Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Doesn't My Vehicle Get Warm?

Now that winter is settling in, you may be finding that your heater is not working as well as you thought. Maybe you feel like your vehicle never gets warm, or it takes a long time to heat up. Let me see if I can explain to you how the system works and then you'll know just what to look for next time you have a problem.

First of all you need to know that the coolant has a lot to do with heating the vehicle. While the coolant's job is to help cool the engine, that heat is used to heat the interior of the vehicle as well. This is why it is important to do proper maintenance on the coolant system.

Coolant/Antifreeze, should always be a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. Make sure you check the bottle when you buy it. You can now buy coolant pre-mixed. If it's pre-mixed, all you have to do is pour it in. As always, check your owner's manual to make sure that you put the proper type of coolant in your vehicle. Many manufacturers sell their own
and you must use it to prevent problems in the system and keep within warranty specifications.

Always check the coolant level to make sure that it is full. Do this by checking the coolant reservoir bottle and always add to this bottle, not the radiator. It's usually a large plastic container under the hood somewhere near the radiator. If you look in your owner's manual it should show you the location  for your vehicle.

Coolant does break down over time and must be serviced. Most manufacturers recommend a coolant flush every 30,000 miles or every 2 years, again, consult your owner's manual for your maintenance schedule.

Inside the vehicle, usually on the passenger side, there is what is known as a heater core. This is a small radiator type component that fills with coolant when you turn the heat on inside the vehicle. Many times when they go bad they leak coolant on the passenger front floor and must be replaced. When you turn the fan on it blows on the heater core and sends heat into the passenger compartment.

Let's look at a couple of reasons why you may not have heat. First of all, until the vehicle warms up, the air will be cold...just like the cold engine. I usually don't even turn the heat on until I see the temperature gauge start to move off of the cold line. If you notice that the temperature gauge seems to hover down near the cold line even after you have been driving the vehicle for a while, then you probably have a thermostat problem.

In many cases the thermostat is stuck open. This means that the engine coolant takes a long time to warm up because it is constantly circulating through the engine and the radiator. The thermostat usually remains closed until the engine warms up and then it sends the hot coolant to the radiator to cool off. Consequently, if the thermostat is stuck closed, then you usually have an overheating problem.

Another thing to check is your blower motor. You should have varying speeds, and they should all work. This blows the warm air around the cabin of the vehicle. If you turn on the heat and the fan is not blowing, always check the fuse first. You can locate the fuse by using your owner's manual. A common problem is that the fan only works on high. This usually means that you have a bad resistor and you need to replace it.

If you turn the heat on and you hear the fan blowing, but only cold air is coming out, may have a problem with a blend door. This means that even though you have the vent on heat, the door is staying closed, blocking the heat from entering the vehicle. Many of these operate off of vehicle vacuum or are computer controlled. You may need to have a technician fix this problem.

The important thing is to try and figure out what's working and what isn't. This way if you have to take your vehicle in for service you can tell them exactly what is wrong. Nobody knows your vehicle better than you. Pay attention to what's going on and get things looked at before they become bigger problems.

The only place you should have to button up and wear a scarf is outside! I hope this helps you understand your heating system a little better so that you can know what they're talking about when you take your vehicle in for service. Stay warm!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Winter Is Upon Us, What's In Your Trunk?

I’m always saddened and humored when I see people on the side of the road with a flat tire. Saddened because it never happens at a convenient time, meaning that you always get a flat in the worst possible circumstances….and humored by all the “stuff” people keep in their trunks!

I’m sure you’ve seen it plenty of times, that vehicle on the side of the road with what looks like everything they own piled next to it. So, it’s time to take a look in your trunk and see just what you have in there and what needs to be cleaned out.

Remember that any “extra” weight adds to the fuel efficiency of your vehicle. Okay, so it may not amount to a lot, but any way we can cut back helps, and besides, hasn’t Fido been looking for his 50 lb. bag of dog food? I’m sure that Good Will would love it if you finally dropped off that bag of clothes you’ve been carrying around.

We’re all busy and it’s easy to forget about things you put in your truck, having every intention of bringing it into the house one day, but winter weather will soon be upon us and the ground won’t be a good place to have to put things when you need to change a flat. I would like to suggest some things that can be good to keep in your trunk.

If you have issues with your vehicle burning or leaking oil, then keeping a quart with you is probably a good idea. Look in your owner’s manual for the proper type of oil. Antifreeze may be another item. Remember, you don’t want to just add water to your vehicle if it overheats, it will freeze faster in the winter months, a 50/50 mix of coolant is the best. I always have a blanket or towel in my vehicle. It’s great to keep you warm if you had to sit and wait for help, to place on the ground so that you can kneel on it, or to keep the back seat or trunk from getting dirty when you need to put a dirty flat tire inside.

I always have a flashlight. I’ve been using an LED light lately; glass bulbs in regular lights tend to break easier when they bang around. I don’t keep water in the trunk because it freezes in winter and tastes disgusting in the summer after the heat causes the plastic to give off toxic chemicals.  I usually just bring water with me on every trip, even if it’s just to the store. After having a kidney stone, it’s best to stay hydrated than to go through that again…believe me.

My newest addition to trunk items, duck tape. Yep, you can use that for just about anything and it just may get you home. I had a women tell me that when she broke down, another woman stopped to help her. In a dress, she climbed under the vehicle and taped the broken muffler pipe up so that she could get home….awesome!

A battery jump box, one of my favorites, it allows you to jump yourself without the need of another vehicle. You can get them for around $60 and charge them through an accessory outlet in your vehicle while you drive. An old pair of sneakers, who knows when you may need to walk for help and ladies, it’s no fun to try and change a tire in pumps.

I also strongly suggest that you read in your owner’s manual how to change a tire and where the tools are well before you actually need to do it. It makes life so much easier.  

A small shovel is not a bad idea. You can get one that folds up and doesn’t take up too much space. Along with that, a bag of kitty litter can always help you get some traction on ice and snow. A first aid kit, if your vehicle didn’t come with one. It would be good to have reflectors to put on the road to make you more visible, a small piece of wood that you could place under your jack in case you have to change a tire on a soft surface and a charger for your phone. Of course gloves, hat and boots are always good to have too, if you’re not already wearing them.

So, before you say that you’re too busy to clean out your trunk, stop and think what it would be like if you got a flat and had to take everything out to get to the tire. If you drive an SUV remember, your tools may still be under the back cover so take a look at what’s in the back and get rid of the clutter. You’ll thank me one day I promise.

Watch my video for more tips.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Customer Service, Are You Getting It?

Last week I had to take my vehicle to the dealer for some warranty work. It’s been a while since I have been to a dealership as a customer and I was eager to see how I would be treated. I have to report that I was sorely disappointed.

I thought with all the talk about how important it is to treat the customer right, they would be on top of their game. Here’s what happened. I drove into the enclosed service area and pulled all the way to the end, since I was the only customer at that time. I got out of my vehicle and looked down the row of about 10 service advisors and wondered what to do next.

I started walking down the lane and no one even acknowledged me. I remember thinking how amazing that they could find their computers more important than an actual customer right in front of them. That’s when I spotted a female advisor. I stopped in front of her desk and waited. She finally looked up and said she’d be right with me.

I gave her my name and she wrote up the repair order. There were no other pleasantries or small talk. After she finished I had to remind her that she needed paperwork from me about my last repair and she just nodded. What if I hadn’t known to leave this paperwork….I guess I would have had to make another trip. I left with the promise that she would call later.

I have to say that I was surprised and saddened by this experience. How does a huge dealership maintain customer satisfaction this way? Later in the day I was out and decided to call to see if my vehicle was ready. She informed me that it would be ready in a half hour and I could pick it up but that they needed to order another part, so I’d have to come back.

When I got there I had to wait for her to finish paperwork, so I sat in their state of the art waiting room. It was huge. They had Wifi, coffee and you could even borrow an ipad. I was surprised that on a Friday at 4pm there were only 3 of us waiting and not much else was going on. I remember when I worked at a dealership this was one of our busiest times.

This building was obviously new and I remember thinking, they must own this so they don’t have to worry about their customers. I later found out that they do own it and that means that we as customers don’t have higher repair bills because of it. Obviously it also means they don’t have to worry about how many customers they have either by the way they were treating them.

I finally got my paperwork and left with the promise they would call me when the part came in. Three days later I called to see if they had the part…which they did. Were they going to call me? I went to pick up the part, since it was something I could do myself I went straight to the parts department.

Because I knew what the part looked like I noticed right away that part of it was missing. To make a long story short, the technician had the missing piece. What was even more amazing is that the service writer tried to tell me that everything was there and even how it should be connected. They obviously did not know what they were talking about, yet insisted I was wrong.

Needless to say they will not be getting good feedback from me. How do places like this keep customers, do they even care? If this happens to you I encourage you to ask questions, ask to speak to a manager and if you don’t feel like you’re getting treated right, go someplace else.

Service can cost a lot of money and you deserve to be treated right. If you’re a dealership or shop and think you’re treating your customers right, sit in your waiting room and listen to what people are saying. Watch what’s going on at the counter, you may be surprised. 

This whole experience made me glad that I can do my own work, but I know that most of you rely on the service department so you need to trust them. Again I emphasize, ask questions and if you can’t get a good answer from the management, at least at a dealership you can then pursue your issue with the manufacturer. Ask your friends and family where they take their vehicle. I have found that people are happy to talk about businesses that treat them right, you deserve better.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Just Wanted An Oil Change

Ok, so you take your vehicle in for an oil change and they do a "complimentary" multi-point inspection, now you have a list of services you never knew you needed. Has this happened to you?

I know that there are some shops out there that just do this to make money, but for the most part they're looking out for your best interest. Can you honestly say that you keep track of the last time you changed your antifreeze or your automatic transmission fluid? Do you even know when they should be changed?

In the back of your owner's manual there is a section of maintenance schedules. It will tell you how many miles you can go before needing to change a fluid or replace a belt. I have found that most people never even look at this.

I hear a lot of places telling people to change their oil every 3,000 miles. Well, if your manual says every 7,500, that's when you should do it. We don't need extra waste oil added to our current environmental issues and if the manufacturer recommends those intervals, then that's when you need to do them.  Do your services when they're recommended and not before, unless there is a problem.

So many of you may be thinking, do I really need an alignment or new tires, or are they just trying to get me to spend money? You can always get a second opinion from another shop or ask them to explain why you need it. A trustworthy shop will be happy to explain why your vehicle needs the work.

Once you are sure that a service needs to be done, then there is the cost factor. A great website to check is Repair Pal. By using your zip code you can see what the average cost should be for a repair in your area. This will help you decide if you were given a fair price or not. You can also call around and ask what other shops would charge to do the same repair or service.

If you have a lot of work that needs to be done on your vehicle and you can't afford to do it all at once, then you need to decide which is most critical. A brake job may be more important than a belt replacement if the belt still has some life yet. Ask them to help you categorize your list so that you can do the repairs as you get money for them.

The most important thing is to find a shop you trust. Any shop with a good reputation will be willing to help you rank the most important repairs or services with the understanding that you have a budget to work with.

Ask Patty is another site where you can get your questions answered. Over 40 women in all areas of the automotive industry are available to answer your questions and are happy to help you make the right choices.

So don't get angry if your shop finds work that needs to be done on your vehicle, be a smart consumer and get all the facts. Make sure your vehicle really needs the service according to the maintenance chart, categorize the list from most  to least important and shop around to get the best price. Many times your shop will match the cost of a competitor to keep your business.

The economy is tough right now, but we need our vehicles to run and be safe on the road. With the average age of vehicles on the road being 10 years old, people are doing a lot more maintenance to keep these vehicles in good running condition. Use the resources that are available to you so that you are an informed consumer and can make the best decisions about your vehicle.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Replacing Wiper Blades

Most of us don't even think about our wiper blades until it rains and we see that they aren't doing such a great job of clearing the windshield. Did you know that you should replace them about every 6 months or at least once a year? When did you change your wipers last?

Of course even I'm guilty of waiting until that rainy day to change mine. It's certainly no fun to have to stand in the rain to do this, but it's important that you can see clearly through your windshield. To avoid an accident you need to be able to see and react in time.

In this video I'll show you how easy it is to replace them yourself and save you money. Make sure that you ask for help if you are buying them from an auto store. Many times the driver's side wiper is longer than the passenger side. You can look this up in the wiper guide book in the wiper section or ask them to look it up for you on the computer. Some stores will even offer to put them on for free!

Don't compromise your vision of the road, check your wiper blades and replace them before it rains.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Should I Worry About That Clicking Noise?

I recently had someone ask me about a clicking noise that they heard when they turned to the right. They didn’t hear it while they were driving straight or when making left turns. Of course this made them think that there was something wrong with the right wheel and they wondered if it was anything to worry about.
From their description, I had a pretty good idea what the problem was, most likely a torn CV joint boot. So here’s the scoop. At the end of your axle, where it connects to the wheel, you have a joint that allows you to turn the wheels. Because many vehicles today are front wheel drive, we need to have a flexible joint at the tire that can rotate and make turns. This joint is called a constant velocity joint, or more commonly, a CV Joint.

Because this joint is flexible, it is covered with a rubber boot. This boot allows it to move in all it’s angles and keep dirt and debris from damaging the joint. It’s also important that the joint stay lubricated, so the rubber boot is attached at both ends with metal bands to keep it tight and hold in the grease.

The noise that most people hear when they are making a turn is usually the gears rubbing together without grease. This happens because the rubber boot rips or a band comes off. If you don't fix this problem, you can actually break the joint and cause the wheel to break off the axle. Not a good scenario if you’re driving down the road at the time.

The best thing to do is to have the vehicle looked at as soon as you hear the noise. At this point it’s early enough in the game that you may be able to re-pack the joint with grease and have a new boot installed, before the joint is damaged. Because the boot is only open at each end, you would need to remove the axle from the wheel to install it, so this will cost you more in labor than parts. 

In other words, I would not recommend the boots that are split to wrap around the axle, they could separate and create a leak, even though they are cheaper to install. If you have to replace the axle, you can ask for one that has been re-built. This will be cheaper than buying a new one.

So, again as I often tell people, don’t turn the radio up to drown out noises that you’re hearing, get them looked at. Many times you will stop damage from becoming a costly repair down the road by catching it early.