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Understanding your vehicle.

1) "My (choose one, Brother, Father, Sister, Friend, CoWorker, Mechanic) said, or I heard or read or saw on the internet"

All men know everything about cars and trucks even though they don't, so as the saying goes "Believe none of what you hear and 1/2 of what you see." As an automotive professional (33 years as a full-time auto mechanic, and 32 years as a auto repair shop owner), the amount of mis-information available is awe inspiring. I recently read on an internet blog instructions on how to jump start a car (Don't !!!! please read #3 below). The danger of internet information is that the source is an unknown, who are they?

2) "Oil Passageways in a car engine. Coolant Passageways in a car engine"

Internal combustion Engines (that's the kind in your car or truck, that uses Gasoline or Diesel fuel to run) have two fluids that circulate inside the engine in little tunnels called 'passageways'. Oil is pushed around the engine by the oil pump, and is regulated at a certain specified pressure. The oil is sprayed onto the camshaft and valve train, onto parts of the crankshaft and other internal engine parts, oil lubricates the internal engine parts and also helps cool them. The oil then flows down passageways to collect in the oil pan (called the sump). When the engine oil is not changed often enough the passageways clog up with goo, just like your arteries can. As the oil passageways clog up, less oil circulates inside your engine, and the internals start wearing out, causing the engine to perform poorly ... and you to buy a new car! That's why manufacturers have extended oil change (and antifreeze) intervals, clever marketing, huh?
Coolant, also called Antifreeze, is pushed around inside the engine by the water-pump in coolant passageways. The coolant gets warm from the engine then is carried to the radiator to release the heat , and circulate some more. Coolant lubricates the engine water-pump and needs to be mixed correctly with water, and should be changed regularly. The 'forever' coolant which is advertised to be good for 100,000 miles (or five years, which at 15,000 miles per year equals 75,000 miles) produces a goo if left in the engine for a couple years. This goo restricts coolant flow. If you are planning on buying a new car in a couple years, by all means leave the coolant in your engine forever, if you are keeping your car for more than five years, replace the coolant!!!

3) "Dealing with a dead battery."

A vehicle's battery stores electrical energy to start your vehicle, starting the vehicle is it's job, a dead battery is one that does not have any stored energy left.

Vehicles have a system to recharge the battery (nowadays the recharge system's main device is called an 'alternator').

Some vehicle's alternators are not meant to recharge a dead battery, only to 'Top it up' after a start. These light duty alternators are a way for the manufacturers to save weight and increase fuel mileage. Vehicle batteries have an age limit, this limit is listed on quality batteries as a number of months e.g. - 48 months. Batteries which have no month designation and the batteries that come with the vehicle when new (OE or Original Equipment) are 36 month batteries. At 1 month after the time limit i.e. 37 months, the battery may very well go dead (however, we have seen batteries work ok 7 years after the time limit! So ... 'Do you feel lucky ?')

Batteries can go dead without any notice or they can give you a clue it's coming by cranking the engine over sloooowly. Take the hint, batteries don't heal themselves.

Say some time you get in your car, attempt to start the engine and ... nothing, the battery's dead, your first thought is "I need to get some jumper cables, find somebody else's car and get a jump!"


Throw your jumper cables away, don't let anyone come near your vehicle with jumper cables, ever! In auto repair shops, we don't jump cars anymore, what we use now are self contained jumper boxes. Even then be careful, if you have an alternator which is meant to just top the battery up, you might destroy your alternator. Some tow truck drivers have even said "I'll just give you a jump, then driving it around will charge the battery." Dead batteries should be recharged by an external battery charger, not your alternator.

So what's the big deal about jumping a car battery? Your car has from 1 to 20 computers in it. Even simple electrical relays might have a computer circuit-board inside. These computers are not necessarily protected from voltage surges, we see quite a few $500 to $2000 computers destroyed each year due to surges and 'Oops I just hooked it up backwards." Damage may not show up for a few thousand miles. Just don't jump your vehicle!

So what should you do? The best way to deal with a dead battery is to never have one. Change your battery when due, listen to your auto technician, tell us if your vehicle cranks slow. Here's another excellent reason to have a regular auto mechanic that is more than a battery or oil changer. If you are not going to drive your vehicle for a few weeks, have us install an electronically controlled trickle charger. If your battery does go dead ... have it towed in to our shop.

Another note on batteries ... P.A.T. sells Interstate Batteries because we have found that Interstate Batteries are quality batteries. 99% of Interstate Batteries have removable covers over the battery cells. This allows us to be able to test each individual cell in the battery. Often a battery will test Ok overall and yet have a weak cell.

4) "Tires."

They may all be round, but tires are not all the same. The federal government came up with some tire ratings a few years ago, NHTSA tire ratings which rate tires on the basis of Temperature, tread wear and traction, as in all rating systems, there is more to the story. Cheap tires, while they may have a great tread wear rating, will often cause a 'pull' a long time before they wear out. A pull is where a vehicle will steer itself to the left or right ( a 'Drift' is a small 'Pull').

Tires have a D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) date on them, it is a 3 digit number placed on the side-wall of the tire, in an oval about 1 1/2 inches long. The first two digits indicate the week of the year (32 would be the 32nd week of the year) and the last digit indicates the year ( 6 would indicate 2006, or 1996!) you can tell the year by the model of tire, tire companies change model names regularly. Tires are old after 4 years, even tires that have not been used, and just like old men can be cranky and act weird when old. One more note on tires, it's easy to think "I'll just go to the big tire store to get tires, they're cheaper, plus nobody can screw up changing tires!" well the big tire stores can! Many nuts & bolts on a vehicle have a torque value when tightening them (torque is the turning power, the "Ommph", expressed in foot/pounds and measured by a torque wrench), vehicle wheels should always be torqued when put on a vehicle but cheap tire stores don't take the time! Not torquing wheels will cause them to loosen and possibly fall off and if over torqued can destroy the braking system.

5) "Alignments/Wheel Balance"

Front end alignments, or four wheel alignments or rear alignments are all procedures that adjusts the wheels of a vehicle in relationship to the vehicle's body. In modern vehicles, their are three basic alignment 'angles' : Camber, Caster and Toe. Camber is the top of a wheel tipped in or out in relationship to the bottom of the wheel. Caster is the relationship of the center of the wheel to where the wheel assembly is attached to the body of the vehicle. Toe is the relationship of the front of a wheel to the front of the wheel on the other side of the vehicle.

Every vehicle Make and Model has specifications for these alignment angles, some models have adjustments for all three angles, some models have adjustment for front toe only.

Vehicles that are 'Out of Alignment" (that is the alignment angles are not within specifications) may have handling problems or they may not, however, tire wear will occur if a vehicle is out of alignment, the more the angles are out of spec, the more tire wear will occur. A tire can be totally worn out in 5000 miles if the angles are out enough.

A front end alignment checks and adjusts the front wheel alignment angles. A rear end alignment checks and adjusts the rear wheel alignment angles, after a rear end alignment, a front end alignment MUST be done because front end alignments are dependent on the rear end angles.

A four wheel alignment aligns the front wheels to the rear wheels and also sets the front alignment specs.

How do you know if you need an alignment? Tire wear is an indication that you waited to long to get an alignment. If you are going to buy 4 new tires, this is a good time to do an alignment, if you have hit something with your vehicle get an alignment, the best indication of the need for an alignment is if your steering wheel is off center. An alignment sets the steering wheel level, side to side. This can be checked on a FLAT road, however, most roads have a crown, that is the center of the road is higher than the sides.

Wheel balance is the act of removing the wheels from the car, placing them on a wheel balance machine, spinning them at a high speed then placing wheel weights around the wheel rim to place the assembly in a dynamic balance. Vibration in the steering wheel or feeling a vibration in the seat is an indication that one or more wheels are out of balance. Wheels out of balance will wear tires out in just a few thousand miles.

While it would seem that with proper wheel alignment and balance equipment, anyone should be able to align a vehicle or balance wheels, we have found that not to be the case.

6) "Those wonderful vehicle rating scams"

Many people, when they are thinking of purchasing a new vehicle, check out Consumer Reports, remember those J.D. Powers awards and check the internet for repair frequencies.

All mechanical devices wear out, need servicing and they all break. The auto manufacturers know that you will check out the reliability of their products and use a number of scams to sway the statistics.

Honda had transmission troubles a couple years ago. Mindful of the impact to their reliability ratings, if you had a Honda which was exhibiting a transmission fault, called a dealer to have the car checked out, once in the shop, you would be notified that a simple fluid change solved all your problems, at no cost to you! What you didn't know was that the transmission had been replaced, along with the fluid. No transmissions were ever reported as being bad. Cost of repair has been dealt with in the same manner. Many manufacturers have changed the retail price for a component which failed in large numbers. A $500 part all of a sudden is sold as a $25 part once it starts failing under the warranty period. Statistics and numbers don't always tell the truth.

Need a trophy for say "Best husband in initial quality"? J.D. Powers will be happy to provide one, it just costs some money.

7) "Onboard Diagnostics"

With the introduction of electronically controlled engine management systems (Fuel Injection and Spark), a diagnostic system came about in the 1980's. At first this diagnostic system involved simple blinking lights on the onboard computers, and the range of information was small. In the late 1980's scan tools came about, these scan tools were external boxes which when connected to a vehicle would output a numerical code which when interpreted would suggest problems with the vehicle.

In 1996 The US EPA mandated OBD II (Onboard diagnostics 2) be in place on all cars and light trucks sold in the US. Codes have expanded and some are EPA universal, which set off a light on the dashboard when emissions are 1 1/2 times the regulated amount, and some codes are manufacturer specific. Codes are so extensive that quality shops are not using scan tools but have progressed to laptop computers which connect to the vehicle. While these codes are very extensive, they often simply point to the problem area and leave to the technician the deduction of what component has failed.

8) "Antifreeze - Coolant"

Antifreeze, also called Coolant, is a chemical which lowers the freezing point of water (and raises the boiling point), Antifreeze also lubricates the water-pump. Components in a vehicle which contain this chemical are referred to collectively as the 'Cooling System' and include: the Radiator, Water Pump, Heater Core, Water Valve, Hoses and the Engine's Coolant Passageways (and sometimes other items).

Antifreeze is mixed with water in the ratio of 1 to 1. Antifreeze is toxic to people and all other animals, it is also harmful to the environment. Antifreeze also contains a package of additives and can become contaminated with particles from the combustion chamber, oil and other automotive fluids, depending on how the engine is designed.

GM came out with a 'Never needs changing Antifreeze' which turns to goo after 2-3 years and then requires expensive repairs to the vehicle. Before the early 1990's antifreeze was green in color, then the Japanese manufacturers started using a red color (same chemical), The GM coolant has been a yellow/orange, then in the early 2000's all the auto manufacturers changed their antifreeze recommendations and colors. The vehicle repair industry had a rainbow of antifreeze to choose from, and a bewildering array of recommendations. The impetus of the color/chemical changes was some marketing and some technical, the auto manufacturers are continually looking for ways to encourage you to take your vehicle to one of their dealers. The automotive repair industry now, once again has an antifreeze which is good for all vehicles, it is now a yellow/orange color and is good for all engines, and mixes with all other colors. The color of antifreeze means nothing, it is simply a dye that is added to the antifreeze, what the manufacturers have become concerned about is the phosphate and other additives.

The cooling system is a closed system and is under considerable pressure when hot. Loss of coolant is an indication of a problem in the system, coolant does not evaporate.

Other than time between coolant flushes, how can you tell the condition of your coolant? Coolant can be checked by it's specific gravity, visually by contaminates and opaqueness. Our customers are always welcome to stop by for us to advise them on needed repairs.

9) "Automotive Keys and locks"

In the 1960's car keys were simply flat keys, with teeth cut on two sides. Then came 'High Security' keys with dimples and groves cut in them, now we have transponder keys. Transponder keys are electronically coded to your vehicle, some transponder keys are also high security, and some latest generation are not really a 'key' at all. Some models of vehicle transponder systems simply need a computer hooked up to your vehicle, others need a PIN code, some keys can only come from the manufacturer.

10) "Automotive Timing Belt"

If you have a car built since 1990 which has more than 60,000 miles you have heard someone talk about 'The Timing Belt'. Automotive engines have internal parts which are called pistons and parts which are called valves. the engine's pistons are moved by the Crankshaft and the engine's valves are moved by the Camshaft. It is absolutely critical that the timing between the moving of the pistons and the moving of the valves be correct. The camshaft is rotated by a mechanical connection to the crankshaft, in the vast majority of vehicles today, that connection is a flexible, rubber/fabric belt called a Timing Belt or Cam Belt. In many engines, if this belt breaks or slips, the pistons will hit the valves which causes damage costing $1500 and up.

Recommendations by the auto manufacturers for the replacement of the timing belt vary from 60,000 miles to never (remember, one of the factors vehicle manufacturers recommendations are based on is cost of vehicle ownership. The less they recommend, the less their vehicle costs in ownership.) Professional auto Technicians recommend vehicle maintenance and repairs based on our concern for your safety, our concern for the reliability of your vehicle and on our experience.

11) "What are your vehicle's needs?"

The repairs and maintenance a vehicle needs is independent from what the owner wants to do.

The needed oil change frequency of a vehicle has nothing to do with what the vehicle's manufacturer thinks should be done, what the talk on the internet is nor what the owner of the vehicle wants to pay for.

The needed oil change frequency of a vehicle is akin to the needed teeth cleaning frequency of a person. If you have periodontal disease, or shrinking gums, your dentist may recommend more frequent visits than, say a 12 year old with healthy teeth.

Find a Family Vehicle Care facility, before you desperately need one and rely on them for your vehicle's needs.

12) "Brakes"

There are basically two types of brakes found on autos and light trucks, Disc and Drum. All brakes function by the pressing of one component against another, one component is softer than the other and will wear away.

Disc brakes have three central components, a disc (hence the name, sometimes-called a 'rotor'), brake pads and calipers. Disc brakes work by the calipers (which hold the pads) pushing the brake pads against the discs. A 'brake job' consists of verifying that the caliper is not frozen, cleaning the caliper, lubricating the caliper, replacing the brake pads, and either replacing or machining the discs. The discs must be machined or replaced because as brakes are used, the disc becomes grooved and worn, making them no longer flat. When new flat pads are installed with worn discs, the actual brake surface area is reduced, resulting in poor braking performance. The replacement of pads only, while leaving the discs worn is called 'Pad Slapping' and is a way for shops to advertise and/or sell inexpensive brake jobs.

13) "To what level do you want to keep your car?"

One of the issues that auto mechanics have to address is 'To what level does this car owner want to keep their car.' Take these scenarios:
A car has a battery that is 52 months old, and it is a 48 month battery. While it passes the battery load test, the specific gravity on all cells is good, mechanics know that the chances that the battery will fail soon are very high. Should the mechanic sell the customer a battery?
A car's exhaust system is made up of 5 pieces, one of which has a hole, the other pieces are rusty and the same age as the piece with the hole. Mechanics know that once one piece is removed and replaced, the other pieces are now tensioned differently and they will probably break within a couple of months. Should the mechanic suggest that all pieces be replaced together?
If a car has an oil leak and the customer says "How long can I go until I need to fix it?" What is the correct answer, a) Six months b) until the engine blows up, or c) Oil leaks are like a person bleeding, any is too much.
Everybody has a different feeling on how to maintain a vehicle, that is why a recommendation or poor report about a repair facility has to be taken into consideration along with the other person's values.
P.A.T. has taken the approach that anything that is worn or broken, in our professional opinion, should be reported to the owner of the vehicle, and it should be the owner's decision to repair or not.

14) "Listen to your vehicle, write down any strange occurrences."

As vehicle systems have become more and more controlled by computers, we have seen more and more intermittent component failures. These failures range from the vehicle not starting to advisory lights on the dash to radios no working, and these failures often leave no codes or any way to discern which component should be replaced.

We recently had a car which had two no start situations in one day, and then it started fine. The customer was understandably nervous that the car would strand them. A couple of days after the no start, a person who had been behind this car mentioned to the driver that the car's back up lights were on all the time. When we checked the back up lights later, they worked normally.

Because this car owner comes to us for all their car repairs, they came by to talk about the back up light situation. We deduced that the no start plus the back up lights malfunctioning pointed to the neutral safety switch was starting to fail. It's very easy to ignore a car malfunction like the back up lights staying on all the time, then working normally, but these are clues. This also illustrates that it is prudent to go to one auto repair facility for everything, they then become the coordinator of your vehicle repairs. If this vehicle owner had been going to the quick oil change place, the muffler shop, the tire store, the brake shop and us, we would never have found this problem before the switch totally failed. How many no start situations did this car owner save themselves from?