Troubleshooting Professional Magazine
Troubleshooting Automotive Overheating
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|You can see additional updated cooling system information in the April 2002 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine at http://www.troubleshooters.com/tpromag/200204/200204.htm.|
There's nothing like seeing your temperature idiot light go on, seeing steam coming out of your hood, hearing that gurgling sound and perhaps having your engine stall to ruin your day. Automotive cooling systems malfunction sometimes, especially when not well maintained.
And the results can be disasterous. Broken head gasket costing $2K to repair. Perhaps a broken flywheel and starter also. Maybe even a bent head. Big bucks. Be careful!
Disasterous overheats happen frequently while driving up long, steep hills such as "The Grapevine", an eight mile stretch of 6% grade on I5 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield cresting at Tejon Pass. Even perfectly designed cars have cooling trouble on such hills, and cars with poorly maintained cooling systems routinely die on such hills, often requiring four figure repair bills.
This Troubleshooting Professional Magazine issue is devoted to troubleshooting automotive overheating. It's an anguishing and potentially expensive affliction often compounded by erroneous diagnosis. Those bad diagnoses cost our society many millions. Worse, my research tells me that many cars on the road are among the walking dead -- assumed healthy but on the verge of catastrophic overheat.
I'm a computer guy, not a mechanic. But by the nature of Troubleshooters.Com, I'm the guy asked for advice when auto shops fail. As a Troubleshooter, I have no choice but to get to the bottom of it. And given enough correspondence to check and correlate, I've drawn what I feel are some pretty sound conclusions, and propose what I believe to be an overheating diagnostic strategy that minimizes expense by minimizing inaccurate diagnosis.
It may seem strange to see an issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine devoted to cars. Yet look a little deeper and it's evident that automotive cooling systems present a simple yet dramatic lesson in use of the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
In no event unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing will the copyright holder, authors, or any other party who may modify and/or redistribute the information, be liable to you for damages, including any general, special, incidental or consequential damages or personal injury arising out of the use or inability to use the information, even if such holder or other party has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
The information you see in this document is my opinion, based on personal experience, experiences reported by Troubleshooters.Com visitors, and research. I have placed it here after a substantial number of Troubleshooters.Com visitors reported mechanics coming to logically inconsistent conclusions and troubleshooting by random replacement during cooling system troubleshooting. I'm no more perfect than the average mechanic, so it wouldn't surprise me to find that some of the information in this document is erroneous. If you choose to use this document's information, you should use it in addition to information from other sources.
The water pump pushes cool coolant from the radiator into the engine, where heat from the engine is transferred into the coolant, thereby cooling the engine. Assuming the thermostat is open or partially open, the hot coolant leaves the engine through the thermostat and is transported to the radiator, where its heat is transferred to the air blowing through the radiator, thereby cooling the coolant. The cooled water is then ready to once again go to the water pump.
Note that the areas in the engine through which the coolant flows are called the "water jacket". Note that some of these areas include intentional holes in the head gasket. Those holes do not constitute a head gasket breach, because there's coolant on both sides. It's only when a part of the head gasket separating coolant from combustion gasses from oil that the head gasket is considered breached.
Note that a parallel coolant flow path goes through the passenger compartment heater. This is why it's advised to turn on your heater full blast in the case of an overheat (but remember never to jeopardize personal safety doing this, and remember this is a last ditch workaround and the car should not continue to be driven under these circumstances).
The airflow through the radiator depends on the fan at low driving speeds, but at high speeds most cars force air through from the grille. Note also that the air conditioning coil assembly is in front of the radiator, so if the air conditioning is on, the air flowing through the radiator will have been warmed by the air conditioner, thereby reducing cooling efficiency. That's why huge inclines like the Grapevine usually post signs to turn off your air conditioner before beginning ascent.
In summary, the engine passes its heat to the coolant, which flows to the radiator and then passes its heat to the radiator, which passes its heat to the air being blown through it. Any interference with this heat flow dangerously reduces cooling capacity. If cooling capacity falls below the amount of heat generated by the engine, overheating results. The answers to the following questions help determine the cooling capacity of the cooling system:
Your cooling system must be able to get rid of all that heat. Difficult enough, it becomes even more of a challenge if the air temperature is warm (less heat transfer from radiator to air), and brutal if your car is heavily loaded or towing something. If the heat generated by combustion significantly exceeds the cooling capacity, you'll severely overheat quickly (typically after a mile or two of climbing).
A well functioning cooling system has the capacity to maintain the engine
at under 100 degrees temperature during continuous 50mph level drives on
cool days. But of course the temperature needs to be 160-230 Fahrenheit,
depending on the car (consult your owners manual). That means in most driving
situations the cooling capacity must be partially defeated. This is accomplished
by the thermostat, which acts as a deliberate bottleneck, regulating the
amount of cooling to keep the temperature at a proper level. A somewhat
typical thermostat would be closed until 180 Fahrenheit, after which it
would open further as the temperature increases, until at 195 it's completely
open. This means that in the 15 degrees between 180 and 195, the cooling
capacity would go from 0 to the full capacity of the system (enough to
scoot up the Grapevine at 65 mph carrying 5 people in a well designed,
maintained machine). Below is a graph showing how temperature increases
with increased engine heat production (i.e., more gas):
The portion in blue represents a level of heat production so small that it can be disbursed by the direct contact of the engine with ambient air. In practice this might be achieved in the case of a 40mph wind blowing into the open hood of a car idling in the deep of a northern Minnesota winter's night, but otherwise this condition is never seen in real life. An idling engine, and certainly driving, at anything resembling normal conditions requires radiator cooling.
|NOTE: Don't make the mistake of thinking the preceding diagram represents temperature versus time. While that graph would look similar at the leftmost part of the graph, that's not what's being represented. You can think of the preceding diagram as a graph of various driving conditions, each maintained for 10 minutes or more.|
The violet portion represents heat production levels within the regulated cooling capacity of the cooling system. The slight temperature gain across this range is due to the fact that the thermostat opens slowly and steadily over a range of about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the normal operating range of the vehicle. All driving should be done in this range.
The red portion represents a heat production level beyond the cooling capacity of the cooling system. The temperature goes sky high. On a well maintained vehicle, you would expect the red portion only when the car is used beyond its design capabilities, like using a compact car to pull a trailer up the Grapevine.
The bottom line is that on a well maintained vehicle, the bottleneck,
by a huge margin, is the thermostat. Contrast that with a vehicle with
a compromised cooling system not capable of cooling a hard worked engine,
or in extreme cases even a lightly worked engine:
Here there's no regulation. The entire graph is basically a straight line. Moderate hard usage sends the car into the red. The operating temperature of a vehicle in this state of repair would vary widely with ambient temperature and length of time driving. Typically no "typical operating temperature" can be identified for a vehicle in this state. Such a vehicle will almost certainly experience a catastrophic overheat the first time the driver takes a lengthy drive, or drives in hot weather, or drives up a moderate hill.
The controlling bottleneck of this vehicle is not the thermostat -- it's something else in the cooling system. The automotive technician's task is to find that bottleneck.
But did you know that a broken head gasket can CAUSE an overheat? Many mechanics don't know this, but an otherwise symptomless broken head gasket (no yellow gunk on the oil cap, no steam out the exhaust) can allow combustion gasses from the cylinders to leak into the water jacket. Such leakage has several possible effects, all of which make overheating more likely:
Occasionally "incidental overheating" is reported to Troubleshooters.Com. This means that after the engine warms up, it overheats, and then continued driving brings it back to normal temperature for the remainder of the drive. I would suspect this is a combustion gas caused overheat which happens only while warming up. Another explanation for "incidental overheating" is the gas bubble that settles on the thermostat, insulating it from the engine's heat and preventing it from opening. When something finally happens to dislodge the bubble (a bump, a burp, whatever), the thermostat opens and all gas is blown out into the radiator, eliminating the cause of the problem (until the next time the car stands cool long enough to develop a gas bubble).
From what I understand, a smog sniffer is an even better method. The smog sniffer is placed above the radiator filler cap, and the HydroCarbon (HC) level is measured. Use extreme care to prevent any contact between the coolant and sniffer probe, as contact with the coolant will ruin the probe. I understand that the car should be warmed up (but not overheated) before performing this test.
I believe that in all but the most totally obvious overheats, the coolant must be checked for combustion gasses. If your mechanic doesn't believe it's necessary to check for combustion gasses, either because he thinks a head gasket problem can't cause an overheat or because he believes broken head gaskets always exhibit yellow gunk on the oil cap and/or white steam out the exhaust, I recommend you find a different mechanic. Even if the test costs you $60.00, it's likely to prevent expenditures for "diagnosis by substitution". Also, it facilitates a much more accurate cost estimate. Nobody wants to be told they must spend $1000.00 to replace a head gasket after they just bought a radiator.
The answer is found using a pressure test, together with head gasket tests. There are four places your coolant can go:
In a pressure test, the mechanic removes the radiator cap (after the engine has cooled, obviously), and replaces it with a cap attached to a pump with a pressure gauge. He pumps it up to a pressure above your system's rated pressure, and observes whether it can hold that pressure for 2 minutes or more. If not, there's a leak. The next step is visual observation to find the location of the leak. If it can't be seen, the next step might be to place an ultra-violet reactive dye in the coolant, pump up the pressure, and look for leaks under an ultraviolet light.
While it's possible for a pressure test to push coolant through a break in the head gasket into cylinders or oil, often such leakage requires a greater pressure than that developed by the pressure test. This is why a successful pressure test does not rule out a broken head gasket.
Obviously, any leaks must be fixed. Once it's confirmed that there are no leaks, other causes can be confidently investigated.
Dennis explains that his 1/8" hole provides an escape route for the gas without passing so much coolant that the engine runs too cool. In other words, the thermostat will simply open less in order to maintain temperature.
Reading Dennis's email, my mind drifted back to all the emailed symptoms where the car overheated in the first few minutes, then magically dropped back to normal temperature throughout the rest of the trip. Could it be that when cold, air surrounded the thermostat. The thermostat therefore didn't open at the proper temperature. However, when the engine temperature reached overheat levels, maybe the thermostat opened, blowing out the air. The opened thermostat would allow the cooling system to do its job, returning to normal temperature. The partially open thermostat would prevent a gas buildup. Until the car was shut off long enough that the thermostat would completely close :-)
Dennis's findings might suggest that running for an hour with no thermostat might be an excellent test. If overheating occurs with a known good thermostat but doesn't occur without a thermostat, it's a strong suggestion for Dennis's air bubble scenario.
I don't know enough yet to make drilling the hole a suggestion. I don't know its side effects and risks. But it sure sounds reasonable. Add that to the fact that Dennis says he's seen several foreign thermostats come from the factory with a 1/8" hole, and the fact that another Troubleshooters.Com visitor mentions in an email that VW Rabbit owners often drill such a hole to eliminate engine airlock.
If you want to try it (and once again, I don't know enough to recommend it), you can see the location of Dennis's proposed hole in the diagram below. Here's how Dennis describes the location verbally:
|Top view of thermostat. The violet dot at the 12 o'clock position of the rim is where Dennis recommends drilling the 1/8" hole.|
|Side view of thermostat|
|Bottom view of thermostat|
By the way, Dennis also heartily agreed with my hypothesis that head gasket flaws, even those that don't manifest symptoms of steam out the tailpipe or yellow gunk on the oil cap, can cause overheating for the reasons I've stated in this issue's "Examining the Two Cooling Chicken-and-Eggs" article.
Make sure to stay well away from an open carburetor, or even the air intake, when running the car. Backfires can cause third degree burns. Take care not to short the battery or cause any sort of spark, as batteries can explode, throwing acid at anyone near. Never work under a jacked up car unless it's been blocked up very securely, and even then keep in mind that the car could be hit by a careless driver or dislodged by an earthquake or extremely strong wind. Wear strong shoes to prevent injury if you should drop a heavy part on your foot.
Resolve to not let the temperature go into the red during testing and repair. Make sure to shut down the engine long before it gets to the red, remembering the engine will heat up more after shutting down.
For further thoughts on safety, see the Troubleshooters.Com Overheating Guide. The time to think of safety is BEFORE beginning your repair.
When did you first notice the symptom? What else happened at that time? Were later occurrences different than the first (an initial low-coolant caused overheat could crack the gasket, after which the cracked gasket could cause overheats even at full coolant). Has the symptom been changing with time? What repairs and maintenance have been done on the vehicle?
Subsymptoms such as steam out the exhaust, yellow gunk on the oil cap, dripping coolant, should also be verified at this time.
Next, do the two chicken and egg tests:
The few minutes and dollars spent on these tests greatly increase the chance of an accurate diagnosis and estimate. Once again, remember that overheats are likely to cause consequential damage, some of which in and of themselves can cause overheats. It's therefore common for an overheat to be found to have multiple causes.
Then there's a modification. I cannot recommend this, as I don't have enough information on it. But the possibilities sound intriguing. One Troubleshooters.Com visitor, a diesel technician with an ASE certification, says that he often drills a 1/8" hole in the thermostat. The hole is too small to affect the temperature regulation, but it's big enough to bleed out any gas accumulated at the thermostat. Such gas, whether it comes from combustion gasses or other sources (sucking back on a dry reservoir, for instance), could shield the temperature sensing part of the thermostat from the coolant temperature, thus making the thermostat "think" that the engine is cool, so the thermostat remains closed. Overheat city! The little hole bleeds off air before the engine overheats. The same T.C visitor told me in the last couple years he's seen several thermostats, especially for foreign cars, with the hole already there. Hmmmm!
Does it overheat more in stop and go traffic, or cruising at 65mph? The former implicates the fan or shroud, the latter tends to rule out the fan and shroud.
First ascertain the condition of the head gasket. If you're driving a cheap car, you may wish to junk it or sell it cheap upon hearing of a head gasket problem, especially if accompanied by a bad radiator. However, remember that all cars need repairs, and the car you replace it with might also need expensive repairs. So if it's a good, reliable car in reasonable condition, it's often best to bite the bullet and do the repair, even to the tune of $2000.00.
Once you've committed to making the repair, replace *all* bad and semi-bad components. If the water pump leaks or has excessive play in the bearings, replace it even if it might not have been the primary root cause. If the radiator is partially clogged, replace it. You don't want that radiator clog to rear its ugly head on a 3000 foot climb.
I consider a finding of clogged radiator to be an opportunity to get a heavy duty radiator. I spare no expense on radiators. A high capacity radiator can compensate for a host of other problems. When my Dodge Coronet radiator needed replacement, I had Harry at Valley Radiator build me a 17x25 4 row monster. It cost me $400.00, but let me tell you, when I drove it across the country in one of the worst heat waves ever, I was darned glad I spent the money. If you don't have a radiator shop you trust enough to custom build you a thyroidal radiator, or if you have a recent car that can't take a custom radiator, ask for the stock radiator that comes with the car's "towing package". Such a radiator is designed to dissipate the heat generated while towing a trailer up a 3000 foot climb. The extra $100 or so will be greatly appreciated as the years go on.
Sometimes you have the option of repairing the radiator. If you already have a heavy duty radiator, and there's a real opportunity to restore it to like-new condition, maybe you'll choose to repair the radiator. But you would still have deposits and diminished capacity after repairing the radiator, I'd personally choose to buy a new radiator instead of attempting the repair. A top functioning radiator is your best defense against long steep climbs or long drives in hundred degree weather.
Some cars don't have a temperature gauge, instead relying on an idiot light which flashes when the temperature becomes critical. In my opinion, that light might as well have the words, "ha ha, you just broke your head gasket" written on it. At that point you can't even safely drive it to the mechanic. My 82 Buick was just such a car. After replacing its head gasket and starter ($1150 back in 1987), I spent another $125 to have a temperature gauge installed. That gauge was probably what saved me from a second blown head gasket a couple years later.
Resolve to check your coolant level at least once a week. Get to know its level both cold and hot. Top off as necessary. Personally, I'd recommend mixing antifreeze with distilled water. That cuts down on deposits, and unless your car is using enough coolant to indicate a problem, one 69 cent bottle of distilled water will last you a couple years. If you need to top off your coolant frequently, it may be time to check your cooling system, especially checking for combustion gasses in the coolant. This is especially true if you experience unexplained coolant losses on long trips.
Resolve to treat long steep climbs and long drives with respect. Always confirm proper coolant level before beginning the trip. If you have *any* question at all about your cooling system, stop and top off the reservoir, and then wait 25 minutes for cool down and "suck back", before beginning a long steep climb. View your temperature gauge at least every minute during a steep climb. If the temperature gets uncomfortably close to the red, pull over, run it for a minute at 1200 rpm in neutral or park, then shut it down til it cools down. Once it's stopped boiling and sputtering, top off the reservoir with coolant so that the cooling radiator will have coolant to "suck back". Continue adding as cooling continues to best facilitate a full cooling system.
Don't be macho about running your air conditioning while climbing. If the temperature varies significantly from baseline, turn off the air conditioner and open the windows.
Cars break. It's a fact of life. Your cooling system is the perfect example of "a stitch in time saves nine".
I interviewed Harry's brother, Yedvart Tchakerian, on 5/1/2000. Starting out slowly, it turned into a heck of an interview. Here's Yedvart's story...
Born in 1936, Harry arrived in America as a refugee with no skills, no money, and no English, in the late 40's or 50's. He managed to get a job in a radiator shop. And he learned.
By 1961, Harry acquired 50% ownership of West Adams Radiator in the L.A. basin, and in 1965 his brother Yedvart bought the other 50%. They bought two more shops, and then bought Valley Radiator. In those days Valley Radiator was a little radiator repair shop. They bought a fin making machine and started manufacturing cores and radiators. They began selling radiators at a discount, to the extreme dislike of the local competition. But soon enough, the competition realized they could get a great radiator at a great price from Harry. At the height of Valley Radiator's success, they had 25 employees and were importing radiators from Taiwan. They scaled back in the 1990's, concentrating on high quality repairs and radiator manufacturing, as well as being a full-service cooling system shop.
I asked Yedvart for more info about Harry. Yedvart said that first and foremost, Harry was honest. If the problem was a collapsing bottom hose, that's all Harry replaced. He easily could have taken advantage of people, but that wasn't Harry's style. Yedvart added that Harry was a hard worker.
After Harry's death, the family received numerous offers to buy Valley
Radiator. The offers were good monetarily, but they wanted to fire the
existing employees and bring in their own.
This didn't sit well with the Tchakerian family. They had the same values as Henry. In the end, Valley Radiator was sold to the three Lopez brothers, who had worked for Harry for 15 years. Henry Lopez manages Valley Radiator today.
I have one thing to add to Yedvart's description of Harry. Besides being honest and hard working, Harry was smart. He knew his business, he knew cars, he knew radiators, he knew his customers. You trusted Harry not just for his honesty and integrity, but for his competence. For the price of a new radiator, you got an expert consultant. When I brought in my Dodge Coronet, the one of the employees saw bubbles in the coolant. Harry immediately sent me to the garage next door to get a head gasket evaluation. Harry knows his stuff. Once the head gasket was found sound, he determined that the only additional problem was the radiator. I wanted the highest capacity radiator possible, so Harry manufactured it. 25x17, 4 rows, $400 installed. Great product, great service, great price. Two years later, my Coronet cruised fully loaded in triple digit temperatures from Los Angeles to Orlando without an overheat.
Harry's gone, but the Lopez brothers carry on with the 15 years knowledge they acquired working for Harry. In today's "service economy", complete with huge megacorporations whose customer service employees are experts at shuffling complaints, it's good to know there are still places like Valley Radiator.
Harry's lesson goes well beyond cooling systems. He's a business role model. No TQM, no JIT, no reengineering, no mission statement, no best practices -- he simply made sure the job was done right and the customer was satisfied, treated his employees well and helped them learn. Business trends come and go, but Harry's values are always in fashion.
I could not have written this material, nor drawn these conclusions, without voluminous help from many automotive experts. Some work on or run automotive websites on the net, others are simply master mechanics. I won't mention you all here, but if any of those who have helped want your website included in the URL's section, please email me and I'll include it.
All Linux installations have power and reliability. On almost any given CPU/memory/disk space setup, Linux outperforms Windows. Linux is rock solid. It's so solid that you almost never need to reboot it. Even when changing your configuration. That's another Linux advantage over Windows.
Linux is more like today's Buicks, or, if you prefer, yesteryear's slant 6 and 318 Dodge Darts. It just runs. Always. Every time. Forever.
Linux comes with a wide variety of options. You can install a "stripped down" command-line only Linux. No graphical user interface, no accessories and amenities, just a command line driven OS that can serve web pages, files, and DNS resolution, as well as run some astonishingly heavy processes, on a piece of hardware with surprisingly little in the way of CPU, memory or disk space. Personally, I use Red Hat Linux for such stripped down uses, but any Linux distribution can be used this way.
You can also get the luxury package. A complete graphical interface very much like Windows (but without the hourly vapor lock -- scuse me, blue screens of death). GUI assisted email, web browsing, and internet connection. Netscape Navigator and Netscape Composer (for creating web pages) are standard options of such systems. Windows comes with a rudimentary word processor, Wordpad. Likewise, most Linux distributions come with rudimentary word processors. And of course, for about $70.00, you can get WordPerfect for Linux, which compares very favorably to Microsoft Word.
My favorite luxury Linux is Caldera OpenLinux, which is sort of the "Buick Lasabre" of Linuxes. If you want the "Lincoln Towncar" of Linuxes, get Corel Linux. The look and feel is identical to Windows. The only Windows features missing are the hourly crashes and the blue screen of death. The driver (scuse me, user) has everything at his or her fingertips. If you buy the $89.00 package, you get an official copy of Wordperfect to go with it. And now even Red Hat includes many of these same luxury features. And you get the best of both worlds. Because you can press Ctrl-Alt-Function key and get a stripped down command line interface on your luxury Linux, while at the same time running GUI software on the GUI screen.
Linux distributions vary widely in price, as long as you define "widely" between 0 and $100.00. If you forego the customer support and warrantee, most of these Linuxes can be delivered to your door for $5.00 plus shipping -- often $2.00 plus shipping. A further advantage of the $5.00 CD deals is that they should contain only redistributable software, meaning it should be perfectly legal to install that same CD on your machine and the machines 100 of your closest friends. Or 1000 -- copying redistributable-only CD's is perfectly legal. No software police will show up at your door. I think a good strategy is to make your first Linux full priced (still much less than Windows) so you get some tech support. Once you're familiar with Linux, go with the $5.00 CD's.
Linux isn't as forgiving of oddball hardware as Windows. Here's why. Because Microsoft has had an illegal monopoly for so long (this is Judge Jackson's opinion, the URL of which is in the URL's section of this magazine), hardware vendors were forced to make sure their equipment worked with Windows. Only in the last year have they had any incentive to make their hardware work with Linux. As a result, you need to take a little more care selecting your hardware. You should look at the Linux hardware compatibility at... I have some additional suggestions:
Of course it wasn't a real wishing well. It was just a three foot space between the garage and the fence. Densely overgrown with weeds, it inspired fear and curiosity. I went in, and kept going in. Because every time I went in, I came out holding something cool. A marble, a ball, whatever I wanted. Once I wished for a scooter, and sure enough there it was, 10 feet back in a heretofore unexplored section of the wishing well.
Of course any adult knows what happened. The last several owners had children, each of whom left things behind. I was a teenager when we moved out of that house. Surely the child of the new owner found the cool toys I abandoned in that overgrown space.
Only a kid could think of it as a wishing well. A magical source of found dreams. It was the magic of childhood, all too brief -- never recaptured.
Until I found Linux.
I wished for a web server and found one on my Red Hat Linux CD. Soon I found an email server and DNS server, and complete networking software. I networked my office.
The more I worked with Linux, the uglier Windows seemed. I wished for a Windows replacement. What should I find on the Red Hat, Caldera and Corel distibutions (as well as many others), but something called KDE, a graphical environment that mimics Windows so closely that you can put a Windows user on a KDE equipped Linux box and he'll know what to do. There's another graphical environment called Gnome, with a different set of benefits. If you install both the KDE and Gnome libraries, you can run programs designed for either. I felt like a kid again, crawling through the weeds and pulling out a scooter. But the fun had just begun...
I didn't like the way they had changed a particular feature of the Samba file server software. I wished there was a way to make it behave like the old version. Because Linux and other Opens Source software (including Samba) come with source code, I was able to find the location of the changed feature, and change it back. It was a simple modification of two lines of source code. I recompiled and copied the newly made files, and boom, it worked the old way. I changed the actual software to suit my liking. Your wish has been granted.
Once you install Linux, you'll see the wishing well. It won't look like an overgrown space between the garage and fence. Instead, it will be the Internet. Wish for fax software, and download HylaFax free of charge (yes, legally!). Wish for a word processor? Download free AbiWord, StarOffice, or go to the store and buy Wordperfect for Linux. Free software called word2x converts Word docs to various other formats, which can be helpful. Want a graphics program with the power of Photoshop? It's called Gimp, and comes on most Linux distribution CD's. Want a simple vector graphics program? How about tgif? It has a zero cost license. Or maybe you'd prefer Canvas, a full-featured proprietary ($375 full license) vector graphics program.
Where do you find out about available software available for Linux? The best place is the Freshmeat website at http://www.freshmeat.net. They have a search feature enabling you to pretty much find any Linux compatible software. There's also the Linux section of Tucows, whose URL is in the URL's section of this issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.
How would you like an audio player than manages playlists and plays all different formats? I won't lie to you -- it will take a little research and programming, but you can do it free with Linux. Your windows buddies will ask you why you took all that trouble. You can no more explain it to them than you can explain your weekly maintenance of your 440 68 Charger to your neighbor with a Toyota. Your Charger leaves the Toyota in the dust, and your Linux audio player leaves the Windows music programs in the dust. And if it doesn't, you can soup it up until it does.
Linux isn't for everyone. More than ever before, trade magazines hype the computer as an "appliance". The person wanting an appliance buys a Windows computer. Linux computers aren't appliances. Neither are 68 Chargers.
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