Monthly Archives: December 2016

Tips To Make Your Car Ready for Winter

Taking care of your car is important all year long, but there are certain auto maintenance checks specific to falling temperatures and winter driving. No time is convenient for your car to break down, but that’s especially true in a blizzard and freezing cold temperatures.

Here are a few tips to keep your car running efficiently through the winter:

Top Off Your Car’s Fluids
First a word of caution on fluids – particularly for import cars. Car manufacturer’s are required to specify in their owner’s manuals all the fluids to be used in your car and the manufacturer’s OE specifications for each. Make sure to check here first – BEFORE adding any fluids to your car.

Check your antifreeze (radiator fluid). This should be checked periodically throughout the year but is especially critical to protecting your car in winter. Your car should be a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is 50/50. Remember never to remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled. Flushing the system prior to refilling is also recommended about every 24 months.

For more information on antifreeze, visit Cooling System Repairs: It’s Easy to Prevent Breakdowns BEFORE They Happen .

Check and maintain the engine oil level as well, making sure to use the proper viscosity oil for the winter temperatures in your area. Many newer models use synthetic or synthetic blend oils year round but older models can benefit from using a lower viscosity winter oil such as 0W30 or 5W30. The lower viscosity will allow the engine to turn over and start a bit easier and will protect the cold engine better at startup.

You may want to read Engine Knock? Low Oil Pressure? Engine How To Diagnose Needed Repairs for further information on this topic.

Check the automatic transmission fluid level to prevent transmission slippage. This is important year round but more noticeable in the winter because the fluid viscosity increases due to the cold.

For more specific information on checking your car’s fluids, see Perform Monthly Car Maintenance & Keep Auto Repair Costs Way Down.

Replace Your Wiper Blades
Inspect your wiper blades. Are they dried out and cracked or falling apart? Wiper blades should be checked periodically and replaced every 6 months. Remember that just because you’re not using them all the time doesn’t mean they’re going to work when you need them. Wiper blades wear out from exposure to the elements. Winter, with its snow, ice and salt, is very harsh on your wiper blades. Consider keeping an extra set of wiper blades in your car just in case. Wiper blades are a big part of keeping your windshield clean and helping you to see the road better and drive safer.

Make sure to also stock up on windshield washer solvent – you’ll be surprised at how much you use. Most quality washer solvents will contain some alcohol to prevent them from freezing in the winter and leaving you without a way to clean your windshield.

For more information on wiper blades, visit Replacing Wiper Blades Regularly Saves Lives & Windshields.

Inspect Your Tires
Check the air pressure in your tires on a regular basis, at least once a month since that’s all it takes for the air pressure to change within the tire, especially in winter. Cold weather deflates tires because cold air is denser and it exerts less pressure against the tire. Always check your tires cold before driving as that’s the most accurate reading and the one recommended by the manufacturer. And, make sure you know the proper air pressure for your tires – check your owner’s manual or the sticker on the driver’s door post.

It’s never a good idea to drive on under-inflated or over-inflated tires. Under-inflated tires cause the tread to wear on the outside edges of your tires, increase heat to the tire and cause an increase in the resistance of the tire’s movement; whereas, over-inflated tires increase tread wear on the center of your tires and are less safe because this reduces the size of the contact patch with the road. Uneven tread wear will also reduce the life of your tires and require replacement earlier than normal.

Most importantly, check the depth of your tire’s tread. Worn out tread or bald tires cause safety issues since traction is reduced, decreasing your ability to control and stop your car. It’s recommended that the tread depth of your tires be at least 2/32″, but most experts recommend having no less than 4/32″ and even at this depth, you should consider replacing your tires. An easy way to test your tire’s tread depth is by simply using a penny inserted in the tread Lincoln’s head side down, if you can see the top of his head then your tread depth is below the 2/32″ minimum. You should also have your tires inspected and rotated every 6,000 miles or twice a year.

Finally, make sure that you check your spare tire and you have all the tools needed to change a tire and they’re in working order. Also, check your brakes. For more information on brakes, check out Brake Repairs Needed? Don’t Take Chances with Your Brakes – Repair Them Now.

Make Sure All Your Lights Are Working
Check your headlights, brake lights and turn signals to make sure they’re working properly. Having your lights in working order helps you see the road better and helps other drivers see you. Make sure to keep the lenses clean. Snow, ice, salt and sand can build up quickly, causing you to lose visibility and other drivers to lose the ability to see you. Increased braking distance in the snow and ice means you want to be sure other drivers can see you as early as possible.

Examine Your Battery
Does your car not want to start in the morning? Check your battery. Cold weather will reduce a battery’s amperage capacity. Conduct a thorough inspection of your battery, cables, terminals and fluid to make sure your battery is ready for winter.

Check your battery cables for cracks and breaks and check that your terminals fit snugly with no loose connections. The battery’s fluid can be checked by uncovering the refill hole(s), if so equipped. If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water.

Also, check for any corrosion (buildup formed by acid condensation). You should be able to see your battery clearly; if not, your battery needs to be cleaned. An inexpensive battery cleaner is baking soda and water – the baking soda neutralizes the acid which corrodes the metal terminals and cable connectors. Rinse very thoroughly with water and reapply baking soda mixture until no further bubbling occurs.

Checking the charge level of your battery is also an important preventive maintenance step. To read the level of charge, you’ll need to turn the engine off. Some batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the amount of voltage remaining in the battery. If you prefer, a handheld battery hydrometer can be used to collect the same information (if you have a battery with inspection/refill holes) or you can use a digital DC voltmeter. If you have any doubts about the condition of the battery, it should be professionally tested along with the charging system. Many auto part chain stores offer this as a free service.

Once you know the level of energy your battery has, compare its voltage with these figures:

12.6V to 12.8V: full charge
12.2V to 12.4V: half charge
11.8V to 12.0V: discharged

If you’re shopping for a new battery, never buy one with a six-month or older manufacture date. In the United States, the manufacturing date is printed on a sticker. The date can be written in plain text or using an alphanumerical code. The first character is a letter that specifies the month (A for January, B for February and so on). The letter “I” is skipped due to its potential to be mistaken for the number 1. The second character is a single digit that indicates the year of manufacturing (for example, 8 for 2008).

Inspect Your Belts
Cold weather can cause your belts to slip, causing a squealing noise when you start the engine. As they warm up from friction, the squealing noise will normally go away but if it lasts more than a few seconds. you may need to adjust or replace your belts. Most newer cars use serpentine belts that are tensioned automatically but older V-belt engines do require occasional checking and adjusting.

Also, the additional road grime caused by winter driving can build up on the belts causing them to slip and squeal, so cleaning the engine once or twice during the winter is a good idea.

Wax/Polish Your Car’s Finish
The last thing you may want to do when it’s getting cold outside is to wax the car. A good quality wax or polish can protect the finish from winter road grime. Be sure to use one suitable for your vehicle – in particular, there are specific waxes made for later models with base/clear coat paint systems.

Prepare an Emergency Kit for the Trunk
The best way to prepare for winter is to expect the worst before it happens. Assemble a good trunk emergency kit ahead of time and you’ll be prepared for anything. In addition to the items you’d normally have handy (jumper cables, tool kit, road flares, cell phone and charger, etc.), a winter kit should also include a small shovel, a good heavy blanket, extra coat and hat, gloves and possibly even a bag of sand or rock salt. These extra winter supplies will either help you get out if you’re stuck or keep you warm while you wait for help.

Car Safety Checklist

Many of us take for granted that our cars will start for us in the morning and get us to where we need to go. Without regular car maintenance, however, this reliability won’t last long. The potential effects of not regularly maintaining your car include reductions in vehicle performance, highway safety and air quality, in addition to added repair costs.

To encourage awareness of the need for regular car maintenance, the Car Care Council annually promotes car care months in April and October. Volunteers from across the country conduct inspection events and return the inspection forms to the Car Care Council for analysis. Not surprisingly, results from 722 cars tested in 12 states showed an 80% failure rate in 2008 for at least one part or system. That’s 8 out of 10 cars failing at least one portion of the car inspection!

What Components Failed Car Inspections?
Statistics from the inspections show the need to educate consumers on the importance of car maintenance and repair. What follows is a sampling of the percentage of cars failing each part of the inspection process during the most recent Car Care Council’s testing.

Lubricants and Fluids – Based on the study, here are the failure percentages for auto lubricants and fluids:

Engine Oil – 32%
Washer Fluid – 23%
Coolant (Flush) – 21%
Transmission Fluid – 17%
Power Steering Fluid – 15%
Brake Fluid – 14%

Low fluid levels can affect the performance of your car, introduce safety issues and cause costly damage to the internal parts of your car. But, overfull and dirty fluids can also cause problems.

One way to troubleshoot leaks that you may find on your driveway or garage floor that could be causing problems with your car’s lubricants and fluid levels is to look at the color. If you find discharge, check the color against the following guidelines to determine where your car may have a problem.

Bright Green Fluid: Radiator coolant (can also be orange, purple or red on later model cars). This may be leaking from the radiator, from the expansion/overflow tank or from one of the many coolant hoses on your car. Coolant normally has a sickeningly sweet smell, especially when hot, and will leave a crusty trail as it dries, helping you to find the original leak point.

Light or Dark Brown Fluid: Engine oil (light brown if you change your oil often; dark if you don’t). This could be leaking from an improperly sealed or tightened oil filter, the oil pan, the valve cover or any number of oil seals on the engine. Oil will have a burnt smell.

Bright Blue Fluid: Windshield washer fluid. This could be coming from the washer fluid reservoir or from the hoses leading to/from it. There is usually little or no odor since it is mainly water.

Light Brown Fluid: If there is also a strong odor of rotten eggs, this is gear lube or what is referred to as 90 weight oil due to its thickness. It may be leaking from the rear axle center section, differential or the manual transmission front or rear seals.

Red Fluid: Automatic transmission or power steering fluid. Normally, this has very little odor unless burned but check for drips from the power steering pump, steering gear or rack, hydraulic hoses from the reservoir to the pump or rack, or from the front or rear seals on an automatic transmission.

Clear Fluid: Power steering fluid or water from the evaporator drain on the A/C unit. Check the feel of the fluid. Power steering or brake fluid will be oily with a slight oil smell. A/C drain water will have little or no smell and will evaporate quickly. For power steering fluid leaks, see “Red Fluid” above; for brake fluid, see “Light Yellow Fluid” below.

Light Yellow or Dark Muddy Brown Fluid: It’s very important to change your brake fluid annually. It’s clear to light yellow when new but as it absorbs water, the fluid becomes a dark, muddy brown. Brake fluid leaks can be from the reservoir, ABS control valves, or any of the metal or rubber lines between master cylinder and the wheel cylinders or calipers. Brake fluid is extremely corrosive and must be cleaned off paint or rubber immediately to avoid damage.

Amber Fluid: Gasoline. There will be a distinct odor. Fuel leaks can be difficult to find because fuel evaporates quickly. Leaks can occur at any of the hose or metal line connections between the gas tank and the engine compartment. In particular, check the fuel filter lines and fuel lines connecting to the fuel injectors or carburetor as fuel leaks in the engine compartment can caues a fire due to the heat of the exhaust system. Over time, moisture in the gas tank can cause rust and the tank may develop a pinhole. Fuel leaks at the tank will normally require removal of the tank for repair.

For more information on checking fluids and other monthly maintenance tips, see Perform Monthly Car Maintenance & Keep Auto Repair Costs Way Down

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Windshield Wipers – Based on the study, 15% of front windshield wipers and 10% of rear wipers failed.

Windshield wipers are a key safety feature for road visibility, but are often overlooked until you go to use them and they don’t work. Wiper blades should be checked periodically and replaced every six months. You should consider keeping an extra set of wiper blades in your car just in case – particularly during the rainy season and winter months.

For more information on your car’s windshield wipers, see Replacing Wiper Blades Regularly Saves Lives & Windshields and Bosch Icon Wiper Blades Provide Cleanest Windshields Ever.

Lighting – Lights of various kinds affect your ability to see what’s in front of you and allow others to see you and determine your intentions. They also tell you what’s happening with the operation of your car (dashboard lights).

Because lighting directly affects your safety and that of the cars around you, it’s surprising to see the following failure rates in various lighting categories:

License Plate Lights – 10%
Brake Lights – 9%
Backup Lights – 3%
Side Marker Lights – 3%
Turn Signal Lights – 3%
Parking Lights/Tail Lights – 3%
Dash Indicator Lights – 2%

Automotive lighting is a way of communicating among drivers and it’s vital to any properly functioning car. Lights are also a key safety feature for road visibility – not just helping you see the road better, but for other drivers to see you too. It’s easy to see that taking a few minutes to check that all of your lights are operational is well worth the effort.

Engine & Safety-Related Parts – Falling into the failure category of parts that could cause engine reliability or safety problems are the following:

Air Filter – 18%
Belts – 18%
Check Engine Light – 9%
PCV Filter – 7%
Hoses – 7%
Radiator Cooling Fan(s) – 2%
Horn – 2%
Mirrors – 2%

A clogged or dirty air filter not only affects your car’s performance (robbing you of power), it also affects your gas mileage. Since different types of filter elements and driving conditions affect the cleanliness of your air filter, you should consider replacement around every 15,000 miles or once a year, depending on your local driving conditions.

Drive belts stretch, crack and harden over time, which can lead to slipping or breaking, leaving you stranded. The belt tensioner maintains a constant pressure on the belt but, as the belt stretches, the tensioner may only take out some of the slack or with v-belts you must move a pulley or accessory to manually tighten the belts. Loose or slipping belts will squeal, especially when cold, and cause the power steering pump, water pump, alternator, or A/C compressor to not function at full capacity.

Obviously the “Check Engine” light is a warning device to indicate a problem or condition requiring attention. Usually a flashing Check Engine light means a problem has occurred that should be investigated as soon as possible BUT a constant Check Engine light indicates a major malfunction requiring you to pull over immediately and shut off the vehicle. The Check Engine light can also mean that a specified service interval has been reached (100,000 miles for example) that requires a specific major service such as replacing the oxygen sensors. ALL Check Engine light (or any other dashboard warning lights) should be investigated immediately to avoid unsafe or damaging operating conditions.

Some cars still have a PCV filter. If you have one, it should be replaced every 15,000 miles, along with the PCV valve. The PCV valve is normally located in a breather hose from the valve cover to the air intake system, the filter being located where that hose attaches to the air intake.

Your car has numerous hoses to check within the engine compartment, from the cooling system to the air intake system as well as the fuel system. Rubber hoses will get brittle with age and heat, which can cause them to fail. You can check hoses for flexibility by squeezing them (do so when cold; do not touch hot coolant hoses) and checking them for signs of cracking or splitting.

It also a good practice to replace all the coolant hoses including heater hoses every 3 or 4 years. Cracked or loose air system hoses can cause engine hesitation or inconsistent operation resulting in poor mileage. Check these periodically for cracks, splitting, or loose hose clamps. Cars with fuel injection use prefitted high pressure fuel hose lines. These should be checked visually for cracking but if in need of replacement, they MUST be replaced with exact fitted replacements using proper tools and techniques.

Your radiator cooling fan is designed to move air through the radiator when the car is at slower speeds or stopped. The air flow removes heat created by the engine from the coolant using the radiator as a conductor. If the cooling fan fails, it causes the coolant to retain heat, forcing the engine to run hot and eventually overheat.

Checking the horn is obviously quite simple – just press on the steering wheel horn pad or buttons. Due to the location of most horns in the front fender or radiator support areas, the wire connections can become damaged or disconnected due to road debris. Most horns have a dedicated fuse because it is a “hot” system that doesn’t require the key in the ignition. If the horn doesn’t work, first check the fuse box under the dashboard or inside the engine compartment. Then check the horns for loose or damaged wiring and repair or replace as needed.

Having functional mirrors on your car is essential to your safety and being able to see the other vehicles around you in traffic. All passenger vehicles must have either an inside rearview mirror plus one on the driver’s door OR two outside mirrors one on each front door. A damaged or missing mirror is not only dangerous but alsdo it may be against local vehicle laws so it should be repaired or replaced immediately.

For more information on these items, AutohausAZ has several articles that may be of interest to you:

Tuneup & Auto Maintenance Tips to Lengthen Your Import Car’s Life
Perform Monthly Car Maintenance & Keep Auto Repair Costs Way Down
Cooling System Repairs – It’s Easy to Prevent Breakdowns BEFORE They Happen

Or feel free to browse through all of the published articles in Gasoline Alley for specific topics of interest to you.

Battery – Your car’s battery is the heart of the electrical system powering your car and all of its electrical components. Obviously, a car capable of being tested would not have a failed battery. However, testing did find that cables, clamps or terminals failed in 10% of the cars tested, while carrier or hold-down failures occurred in 7% of the cars tested.

Your car’s battery should be checked regularly for corrosion around the terminals. The clamps and cables should also be checked for corrosion and fraying. Avoiding regular checks of your battery can result in your car not starting, leaving you stranded. Corroded connections can also prevent the battery from charging which, over time, will overwork the alternator, resulting in its failure and an even larger replacement expense.

Battery hold-downs (straps) are used to prevent the battery from moving, vibrating or spilling over while your car is in motion. Vibration will cause the battery to fail prematurely. Sharp movement or excessive vibration will cause metallic material to fall off the internal plates, potentially ruining the battery. Furthermore, the battery carrier or tray underneath the battery aids in securing the battery to the vehicle. Double check these, especially when replacing your battery. A badly corroded or rusted battery tray should be replaced to prevent the battery from falling out. Minor corrosion should be cleaned/neutralized with a baking soda and water solution or any commercially available battery cleaner as corrosion will continue to destroy the metal until it is completely gone.

For more information on your car’s electrical system (including the battery), see Understanding Your Import Car’s Electrical System.

Tires – Driving on tires that are bald, badly worn or unevenly worn greatly increases your chance of getting a flat or a blowout. It’s especially dangerous when the roads are wet or slick since it decreases your ability to stop or control your car.

Yet, testing indicated that 15% of cars tested failed tire pressure checks and 12% failed checks of tire depth – both of which are conditions that could potentially pose safety risks.

It’s important that you check the air pressure in your tires on a regular basis, at least once a month, since that’s all it takes for the air pressure to change within the tire. Always check your tires cold before driving to obtain the most accurate reading. And, of course, make sure you know the proper air pressure for your tires – check your owner’s manual or the sticker on the driver’s door post.

Even more importantly, check the depth of your tire’s tread. Worn out tread or bald tires cause safety issues since traction is reduced, decreasing your ability to control and stop your car. It’s recommended that the tread depth of your tires be at least 2/32″, but most experts recommend having no less than 4/32″. Even at this depth, you should consider replacing your tires.

Let’s Learn About Car Repair Guide

You can find them at any automotive repair and car accessory store, on the Internet, and just about anywhere else involving vehicles: the car repair guide. They come in versions for young drivers and everywhere in-between, but they’re all basically the same in that a car repair guide teaches the car owner, step by step, how to repair a car.

A car repair guide covers every kind of vehicle, from its year to its make and model, starting as far back as 1950. Say you own a 1989 Chevrolet Camaro or a 2000 Pontiac Sunfire – all you have to do is have the year, make, and model of your vehicle, and you’ll find a car repair guide that covers the body and trim, brakes, chassis, drive train, engine, fuel system, suspension and steering, and general information and maintenance. For example, let’s say you want to change the brakes on your 1995 Honda Accord. An auto repair guide is going to start by showing you three pictures and giving you five steps in which to complete the repair. First, it will tell you to loosen the locknut on the brake light switch and back off the switch until it doesn’t touch the pedal shaft. Following that will be more instructions, illustrated by pictures of the brakes which show you the precise location of the pushrod locknut, brake light switch, and brake light switch locknut. A second diagram will illustrate how to adjust the height and loosen the locknut on the pushrod.

Whether you’re online or flipping through a car repair guide you picked up somewhere, car repair guides are an essential part of a do-it-yourself lifestyle. Each guide is specific to a vehicle and includes detailed information and diagrams on how to get your truck, car, or SUV on the road again. Normally, car repair guides will have step-by-step instructions along with wiring diagrams, detailed drawings and photographs, repair tips, and specification charts.

A car repair guide will show you how to change your spark plugs every 30,000 miles to keep your car from stalling, misfiring, and using too much fuel; how to change your spark plug wires to keep your car from hesitating or starting too hard; and how to replace your air filter every 12,000 miles to keep your car’s best horsepower up and fuel usage down. A car repair guide will also walk you through changing other filters that are often neglected, like the fuel filter, PCV valve, and breather element. These forgotten filters should be changed every 12,000 miles and are often left out during routine tune-ups, which can cause a variety of problems while driving.

The ten most common car repairs that people do themselves are changing the oil; replacing the air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, battery, disc brake pads, drum brakes, ignition coils, electric fuel pump; and jump-starting the battery. All of these repairs can be found in a car repair guide, and doing it yourself will help you save money in the long run. A car repair guide will also include maintenance and troubleshooting tips, so you’ll be able to take care of your car and keep it running like new as well as figure out the problem – or close to it – when something goes wrong.