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Car Maintenance Tips To Help Keep Your Vehicle In Good Shape
Properly maintaining your car is key to keeping it in top condition. It can also help ensure your safety, the safety of your passengers and your fellow drivers. Here are some ways to help keep your car running smoothly.
INSPECT AND MAINTAIN TIRES
Knowing how to maintain your car’s tire pressure can help reduce wear on the tires and helps ensure you’re getting good gas mileage. Checking your tire pressure includes finding the recommended pressure, checking the PSI and inflating or deflating your tires accordingly.
A flat tire is a hazard that can be dangerous to you and your car. There are several preventative steps you can take to help avoid a blowout, including rotating your tires every 5,000 to 10,000 miles and watching for tire recalls.
CHANGE THE OIL
Routinely checking and changing your car’s oil is essential to keeping its engine in running condition. Check your oil each month and change it as directed in the car’s owner’s manual.
You can change your oil yourself or take it to a service center. If you choose to do it yourself, learn the necessary steps to drain the fluid, set the correct oil level and dispose of old oil.
You should also know which type of motor oil is best for your car, regardless of whether you change the oil yourself or take it to a service center. This generally means considering three things — the oil viscosity, whether to use synthetic versus non-synthetic oil and your car’s mileage.
CHECK THE FLUIDS
There are several fluids that should be kept at the appropriate levels to help keep your car running properly. According to Popular Mechanics, you or your mechanic should check:
Power steering fluid
A leak with any of these fluids can affect the way your car drives. If you spot a leak, you may be able to identify the fluid by its color. This can help you and your mechanic determine where the leak is coming from. It can also help speed up the repair process.
TEST THE LIGHTS
A broken or burnt-out bulb is a safety hazard and might get you a ticket. Learn how to thoroughly inspect each bulb on your car. If a bulb is out, take your car to an expert to determine whether it’s the bulb or the fuse that needs replacing.
Headlights are key safety lights on your car. Consider taking a few extra steps to help keep them shining bright, such as cleaning the lenses and replacing bulbs as they start to dim.
REPLACE WINDSHIELD WIPERS
If your wipers aren’t working like they used to, don’t let the problem linger. Damaged or worn out blades can reduce visibility during a heavy rain or a snowstorm. Knowing how to inspect your wiper blades regularly and replace them when necessary is one way to help keep your car safe.
CHANGE YOUR ENGINE AIR FILTER
A dirty engine air filter can allow dirt and other particulates into your car’s engine and reduce its efficiency. Inspect your car’s air filter once a year and replace it as needed.
Some routine car care tasks can be done at home, but others require trained technicians. Take your car to a technician if the check engine light comes on. Trained technicians can diagnose the problem through the car’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port.
A qualified repair shop will also be able to inspect and replace other core components like the alternator and the wheel bearings. Scheduling regular tune-ups will help ensure that your car gets other maintenance items repaired as well.
HAVE YOUR BRAKES CHECKED
Your car’s brake pads also require regular inspection. While driving, listen for any brake noise and pay attention to shuddering or vibrating from the brake pedal. If any concerns arise, consult a service center as soon as possible
WASH YOUR CAR
Your car is subjected to all sorts of elements, from road salt and ice melt in the winter to tree sap and bird droppings in the summer. Some of these hazards are not only unsightly but can cause damage to paint and the undercarriage, according to AccuWeather.
Keeping your car clean may help prevent long-term damage. Find the car washing method that works for you and regularly wash your car.
CHECK BELTS AND HOSES
Keeping your car’s belts and hoses in good shape can help keep your car running and may help you avoid a breakdown on the road. For example, if your serpentine belt breaks while you’re driving, it may cause many of your car’s systems to fail.
Having your belts and hoses checked at every oil change will help ensure that they’re in good condition and don’t need replacing.
REVIEW YOUR CAR REGISTRATION AND INSURANCE
Just like regular car checkups, it’s a good idea to review your car insurance policy from time to time. This can help ensure your policy’s coverages, limits and deductibles are up-to-date and suitable for your current situation.
Keeping your car in good shape can help keep you and your passengers safe. And remember, if you’re ever unsure about how to inspect or replace a car part, be sure to contact a local mechanic for help.
Car Noises and Sounds You should not ignore
Over the years as a driver, you’ve probably run across a time or two when your car began to make odd or unexpected noises as it runs or drives. Sometimes, the noise is coming clearly from a certain part of the vehicle, whether it’s the engine, wheels, or elsewhere. And other times, you can’t quite make out what the source of the noise is. Either way, if your vehicle is making strange noises, it’s a symptom that something isn’t quite right.
“Something isn’t quite right” is a pretty broad category, covering everything from a minor issue to serious problem in the making. What you should be aware of is the fact that your car making unusual noises is a sign that something is broken or not functioning correctly.
Most of the time, your car making a strange noise doesn’t mean that your car is in serious danger of immediate breakdown, though it’s possible. Sometimes, an unusual noise marks a minor problem that won’t affect your car’s function in the short term. But even in those cases, the noise probably represents an issue that can grow worse over time, eventually leading to serious repairs if not treated in time.
One of the most common unusual noises you might encounter is tire noise. In fact, tires can make a variety of abnormal noises, each one potentially letting you know of a different probable issue. It’s important to be able to understand not just that your tires are making some kind of strange noise, but what that noise is and what it might mean for your car’s health.
Almost everyone has encountered this one – Your tires squealing when you turn the steering wheel. As long as you’re not pulling tight turns at great speeds (not a great idea in general), your tires shouldn’t be squealing.
The most likely culprit for squealing tires is one or more underinflated tire. If you’re hearing squealing, that probably means you need to add some air to your tires. Over time, underinflated tires can cause a variety of problems for your tires, suspension and other parts of your car, so it’s wise to address underinflated tires as soon as possible.
Another fairly common issue you might run into are tires that increasingly seem to hum as you drive. Keep in mind that tires will make some noise naturally on most road surfaces, and this is perfectly fine. But when that humming increases to a certain level, its an indication of a problem.
In this case, the number one reason for abnormal tire humming tends to be tires with uneven tread wear. Tires can wear unevenly for a number of reasons – a problem with the suspension, faulty wheel bearings, and/or several other causes can result in tires with uneven wear patterns.
To prevent uneven tire wear, you should regularly get your wheels rotated and have a wheel alignment performed routinely. This will balance out the natural discrepancies in wear over time. Getting your wheel bearings and suspension inspected if you suspect your tires are wearing unevenly is also a good move.
Thudding or Slapping Noise
If you’re hearing thudding or slapping noises coming from your tires as you drive, this suggests a problem that’s potentially larger than the others previously mentioned. Thudding noises can mean anything from severely underinflated tires to suspension and alignment issues, and it’s likely an issue needing to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Significant tire noises like these are an indicator that you might be on the verge of blowing out a tire or suffering major damage to your suspension. You don’t want to be driving very long without getting an inspection by a trained professional if you’re hearing noises along these lines.
In contrast to rattling, hearing any kind of grinding noise when you apply your brakes is not only a problem, but it’s potentially a very costly and serious one if you don’t address it soon.
If you hear a grinding noise when you apply the brakes, it most likely means you’ve worn completely through your brake pad. Now, instead of the pad meeting the rotor disk, it’s the bare metal making contact. The most common cause of prominent grinding noise from brakes is metal-on-metal contact.
This is bad for two reasons. The first is that the metal is much less efficient at stopping the vehicle than the brake pad’s friction material. That means if you’re in a spot where you need to stop quickly and unexpectedly, your brakes might not be up to the task. The second reason is that grinding either the brake pad’s metal backing or the calipers into the rotor disk will rapidly destroy both components. Replacing a brake pad is relatively cheap. Installing new calipers and rotor disks is far more expensive. It’s much smarter to keep your brake pads in good shape than let them wear down and have to spend hundreds or even a thousand of dollars fixing your brake system.
Another frequently encountered brake noise is a squeaking noise when applying the brakes. This is an important sound to take note of, as it might help you save a whole lot of hassle and money.
One of the reasons brakes can squeak when applied is a little metal tab called a wear indicator. A wear indicator is installed along with a set of brake pads, and the wear indicator’s job is to let you know when the brake pad has worn down and needs replacing. When the pad has worn to a certain level, the wear indicator will make contact with the rotor disk and produce the squeaking sound.
This alerts you that it’s time to get a new set of brake pads and avoid the nightmare scenario discussed in the ‘grinding’ section. Ignoring that squeak can potentially be costly.
It’s worth noting that a cheap set of brake pads can result in a squeaking noise when braking as well. So, it’s good to remember how recently you’ve installed your last set of brake pads. If it’s relatively recent, it’s probably due to inexpensive brake pads, or a problem of some sort with those pads. If you’ve gone a long while since replacing brake pads, there’s a good chance your wear indicator is telling you it’s time for new pads. At a minimum, a brake inspection is in order.
Most people have a general idea that the car’s suspension system exists to make your ride a smooth and bump-free one. And that’s somewhat true. But the full truth is that your suspension system is a finely-tuned combination of multiple complex systems that controls your wheels and the vehicle’s body, and problems with the suspension system can have major effects.
Suspension noise can be a major red flag that some component within your suspension is either worn out or damaged, and driving with that part not functioning can snowball into a whole host of problems if not addressed.
One of the more common suspension noises comes when driving over a speed bump, pothole, or any other bump in the road. You might hear a clunking or knocking noise. There are several possible culprits for a noise like this.
The first is that you may have worn out shocks or struts. When your shocks reach a certain state of wear, your coil springs will vibrate upon impact and may strike your vehicle’s chassis. Hearing a knocking sound when you hit a bump might mean it’s time for new shocks or struts.
A clunking can also mean that you have an issue with your struts, ball joints, control arms, or any of a number of components within your suspension. Diagnosing exactly where the trouble lies can be nearly impossible to do yourself. Having your suspension checked by one of our ASE Certified Automotive Technicians is the safest course in getting your suspension back into good shape.
Yet another class of abnormal vehicle noises comes when you turn the wheel to steer your car. These noises will be ones you notice coming from the front of the car, either centered near your steering column all the way out to your wheels.
A strange steering noise can indicate an issue with a part of your steering system, or it may be a problem down the chain in the suspension or wheels. The distinguishing factor between this and the previous section is that these noises will be observed when you turn the wheel, while the previous ones are observed when hitting bumps or driving straight.
Whining or Squealing
You may hear a whining or squealing noise when you turn the wheel, and a likely cause is low power steering fluid. Your power steering system is a hydraulic system relying on pressurized fluid, and if your levels drop you’ll often notice that whining noise before you run into performance issues.
Simply topping off your power steering fluid level may take care of this problem. However, while you should immediately top off low power steering fluid, we caution against just leaving it at that. It’s always a good idea to thoroughly check for fluid leaks when the level f fluid is low.
Additionally, a whining or squealing may indicate a related issue within your power steering system, such as a loose belt or a problem with the power steering pump. Remedying those types of issues will probably require taking your car in for service.
Another very common class of abnormal car noises are noises that occur when you’re braking. The process of braking the car is one of the most stressful in terms of wear and tear on your car, as bringing all that momentum to a halt requires a huge amount of energy. While you might hear minimal noise when you brake under normal circumstances, the process should be fairly silent. If you’re hearing strange sounds as you brake, that’s probably an indicator of an issue.
Popping or Clicking
If you’re hearing more of a popping or clicking noise when you turn the wheel, this is more likely to be an issue further down in your suspension or the wheels. A popping noise may indicate worn or damaged suspension joints. Clicking or crunching tends to point to bad CV joints (constant velocity joints). And a humming noise when steering may mean your wheel bearings are damaged or worn.
Any of these types of issues should be addressed as soon as you’re able. Problems within the suspension and wheels can lead to unpredictable handling, uneven tire wear, and further damage within the component chain from steering wheel to the tires.
Engine noise is always a scary one, both from a performance and a financial standpoint. The engine is in many ways the most crucial component of your car, and an engine failure will quickly leave you stranded. Also, engine repairs can often be quite costly. So, it’s never good news when your engine is making odd noises.
The overall rule when it comes to abnormal engine noise is that you likely want to get the car checked out at your earliest convenience. Most sources of engine noises are various parts and components in the engine system being out of whack, worn out, or damaged. Often in these situations, you’ll get a little bit of warning via strange noise before a part fails more critically. It’s always good to listen to what your car is telling you.
There are so many vital systems and parts within the engine that it’s difficult to neatly summarize the sounds you might hear and their causes. You may hear popping, pinging, whirring, hissing, knocking, or grinding sounds – each of which might point to one of several issues.
You may also notice abnormal engine noises at different times in the course of your drive. For instance, you might observe the noise when you first begin driving and then it goes away, or you may only notice it after driving for a while or in high performance situations where you’re pushing the engine to its limits.
Bottom line: If your engine is making strange noises, it’s worth your while to have us checked it out. Our ASE Certified Technicians are trained to get to the root cause of the noise and fix whatever is causing it.
With any and all kinds of abnormal car noises, there’s probably a bit of a tendency to want to ignore it and hope it will go away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work out that way. Most of the time, your car is making a strange noise because something is misaligned, worn out, or broken. Sometimes the issue is small and easily fixed, even with a do-it-yourself remedy.
But the thing to keep in mind is that ignoring odd noises will often times just make the problem worse over time, and can spiral into problems with related parts increasing the cost for repairs.
If you hear a slight rattling sound when you let up on the brakes, this may not mean you have a problem with your brakes. Brake pads expand due to the incredible heat generated by friction, and a little rattling may be normal due to natural movement of the brake pads.
However, it’s worth noting a couple things about brake rattling: Number one, You should never hear a rattle when you’re pressing down on the brake pedal, and number two, you shouldn’t consistently hear a rattle. If either of these is taking place, you may have an issue with your brake pads.
BACK TO SCHOOL CAR MAINTENANCE TIPS
Preparing Your Car for Back to School
Back-to-school time is often the time we associate with driving the kids around, to and from school, as well as other school-year activities.
While driving the kids around for school activities might or might not be enjoyable in some ways, one thing’s for sure: this driving places certain special strains and demands on your vehicle, due to the added miles driven and perhaps additional time waiting in a school pick-up and drop-off line with your engine idling. This means it’s important to make sure that your car is ready to handle these driving conditions. There are a number of areas of the car that should be checked or serviced leading up to the beginning of the new school year.
Car Air Conditioning
In Moreno Valley and in most of the Inland Empire, the school year starts in mid-August – one of the hottest months of the year. So, let’s start with a little thing that makes it bearable to drive the kids in the sweltering August heat; the air-conditioning system. Your AC keeps you cool and happy in 90 plus degree temperatures, and it usually works hard during the hot months. It’s important to give your air conditioning system a clean bill of health heading into back-to-school time.
You’ve probably been running your air conditioner during the summer, but it’s a good idea to ensure it’s working normally. A bad smell, squeaking or other noises, or anything else out of the ordinary may indicate you have an issue our Automotive Experts might need to address.
You’ll want to make sure that the AC belt is in tip-top shape. Signs that the AC belt is in need of replacement can include cracks in the belt surface or squeaking noises while the air conditioning is running. If your AC belt is in bad shape at the start of school, there’s a chance it will give way at a bad time, and it’s probably best to change it now before it’s inconvenient to take the car in.
Another part of the AC system you’ll want to have checked at the beginning of the school year is the refrigerant level. Note that air conditioning refrigerant is a toxic substance, and it may be best to let our trained and certified professionals check your levels and system pressures.
Power-steering fluid isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about checking their fluid levels. However, the power steering is a crucial system in your car, and low or dirty fluid can have a significant negative impact on your steering components.
Your owner’s manual will be able to direct you on how to check the power-steering fluid levels, and how to fill it if levels are low. If the fluid has a dark brown hue, you’ll want to have your power steering system flushed out and refilled with new fluid. The consequences of driving with dirty power-steering fluid can include premature failing of the power steering pump, power steering rack and pinion unit; as well as any power steering sensors or switches with which your car may be equipped.
Oil is crucial to your engine’s performance during all times of the year, not just back-to-school time. But while you’re checking all your other fluids, you might as well check your engine oil if you haven’t done so recently. If the oil is a healthy yellowish amber color, you don’t need to have it changed. If levels are low, top it off. If the oil is dark and muddy in appearance, it’s time for an oil change. Also, if you’re due for an oil change by time and/or mileage, back-to-school is probably as good a time as any to come in for that oil & filter change.
Brake Fluid level and condition is absolutely critical when it comes to the performance of your brakes. Your car’s braking system is a hydraulic system, and without proper hydraulic fluid the system simply doesn’t work. As brake fluid breaks down, you can experience anything from decreased braking performance when depressing the brake pedal or, in some rare and extreme cases, a complete failure to brake.
Checking the brake fluid level and quality is something we suggest leaving to a professional. Our Automotive Experts are equipped with the instruments to test the content of moisture in your brake fluid; moisture that, if at too high a level, can damage the hydraulic brake components. If the fluid is grimy and dark, an indication of excessive moisture content, it will be necessary to flush the system to replace the fluid. This is a job best done by our Automotive Experts, as brake fluid is highly hazardous and improper bleeding of air from the system can cause damage or cause brake system malfunction.
Also, if the fluid level is low, it’s not as simple as a matter of topping it off. When your brake linings (brake pads and/or shoes) wear down, the brake fluid level will drop accordingly. So a low brake fluid condition must be followed up with a deeper examination of the system as a whole.
Engine Cooling System
Just like you need to keep cool during the hot months, the same is true of your engine. Your vehicle features an extensive and complex cooling system to keep your engine running at acceptable temperatures, and that cooling system faces its greatest challenge during hotter weather.
The engine’s cooling system tries to keep the engine at around 200 degrees on most model cars, which confers a number of performance benefits. These range from optimal fuel combustion to correct oil viscosity to protection against corrosion and wear and tear.
In the August and early September heat, the cooling system is taxed, and if it’s not in good shape the coolant can rise to temperatures which can cause the engine to overheat. Engine overheating can result in irreversible damage, and it’s much better to make sure your cooling system is functioning well now, in a preventative sense, than deal with permanent – and costly – consequences.
First, you should have your coolant checked, which includes both the coolant level and also the chemical concentration of the coolant. We’ll also want to make sure that your radiator and hoses are in good shape, as any cracking or leaking can indicate a cooling system not functioning at peak level. It’s also important to verify that the drive belts and clamps are tight and in good condition.
When driving in warmer weather, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your engine’s heat levels. The temperature gauge will let you know if your car is overheating. If your temperature gauge or warning light indicates overheating, it’s absolutely imperative to pull over and shut the engine off immediately, of course, remaining cognizant of surrounding traffic and safety. One immediate trick you can do if traffic keeps you from immediately shutting off the engine while it’s overheating is to flip on the heater. This may seem weird during hot weather, but your car cabin’s heating system works by transferring heat from the car’s engine to the interior, so this transfer of heat may help cool an overheating engine a tiny bit.
Over the course of summer driving, your car’s brakes can often take a beating, especially if you took some summer road trips. Brake pads in particular are vulnerable to thermal cycling – the process of a material experiencing significant and rapid temperature changes due to alternating high heat and cold.
Our Automotive Experts will take off your wheels and inspect the brake pads and/or shoes for any cracking or major wear and tear. We will also, take a look at the rotors and drums to check for any major wear or cracking, as well as perform a visual inspection of the hydraulic components and hoses.
A battery can fail in any season, but while you’re doing all these other checks it’s a good idea to take a look at your battery as well. Take a look at the cable connections and posts: If you observe any corrosion, scrub the corrosive build-up away with a wire brush and a baking soda & water solution. Tighten the connections and clean the battery’s surfaces.
If you have a battery with removable battery caps, check your battery fluid levels. Not all batteries have removable caps, but if yours is a traditional removable cap battery you should top off low fluid levels using distilled water. Be extremely careful with this process, as the battery fluid is acidic and corrosive. You must wear safety glasses and gloves for this process. Or, if you prefer, just leave this task to our Automotive Experts.
Various Fluid Levels
In addition to checking your coolant, back-to-school time is an ideal time to make sure the fluid levels for all your vehicle’s systems are where they should be.
If you’re driving a car with an automatic transmission (which most people are), you’ll want to consult your owner’s manual to see how to check your fluid level. Some cars have “lifetime fluid,” which has no way to be checked other than by a professional, while others have specifications for the owner to check fluid levels him/herself.
Your owner’s manual will specify the correct levels and, if you need to add more fluid, will direct you to the recommended ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) type. Note that having too little transmission fluid can burn out the transmission’s torque converter or other internal components, while having an excess of fluid can result in overpressure issues that also damage the transmission. If in doubt, bring the car in for our Automotive Experts to check it. Also, if your transmission fluid level is low, simply topping it off may not be enough. Bring it in for an inspection of potential leaks.
If, on the other hand, you’re driving a car with a manual transmission, it’s far more difficult to access the fluid level. It’s not impossible, but it will require jacking up the car and getting down beneath it to check the levels. You may decide that it’s just easier to have us check it for you.
Checking your tires before busy school driving is always a good move. This is especially true because, before we know it, fall rain-showers will be here. One of the major purposes of your tires’ tread is to wick away water to prevent the car from hydroplaning. But even if you’re not anticipating driving in rainy conditions, checking the condition of your tires is an important step to take.
You’ll want to check to make sure the depth of your treads is sufficient. One simple and effective way to do so involves a penny coin. Place the coin into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head down. If you can see all of his head, the tread is too worn, and you need new tires.
In addition to checking the tire tread, you’ll want to inspect the sidewalls for any bubbles, as well as for any cracking. Either one can be an indicator that your tires need replacement. Tires that are worn, damaged or underinflated can lead to a blowout at the worst possible time.
One check many people overlook when looking over their four tires on the ground is checking the fifth one in the trunk. Make sure to take a look at your spare tire. There’s nothing worse than having a blowout or flat and then finding that your spare is also out of commission.
Summer/Winter Tires vs. All-Season Tires
If you’re looking to optimize your tire performance, you may want to use tires with a summer tread during the summer months. Summer tires have a less pronounced tread and a shorter sidewall when compared with winter tires, which leads to sharper handling, increased fuel efficiency and more speed.
Of course, the trade-off for this improved performance is the time and potential expense of changing summer and winter tires with the season. The alternative is to buy all-season tires, which are usable at all times of the year.
This may seem like an overwhelming checklist of checks, but it’s always better to go the extra mile with inspection and preventative maintenance than end up being sorry you didn’t. By making sure your vehicle is in good shape in all these areas, you’ll ensure that your school-time driving is carefree and pleasant, and that you continue to have fond memories of driving with the kids and enjoying the school activities instead of worrying about vehicle safety and reliability.
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