Car Maintenance 101 | Testing Your Auto Lights and Your Vehicle’s Horn

May 30, 2008

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

If you’ve been driving for a long time, then there’s no doubting that you know the importance of your vehicle horn and your auto lights. Your vehicle is almost always equipped with a number of different lights, all of which are designed to help optimize your driving visibility beyond what your eyes can normally see. When driving at night or through harsh weather conditions where road visibility is at its lowest, you need to turn on your various auto lights to see the road ahead clearly and to warn other drivers and pedestrians that your vehicle is approaching.

Aside from maximizing visibility, auto lights, like your horn, is there to help you communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. For example, you use your turn signal light as a way to warn other drivers that you’re planning on turning or switching lanes, while your backup light is there to indicate when you’re planning on reversing. Your vehicle’s horn on the other hand, is used every time you need to get the attention of another driver or a passing pedestrian. Bigger vehicles like trucks have larger blind spots, and once you find yourself in a scary situation where the truck is reversing and your car is stuck behind it, then it’s time to hit the horn and get the driver’s attention.

Driving with one or more defective lights is not merely an inconvenience—it automatically turns your vehicle into a safety hazard and it could warrant a ticket from a police officer or a traffic enforcer—particularly if you’re driving with a broken headlight or turn signal light. Consequently, if you fail to use your headlights at night, you can still get a ticket, so I highly advise that you make sure all your lights are working well to avoid getting in trouble with the law.

This test is best conducted if you have an assistant who could tell you which lights remain bright and which ones are broken or in need of replacing. To make this test easier, I highly suggest you begin by testing your headlights and going through each one of your other auto lights, including your brake lights, parking lights, hazard lights and turn signal lights. Don’t forget to check your license plate light as well. Most traffic enforcers are keen when it comes to vehicles with broken license plate lights. Meaning: drive with this light broken, and you will be stopped. When you’re done checking the lights outside your ride, check your interior lights and put particular concern on your dome and dashboard lights.

Note down the condition of each of these lights. If any of your lights refuse to work, then consult your owner’s manual to help find the right replacement auto light or bulb that you need. Most owner manuals actually feature easy-to-follow steps on how to replace auto lights.

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

There are times when it’s not the actual light or light bulb that needs replacing. Sometimes you need to replace the fuse rather than the bulb. Most of today’s vehicles contain a small fuse box found under the hood or near the end of the steering column, where you can easily remove any of the small cylinder-style fuses and change them.

Remember to check your vehicle’s horn to see if it’s working. If the horn is not working for any reason, it’s highly advisable that you take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to find out what needs to be repaired or replaced.

Never underestimate the importance of checking each and every single component in your vehicle once in a while. The earlier you detect possible problems, the smaller the sum you have to pay for repairs and replacements. Don’t wait until your vehicle becomes an “accident-waiting-to-happen”, act today.


Top Ten Common Radiator Problems for Older Vehicles

May 28, 2008
The Parts Bin | Automechanic

If your ride is over five years old, then you might have noticed how your vehicle’s engine seems to be running just slightly hotter than before. This usually indicates damage on your radiator that may require quick repair or replacing. After six years of being a proud owner of your vehicle—whether it’s a coupe, sedan, car, truck or SUV, the likelihood of radiator problems greatly increase. It doesn’t matter if your odometer shows that your vehicle has run 250 miles or 50,000—the fact remains that like all your other vehicle parts, your radiator is not immune to slow damage and corrosion caused by age. So what exactly are the common radiator problems that you’ll have to deal with? The following are some of the most prominent reasons behind radiator failure.

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

#1 Rusting. We’ve recently covered how you can remedy rusting problems on your vehicle exteriors, but if the rust settles inside your radiator, then this problem can’t be remedied with simple repair tips. Your radiator is greatly affected by road debris, salts, humidity and other catalysts that could cause chemical reactions. When this happens, expect rust to slowly eat away at your radiator, effectively lessening this component’s capabilities before completely breaking down.

#2 Constricted Coolant Flow. Another possible reason behind your radiator troubles is the build up of mineral deposits in the small and narrow tubing located in the unit’s core. When the coolant flow becomes too restricted, your radiator may no longer function the way it’s supposed to, greatly reducing your engine’s capabilities.

#3 Epoxy Failure. Your OEM radiator may be comprised of high quality and hardwearing materials, but after four or five years of use, the epoxy that joins most of your radiator’s seams may begin to quickly wear out. Check your radiator once in a while to determine if it’s in need of repair.

In a number of cases radiator failure doesn’t start with an actual radiator problem. The following are some “outside factors” that could have brought your current radiator issues.

#4 Malfunctioning Thermostat. The inaccuracy of your current thermostat can eventually lead to radiator failure requiring complete unit replacement.

#5 Damaged Water Pump. Just like your malfunctioning thermostat, a damaged water pump can prevent proper water-coolant circulation, which will eventually lead to radiator disaster. Like your thermostat, it’s important that you replace your water pump sometime between 50-100,000 miles.

#6 Brittle Hoses. Remember the previous post on checking for loose fanbelts and hoses? Well, brittle hoses are prone to drying and cracking which could conversely lead to a broken radiator. Check these parts once in a while to see if they are still in good working condition.

#7 Blown Seams. Blown seams and overall wear in these vehicle parts usually take place after years of using the same radiator.

#8 Leaky Fittings and Tube to Header Leaks. Leakage can not only destroy your radiator, it could also affect your engine. Check your vehicle regularly to see if there are some parts that require repair due to leakage.

#9 Faulty Solders. The solder is the part of your radiator which attaches your numerous cooling fins to the core tubes. When this part comes loose, radiator problems occur. The cooling fins are naturally delicate and thin, making them prone to damage caused by different catalysts.

#10 Electrical Problems brought by Ignition Wires. If you have faulty ignition wires, then electrochemical reaction can occur inside your radiator tubes, effectively stopping water-coolant flow. Your ignition wires naturally give out electromagnetic energy. With faulty ignition wires, stray currents can easily attack your radiator tubes, destroying the unit slowly but surely.

While you can’t completely prevent radiator damage from settling in, you can slow down its corrosion through instant repair. If the damage is beyond repair, then I highly suggest quick replacement.

Car Maintenance 101: Checking Your Vehicle’s Exhaust

May 20, 2008

Auto Mechanic

Aside from looking under the hood to check the numerous crucial components located there, checking your vehicle’s exhaust is another accurate way of determining your ride’s overall condition. When checking your ride’s exhaust, keep in mind that this test is best performed during the warm part of the day. If you check your vehicle’s exhaust during a cold night or morning, you will often see your vehicle release large clouds of exhaust, but this emission is usually simple a result of condensation and the difference in temperatures, and isn’t generally anything to be worried about.

This is another aspect of your inspection where having a helper with you comes in handy. While at the wheel or starting your engine, have your handy helper situate himself or herself at the rear of your ride beside the exhaust. His or her main purpose for this test is to observe the type of exhaust or emissions released by your vehicle as you start your engine.

If your assistant happens to observe bluish or dark smoke coming out, then this is a sign that your engine is burning too much oil. In this event, your engine may require a ring job. The ring job indicates a slight adjustment of your engine’s rings.

If, however, the smoke appears dense and white, then this usually indicates that there’s something wrong with your vehicle’s engine head. Take your vehicle to a professional mechanic and have him or her check the engine head for repair or replacement.

You need to keep your ride running idle for a few more minutes. Observe how the engine performs. Is your ride constantly in danger of stalling or is there violent rocking in your vehicle caused by the engine running too tough? If so, then your ride requires a tune-up, especially if you haven’t had one done in a long time.

Now, turn off your vehicle’s engine. Do you observe a residual chugging noise where the engine appears to be trying to turn over once more? If yes, then your vehicle may need to have its timing professionally adjusted or the timing belt replaced. Because timing belt replacement or adjustment requires special equipment like the timing light, this is a job best done by a professional mechanic.

Keep your vehicle running smooth by making sure your engine is performing at its best.

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

Car Maintenance 101 | Removing Rust from Your Vehicle

May 17, 2008

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

Rust is your ride’s silent killer. This corrosive agent gnaws away at your vehicle’s metal, effectively weakening your ride’s physical integrity until it becomes a complete safety hazard. You may think that your vehicle is exempt from this problem, having been treated with rust-proofing, but even with massive protection, rust can still attack your vehicle’s exterior. These days, automakers and parts manufacturers are coming up with ways to decrease the likelihood of vehicle rusting—this includes the use of plastics and galvanized metals. But even with this new solution, it’s always best to keep checking your vehicle for signs of rust and addressing these corrosion problems as soon as you can.

Most of the time, the worst rust problems are located on the underside of your ride. Because the area is harder to check, rust attacks the metal unnoticed until you feel a sudden breeze from the passenger compartment or even your ride’s floorboard. An old friend of mine once had a car whose floorboard at the passenger area was almost completely gone due to rust. It treated us with an excellent view of the road below us as we travelled from school to his house. Of course, that was a long time ago, and these days he’s driving a brand new, rust-free Toyota Vios. But if your ride has the same problem as my friend’s old rusty companion, then I suggest you remedy this problem before it turns into a full-blown issue that you’ll have to take to a professional garage.

Keep in mind that even the smallest scratches or dents on your ride’s body can easily lead to rusting. Check your vehicle once in a while for signs of rust. If you find rusting on your ride, then take on these nasty spots as soon as possible. If the rusting is extensive, then you need to take your vehicle to a professional as soon as possible.

Treating Small Rust Spots

What You’ll Need:

  • an Abrasive Pad (the one you’re using in the kitchen will do)
  • Sandpaper
  • Disposable Gloves
  • Rust Metal Primer or a car-quality Sandable Primer (both of which you can buy from your trusted auto parts store)
  • a Can of Rust Neutralizer or Converter
  • at least one clean and soft Cloth
  • at least one Small Paint Brush (approximately the right size for the rust spot)
  • Newspaper (you’re going to be spreading this under the area you’ll be working on)
  • Respirator or Face Mask (use this to prevent the harsh fumes from harming you)
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Protective Glasses (don’t forget to wear this to prevent dirt or grit from getting into your eyes

If paint is involved, or if the rust spot happens to be on a visible part of your car like the bumper, the side panels or the hood, then you can use these tools to give the treated rust spot a paint and wax touch-up.

What You Might Need:

  • Clear Coat Spray
  • Vehicle Body Glazing Putty
  • Auto Wax
  • Touch-Up Paint (make sure you purchase the exact color of your vehicle’s paint. A number of auto parts dealers and stores sell particular touch-up colors based on the exact hue or shade of various vehicle makes and models)

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

Clearing Small Rust Spots sans Paint Job:

Step 1: Take your newspaper and spread it below the section where you’re going to be working.

Step 2: Take out any loose material or fragments that you can find surrounding the rust spot.

Step 3: Using the abrasive pad, rub away at the visible rust.

Step 4: Carefully apply some of the rust neutralizer or converter using your small paint brush. Make sure you follow the instructions on the package on how long you need to wait before you proceed to the next task. It usually takes approximately a couple of hours before it’s safe to add a second coat.

Step 5: After around 24 hours, apply some primer. Once again, follow the package directions to a tee.

Step 6: Once again, based on the instructions of the primer, wait until it’s safe for you to wipe up and clean the treated area.

Step 7: When it’s safe to do so, wipe down the area with a damp cloth to clean traces of excess primer.

Step 8: Wipe the spot dry.

Treating Rust and Fixing Your Vehicle’s Appearance:

Now, if you need to fix a visible area that will require you to remove the rust and fix the area’s paint job, follow these simple instructions.

Step 1: Using the abrasive pad or your sand paper, remove all traces of rust from the area.

Step 2: Using a soft and damp cloth, clean the area and wipe it dry.

Step 3: Bring out your newspaper and using scissors, create a hole on the newspaper large enough to show the former rust spot. This will help you focus on your work area.

Step 4: Tape the newspaper in place using a masking tape.

Step 5: Read the package directions and apply the primer according to the specified instructions. You will probably need around three coats, so be patient and wait for the right time before you add another coat or two. The primer’s package should indicate how long you need to wait before you can add another coat.

Step 6: Wait for the primer to dry. Once it’s firm and dry, use an abrasive pad or fine-grade sandpaper and smooth out the excess primer on the spot.

Step 7: Take a plastic spreader and carefully apply some automotive putty on the spot. Wait for the putty to dry before proceeding to the next step.

Step 8: Wipe down the area with a damp cloth. Dry it.

Step 9: Apply around two to three coats of touch up paint on the spot. Be sure to follow the time interval specified on the paint container. Wait for the paint to dry.

Step 10: When the paint is dry, you can now apply the clear top coat. Wait for the clear top coat to dry.

Step 11: Use wax to polish the area or your entire vehicle after you’ve washed it.

Car Maintenance 101 | Checking Your Vehicle’s Tires

May 16, 2008

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

Remember when we tackled the importance of parking your vehicle in a level surface? Here is the other reason why it factors in. You need a fairly level surface so that you can get a good look at your tires. Bend down to inspect your tires from the front, the sides and the back. Is your vehicle slightly uneven? If so, then it’s possible that one of your tires is soft. Do your tires appear as if they pouch out? If yes, then you may need to have more air added to your wheels.

Bring out your owner’s manual to check on the specific amount of air pressure required for your type of tire. When you head over to the gas station to use their air compressor, make sure you won’t exceed the amount of air pressure indicated in your owner’s manual. If your tires appear too soft to travel, then you may need to use a bicycle pump or a home air compressor to make sure that you get to the gas station safe and sound.

You wouldn’t want to add too much air to your ride’s tires, otherwise you’ll increase the chances of getting a flat.

Aside from air pressure, you’ll have to inspect each one of your tires to check the tread. How are your tire’s treads? Are they running thin and almost nonexistent? This process will help you determine when it’s time to replace your ride’s tires. If the tread is almost gone, then head over to a professional garage or purchase some tires and replace the tires yourself.

If your tire’s tread are unevenly worn then you may need a tire rotation or a wheel alignment. Both these jobs are best done by a professional mechanic.

Keep your tires in excellent shape and condition, by checking on them regularly.

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

Car Maintenance 101 | Checking the Exterior: The Windshield and the Front of Your Vehicle

May 14, 2008

The Parts Bin|Automechanic

To make this car maintenance tip easier, I’m subdividing this post into different sections. Since we’ve already tackled how you should inspect the rear of your vehicle to find possible auto problems, now we switch over to the front of your ride.

The Importance of Keeping your Vehicle Clean

True, we already know that aesthetics play a big factor in increasing your vehicle’s value, but did you know that keeping the front of your vehicle clean can also help you in preventing vehicle damage brought by obstruction caused by debris?

Inspect the front of your vehicle. First, check the grille around the front. Is it filled with debris and dead bugs? If so, then you need to clean this vehicle part immediately. The accumulation of debris can help prevent proper heat dissipation. It can also prevent cool air from entering your vehicle’s vents. Wipe away the debris and use a brush for those hard-to-reach places.

Also inspect the area where your wipers sit. If there’s an accumulation of dirt in that area, clean this part immediately. If you don’t do this, the debris might get caught in your wiper blades, and this can scratch your windshield’s glass or worse, it can get sucked down into your ride’s air ducts, effectively blocking necessary air flow.

Checking the Windshield and Your Vehicle Windows

Step 1: Checking the Windshield

The next step is to search your windshield for signs of cracks or dings. If you find that there are small scratches on your windshield, take note of their location and how deep they are. Even the smallest pockmarks in your windshield could turn the glass into an “accident-waiting-to-happen”. You wouldn’t want your windshield shattering while you’re driving at high speed down the freeway, right?

Step 2: Checking the Seal

Don’t forget to check the seal around the windshield glass. The rubber-like seal helps hold your windshield in place. You may have already seen a vehicle or two whose windshield is secured in place with electric tape or any other form of adhesive. Although it may seem like a quick fix, believe me when I tell you that this “instant solution” is hardly safe and not recommended. Make sure that the rubber seal is not separating or cracked. If you find that your vehicle’s seal is about to separate from your vehicle completely, you’ll need to glue it down tightly onto your windshield. There’s a special type of hardwearing glue that you can use. This type of glue is usually sold at auto parts stores. If the seal continues to crack or separate even after you’ve glued it down several times, then you have no other recourse but to have this part replaced by a professional mechanic.

Step 3: Checking Your Vehicle Windows

Now that you’re done checking the windshield, you can now proceed to the next step and that’s to check your ride’s windows. Conduct the same process as listed above. Although it’s usually the windshield that receives the most amount of stress while you’re driving, you certainly won’t want to lose any of your car’s windows. Just make sure all of the seals are in their proper place and in great condition.

Step 4: Cleaning Your Wipers

After checking your windows, proceed to the well at the front section of your vehicle where your windshield wipers rest. Pull up your wipers and place them on a vertical position. Clean your wipers and your wiper blades using a brush. If your wiper blades are no longer as efficient as they used to be, or if they’re no longer working, then you need to replace this auto part as soon as possible.

The Parts Bin|Automechanic

Replacing Your Wiper Blades

Step 1: Check your owner’s manual to determine the type of wiper blade you need.

Step 2: Clean your windshield completely to prevent grit from sticking onto your new blades. Debris can easily destroy your new wiper blades and can also help create more scratches on your windshield.

Step 3: Purchase the right wiper blades for your ride.

Step 4: Remove the clips that secures your current wiper blades in place.

Step 5: Remove your current wiper blades. Most blades can be removed by simply sliding them off.

Step 6: Slip your new wiper blades into place.

Step 7: Re-fasten the clips to secure your new blades completely.

A Note On Windshield Replacement

In most cases, your vehicle insurance policy should cover the cost of window or windshield replacements without affecting your insurance rates. You’ll still have to fork over some cash, but it usually does not exceed $150. However, if you recently had a major repair shouldered by your insurer then you might need to pay for windshield replacement. Check your insurance policy details to see if your insurance will cover the replacement. If you’re unsure, call up your insurance agent to check.

Car Maintenance 101 | Checking the Exterior: Looking at Your Vehicle’s Rear

May 10, 2008

The Parts Bin | Automechanic

When checking your vehicle’s rear, you’ll want to get a good idea on the condition of your vehicle’s exhaust system. The following are some steps on how you can look for possible exhaust problems in your ride.

The Parts Bin| Automechanic

Step 1: Kneel down or bend down to effectively inspect the components below your vehicle’s back bumper.

Step 2: Check to see if there’s anything hanging down or loose. In most cases, it is the tailpipe that usually hangs down from vehicles.

Step 3: If all things seem normal, resume checking the rest of your vehicle. If not, proceed to step 4.

Step 4: If you find that there is something hanging down, and you’re not quite which vehicle part it is, check your owner’s manual or any other book or reference to check which part of your vehicle is in danger of falling off.

Step 5: If it’s your tailpipe or your exhaust pipe that’s coming loose, then you’ll either have to replace your muffler, or find a way to secure your exhaust pipe in its proper place. Save money by using an auto clamp to reattach the loose pipe before the whole assembly falls off.

Step 6: To secure your exhaust pipe, first find out the width of the pipe using a tape measure.

Step 7: Head on to a trusted auto parts provider and look for the right-size clamp.

Step 8: Reattach the exhaust pipe in its proper place. If the whole exhaust assembly, including your muffler, seems just about ready to fall off, then you might not be able to remedy the situation with a simple clamp. In this case, check out my previous entry on “Silencing the Noisy Muffler” to find out what to do about this problem.