Car Maintenance 101: Checking Your Braking Components

August 30, 2008

Action movie cliché (that works oddly well, might I add): hero gets into his car, drives off, and rapidly approaches a cliff only to realize that his brake lines have been sabotaged by the bad guy. He jumps off of his moving vehicle, miraculously escaping with just a few bruises and a limp, and his car zooms off of the cliff and tumbles, causing a huge explosion.

While this occurrence may be pretty rare in real life, it makes of you think of how important your car’s brakes are. You already know that your braking system is one of the most important auto systems installed in your vehicle, but when was the last time you actually inspected your numerous brake components?

When driving, you use your brakes everyday. If you’re a new driver, you probably use your brakes a lot more than you really have to.

The older your vehicle gets, the longer it usually takes before your brakes kick in. Sometimes you have to depress on your brake pedal extra-hard or pump it several times just to come to a complete stop. If these are some of the symptoms that you experience when braking, then there’s a high chance that some of your braking system’s components are in need of adjustment, repair or replacing.

To prevent any future accidents caused by brake-failure, remember to check your brakes twice a year and to look for signs of damage and wear. Catching damage before it becomes too costly can help save you money, and more importantly, can save your life as well.

Most vehicles should allow you to inspect their braking systems without having to remove the wheel. If you’re currently driving with alloy wheels, then you can simply peep through its holes to check out your braking connections. Whether you’re going to be doing some “peep-work” or you have to remove your wheels to access your components, the important thing is to have a clear view of the large shiny  brake disc and your brake pads.

Read the rest of this entry »


Car Terminology: Discussing DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code) and DTC Readers

August 22, 2008

The days of playing “guess-what’s-wrong-with-your-automobile” is long-gone. With most of the vehicles today being a lot smarter through computerization and better technology, auto repair and vehicle troubleshooting has become easier and smarter as well.

These days, you’ll notice more and more auto shops using handheld devices or plugging your vehicle into a console that lets the read the information from your engine system’s onboard computer. Most of the time, mechanics today read the DTC that they get from your vehicle.

So what exactly does DTC mean?

DTC, as you can already surmise from the title, is an acronym for “Diagnostic Trouble Codes”. Today’s computerized engine control system can up to a certain point self-diagnose to detect auto problems that could be affecting your vehicle’s emissions and engine performance. This also goes for the onboard systems and the antilock brake systems controlled by your engine’s computer.

When your engine control system detects a problem, the computer stores the diagnostic trouble code in its memory. This is the time that the “check engine” sign lights up. There are some automobiles today that can activate its special diagnostic mode by grounding some terminals found on the diagnostic connector. Doing so causes your “check engine” and other lights to flash out the problem code. But for most vehicles, to obtain the diagnostic trouble code, all you have to do is plug-in a diagnostic trouble code reader (DTC Reader) or scan tool into the computer system.

Finding A DTC Scan Tool or Reader

If you’re nowhere near any fully-equipped auto repair shop then you’ll be glad to know that there are many companies offering Diagnostic Trouble Code Readers and scan-tools at economical prices. The most inexpensive variants should cost you just around $60. Of course, the more advanced the device is, the more expensive it tends to be. If you can’t purchase your own DTC reader, then another option is to rent one from a rental center or an auto parts store.

Read the rest of this entry »

Addressing Auto Problems: Dealing with a Battery Light that Remains Lit

August 15, 2008

Your dashboard is filled with different auto lights, all of which have separate functions. These lights are excellent indicators when it comes to finding out what’s wrong with your vehicle. For example, we all know that when a tiny sign bearing open car doors turn on, it means that one of your auto doors is not locked or properly shut. When the gas pump warning light lights up, it means that you need to get to the nearest gas station to fill up your tank, and so on and so forth. But what does it mean when your battery light goes on and remains lit?

Before you start panicking, or rushing off to find your jumper cables, it’s important that you check your owner’s manual first to find out what it says about your auto’s battery light.

Keep in mind that oftentimes, the battery light does not just indicate problems with the actual battery itself. Sometimes this light can turn on just because the water levels in your battery are running low. Most of the time, your battery light won’t switch on just because your battery is low on power or is damaged. In most cases, this light turns on when your alternator is not doing its job properly.

The alternator is the part of your ride that charges and recharges your battery continuously throughout your travel. When your battery fails (especially if it’s brand new), chances are, you’ve got a problem with your alternator.

Now, what should you do when your battery lights engage while you’re driving? If your battery is not malfunctioning when the signal lights up, there’s usually no need for you to pull over immediately. If it remains lit, then try to find a safe place to park or try to get home as quickly as possible—there should be enough time for you to pull over safely before a dead battery stops you completely.

To prevent draining your battery completely as you drive, remember to:

1. Try not to make more demands on your auto battery. This means turning off all your unnecessary auto accessories like cabin lights, your radio and a/c system.

2. Unless you’re parked safely at home or in the emergency bay, try not to turn off your engine. Most of the time, the moment you turn off your engine it won’t start again. Avoid the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere by trying to reach a safe and accessible area before parking your vehicle.

3. If you can, try to drive to a nearby garage or auto parts shop. If the auto problem you’re facing is serious, then chances are, you won’t be able to run tests on your alternator to determine if it truly is damaged.

4. If you’re able to reach the auto parts store or garage, leave the vehicle running when you call the available mechanic/s. Remember, a customer-oriented auto parts store and a garage can perform tests on your alternator to determine if you need to replace this vehicle part.

Aside from the alternator, other possible culprits behind the battery light that refuses to go out include: a loose alternator, a loose fan belt and low water levels inside your auto battery. Checking your battery’s water levels (and adding more if needed) is an important part of correct battery maintenance. Make sure you won’t neglect this simple procedure the next time you conduct maintenance checks on your vehicle.

If you’re unable to get to a service professional or garage in time (if it’s late at night or you find yourself stuck on the side of the road miles away from help), conduct the following steps if possible:

Read the rest of this entry »

Addressing Auto Problems: Should You Replace Your Thermostat?

August 8, 2008

Most of the time, replacing a thermostat need not be taken to the professionals. Depending on the design of the auto units under your hood, this job should be pretty easy to accomplish. Before doing anything under your auto’s hood, it’s highly important that you first, in a way, get “acquainted” with the different auto components located there. The more familiar you are with your auto systems’ layouts, the easier it is for you to replace and repair various auto parts.

Keep in mind that your auto thermostat won’t be easy to spot the first time around. It has its own housing and is generally located near the forefront of your engine, near your top radiator hose. To replace your thermostat, you need to first remove it from the housing. If there is a gasket, inspect it and replace it if it is no longer in great working order.

Some tools you may need for this job includes antifreeze or coolant, a rag for cleaning the thermostat housing and a screwdriver.

Follow these easy steps on replacing your thermostat.

Step #1: Make sure the engine is cool to touch. If your vehicle has just overheated, remember to wait an hour or two for the vehicle’s operating temperatures to go down.

Step #2: Work in a well-lighted area. Since you’ll be tampering with some of the most vital auto components in your vehicle, make sure you won’t accidentally sever anything that you’re not supposed to. A well-lighted area should prevent you from making any crucial errors when replacing your thermostat.

Step #3: Open your vehicle’s hood.

Step #4: Look for your vehicle’s thermostat housing. As I mentioned earlier, the thermostat housing should be near your top radiator hose, in front of your engine. If you can’t spot it, then it’s best to bring out your owner’s manual and look for it there. Unfortunately, there are some manuals that won’t indicate the exact location of the thermostat housing. If your other reference materials fail to show you where the thermostat is located, look between the engine block and the top radiator hose—it should be around the area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Addressing Auto Problems: Should You Replace Your Thermostat?

August 8, 2008

Auto thermostats are generally expected to last a driver around two to three years. There are, however, some exceptions to the rule. Some thermostats can last for up to five years. But if you encounter frequent overheating problems, or if you notice that cold air is blowing from your auto’s vents, then you need to check your thermostat and replace it, when needed.

As with the rest of your auto parts, picking out a thermostat depends on your vehicle’s specifications. You need to find a thermostat that’s crafted to work with your auto’s make and model. Thermostat rating levels usually vary, with some having rating levels of 160 and others 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If your owner’s manual doesn’t provide much info regarding your thermostat, then your best recourse is to purchase a thermostat that’s most similar to the current model you’re using.

Keep in mind that there are two primary types of thermostats available: dual-acting and standard. Dual-acting thermostats are especially designed to shut down your auto’s bypass circuit, and while this type of thermostat may sound appealing, you need to pick a replacement that matches the current type you’re using. If for example, you choose to replace your standard thermostat with a dual-acting one, expect this auto part to malfunction. So, the lesson here is to follow your auto’s requirements… to a tee, if possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Car Maintenance 101: How to Keep Your Auto Battery in Tiptop Shape

August 2, 2008

Battery problems seem to be one of the most popular auto concerns for drivers around the world. While most of the tips listed below may be “common knowledge” for the great majority of drivers out there, it’s good to be reminded once in a while on what you can do to help keep your auto battery in great shape.

The older your auto, the more frequent you’ll have to replace your battery. While you can keep jump-starting a dead battery for some time, you’ll need to replace your old battery eventually. If it took your first auto battery two years before it finally became useless, your succeeding batteries would usually expire a little earlier compared to your first battery. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations on how often you need to replace your auto battery.

The best way to avoid having to jump-start your auto all the time or having to replace your battery frequently is by exercising proper auto battery maintenance. The following are some tips on how you can prolong your auto battery’s life.

Tip #1: If the main problem with your battery has to do with a faulty solenoid or alternator, then replace the busted auto part immediately. Sometimes the reason behind a malfunctioning battery isn’t damage on the battery itself. Since the alternator is responsible for re-charging and supporting your battery, a faulty alternator could cause your battery to break down frequently.

Tip #2: Before turning off your vehicle, make sure all your accessories are turned off as well. Leaving some of your auto accessories on, like your radio, windshield wipers or auto lights, can instantly drain your battery. Even something simple like a door left open can cause your auto cabin’s lights to switch on even if you’re already outside your vehicle. So avoid draining your battery by double-checking that all accessories are “off” before exiting your vehicle.

Tip #3: Follow the instructions and recommendations from the manufacturer regarding adding water to your battery. Some battery manufacturers recommend adding water directly on the cells. After replacing your auto battery, make sure you’ve browsed through (and thoroughly understood) the recommendations and instructions on how to add water to your auto battery.

Read the rest of this entry »