Physiology of an Automobile: Cars Need Oxygen, Too!

There are seven establishments up here in Summit County, Colorado that offer auto maintenance. That means you will be on a waitlist weeks out to schedule any work you need done during the peak seasons. I finally got an appointment at High Country Auto in Frisco after my SUV started shaking when I drove over 40 mph. My undercarriage was caked in enough frozen mud and dirt that it was causing the car to rock. According to Carrie, who started the business with her husband Steve in 1998, this is a relatively common scenario in the high country. Something else she sees a lot up here is people from sea level putting water in with their washer fluid, which easily freezes on colder days. “The only way to unthaw it is to leave it in the garage overnight,” she says.

This prompted more conversation about how cars respond to the extremity of the altitude, incline and lack of oxygen up here.

“A lot of people up here try to run 91 Octane, the high-octane gas. But we don’t have enough oxygen up here to burn it. So they gum up their fuel injectors, they gum up their fuel system because they’re running too high of octane.

“The other thing people think that they can do is they think that they can chip their car to make it go faster … they try to bypass parameters on the computer to make it go faster. But it doesn’t work up here, because you need to have more oxygen.

“The other problem, too, is that they load their cars down with ten million people and all their [stuff], and then they try to go up the hills. And their car can only go so fast, because it can only take in so much oxygen, it can only process so much, plus they’re already fully weighted down. And then they hit altitude and their cars are [struggling].” (Insert Carrie’s imitation of a car struggling.)

“It’s like a big … 500 lb. guy going up four stories, and he gets up the first floor and he has a heart attack. Well, why? It’s because he’s exerting himself at altitude. It’s the same thing with cars. If a car has a little bit of a problem up here, and then you load it down with people and you try to get it to go up to 12,000, it overworks the car. And a lot of people don’t realize that cars have to work harder up here, just like people do.”

So what do you have to do to “prepare” your car for a trip up to altitude?

“Don’t overload it. And don’t push your car. Don’t try to go faster. When you’re going up a hill, be nice to your car. It’s like when you’re going down a hill, try to go into 3rd gear to let your transmission slow you down, take your foot off the brakes.

“The problem up here is people try to haul their trailers with Subarus. I’ve seen fifth-wheels being hauled with little, tiny cars. It doesn’t work up here … it can’t get enough oxygen for the car to process it. The biggest mistake people make up here is they overload everything.

Another little thing you can do to take extra care of your car up here, she mentions, is let it warm up for two to five minutes when you first start it up in the morning. As the water freezes, all the fluids tend to gel, and it’s in your best interest to get these fluids warm again.

“When it’s 20-below, it takes a lot for the car to warm up. Just like us getting out of bed,” she laughs.

“This is not the place to push your car. If your car is gonna break down, it’s gonna break down up here.”

And if you’re an ASE-certified Master Technician, Carrie’s been looking to hire more mechanics for much more than they’re paid in the city. There used to be over 20 repair facilities in Summit County, but since it’s dwindled down to under 10, there is plenty of work for qualified mechanics up here.

And if you need your own blood oxygen, blood pressure, or undercarriage checked out, Ebert Family Clinic offers the former two for free!

robert-ebert-santos

Roberto Santos is from the remote island of Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. He has since lived in Japan and the Hawaiian Islands, and has made Colorado his current home, where he is a web developer, musician, avid outdoorsman and prolific reader. When he is not developing applications and graphics, you can find him performing with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, snowboarding Vail or Keystone, soaking in hot springs, or reading non-fiction at a brewery.

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