Wider Horizons

Dave Daniels testing an engineDave Daniels is spinning his wheels these days, getting nowhere – and loving every minute of the journey. Daniels, an 11-year veteran instructor in Lethbridge College’s Automotive Systems Technician program, has a new toy to play with: a Mustang dynamometer that moves vehicle diagnostics into the fast lane.

“Vehicle technology is changing rapidly and I have to stay current,” Daniels says. “It’s exciting, and I think if you show students your passion for what you’re teaching, they get excited, too.”

The $110,000 piece of U.S.-made equipment is state of the art, allowing him to show students how and where a vehicle might be underperforming. It’s the MRI of the automotive industry, and it fits perfectly in a program focused on vehicle performance.

The Mustang, unrelated to the Ford vehicle of the same name, is the only one of its kind south of Calgary. It can simulate exact driving conditions to assess horsepower and torque and read computers in vehicles manufactured since 1996 to determine why their “check engine” lights have come on.

“When that light comes on, it sets a code in the computer’s memory,” says Daniels. “We can punch the code into the dynamometer and it recreates the driving conditions simulating what was happening at the time.”

If the light came on while the vehicle was heading up Whoop-Up Drive at 90 km/h, Daniels can recreate those conditions with the vehicle running on the dynamometer. A read out then shows students exactly what’s wrong with the emissions system.

“Before we got the Mustang, I had to take one or two students at a time with me in a vehicle and show them on a hand-held scanner,” says Daniels. “That left the rest of the class back on campus while we were out testing.”

Now Daniels can instruct the entire class at one time, recreating road loads on the dynamometer.

Obtaining the Mustang was a three-year process, including shipment, installation and adding an extension to handle four wheel drives. After a few modifications specific to Lethbridge College – the 17- inch readout screen was upgraded to a 40-inch LCD model so groups of students could better see the results – it became operational last April. So far, it’s revved up classroom interest.

“Students are exposed to dynamometers on U.S. auto shows so their interest is high,” says Daniels. “When I fire it up, students from other classes come in to watch; it’s a real magnet.”

Daniels credits the dynamometer with accelerating his own learning, despite his decade in the classroom and two more with Davis Pontiac Buick GMC. He’s also rebuilding a 1969 Camaro and using the project to teach students each step required.

He might be old-school when discussing such well-muscled topics as horsepower and torque, but Daniels is a new-ager where cleaner air is concerned.

“The more precisely tuned a car is kept, the more efficiently it runs,” he says. “That cuts down its emissions and that’s good for the environment. It reduces our carbon footprint and makes for a greener world.”

Tips of the Trade- Cold car-care

We’re in the middle of it: that Canadian driving season when winter’s icy grip of bone-numbing cold wraps around your vehicle’s heart and squeezes: only the strong survive.

Sheldon Anderson (Automotive Systems ’87), Lethbridge College’s chair of the college’s newly minted Crooks School of Transportation, has a little experience and know-how on nursing the family sedan safely through to April. Here are his best tips.

  • Winter tires: tires are considered unsafe when tread reaches 1/8 of an inch above the wear bars (located between the treads every eight to 10 inches). But that’s the minimum and won’t provide much traction in icy conditions. Tire pressures tend to drop in cold weather; check pressures more often as temperatures fluctuate.

  • Battery: it needs to be tested and cleaned to ensure optimum performance. A little-known trick: if your vehicle has been sitting in the cold for a prolonged period of time without being plugged in, turn your headlights on for about 30 to 40 seconds to warm your battery; your car will start more easily.

  • Windshield washer fluid: summer washer fluid (usually pink) needs to be drained and replaced with winter windshield washer fluid (usually blue) or the fluid will freeze and can break lines, pumps and reservoirs.

  • Coolant: flush it every five years (long-life) or every two years (regular). It should be tested every fall for its freezing point. Coolant condition is vital for conducting heat and maintaining the condition of the heater core and coolant passages. If it isn’t flushed often enough, the heater core will corrode and plug, reducing heat production.

  • Windshield wipers: they often need to be of higher quality than those used in the summer to withstand ice and heavy snow. Always remove snow and ice before starting the wipers to ease stress on the arms and motor.

  • Oil changes: do them at regular intervals and more frequently in winter because the engine runs a little richer on cold starts and pollutants get past the piston rings and contaminate the oil. Vehicles should be allowed to warm for several minutes to allow oils to reach operating temperatures to ensure proper lubrication. Most vehicles should produce heat within five minutes, so anything more is a waste.

  • Plugging in: helps reduce pollution and energy consumption. However, for most vehicles, 30 to 40 minutes depending on engine type, size and ambient temperature should be adequate time to ensure easy starting and reduced pollution on start up, and reducing wear on your engine.
Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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