Let's Talk Wheels

Mike Herzing answers questions about trailers, backup cameras, and cleaning your engine

Always check and re-check the hitch.

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On his show "Let's Talk Wheels," Mike Herzing answers questions from listeners who write in. While their specific situation might not match yours exactly, there's still plenty to be learned from their experiences — and his expertise.

Dennis writes: I have a 2014 F150, and I accidentally spilled oil all over the engine when I was adding oil. It is a mess! I have always heard that you shouldn't ever wash an engine because it will cause problems. Is that still true?

Mike Herzing: Like you, I have heard the same thing for years. But keeping your engine and engine compartment clean helps you locate oil leaks and other problems when they first occur.

I wash my engine and engine compartment at least once a year. One important thing is to do it when the engine is cold. I spray the area with a degreaser first, let it sit, and then wash it. You can use a pressure washer on a low setting, but you need to be very careful and not spray the alternator, belt idler bearings, or any electrical connections. To be honest with you, I think it's probably best to just use a garden hose. Once you are finished, use an air nozzle to remove the water that's sitting. Then start the engine and let it dry itself off. Do not close the hood. That causes a condensation problem. Good Luck!

Ronnie writes: I have never towed a trailer before and just bought a small camper. Any special rules or procedures I should develop that have worked for you?

MH: Over the past 50 years, I have towed everything from a motorcycle trailer to a 40-foot flatbed to a 35-foot travel trailer, and I always start out the same way. My "walk around rule" has saved me dozens of times. First, check that all the lights are working by having someone sit in the vehicle and cycle through everything. I always re-check the tire pressure on the tow vehicle and the trailer; this is a big deal, because trailer flats really stink!

Then after checking the hitch, I always re-check it again after driving a block. If you are OCD about this like I am, you will avoid a ton of heartache.

Dean writes: I have a 2013 GMC Yukon and the backup camera screen has become blurry. How do I find out if this is a camera or screen problem? Also, could an accident have caused this problem? I had a small fender bender a few months ago.

MH: I have heard from my GM tech friends that this does happen occasionally. First, use a clean microfiber cloth to make sure the camera lens is clean. Sometimes a sharp impact (like an accident) or slamming the tailgate hard can cause the camera lens to separate. The usual repair is a replacement camera. I'd check with the body shop that did your repairs and see if they think it could be related.

For more tips from Mike, visit LetsTalkWheels.com. Be sure to subscribe to the new "Let's Talk Wheels" podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play.

Make sure your filters are keeping the bad stuff out.

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Your car's filters play a big role in the life and performance of your engine — and your comfort. There are two you'll want to pay attention to: the air filter and the cabin filter.

Air filters
For performance and economy, you want a filter that will allow enough clean air for the engine to run well while still protecting it.

Did you know a quality air filter can help keep your oil cleaner? Inferior-quality filters allow fine sand and dirt to enter the engine, which dirties the oil and causes extra wear.

If you are driving a diesel, your engine uses twice as much air as a gas engine — that means your air filter gets dirty twice as fast.

You should get a quality air filter and replace it at least every 15-20,000 miles. Do it even sooner if you drive in a dusty area.

Remember that the original equipment filter is always a safe bet.

Cabin filters
Spring is here, and that means that everything is blooming. Here in Texas, the pine trees cover our cars with yellow pollen that drives allergy sufferers crazy. Spring also brings high levels of mold and ragweed.

The problem? You're likely driving around with the AC blowing it all right in your face.

But all is not lost if your vehicle is less than 10 years old, because it should have a cabin filter. Your cabin filter works just like the filter on your home's HVAC system, cleaning the air before it gets to you.

Of course, it can only help when you change it at least once a year. You can get cabin filters at your big box store or auto parts, and best of all, they are easy to replace.

For more tips from Mike, visit LetsTalkWheels.com. Be sure to subscribe to the new Let's Talk Wheels podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play.

It's worth getting OEM.

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When you are having repair work done on your car, it's always better to use original replacement parts instead of aftermarket replacements. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts are built to a much higher specification and return your vehicle to the way it was when it was new. This rule applies to body parts or mechanical parts.

To save money on body repairs, some insurance companies like to use aftermarket (aka cheap-o) body parts. This is a touchy subject, because aftermarket body parts are usually inferior in terms of strength and rust prevention. Of course, they didn't mention this when they said they could save you hundreds on your insurance!

One of the biggest reasons that people shy away from buying a car that has been wrecked is that it's not the same as it was when it was new. However, with the correct parts and repair expertise, that doesn't have to be true. Don't avoid buying a car just because it has been in an accident. However, I still recommend taking it by your shop to have them check out the repairs to see if they are quality or not.

If you are having mechanical repairs, once again, OEM is the best way to go. Many aftermarket sensors aren't calibrated exactly the same as the originals and could make a difference in performance.

This is where you should rely on your shop's expertise to make recommendations. One of the best ways to measure your shop's commitment to quality is the weather or not they employ ASE Certified Technicians.

There are many ways to save a few dollars on car repairs, but using shoddy parts definitely shouldn't be one of them.

For more tips from Mike, visit LetsTalkWheels.com. Be sure to subscribe to the new Let's Talk Wheels podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play.