Feeling Salty? Protect Your Car from Salt on Roads

Salt on roads plays a key role in making winter driving safer by preventing accidents due to lost traction on slippery snow and ice. Salt lowers the freezing/melting point of water, making it a fast and inexpensive way to melt snow and ice on the road. The problem with salt on roads is that it is a highly corrosive element, which can be highly damaging to your vehicle.

Snowy Street Salt on Roads

Exposure to salt on roads throughout the winter is very hard on the metal components of your car. Most vehicles have an exposed underbody, so a great deal of salt damage occurs underneath the car, where it goes visually undetected. Rust on essential parts of your vehicle can leave you with huge problems ranging from brake system leaks to frame damage. While your rubber tires will suffer little or no damage from salt, your wheels are highly vulnerable, since the metal areas of your car are most at risk for  damage from salt on roads.

The good news is that the coatings and paint finishes used in today’s automotive manufacturing do a much better job of protecting vehicles against salt damage. The process of salt leading to corrosion and rust takes awhile, you fortunately have time to undo salt damage potential.

The best way to protect your car from road salt corrosion is to take it to the car wash for regular washings during the winter months. How frequently your car should be washed will depend on how much salt and road sludge you drive through on a regular basis. If you have really expensive wheels, consider swapping them out in the winter months, since salt is especially damaging to chrome.

Waxing seasonally will make your washes more effective and provide additional protection for your vehicle.

Understanding The Importance of Brake Maintenance

The Importance of Brake Maintenance, Part Two  

Brakes are critical to ensuring our safety on the road. Vehicle owners should have a general understanding of its brake system and the brake maintenance it requires. This is part two of our overview brake system and what services brakes require.

Brake Maintenance

Brake System Maintenance

Brake system maintenance allows your auto technician to evaluate the degree of brake pad wear and determine when replacement is necessary.

Brake Pads and Rotors

Brake pads and rotors are the point at which the braking system connects with the tires. Due to the stress of extreme friction, these components deteriorate more easily than others and need more frequent maintenance. It is important to inspect the condition and depth of the pads to make sure there is sufficient resistance.

Brake Fluid

A car’s brake system relies on a hydraulic fluid, commonly referred to as brake fluid. Flowing through the brake lines, brake fluid provides the power or force necessary to bring a vehicle to a stop. 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 brake service maintenance done by a qualified professional automotive technician.

In addition having regular brake system maintenance performed, it is important to pay attention to any signs of brake problems and have them looked at right away.

Signs of trouble might include:

  • Strange Noises When Braking
  • Braking Causes the Vehicle to Pull to One Side
  • Brake Pedal Feels Odd or Spongy
  • Excessive Vibration When Braking
  • Jerking Sensation As Brakes are Applied

Along with these warning signs, the brake system service light on your car’s dashboard will illuminate if your on-board diagnostic system senses any problems. Take your vehicle in for a brake system inspection.

Understanding The Importance of Brake Maintenance

The Importance of Brake Maintenance  – Part One

We all know how important our brakes are to ensuring our safety on the road. What we might not keep in mind is the importance of brake maintenance. Drivers should have a basic understanding of their vehicle’s brake system and the brake maintenance our vehicles need. This two part post will give you a simple overview of how brakes work and what services they require.

Importance of Brake Maintenance

Types of Brake Systems and How They Work

There are three basic types of brakes: anti-lock brakes, emergency brakes, and service brakes. 

Anti-lock Brake Systems (ABS) are a safety feature included in most newer vehicles. This computer-controlled technology works with a vehicle braking system to decrease stopping distance and also increase control and stability. ABS monitors the speed of each wheel and automatically pulses the brake pressure. When hard and sudden braking occurs, ABS prevents the wheels from locking up, and keeps the tires from going into a skid. 

Emergency or Parking Brakes function apart from the service brakes and are typically non-hydraulic, using cables to mechanically apply the braking function. How emergency brakes are applied can vary from vehicle to vehicle. Some emergency brake systems are operated using a stick lever, some with a floor pedal, and some feature a button or handle near the steering column.

Service Brakes refers to the overall brake system used to decrease speed and bring the vehicle to a stop. In most cases, service brakes include a four-wheel disc or a combination of disc on front and drums on the back wheels. They are activated when the brake pedal is pressed, distributing hydraulic force to all wheels. Front brakes provide more force than the rear brakes for stopping the vehicle since braking propels the weight of the vehicle forward onto the front wheels.

Disc brakes use calipers, brake rotors, and brake pads. Each disc brake has a brake pad on both sides that push against the brake rotor when pressure is applied to the brake pedal. Drum brakes are enclosed within the wheel cylinder and have brake shoes that press out against the drum when pressure is applied to the brake pedal. 

In part two of this series, we will take a look at brake maintenance and signs of brake problems.

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. 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Car Care During the COVID-19 Shutdown

If you are currently stuck at home, you probably are not giving much thought to car care during the COVID-19 shutdown. Just because your car is sitting unused does not mean it still doesn’t require attention. If a vehicle sits unused for several weeks or months, precautions should be taken to avoid costly problems later.

Take Care of Your Car During the COVID-19 Shutdown

If you are working from home or having your groceries brought to you, your car may not be driven at all. Many drivers may not realize that problems can develop simply from lack of use. Just a week or two of non-use can kill a car battery – especially if the battery is on the older side. Another part of your car that may be vulnerable is the gas tank. If your tank is only partially full, the exposed metal inside of the tank could be susceptible to rust.

Here are some easy steps you can take for car care during the COVID-19 shutdown, or If you know that your car will be sitting idle for an extended period of time:

  • Make sure the gas tank is full to prevent moisture buildup that could cause rust or get in your fuel system.
  • If you are able, have your oil changed.
  • Check your battery and keep it charged so it is ready when you need it.
  • Start the car once or twice a week and allow it to get up to full operating temperature before you turn it off.
  • Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure (see your owner’s manual). Depending on how long it will sit, you may go 5 psi higher for longer periods.
  • Clean off winter salt, brine, and dirt underneath the car and on the outside of the car to prevent rust formation.
  • Make sure the inside of the car is clean to prevent any odor or mold from developing.
  • If you plan to park the car for more than 30 days, do not set the parking brake. Brake pads or shoes could seize to the drum or the rotor and cause problems later.

If Your Car Needs Service

If you are among the folks who must still go out and rely on your vehicle for transportation, the good news is that you can still get service and repair car care during the COVID-19 shutdown. While auto service shops are open, it is not exactly business as usual. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make an appointment. Your shop’s hours may be different during the shutdown, or they may have less staff. Scheduling an appointment will assure that the shop can take care of your vehicle.
  • Plan to drop it off. If you normally like to wait while your vehicle is being serviced, you will need to take a different approach this time. The social distancing that is required for health and safety still applies. Do not plan on hanging out at the shop.
  • Ask about pick up service. Many shops are offering pick-up and delivery service. This can be a lifesaver if you do not have anyone to give you a ride.

Take care and be safe!