Category Archives: What Customers Should Know

Singing a Different Tune (Up) (Tune Ups)

Engines required a lot more maintenance in earlier times.  You'd have to have your spark plugs, wires, rotors, caps, distributor points, fuel and air filters changed periodically.  There were mechanical adjustments of a vehicle's timing, dwell, spark gap and idle mixture, too. Unless you like to tinker with old cars, a lot of those terms won't mean much to you.  That service was called a "tune up" back then, and you can see why.  But now, computers have reduced the number of maintenance items, and a tune up is a whole lot different than it used to be.  In fact, in some vehicle service facilities, that term is also a thing of the past.  A tune up of today would more accurately be called simply periodic maintenance. Now, most vehicles still have spark plugs and wires, fuel filters, air filters and PCV valves, and they should be inspected tested and/or replaced at regular intervals.  Your vehicle's manufacturer has made recommendations on how often that ... read more

No Strain, No Gain (The Basics of Oil Filters)

Ever wonder what one of the best things is to ever happen to your vehicle's engine?  It's the little thing that usually looks like a can, the oil filter. Just like your kitchen sink strainer filters out errant particles of food from clogging your drain, the oil filter cleans out small particles that could cause your engine harm. Your engine operates in a dirty, hot environment and gathers a lot of tiny contaminants like dirt, dust, little metal shards and unlucky bugs that get sucked in.  Get those things circulating in your engine and those little particles can cause friction, which starts wearing out those finely machined metal parts.  You know how important it is to change your oil regularly.  It's vital that you change your oil filter at the same time to keep the oil as close to brand new as possible. Most oil filters look like a metal can with some holes in the bottom.  Inside there are carefully chosen materials that can screen out the contaminants while ... read more

Move it or Lose It (Dormant Vehicles)

When it comes to your vehicle, driving it too much can cause some issues.  But what about not driving a vehicle enough? That has consequences as well. Here are a few things that can happen if a vehicle isn't driven enough.  When the engine doesn't operate, the oil isn't lubricating. That means some mechanisms that need periodic lubrication aren't getting it.  And oil that sits around breaks down over time.  In fact, some experts say you should change oil more often if your vehicle sits in the driveway than if you drive it regularly.  You've heard that expression, "Take it on the highway and blow out the engine.” Well, carbon buildup used to be a problem in older vehicles.  But the real culprit these days is moisture that builds up from combustion if your vehicle never gets hot enough to burn it off. That water vapor can mix with oil and cause sludge to form. There are many vehicle systems (battery, exhaust system, engine seals, etc.) that benefit fro ... read more

Before You Buy that Used Vehicle (Having a Used Car Inspected Before Buying)

Let's face it.  New vehicles are expensive, so finding a good used one can save drivers a lot of money.  It's tempting to look through ads, find a private seller who has what you're looking for and pay a price you think is a great deal.  But when you go over to look at a used car, do you really know what to look for to uncover potential problems with it? The answer is probably no.  Used cars can look great on the outside, maybe even have lustrous paint and a super clean interior. But is it possible that vehicle's been in an accident? Does it have electrical problems you can't detect easily? Is any fluid leaking that you don't know about? Think about it.  You are about to spend thousands of dollars for a complex machine and you're considering judging its condition without much expertise.  That's why it makes sense to have a qualified technician inspect any used vehicle you're considering buying. Many vehicle repair facilities will do it for around ... read more

Tacky or Techie? The Tachometer.

There's a gauge that many vehicles have that says RPM on it.  And there are a lot of people who either don't pay any attention to it or don't even know what it is. Here's why it's a good gauge to know about. It's called a tachometer, and that "RPM" label means it is measuring how many revolutions per minute (RPM) the engine is turning.  Automotive experts know that a vehicle's engine can be damaged if it turns too fast (revving too high) or too slowly ("lugging" the engine). A tachometer (sometimes called a tach) is almost a "must-have" gauge for vehicles with a manual transmission; the driver has to manually change gears; the tach helps the driver know when revolutions are in the optimal range. Some say you don't need a tachometer if you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission. It's true that most drivers of automatics don't even look at it.  But there are times when paying attention to the tach can help you prevent an expensive repair. Here's a good example.&nbs ... read more

If You Drive Like a Maniac (Aggressive Driving is Bad for a Vehicle)

When someone mentions driving like a maniac, they're not talking about you, surely? Besides the safety issues of aggressive driving, you should know that your vehicle will last a lot longer if you'll just mellow out a little.  Here are four traits good drivers follow if they want their vehicles to go the extra distance. Cool—The driver who can't wait to get to the next stoplight is just shortening the life of his or her vehicle.  Jackrabbit starts and uneven acceleration hurts your engine because the valves and cylinder heads are stressed more.  All of those moving parts will wear out faster as well as other components that are connected.  That means things like the air conditioner, power steering pump… just about anything that attaches by a belt or a pulley.  Oh, and you'll be generating more heat.  Heat is one of a vehicle's worst enemies. Warm—If you get in your cold vehicle which has been sitting overnight, start it up and rev the en ... read more

A Squirrely Problem (Animals Nesting in Engine)

If you park your vehicle outside, you are exposing it to all sorts of critters that would love to use it for nesting, food storage and shelter.  There are plenty of pictures online of people who've discovered there was more than an engine under the hood.  In one case, the driver of an SUV started to smell a slight burning odor when she was driving.  Turned out to be 200 walnuts and a lot of grass had been stored there by some industrious squirrels preparing for the upcoming cold weather.  The SUV owners had their vehicle inspected not long before this happened, but it doesn't take some animals long to set up house in what they think is the ideal spot to make their winter home.   Obviously, that can create problems.  Squirrels, mice, rats and other small animals can chew through hoses and wires.  Plus what they store as food and nesting material may prevent engine parts from moving the way they are supposed to.  Imagine a radiator fan that wo ... read more

DOG FOOD IN YOUR ENGINE (Keeping Rodents out of your Engine)

A technician was telling us the other day that he was servicing an engine and spotted something he'd never seen before: A collection of dry dog food siting on a horizontal metal ledge near the base of the engine.  It was neatly stashed and was in a spot where the food pellets couldn't have simply fallen down in there. Even though it's the first time he'd seen dog food in an engine, he immediately knew what was going on.  Critters like mice or chipmunks had found the dog food somewhere nearby and had used the engine as a nice storage unit.  Mice, squirrels, chipmunks—you name it—like the heat of the engine.  And they'll use that to store up supplies of food for use in cold weather when outside food supplies are scarce.  The problem is they'll also chew on engine components while they're there. And they can do a lot of damage if they start gnawing on the wires.  Depending on how much of your electrical system needs to be replaced, repairs can mou ... read more

Rear Window?Not the Movie! (Why Some Rear Windows Don't Go All the Way Down)

Alfred Hitchcock once made a mystery thriller film called "Rear Window." It had nothing to do with the rear window of today's cars, SUVs, CUVs and light trucks.  But there is one thing that some drivers DO find mysterious.  Why don't the rear windows in the second row of many of these vehicles go down all the way? You've probably seen or owned one or two. That rear side window only goes down about a third, a half or three-quarters of the way. Yet there are some similar vehicles where the window goes down all the way.  What gives? There was the rumor going around that the restriction on how far those windows could go down was a child safety feature.  The thought was that if those windows couldn't open up fully, a child (or pet) would be less likely to fall out.  But it turns out the real reason is that the way the rear doors were designed, there was just no room for the window to go down all the way into. Many vehicles are configured so that the rear wheel arch ... read more

Idle Talk about Engines (Causes of Rough Engine Idling)

When you slow down at stoplight, your vehicle's idle should be smooth as silk.  But what happens when the engine is missing or idling roughly? That's your engine's way of telling you, "Hey, I've got something wrong with me and if you don't get someone to find out what it is, I may not start the next time you turn the key." You can help your service facility if you can describe the problem in detail.  Here's a list of things to make a note of: When is the problem happening, when the engine is cold or when it's been running for a while? Does the rough idling occur when I'm accelerating or when I'm going at a steady speed? Does it happen at high speeds?  Does it happen low speeds? Does it happen at both? Make sure you describe the problem in as much detail because it will help a technician diagnose the problem. One of the first things they'll check is how the spark plugs are firing.  Modern iridium plugs are supposed to last a long, long time.  But they CAN even ... read more

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