Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tire Pressure, Is It Really That Important?

We’ve all heard that proper tire inflation will help with gas mileage, but it’s also a safety concern. Improperly inflated tires can cause premature wear and stability issues as well. So first, let’s talk about were to find the proper tire pressure for your vehicle.

As you may know, tire manufacturers make tires that end up on a variety of vehicles. Therefore, you will never find the tire pressure for your vehicle on the tire itself. You need to look at the specifications for YOUR vehicle. You can find this information in your owner’s manual and somewhere on the vehicle, usually inside the driver’s door. Make sure you read it carefully; sometimes tire pressure is different in the front and the back. And don’t forget to check your spare tire at least once a year, a flat spare won’t help if you get a flat tire.
Digital Gauge

Stick Gauge
Dial Gauge
The next thing you need is a tire pressure gauge. I recommend that you purchase one and keep it in your vehicle. There are a variety of gauges, a stick gauge, dial gauge or a digital gauge. Find one that you feel comfortable with and know how to use it.

If you have a TPS sensor, don’t ignore it. Check the tire pressure. Remember, if you have nitrogen in your tires, it’s okay to add air if the tire is low.

Having a tire that is low on air may cause the car to feel unstable when driving it, or you may feel like it’s pulling to one side or the other. Obviously if all tires are properly inflated you’ll get the best ride down the road.

So what can happen if you don’t keep proper pressure in your tires. Well, there are a couple things. Over inflated tires will tend to wear prematurely down the center of the tire, while under inflated tires will wear along the outside edges.

It’s also important to rotate your tires so that you get even wear. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended schedule. If you don’t have this information, every 7500 miles is a good guideline to follow. Remember, your front wheels are doing all the steering, so you want the most tread in the front.

Tires are expensive these days. Proper maintenance will help you get your money’s worth and give you the longevity and mileage out of your tires as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is That An Idiot Light On the Dash....Or Not?!

Every time you start your vehicle you see a bunch of lights that come on on the dash. Most of them go out after a few seconds, once the computers have done their initial scan of the systems, but what happens if a light stays on or a light comes on while you’re driving? Should you care, or are they just “idiot” lights?

I think that a lot of people like to ignore problems with their vehicle because they are either afraid they’ll get ripped off  if they take it to a shop, or they don’t want to think about how much it will cost to fix it. That being said, here are some lights that you SHOULD NOT ignore.

Red Oil Light: This light comes on when there is a problem with the oil pressure in the engine. Because the oil is like the blood of the vehicle, it’s important to keep it changed and full. If this light comes on while you are driving you should IMMEDIATELY pull over and turn the vehicle off. This light is the last warning before engine damage can happen, not the “you’ve got 50 miles before you need to get it looked at” light. If the oil is low, it’s possible that you could add oil and see if the light goes out. Most likely you’ll need a tow to a shop to see what the problem is.

Check Engine Light: This is a light that a lot of people ignore if the vehicle is driving okay. Unfortunately, this could make the problem worse and possibly cause an expensive repair down the line. The check engine light comes on when a sensor gives a bad reading. Sometimes the light can be on for something as simple as not tightening your gas cap, but other times it could be something more serious. There are many places now that will read this code for free. You can even purchase a code reader like the one from CarMD for about $100 to tell you the code. You can then look up this code to see what the possible problems are. You always want to make sure that you have a trained technician verify the problem before replacing parts.

Battery Light: The battery light comes on when there is a problem with the charging system of the vehicle. This could mean a problem with the battery, the alternator or the belt that drives it. Driving with the battery light on could cause the vehicle to just stop running. Many times a simple jump will not be the answer to fixing this problem so be aware they you may need to be towed to a shop for repairs. You should always have the battery and the alternator tested as one can cause damage to the other.

Coolant Light or Temperature Gauge: If this light comes on or the temperature gauge reads closer to the H than the C it means that you have an overheating problem. You should never let the gauge go into the red as this can cause engine damage. This is another light or indicator that tells you to pull the vehicle over and shut it off.  You should not drive the vehicle until it cools and coolant/antifreeze is added. Remember, you should never open the cap to add coolant/antifreeze while the engine is hot or you could suffer serious burns.

 These are just four of the lights you should watch and take action if they come on. Look in your owner's manual for more information and what other lights may indicate. Knowing when to stop driving before damaging your vehicle and preventing costly repairs will help you be an informed driver and keep you safe on the road. 

Remember, knowledge is power.....use it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whew It's Hot In Here, Why Doesn't the A/C Blow Cold?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m melting this summer, and we still have a lot more hot weather to go. Of course with this weather come all the air conditioning problems. Well, they were probably problems before, but we were able to ignore them. Now we want to get in our vehicle, turn the A/C on and feel cool air. I’m right there with you, rolling down the windows in this heat just doesn’t cut it.

One of the biggest complaints I hear is that the air is not cold enough. When I worked for a dealership, we had a lot of customers stop by on hot days to check their inside temperature. For the most part, the A/C was fine and they just needed an explanation about how the system works.

The simple answer is that when it’s 90 degrees out and there is 80% humidity, it is very hard to get super cold air out of your system. Your engine is hot, it’s hot outside, and the air has a lot of moisture in it. So the A/C unit has to take that air, dry it and cool it so that you can feel comfortable. 

Here’s a hint, if you have a recirculation button, use it. You can get cooler air by only cooling the air in your vehicle instead of trying to keep cooling the outside air.

Here is a more in depth article about how humidity affects the A/C system. (for geeks like me)

For most of us, we just want to know why the air doesn’t get cold. Usually it’s because the refrigerant/Freon, is low or has completely leaked out. Notice I used the word “leaked”? This system is what is known as a closed system. That means there is no place for the Freon to go other than around in a big circle within the A/C system. If it escapes, then we need to find the leak and fix it before we just add Freon.

Usually a shop will suggest using dye in the system so that it's easier to find the leak. This could be something as simple as a loose line or more costly if a component needs to be replaced. I’ll tell you right now that A/C repairs can be expensive. If the system gets contaminated then you usually have to replace every part of the system. This can run you up to $1000 in some cases.

Here are just a few things that can go wrong so at least you don’t feel totally lost when you take it to the shop.

If you don’t hear any difference in the sound of the motor when you turn on the A/C , (it may rev a little more loudly and you'll hear a clicking noise when the compressor comes on) this usually means the compressor is not running. The compressor could have seized, there could be no Freon or not enough to turn the compressor on, or there could be a clog in the system so nothing can circulate. (can become a costly repair)

You could have a loose hose connection or a bad hose, causing a leak, that needs to be replaced. (cheaper repair)

You could have a very slight leak that after adding Freon would take a long time to leak out. (cheapest repair)

Just remember that you need to have Freon in the system and it needs to be able to circulate or the air coming out of your vents won’t get cool. If it becomes too expensive to fix, you can always put the windows down :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

What You Know About Your Brakes Could Save You Money

I often get questions about brake pads. How do I know when  it’s time to replace them? How many miles will I get out of a set of pads? How do I know I’m  not getting ripped off when they tell me I need brakes?

First of all, you control how long your brake pads last. You know that person in front of you that starts braking two blocks before the stop sign, well, when I was working in the shop, I loved them! Why? Because whenever your foot is pushing on the brake pedal while the vehicle is moving, the brake pads are wearing.

When I told this to a class once, one of the women said “does that mean I should brake less?” NO, just be smart about it. Let’s say that the average driver needs to replace brake pads about every 30,000  miles. That person I talked about earlier that starts braking way before it’s time, well they may need to replace them every 15,000 miles. You see where I’m going with this? More money spent on replacing pads.

Brake pads are made to wear. You can’t stop them from wearing, just how fast they wear. There are a couple ways that you can check your pads.

The most obvious way is if the brake light comes on on the dash. This is an indication of low brake fluid, which could mean that your pads are worn or you have a brake fluid leak. Of course, the parking brake turns this light on as well, so make sure you take the brake off. Driving with the parking brake on is not good.

While I’m talking about brake fluid, as a vehicle owner, if you don’t know why the fluid is low, you should never add brake fluid to the reservoir. This does not fix your problem, it just covers it up for a while. Get a technician to figure out what is wrong.

When you do take it to a shop and they tell you that you need new pads, ask to see them. It’s best if you can see them on the vehicle so that you know the pad is really yours. Any reputable shop will be happy to take you out in the shop and explain the problem. If they won’t, then take it your vehicle somewhere else, you probably are getting ripped off. In the state of Pennsylvania, less than 2/32 fails inspection. By 4 or 3/32 you should be thinking about replacing them.

Brake pads are all about safety and shops know this. What better way to get you to buy a service than to tell you it won’t be safe to drive unless you fix them. Keep track of  the mileage between brake jobs and you’ll start to see a pattern of when your brakes need to be replaced. There are a lot of honest technicians out there, so don’t jump to the conclusion that everyone is trying to take advantage of you. Ask questions and if you don’t like the answers, find someone you trust.