Brake Fluid – What It Does & Why It’s Important

stop-signBrake fluid plays an important role in the proper functioning of your vehicle’s brake system. Working under extremely high temperatures, the brake fluid facilitates the movement of the brake system’s various components. A non-compressible substance that is contained within the brake lines, brake fluid provides the force created when the brake pedal is pressed. This force is applied to each of the brake rotors on the four corners of the vehicle, effectively applying pressure to the wheels to slow or stop the movement of the vehicle.

Brake fluid is an element that needs to be periodically replaced. There are a variety of brake fluid types, so it is important to choose the right type for your vehicle. The primary types of brake fluid are glycol-based and silicon-based fluids. Glycol-based brake fluids are mostly used in vehicles with anti-lock brake systems (ABS) and vary by individual grade options. Silicone-based brake fluids are designed for use in vehicles without ABS technology. If a non-ABS vehicle has ever had a glycol-based brake fluid used in the brake system, that type of brake fluid must be continued since residual amounts of glycol will compromise the performance of a silicon-based fluid. To find out the best brake fluid option for your vehicle, refer to your owner’s manual, or ask your auto service technician.

It is necessary to drain and replace brake fluid periodically because it absorbs moisture from the air and degrades over time. Changing brake fluid at recommended intervals will assure proper brake system functioning. Brake fluid changes are typically done every one or two years, however different vehicles will have different recommendations for best performance.

Since your vehicle’s brake system and brake fluid are so crucial to its safe operation, it is really important to have this service done. It is also recommended that this service be done by a qualified professional automotive technician.

7 Signs Your Engine Performance Might Be Declining

engine performance lightPoor engine performance can mean serious and expensive problems for your vehicle. It is essential to catch and address engine issues early, before they result in devastating consequences. Fortunately, today’s vehicles are equipped with warning lights, including a check engine light, to let you know if there is a problem. When the check engine light illuminates, you should schedule diagnostic services to identify the problem. If the light flashes, this indicates a more serious issue that should get immediate attention.

Aside from your check engine light, here are some additional signs that your engine performance might be in trouble:

  1. Power loss

Internal combustion engines convert fuel into the power required to move a vehicle. The combustion engine operation involves a four stroke cycle – intake stroke, compression stroke, combustion stroke, and exhaust stroke. Failure during any one of these strokes could result in a lack of power to the engine and compromised engine performance.

  1. Unusual or excessive noise

Problems in the combustion flow can result in a wide variety of strange sounds such as knocking, hissing, popping or backfiring. Any time you hear weird noises when you start up your vehicle, consider it a warning sign and schedule a service call.

  1. Poor gas mileage

Having to fill your gas tank more often than usual, could mean more than a hit to your budget. It might mean there is a problem with the compression stroke of your engine. Fixing it may be as simple as having the fuel system cleaned or getting a tune-up.  Your best course of action is to have a diagnostic performed to make sure it is not a more serious issue.

  1. Engine Stalling

When it comes to automatic transmission vehicles, engine stalling is highly unusual, and probably means there is a problem with the engine. Most commonly the problem is that the intake stroke is not getting the spark or air/fuel mixture it needs. Here, too, the problem may be fixed by a tune up, but it could also be more serious, and should not go unchecked.

  1. Odd smells

Like sounds, anything persistent and unusual should not be ignored with odors. Problems with the exhaust stroke could lead to strange exhaust smells to be noticeable in the vehicle.

  1. Engine run-on

If your car continues to run after you turn it off, you should have it checked out. This sign of troubled engine performance is most common in high-performance vehicles. Causes of the problem might include incorrect octane gas for the vehicle, a failing solenoid, or carburetor issues.

  1. Engine runs rough

Clogs in the system or old spark plugs can cause a rough running engine, as can improper octane in the gasoline or a low battery. Like the other issues mentioned, a simple tune up could be all it takes to remedy a rough running engine.

As with any vehicle problems you may encounter, the important thing is to have engine performance problems or signs addressed as soon as possible to avoid more expense and complications.

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.

Gasoline

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.