Services Drivers Neglect and Shouldn’t

While some drivers treat their vehicles like delicate glass figurines, other drivers view their vehicles as machines of practicality—the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Whichever camp you fall in, you know that regular oil changes and preventative maintenance are two of the easiest ways to keep your car in good health. Even if car care isn’t your favorite topic of conversation, it pays to take it seriously.

No. 1: Differential Service

Here’s a fun physics fact: when your car turns a corner, the outside wheels travel more than the inside ones, meaning they have a higher RPM (or revolutions per minute). To help you turn corners smoothly and safely, your car is equipped with a mechanism that helps the wheels revolve at independent speeds. This set of gears and fluid is called the differential.

If your vehicle suffers from thin differential fluid or loose gears and bearings, you might hear whirring or rumbling when traveling over 15 mph, banging when rounding corners, or a high pitched howl while accelerating.  Differential fluid is one of your car’s many essential lubrication fluids, but it’s also one of the most forgotten due to the fact that it’s not serviced nearly as often as others.

No. 2: Wheel Alignment

Remember playing with toy cars and trucks as a kid? They never seemed to roll straight. While “energetic steering” on your part may have been to blame, it’s more likely that the wheels on your toy cars weren’t aligned very well.

Ideally, a vehicle’s wheels are even with each other and all pointed straight ahead. If your car starts pulling to one side or wearing unevenly, come find us before the problem gets worse. Poor alignment can negatively impact steering components and decrease your tires’ lifespan by thousands of miles. Yup. Thousands of miles. To better protect yourself (and your wallet), I recommend having your alignment checked every 6,000 miles or so.

No. 3: Timing Belt

Your engine’s timing belt regulates the timing (as you probably expected!) of the engine’s crankshaft and camshafts so that your car operates smoothly. If the belt isn’t functioning normally, you might experience difficulty starting your car, overheating, a loss of engine power, or squealing and chirping noises. If you experience any of these symptoms, your timing belt might need to be replaced.

To head off such issues, we recommend replacing the belt every 60,000 to 100,000 miles depending on your vehicle. Timing belts don’t like to give much notice before they fail, so talk to one of our technicians about your vehicle specifically. The technician will be able to examine your timing belt and provide you with a more accurate “timing” estimate for your timing belt.

No. 4: Transmission

If your car were a Thanksgiving feast, your transmission would be the gravy to your engine’s turkey. You can’t have one without the other! While the engine generates energy, the transmission transforms it into torque so that your car actually moves.

The transmission takes care of three important functions:

  1. transfers power to the wheels,
  2. engages engine power to move forwards or backwards,
  3. and enables the car to shift gears.

Without proper maintenance, your transmission could fail, leaving you stalled at an intersection and waiting for a tow. To avoid such an awkward and potentially expensive situation, start taking care of your transmission now. By regularly checking and changing transmission fluid and having your mechanic check transmission components during your vehicle’s regular maintenance, you can save yourself significant stress and cash down the road.

No. 5: Brake Service

Just as you should get an annual physical from your doctor, you should get your brakes checked each year or more often, especially if something feels off. Your car’s braking system contains a delicate balance of pads, rotors, calipers, a brake hose, fluid, and more. A seemingly insignificant problem with any one of these parts could mean the difference between a safe stop and a dangerous veer into the unknown.

No. 6: Fuel System Cleaning

Every car is equipped with a fuel injector. This device takes the gasoline you pump into your car’s tank and transforms it into itsy bitsy particles that mix with the air to generate more efficient internal combustion in the engine. Over time, the fuel system accumulates varnish and fuel deposits, making the fuel injector less effective. By getting your fuel system cleaned annually (or however often your car’s manufacturer recommends), you can avoid a sloppy, sludged up system. As an added bonus, a cleaner fuel system could increase your vehicle’s fuel economy while also improving its general performance. Sounds like your car’s lucky day!

Putting off important car services such as these could cost you big bucks in the long run, but could also lead to dangerous driving situations. Cars may be created equal, but they don’t stay that way. Each and every car wears differently depending on where the car is driven, how it’s driven, and a host of other factors. Don’t wait until a small fix turns into a mountainous problem (you want to be out enjoying the real mountains this winter, right?).

Signs That Your Spark Plugs Need To Be Changed

Many drivers assume that when their car has trouble starting, there’s a problem with the battery. While this certainly could be the case, it’s not the only possibility. Old or faulty spark plugs could be the culprit! After all, these small spark plugs have a big job to do. Learn why it’s important to keep this part of your car in great working order and when to change spark plugs by watching for these bad spark plug symptoms.

1. Your check engine light comes on.

Worn spark plugs or spark plug wires can trigger your check engine light to come on. In today’s cars, if a plug starts to fail then the most obvious event should be the check engine light coming on or even flashing.

This can cause your engine to misfire and your check engine light to pop on. A flashing engine light could mean that potentially catastrophic misfires are taking place.

In general, it’s best to replace spark plugs as part of preventative maintenance based on manufacturer’s specifications. This can help save you from costly repairs, as driving with misfiring spark plugs could put undue stress on your car’s catalytic converter (the engine’s exhaust cleaner).

Symptoms of misfiring spark plugs include rough idling, uneven power when accelerating, and an increase in exhaust emissions.

2. Your car has trouble starting.

Your spark plugs have one of the most important jobs in your vehicle, which is to provide the spark that powers the engine! Old, worn out spark plugs have a harder time creating the spark that actually powers your engine. If your car stalls when you are trying to turn it on, there could be a problem with spark plugs or damaged spark plug wires. The battery is most likely the culprit if your car won’t start at all.

3. You’re filling up the gas tank more often.

If your spark plugs are on their last leg, they’ll take it out on your gas mileage. Worn out spark plugs can increase your vehicle’s fuel consumption because they won’t effectively burn the fuel that goes into the engine, meaning you’ll be shelling out more money on fill-ups.

4. The engine idles roughly (and you can hear it!).

Typically (hopefully!) your engine probably purrs like a kitten, but turn down your music and take a listen. If you notice that the engine is making a rattling, pinging, or knock-like noise, your spark plugs might be to blame.

5. Your car won’t accelerate quickly.

You’re probably pretty familiar with how your vehicle handles and drives. If you notice that your car isn’t as responsive as normal, particularly when you’re trying to accelerate, this could be traced back to worn spark plugs. It might be time to have them replaced—no one likes driving a sluggish, fuel-guzzling car.

6. Per the manufacturer, it’s time!

In any car care matter, it’s always best to follow the manufacturer recommended service intervals. Review your vehicle’s suggested maintenance schedule to see when to replace your spark plugs.

Luckily, spark plugs don’t wear out very quickly. You can typically get 80,000 miles on them before they need replacing. But if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to get your spark plugs checked out with an engine tune-up.


Do You Need A Tune-Up? Here is How to Tell

If your vehicle’s engine misfires, hesitates, stalls, gets poor mileage, is hard to start or has failed an emissions test, it clearly needs something, though a tune-up in the traditional sense might not be the cure.

If you tell a repair shop your vehicle needs a tune-up, the mechanic should ask what you feel the signs are that you need maintenance before recommending any service. Just like a doctor should ask what symptoms you’re experiencing, a mechanic should seek to diagnose the problem. And just as a doctor may recommend some tests, a mechanic may do the same.

You can speed the tune-up process by being ready to describe what happens and when (such as whether your car hesitates when the engine is cold or when passing at highway speeds), any sounds you hear and what you feel when your car’s “illness” shows up.

One caution about lower fuel economy: You should expect it to go down at least a little during the cold months, and maybe a lot. Colder temperatures make your engine and charging system work harder. In addition, winter gasoline blends have slightly less energy content than summer blends, so they don’t deliver as many miles per gallon. A tune-up won’t make Old Man Winter, or his effects, go away.

What are the signs and symptoms that might make you think your vehicle needs a tune-up?

  • A misfiring engine (when spark plugs ignite at the wrong time) could be caused by worn or fouled spark plugs. Bad spark plugs can also cause low fuel economy, hard starting and sluggish acceleration. Most plugs, though, should last 100,000 miles or more, and engine computers do a remarkable job of compensating for worn plugs, so that might not be the main or only culprit.
  • A dirty or clogged engine air filter is more likely to reduce acceleration than fuel economy, according to tests conducted by the EPA. Because filters get dirty gradually over time, you might not notice a small but steady loss of performance until your car is accelerating like a turtle. But if you haven’t changed the filter in a couple of years (or sooner in areas that have a lot of soot in the air), that could be part of the problem.
  • Engine deposits caused by low-quality or contaminated gasoline create drivability problems, and the cure for that might be a fuel system cleaning, either by a repair shop or with a gas-tank additive.
  • An illuminated check engine light signals when something is amiss in the emissions control system, but depending on what the issue is it could also affect fuel economy or engine performance, so don’t ignore it. A faulty oxygen sensor, for example, leaves the engine computer in the dark about how to set the air-fuel mixture, and that can result in poor fuel economy.
  • An old oxygen sensor (say, 90,000 miles or more) may still work well enough that it doesn’t trigger the check engine light but could still hurt fuel economy. Engine performance can also be reduced by more serious internal problems, such as valves that don’t seat properly or worn piston rings, or by restrictions in the exhaust system.

Because the same symptoms can suggest different problems, and there are often several possible causes and cures, it’s better to consult a professional mechanic than to try to be one if you have neither the experience nor the right equipment to diagnose drivability problems. In short, rather than ask for a tune-up, tell a mechanic what you’re experiencing and ask him or her to find the cause.

Is Your Radiator Leaking? How To Tell

How can you tell when your car’s radiator is leaking? When the temperature gauge on your dashboard reads high or a temperature warning light comes on, you have a cooling system problem that may be caused by leakage — be it in the radiator itself or some other component.

First, make sure it’s coolant that’s leaking, not another fluid. (Coolant is often referred to as antifreeze, but technically coolant is a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.) You can easily check the coolant level in your see-through overflow tank. If it’s empty or low, the next step should be to check the coolant level in the radiator, but that should be done only when the engine is cool. Having too little coolant in the car’s cooling system can cause engine overheating and/or make your cabin heater blow cold air.

Once you know you’re losing coolant, the radiator is a good place to start. Some radiator leaks will be easy to spot — such as a puddle underneath the radiator — but others not so much. It’s best to check the radiator from every angle, not just from above, and pay particular attention to seams and the bottom. Rust inside the radiator or holes from road debris also can cause coolant leaks. Your vehicle may have an aluminum radiator that technically can’t rust, but aluminum can corrode or develop pinhole leaks too.

Antifreeze comes in different colors — green, yellow and pinkish-red, for example — feels like slimy water and usually has a sweet smell, however a lot of Antifreeze is now starting to smell bitter so humans and animals can taste it. If you can’t see coolant dripping or seeping, look for rust, tracks or discoloration on the radiator. Those are telltale signs of where it has leaked.

If the radiator appears to be OK, the cooling system offers several possibilities for leaks, including the hoses from the radiator to the engine, the radiator cap, water pump, engine block, thermostat, reservoir tank, heater core (a small radiator that circulates hot coolant into the dashboard for passenger-compartment heating) and others. A blown gasket between the cylinder head and engine block is another possibility, allowing coolant inside the combustion chambers — a problem that must be addressed immediately by a mechanic. (Thick white smoke coming from the tailpipe is actually steam, a telltale symptom.)

If you can’t find a leak, have it checked by a mechanic. Coolant has a way of escaping only under pressure when the car is running — possibly in the form of steam, which may not leave a trace. If the culprit continues to evade detection, you might consider a radiator stop-leak additive, available at auto parts stores, which seals small leaks — but it’s always better to find and repair the problem’s source, especially in the case of faulty head gaskets, which can lead your power supply to overheat and cause catastrophic engine damage.

Buying New Floor Mats For Your Car Like A Pro

Your $30,000 car has come equipped with all of the latest bells and whistles: traction control; Sirius satellite radio; side curtain air bags; Onstar; and power everything. Well, there is one thing that is curiously left out of many new car purchases and that is floor mats. You would think that matching floor mats would be standard equipment on all vehicles, instead it is an aftermarket purchase for most motorists. Selecting the right type of floor mat is essential to preserving your car’s interior. The wrong type of floor mats can look terrible and cost you plenty of money in the end. Please read on to find out why this is so.

Floor mats are the Rodney Dangerfield of automotive accessories. They just don’t get any respect. If they did, your car would come outfitted with a set of high quality, matching mats. Almost a universal oversight, owners routinely pick up their showroom new cars with just a solitary paper mat in place for the driver. Sure, you could run into the dealer’s parts department and pay $200 for a nice set, but you already paid through the nose for your car. Besides, you want a better selection than what your dealer sells, right? I think so!

When selecting automotive floor mats, naturally you will want a complete set: two in the front and two in the back. On some vehicles, including the Chrysler Pacifica, the Chevrolet Suburban, and the all new Mercedes R Class, your set should include six mats for three rows of seating.

The mats you choose should blend in with your vehicle’s interior. Match your mats to the carpeting or at least select neutral colors that won’t make the mats stand out. In addition, the material should consist of heavy duty rubber with deeply sculpted channels for increased durability to avoid cracking and to hold water, mud, salt, and stones in place. Finally, a nonskid bottom is essential to prevent dangerous and untimely movement of the mats.

Some premium floor mats come with carpeting, which can be an attractive option as well as a way for passengers to safely remove outside debris from their footwear.

I hinted earlier about a financial reason as to why quality floor mats are essential for your vehicle. If you lease your car, then you know that you are responsible for any wear and tear that occurs. Investing in a quality set of floor mats can save you unnecessary “wear and use” charges that will be assessed to you if the leasing company decides that your carpeting has worn to the point that it must be replaced. This chargeback can amount to hundreds of dollars, so play it safe and invest in a quality set of floor mats for your vehicle today.