who make a sales pitch to the consumer.

The goal is to get those customers into new BMWs before their loans expire and their previous vehicles into dealers’ certified used-vehicle inventory, says Shaun Bugbee, BMW Financial vice president of sales and marketing.

Off-lease vehicles are a primary source for certified used-vehicle programs. But because BMW Financial leased fewer vehicles during the worst of the recession, its lease maturities in 2011 are expected to drop to 94,000 units, from about 150,000 last year, Bugbee says. The finance company’s portfolio also includes more loan contracts than in previous years, he says, making it good business sense to court those loan customers.

From December through March, the retail program generated 1,753 new-vehicle sales and the same number of late-model BMWs for potential retail sales, Bugbee says. About 70 percent of those customers were 24 to 33 months into their retail loans, which typically were for up to 60 months.

“It’s a win-win,” he says. “You have an opportunity to deliver a new car and a pre-owned opportunity to fill a gap in the dealer’s demand chain that wouldn’t necessarily be filled because of the reduction in the off-lease vehicles.”

GM combines used-car channels

DETROIT

In keeping with an industry trend, General Motors is streamlining its used-car distribution process. The automaker wants to make more off-lease and other vehicles available to its own dealers.

The company will soon notify dealers that factory fleet cars and rental returns and General Motors Acceptance Corp. off-lease vehicles will be sold at the same auctions. That will end a long practice of selling them separately.

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Bill Stierwalt, director of consolidated redistribution, will oversee the operation. Stierwalt, 52, son of an auto dealer and a GM veteran with stints at Saturn Corp. and Pontiac, transferred from Saturn in March 1995 to study ways of improving the redistribution process. Now he gets to manage it.

The consolidation means that GMAC off-lease vehicles not bought back directly by dealers will now be moved via the same network that GM fleet vehicles have always used.

“We’ve got the ability to load a lot of cars on trains and move them around the country and do huge amounts of it,” said Stierwalt. Leasing was initially more prevalent on the two coasts, which is not always where the market is for 2-to 4-year-old cars, he said.

“You can let wholesalers buy them and move them, or you can move them” yourself, he said. “We’ve chosen to try to use our logistics to move the vehicles where the wholesale market is, like we’ve always done with rent cars.”

TWO TOO MANY

Some industry observers had been saying GM was stepping on its own feet by running the two distribution functions separately. Detroit’s auction market is a case in point. During one recent busy auction date, a GM factory sale was being held at Detroit Auto Auction in suburban Taylor, Mich.; at the same time, a GMAC sale was being held a few miles away at Manheim’s Metro Detroit Auto Auction in Flat Rock, Mich.

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Dealers seeking used GM vehicles had to decide which auction to attend. Such duplication had the potential to bring down the prices GM and GMAC were getting for their cars.

The GM move has received positive reviews from some in the auction industry.

“I think it’s an excellent move,” said Robert McDevitt, senior vice president for sales and operations at ADT Automotive Inc. in Nashville, Tenn. ADT operates 28 auctions nationwide. “It does make sense to merge it into one department, so that department can make ultimate scheduling and mix selections to the benefit of the dealer.”

FOLLOWS OTHERS

In consolidating the sales, GM is steering the same course as some of its competitors. Ford Motor Co. made the same move several years ago, and Chrysler Corp. has recently completed a similar realignment. Japanese automakers such as Mitsubishi and Nissan have already brought their used cars together, while others, like Toyota, continue to sell them separately.

“We’re better off with a broader sale with broader mix of vehicles that appeal to a broader mix of dealers,” said Stierwalt.

Stierwalt’s appointment has been well received in the auto auction world, where GM has had sometimes thorny relations. McDevitt said Stierwalt has already been an avid student of the wholesale industry.

“This guy has got a lot of humility,” said McDevitt. “He’s like a partner. He’s a breath of spring to our industry. He does it with finesse and friendship. You’ll run an extra mile for the guy.”

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Reasons for GM’s move

* The automaker gains the ability to move more off-lease cars to places where dealers will buy them.

* More off-lease GM vehicles get into the hands of GM dealers.

* With more GM dealers buying off-lease cars, residual values should go up.

* GM and GMAC auction sales won’t be competing with each other.

* GMAC can move off-lease vehicles via GM’s huge fleet logistics operation.

* GM and its finance arm save money by rationalizing auction operations.

Abstract: 

General Motors Corp. (GM) announced plans to restructure its used-car distribution system to make more factory fleet, rental return and off-lease vehicles available to GM dealers. The announcement has been lauded by industry observers, many of whom had long been calling for the rationalization of GM’s redundant used-car distribution system. Under the new scheme, off-lease vehicles not brought back directly by dealers will be moved through the same network used for fleet units.