On The Road

Customers vent frustrations about debris in their cars’ cowlings

We are now frequently hearing customers tell us they are choosing to take their cars on long trips rather than traveling by air. We have been performing an increased number of services and travel checks as a result.

In the past, we always checked out all cars closely, but with the pandemic and wildfires, we are paying even closer attention to the outside vents and inside cabin filters. We have gone so far as to add a new line item to our inspection sheet – debris in cowling (front vents). Either way, we do our best to go over every car thoroughly.

Because cars have been sitting longer than usual, dirt, leaves, sticks, pine needles, ash and dust accumulate on them. The dirt that builds up on the hood and front window can get pulled or sucked into cowlings. The front outside vents are the first line of defense before the air is pulled into the car.

The vents’ outside covers are made of plastic and usually sit under the wiper arms. The covers have many small holes that allow air to be pulled in. These covers resemble the surface of a colander. Over time, material starts to build up on the surface. Once the car is driving, all of the debris either gets blown away or lodged into and behind the covers.

Getting dirty

Over time, a significant amount of dirt and debris collects behind the cowlings. Once it gets beyond the outer cover, it spreads everywhere. After a few years, the amount of debris is significant. It builds up so much that it turns into a heavy
mud.

When that debris works itself down into the right and left front fender drains, it can cause a lot of problems. Once the car gets wet, the water that flows off the front windshield hits a channel that is then diverted into the fender drains. The fender drains are under the cowlings, where the back of the front fender and the front door meet. Because the debris has turned into mud over time, it plugs the drains. This leads to customers sometimes complaining about a swishing noise or water backing up into the inside of the car. The standing water also can get stagnant and is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can then enter the car through the vents and cause harm to the driver and passengers.

Keeping it clean

The air that is being pulled into the car’s cabin has to flow through these cowlings and then through the cabin filters. By paying closer attention to the dirt behind the cowlings, we can better advise the customer on how to keep the air as clean as possible inside the car.

One thing to remember is to make sure that your cabin filters are clean. We have seen cabin filters get extremely dirty after only 6,000 miles of driving, depending on the environmental conditions.

Matt Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service, 15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 960-6988, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit sunnyvaleforeigncar.com.

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