Buying a Tire Pressure Gauge

Tire GaugesDear Tracy,

I would like to purchase a quality tire gauge to make sure my tire pressure is always at the right level. Can you provide me with any advice for selecting the right type of tire pressure gauge?

-Robyn M.

Dear Robyn,

A quality tire gauge is a great investment! Improperly inflated tires can lead to a host of issues including handling and traction problems, premature tread wear and poor gas mileage. Many folks believe that if their tires look fine, they are fine. That’s not always the case. By the time a tire looks underinflated, tire pressure is extremely low. It is important to do something  before it gets to that point, so monitoring pressure with your own quality gauge is a great way to do that.

There are three types of pressure gauges that are available:

  • Stick gauges – Ball-point pen sized, these gauges are compact and affordable, but can be somewhat difficult to read
  • Digital gauges – These gauges usually have an easy-to read display, but they require batteries and are a bit bulkier
  • Dial gauges – The clock-type faces on these gauges are easy to read, but some models are harder to use and more expensive

When considering the three types of options, think about what features are important to you. If you want to save money, look for a simple stick gauge. If you don’t want to spend a fortune, but want something that is easy to read, the digital gauge is the model for you. If you want something close to what race car drivers use, go for the dial gauge. Whatever model you decide on, don’t necessarily go for the cheapest – go for quality. Ask a sales person about the brands, or if you are shopping online – read reviews. You should be able to find a quality gauge for $5 to $20.

Remember: To maintain the optimal tire condition, check the pressure of your tires at least once a month and before starting on any long trip. For the most accurate reading, check pressure in the morning, when temperatures are cool, and make sure the car has been parked for three or more hours.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend provides an extra day off and a great opportunity for road trips. But this year, due to high gas prices and a lethargic economy, many have decided to skip travel plans. If you are among those who are going ahead with a long-weekend trip, be sure to get the most from your vacation budget by saving on gas.

Make sure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated. You will get better gas mileage, and you’ll be safer on the road. You can also save on gas by using a price finder website to locate the best places to buy gas along your route. We’ve all had the experience of filling up during a trip, only to see a much lower price per gallon at the very next exit. You might be able to avoid that frustration by spending  a little time online looking at gas prices. Sites like also have app versions, so you can check prices while you are on the road.

And before you leave, here are a few additional tips:

  1. Make sure your battery, fluid levels, lights, and wiper blades are in good shape.
  2. Whether you use a GPS system or old fashioned paper, make sure your maps are up-to-date.
  3. Keep roadside emergency items like jumper cables and travel compressor in the car. Don’t pull them out to make room for the tent!
  4. If you don’t have one, get a cell phone charger with a car adaptor. This is a must have item any time, but especially on road trips.

As  for those who are staying home this weekend to enjoy picnics and parties, make sure you also think ahead about your travel plans. Decide on a designated driver before you let the good times roll.

Have a Safe and Fun Memorial Day weekend!

Understanding Car Maintenance: Checking Accessory Belts

The last in the series on simple car maintenance, this week’s post is about checking your car’s accessory belt or belts. Most newer vehicles use a serpentine multi-accessory drive belt. It is a single ribbed belt that drives all the accessories, air conditioning system, power steering, alternator as well as other pumps and accessories. Some older cars and trucks may have separate accessory belts.

Belts wear and become damaged over time. A broken accessory belt could mean serious damage to the engine or its systems. Periodically checking the accessory belt or belts will help you catch and replace a bad belt long before it snaps.

Here is what to do:

Inspect belt for signs of wear. With the engine off and cool, inspect the belt or belts. In addition to doing a visual check, feel the condition of the belts checking for cracks, fraying, splits or brittle areas.

Look for places on the belt where the rubber is slick looking. Slick spots can cause a belt to slip and may be precursors to overheating and cracking.

Check the pulleys. Look for rubber deposit build-up spots or worn spots that could catch the belt and cause it to snap.

Note the belt tension. Check the tension on the longest length of the belt; it should be tight, with little or no give.

If you hear squealing sounds from the engine while you are driving, this could mean a worn, loose or damaged belt. If you are not sure about the sounds you are hearing, listen to how the engine sounds with the hood up. Make sure the car in park, with the parking brake on, and have someone accelerate the engine while you listen. When you do this, be sure to keep a safe distance from belts and components while the engine is running.

If you confirm there is a squealing noise, or if you are unsure about accessory belt condition, be sure to get your car in for service, before you have any serious problems.

Understanding Car Maintenance: Check for Engine Leaks

If you have noticed any mysterious puddles under your car lately, this week’s topic is for you. Leakage under your car may indicate a number of issues from transmission problems to power steering system trouble. Before you take your car in for inspection and diagnosis, you can perform a simple inspection on your own, so you know what to expect.

If the area below your engine is exposed, without a protective shield beneath it, there is a simple way to help identify the leak source. Begin by parking the car over a large, clean piece of paper or card board and leave it there overnight. It is a good idea to mark the paper to indicate position so you will know where the leaks are relative to front, rear, right side, left side. In the morning, move the car and examine the leakage:

  • A clear, watery leak located near the air conditioner is likely to be normal condensation from running the system.
  • A blackish, greasy leak located under the engine area is probably oil. Depending on where you see the stain, pop the hood and look for leaks around the oil filter and the engine. The leak might also be around the oil drain plug or crankcase and oil pan.
  • A thick, dark, oily leak may indicate a gear oil leak from a manual transmission, differential, an axle, or the steering gears. These leaks should be checked right away.
  • Slippery, watery fluid that is green, red, blue, or yellow and coming from under the engine or radiator is likely to be coolant. Check the radiator, pressure cap, engine, and hoses for leaks.
  • An oily leak that is reddish or clear and located toward the front might be power steering fluid.
  • A leak that is light-colored or clear could be brake fluid. Leaky brakes need immediate professional repair.
  • Battery acid leaks usually smell like rotten eggs. Avoid contact with battery acid and have the battery replaced.
  • Fuel leaks are also possible and usually recognizable by the smell. Check 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 toward the rear, it could be the fluid tank.

It is extremely important to approach all checks with great caution, and exercise appropriate precautions to avoid injury. If your leak continues, or you still aren’t sure how to tell what it is, make a service appointment as soon as possible.

Understanding Car Maintenance: Oil Check

Oil ChangeThis week’s topic features another simple check you can perform to better understand your car maintenance. Oil checks are a simple maintenance step you can do in your own garage in just a few easy steps.

Oil is vital to the proper functioning of your vehicle. It is important to know that your car has enough and that it is in good condition.

The function of oil is to reduce friction in your engine and keep it running smoothly. It is a good idea to check your vehicle’s oil once a month to be sure you have the proper amount and that it is not too dirty to be effective.

  1. Park your vehicle on a level area and wait for about 15 minutes for the engine to cool
  2. Pop the hood and locate the dipstick, usually located next to the engine
  3. Remove the dipstick and wipe it off on a clean, dust-free rag
  4. Insert the clean dipstick back into the pipe
  5. Remove the dipstick again and look at the oil on the end of the stick
  6. If the oil does not reach the second or “full” indication line, you need oil
  7. Note the condition of the oil, making sure it is not dirty; if it is dirty, you need an oil change
  8. Once your check is finished, simply return the dipstick to its spot in the pipe

When you do need to add oil, make sure it is a good quality oil that is right for your vehicle. Your trusted auto service professional can help you determine the best product for your engine.