How Falling Leaves Can Make Driving More Dangerous

As fall approaches, people look forward to seasonal pleasures like apple cider, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything. One of the best things about the season is the spectacular display of color in the autumn leaves. Unfortunately, once those lovely leaves start falling, they can cause a lot of problems relating to your vehicle.

Wet Leaves On Road

Once the autumn leaves start falling, there are several reasons for exercising a little extra care and caution with your car and your driving habits.

Leaves On the Road

Accumulation of leaves on the road can make for dangerous driving conditions, particularly when those leaves become wet. Driving on a layer of wet leaves can be much like driving on a sheet of ice. Water stands on the waxy surface of the leaves, leading to potential loss of traction and instability. To see what happens when a vehicle travels on a layer of wet leaves, watch this video simulation posted by The Weather Channel.

Other problems associated with falling leaves relate to visibility. Lane lines and other road markings can be concealed. Road hazards such as potholes can be camouflaged, as well. 

In addition to reducing speed and maintaining ample distance, the National Highway Safety Administration cautions drivers to make sure their tires have good tread to help channel water away from the tires. Maintaining proper inflation is also helpful for assuring your tires provide you with the best possible performance.

Falling Leaves In the Driveway

If your car is parked outside, you should plan on spending a few extra minutes clearing your car of leaves and debris. Wet leaves tend to “stick” on your windows and windshield, so don’t expect them to blow away once you hit the road.

Leaves on Cars

Also, take time to clear leaf litter from all of the nooks and crannies of your car’s exterior. Not only does this make your car look nicer and cleaner, it will reduce the chances of any debris impairing the performance of important features like your windshield wipers.

A Final Fall Tip

How are you doing on your vehicle maintenance schedule? Fall is a great time to schedule a visit with your trusted automotive technician to make sure your car is performing at peak level and ready for winter!

Do You Need Winter Tires?

Not sure whether or not you need winter tires? Consider the typical winter weather conditions in your area and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have to drive in icy conditions?
  • Is the snowfall significant or consistent?
  • Do you wait to leave the house until the roads on your route have been cleared?
  • Does your area consistently see temperatures in the low 40’s during?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more these questions, snow or winter tires may be a wise investment for your driving safety.

Winter Tires

What Makes Winter Tires Different Than Regular Tires?

Tires designed for winter driving offer superior grip when driving, stopping, and cornering. The tread is designed to bite into snow and ice, while channeling water away from the contact surface. They are also made from softer rubber, which is formulated to stay pliable at freezing temperatures. 

It is important to note that the soft rubber used to make winter tires causes the tire tread to wear faster than all-season tires. For this reason you need to switch back to your all-season tires in the spring, your investment should last for several seasons.  

Now is the Time to Buy!

Fall is the time to shop for new winter tires. Retailers begin to stock the latest models in the fall, so now is when you will find the best selection. If your tire retailer does not have the tires you want in the size you need, retailers can usually order them and install them when they come in. 

Winter tires are usually manufactured during the previous summer, so quantities are often limited. To be sure you’re prepared before winter weather hits, start shopping now. You will also be more likely to get the tires you want for a competitive price. 

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Dependable winter tires have a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall. It assures you that they passed an industry test for severe snow use.
  • Not all winter tires are the same. Make sure you get the right shape and size to suit your vehicle make, model, and year.
  • Know the laws and regulations that specify what is acceptable in your area. For example, some states have minimum tread requirements or do not allow studded winter tires.
  • When comparing prices, be sure to consider the cost of installation. You may see a great deal on a set of winter tires online, but after you factor in installation costs, the deal might not be that great.
  • As with any tire purchase, keep in mind that it is safest and best for your vehicle to buy a full set of four winter tires when possible. 

 

 

Six Clear Ways to Improve Driving Visibility

When we think of things that compromise driving visibility, we are likely to think of elements like sleet, snow, and rain. It is true that weather can compromise your ability to see clearly while driving, but there are other factors that affect visibility, which are easier to control. 

Windshield Wipers Driving Visibility

Debris from falling leaves in the air, particularly at this time of year, can cause the accumulation of dust and dirt on your car. This includes surfaces that affect your driving visibility, such as your windshield.

In terms of your vehicle’s equipment, there are important maintenance tasks you need to perform, to make sure your visibility while driving is optimal. 

Below are six simple maintenance tips to assure clear driving visibility so you and your passengers will be as safe as possible on the road.

  1. Keep your windshield clean.

A dirty windshield can be especially dangerous at night. Street lights and oncoming headlines will hit the haze on the windshield and create “stars” that make it difficult to see. Make a habit of cleaning your windshield every time you fill up to keep grime from building up.

  1. Make sure your mirrors are clean.

Your car is equipped with mirrors to enhance your ability to see the road at different angles. In order to use your mirrors for optimal visibility, it is important to keep them clean and free of dirt or debris.

  1. Check the condition of your wipers.

Wiper blades need to be in good condition in order to do their job properly and thoroughly. Inspect your wiper blades regularly, and as a rule of thumb, replace them every six months.

  1. Keep your washer fluid level filled.

Washer fluid enables windshield wipers to clear your view, even when there is little or no rain or moisture. When wiper blades drag across a dry surface, not only are they ineffective, they can also be damaged. Check your washer fluid at every service interval or when the seasons change. Use windshield washer antifreeze in winter months to prevent damage to your washer system.

  1. Keep your headlights clean.

The amount of dirt and debris that accumulates on headlights can be surprising. If left uncleaned for a long time, your headlight beams may actually become dimmer. Regular cleaning will keep them clear and bright.

  1. Have a cracked or chipped windshield repaired or replaced.

A tiny crack in your windshield can happen in an instant, but become a huge problem over time if left unrepaired. One day you may hit a bump or pothole, and suddenly that small crack spreads all the way across your windshield. Fix windshield cracks as soon as possible to maintain safe visibility and to avoid the cost of a windshield replacement.

Five Steps for After Road Trip Car Care

Summer is the time for road trips! Especially with this year’s COVID-19 restrictions interfering with air travel. A recent AAA article reports, “Car trips will reign supreme this summer, accounting for 97 percent of summer travel.” According to the article, AAA anticipates 683 million road trips this summer. While getting your car ready for a driving vacation is essential, after trip car care is important, too.

summer vacation car trip

Earlier this season we discussed checks to prepare your car for Summer heat and road trips, but what should you do once you return home? Whether your road trip takes hours or days to complete, your car will probably experience more wear and stress than it normally does. Just like you, it is going to need some time and TLC to recover. This means taking some time for after road trip car care to get the vehicle ready for its normal routine. 

The following are five after road trip steps you can do to help your vehicle recover from a summer road trip.:

  1. Clean the interior and exterior of your vehicle. Being in a vehicle for an extended period of time is a great way to accumulate trash from your favorite road trip snacks and fast food wrappers. The front of your vehicle will also become a sort of graveyard for a variety of unlucky insects. In addition to the bugs, depending on your destination, you could have a lot of dust, sand, and dirt sitting on every surface of your vehicle. Give your vehicle a thorough after road trip clean on the inside and outside before you head back to reality. 
  1. Check your tires. Driving through numerous state lines and on different terrains will inevitably have an impact on your tires’ tread. Go ahead and do a thorough tread inspection and make sure your tire pressure is at the desired psi while you’re at it. If you notice that your tire pressure is decreasing unusually quickly, it may have a puncture. You can simply go to your trusted mechanic and see if it can be plugged or patched before committing to an entirely new tire. 
  1. Top off your fluids. Add more windshield wiper fluid and coolant to your vehicle. This should be a very quick and easy task that can be performed in just a few minutes.
  1. Change your oil. An extended drive puts more strain on your motor, especially if your vehicle was towing a trailer or carrying more luggage and passengers than usual. Oil changes are also a quick task, and should be performed consistently, to keep your vehicle in great condition.
  1. Run a vehicle diagnostic report. Check your filter and engine health with a vehicle code scanner, also known as an OBD II scanner. This is a great way to catch a vehicle problem before it worsens and becomes costlier to fix.

Following these simple after road trip car care steps will go a long way toward keeping your vehicle in great condition, and ready for everyday use as well as your next road trip.

 

What Does a Transmission Flush Do for Your Vehicle?

 

transmission gear shiftTransmission fluid is an essential lubricant that cools and protects the moving components in an automotive transmission. This lubricant also enables the gears to shift properly. Vehicle fluids tend to degrade over time – transmission fluid is no exception. The deterioration of transmission fluid can be accelerated in the case of a car that does a lot of city driving, or a truck that does regular hauling. Flushing the transmission clears out degraded transmission fluid so it can be replaced with new transmission fluid.

In addition to clearing out old fluid, a transmission flush washes away tiny particles, such as clutch material and metal shavings, which accumulate in the fluid over time. When transmission flush service is neglected, those particles clog passages and wedge between moving parts, causing wear within the transmission. Regular transmission service allows your transmission to function properly significantly longer, which means you’re less likely to breakdown and be faced with a major transmission repair.

Transmission service is typically recommended every 50,000 miles. As with all auto services, it is important to refer to your owner’s manual to see the recommendations for your specific vehicle.

Four Signs That You Need New Spark Plugs

Spark PlugsSmall, but essential to the functioning of your internal combustion engine, is the humble spark plug. Its purpose is to transmit an electrical signal from the ignition to create a spark, which in turn ignites the air-fuel mixture inside the combustion chamber. Spark plugs are uniquely designed for the type of vehicle in which they will be used. During installation, the technician will set the designated spark plug gap that is appropriate for the vehicle.

In proper condition, spark plugs efficiently burn fuel, but like other vehicle components, they can go bad. They require routine inspection and maintenance to ensure optimal engine performance.  

According to AutoBlog.com, for most vehicles sold in the U.S. recommend spark plug replacement every 30,000 to 50,000 miles. They note that while some newer vehicles have advanced ignition systems that presumably make spark plug replacement unnecessary, there still can be times when a spark plug wears out or shows signs of failure.

It is important for your vehicle’s safety, performance, and reliability to pay attention to these signs that you may need new spark plugs:

  1. Trouble Starting – Compromised spark plugs may be unable to provide enough spark to start the engine. If the vehicle does not start at all, the battery may be to blame, but intermittent problems may be due to faulty spark plugs.
  1. Reduced Fuel Efficiency – Worn out spark plugs tend to increase a vehicle’s fuel consumption since they don’t effectively burn the fuel that goes into the engine. You will notice that you are filling up at the pump more frequently.
  1. Poor Acceleration – If you notice a lack of responsiveness or inability to accelerate as your car normally does, the problem could be worn out spark plugs.
  1. Engine Misfiring – While in most cases, engine misfiring is due to sensor malfunctioning, this problem could also be caused by a damaged spark plug. 

The CarTalk.com blog explains that the spark plug gap, we mentioned earlier, is an additional issue to watch for if you replace spark plugs yourself. They recommend always checking the gap measurement when installing spark plugs because a gap that is too small may not allow enough room for the spark to jump, and a gap that is too large may mean the spark can get blown out at high speeds.

Nine Checks to Prepare Your Car for Summer Heat

Summer is finally here and so are the hot temperatures. It is important to make sure your car is ready to handle the extra heat.

Prepare Your Car for Summer Heat

Here are nine important things to check in preparing your car to safely handle the summer heat:

  1. Air Conditioning System – Check your air conditioning system to assure it is properly maintained to adequately cool your car’s interior. This will protect you and your passengers from dangerous heat while you are traveling.
  2. Battery – Like extreme cold, extreme heat can also put your battery at risk. Battery fluid evaporates faster when it is exposed to high temperatures, which can lead to corrosion on terminals and connections. Be sure to keep these clean, and have your battery tested if it is older than three years.
  3. Radiator – Have your radiator inspected to be sure it is in good condition, and that the radiator core has not been damaged by salt corrosion. Another issue to watch for is a plugged radiator core. This problem can happen when coolant flushes are not performed.
  4. Coolant – Antifreeze and coolant are critical to your car’s heating and cooling system. Having the coolant flushes performed per your owner’s manual recommendation is extremely important in assuring your engine runs clean and cool.
  5. Cooling Fans – A cooling fan failure can lead to engine overheating problems. In some cases, trouble with the air conditioning system can be a sign that you have a cooling fan problem. Cooling fans should be regularly inspected to avoid engine problems.
  6. Thermostat – There is no set mileage that predicts when it will fail, but when it does, it’s important to replace it as soon as possible. A bad thermostat is a common cause of engine overheating. A failing thermostat can also  be indicated by the check engine light illuminating or the car heater not working.
  7. Water Pump – A compromised water pump will often cause a coolant leak, so if you notice the coolant level dropping at a faster rate, you should have it checked as soon as possible. An experienced auto technician will be able to spot a water pump that is about to fail.
  8. Belts and Hoses – The belts and hoses in your cooling system should be inspected to make sure they are tight and in good condition.  Cracks or deterioration of the rubber are signs of trouble.
  9. Tire Pressure – Check the pressure of your tires to make sure they are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can overheat, which increases the chance of a blowout during summer months.

 

Two Services That Will Extend Tire Life

Two Services That Will Extend Tire LifeTires are expensive. Shouldn’t you be doing all you can to get the longest service life from your tires? Wheel alignment and tire balancing are two basic services that will significantly extend tire life and protecting your tire investment.

Wheel Alignment Service

Wheel alignment service, also referred to as “front end alignment” or “tire alignment,” involves the adjustment of the angle of your vehicle’s wheels to the original position recommended by the manufacturer. Wheel alignment includes inspecting tire tread for signs of poor alignment as well as checking the toe, camber, and caster to precisely measure wheel orientation. Wheel alignment checks are typically recommended every 10,000 miles. You may need wheel alignment service before your recommended interval if you notice the vehicle pulling to one side, or if the vehicle has recently been in a collision.

Tire Balancing Service

Periodic tire balancing service is needed to return proper balance, since tires lose balance as a vehicle is driven. Accumulation of mileage causes tire tread to wear unevenly because the distribution of weight around the tire to change, creating an imbalance. Unusual shaking or vibration as you drive can result from this imbalance. During tire balancing service, the technician will use a calibrated spin balancer, testing non-moving or static balance as well as moving or dynamic balance. Tires will be adjusted to the proper balance in accordance with the test results. Tire balancing is usually every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months.

Wheel alignment and tire balancing services do not take long and they are not expensive. Protect your tire investment and extend tire life by scheduling these services regularly.

All-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive: What’s the Difference?

If you are currently car shopping, and are not a mechanic, you may be a little confused by the overwhelming amount of options to consider. Drivetrain options can be especially perplexing when you hear “all-wheel drive” and “four-wheel drive” as options. All cars have four wheels, so why are these options different?

4WD Vehicle

AWD and 4WD Compared

Both four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive systems are capable of transferring power to both the front and rear wheels of the vehicle. Generally speaking, the difference between the systems is that one uses all four wheels part of the time, and the other all four wheels full time. 

All-Wheel Drive (AWD) AWD vehicles are engineered to provide optimal traction, performing well on all types of roads and surfaces. These types of vehicles are great for rough road and off road driving, and also perform better in bad weather conditions.

Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) A four-wheel drive vehicle provides these performance benefits only when the 4WD is engaged. When the 4WD function is not activated, the vehicle operates as a two-wheel drive system. The 4WD can be used as needed, when driving off road, on snowy roads, or other poor traction situations. 

Which is Better?

While driving with the power of all four wheels engaged seems like a great advantage, there are some drawbacks. The primary disadvantage is the amount of fuel needed to power four-wheel drive operation. Since 4WD is unnecessary for most types of roads and driving, the additional fuel consumption is not needed. Having the option to switch to two-wheel drive will save drivers money.

Other Options

When comparing all types of drivetrains, 4WD and AWD vehicles tend to be more expensive to purchase, fill-up, and keep maintained than 2WD vehicles. This is due to extra components, including the transfer case and differentials, which make 4WD vehicles heavier and more complex.

Alternatively, front-wheel drive vehicles offer a good combination of affordability and fuel economy, since front-wheel drive systems are less complicated and less expensive to produce. In a front-wheel drive, the car’s weight lies directly over the driven wheels, improving acceleration. That weight distribution also provides decent traction on slippery roads, which is a significant improvement over rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

Why are Potholes So Bad Every Spring?

potholeIt never fails. Every year, as winter gives way to spring, potholes seem to pop up all over the place, like dandelions in the front yard. If you have ever driven over a sizable pothole, you’ve experienced the jarring impact, followed by several moments of anxiety as you wonder if a part of your car has fallen off. You quickly check your mirrors to see if anything is lying in the road behind you, but all you see is that gaping pothole, mocking you.

So, why are potholes so plentiful this time of year? The pothole problem actually begins in the winter, when freezing and thawing cycles cause cracks in road surfaces to get larger and further degrade. The application of road salt can accelerate the damage because it creates more freezing and thawing stress as the salt melts ice on the roadway. In the spring, heavy rains infiltrate the cracks and cause more deterioration.

Not only do these road menaces make driving less comfortable, potholes can do significant damage to your vehicle. While we do our best to avoid them, sometimes it’s just not possible, so it is important to be aware of any problems your vehicle might have as a result.

Hitting a pothole can cause vehicle component damage, particularly with the shocks and struts. Shocks and struts control ride and handling, and serve as a cushion to dampen the bouncing action of the vehicle’s springs. They also regulate spring and suspension movement, keeping the car’s tires in contact with the road to facilitate proper steering, stability, and braking. Damaged shocks and struts can create a dangerous situation, so it is important to be aware of the signs that your shocks or struts may need to be replaced:

  • Swaying or rolling on turns
  • Bottoming out or thumping on bumps
  • Bouncing or sliding sideways on rough or winding roads
  • Front-end dives when braking or rear end dips when accelerating
  • Loss of directional control during abrupt stops
  • Puddles under the car or leaking fluids

An encounter with a pothole can also lead to tire and wheel damage, engine and  exhaust system issues, or suspension problems. It’s important to have your vehicle inspected if you experience any of the issues mentioned above. Dealing with pothole damage early can prevent more extensive problems down the road.