Tips for maintaining your vehicle.
It Won't Start
Preventative maintenance is often less costly
than repairing the aftermath of a failure.
You've got a good car. You don't have to do much besides put gas
in it. Then one day you break down. It usually can't be at a worse
time. And it can cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars!
You can do so much to avoid it, too. You don't have to run bald
and beautiful tires. You don't have to put up with brakes that
bump and grind and squeal. You don't have to let a leaky water pump
slide too long. You don't have to wait until a belt breaks or a hose
ruptures. When you break down, you can shake your fist at the sky,
but it won't solve the problem.
Fix small problems now, so they won't become big problems later. One
or two hundred dollars of preventative maintenance can help you avoid
several hundred or even a few thousand dollars of repairs and towing
and inconvenience later.
A modern car should last well in excess of 100,000 miles, with
mileages of more than 250,000 being common. This is mileage without
major drivetrain repairs. There are, however, a number of components
which do not last as long. Knowing what these components are and when
they are likely to fail, and then fixing them before they leave you
stranded, can save you big bucks.
Your car can with an Owners Manual that includes a service schedule
for a variety of fluids, lubricants, and other components. You should
follow this schedule to help prevent break downs and also extend the
life of your vehicle. If you car's manual isn't in the glove box, a
common condition with used cars, it can often be purchased from a
dealer, or online from ebay or similar sources.
If no manual is available, there are web sites and third-party repair
manuals that have them for specific cars. Regardless, there are common
practices and guidelines that can help, even if the car's manual is
There are four vital engine parts that wear out long before the
- Water Pump: Your water pump can fail in a variety of ways.
Two common ones are, one, the bearings can fail and eventually either
freeze up or throw the belt off, or two, its seals can fail and leak
- Alternator: The alternator keeps the battery charged and
powers the electrical components on the engine and inside the car. It
can fail in a number of ways. Symptoms include a dead or weak battery,
lights that dim when the heater blower is turned on, or blower speed
that changes when the lights are turned on, and so forth.
- Starter: Your starter one day will start to drag, click, or
refuse to work. It should be replaced when these symptoms first occur,
or else you risk being stranded when it suddenly fails completely.
- Fuel Pump: Your fuel pump can fail with very little warning.
A common symptom is having to crank the engine for several seconds
before it will start. The smell of gasoline in or around your car is
also a sign that immediate attention is required, either for the fuel
pump or one of the other components of the fuel delivery system.
All the above parts will fail before 150,000 to 200,000 miles. Their
bearings, brushes, rubber parts and more just don't last that long.
By the time you hit 200,000 miles you will almost certainly have
replaced all four of them.
Remeber, you can always stop by and we'll check these critical
components for you.
The above are critical, but commonly overlooked components. There
are many other parts that also require regular service.
- Timing Belt: Many cars have a timing belt. If it breaks,
your car will immediately stop running. In some cars, it can also
destroy your engine. You should follow the schedule in your Owners
Manual for timing belt replacement; however, as a rule of thumb a
timing belt should be replaced every 60,000 miles. It may break at
any time, but after 60,000 miles or seven years the risk of breakage
is greatly increased. You may choose to wait longer, but do you
really want to gamble what could be several thousand dollars for a
new engine against the nominal cost to replace a belt?
- CV Joints: Bad CV joints on front wheel drive cars won't
destroy your engine, but they're expensive to replace. CV joints
have rubber boots which keep the grease in them and keep dirt out.
These boots are supposed to be replaced and new grease put in the
CV joint. Your Owners Manual will have a recommended interval, but
the rule of thumb is every 50,000 miles. If you do this, the axles
should last 150,000+ miles. In addition, it's important to check
the rubber boots regularly, especially before a long trip. They can
split open, allowing the grease to leak out and water and dirt to
get it. When this happens, the CV joints will destroy themselves
fairly rapidly, and they will start making a clicking noise when
you turn. When that happens, you have to replace the axles.
- Rubber Components: Most of the time when you see a car on
the side of the road it's because something made of rubber failed.
Rubber (like your tires and belts and seals and hoses) wears out with
time and mileage. Sooner or later, it fails. Something made of rubber
that is over 10 years old is likely to be bad no matter if it is used
a little or a lot.
- Radiator Hoses: Radiator hoses, as well as the almost always
ignored heater and bypass hoses, can fail after as little 25,000 miles.
The are subject to extreme temparature variances, from freezing cold
to several hundred degrees, as well as oil and gas and other chemicals
that take a toll on rubber. When one fails your coolant is lost and
your engine can overheat, which can cause serious damage, especially
in modern engines. Older engines used a lot of iron and steel, which
is very strong but also very heavy. To lose the weight and gain fuel
economy, modern engines use aluminum. It is much lighter, but also
much more susceptible to damage from overheating.
- Thermostat: Your engine has a thermostat that regulates the
coolant temperature. When your engine is cold, the thermostat remains
closed until operating temperature is reached. The thermostat then
opens, allowing coolant to reach the radiator where it can be cooled
to prevent overheating. This device can stick shut, causing your
engine to overheat. If you ever blow a hose or get the engine hot,
the thermostat may or may not be the culprit, but even if not it can
be damaged by the high temperature, just like any other part. It may
work for awhile then stick shut, overheating the engine again. It's
a good idea to replace the thermostat whenever you replace the water
pump, or when you change all the hoses or whenever the engines has
In addition to the specific components discussed so far, there are
a number of general symptoms to watch for and have checked.
- Leaks: Cars contain a lot of fluids. These are supposed to
stay in the car, not on the ground. Seals, gaskets, fuel lines, oil
and transmission cooler lines, coolant hoses - all these and more
can develop leaks. It's a good idea to check regularly for leaks and
discover their source. Some can be fixed easily, others need to be
monitored and dealt with on a case by case basis. You should also
take note of any loss of fluids - oil, transmission, collant, brake,
power steering - when you're checkng them. On newer cars this should
be done monthly or at least every 2-3 thousand miles. The older the
car, the more often it should be check, such as every other week or
every other tank of gas.
- Oil Pressure: When your oil pressure light goes on, shut
the engine off. Your engine can run without damage when that light
is on about as long as you can go without a heartbeat. An
exception is if you are slamming on brakes hard or cornering
hard. In that case, back off the gas. If the light goes off quickly,
continue on, take it easy, and add oil as soon as possible. If it
stays on, turn if off and find the problem. (If your car has a gauge
instead of a light, then the above applies to when the needle drops
below or into the low indicator.)
- Temperature: If your temperature light comes on, it is also
important. Your coolant temperature is too high and continue operation
can lead to engine damage. In emergencies, turning on the heater and
setting the temperature and fan controls to high can provide limited
additional cooling, but not much and this should be a last resort to
be used only until your first opportunity to get off the road and
seek assistance. (This helps because your heater is simply a small
radiator mounted under the dash.) Stop to let your car cool off and
check out the problem. This can save you a lot of money down the road.
(As with oil pressure, if your car has a gauge instead of a light,
then the above applies to when the needle gets up to or above the
- Sounds: Listen to your vehicle. You know better than anyone
what it usually sounds like. Any new squeals, taps, knocks or rattles
can be a warning sign. Take your vehicle in and have them checked out.
It could be nothing or something minor, but it could also be an early
warning of an impending failure.
Remember, maintain before you have to repair!
IT WON'T START
Your engine needs 5 things to start and run properly
No matter how complex modern engines become, there are still five
essentials every engine requires in order to start and run.
- Battery: It must have enough power to supply the starter,
the ignition system and in some cars the fuel pump.
- Starter: It must be working and strong enough to turn the
engine over fast enough to start (assuming a good battery.)
- Engine: It must be in good enough mechanical condition,
including the correct valve and ignition timing and with adequate
compression in the cylinders.
- Fuel: The proper fuel-air mixture must be delivered to
engine by the carburetor or fuel injection system, which includes
a working fuel pump to get fuel from the tank to the engine.
- A proper spark of a high enough voltage arcing across good spark
plugs in the correct timing, which means a working ignition control
and delivery system, whether mechanical or electronic.
Cars that won't crank usually have a dead battery, a bad starter
or in some cases a bad ignition switch. Some newer cars have several
safety interlocks that can prevent them from starting. Common examples
are automatic transmission cars that won't start unless in park or
neutral, or manual transmission cars that won't start when in gear
unless the clutch pedal is depressed.
Cars that turn over (ie, the battery is not low/dead and the starter
is working) but won't start usually have either a fuel supply problem
or a no spark problem. A broken timing belt or chain will also stop
your car dead in its tracks!
Here is an easy test to perform.
Note: This applies to fuel injected gasoline engines. Almost all
engines made after 1990 are fuel injected.
Get a friend to sit in the driver's seat. Go to the gas filler cap.
Remove the cap and listen to the open gas filler pipe. Have the
friend turn the ignition switch to the on position, but don't try
to start it. You should hear a whirring sound from the gas tank for
a few seconds, then it should stop. This is the electric fuel pump
running. No whirring sound, no running fuel pump. This means your
fuel pump is either bad, or the relay powering it is bad, or the
computer which runs the relay is bad. Whatever the case, the problem
is most likely that the engine is getting no fuel.
If you hear the whirring of the fuel pump, then the problem is in
the engine compartment. It could still be fuel related, such as a
clogged fuel filter, or a problem in the electronic or mechanical
fuel regulator, or a problem in the EFI (electronic fuel injection)
control system. It could also be ignition related, such as a bad
coil or coils, distributor, ECM (engine control module - computer) or
any of a number of other problems, from simple to complex.
Another possibility is the timing belt. If it has broken or is old
and has slipped out of position, then the car will not start or may
start but run very poorly.
We can test for all of these conditions and perform the necessary
repairs. Call us or stop in with your vehicle and let us have a look!
Winter can be tough on cars as well as people. We all know to
bundle up, wear layers, keep dry, etc. However, many of us don't
give any thought to preparing our cars for the cold.
A few weeks before Old Man Winter arrives, you should get your
vehicle ready for the cold and ice and snow.
- Plan ahead. Mechanical failure or problems can be deadly in winter conditions, so don't take chances. Get you vehicle checked and err on the side of caution when it comes to replacing worn or suspect parts - especially rubber parts such as belts and hoses. Also make sure steering and braking issues are resolved, as well as any tire problems.*
- If you are going to be in an extremely cold climate for a period of time, adding a de-icer to your fuel can keep moisture in the fuel system from freezing.
- Check the level, pH and concentration of the cooling system every time the vehicle is serviced. A mixture of 50% anti-freeze and 50% water will protect down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit; do not exceed 70% anti-freeze or overheating can occur. Many people use undiluted anti-freeze, thinking this is better, but that's simply not the case.*
- Check your owners manual for the different grades of oil that are recommended for winter. In most cases a 10w30 oil will work for normal as well as short periods of winter temperature driving; however, it is best to go with the manufacturer's recommendations.*
- All filters and fluids should be inspected and replaced at the factory recommended intervals to assure proper operation under inclement conditions.*
- If your battery is within one year of the end of its warranty period, have it tested before cold weather driving. Make sure all the connections are clean and tight, with no corrosion, and when necessary that proper fluid levels are maintained.
- Be careful of holes in the floorboards or trunk area. These can allow water and salt and road chemicals into the vehicle. They can also allow exhaust to be drawn into the vehicle. In general, any such holes should be patched or repaired.*
- Check tires - thin or uneven tread wear does not provide good traction and can be very dangerous in winter weather. Cut or damaged sidewalls are also weak areas that can collapse under severe conditions. Remember, tires are rubber and rubber is one of the main things to fail on a car, especially in extreme conditions. While on the subject of tires, make sure they are in alignment and balanced. Unbalanced or misaligned tires can create problems on slick roads. Likewise, make sure your brakes are working properly. Malfunctioning ABS (antilock brake system) or uneven brakes are a hazard at any time, but more so in winter.*
- Inspect all lights to assure they are functional; lack of light for illumination or visibility can be deadly at any time, but especially so in inclement weather.*
- Be sure your heater and defroster are in proper working order to assure passenger comfort and proper visibility. If your vehicle has air conditioning, make sure it is working, too, as A/C will often defog a windshield better than blowing heated air across it. Be careful about putting on the defrost when the engine is hot but the windshield is cold. The sudden change in temperature can cause the windshield to crack. (The same is true of putting on the defrost and blowing cold A/C across a hot summertime windshield.)*
- Do you need special snow windshield blades on your vehicle? These blades can function well under extreme cold and snowy conditions. You should at all times be sure your windshield wipers function properly and wipe cleanly. Good visibility while driving is critical, regardless of the season. Be sure your windshield washer fluid is appropriate for cold weather, is topped up and sprays properly. Several washer fluid brands include de-icer and other glass treatments.*
- Old, damaged or loose rubber hoses and drive belts can cause your vehicle to be inoperable in severe weather conditions. Have a professional inspect them before the season begins. When in doubt, replace.*
- Carry emergency gear! You never know when your car, no matter its age, or its cost, or how well or recently it's maintained, might leave you stranded. Carry an ice scraper, spare bottle of washer fluid, boots, gloves, flares, blankets, tire chains, flashlight with spare batteries, a small shovel, some sand or kitty litter for traction. Carry a basic First Aid kit as well. A tow rope is a good addition to your gear, as it may allow you to be pulled out, or to help someone else out. It is also a good idea to keep some snacks handy, such as energy bars in your glove box. If you take medications that are critical, carry 2-3 days worth in your vehicle. If you have a cell phone, keep it with you and make sure you have either a spare battery or your car charger. If your car does not power the 12V outlets unless the engine is running, carry an inexpensive adapter than clips directly to the car battery. If your car has no radio, invest in an inexpensive portal one to keep in the glove box. Keep a pencil (pens can freeze) and notepad in the glove box, too. Finally, if you have any medical conditions, make sure you have a medical alert bracelet or card with you.*
Most of us understand winter can be tough, but we too often forget
that summer can be hard on both cars and people. It is as important
to prepare for the heat as it is for the cold!
As the temperatures begin to rise and Old Man Winter gives way to
Spring, you should get your vehicle ready for the rain and heat. In
general, the preparations are similar, but there are variations.
The preceding section on winterizing has most bullets marked with a
* character. Those are the items that apply to summer
as well as winter. Where they speak of winter and cold and ice/snow,
substitute summer and heat and rain. As you can see, extreme
temperatures, no matter whether hot or cold, are hard on a car.