Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 3)

October 31, 2008

Note to Reader 4: Most of the time, we consider engine problems to be those that cause our rides to buck and stall. The thing is, sometimes engine problems can occur while you’re moving. It’s a bit more dangerous, especially if the engine trouble is severe, causing you to lose control over your vehicle. The moment you experience engine problems, do slow down until you get to your destination. If the problem is grave, pull over to avoid risking complete vehicle breakdown.

If while driving, your engine misfires or surges unexpectedly These are examples of life’s not-so-great surprises. One moment your engine is completely fine—you start your car without glitches and accelerate well until a few miles later, maintaining a steady speed, your engine suddenly speeds up and bucks, jolting you almost out of your seat. If you experience this engine problem, it’s highly possible that you have…

Possible Cause: your engine is about to overheat. Now honestly, when was the last time you checked your radiator’s fluid levels? When was the last time you added coolant to your car? Failure to conduct tune ups usually lead to overheating. If you’ve recently added water and coolant mixture into your engine cooling system, but you still experience this problem, your best recourse is to check your cooling system for malfunctioning auto parts. The culprit could be a loose fan belt, a busted radiator, cracked radiator hoses, or a stuck thermostat.

Possible Solution: After identifying the “problematic part”, either repair or replace the component. I suggest replacing the component completely though. Especially if the part that’s in question is more than just a few years old.

Possible Cause: If you’re sporting an older ride, then your carburetor’s choke might not be working as well as it should be or it may not be positioned correctly. Remember, older vehicle models tend to foul up faster than newer models. Which is why it pays to conduct regular auto maintenance, increasing the frequency of your tune-ups as your car ages.

Possible Solution: Check your choke plate. Is it positioned correctly? Is it still working as it should? Does it open completely? If not, then you either replace it or repair it. If the damage is quite severe, I suggest you put down your repair tools and start looking around for a replacement choke plate to avoid a repeat of this nasty episode.

Possible Cause: Malfunctioning ignition timing.

Possible Solution: The good news is that most of the time, you won’t really have to make any replacements when it comes to wacky ignition timing. All you have to do is make all the right adjustments, and you’ve got great ignition timing—hopefully for years!

Possible Cause: Too-Low fuel pressure. This problem could be caused by either a malfunctioning fuel pump or a bad fuel pressure regulator. Check your fuel pump and fuel pump regulator using a fuel pump gauge. Note where the fuel pressure is dipping.

Possible Solution: If the culprit is a poor fuel pressure regulator, then I suggest looking around for a replacement part and taking your car to your local mechanic for installation. If you’re a skilled mechanic, then you should be able to install a new fuel pressure regulator easily. But if you’re just starting out, it’s always best to have the professionals take care of this job. Believe me, the fuel pressure regulator is not an easy part to install.

Possible Cause: Problems with your engine computer or computerized engine control system. Remember my post on DTC (diagnostic trouble code)? You’ll need a DTC reader to interpret the codes coming from your engine computer. Look for a scan tool if you don’t have one already and plug it into your engine computer. If you don’t have one, there are some garages who would let you use their scan tools for a small price—some might even let you use a DTC reader for free, so long as you promise to come back to them for tune ups and repairs. Point is, get a reading. Don’t forget to test the circuits too!

Possible Solution: If there’s a part that needs repairing, leave it to the professionals. Unless of course, you’re confident that you can conduct all these repairs at home—you’ll need relatively expensive replacement equipment and tools for this though.

Possible Cause: I’d hate to sound rather vague, but this could be indication of an ignition problem. Because your ignition system has numerous parts, list down the parts of your ignition—starter, starter solenoid, ignition coil, distributor cap, distributor rotor, spark plug wires, and spark plugs. Now, check each of these components starting with the spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor cap, and rotor.

Possible Solution: When you spot grave damage, replace, replace, replace! Otherwise, if it’s just a matter of grime buildup or dirty plugs, simply clean these components. If your wires are tangled, prevent arcing and damage caused by friction by using a spark plug wire loom or divider on your car. It basically organizes your wires and offer better insulation. In short, it keeps your wires organized, making it easier to access your spark plug wires for inspection and/or installation.

Possible Cause: Troublesome Torque Converter. Skip this part if you’re driving a manual, since this component is only present in automatic transmission vehicles. Inspect your torque converter and try to determine if it locks during pivotal moments. (Pun not intended). A slipping torque converter could also mean trouble, so make sure your current converter is properly installed and in place.

Possible Solution: If your torque converter is damaged, replace it as soon as possible. Again, this might not be a do-it-yourself (DIY) job. You can still purchase this component at a great price online, but I suggest you let your local mechanic do the installing for you.

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Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 2)

October 28, 2008

Note to Reader 3: Sometimes engine problems can be quite subtle when they start showing symptoms. The sooner you catch these symptoms, the better. There are moments when the symptoms appear to be so minor that it makes it so easy for you to simply ignore them, but that could be a big mistake. It’s better to be careful than to have to pay thousands of dollars replacing numerous engine system components simply because you chose to ignore a deviation from your engine’s normal performance. So my advice to you is that the moment you feel that there’s something wrong with your engine, go with your gut feel and conduct an auto tune-up or troubleshoot your engine for signs of problems as soon as possible.

If you Notice Fluctuating Engine Power See, this is one of the examples of a very subtle symptom. While you won’t experience stalling and even a complete engine breakdown, if you notice that your engine’s performance has dipped slightly or is steadily starting to decline, then act on this problem as soon as possible. In this scenario, you won’t feel excessive vibrations and you won’t hear whining noises coming from your engine, but what you will notice is how your engine is having difficulties maintaining its performance. This may come in the form of an engine that has trouble revving, or slows down even as you push on your gas pedal. Either way, the following factors may be the culprit/s behind your “less-than-great” engine performance…

Possible Cause: Dirty Spark Plugs. Prop up your hood and inspect your spark plugs for signs of dirt buildup. Naturally, when grime coats your spark plugs, you can expect these plugs to have difficulties firing up your engine cylinders. While it may not automatically lead to a misfiring engine cylinder, dirty spark plugs can mean less power to start and warm up your engine properly.

Possible Solution: Regap your spark plugs and clean each one using a small, fine brush.

Possible Cause: A Filthy Air Filter. It’s recommended that you replace your air filter each time you notice a buildup of debris on its netting. If your filter is reusable and you’ve tried washing and reusing it several times, inspect your filter for signs of damage. Remember, while it’s crucial to let in the right amount of airflow for more efficient fuel combustion, it’s equally vital that you prevent fuel contamination by keeping your air filter in mint condition.

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Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 1)

October 25, 2008

Note to Reader 2: Like the rest of my recent posts, this multi-section post will give you some of the most common symptoms of engine problems. A list of causes and probable solutions will be posted with each section. Having said that, read on to find out more about the common engine problems and how you can address these issues.

If your car starts out fine but starts jerking and bucking, particularly when you’re running at a low speed…

Possible Cause: Broken O2 sensor. If you have a broken O2 sensor, then naturally this component is going to throw your air-fuel mixture out of the loop. Your engine is going to be fed with air/fuel mixture that’s either too rich or too lean, causing your engine to run roughly.

Possible Solution: Find your oxygen sensor and replace it if necessary. This component is usually mounted inside your exhaust pipes. It’s pretty small, around the size of a clothespin, so keep your eyes open for this component. (By the way, the oxygen sensor is a small device that’s used to measure the amount of oxygen in your exhaust emissions. The moment there is too much or too little oxygen in your air-fuel mix, the oxygen sensor sends signs to your engine computer to lessen or increase the flow of fuel—whichever applies.)

Possible Cause: Your car has vacuum leakage. To check this, you’ll need to have a stethoscope—the kind sold for less than $15, preferably (mainly because you won’t be using it often). Put the stethoscope against the hose and listen for signs of air leakage. This usually comes in the form of a high, shrill, squealing sound. Also listen between your car’s intake manifold and carburetor or throttle body. In most cases, the leak should come from your car’s rubber, vacuum hose. Inspect the hose for signs of cracking or pinching.

Possible Solution: Repair and/or replace damaged components as soon as possible.

Possible Cause: Your EGR valve is malfunctioning.

Possible Solution: Repair or replace this valve if needed, to restore your ride’s power easily.

Note to Reader 3: If stalling is the biggest engine problem you have, I also suggest looking into your fuel system. It’s possible that your fuel pump is no longer creating enough pressure to transfer gas from your fuel tank to your engine. Use a fuel pressure gauge to be sure. Also, do check your fuel filter. Remember, you have to replace your filter regularly to avoid grime buildup that hinders fuel flow!

If your car runs well during low speeds but starts surging or jerking every time you depress on your gas pedal…

Possible Cause: Ignition trouble—usually worn spark plugs. Check your spark plugs for signs of damage.

Possible Solution: If you notice that your plugs are starting to look rather worn-down around the electrode corners, replace them.

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Car Maintenance 101: Prepping for Troubleshooting Your Engine—Parts and Function

October 22, 2008

Note to Reader 1: Your engine is probably one of the hardest parts to troubleshoot. Although it’s easy to spot engine-related problems, the problem comes with diagnosis. When it comes to engine troubles, you usually have four explanations behind them. Either: (a) your engine has a problem and is itself exhibiting symptoms; (b) your engine is exhibiting symptoms and may have incurred damage due to another malfunctioning auto system; (c) the problem isn’t with your engine but another auto system; and (d) your engine is damaged but is exhibiting symptoms elsewhere (like your exhaust).

Spotting engine problems is one thing, but actually troubleshooting your engine and determining the root of your problems is another. If you’re not familiar with how your engine works, then it may be more difficult for you to pinpoint which part of your car is malfunctioning and how you can address it. The good thing is that we’ll turn this post into a multi-part post that discusses everything step-by-step.

That being said, let’s begin with a simple part definition.

Engine Definition:

There are many different types of engines out there, but in this post, we’ll be discussing the most common engine used in automobiles these days—the internal combustion engine. As you can already understand from its name, the internal combustion engine burns fuel or gasoline and turns it into the raw power needed in operating your vehicle.

Some of the Basic Parts of An Internal Combustion Engine:

Camshaft: The camshaft is a component that’s designed to help operate your engine valves. It usually works in a synchronized manner with your car’s crankshaft, which is powered by your vehicle’s timing belt.

Crankshaft: The crankshaft is the auto unit that converts a piston’s up and down movement into circular motion.

Connecting Rod: The connecting rod is the part of your engine system that attaches your crankshaft to your piston. This rod is capable of rotating at both ends. It also changes angles as your piston oscillates up-and-down and your crankshaft moves around and around.

Piston: The piston is basically a cylindrical, metal component that moves inside your engine cylinder. As aforementioned, in up and down motion.

Piston Rings: These rings are a type of seal that you’ll find between the inner edge of your engine cylinder and the outer edge of your piston. It’s designed to help keep the oil from your oil sump into leaking into your engine’s combustion chamber. Conversely, it also prevents exhaust and even fuel/air mixture from leaking into your oil sump during the process of combustion and compression.

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Car Maintenance 101: Diagnosing Your Car’s Steering Problems (Part II)

October 14, 2008

Note to Reader 2: Obviously, it pays to keep your steering components in mint condition. Because of the location of your steering mechanisms, it’s a bit tougher to inspect these parts every week. But that’s no reason for you to simply forget about this component altogether. The moment you “feel” that there’s something wrong with your transmission/steering mechanisms while you’re driving, it’s always best to address these problems head-on rather than wait for your ride to break down completely. The following are other symptoms and possible causes behind your steering problems.

If your steering wheel starts vibrating when you accelerate, or when your steering wheel vibrates even while you’re going straight at a steady speed…

There are many reasons why your steering wheel “fights” your grip. Sometimes as you drive through your freeway, you may run into bumps and potholes that will cause your wheel to turn sharply immediately. This is why it pays to keep your eyes forward and to keep a steady hand on your wheel. But if you’re moving on smooth pavement with no road humps or bumps in sight, and your steering wheel continues to fight your grip, then you may have:

Possible Cause: wheels that are already out of balance.

Possible Solution: Take your car to the local garage to have your wheels re-balanced and realigned.

Possible Cause: Your wheels may be prying loose due to loose bolts.

Possible Solution: If you’re on the freeway, head to the emergency bay to inspect your lugs. Look at your wheel lugs to determine if they need tightening.

Possible Cause: You may have damaged brake discs.

Possible Solution: This coming weekend, take the time to inspect your braking system and to replace your rotors if necessary.

Possible Cause: Worn treading on your wheels or your tires are starting to wear unevenly.

Possible Solution: Check your tires if you need to replace them if the treading is all but gone. Also keep in mind that uneven wear and tear on your tires is a symptom of a bigger problem. Check your wheel alignment and balance to determine if it’s time to take your car to the shop.

If you hear a clunking noise each time you go through the road bump…

It’s actually not just clunking noise but also knocking on your steering wheel. The moment you hear these sounds, it’s time for you to check your steering mechanism for trouble. Your car may have…

Possible Cause: Damaged strut bearings.

Possible Solution: Check your strut bearings for signs of wear and tear. If the damage is extensive, consider replacing both your strut bearings as soon as possible. Remember, like most of the other “paired” components in your car, when one auto unit breaks down, the other is not far behind.

Possible Cause: A broken strut assembly or worn shock absorbers.

Possible Solution: Inspect your suspension for signs of trouble. If you experience frequent swaying, bottoming out, and bouncing each time you go through road irregularities, then it’s time for you to repair or replace these components.

Possible Cause: Broken ball joints.

Possible Solution: Do check out your ball joints for signs of wear. If the damage is severe, replace this component immediately!

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Car Maintenance 101: Diagnosing Your Car’s Steering Problems

October 11, 2008

Note to Reader 1: As you may have already surmised based on my previous posts, most suspension problems aren’t really suspension issues but rather automotive symptoms of transmission or tire protection troubles. This is why it pays for you to pay close attention to your ride’s movement and the differences in performance that you may experience when one of your auto systems’ operations are compromised. Since we’ve basically covered suspension problems, the following are some of the most common steering problems you may encounter as you drive your ride.

Before anything, a quick introduction:

Your vehicle’s steering system is designed to let you shift lanes or turn effectively as you drive. The steering wheel is basically connected by a series of auto parts to your wheels, that’s why each time you turn your steering wheel, your front wheels turn as well. The moment you experience difficulties turning your steering wheel, or if your car keeps moving in a straight line even after you’ve turned your steering wheel to its limits, then you’ve got a rather grave steering problem. Read on to find out the possible causes behind your steering trouble.

If you’re having difficulties steering or turning, particularly when your vehicle is slowing down… You shouldn’t wait for the complete breakdown of your steering mechanism before you start worrying about its condition. In driving school, you’re taught to slow down when turning, especially if it’s a blind curve. If you find it hard to turn your steering wheel or if it takes a while before your wheels actually turn even if you’ve been turning the steering wheel furiously for the past few seconds, then you may have:

Possible Cause: A power steering belt that is either damaged or has gone loose.

Possible Solution: The only options you have are to either have this unit repaired or you get it replaced completely. If it’s still reparable but in a more or less bad shape, then I suggest replacing it anyways. (If you’ve got a belt that’s starting to come undone or is beginning to breakdown, you’ll just end up replacing it sooner rather than later anyways, so why wait, right?)

Possible Cause: Your power steering fluid level is too low.

Possible Solution: Like all the rest of your vehicle’s fluid levels (coolant, refrigerant, windshield wiper, fuel, oil, etc.) it’s best to check your power steering fluid once in a while. Too-low steering fluid levels can result in harder steering.

Possible Cause: A leak in your power steering rack.

Possible Solution: If you notice that your steering fluid level is running too low, too soon, then the problem might not be with how much fluid you put in—it could mean that you have a leak in your power steering rack. Check your steering rack for signs of leakage. If the damage is extensive, replace your steering rack immediately.

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Car Maintenance 101: Diagnosing Your Suspension Problems (Part II)

October 9, 2008

Note to the Reader 3: This is obviously just the continuation to my previous post. Just a little reminder, working on your suspension, particularly if we’re talking a major overhaul, is best left to the professionals. But one thing you can do is to purchase your own replacement parts from a reputable parts provider. This way, all you have to do is pay for the installation/repair fees from your local garage. Also, I’ll have to apologize for not updating my blog as frequently as I used to. I’m currently in the middle of a project, but don’t worry, I’ll have more updates once this project is done.

So now on to the real show…

If You Experience Dips or Diving, or Even Excessive Bouncing Each Time You Pass a Hump…

A slight dip each time you pass a hump is usually normal. But if your ride is in danger of bottoming up or really taking a short dive to touch the road, then you may have suspension problems. When driving, it’s always recommended that you slow down or depress on your brake pedal each time you go near a hump. Running over humps is ill-advised because it really does destroy your suspension. But if you’re cautious when it comes to road humps and you still encounter diving, dipping, or excessive bouncing, then your vehicle could have:

  • Damaged leaf springs. Leaf springs are what causes the up and down motion of your ride. They’re there to prevent damage on your car’s components each time you go through road irregularities. But the moment your car becomes harder to handle due to bouncing, then that’s the time you need to inspect your leaf springs. Repair these components or replace them completely if you need to.
  • Worn or broken strut assemblies or shock absorbers. Shock absorbers and even struts are there to dampen the movement of your leaf springs. Without them, you’re bound to experience vehicle swaying and bouncing. So the moment you encounter these problems, do check the state of your struts and shocks and repair or replace them if necessary.

If You’re Experiencing Difficulties Keeping Your Car Moving Straight Because It Skids to the Right or Left…

One neat trick that I often do, but only when there are no other cars around and when the road is straight, is I let go of the steering wheel just for a moment (a second or two tops). This allows me to determine if one of my tires is in need of inflating. When keeping your car straight is a constant struggle, then it’s a sign that:

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