Engine Overheating: Six Checks to Avoid A Hot Mess

transmissionInternal combustion engines convert fuel into mechanical energy. With that process comes a lot of heat. Your vehicle’s cooling system manages the heat, making sure that the engine stays cool enough to operate properly. When engine overheating occurs, it can quickly lead to a very dangerous and destructive situation.  Once engine exceeds 230 degrees Fahrenheit, the engine overheats.  At temperatures above 245 degrees Fahrenheit, engine damage may occur.  As heat continues to increase, the different rates of thermal expansion cause metal to distort.

There are the six basic parts of your cooling system. It is important to have these components checked on a regular basis to avoid a hot engine mess.

  1. Coolant – Anti-freeze 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


What is Tire Balancing and Why is it Necessary?

Tire Balancing serviceTire balancing is one of the recommended services listed in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Often confused with wheel alignment, tire balancing is important for assuring the best performance from a vehicle, and for gaining the longest service life from tires.

Tire balancing provides a smooth ride and assures even tire wear by properly adjusting the tire weight distribution around the vehicle. Tire balancing is different from wheel alignment, which involves the angle of the wheels and their relation to the ground.

As you drive, your tires lose balance, so periodic tire balancing service is needed to return proper balance. Over time, tread wear causes the distribution of weight around the tire to change, which leads to  the imbalance. This may be felt in unusual shaking or vibration as you drive.

When you have tire balancing service done, the technician will use a calibrated spin balancer, testing non-moving/static balance and the moving/dynamic balance. Tires will be restored to the proper balance in accordance with the test results. Tire balancing is usually done in combination with tire rotation, and is typically performed every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months.

 Taking your car in for regular tire balancing service is especially critical in today’s vehicles, which are designed to be lighter weight. The heavier weight of older model cars actually helped smooth out the ride by suppressing vibrations before they were felt. Modern tire design is more responsive, with lower profiles for style and performance. Tire imbalance can cause problems for both the vehicle and tires.

Do Your Brakes Need Attention?

Brakes ServiceYour brakes are one of the most vital safety features on your car. Just stop (pun intended) and think about it. You instinctively hit that pedal, mile after mile, and you know your vehicle will come to a halt. But what if one day those brakes failed. Now that is something you don’t want to think about.

Fortunately your car has several ways of letting you know that your brakes may need attention. By learning to spot the signs that you may have brake system issues, you can have problems taken care of before they put the safety of you and your passengers at risk.

Sign #1: Strange Noises

A high, screeching sound when you apply your brakes could mean that your brake pads need to be replaced.

Sign #2: Vehicle Pulls to One Side

If your car pulls to one side when you are braking, it might be because the brake lining is wearing unevenly or that the brake fluid is contaminated.

Sign #3: Strange Brake Pedal Feel

A brake pedal that feels spongy or sinks to the floor could be due to a leak in the braking system. A leak affecting the brake system could be an air leak in the brake hose, or a brake fluid leak. If the brake pedal is hard or very difficult to press, your vehicle might have a blockage in the brake line or have an issue in the vacuum system.

Sign #4: Vibration When Braking

A vibration in your brake pedal during breaking or pulsating brake pedal can be a symptom of warped rotors.

Sign #5: Grabbing When Braking

If you experience a grabbing or jerking feeling when you apply the brakes, it could be an indication that the rotor is unevenly worn or that the brake fluid is contaminated and needs to be changed.

Sign #6: Brake Warning Light

This may seem like an obvious one, but people may be inclined to ignore dashboard service lights if there are no other signs of trouble.  It is not a good idea to ignore those warning lights, especially when your brakes are involved.

If you have any suspicion that you may have brake trouble, take your vehicle in for an inspection by a qualified auto technician as soon as possible.

Simple Car Maintenance: Check for Engine Leaks

Small pools or leaks under your vehicle may indicate a number of problems, from transmission trouble to power steering system problems. You can perform a simple check on your own, before taking your vehicle in for inspection and diagnosis, so you know what to expect.

As long as the area below your engine does not have a protective cover beneath it, there’s a simple process for identifying the location and source of a leak. Park the car over a large, clean sheet of paper or card board and leave it there, ideally overnight. Mark the paper to indicate position of the vehicle. This will help you to identify where the leaks are relative to front, rear, right side, left side. It is extremely important to approach all checks with great caution, and exercise appropriate precautions to avoid injury. If you can’t identify your leak and it persists make a service appointment as soon as possible.

Here are common leak spots descriptions and what they may mean:

  • Clear, watery leaks located near the air conditioner are likely to be normal condensation from running the system.
  • Blackish, greasy leaks under the engine area are typically oil. Depending on where you see the stain, look under the hood for leaks around the oil filter and the engine. The leak might also be around the oil drain plug or crankcase and oil pan.
  • Thick, dark, oily leaks may mean a gear oil leak from a manual transmission, differential, an axle, or the steering gears. These leaks should be checked right away.
  • Slippery, watery leaks that are green, red, blue, or yellow and coming from under the engine or radiator are likely to be coolant. Check the radiator, pressure cap, engine, and hoses for leaks.
  • Oily leaks that are a reddish color or clear and located toward the front could be power steering fluid.
  • Light-colored or clear leaks could be brake fluid. Leaky brakes need immediate professional repair.
  • Battery acid leaks typically have an odor like rotten eggs. Avoid contact with battery acid and have the battery replaced.
  • Fuel leaks are usually recognizable by the gasoline smell. Look around the fuel pump and the fuel injectors. If the leak seems to be under the center of the vehicle, it could be the fuel lines, or if it is more toward the back, it could be the fluid tank.

Simple Car Maintenance: Oil Check

Our series on simple car maintenance begins with a look at the basic oil check. This is an easy-to-do maintenance task you can perform in less than 15 minutes.

Clean oil is essential to keeping your engine running smoothly. An oil check will tell you if your car has enough oil, and if the oil is still clean and effective.

Your oil’s job is to reduce friction in your car’s engine and to keep it running properly. It is recommended that you check your car’s oil once a month to be sure you have the right amount and that it is not too dirty to do its job.

Follow these simple oil check steps:

  1. Park your car on a level area and wait for the engine to cool
  2. Open the hood and locate the dipstick, usually located next to the engine
  3. Remove the dipstick and wipe it with a clean, dust-free rag
  4. Insert the clean dipstick back into the pipe
  5. Remove the dipstick a second time and examine the oil on it
  6. If the oil does not reach the second or “full” indication line, you need to add oil
  7. Check the oil’s condition – if it is dirty, you need an oil change
  8. Once your check is finished, return the dipstick to its storage spot in the pipe

When you need to add oil, make sure it is a good quality oil that is right for your car. Your auto pro can help you find the best oil selection for your engine. Remember that oil checks do not replace the need for regular oil changes. See your owner’s manual to find out your vehicle recommendations.

Car Care – Spring Cleaning

Now is the time for car care spring cleaning. Not only will spring cleaning get your car looking great, it is the ideal time to undo some of winter’s damage. Generally speaking, as the seasons change, it is also a good idea to stop by your auto service center to have regular services performed such as oil and fluids changes, wheel alignment,  and tire rotation.

Start your car care spring cleaning with a thorough car wash including underbody. After a season of driving on winter roads, the bottom of your car will be coated with corrosion causing salt, sand, and grime. Corrosion leads to rust  that will seriously damage your car, so it is important to clean it from top to bottom. Be sure to get the undercarriage power wash at your car wash or spray the car’s bottom with your own hose. A thorough rinsing is all you need – special cleaners are not necessary.

Tires can become cracked or dry-rotted, so it is essential to include them in your spring cleaning.  Scrub your tires with a good quality cleaner. Follow up with a protective product. There are a number of options, with some providing a slick finish, others a more matte finish. The important thing is that it conditions and protects the rubber in your tires, and contains a UV protectant.

When I say clean, I mean clean.  Do a thorough job inside and out. Wipe down the engine to clear away all the debris that has accumulated under the hood.  Remove any white residue off the battery with a toothbrush, baking soda, and water. It is important to do this because if corrosion residue accumulates,  it may prevent your car from starting. Cleaning also helps prepare the battery for the stress of warmer temperatures.

As part of your car care spring cleaning, be sure to scrub the bottoms of doors and clean the window channels. It is a good idea to apply a silicone spray that will repel dirt and lubricates the surfaces so the windows will not stick. Take the time to clean rugs and upholstery to remove all the salt from the car’s inside. Salt can damage some fabrics and lead to damage. Be sure to check the wiper blades and replace them if necessary.

Your final spring cleaning step should be to wax. Waxing provides your car with protection and gives it a beautiful finish.

Winter Car Battery Care

Dear Tracy,

Do car batteries require any maintenance? I have heard that car batteries run out of energy more quickly in the winter and I want to do all that I can to make sure I am not left stranded in the cold.

Lucy M.

Dear Lucy,

You are very wise to be thinking about battery care, now that the weather is taking an icy turn! It is always best to have maintenance and inspection checks done on everything, including your battery, before winter strikes.

Ask your auto care professional to test and inspect your car’s battery.  If needed, they may also clean the battery tray and terminal posts. Often the terminals are sprayed with a protective solution to inhibit corrosion. Along with the battery check, your auto maintenance professional will inspect your alternator and starting system to be sure everything affecting the performance of your battery is working as it should be.

As for batteries running out of energy faster in the winter, it is true that extreme cold can have an adverse impact on battery performance. Cold temperatures inhibit the power of chemical reactions within the battery and increase the battery’s internal resistance, both of which can cause a reduction in cranking power. Since motor oil tends to get thicker at lower temperatures, engines need an increased amount of cranking power in cold weather.

Watch for the signs of a low or dying battery, so you can address the problem before you end up stranded. A starter that is slow to turn may mean your battery is failing or that alternator wiring problems are keeping the battery from charging fully. Dim headlights that  become brighter when you accelerate the engine is another battery problem sign. A simple thing you can to is to look for a purchase date on the battery itself – the battery case should have a decal listing its expected life. The battery should be replaced if it is approaching the end of its expected use life.

Last but not least, always carry a set of jumper cables in your vehicle so that you will be prepared if you ever do have to deal with a dead battery.

What the Smell? What Car Odors Can Mean

Recently, a friend of mine nearly went crazy trying to find the source of an obnoxious smell, which had developed in her new car. Her first inclination was to blame her toddler, who likes to munch snacks and sip drinks in the car. When an inspection of his car seat, and thorough vehicle inspection failed to turn up a cause, she was ready to give up and hand over a tidy sum to an auto detailer to fix the issue. That’s when her oldest child finally confessed to spilling milk on the floor and merely patting it dry. Once the carpet deep cleaned, the problem was solved!

Sometimes, mystery odors in your car can be more than the result of a careless mishap. Often they are a warning of potential problems relating vehicle operation. Below is a list of some possible offensive odor auto issues (try saying that five times fast). Whatever it may be, if you find yourself with a mysterious car odor, have it checked out to make sure it is not a serious issue.

Maple Syrup

If you start craving pancakes as your engine warms up, it could mean  a ethylene glycol leak, which can smell sweet, like maple syrup. An ethylene glycol leak can come from failures in the intake manifold gasket, heater hose, radiator hose, or cylinder head. When the odor is most noticeable outside of the car, the problem may be a radiator cap leak. If the smell is stronger inside the car, it could indicate an issue with the heater core.

Rotten Eggs

A sulfur smell that seems like rotten eggs can be caused by a bad catalytic converter. During normal operation, gas that passes through the catalytic converter is transformed into odorless sulfur dioxide. If the sulfur is not being converted, you may smell it, and that may mean that your catalytic convertor is not working.


A leak in the fuel tank vent hose or the fuel injection line may be to blame if your car smells like a gas station. Since gasoline is flammable this is obviously not a good situation. While a gas smell can be common in classic cars that were manufactured in the 1970’s or earlier, it is not normal in newer cars and likely the sign of a serious issue.

Carpet Burning

If you smell something like burning carpet, it could be the result of hard braking causing the brake pads to overheat. While it may be normal to smell this temporarily during some driving situations, if you smell a burning smell regularly, during normal driving, it could mean you are driving with the parking brake on, or it could mean faulty or damaged brakes.

Damp and Musty

If climbing in your car is like climbing into your high school gym locker, it could be mildew in the air conditioning system. Simply turning off the air conditioning system and running  the fan on high will often cure the problem by drying out your system, but if it persists, you may need a more thorough cleaning.


About Radiator Flushes

Dear Tracy,

Can you tell me what is involved in a radiator flush and why it is important to have this service?

Lydia C.

Dear Lydia,

Regular radiator flushes are an important part of your vehicle maintenance. The job of your radiator is to provide cooling to your car’s engine by getting rid of the heat produced during its operation. The cooling system works by circulating a coolant through the engine block. This absorbs the heat and reroutes it to the radiator where it can be expelled into the atmosphere. This keeps excessive heat from damaging the engine.

Over time as you drive, solid deposits form in your car’s radiator system, creating blockages that make coolant circulation far less efficient. This results in the vehicle running hotter and damage being done by the excessive heat build-up. Periodic  radiator flushes prevent this problem. During a radiator flush, the existing coolant is drained from the radiator and replenished with a coolant mixture that cleans the system. The cleaning occurs as the engine is allowed to run at normal temperature for a period of time. The fluid circulates through the vehicle’s cooling system, dissolving any solid build-up inside the radiator channels and flushing it away. To complete the process, the cleaning  mixture is drained and replaced with a standard formula of coolant and water. A few hours will be needed for a radiator flush since the vehicle will require time to cool down completely during the various phases of the service.

The recommended schedule for radiator flushes can vary according to vehicle manufacturer recommendations. Schedules depend on engine specifications and the variety of coolant that is used. Radiator flushes are usually recommended once every 2 years or 30,000 miles. In regions that experience extreme seasonal weather shifts, seasonal radiator flushes may be advisable.

About Automotive Recalls

Dear Tracy,

I have recently become a new car owner for the first time in my life, and am super excited to finally own a vehicle that I can rely on! It did occur to me, though, that there are sometimes recalls on cars. Can you explain what a car recall means, how I will know if there is one, and what I need to do?


Grace M.

Dear Grace,

Congratulations on your new car! Odds are great that you will have many worry-free miles ahead before you have any issues, providing that you take good care of your vehicle and tires. Automotive recalls do happen, however, so your questions are good ones to ask.

The reason for an automotive recall to be issued is that a problem has been discovered, which poses a risk of injury or property damage. It can be the manufacturer that issues the recall, or sometimes recalls are ordered by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, upon investigation of problems that have been reported.

While car owners may learn of a recall on the news or by word-of-mouth, an official letter is sent to vehicle owners concerning specific auto recalls. This should be considered confirmation that there is an issue with your specific make and model. A recall letter will include detailed information about the nature of the problem or defect. Instructions are provided regarding what your next steps should be to remedy the problem, as well as the time frame within which the vehicle needs to be brought in for the corrective measures. All issues should be rectified at no cost to you. Drivers who have had repairs done prior to the issuance of a recall may be eligible for reimbursement with the proper receipts or paperwork.

Vehicle owners of used cars, or other owners who fear they may miss delivery of a recall notification letter for some reason, can also contact an authorized dealership for more information if they hear about a recall.