Why Should I Service My Cooling System?

CoolantBecause an automotive engine produces an enormous amount of heat as it operates, your cooling system must be at optimum performance to properly harness this heat.

The most basic cooling system consists of liquid coolant circulating through the engine cooling passages and absorbing the heat created by the operation of the engine. As the coolant absorbs the heat, it is directed from the engine to the radiator where it is cooled by an air stream coming through the front grill of the vehicle.

The cooling system must also maintain a constant engine temperature regardless of the outside temperature and weather conditions. If the engine temperature becomes too low, the heater operation and fuel economy will be compromised. If it becomes too hot, the engine will overheat causing major engine damage.

The coolant or antifreeze circulating through the engine, heater and radiator is specially formulated to prevent corrosion inside the cooling system. Without this protection, corrosion buildup will restrict the flow of coolant thereby increasing then engine operating temperature. Left unchecked, this corrosion buildup will eventually result in overheating and engine damage. This coolant is also formulated so as not to freeze in extremely low temperatures.

The effectiveness of the coolant will diminish over time as it loses its protective qualities. Replacing the antifreeze at regular intervals can help prevent overheating, freezing and premature cooling-system corrosion.

Coolant replacement is generally recommended at about 3 years or 36,000 miles. However because recommendations vary by make and model of the vehicle as well as the type of coolant used, be sure to check the owner’s manual for the appropriate application and recommendation.

In addition to coolant replacement, the cooling system should be inspected annually to ensure maximum operation and to prevent premature engine wear. A thorough cooling system inspection should include the following:

  • Check for any external leaks.
  • Inspect the radiator for corrosion or damage.
  • Check the cooling fan operation.
  • Check the radiator cap.
  • Check the thermostat operation.
  • Check the condition of the drive belts.
  • Check the heater operation.

When Should I Change My Oil?

If you are still chaoil dip sticknging your oil every 3,000 miles, you are causing yourself unnecessary expense and investment of your time and convenience. In case you have not heard, the 3,000 mile oil change recommendation is obsolete. That’s right! Most manufacturers are recommending oil change intervals of 7,500 to 10,000 miles with some as low as 5,000 and others as high as 15,000 miles.

Oil life monitoring systems are now available on many newer vehicles. They continuously monitor the operating conditions of the vehicle to determine remaining oil life. They do not recommend maintenance based on mileage only. They also monitor inputs like engine speed and operating temperatures. The last thing automotive manufacturers want is engine wear due to lack of lubrication but they also realize cost of maintenance is important to the consumer. This conservative approach is working so well that many dealers are seeing significant declines in their service profits and are recommending more aggressive maintenance schedules to make up for lost profits.

Older engine designs were very loose and allowed blow-by gasses to seep past the piston rings and into the crankcase where the oil is stored. This caused the oil to break down and sludge to build up in the engine. In addition, engines vented to the atmosphere. This venting allowed outside dirt to enter the engine and contaminate the oil as well.

Newer engines are built to more exact and tighter specifications and use higher tech materials that limit expansion and contraction under high heat conditions. Newer smog standards prevent engine venting to the atmosphere. Both of these work on behalf of cleaner and longer lasting oil life. Newer technology also brings us oil additives that are added during the manufacture of engine oil that further prevent breakdown caused by heat, thereby extending the life of the oil.

So, check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation on oil change intervals for your car. And next time your repair facility recommends 3,000 mile oil change intervals, you may want to consider shopping around for a service facility that is looking out for your best interests.

When to Replace a Car Battery

Car BatteryMany people are under the misconception that the automotive battery produces the electrical current needed to operate the vehicle and its accessories. Actually, the alternator produces the electrical current and the battery stores it in a chemical form until it is needed.

Because the alternator is only able to produce electrical current when the engine is running, the purpose of the battery is to supply current to the starter motor, ignition and fuel systems until the engine is running. It also provides stored electricity to numerous other vehicle systems when the engine is off.

After the engine is started and running, the alternator produces the electricity required to meet the needs of the engine and other electrical accessories. It also produces the electricity needed to keep the battery charged. Without the battery, there would be no stored electricity to start the vehicle.

The automotive battery is made up of a series of lead plates surrounded by electrolyte and housed in a case. The chemical action of the electrolyte, working on the material in the plates converts electricity provided by the alternator into stored chemical energy.

A battery can be expected to last approximately 3 to 5 years. However, battery failure is more often the result of driving habits than battery defects. The longevity of a lead acid battery is maximized when driving conditions support a fully saturated charge from the alternator. Heavy accessory power usage while driving short distances prevents a fully saturated charge.

The greatest cause of battery failure is related to sulfation build-up. This build-up occurs when the sulfur molecules in the battery acid or electrolyte become so deeply discharged that they begin to coat the battery’s lead plates. Before long the plates become so coated that the battery fails. This sulfation can be caused by such things as:

• Low electrolyte level

• Cold weather

• A battery that sits too long between charges

• Undercharging of a battery such as short or infrequent trips

• A load on the battery with the key off

Because a battery rarely gives an indication before it fails, waiting for it to fail before replacing it is not in ones best interest. Periodic testing of the battery to determine its state of charge will help identify a potential failure before it happens. Most dealers or service facilities have sophisticated battery testing equipment and can test a battery in a matter of minutes while the car is in for service.

Replacing a poor performing battery before it actually fails will save the inconvenience and/or safety repercussions of a battery failure that is likely to happen at a most inopportune time or place.

Inspection of the alternator and alternator belt should also be performed at the time of the battery inspection to ensure the complete system is operating at maximum efficiency.

What is a Cabin Air Filter?

cabin air filterMention the cabin air filter or cabin filter and most people will not know what you are talking about. Actually, the cabin air filter is an essential part of your car’s ventilation system because it removes pollutants, gasses and even odors from the air to prevent them from getting inside the passenger compartment. The cabin air filter may also be referred to as a passenger compartment air filter or an interior ventilation filter.

The cabin air filter is usually located under the dashboard and can often be accessed by removing the glove box.

Your vehicle’s ventilation system handles many functions. It brings in fresh air from the outside and cools it or heats it depending on the outside conditions and driver and passenger preferences. You can choose to direct this conditioned air to the windshield, your face or feet, or any combination of those. You also have the option to recirculate the air within the passenger compartment. So far, so good until you factor in the possible contaminants contained in this air and that this same air is also the main oxygen supply for you and your passengers.

Busy highways are a major source of air pollution. Without the cabin filter, you and your occupants would be forced to breathe air tainted with such things as exhaust fumes, dust, pollen and soot particles. Since many of these pollutants can be hazardous to your health, the cabin air filter is designed to prevent them from entering the passenger compartment.

Because the cabin air filter removes the contaminants from the air by trapping them in the filter, it eventually becomes dirty and begins to lose its effectiveness. A dirty cabin air filter will restrict the air flow resulting in a decrease of heating and air conditioning performance. It can also result in mildew buildup and unpleasant odors.

The cabin air filter should be replaced at least once a year or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. However, since driving conditions have a big impact on the life of the filter; it may be necessary to replace it more frequently if the vehicle is operated primarily in areas of heavy pollution or dusty conditions.

Why Should I Replace My Timing Belt?

timing belt isolatedOne of the most neglected automotive services can also be one of the most critical. Not all vehicles have one but if yours does, it is extremely important that you follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals for the timing belt.

The timing belt is a rubberized belt that connects the crankshaft to the camshaft or camshafts. Since the camshafts open and close the valves, the timing of this action is critical to the operation of the engine, hence the name timing belt.

The intake valves open to allow the air and fuel mixture to enter the cylinder. The force resulting from the ignition of this mixture forces the piston down resulting in a power stroke that is eventually transferred from the engine to the drive wheels. The exhaust valve opens to allow this spent gas to be removed through the exhaust system.

If the valves fail to operate at the precise designated moment, engine power will be decreased, or the engine could cease to operate completely.

Therefore, proper installation of the timing belt as well as the condition of the timing belt is critical to the operation of the engine.

As the timing belt wears, the valve timing is adversely affected. The result is a decline in engine performance. If this worn belt is not replaced, it will eventually break. When it does, the valves will no longer open and close and the engine will at the very least, quit running with very little to no previous warning.

On some engines, a broken timing belt will result in the pistons and the valves colliding within the engine. This can cause major internal engine damage that could have been prevented by replacing the timing belt at the recommended maintenance mileage interval.

Although timing belt replacement recommendations can vary by make and model, the general recommended timing belt replacement interval is between 60,000 to 90,000 miles.

Since the drive belts, such as alternator, power steering and alternator belts are made of the same basic material as the timing belts, and because they must be removed to access the timing belt, it is generally recommended that they be replaced at the same time in order to save the labor cost of doing so later.

Upon inspection, the technician my also advise replacement of the idler pulley and tensioner pulley in order to maximize the longevity of the belt replacement

Why Do I Need to Rotate My Tires?

Tire RotationRotating your tires involves removing the tire and wheel assemblies and installing them to a different location. Usually, the tires on the front are moved to the rear and the rear tires are moved to the front. This helps to ensure even tire wear and extend the life of a set of tires.

Depending on the type of tire, it is usually recommended to keep the tires on the same side of the vehicle. In other words, the left side tires will stay on the left side and the right side tires will stay on the right side. This ensures that the tires continue to rotate in the same direction as they did prior to the rotation.

Tires wear unevenly for a number of reasons.

Because the front tires do the steering, they wear differently than the rears. This wear is even greater on front wheel-drive-cars because the front tires provide the traction, and transfer power to the road to drive the car. In addition, because of the placement of the engine and transmission, the front tires support a heavier load. This heavier load results in even more friction and greater wear.

Because of this unequal wear between the front and rear tires, rotating them regularly will help them to wear more evenly. This extends the life of the tires and results in a safer, more comfortable ride over the life of a set of tires.

Uneven tire wear and tread depth can result in poor handling and braking. These adverse conditions are magnified on wet surfaces such as when driving in the rain.

Tire life can be extended by regular tire rotations thereby lowering the overall tire replacement costs and ensuring that handling and braking are properly balanced.

Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, even if they do not show signs of wear. A good time to do this is during oil change intervals.

How to Jump Start My Car

We have all been there. You are running late for a big meeting at work; you are heading out the door to pick up the kids from school; you have been up all night studying for today’s history final…and your car will not start. When you turn the key, the motor turns over slowly a few times and stops. You try it again and all you hear is click, click, click. Damn!

Now, what do you do?

If you are lucky, you have some jumper cables in the car. If you are luckier, you have jumper cables and another car available with a good battery. If you are really lucky, you have jumper cables, another car available with a good battery, and you will know what to do. I can’t help you with the first two requirements, but I can help you with the third.

First of all, is it the battery?

If the battery is completely dead, most of your electrical accessories will not work. This might be the case if you left the lights on or the door ajar. However, in most cases, there will be enough voltage to power your radio and your lights. This does not mean the battery has enough voltage to start your car. A good test is to turn on the headlights and have someone look at them while you try to start the car. If the lights go dim or off while you try to crank the motor, your battery is most likely the culprit.

Safety Precautions

Jump starting a battery is not difficult, but it can be dangerous if you do not follow some basic safety precautions.

Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the following list of battery safety items:

  • Eye protection such as safety glasses is recommended.
  • Batteries contain explosive gases that could be susceptible to sparks, flames or smoking.
  • Batteries contain sulfuric acid. Avoid any contact with your skin. If any battery acid gets on your skin or in your eyes, flush with water immediately.
  • Do not try to jump start a battery that is cracked, leaking or damaged in any way.
  • Do not lean directly over the battery when making a connection or disconnection.
  • Do not mix up the cables when making connections to the batteries.
  • When moving the car into position, be sure the hood is down so as not to obstruct your view.
  • Turn both ignition switches to the off position before making any connections.

What You Will Need

You are almost ready. But first, let’s make sure you have what you need. Before you begin, you need to have three things:

  1. A set of jumper cables.
  2. Another vehicle with a good battery of the same voltage as yours. Most vehicle batteries are 12 volts. Some older vehicles utilize a 6 volt system. If your vehicle has a 12 volt battery, be sure your jumper battery is also 12 volts.
  3. You need to be able to identify the positive and negative terminals of the battery. The Positive terminal is usually red and is marked with (+) or “POS”. The Negative terminal is usually black and is marked with (-) or “NEG”.

Connecting the Jumper Cables

OK. It is time to connect the jumper cables.

  • Locate where the batteries are located in each vehicle.
  • Pull the jumper vehicle next to the vehicle with the dead battery in such a way that the batteries are close enough to each other that the jumper cables will reach when attached.
  • Turn off the ignition switches in both cars.
  • Connect the red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
  • Connect the other end of the red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the good battery.
  • Connect the black jumper cable to the negative terminal of the good battery.
  • Connect the other end of the black jumper cable to a good ground on the vehicle with the dead battery. An ideal surface is an unpainted bolt or bracket on the engine block.
  • Route the cables so they are free of the fan blades and any belts.

Starting the Vehicle

Now that everything is properly connected, let’s see if you can start your car using the following procedure:

  • Be sure everyone is standing away from both vehicles.
  • Start the vehicle with the good battery.
  • Start the vehicle with the dead battery. If the vehicle does not start, wait a few minutes with the jumper vehicle running and reattempt to start the vehicle with the dead battery. If it does not turn over, or turns over slowly, check for corrosion at the battery terminals. If they are corroded, try adjusting the clamp to get a better grip. If it still will not start, you may need to clean the cables. If that does not do it, the battery will most likely need to be replaced.

Disconnecting the Jumper Cables

Once the vehicle starts and the engine is idling properly, carefully remove the jumper cables in the reverse order that they were connected.

  • Disconnect the black jumper cable from the jumped vehicle.
  • Disconnect the black jumper cable from the jumper vehicle.
  • Disconnect he red jumper cable from the jumper vehicle.
  • Disconnect the red jumper cable from the jumped vehicle.

Now that your car is running, you should drive it to a secure place before shutting off the engine. If you shut it off too soon (before the alternator has had enough time to charge the battery) or the battery is bad, it most likely will not be able to restart your car. If the battery was discharged because your lights or other accessories were left on too long, driving a fair distance may be enough to recharge the battery. If you have access to a battery charger, recharge the battery.

Homework Assignment

So now that you know what to do, will you be ready to handle that dead battery when it leaves you stranded? If you do not have a set of good jumper cables, I suggest you get some in the very near future, print out this article and put both in your car. Trust me. There will come a time when you need them, but…you will be ready.

Synthetic Oil vs. Conventional Oil

Conventional oils are mineral oils that are mined from the ground. Even though they are refined, they still contain contaminants that promote varnish and sludge buildup in the engine.

Synthetic oils are man-made and because they are much cleaner, they are more resistant to breaking down and contaminating the internal engine components under the extreme temperatures produced in the engine.

When new, it is difficult for the average person to tell the difference between the mineral oil and the synthetic oil. However, when the normal oil change interval has been extended, it becomes obvious that the mineral oil has become thicker than the synthetic.

Conventional oil can easily vaporize or oxidize in extreme heat. However, because the molecular structure of the synthetic oil can be controlled through its design and manufacture, it is capable of protecting engines at much higher temperatures than conventional oil. In addition, because synthetic oils contain no wax, they will flow at much lower temperatures than conventional oils. This is highly beneficial during start-ups, especially in extremely cold climates.

Synthetic oil has many advantages over the conventional, such as better cold-weather starts, fewer engine emissions, increased fuel economy, and increased longevity. It can also extend engine life because it has the ability to clean out sludge and other deposits in the engine.

The main disadvantage to using synthetic oil is the cost. The cost of synthetic oil can be as much as 5 to 10 times more than conventional oil. However, the combination of fewer oil changes and increased engine life can quickly offset the higher initial cost of the oil.

Because synthetic oil will clean out deposits left behind by conventional oil in higher mileage engines, switching to a synthetic at this point could lead to an oil leak in some cases. An example of this might be a weak seal that is held together by the deposit buildup.

Viscosity improver additives are needed in conventional oils to achieve the desired viscosity characteristics. However, synthetic oils achieve viscosity ratings of 5W or even 0W without the use of viscosity improvers. This means that synthetic oils can circulate within the engine much better than conventional oils in cold weather.

Because synthetic oils last longer than conventional oils, the mileage recommendations between oil changes are greater. However, because these recommendations vary by model and driving conditions, you should refer to the owner’s manual for specific oil change recommendations.

It is OK to switch from a conventional oil to a synthetic oil at any time. Because the two oils mix well, there is no need to worry about problems as a result of a small amount of old oil in the engine mixing with the synthetic.

Synthetic oil will gradually dissolve most of the deposits and sludge left behind by conventional oil. An engine with severe sludge may require more attention to remove sludge or fix problems as a result of sludge buildup. However, vehicles that have been maintained properly will have no sludge related problems.