Situation Report 2: Spring Time

Spring is here, which means two things for all us northern dwelling humans, first, warmer weather and second, it’s tire change time!

But before we move on to spring, I want to start by talking about the Ford Escape as a winter vehicle. It’s important to note, that I opted for the front wheel drive model in order to save on fuel. So let’s begin with the good things that it has going for it. The ground clearance is actually fairly good, which is around 7.9 inches. The Subaru Forester is the crossover that usually sets the benchmark in this category and it comes in at 8.7 inches. So you’re left with plenty of room for snow banks and the occasional off the beaten path type road without fearing any damage to important parts underneath your the vehicle. The 2016 Escape is also equipped with a couple 0f nifty features that my 2013 model didn’t have, such as heated mirrors and a heated windshield wiper dock.

Also, the AdvanceTrac system, which is Ford’s stability control system is quite good, when taking a turn on a slippery surface at too great of a speed it will control your turn by applying the brakes to the correct wheels to help the car stay on track. It’s however impossible to disable the system, so it can get kind of annoying when you’re actually trying to have so fun in the curves.

Now on to the disappointing part, the traction control system is terrible, it is far to intrusive, I would go as far as calling it dangerous. Picture this, you’re at a stop sign, the roads are snowy and you want to turn left on a road where the traffic doesn’t have to stop. It’s a busy Monday morning, but you finally have a hole where you can squeeze in so you decide to gas it… and nothing, well almost nothing, the car moves slowly forward into oncoming traffic and there is nothing you can do to make it move faster. The car has detected that the road is slippery and that it should cut the power in order to avoid the wheels from spinning out which could result in the loss of control. Even being delicate with the gas pedal doesn’t work, believe me, I’ve tried it. The only option at your disposal is to move through the settings of the on-board computer and switch the traction control off. This requires a total of 7 clicks on the steering wheel controls to make it happen, not exactly a quick process. Now, try going up a snowy hill without too much momentum with the traction control on, I don’t think I need to tell you about what is going to happen. The system is dangerous and Ford really needs to address this problem.

I had experienced this with my 2013 Ford Escape, which was equipped with the 2.0 Ecoboost and I hoped that decreased power of the 1.6 Ecoboost would make the problem less apparent, but it doesn’t. Just in case anyone was wondering, my winter tires are Toyo Observe GSi5s, which always rank among the top winter tires available.

Should I have opted for the all-wheel drive version? Probably. Even though their system is only on-demand, which means the rear wheels only come to life when the front wheels spin out, it would have been sufficient to mostly avoid the dangers mentioned above.

Since my last report I’ve done 7,224 kilometers or 4489 miles and over that period my fuel efficiency numbers have been 8.5 L / 100 km or around 28 mpg. This represents a drastic improvement since my last report where after 10,658 kilometers or 6623 miles I was averaging 9.7 L / 100 km or around 24 mpg. It’s difficult to assess the exact reason for this, but my assumptions are that I did much more highway driving over this period and also due to the warming weather I probably reduced my idling time quite a bit.

These numbers were all achieved using winter tires, so now that I’ve switched to four season tires, I’m expecting even better numbers. My new tires are the factory provided Michelin Energy Savers, online reviews are fairly poor, however, the tread pattern is basically identical to the Continental tires that came with previous year Escapes and I thought those were quite good so I’m not sure what to expect.

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Michelin Energy Saver (235 / 55 / 17)

Nothing else to report on the vehicle, everything is still running smoothly and thankfully the burnt clutch smell that I was getting after frequent accelerations is a thing of the past.

Until next time!

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Oil Changes: The Basics

This week I went to a garage in order to have an oil change performed on my Ford Escape. The Escape is equipped with what Ford calls an ”Intelligent Oil-Life Monitor,” basically an engine oil monitoring system that lets you know when you need to perform an oil change. It’s there to help you save money, time, and the environment. According to the owner’s manual, the oil will need to be changed anywhere between 4,800 and 16,000 kilometers, based on different driving characteristics including highway vs. city driving, load towing, idling time, extreme weather operation, and road conditions. These systems are becoming more and more common on new cars. Make sure to check your owner’s manual to see if your car is equipped with one.

After approximately 12,000 kilometers since my previous oil change, the system had not yet indicated that an oil change was needed. However, I had some free time in my day and I had surpassed the suggested oil change distance by around 7,000 kilometers so I figured why not.

Suggested Oil Change

I want to talk a little about the suggested oil change interval that is given to you in the form of a small sticker in the top left of your windshield. Most places will write down that you need to come back in 5,000 kilometers or 3 months, whichever comes first. That number is complete garbage and is designed solely to help their business make more money. Unless you are going to the race track with your car every weekend or constantly towing heavy loads, you can probably double that amount without any problems. If you’re worried, the best thing to do is check your owner’s manual for what your manufacturer recommends. Most will suggest to change the oil at 8,000 kilometers. Going any sooner is bad for your wallet and bad for the environment.

Conventional Oil vs Synthetic Oil

Now on to the main topic of discussion. I have always used conventional oil in my cars, mostly based on two factors. First, my father had always used conventional oil in all his cars and he’s always done hundreds of thousands of kilometers without any engine issues. Second, an experienced mechanic that used to do work on our cars had told me that, in the majority of cases, conventional oil was just fine and paying nearly double the price for synthetic wasn’t worth it.

So I decided to do a little bit of research on the subject and here is what I found on a variety of websites and after speaking to a few mechanics. With synthetic oil you apparently get better engine protection, better fuel economy, better performance in extreme temperatures, and it should allow for longer intervals between oil changes. It’s probably all true, but is it worth it?

For most people, I’m guessing, the two important aspects are better fuel economy in order to save money and longer intervals between oil changes in order to save money.

Back to the question at hand. Is it worth it? I unfortunately don’t have an answer. Everyone has an opinion on the subject and I am no mechanic so I can’t tell you with any certainty what you should be using in your car. However, I’ve decided to do a test and put the fuel economy and change intervals on the hot seat. I am going to drive with the current conventional oil until the system tells me I need to change the oil. At that point, I will have an oil change performed but use synthetic oil and repeat.

I realize that this test is far from scientific. The sample size is too small and there are plenty of variables that could affect the results but I’ll have fun doing it and I can’t wait to report on the results.

Until then, if you have any questions on the subject, let me know. If I don’t have an answer I’ll be sure to try to find one for you.