Winter Reminders for Every Driver: The Right Maintenance Steps (Part IV)

December 18, 2008

Note to Reader: The following tips apply to “pre-winter” and ‘middle of the season’ winter maintenance. Now, just because winter has started, it doesn’t mean you should neglect your duties as a car owner. I was actually looking for a better word apart from “duties” to describe what you need to do to help keep your car in tiptop condition during these cold months, but I couldn’t find any. Yes, you have a duty to keep your car in great shape. While vehicle maintenance may not seem like a pressing duty these days, neglecting simple things like auto tune ups can eventually lead to costly reparations, or worse, expensive auto-part or entire-vehicle replacement.

Tip #8: Conduct a Tune-Up!

Now if you’re a responsible vehicle owner, then you already know the importance of regular tune ups. But in case you missed my previous posts on this topic (multi-posts at that!) then I’ll give you two reasons why you should conduct regular auto tune ups: (1) It helps keep your car performing at its best by making sure your engine and ignition components are in great shape, and (2) it helps you catch small auto issues before they become full-blown, migraine-inducing, automotive problems—possibly saving you hundreds of dollars in the long run.

While a couple of auto breakdowns during the warmer seasons may seem like “petty issues” to some of us, it’s a completely different story when you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter with a busted car. When you feel

every muscle in your body starting to freeze when you step out of your car, then you’ll know you’re in deep trouble. Avoid turning into a human popsicle by making sure your car is in great shape before, during, and even after the winter season.

Because broken fan belts, hoses-gone-bad, frozen water pumps, arcing ignition wires, and malfunctioning distributor rotors and caps, are the usual culprits when it comes to auto breakdowns, it’s better to make sure each one of these auto units are in good condition before embarking in any long winter trips.

I know that the word “tune-up” can encompass virtually anything and everything that has to do with repairs and replacements, that’s why we’re going to be tackling some of the most important steps you shouldn’t forget when conducting a tune-up. If you decide to do a little “extra” work on your car, then that’s good news for both you and your car! If you don’t have the time to go through every single component in your vehicle, then I suggest checking at least the following:

Misc. Tip

Its widely known that winter time brings with it more auto expenses. Auto accident rates skyrocket with snow and icy conditions. Proper maintenance will certainly help you and your auto be better prepared for these conditions. In the mean time you might want to check out some cheap auto insurance savings tips as there is a very good chance you will have even minor accidents this winter.

Step #1: Check your tire pressure levels. If you don’t have the tools to check your tire pressure levels, then you can ask your local mechanic to do it for you—sometimes even for free! But since it’s Christmas, you might want to leave a nice tip for your mechanic.

If your vehicle has built-in tire pressure monitors, then you won’t have to worry about frequent tire checks, since these monitors should alert you when there are drastic changes in your car’s tire pressure levels. But if you notice one or all of your tires going soft gradually, then it’s best to still conduct a manual check once in a while.

Spark Plug Wires

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Winter Reminders for Every Driver: The Right Maintenance Steps (Part III)

December 11, 2008

Note to Reader: Still don’t have my train horns in place, but I’m pretty sure I’ll manage to install it by the end of the year. <<< Now, see the importance of planning things in advance? Setting your auto-related “goal” well in advance gives you time to plan out your actions. Right now, I’m still a bit busy winter-proofing my neighbor’s vehicle—for a pretty good price too! I’m still trying to decide whether to say “yes” to Rum Raisin Apple Pie (?) or Bittersweet Choco Pecan Pie. What do you think? Which one would be better for Christmas Eve?

Okay, with that question having been asked, let’s get back to our winter tips, shall we? So in the last post about winter reminders, you were asked to keep your headlights fully-functioning, keep your gas tank as close to FULL as possible, and to check your tire pressure levels. The next few tips should cover winter-proofing your engine cooling system and windshield. So, without further ado, let’s get back to business.

Antifreeze/Coolant

Antifreeze/Coolant

Tip #6: Inspect your Cooling System and Check your Water-Coolant/Antifreeze Levels.

Coolant or antifreeze, is basically the (usually) bright-colored solution that goes inside your vehicle’s radiator. Most of the time, cars run using a 50/50 mixture of water and coolant—but to be sure, it’s always best to check your owner’s manual for specific instructions regarding the correct water-coolant mixture.

Now, during winter, it’s always good advice for you to keep your water-coolant levels as close to full as possible. You’re probably wondering:

“Why add water-coolant mixture when it’s winter?” Well, even if it’s winter, your engine still heats up pretty fast, especially when you’re traveling long distances. I say, just don’t risk it! An overheating engine can cause a lot of problems under your hood. Plus, coolant helps keep your engine operating properly—it’s the best way to winter-proof your cooling system and to prolong your engine’s life.

Also, don’t make the mistake of adding 100 percent pure coolant into your radiator. Coolant freezes easily. The water’s there to help keep your coolant well below freezing point. If the coolant freezes up, expect it to expand and to kick out your engine block faster than you can say “mother-quacker”. And if you’re not sure about the freeze rating of your vehicle’s coolant, then I suggest you get one of those itsy-bitsy testers they sell in your local garage or parts store. Try to stay as far away from your coolant’s freezing point to avoid shelling out for a new engine block.

I hope you remembered to perform your annual radiator flush last spring! And now that we’re done with antifreeze/coolant discussion, let’s head on to the next topic: winter-proofing your windshield wiper!

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Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 7)

November 19, 2008

Note to Reader 9: My final post on troubleshooting your engine. I know that sometimes looking at these symptoms can be a bit confusing, after all, stalling is staling, whether you’re running at high speeds or idling. But the fact is, you need to accurately pinpoint your auto symptoms to find out the possible factors behind your engine problems. Remember that the moment you experience engine problems, it’s always best to clear your schedule as soon as possible for a complete auto check or tune-up.

If your vehicle uses up more oil than normal, but almost no smoke is exiting from your exhaust… You may notice this symptom between oil changes. You notice that your car’s oil level is becoming suspiciously low, too quickly. It’s never happened before, and it doesn’t seem like your engine is consuming more oil than usual. The weird thing is that you can’t find even the smallest amounts of smoke in your exhaust. If your vehicle is exhibiting these symptoms then…

Possible Cause: Your engine’s gasket seals or the gaskets themselves may be broken or damaged.

Possible Solution: Check your gaskets for signs of damage. Damaged gaskets always require replacing, so if I were you, I’d start looking around for replacement gaskets and seals. Make sure your gaskets and gasket seals meet your vehicle’s specifications and requirements. To find out which seals and gaskets will work best with your car, do consult your owner’s manual. (This little tip holds true for any replacement part you’re planning on installing in your ride.)

Possible Cause: You may have a malfunctioning or damaged PCV valve.

Possible Solution: Locate your PCV valve and look for signs of damage. Check to see if this component is really malfunctioning, and if it is, replace this part as soon as you can.

Possible Cause: Your engine’s valve seals may no longer be working as well as they should.

Possible Solution: Check your engine valve seals for signs of damage. Replace your valve seals if needed.

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Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 6)

November 14, 2008

*** Shown in the picture is a Toyota Alternator.

Note to Reader 7: I’m happy to say that we’re nearing the end of this particular topic. Feel free to ask me questions that you’d like to have addressed or posts that you want to see written.

And now, on with the rest of the show. Here are more tips on how to troubleshoot your engine properly.

If your engine has a tendency to idle almost-immediately after running This situation shows a scenario wherein you have an engine that’s already “warm enough” but still has idle speeds that refuses to return to “normal”. In this situation, you really have to stomp on your brakes hard to prevent your car from surging or lurching forward. If this is a common scenario for you, then you might have:

Possible Cause: An overheating engine.

Possible Solution: Check your engine’s operating temperature, is it way above normal? Noticing light smoke coming from under your hood? Pull over immediately and let your engine cool a bit before popping your hood open. After another quarter of an hour or so, have a look at your engine cooling system. If you can make it home, do so. Otherwise wait until your engine cools or call a tow truck. You’re going to have to inspect your engine cooling system for signs of damage. Inspect your radiator, radiator hoses, thermostat, and fan belt. Repair or replace damaged component/s if there are any.

Possible Cause: Worn carburetor or dying power circuit or accelerator pump.

Possible Solution: Inspect your carburetor and its nearby components for signs of damage. Make the necessary reparations and replacements if needed. You may have to replace your actual carburetor or its accelerator pump.

Possible Cause: Low pressure coming from your fuel pressure regulator.

Possible Solution: While replacing a fuel pressure regulator should be generally left to professional mechanics, what you can do is inspect your regulator for signs of damage. You can do this by checking your fuel pressure using a great fuel pressure gauge.

Possible Cause: Malfunctioning alternator. The alternator is the part of your vehicle that keeps your car’s battery in tiptop shape. Aside from keeping your battery charged, this auto unit also provides power to your vehicle’s numerous electrical units and accessories.

Possible Solution: Replace your alternator if needed.

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Car Maintenance 101: Troubleshooting Your Engine for Problems (Part 5)

November 11, 2008

Note to Reader 6: This is just a side note, but I’m a bit worried about the current crisis being faced by huge automakers in the country. Although I’m not selling new cars, more like repairing old ones really, it still kinda smarts to see the Detroit Big Three (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) take a stumble. Here’s to hoping those companies get the aid that they need to continue creating good cars.

That being said, onto our usual route. Troubleshooting your engine part 6. Bear with me, there’s just two or three more scenarios which I hope can help you guys sort things out when it comes to your rides. By the way, since most of the causes presented in this post have already been discussed in the previous entries, I’ll try to keep this post as short and sweet as possible.

***The picture shows a Scan Tool or DTI (Diagnostic Trouble Code) Reader

If your engine stalls while idling or can’t idle smoothly after running for a while… Your car may run fine at high speeds, sure. But what happens when your vehicle starts to crawl? Here’s one quick way to test if your vehicle truly is exhibiting this symptom. After traveling for a quarter of an hour or so, release your step on the gas pedal to see how your engine’s gong to run. If it bucks or it stalls then…

Possible Cause: You may have a vacuum leak.

Possible Solution: Conduct a full check on your vacuum lines and try to determine if there’s leakage somewhere. If there is, locate the faulty vacuum line/s and replace if necessary.

Possible Cause: If your ride is still sporting a carburetor (in short, if you don’t have a fuel injection system), then it’s possible that you have a faulty power circuit or accelerator pump.

Possible Solution: Locate your accelerator pump and check for damage. If the damage is extensive, replace the entire carburetor. If the damage is contained, meaning it’s found in the pump itself, then simply replace your accelerator pump.

Possible Cause: Your idle speeds are set incorrectly.

Possible Solution: Set things right by adjusting your idle speed according to your vehicle’s specifications.

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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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