Category Archives: Automotive

Tips to Make Your car Ready in Winter

Taking care of your car is important all year long, but there are certain auto maintenance checks specific to falling temperatures and winter driving. No time is convenient for your car to break down, but that’s especially true in a blizzard and freezing cold temperatures.

Here are a few tips to keep your car running efficiently through the winter:

Top Off Your Car’s Fluids
First a word of caution on fluids – particularly for import cars. Car manufacturer’s are required to specify in their owner’s manuals all the fluids to be used in your car and the manufacturer’s OE specifications for each. Make sure to check here first – BEFORE adding any fluids to your car.

Check your antifreeze (radiator fluid). This should be checked periodically throughout the year but is especially critical to protecting your car in winter. Your car should be a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is 50/50. Remember never to remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled. Flushing the system prior to refilling is also recommended about every 24 months.

For more information on antifreeze, visit Cooling System Repairs: It’s Easy to Prevent Breakdowns BEFORE They Happen .

Check and maintain the engine oil level as well, making sure to use the proper viscosity oil for the winter temperatures in your area. Many newer models use synthetic or synthetic blend oils year round but older models can benefit from using a lower viscosity winter oil such as 0W30 or 5W30. The lower viscosity will allow the engine to turn over and start a bit easier and will protect the cold engine better at startup.

You may want to read Engine Knock? Low Oil Pressure? Engine How To Diagnose Needed Repairs for further information on this topic.

Check the automatic transmission fluid level to prevent transmission slippage. This is important year round but more noticeable in the winter because the fluid viscosity increases due to the cold.

For more specific information on checking your car’s fluids, see Perform Monthly Car Maintenance & Keep Auto Repair Costs Way Down.

Replace Your Wiper Blades
Inspect your wiper blades. Are they dried out and cracked or falling apart? Wiper blades should be checked periodically and replaced every 6 months. Remember that just because you’re not using them all the time doesn’t mean they’re going to work when you need them. Wiper blades wear out from exposure to the elements. Winter, with its snow, ice and salt, is very harsh on your wiper blades. Consider keeping an extra set of wiper blades in your car just in case. Wiper blades are a big part of keeping your windshield clean and helping you to see the road better and drive safer.

Make sure to also stock up on windshield washer solvent – you’ll be surprised at how much you use. Most quality washer solvents will contain some alcohol to prevent them from freezing in the winter and leaving you without a way to clean your windshield.

For more information on wiper blades, visit Replacing Wiper Blades Regularly Saves Lives & Windshields.

Inspect Your Tires
Check the air pressure in your tires on a regular basis, at least once a month since that’s all it takes for the air pressure to change within the tire, especially in winter. Cold weather deflates tires because cold air is denser and it exerts less pressure against the tire. Always check your tires cold before driving as that’s the most accurate reading and the one recommended by the manufacturer. And, make sure you know the proper air pressure for your tires – check your owner’s manual or the sticker on the driver’s door post.

It’s never a good idea to drive on under-inflated or over-inflated tires. Under-inflated tires cause the tread to wear on the outside edges of your tires, increase heat to the tire and cause an increase in the resistance of the tire’s movement; whereas, over-inflated tires increase tread wear on the center of your tires and are less safe because this reduces the size of the contact patch with the road. Uneven tread wear will also reduce the life of your tires and require replacement earlier than normal.

Most importantly, check the depth of your tire’s tread. Worn out tread or bald tires cause safety issues since traction is reduced, decreasing your ability to control and stop your car. It’s recommended that the tread depth of your tires be at least 2/32″, but most experts recommend having no less than 4/32″ and even at this depth, you should consider replacing your tires. An easy way to test your tire’s tread depth is by simply using a penny inserted in the tread Lincoln’s head side down, if you can see the top of his head then your tread depth is below the 2/32″ minimum. You should also have your tires inspected and rotated every 6,000 miles or twice a year.

Finally, make sure that you check your spare tire and you have all the tools needed to change a tire and they’re in working order. Also, check your brakes. For more information on brakes, check out Brake Repairs Needed? Don’t Take Chances with Your Brakes – Repair Them Now.

Make Sure All Your Lights Are Working
Check your headlights, brake lights and turn signals to make sure they’re working properly. Having your lights in working order helps you see the road better and helps other drivers see you. Make sure to keep the lenses clean. Snow, ice, salt and sand can build up quickly, causing you to lose visibility and other drivers to lose the ability to see you. Increased braking distance in the snow and ice means you want to be sure other drivers can see you as early as possible.

Examine Your Battery
Does your car not want to start in the morning? Check your battery. Cold weather will reduce a battery’s amperage capacity. Conduct a thorough inspection of your battery, cables, terminals and fluid to make sure your battery is ready for winter.

Check your battery cables for cracks and breaks and check that your terminals fit snugly with no loose connections. The battery’s fluid can be checked by uncovering the refill hole(s), if so equipped. If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water.

Also, check for any corrosion (buildup formed by acid condensation). You should be able to see your battery clearly; if not, your battery needs to be cleaned. An inexpensive battery cleaner is baking soda and water – the baking soda neutralizes the acid which corrodes the metal terminals and cable connectors. Rinse very thoroughly with water and reapply baking soda mixture until no further bubbling occurs.

Checking the charge level of your battery is also an important preventive maintenance step. To read the level of charge, you’ll need to turn the engine off. Some batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the amount of voltage remaining in the battery. If you prefer, a handheld battery hydrometer can be used to collect the same information (if you have a battery with inspection/refill holes) or you can use a digital DC voltmeter. If you have any doubts about the condition of the battery, it should be professionally tested along with the charging system. Many auto part chain stores offer this as a free service.

Once you know the level of energy your battery has, compare its voltage with these figures:

12.6V to 12.8V: full charge
12.2V to 12.4V: half charge
11.8V to 12.0V: discharged

If you’re shopping for a new battery, never buy one with a six-month or older manufacture date. In the United States, the manufacturing date is printed on a sticker. The date can be written in plain text or using an alphanumerical code. The first character is a letter that specifies the month (A for January, B for February and so on). The letter “I” is skipped due to its potential to be mistaken for the number 1. The second character is a single digit that indicates the year of manufacturing (for example, 8 for 2008).

Inspect Your Belts
Cold weather can cause your belts to slip, causing a squealing noise when you start the engine. As they warm up from friction, the squealing noise will normally go away but if it lasts more than a few seconds. you may need to adjust or replace your belts. Most newer cars use serpentine belts that are tensioned automatically but older V-belt engines do require occasional checking and adjusting.

Also, the additional road grime caused by winter driving can build up on the belts causing them to slip and squeal, so cleaning the engine once or twice during the winter is a good idea.

Wax/Polish Your Car’s Finish
The last thing you may want to do when it’s getting cold outside is to wax the car. A good quality wax or polish can protect the finish from winter road grime. Be sure to use one suitable for your vehicle – in particular, there are specific waxes made for later models with base/clear coat paint systems.

Prepare an Emergency Kit for the Trunk
The best way to prepare for winter is to expect the worst before it happens. Assemble a good trunk emergency kit ahead of time and you’ll be prepared for anything. In addition to the items you’d normally have handy (jumper cables, tool kit, road flares, cell phone and charger, etc.), a winter kit should also include a small shovel, a good heavy blanket, extra coat and hat, gloves and possibly even a bag of sand or rock salt. These extra winter supplies will either help you get out if you’re stuck or keep you warm while you wait for help.

Information About Gas Pump Tricks

With today’s high gas prices, we’re all looking for any way we can to save money at the gas station. We’re driving less. We’re driving slower. We’re buying cars based on fuel efficiency ratings. We’re even buying hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. Gas has become one of the bigger items in all of our monthly budgets.

If you want to reduce the portion of your disposable income allocated to gasoline, we suggest you read Auto Repair #14: Top Tips to Improve Fuel Efficiency (How to Improve Your Car’s Gas Mileage). In addition to those timely tips, below are some tricks you can use to give you your money’s worth for every gallon of gasoline. These gas pump tricks were provided by someone who’s been in the petroleum industry for more than 30 years.

Gas Pump Tip #1: Fill up your car or truck with gas in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Gas stations have their storage tanks buried below ground, and the colder the ground, the denser the gasoline. As it gets warmer, the gasoline expands, so if you buy gas in the afternoon or in the evening, the gallon you pay for is not exactly a gallon. This is because gas stations don’t have temperature compensation at the gas pumps to adjust for the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel or ethanol. Every one degree change in temperature can make a big difference in your overall fuel costs.

Gas Pump Tip #2: When you’re filling up your fuel tank, don’t squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to the fastest mode. The trigger has three settings – low, medium, and high. Use the low (slow) mode to minimize the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fastest mode, some of the liquid fuel going into your fuel tank becomes vapor. This vapor is then sucked up and back into the underground storage tank via the vapor return. You’re getting less value for your money since the pump registers the dispensing of the fuel but not the vaporized fuel that comes back out of your fuel tank and returns to the underground tank.

Gas Pump Tip #3: One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is half full (or half empty depending on your orientation). The more gas you have in your tank, the less air occupying the empty space in your tank. Because gasoline evaporates (turns into vapor) very quickly, you want as little empty space available as possible to minimize evaporation. (See Tip #2 for the reason for this.)

Gas Pump Tip #4: If there’s a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks at the gas station where you’re thinking of stopping to pump gas, do not stop and fill up at that service station. When fuel is being pumped into the storage tanks, the gasoline in the tank is being stirred up as the new fuel is flowing into the tank. You may end up picking up some of the dirt and sediment that normally settles to the bottom of the tank.

Should Know About Perform Monthly Car Maintenance

The days of the full-service gas station are gone, and modern cars can go 30,000 miles or more without a tune-up. So it’s up to YOU to check the little things before they become big, expensive problems by checking under the hood of your car on a regular basis.

Following these simple monthly checks will alert you to potential problems that can be dealt with before you get stranded or end up paying for expensive auto repairs.

Check Your Car’s Fluids
First a word of caution on fluids – particularly for import cars. Car manufacturer’s are required to specify in their owner’s manuals all the fluids to be used in your car and the manufacturer’s OE specifications for each. Make sure to check here first – BEFORE adding any fluids to your car.

It is also required that OE oils and coolants must be mixable with “off the shelf” products to allow for emergency service. It may not be the best thing for your engine long-term, but you can add plain old 30W oil to $5 a quart synthetics and the same goes for coolants and water.

On the other hand, however, are the hydraulic oils (i.e., power steering, brake fluid, transmission fluid, differential/axle, etc.). These must be at certain specifications for viscosity and liquid type (petroleum vs. mineral vs. synthetic). Hence, it’s critical that you know what products to be adding to your car according to the specifications given in your owner’s manual.

Oil: Check the oil when the engine is warm. Oil expands when it’s hot and contracts when it’s cold; different temperatures will give you different readings.
Here are the steps to follow to check your car’s oil:

1. Park the car on a level surface.

2. Turn off the engine. It’s best to wait at least 10 minutes to give the oil a chance to drain down into the crankcase. Otherwise, you might think you’re as much as a quart low when you’re not.

3. Open your hood.

4. Find the dipstick – a long piece of metal sticking out of the engine usually located near the spark plugs with a loop at one end . Many dipsticks now have a “T” handle or are incorporated into the fill cap. If you don’t find the loop, look for these.

5. Pull on the loop and draw the dipstick all the way out.

6. Wipe the oil off the dipstick with a paper towel or shop rag.

7. Replace the clean dipstick, making sure to push it all the way in; then pull it back out and hold it horizontally in front of you.

8. Look at the pointed end of the dipstick. If the oil on the dipstick is below the line marked “full”, add a small amount of oil (less than a quarter of a quart) with a funnel. Many dipsticks simply have two lines with a cross hatch design in between. The oil level should be halfway between these two lines.

9. Add oil by unscrewing the oil filler cap, which is about 3 inches in diameter and is located on the very top of the engine.

10. Check the oil level with the dipstick after adding oil. Add more if necessary. It’s easy to add more oil but difficult to remove oil if you add too much so add slowly and continue rechecking.

11. Put the oil filler cap back on and secure it tightly.

It’s best to always keep two quarts of oil in your car. Your owner’s manual will tell you what type of motor oil your engine requires and this may vary on the season/weather. If you’re in a pinch or you only need to add a little, it’s okay to mix types – for example, 10W-40 with 10W-30.

The oil lubricating system is a closed system. This means that the oil does not get “used up” or go anywhere. If it’s consistently low, there may be an oil leak. Leaks always get worse, and losing all the engine oil will require expensive repairs and/or replacing the engine. Make sure to further investigate (on your own or with the help of a qualified mechanic) if your car seems to have an oil leak.

You may want to read Engine Knock? Low Oil Pressure? Engine How To Diagnose Needed Repairs for further information on this topic.

You may also want to check out The Motor Oil Bible: Exposing The Myth of the 3000 Mile Oil Change & More! for an easy-to-understand, comprehensive and informative book on motor oil.

Brake Fluid: Check the brake fluid when you check all the other fluids. It’s easy to do and only takes a minute.
Here are the steps to follow to check your car’s brake fluid:

1. Find the brake master cylinder. This is usually located under the hood on the driver’s side of the car, toward the back of the engine compartment. Imagine where your brake pedal would end up if it went all the way through to the engine. The brake master cylinder is a small (about 6 by 2 inches), rectangular piece of metal with a plastic reservoir and a rubber cap on top, with small metal tubes leading from it.

2. Check your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure that you’ve found the master cylinder. The rubber cap will usually read “Use only DOT 3 or 4 brake fluid from a sealed container.”

3. Note that on most newer-model cars the reservoir is translucent and you can see the fluid level without removing the cap. There will be a “Full” line – the brake fluid should be at this line.

4. In older cars (pre-1980), the brake master cylinder reservoir may be made entirely of metal so you must take the top off to check the fluid level. The top is held on by a metal clamp – use a screwdriver to pop off the clamp and lift the lid.

5. Add brake fluid to the “Full” line. If the reservoir has two parts, fill both halves. Use the correct brake fluid for your car. Check the rubber cap and your owner’s manual to find out what grade of brake fluid your car requires. Most cars use DOT (Department of Transportation) 3 or 4.

Brake fluid is very toxic. Keep it away from hands and eyes and avoid spilling it on the ground. Dispose of empty containers carefully and be especially careful not to spill brake fluid on your car’s paint. Always wash your hands well after handling brake fluid.

If the brake master cylinder is empty, the brake pedal will go to the floor. If this is the case, you will have to bleed the brakes in addition to adding fluid. It’s probably best to see your mechanic, who will be able to flush and refill the braking system. Never drive a car that has run out of brake fluid until bleeding the brakes!

You may want to read Brake Repairs Needed? Don’t Take Chances with Your Brakes – Repair Them Now for further information on this topic.

Coolant: Radiator fluid, or coolant, is the most important part of your car’s cooling system, which protects your engine from overheating. Low coolant can lead to a breakdown and expensive repairs.

Here are the steps to follow to add coolant to a newer-model car (1970 and after):

1. Note that only much older models of cars (pre-1970s) require you to add coolant directly to the radiator. Newer vehicles feature a reservoir (expansion tank) that you can access anytime. Beware: Some German and Swedish cars (and others) have a reservoir that’s under pressure (pressure cap on the tank vs. a flip-off type plastic top) and these should not be opened when the engine is hot. If you’re driving an older model car, see the steps below for older models.

2. Look for the plastic reservoir tank, which should at least be holding some residue of coolant (normally green, although there are also red versions available on the market). It’s often labeled, is near the radiator and has a hose leading to the radiator. The hose to the radiator is the tip off that you aren’t pouring coolant into your windshield wiper reservoir.

3. Unscrew the cap and add coolant to the “Full” line. Coolant is a 50-50 mixture of purified (not tap and not distilled) water and antifreeze/coolant. Do not add straight water if the reservoir is completely empty as this can cause your car to overheat.

Make sure to check your owner’s manual to see if your car is required to use a coolant specifically formulated for your car’s make.

If your car is overheating and the reservoir is under pressure, don’t try to remove the reservoir cap. You could be seriously burned.

Here are the steps to follow to add coolant to an older model car (pre-1970s):

1. Make sure the engine is cool before adding coolant directly to the radiator. If the car has been running recently, wait at least half an hour before unscrewing the radiator cap.

2. Find the radiator cap at the very front of the engine near the hood latch.

3. Rotate and remove the cap using a rag. When in doubt about whether it’s safe to unscrew the cap, use several rags and unscrew the lid slowly. If your car is overheating, don’t try to remove the radiator cap. You could be seriously burned.

4. Look into the radiator. If the fluid doesn’t reach the radiator’s top just below the opening for the cap, add coolant. As with the newer-model cars, be sure to check your owner’s manual in case your car requires a coolant specifically formulated for your car’s make.

Coolant is poisonous but that won’t stop pets from drinking it. It tastes sweet to them. Don’t leave it lying around and be sure to clean up any spills.

As with many of the other fluids in your car, coolant does not get “used up”. If the reservoir or radiator is low, chances are your car may have a leak that needs to be checked out.

You may want to read Cooling System Repairs: It’s Easy to Prevent Breakdowns BEFORE They Happen for further information on this topic.

Power Steering Fluid (if applicable): Checking power steering fluid on most cars is easy, though not all cars have it. If you can parallel park with one hand and eat an ice cream cone with the other, then you have power steering.
Here are the steps to follow to check your power steering fluid:

1. Locate the belts. The power steering pump is driven by a pulley and a belt and has a clear plastic or metal (usually round) reservoir on top of it. The power steering cap will often say “power steering”.

2. Check the fluid level either by looking at the side of the reservoir (if you have the clear plastic type) or by unscrewing the cap (for the metal type). Some reservoirs may have a small dipstick attached to the cap. Typically, you have a choice between checking the fluid warm or cold, and there will be corresponding “Hot” and “Cold” levels.

3. Add fluid if necessary. Use only the proper type of power steering fluid for your car. Check your car’s owner’s manual and the bottle. Some cars require power steering fluid specifically designed for that make of car.

In addition to checking your power steering fluid monthly, you’ll also want to check both the fluid level and the power steering belt if you hear a squeal when you turn the steering wheel all the way to one side.

As with motor oil, power steering fluid does not get “used up”. Other than a leak, there’s no reason that the fluid should be low. Fill the reservoir to the proper level and check frequently if you find it low. If it continues to be low, check for leaks and get them fixed. An empty power steering pump can be damaged very quickly and is costly to replace.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (if applicable): If you have an automatic transmission, you’ll want to check the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) every month and whenever the transmission isn’t shifting smoothly. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Park your car on level ground and start the engine, leaving the gear in neutral or park. Wait for the engine to warm up. Unless your owner’s manual directs otherwise, allow the engine to continue running throughout this procedure. (With some cars, the engine should not be running while you check the fluid, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual.)

2. Find the ATF dipstick, located at the back of the engine. The ATF dipstick is often shorter than the engine oil dipstick but otherwise looks similar. If you’re lucky, it will be labeled.

3. Pull on the dipstick and completely remove it. It may be very long.

4. Wipe the dipstick with a rag, replace it in the transmission, push it all the way in and remove it again.

5. Look at the dipstick’s tip. Observe whether there are two different full markings: one for cold readings and one for warm reaings. If so, read the one for “Warm”. If the ATF does not come up to the line marked “Full”, add ATF. Be careful not to overfill. Filling above the full line causes the fluid to foam. Also, excessive pressure build-up may damage the transmission.

There are two major types of ATF: Dexron (also called Mercron) and Type F; your owner’s manual should tell you which one you should be using. Some cars require ATF specifically designed for that car make.

When refilling ATF, do not allow the fluid to contact the exhaust manifold. It can cause a fire. You may also want to turn the engine off before adding the fluid. It can be dangerous if the fluid spills, hits the fan and splashes into your eye.

ATF fluid does not get “used up”, so if it’s low, you probably have a leak. Do not ignore leaks or drive around with low ATF. It can lead to very expensive transmission repairs.

Hydraulic Clutch Fluid (if applicable): Cars with manual transmissions (stick shift) use either hydraulics (which use fluid) or a cable to connect the clutch pedal to the transmission. If your car has a hydraulic clutch, the fluid must be checked monthly to ensure that it’s full and there aren’t any leaks.

Here are the steps to follow to check your car’s hydraulic clutch fluid – after you’ve identified you have one, of course:

1. Turn the engine off and open the hood.

2. Look for a small plastic container about 1 inch in diameter, located close to the back of the engine – usually near the brake fluid reservoir. It looks a lot like the brake fluid reservoir but it’s smaller. Imagine that the clutch pedal went straight through into the engine compartment. This is where you’ll find the clutch master cylinder and clutch reservoir.

3. Check the fluid level. The reservoir is usually clear with a small round rubber cap on the top. It should be filled to the top. If it’s low, add brake fluid. There is no such thing as “clutch fluid”. See notes on brake fluid for cautions. The hydraulic clutch uses brake fluid. Cars with a clutch cable do not use any fluid (these are not hydraulic clutches).

4. Replace the cap.

If the clutch reservoir is consistently low, you probably have a leak. The reservoir is very small so even a little leak can empty it out quickly. Without fluid, your clutch pedal is useless and you won’t be able to shift or drive.

A leak can often be seen at the reservoir/clutch master cylinder, at the other end of the clutch hydraulic line at the clutch slave cylinder or inside the car behind the clutch pedal. If you suspect a leak, check it out immediately.

Windshield Washer Fluid: These steps will show you that keeping your wiper fluid reservoir full is a snap. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Turn off the engine. Make sure your car is cooled down before attempting this check. If a hose bursts or slips, you can be scalded with hot water or antifreeze.

2. Find the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, usually a plastic jug filled with blue windshield washer fluid. It has a hose leading toward the windshield. Take care not to confuse it with the coolant reservoir, which may look similar. The coolant reservoir will have a hose that connects to the radiator. If you’re not sure you’ve found the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, don’t add the fluid. Consult your car’s owner’s manual.

3. Flip open the top of the reservoir.

4. Add fluid if the fluid level is low – less than 3/4 full or below the fill line printed on the jug. Fill it to the top.

Do not add plain water. Windshield wiper fluid has detergent in it to clean your windshield and also antifreeze to prevent it from freezing in the reservoir or on the windshield.

5. Close the reservoir lid, making sure it’s on securely.

Check Your Car’s Hoses
Old radiator hoses or loose clamps can cause a coolant leak, which will lead to overheating and expensive repairs. Check hoses periodically and replace them if they’re aged or leaking.

Here’s how to check your hoses:

1. Locate the radiator – it’s always at the front of the car.

2. Locate the radiator hoses. Two hoses should be attached to the radiator – an upper hose at the top and a lower hose at the bottom.

3. With the engine cold, squeeze each hose. If the hose feels “crunchy” or brittle, it’s old and needs replacing. Repeat this for any other hoses your car may be equipped with.

4. Check the clamps at either end of the hoses. If the hose is damp or wet at the clamp, tighten or replace the clamp. The clamps should be tight enough that the hose cannot be turned or moved.

5. Check the hoses for cracks, tears or frayed ends. If you find any, replace the hose immediately.

It’s always a good idea to replace the upper and lower radiator hoses whenever you replace your water pump or radiator.

Check Your Car’s Belts
If your belts make a horrible shrieking sound when you press on the gas pedal, they are too loose and probably need to be tightened or replaced.

A broken belt is painful to the wallet – it can cost much more than just the price of a new belt. Get into the habit of checking out the belts on your car from time to time and have all the belts changed periodically to ensure you can avoid major repair bills.

Here are the steps to follow to check your belts:

1. Turn off the engine. Let the engine cool before checking the belts and be careful around hot engine parts.

2. Find the belts located at the very front of the engine. On a front-wheel-drive car, the front of the engine is usually adjacent to the fender; on a rear-wheel-drive car, the front of the engine is adjacent to the radiator and the front bumper.

3. Note that there will be two or more belts, depending on the car. Belts are used to operate the fan, water pump, alternator, air conditioner, power steering pump and smog pump.

4. Press lightly with your thumb on each belt at the belt’s longest part between the pulleys. Note that on serpentine-type belts, the push test is not very accurate because the belt tensioner can move when you press on the belt. Manufacturers recommend using a tension gauge on these types of belts, not the push test.

5. Check the appropriate tension for your belts in your car’s owner’s manual. Belts should not have more than 1 inch of “give” in either direction.

6. Observe the belt as you press on it. If it’s cracked or can be easily pushed more than 1 inch, it most likely needs to be replaced.

Check Your Car’s Engine For Leaks
Except for gasoline and windshield wiper fluid, the fluids in your car should not get used up or go anywhere. If you notice that any are low, there’s a good possibility of a leak.

Here are the steps to follow to check for leaks:

1. Understand that the fluids you may have in your car are gasoline, oil, coolant, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, gear oil, power steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. All cars will have at least gas, oil and brake fluid. Air-cooled engines (like old VW bugs) do not have coolant. Your model of car may or may not have power steering or automatic transmission fluid.

2. Open the hood and visually inspect the engine and engine compartment. Many leaks are easily detectable with just a simple look.

3. Note that you don’t need to know the name of the fluid that’s leaking or the name of the part it’s leaking from to be able to find a leak.

As a clue, green, sticky fluid is coolant. Bluish, watery liquid is windshield wiper fluid. Honey- or dark-colored, greasy fluid is engine oil. Honey- or dark-colored thick fluid with a chestnut smell is gear oil. Clear or yellowish liquid with a very slippery consistency is brake fluid. Slippery reddish fluid is automatic transmission or power steering fluid. Gasoline will evaporate when it leaks out and may not leave any residue but it’s easy to smell.

4. Inspect underneath the engine and the car with a flashlight. Look for wet areas or drips clinging to the underside of the car’s carriage.

5. If you don’t see any signs of a leak, lay down a large piece of corrugated cardboard and park your car so the engine sits over it. With a pen, mark the position of the wheels.

6. Remove the cardboard the following morning. Note the position of any drip marks relative to the wheel markings. This information will help you and/or your mechanic diagnose the problem.

Other Monthly Checks to Do
Here are a few other items you’ll probably want to check on a monthly basis:

1. Visually inspect the battery for corrosion at the cable ends.

2. Make sure the dash lights, headlights, taillights, brake lights, back-up lights and turn signals are in good working order.

3. Start the engine and listen with the hood up (after doing this a few times, you will learn what sounds “normal” for your car). You may want to read Troubleshooting Noises Coming From Your Import Car for some insight into some of the more common noises.

4. Check your windshield wipers (do not touch the blades themselves – the oil on your fingers causes them to deteriorate) to ensure they have good contact with your windshield and are not dry or cracked. You may want to read Replacing Wiper Blades Regularly Saves Lives & Windshields for further information on this topic.

5. Check the tire pressure on all the tires, including the spare. Visually inspect the tires for uneven wear or nails or other sharp objects lodged in the tread. You may want to read Tire Wear Provides More Info Than You Think! for further information on this topic.

By following these guidelines, your car should provide you with many years of trouble-free driving and you should be able to avoid breakdowns and some of the avoidable major repairs.

You may also want to read Tuneup & Auto Maintenance Tips to Lengthen Your Import Car’s Life for further information on general maintenance procedures for your car.

Tips to Improve Fuel Efficiency

In today’s world, fuel efficiency is becoming a higher and higher priority. With average gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon in the U.S., more and more consumers are trying to find ways to decrease the amount of gas they use. We have compiled a list of some of the best ways to reduce the amount of gas consumption for your household.

One of the most obvious ways to limit your gasoline consumption is to drive less. For years, everyone has touted the benefit of car pooling. Most cities have even created car pool lanes on their freeways and highways. Instead of 5 people taking 5 cars, 5 people can fit in one car. Using those numbers, 5 employees can reduce their to and from work travel gas cost by 80 percent each. If you live and work inside a city, also consider public transportation. Even though there may be a stigma attached to riding the bus, it can greatly reduce your community costs.

Besides car pooling and public transportation, combining trips and errands can greatly reduce your consumption. A vehicle will operate most efficiently after it has properly warmed up. Short trips usually do not let the car warm up to peak efficiency. When you combine your errands, you reduce the amount of inefficient trips and create a trip that lets the car get to peak efficiency. Many people tend to run errands throughout the week when it is most convenient. Try and combine all your errands for one trip. This will limit the amount of times you actually drive your car and reduces your overall gas cost. Errand combination especially helps when you find yourself going to the same area multiple times a week. A good example of this is the local strip mall. If you find yourself needing to pick up a prescription at the local drugstore, try and do the grocery shopping you had planned for later in the week since the supermarket is right next door to the pharmacy.

You can also adjust your driving habits. Most cars are designed to operate at peak fuel efficiency between 35 mph and 60 mph. Most highways have in city speed limits of 55 mph. This means not speeding will actually help conserve gasoline. Statistics show for every 5 mph over 60 mph you drive, you lose almost 10 percent of your fuel efficiency. Driving more sensibly also helps to conserve gas. Avoid hard acceleration, excessive braking and speeding. You can lower fuel efficiency by almost a third by hard driving. Cruise control is also a helpful tool in conserving gas. If you find yourself driving long flat stretches of road, try and use the cruise control. This helps the car maintain a constant speed which will lower your gas consumption. Most cars also have overdrive gears. This is usually the top gear in manual transmission and is the OD gear for automatics. Try and use these gears as much as possible. It will reduce the rpms of your engine and reduce gasoline usage. Idling is also a problem. When you idle your vehicle, you are using gas but not moving. This wastes almost 100 percent of the gas used.

Time of day can play a huge part in how much you use gas as well. If possible, try and reduce the amount of time you spend in rush hour traffic. More and more business are allowing employees to change their start and end time at work. If you can come manage to miss rush hour traffic, you can increase your fuel efficiency tremendously. During rush hour traffic, your vehicle will most likely not get the chance to get to a peak fuel efficiency speed.

Another item we overlook often is heavy items within your vehicle. Many people leave items in their car. For about every 100 lbs you carry in your car, you reduce your miles per gallon by about 2 percent. A mistake many truck owners make is to lower the tailgate to increase mpg. This is a fallacy. Trucks beds are most aerodynamic when the tailgate is in the up and closed position. When the tailgate is up, the bed of the truck will actually pressurize and the wind blowing over the truck will see the bed as an extension of the cab.

Other options include finding more fuel efficient transportation. Many consumers have been buying SUVs for their ability to haul the whole family with room left to spare for a lot of cargo. This makes sense when you are trying to carry a lot, but what about all the trips where your SUV is mostly empty. These vehicles usually get very poor mileage. If you plan on getting a new vehicle soon, plan on looking at some of the more fuel efficient vehicles. Many SUVs now come in hybrid versions as well. If you drive a lot by yourself with no need for cargo space, consider adding a motorcycle to your stable. Most motorcycles will see gas mileage in the 30 to 50 mpg range. This is considerably more than a lot of vehicles on the road. The purchase of a motorcycle can sometimes pay for itself in about a year with gas savings.

Now let’s look at how maintenance plays a large role in your fuel consumption. A vehicle sees its best mpg when it is in peak running condition. Keeping your engine properly tuned can improve your actual mpg by up to 4%. Replacing your air filter on a regular basis can save you another 10%. Inflating your tires to the manufacturers specifications can save another 3%. On their own these are not very big, but added together they can save you a lot of money. One of the most important and overlooked parts of your vehicle are the oxygen sensors. These sensors are what helps the car’s computer decided how much gasoline your engine needs at any given time. A faulty sensor can hurt your mpg by up to 40%. With gas at its current price, this is a huge dent in the wallet. Keeping the fuel system in your vehicle in tip top shape is also important. Check and replace if needed any component of the system. Filters, pumps, injectors and seals are all parts of the fuel system that should be checked on a regular basis and replaced if faulty.

Using the recommended octane of gas is important too. Even though the cheap stuff is considerably less than the premium, use the premium if your auto requires it. Many vehicles these days will actually suffer a considerable loss in fuel efficiency with the lower octane. People do not realize using the lower grade gas will actually increase their fuel cost by lower fuel efficiency. Using the correct motor oil should also be a consideration. Always use the oil your manufacturer specifies. In addition, look for motor oil that says energy conserving. These oils have additives to help reduce friction within the engine. The lower the friction, the better the engine operates. This also means follow recommended oil change intervals. As oil is used in the engine, it breaks down causing reduced friction protection for your engine.

A popular site that has arisen is Gas Buddy. This site helps users track gasoline prices all over the U.S. and Canada. It can help you find the stations with the lowest gas prices in your area. Just keep in mind you may lose the benefit of the cheaper gas if you have to drive too far to get it.

All these tips are meant to help you decrease your fuel usage. Most are simple tips that everyone can do. As the price of gasoline keeps rising, it is important to everyone’s pocketbook that we increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicles. As an added benefit, conserving gasoline also helps the environment.

Know More About Oxygen Sensors

Automotive exhaust emissions are everyone’s concern because we all breathe the same air. Fifty percent of Americans live in areas that exceed national clean air standards. Reducing tailpipe emissions, therefore, is a top priority in the effort to fight air pollution.

In 1976, Bosch introduced what would eventually become one of THE most important technologies for reducing exhaust emissions: the oxygen sensor. By 1996, Bosch had produced its 100,000,000th oxygen sensor.

Today, Bosch oxygen sensors are original equipment on a wide variety of European, Asian and domestic vehicles and are the #1 best selling brand in the aftermarket.

Oxygen sensors have been standard equipment on passenger car and light truck engines since 1980-81. Most such vehicles have one or two oxygen sensors (two are typically used on selected V6 and V8 engines starting in the late 1980s). Since the introduction of Onboard Diagnostics II (OBD II) in 1995-96, the number of oxygen sensors per vehicle has doubled (the extra sensors are used downstream of the catalytic converter to monitor its operating efficiency).

Yet, as important as oxygen sensors are today, few people are even aware of their presence, let alone the key role oxygen sensors play in engine performance and reducing pollution. One survey found that 99.7% of all consumers did not know their vehicle even had an oxygen sensor!

How the Oxygen Sensor Fights Pollution
Originally called a “Lambda Sensor” when it was first used in fuel-injected European cars, the oxygen sensor monitors the level of oxygen (O2) in the exhaust so an onboard computer can regulate the air/fuel mixture to reduce emissions. The sensor is mounted in the exhaust manifold downpipe(s) before the catalytic converter or between the exhaust manifold(s) and the catalytic converter(s). It generates a voltage signal proportional to the amount of oxygen in the exhaust.

The sensing element on nearly all oxygen sensors in use is a zirconium ceramic bulb coated on both sides with a thin layer of platinum. The outside of the bulb is exposed to the hot exhaust gases, while the inside of the bulb is vented internally through the sensor body or wiring to the outside atmosphere.

When the air/fuel mixture is rich and there is little O2 in the exhaust, the difference in oxygen levels across the sensing element generates a voltage through the sensor’s platinum electrodes: typically 0.8 to 0.9 volts. When the air/fuel mixture is lean and there is more oxygen in the exhaust, the sensor’s voltage output drops to 0.1 to 0.3 volts. When the air/fuel mixture is perfectly balanced and combustion is cleanest, the sensor’s output voltage is around 0.45 volts.

The oxygen sensor’s voltage signal is monitored by the onboard engine management computer to regulate the fuel mixture. When the computer sees a rich signal (high voltage) from the oxygen sensor, it commands the fuel mixture to go lean. When it receives a lean signal (low voltage) from the oxygen sensor, it commands the fuel mixture to go rich. Cycling back and forth from rich to lean averages out the overall air/fuel mixture to minimize emissions and to help the catalytic converter operate at peak efficiency, which is necessary to reduce hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and oxides of nitrogen (NOX) levels even further.

The speed with which the oxygen sensor reacts to oxygen changes in the exhaust is very important for accurate fuel control, peak fuel economy and low emissions. The air/fuel mixture in an older carbureted engine doesn’t change as quickly as that in a throttle body fuel-injected vehicle, so response time is less critical. But, in new engines with multipoint fuel injection, the air/fuel mixture can change extremely fast, requiring a very quick response from the oxygen sensor.

Oxygen Sensors Don’t Last Forever
Here’s What Happens As They Age
As an oxygen sensor ages, contaminants from normal combustion and oil ash accumulate on the sensing element. This reduces the sensor’s ability to respond quickly to changes in the air/fuel mixture. The sensor slows down and becomes “sluggish”.

At the same time, the sensor’s output voltage may not be as high as it once was, giving the false impression that the air/fuel mixture is leaner than it actually is. The result can be a richer-than-normal air/fuel mixture under various operating conditions that causes fuel consumption and emissions to rise.

The problem may not be noticed right away because the change in performance occurs gradually. But, over time, the situation will get worse, ultimately requiring the sensor to be replaced to restore peak engine performance.

Oxygen Sensor Failures Can Mean
Big $$ In Repairs If Not Replaced
The normal aging process will eventually cause the oxygen sensor to fail. However, the sensor may also fail prematurely if it becomes contaminated with lead from leaded gasoline, phosphorus from excessive oil consumption or silicone from internal coolant leaks or using silicone sprays or gasket sealers on the engine. Environmental factors such as road splash, salt, oil and dirt can also cause a sensor to fail, as can mechanical stress or mishandling.

A dead sensor will prevent the onboard computer from making the necessary air/fuel corrections, causing the air/fuel mixture to run rich in the “open loop” mode of operation, resulting in much higher fuel consumption and emissions.

An additional consequence of any oxygen sensor failure may be damage to the catalytic converter. A rich operating condition causes the converter to run hotter than normal. If the converter gets hot enough, the catalyst substrate inside may actually melt forming a partial or complete blockage. The result can be a drastic drop in highway performance or stalling because of a buildup of backpressure in the exhaust system.

Do YOU Know When It’s Time To
Replace YOUR Oxygen Sensor?
Although some cars have an oxygen sensor “reminder” light to alert you when it is time to check the oxygen sensor, most do not. So, unless there’s a noticeable driveability problem or a “Check Engine” light on, most people have no way of knowing if their oxygen sensor is functioning properly or not.

The growth of emissions testing nationwide is changing that, along with the introduction of new “enhanced” emissions testing programs that simulate real world driving conditions while emissions are being measured. The latter is proving to be very effective at catching emission problems that formerly escaped detection. Great! So you’ll find out your oxygen sensor is bad only when you flunk your emissions test! Nice to know, huh?

According to a study conducted by Sierra Research, Inc., in 1996, oxygen sensor failure is the “single greatest source of excessive emissions for fuel-injected vehicles” and the second most significant cause of high emissions in carbureted engines.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have found that oxygen sensor replacement was required on 42%-58% of all vehicles that were subjected to an emissions check and were found to be emitting high levels of hydrocarbons (HC) or carbon monoxide (CO). Checking the operation of the oxygen sensor and feedback control system, therefore, should always be a priority anytime a vehicle fails an emissions test due to high HC or CO.

Oxygen sensor performance can be checked by reading the sensor’s output voltage to make sure it corresponds with the air/fuel mixture (low when lean, high when rich). The voltage signal can also be displayed as a wave form on an oscilloscope to make sure the signal is changing back and forth from rich to lean and is responding quickly enough to changes in the air/fuel ratio.

Few Important Things to Remember
Heed these tips and you’re well on your way to passing emissions with flying colors and saving money in fuel costs and repair bills:

Tip #1: Increased fuel consumption, driveability problems (hesitation or surging), “Check Engine Light” lit or emissions test failure could all be signs of an oxygen sensor in need of replacement.

Tip #2: An additional consequence of any oxygen sensor failure may be damage to your car’s catalytic converter – a very expensive way to find out your oxygen sensor needs replacement!

Tip #3: Checking the operation of the oxygen sensor and feedback control system should always be a priority anytime a vehicle fails an emissions test due to high HC or CO.

Tip #4: Keeping your oxygen sensor(s) fresh may improve fuel economy as much as 10%-15% (which can save $100 each year in fuel costs on average). Keeping the sensor in good operating condition will also minimize exhaust emissions, reduce the risk of costly damage to the catalytic converter and ensure peak engine performance (no surging or hesitating).

Tip #5 – Thanks to Tom C. For Pointing This One Out: The oxygen sensor operates in an extremely hostile environment. Like a spark plug, it is threaded and screws into its mounting location. Normally the O2 sensor is supplied with anti-seize compound on the threads so it can be more easily removed at the specified change interval. Over time, the anti-seize compound loses its effectiveness and the sensor can become “welded” into its location, making it nearly impossible to remove using normal tools. Using excessive force to remove the oxygen sensor may damage the sensor and surrounding components. If the sensor becomes seized in its mounting location, a simple 15 minute replacement job can become a much more complex and difficult task. Replacing the O2 sensor within the specified change interval will minimize the possibility of this problem and additional component damage. Bear in mind: A non-functional or visibly damaged oxygen sensor may cause you to fail an emissions test if you live in an area that requires regular emissions testing.

Your Emissions System Maintenance Shopping List
Here is a list of emissions parts to look at if you have problems passing your local emissions tests:

– Oxygen Sensor
– Seals in your Exhaust System
– Air/Vacuum Leaks
– Fuel Injectors
– Fuel Pressure Regulator
– Temp Sensors
– Idle Control Valve
– Idle Speed Relay
– Air Filter
– Fuel Filter
– Distributor Cap
– Distributor Rotor
– Ignition Wire Set (Spark Plug Wire Set)
– Spark Plugs
– Catalytic Converter

Should Know About Import Car’s Electrical System

Today’s auto electrical systems are getting more intricate and are stressing the limits of current technology but they are basically the same design as 30 years ago. What can today’s do-it-yourselfer do to keep from being electrically-challenged in the middle of nowhere? A quick overview of your car’s electrical system would be a good start. The major components of your car’s electrical system are explained below, along with some troubleshooting tips.

Your Import Car’s Battery
The battery is a storage device, currently 12 volts, used to start the engine and help operate the electrical accessories installed on your car. The battery consists of six cells of stacked positive and negative lead plates, separated by insulators and immersed in electrolyte, which is a water and sulfuric acid mixture. Each of the six cells “produces” 2.1 volts for a total of 12.6 volts (although it’s actually stored energy, not produced).

The chemical reaction created between the lead plates and the electrolyte creates dangerous, explosive gases that vent through the battery cover vents. Care should always be taken when charging or jump starting low batteries and whenever working under the hood of the car. Always keep the battery clean to allow proper ventilation.

Some batteries use a gel to replace the electrolyte for a somewhat safer battery and the use of “maintenance-free” batteries has eliminated the need for refilling the electrolyte. However, all batteries lose charging capacity over time through the loss of the electrolyte, deterioration of the plates and chemical breakdown of the connections.

Whenever a car exhibits symptoms of a charging or starting system failure, the most basic test that should be performed first is a visual and voltage test of the battery. Knowing the exact condition of the battery is the best way to know whether or not to suspect other system components and can prevent the unnecessary installation of a starter or alternator, which cannot repair the vehicle until the battery is up to snuff.

To analyze the condition of a battery, very little high-tech equipment is really needed. While there is excellent equipment available for big $$$$, all that is really needed is a good DVOM (Digital Volt Ohm Meter), a battery charger, some patience and a little common sense.
An average battery should last 3-5 years in average climates but those in high heat or extreme cold areas may last only 2-3 years. The replacement battery should always have the same or higher CCA rating (cold cranking amps) as the original and be of the same or compatible “group size” to fit the battery tray and cable connections.

Your Import Car’s Alternator
The alternator produces electricity used to maintain battery storage charge and to help run all the electrical accessories, including the ignition and the engine control systems. It is belt-driven by the engine and produces an alternating current (AC), which is converted internally to 12 volts direct current (DC) by the diode bridge or rectifiers.

AC current cannot be stored but is much more efficiently produced, which is why cars no longer use generators but use alternators and convert the electricity to DC. Most alternators now use internal voltage regulators to maintain the proper system voltage, from 12.6-14.5 volts. You should check your car’s repair manual or with your local dealer to obtain the exact proper voltage for your car.

Contrary to popular belief, an alternator does not constantly produce electricity. It cycles on and off as demand goes up and down. The battery buffers it from the electrical demands of the car, and it only works enough to maintain system voltage. At peak efficiency and for longest life, the alternator should be charging no more than about 50% of the time.

However, with the demands placed on the system by heat and by extraneous electrical devices (i.e., high powered stereos, running lights, etc. – see Power Demand Chart below), the alternator and battery are stressed even further. The average alternator now is lucky to last 3-4 years, which is why a prematurely dead battery may actually be caused by a dead alternator.
Understanding the importance of having an operational warning light for the alternator (idiot light) is crucial to catching problems early. In most modern systems, the electrical current passing through the filament of the warning light is what energizes a circuit in the alternator to start charging.

This signal light is linked directly to the alternator through its terminal (#1, I, L, D+, etc. depending on the brand) and functions slightly differently on different manufacturers.

To check the warning light circuit, turn the ignition switch to the “on” position without cranking or starting the engine; if the idiot light does not come on, remove the plug from the alternator and ground the wire that terminates to the #1, I, L or D+ terminal (depending on manufacturer). If the light comes on, the wiring is okay but the alternator is defective; if the light still does not come on, the wiring to the light circuit and the bulb should be checked.

Don’t forget to check the fuse that controls the light circuit, too. This fuse could be labeled differently in various cars. It could be labeled “charging”, “regulator”, “meters”, “gauges” or “engine”. In some cars, if the fuse is out, the idiot light will come on but may not go off. In others (like GM), a burned out fuse may make the warning light work in reverse order; that is, when the key is on, the light is off but as soon as the engine starts and the alternator starts charging, the light will come on.

Checking out these simple circuits first can greatly reduce your troubleshooting time and unnecessary replacement of your alternator.

As we delve further into charge light indicators, we find that in some cases it is normal for the charge indicator light to come on when nothing is wrong with the alternator.

According to information published by GM, any car may have a low voltage reading or lights that dim when electrical loads are heavy at idle. Furthermore, this condition is normal and no repairs should be attempted unless a fault has been found.

For clarification, as a car idles for extended periods of time during high heat conditions, a number of things happen that contribute to “lowered” alternator output that coincides with physics and the design of the alternator:

1. As heat within the alternator increases, the electrical resistance in the alternator also increases, which reduces the alternator’s charging capacity.

2. As temperature rises, the voltage setpoint of the regulator is lowered to reduce the chance of overcharging or “boiling” the battery.

3. Newer designed alternators have a “delay/soft start” built into the regulator circuit. This delays the load being placed upon the engine when starting up from a stop, so that the smaller engines in use today are not loaded down upon acceleration due to charging demands. This can delay the charging by up to 15 seconds.

With the alternator’s capacity for charging reduced by heat and other factors, an alternator may only be able to produce up to 70% of its rated output under these conditions. So an alternator rated for 100 amps may only be able to produce 70 amps when hot at idle when there is 77 or more amps of demand on it.

If it can be considered normal for warning lights to glow while a healthy alternator is running, how do you know if the alternator is really good or if there are other problems lurking around?

A thorough diagnosis is always the best route to determining whether or not the alternator is at fault, but there are times when diagnosis time is short and you still need a positive identification of the problem. Cases like this require a foolproof tool to speed things up. In the case of Delco CS series alternators, there is a tool available from Kent-Moore tools (J-41450-B), which isolates the alternator from the car’s wiring harness and lets you see if the alternator is at fault or if there is a wiring problem elsewhere within the car’s wiring harness. The best thing about this tool, besides being compact and handheld, is that it doesn’t require any interpretation of data by the operator. The little light on the unit lights or doesn’t light depending upon whether the alternator is good or not.

Unfortunately, while this is a great little piece of equipment and there are other similar tools available, once you determine that the alternator is not the culprit, you still have to fix the electrical problem.

Your Import Car’s Starter
The other major electrical component in your car’s electrical system is used only a few times a day but is the single largest power user and most critical to your car’s operation – its starter. The starter is simply a DC motor that turns the engine crankshaft through the flywheel, starting the combustion process by creating compression within the cylinders. Voltage to the starter is supplied directly from the battery and is controlled by a relay and/or solenoid operated from the key switch inside your car.

Starters can be of varying types and designs – gear-reduction types for higher torque, permanent-magnet types to reduce size and weight, or just plain, old-fashioned heavy starters. But whatever the type, they all function in the same basic way.

A slow cranking engine may be a sign of a bad starter and with age, that’s more and more likely. But on most cars today, it’s due to low battery voltage, poor electrical connections at the battery or a failed relay or fusible link.

Most starters will easily outlast a new vehicle warranty if it’s not overused, if good connections are maintained and if it’s not overheated through dirt and grime buildup.

Starting your car with the major components turned off (like the AC compressor, blower motor and high-powered stereos) will greatly ease the load on the starter. In fact, most new cars have “lock out” relays that will not allow the AC compressor and alternator to turn on until after the vehicle has been started. But turning these power-hogs off before shutting off your car is always a good precaution.

Although the starter drive, or “Bendix” as it was commonly referred to, can be replaced separately from the starter assembly, it’s rarely recommended anymore. Failure of any part is due to age, usage and heat stress, to which the entire starter has also been subjected, so that other parts are just as old and stressed. It’s quite common to replace the starter drive only to have to buy another starter in a few months because the brushes wore out, a magnet broke, the solenoid failed, among other common mishaps. Replace the starter as a unit and have the electrical system checked at the same time to prevent further problems.

Other Troubleshooting & Maintenance Tips
For Your Import Car’s Electrical System
Your car’s electrical system should be completely checked and tested every two years or whenever serviced for any type of driveability problem. Many problems associated with day-to-day driveability are caused by voltage variations and must be the first step in troubleshooting any problem. This is due to the use of computerized controls in most cars these days and even quite minor voltage changes can alter the controls.

Your car’s electrical system must be load tested to certain standards, which can be simulated by turning on all the accessories and lights for simple voltage drain but that is not an all-inclusive test. Measuring circuit loads with an ammeter, circuit voltage drops with a DVOM, variable circuit load testing, etc. is the only way to fully check function. With electrical systems operating at 80%-100% of capacity nowadays (see Power Demand Chart), it is crucial that it be up to standards.

The average do-it-yourselfer would have little need to purchase the more critical test equipment, so if voltmeter testing doesn’t pinpoint the problem, get a thorough checkup done from an auto electrical technician who knows your car manufacturer’s system.

A complete and thorough test involves much more than sticking a voltmeter on the battery and the average do-it-yourselfer does not have the test equipment nor does he/she need it. You should allow a professional to do this test. As a good starting point, though, most major chain auto parts stores offer a free service test (in the hopes of selling you a battery or alternator) that should be good enough to notify you of any major problems. Most early problems start from poor electrical connections due to loose connections and/or buildup of corrosion, especially at the battery posts. Keep that battery clean!

Idiot Light Electrical Problems By Car Make
Here are a few quirky electrical problems – organized by car make – to help you troubleshoot your import car’s electrical system idiosyncrasies:

BMW #1: The starter on many late model BMWs incorporates a one-way clutch that allows the engine to spin faster than the starter during engagement. While this makes for smooth, quiet starting and gear engagement, it also provides opportunity for problems.

Many BMWs requiring a Bosch reman starter SR0445X are experiencing multiple starter failures due to the starter motor remaining engaged after the engine has started and the ignition key has been released.

You guessed it . . . there’s nothing wrong with the starter – it’s the ignition lock cylinder assembly. The mechanical portion of the ignition switch gets hung up in the start position and doesn’t return to the run position. When this happens, the one-way clutch in the starter allows the starter to continue spinning with the engine; prolonged use in this condition will overheat the starter causing permanent damage as well as draining the battery. To correct this condition, the entire lock cylinder, steering lock and electrical switch unit must be replaced.

BMW #2: BMW has recognized that a similar problem exists with 1989 635s (AL145X and AL0740X Bosch reman alternators), where the battery runs down due to a 300 milliamp draw on the battery caused by the trunk light switch. Instead of coming up with a new switch, BMW suggests that the trunk light switch that is connected to terminal “30” (hot at all times) be rerouted to terminal “R”, which is only “hot” when the ignition switch is sent to Accy, Run or Start.

In order to do this, the red/green wire should be removed from the glove box light, then taped securely back into the wiring harness. Next, a length of .75mm wire approximately 700mm long should have a connector and connector housing attached to one end. This end should then be connected to the glove box light, where the red/green wire was removed.

The other end of the 700mm long wire should be connected to the violet/white wire from the radio using a crimp type connector. This may sound too simple and maybe it is . . . you have to remove the glove box trim and the radio to perform this wiring maneuver.

BMW #3: 1992 BMW 318i models with a central locking system may exhibit frequently discharged batteries due to dome lights sporadically remaining on. This is due to faulty door lock striker plates that have the light contact switch built in. Seems that some versions of these switches were leaky and when water, dirt, salt, etc. leaked in, the contacts in the switch were bridged causing the lights to stay on even though the car was not running. Rather than needlessly replace the alternator (Bosch reman alternators AL0153X, AL0152X, AL0151X), look at the striker plates first. If they have an alphabetic letter lower than “L”, they need to be replaced with an improved switch (51 21 8 105 511).

Honda/Acura #1: Some 1986-88 Acura Legend Sedans and Coupes and 1987-91 Sterlings (Bosch reman alternator AL250X) may exhibit a low charging rate condition. This situation is caused by an alternator pulley of incorrect diameter. To correct this condition, Acura has issued a pulley/belt kit (06310-PL2-004), which contains a smaller diameter pulley and belt. This pulley/belt combination increases the alternator RPM, which increases the alternator output at low engine RPMs.

Honda/Acura #2: Some 1982 Honda Accords suffer repeated alternator and battery failures due to a melted plastic 6-wire connector in the charging circuit wiring harness. The original charging circuit wiring does not have wire of sufficient diameter to handle the maximum current of the alternator under repeated high charging demands. When replacing alternators (Bosch reman alternator AL258X) on these cars, always inspect the condition of this connector as a part of the procedure. It will be necessary to remove the windshield wiper fluid reservoir to gain access to the connector because it’s located between the battery and the reservoir. A wiring harness with increased charging capacity and replacement plastic connectors is available through Honda.

Honda/Acura #3: 1991-1992 Honda Accords and 1990-1992 Acura Legends (Bosch reman alternator AL1262X) suffer from a similar malady as BMWs. The glove box light may stay on after the car has been turned off, causing an undue discharge of the battery, leading to a low state of charge or no-start condition.

Honda and Acura both suggest to first check the glove box door for proper alignment. If the door is properly aligned, then the switch plunger for the glove box light is too short. To fix this, a retro-fit tube cap has been released by the manufacturers of these cars which, when placed over the original switch plunger, extends it to the proper length to make the glove box light shut off when necessary. Tube cap part numbers are 34254-SM4-013 (Honda) or 34254-SP0-A03 (Acura).

Honda/Acura #4: Honda Accords, Preludes, Civics and Acura Integras built from 1986-1989 (Bosch reman alternators AL256X, AL382X, AL383X, AL386X, AL387X, AL388X, AL451X) are prone to a no-start condition due to a low battery charge. This condition can be traced to frequent short trip driving with the rear window defogger left in the “on” position, along with high underhood temperatures. The combination of the continual discharge due to the defogger being left on and the high underhood temperatures, tends to cause these models to dine out frequently on batteries.

To curb the battery appetite of these cars, Honda and Acura have introduced defogger switch/timers and a battery heat shield. The defogger switch/timer automatically shuts off after 25 minutes, and the heat shield helps deflect some of the engine’s heat away from the battery. Honda part numbers are 35500-SE0-A11 (defogger switch/timer) and 06377-SE3-A00 (battery cover kit). Acura only offers these parts as a complete kit: 1986-87 models are kit 06377-SD2-A01 and 1988-89 models are kit 06377-SD2-A11.

Jaguar #1: 1992-94 Jaguar sedans (Bosch reman alternators AL191X and AL192X) are prone to batteries in a low state of charge due to cooling fans staying on after the ignition has been shut off. The cause of this condition has been traced to corrosion in the cooling fan control module. To repair this condition, the corrosion must be removed from the control module, but the real culprit is how the corrosion gets there.

The corrosion is caused by water entering the ground wire cores and traveling inside the wire insulation to the module. To prevent this from happening again, the ground wire eyelet connectors on the left inner front fender panel must be disconnected and sealed with heat shrink tubing to prevent water from entering the wires again.

Jaguar #2: Owners of 1994 XJ6s and XJ12s (Bosch reman alternators AL9343X, AL192X) may get tired of taking their cats back to the car vet for repeated cases of discharged batteries. In many cases, these kitties are suffering from a feline disease known as “cooling fan run on”.

This condition is brought on by corrosion in the cooling fan wiring harness connector. To cure this condition, the existing harness connection has to be located behind the front left side fog lamp. If an inspection of the harness connector shows it to be corroded, Jaguar suggests that it be replaced with a new radiator fan switch kit – part numbers JLM12040 (XJ6s) and JLM12041 (XJ12s).

Upon installation of the replacement connectors, all wiring connections should be done with the use of a “Duraseal” connector to prevent corrosion in the future.

Porsche #1: Owners of Porsche 911s (Bosch reman starter SR68X) commonly complain of starters with a severe toothache due to damaged teeth on the pinion gear. Before installing another starter, inspect the teeth on the ring gear. If they appear damaged, Porsche suggests replacing the original ring gear with a new ring gear (950 116 143 01), which is wider. The wider ring gear provides for better engagement of the pinion gear and, in turn, longer life for both the starter and ring gear.

Porsche #2: As early as 1984, many 1978-83 Porsche 911s hit the emergency room with complaints ranging from low output to no output. After a thorough examination, Porsche determined that the location of the alternator in the engine compartment was the cause of apparent heat stroke.

Since they could not redesign the layout of the engine compartment, Porsche prescribed a new voltage regulator, which had aluminum cooling fins and two cable connections instead of one. This improved design helps the voltage regulator dissipate heat better and provides higher reliability. This remedy worked so well that Porsche made it a running production change in the 1984 and later models.

To help keep these Porsches in tip top shape, Bosch has been remanufacturing Porsche 911 and 928 alternators (AL325X, AL400X and AL401X) with 100% new original Valeo voltage regulators since July of 1996.

As an added cure for these same cars, Bosch has introduced three new part numbers – alternators that are not remanufactured but are actually brand, spanking new – AL325N, AL400N and AL401N. These are 100% factory original new Valeo alternators. Obviously these are a bit higher priced than their remanufactured counterparts, but they are just what the doctor ordered for you Porsche Purists who want only an original.

Porsche #3: Many early model Volkswagen, Porsche and Saab cars (Bosch reman starters SR15X, SR17X, SR68X, SR78X) suffer from a condition where the starter motor cranks slowly or not at all. On these vehicles a minimum of 7 volts is required to activate the starter solenoid.

If the car’s starting and charging system has been inspected for proper battery voltage, cable connections/conditions, and placement of starter heat shields and this problem still persists, it may be necessary to install a starter relay kit, in order to ensure that the proper voltage gets to the starter. Bosch now offers a complete relay kit (WR1), which consists of a wiring harness, a relay, a 15 amp fuse and a complete set of installation instructions.

Saab #1: At times, 1989 Saab 900 and 9000 series cars (Bosch reman alternators AL69X, AL129X and AL54X) can experience dead batteries. Before checking the charging system, look at the part number on the radiator fan time-delay relay. Radiator fan time-delay relay #95 63 339 is prone to sticking closed, which will cause the cooling fan to run longer than the 10 minute cool-down period, thus discharging the battery. If the car in question is equipped with one of these relays, replace the relay with an 85 22 10.

Saab #2: Many early model Volkswagen, Porsche and Saab cars (Bosch reman starters SR15X, SR17X, SR68X, SR78X) suffer from a condition where the starter motor cranks slowly or not at all. On these vehicles a minimum of 7 volts is required to activate the starter solenoid.

If the car’s starting and charging system has been inspected for proper battery voltage, cable connections/conditions, and placement of starter heat shields and this problem still persists, it may be necessary to install a starter relay kit, in order to ensure that the proper voltage gets to the starter. Bosch now offers a complete relay kit (WR1), which consists of a wiring harness, a relay, a 15 amp fuse and a complete set of installation instructions.

Volkswagen #1: Volkswagens that repeatedly exhibit a no-start or discharged battery condition may be victims of a loose fastening nut on terminal #30 of the starter solenoid. Any suspect Volkswagens should have all wires connected to the #30 terminal removed and inspected for corroded or burnt connections and cleaned as necessary. Then reconnect previously removed wires and torque fasteners to 10 Nm (7.5 ft. lb.) and recheck the starting system (Bosch reman starters SR15X and SR17X).

Volkswagen #2: 1987-1993 VW Foxs can really drive you to distraction when you know that the battery is fully charged, all of your connections are clean and tight, you’ve just replaced the starter (Bosch reman SR0406X) and it still won’t start!

What else can you check? The fuse box. That’s right, there is a wire bridge located between terminals 36 and 38 that needs to be properly seated to assure power to the starter. By making sure the wire bridge is securely seated, you should have outfoxed the Fox.

Volkswagen #3: Many early model Volkswagen, Porsche and Saab cars (SR15X, SR17X, SR68X and SR78X) suffer from a condition where the starter motor cranks slowly or not at all. On these vehicles a minimum of 7 volts is required to activate the starter solenoid.

If the car’s starting and charging system has been inspected for proper battery voltage, cable connections/conditions, and placement of starter heat shields and this problem still persists, it may be necessary to install a starter relay kit, in order to ensure that the proper voltage gets to the starter. Bosch now offers a complete relay kit (WR1), which consists of a wiring harness, a relay, a 15 amp fuse and a complete set of installation instructions.

Volkswagen #4: Seems VWs are just prone to hot-soak, won’t-start conditions. Volkswagen has recognized that Rabbits, Golfs and Jettas from 1985 on (Bosch reman starters SR33X, SR34X and SR82X) also suffer from a hot-soak condition where battery voltage to the #50 terminal of the starter drops to less than 10 volts under high underhood temperatures, resulting in a car that won’t crank.

If a complete check of the car’s charging and starting system reveals no other problems, Volkswagen suggests a VW retrofit starter relay (141 951 253B) be installed in line between the T1 connector of the right engine harness and the T1 connector of the starter cable harness, which leads to the terminal #50 of the starter solenoid. Other required components and installation directions are available through your VW dealer.

Volkswagen #5: From time to time, we hear the complaint that on some cars the SR15N (Bosch new starter) cannot be installed properly due to an interference between the starter solenoid and the heat exchanger/hot air box. This condition seems especially prevalent on VW Type II and Bus/Transporter vehicles.

Due to the age of these cars (1967-75 applications), many of them have had the heat exchangers replaced. Bosch’s research has shown that not all aftermarket heat exchangers are created equal to the OEM version. Whenever one of these “won’t fit” situations arises, it’s usually because the heat exchanger has been replaced. In cases like this, either the heat exchanger will have to be replaced with an OEM type or the aftermarket one already in place will have to be altered to provide clearance for the starter.

Volkswagen #6: Before changing multiple alternators or starters in VWs equipped with A/C due to a “won’t start” or “no crank” condition, check out the radiator cooling fan.

All Volkswagen cars equipped with air conditioning (except the Vanagon) are subject to a condition during high ambient temperatures (105 F/41 C), where the battery is continually drained due to the radiator fan kicking on at high speed with the ignition shut off. It seems that under these high heat conditions, the gas pressure of the R12 refrigerant can activate the A/C high pressure switch and in turn, trigger the high speed radiator fan relay to activate the cooling fan.

Volkswagen has instituted a replacement fan relay switch (321 919 505A), which, along with some minor modification of the A/C high pressure switch wiring, will eliminate this problem.

Volkswagen #7: It seems that VW did such a great job of insulating the terminals on 1994-95 Golfs and Jettas (Bosch reman alternators AL0185X, AL0186X, AL0181X, AL0184X) that they inadvertently created some low/dead battery problems on these cars.

In some cases, the eyelet connector of the wiring harness, which connects to the B+ stud of the alternator, had just enough extra insulation applied to it to keep it from making good contact. This, in turn, prevents the alternator from charging properly.

To prevent a return trip to the battery charger, VW suggests that you disconnect the battery ground, remove the eyelet terminal from the alternator B+ stud and remove approximately 6mm of the insulation from the terminal. Then, some die electric gel should be applied to the eyelet before re-attaching to the B+ stud with a torque of 13Nm or 10 ft lbs. Then, reattach the battery ground.

A Few Important Things to Remember
Heed these tips and you’re well on your way to extending the life of your import car’s electrical system components:

Tip #1: Always keep your battery and its connections clean to avoid clogged battery cover vents and overtaxing your starter. This will also allow for proper ventilation of dangerous, explosive gases from your battery.

Tip #2: When replacing your battery, always buy one of the same or higher CCA rating (cold cranking amps) as the original battery and make sure it’s the same or compatible “group size” to fit your battery tray and cable connections.

Tip #3: Due to the varying nature of car electrical systems, never jump start your car using another car that is running. Use the other vehicle’s battery power alone to start it because a 14.5 volt running system (i.e., GM) can seriously damage a 12.6 volt system (i.e., BMW) due to the overvoltage.

Tip #4: Start your car with the major electrical hogs turned off – A/C, stereo, etc. – to ease the load on your battery and starter and extend their lives.

Tip #5: Have your car’s electrical system completely checked and tested every two years or whenever you have it serviced for any type of driveability problem.

Tips to Replacing Wiper Blades Regularly

Are you as conscientious about your windshield wipers as you are about your car’s engine? Car safety is a critical concern for everyone.

Worn wiper blades are dangerous. Because 90% of your driving decisions are based on a clear, unobstructed view of the road, it’s a critical safety concern that your car’s wipers provide you with the cleanest windshield possible.

Ozone, airborne contaminants, oil, sunlight and dirt all act to weaken and reduce your wiper blades’ ability to keep your view unobstructed. And exposure to sunlight and ozone cause the wiper blades to age, even if they’re not used much.

Weather also plays a critical role in your windshield wiper blades’ deterioration. Freezing temperatures make the rubber in your wiper blades hard and brittle, which increases their tendency to crack or tear. Hot weather warps the rubber and prevents the blade from wiping your windshield cleanly.

Heavy use is hard on the wipers because dust, abrasives, road grime and bug juice wear away the cutting edge the blade needs to wipe cleanly. Even road dirt acts like an abrasive to wear away the flat surface necessary for a good squeegee effect.

Rubber also deteriorates over time. As blades age, they lose their flexibility and are less able to wipe cleanly. They may develop a permanent set or curvature, which prevents full contact with your windshield.

Your blades’ ability to clean the glass depends on:

The slope and area of the windshield: Today’s windshields are more sloped than ever before for improved aerodynamics. But a sleek “cab-forward” windshield with a lot of glass area directs more wind against the wipers, which can force the blades away from the glass at high speeds unless the wiper system is designed to resist lift.

Bosch Micro Edge and Micro Edge Excel wiper blades have an aerodynamic, low-profile superstructure and a heavy gauge steel frame, which provide improved stability and virtually eliminate blade lift-off at high speeds and in stiff winds.

The amount of spring tension on the wiper arm: This is important to keep the wiper refill in tight contact with the windshield and provide a superior squeegee effect.

Bosch Micro Edge and Micro Edge Excel wiper blades incorporate a balance-beam design with a multipoint suspension system to eliminate smearing and streaking in both directions.

The number of pressure points or claws holding the blade: The more claws a blade has, the broader the area over which the pressure of the wiper arm is spread. More claws also provide increased flexibility so the blade can more easily follow the curvature of a large, sloping windshield for full side-to-side contact.

Bosch Micro Edge and Micro Edge Excel wiper blades feature added contact points to increase blade contact pressure at all driving speeds. This pinned-joint design also provides superior flexibility to maintain proper blade contact with the windshield.

The material used in the blade itself: Most wiper blades are made of natural rubber, but some of the newer performance blades have a composite structure that combines a soft, pliable rubber on the squeegee surface for good wiping characteristics with a firm rubber in the blade body for improved support and durability.

Bosch Micro Edge and Micro Edge Excel wiper blades are manufactured using a unique synthetic compound that provides superior blade flip-over flexibility in hot and cold weather extremes.

The unique blend of halogen-hardened natural rubber compound also reduces windshield “chatter” and lengthens blade life by reducing fatigue attributed to abrasion, temperature extremes, UV, ozone, acid rain and road salt.

Plus, the wiping edge is precision-cut to 0.010mm (10/1000mm) to remove even the smallest micro-droplets of airborne moisture.

Important Things to Remember
Heed the following maintenance tips for optimum wiper blade performance and driving visibility:

Tip #1: Replace your wiper blades every 6 months or 6,000 miles – even if you live in a “dry” place like Arizona.

Tip #2: Consider your options when replacing your windshield wipers:

Option 1

You can replace just the refills (squeegees), which are the rubber wiping components installed into the vertebrae. This is your most economical option.

Option 2

You can replace the blades, which is the complete assembly composed of the metal frame and the refill. Although slightly more expensive, this option is faster to install and provides you with the benefit of improved windshield contact and, hence, wiping efficiency.

For more information on a superior new bracketless wiper blade technology from Bosch, please also read
Auto Repair #15: Bosch Icon Wiper Blades Provide Cleanest Windshields Ever.

Windshield Wiper Maintenance Shopping List
Whenever you replace your wipers, don’t forget to also check your:

– Rear Wipers
– Headlight Wipers
– Wiper Motors
– Windshield Washer Pump
– Windshield Washer Hoses
– Windshield Washer Fluid
– Windshield Washer Fluid Tank (Reservoir)

Know More About Tuneup & Auto Maintenance Tips

Tuneup – an old-fashioned maintenance term that’s nearly non-existent today. With electronic ignition and fuel injection came computers that took over control of engine settings. Early versions allowed for some tinkering, but today’s engines require advanced equipment and training.

You can, however, replace normal maintenance parts and still see improved engine performance. Here are common maintenance parts you can replace to significantly increase performance and reduce major problems:

Basic Ignition Parts
Spark Plugs: Spark plugs are good indicators of engine condition. Removing and inspecting spark plugs tell you a lot about how well the engine is running and what may be causing problems.

All spark plugs should be removed and checked every 30,000 miles – even if your car is “low maintenance” – you’re told to change spark plugs at 100,000 miles. This prevents the plugs from seizing in the block, causing expensive repairs down the road.

Always note which plug came from which cylinder. This tells you if a particular cylinder has a problem. BEWARE: New spark plugs can make a difference in your car’s performance but only if replaced with the appropriate OE replacement plug.

Distributor Cap & Rotor: Both the distributor cap and the rotor are usually plastic and, thus, deteriorate with age and use. Cracks may develop, allowing moisture in. The metal contacts on both can then corrode, causing misfiring. These parts should be replaced at recommended intervals or if showing any excessive wear.

Spark Plug Wire Sets: Spark plug wires have become less of a problem than before. New materials and sizing have reduced failures. Electronic ignitions have increased operating ranges.

Now these should be tested for proper resistance before replacement. They are no longer replaced routinely with the cap, rotor and plugs.

According to experts, changing filters on a regular basis may have more to do with your car’s longevity than any other single factor.

Oil Filter: Oil filters are easy to replace and help prevent unnecessary engine wear. The job of the oil filter is to remove soot, rust particles and other solid contaminants from the oil. Oil filters should be replaced with engine oil every 3,000 miles.

Air Filter: Air filters remove dirt by trapping particles as air passes through the filter media. They also protect the carburetor in older cars, preventing dirt from clogging the air bleeds and metering jets. They protect fuel injectors in later-model autos.

Air filters should be replaced every 20,000 miles but more often if you live or drive in dusty areas. Any filter that looks heavily loaded should be replaced regardless of the number of miles, as should any filter which shows any type of damage.

PCV Breather Filter: The PCV breather filter assures only clean, filtered air is drawn in through the PCV breather. A clogged breather filter prevents the PCV from siphoning away the blowby gases and moisture created by engine combustion, resulting in oil breakdown and sludge buildup. The PCV breather filter should be replaced every 30,000 miles; however, yearly replacements are a good preventive measure.

Fuel Filter: Contaminants can get into your fuel system and if not trapped by the fuel filter, they can clog the injector inlet screens. If dirt reaches the injector itself, it can clog or damage the pintle valve and seat. In older cars, dirt can plug the carburetor’s fuel metering orifices.

If the fuel filter is not replaced regularly, fuel flow to the engine will become restricted, resulting in stalling, loss of high speed power and hard starting. The fuel filter should be replaced every 30,000 miles; however, professionals recommend a yearly fuel filter change and a change whenever other fuel system parts are replaced.

Automatic Transmission Filter: Properly filtered transmission fluid transmits energy, plus it cools and lubricates the moving parts of the transmission.

A clogged transmission filter can produce transmission slippage, engagement problems and hesitation. Experts recommend this filter be changed every 12,000-15,000 miles to extend the life of your automatic transmission.

Other Maintenance Parts
Many maintenance parts are mistakenly seen as non-critical. Though not true “tuneup” parts, the functions of these parts can definitely impact the benefit of any tuneup. Plus, as emission laws have gotten more stringent, these parts have become essential – if you want your car to pass emissions the first time around.

Oxygen Sensor (O2 Sensor): Your oxygen sensor(s) should be replaced at the recommended intervals. A worn oxygen sensor drastically changes engine settings. For more information on oxygen sensors, see the tech article Oxygen Sensors Are A Critical Key to Passing Emissions
Vacuum Hoses: Many major systems depend on manifold vacuum for signals and function. All vacuum hoses should be checked and replaced as needed. Even a slight leak can cause major problems with performance; in some cases, the car won’t even run if there’s a vacuum leak.

Temperature Sensors: Temperature sensors for various engine functions can also be a good weekend project. These sensors control the fuel injection system, cooling system and even the exhaust system. And they can definitely be a cause of poor performance problems.

A Few Important Things to Remember
Heed these tips and you’re well on your way to extending the life of your car and improving its overall performance – especially gas mileage and emissions:

Tip #1: General overall cleanliness of your engine is the best preventive maintenance you can perform on your car. A clean engine runs cooler and is much less likely to cause premature failure of other parts. It’s also easier to work on.

Tip #2: Regular routine replacement of all filters, lubricants, coolant and the other parts noted here is critical. Use the mileage guidelines shown as your benchmark. Sensing and mechanical tolerances have become so tight even slight variations can create drastic performance changes.

Tip #3: Know your car’s systems and particular requirements before starting any project. Do not attempt to fix what you don’t understand.

Tip #4: Remember that some improvements may not take effect right away if your car’s computer is designed to learn and adjust. The computer may need to see various parameters before making any permanent setting changes.

Your Tuneup Parts Shopping List
Here is a list of tuneup parts you should consider when performing routine maintenance work on your car:

– Spark Plugs
– Spark Plug Wires (Ignition Wire Set)
– Distributor Cap
– Distributor Rotor
– Oxygen Sensor (O2 Sensor)
– Oil Filter
– Air Filter
– PCV Breather Filter
– Fuel Filter
– Transmission Filter
– Vacuum Hoses
– Temperature Sensors
– Lubricants
– Coolant Hoses
– Belts

Tips When Shopping for Auto Parts

Auto parts shopping – particularly for import cars – can be very difficult if you don’t understand the differences among brands. Let’s clear up some misconceptions so you aren’t tempted by inferior aftermarket parts that can actually do more harm than good – often costing you much more in the form of major auto repairs!

OE, OEM and OES (Factory) Auto Parts
OEM (original equipment manufactured) and OES (original equipment supplied) many times are one and the same. OE, of course, is a more generic term that refers to the brand that came as original equipment on the car. Most auto manufacturers assemble cars from purchased components and manufacture only the sheet metal components.

Therefore, the “factory part” you can buy from your dealer was most likely made by another company, sold to the car maker and then resold to the dealer for ultimate sale to you.

An important point many people are unaware of is the fact that multiple OES brands are not only normal but are actually mandated by international standards as part of the qualifications for ISO certification. Car manufacturers must have secondary sourcing (i.e., multiple suppliers) for certain types of parts in order that any problems with one supplier will not disable the car manufacturer’s production and allow for substitution of the other brand for new production and any warranty replacement or repairs.

As an example, the original VDO pump may be interchanged with the Bosch unit with equal performance, the ZKW foglight may be interchanged with the Hella unit or the Balo brake rotors replaced with Zimmermann.

The OEM suppliers to Asian and domestic car makers are not always as easy to identify. Due to the proliferation of automotive conglomerates and spin-off companies, the original manufacturer may sell the parts under numerous brand names.

Further, many parts manufacturers are considered OES when, in fact, the exact same parts came on the car under a different brand name. We continue to strive to offer the direct OE replacement under whichever brand name is available.

We deal directly with many OEM/OES companies and stock the exact same parts as your local dealer – usually at substantially lower prices! It may not always come in a package with the car maker’s name but it is, in fact, the very same part, manufactured by the very same company.

Why pay for all those middlemen when you can get the exact same part at AutohausAZ? AutohausAZ strives to supply one or all of the original equipment brands when available – usually the most commonly used brand is the more available one at a cost savings that we can pass along to you, our valued customer.

That’s why our price may be 20%-90% below your dealer’s price. You’re not skimping on quality – it’s the same quality as the dealer’s part. You’re just cutting out the overhead caused by too many middlemen.

Dealer Only Parts
“Why doesn’t the aftermarket have replacement parts for my new car?” All too often we hear this question on non-maintenance type parts and it’s frustrating for both you and for us.

Most cars will require some repair work in the first or second year. Unfortunately, some parts for these repairs may still only be available through the dealers.

Often OEM and OES companies cannot release OE parts for “new” cars into the aftermarket (because of licensing agreements) until a few years have passed. This restriction allows the car maker to recoup tooling costs, build in repair revenues for the dealers and justify larger OEM production runs to keep costs down.

Although irritating that some parts are “dealer only”, it’s in your best interest for warranty purposes. As new car warranties get longer, the dealer must maintain cars that fail to perform for longer periods of time. In the case of emission-related parts, the U.S. government has regulated many of these warranties to keep up with EPA rules. So if you’re driving a newer car, you may need the dealer for a few more years on certain items.

OEM/OES vs. Aftermarket Parts
The true “aftermarket” part is one that’s been copied from the OE part. In many cases, this is done to offer a lower cost alternative. But in most cases the benefit of the lower price is far outweighed by its major disadvantage – it’s usually an inferior product and ends up costing you much more in the end in avoidable repairs.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule as car makers try to reduce assembly costs by going to lower cost alternatives on parts that wear out and routine maintenance parts. And as car models get older and dealer supply becomes less prevalent, the OES companies are using “off-shore” facilities in the manufacturing of these replacement parts to help reduce consumer costs. However, these parts are still manufactured to the original specifications per ISO certification and labeled with the European (OES) company name with the addition of the country of manufacture.

But, beware: Aftermarket parts stores – the big name mass merchandisers you find on every street corner – normally carry ONLY “aftermarket” copies of OE parts. It’s the most cost-efficient way for them to compete on price with the thousands of other parts stores. Besides, most of their customers care more about price than performance anyway!

OEM/OES Brands Available at
NOTE: This is only a small sampling of the OEM/OES manufacturers who supply AutohausAZ’s OE inventory for European and Japanese cars. For a more complete listing of the brands and types of parts AutohausAZ carries, be sure to investigate the Products & Brands page.

AutohausAZ doesn’t believe in cheap aftermarket imitations. We won’t sell inferior parts. Our customers know how important fit, performance and quality are and they want to get the highest quality parts possible for their car repairs – those that fit and work like factory-original, OEM parts.

We routinely test new brands to find the highest quality products for our customers. We’ve spent nearly 30 years researching the best available brands for each and every type of part we sell. And, we only stock those brands that meet our stringent price/quality requirements – the best available part for the job!

We also believe in giving customers choices. Many parts are stocked in both the OEM/OES brand and a lower cost alternative that’s at least equal to the quality of the OE brand. This gives you the choice between the OE part and a higher quality alternative.

Here are just a few OEM/OES brands stocked at AutohausAZ
For European & Japanese Cars
Robert Bosch Company is the single largest parts supplier for European cars. What started as Robert Bosch’s “Workshop for Precision and Electrical Engineering” over 100 years ago, has become one of today’s most successful engineering enterprises.

Pioneers of automotive fuel injection technology over 50 years ago, Bosch is the industry leader in fuel injection and is the major OE supplier to nearly all car manufacturers worldwide. Bosch developed the first fuel injection system with a high-pressure electric fuel pump in 1967 and continues to pioneer innovative designs and technology.

Bosch ignition systems are OE on most European cars and have been for many, many years. Whether it’s an old points-and-condenser type distributor or the latest high-tech distributorless ignition system, Bosch built the unit for the car marker. The replacement parts – from cap, rotor, points, condenser and Hall sender to distributorless coils and connectors – are all the original parts or the updated version of them from Bosch.

Bosch also offers the best warranty in the marketplace. They stand behind all products for a minimum of 12 full months, unlimited mileage! They also provide a 2-year roadside assistance warranty on starters and alternators – they’ll pay for your jump start or tow should one of these products fail. And, Bosch offers a lifetime warranty on all of its spark plug wire sets.

Bosch manufactures thousands of different components for cars – from fuel pumps to air flow meters to electronic switches and relays to headlights and filters. In fact, Bosch is the OE brand at most car manufacturers worldwide.

As a Bosch Warehouse Distributor, AutohausAZ stocks thousands of Bosch products for your car. Is it any wonder people worldwide come to AutohausAZ for all their Bosch product needs?

Sachs-Boge (now part of ZF Trading North America’s group of companies) includes Boge suspension (shocks/struts, bushings, etc.), Boge rubber-to-metal (engine mounts, suspension mounts, bushings, etc.), Stabilus gas springs (hood, trunk and tailgate shocks, convertible top cover supports, etc.), and Fichtel-Sachs drivetrain (clutches, fan clutches, etc.).

Boge suspension and rubber-to-metal have been the European supplier of shocks/struts, bushings and mounts to the auto makers since 1931, with manufacturing plants in 72 countries around the world. With their outstanding warranties on shocks/struts, you never have to worry about the performance and longevity of the parts.

And, Fichtel-Sachs/Borg&Beck clutches have been original equipment on European cars in one form or another for over 100 years. Still the world leader in clutch technology and innovation, Sachs clutches are found in cars the world over, including US car makes.

Sachs’ Stabilus/Lift-O-Mat brand is the major supplier of hood, trunk and tailgate shocks on all European cars. The replacements are exactly the same specs as that which was on your car on the showroom floor so you know when you buy Stabilus you’ll be able to restore the lift that you expect when you open your door.

Once again, AutohausAZ stocks a large assortment of Sachs and Boge products – all of which are OEM/OES and are either on your European car already or are factory-approved as a replacement part. And, like Bosch, Sachs stands behind their products with a minimum 12-month warranty – lifetime on shocks.

ATE supplies brake and hydraulic components as an OE supplier to most European car makers. From calipers to master cylinders to brake discs, brake drums and much more, somewhere on your car is the name ATE!

Balo brake rotors were the OE brand on BMWs throughout the 1990s and continue to be the major supplier to European car makers. For quality of manufacture, resistance to warping and superior fit and performance, Balo is the professional’s rotor of choice for most BMW models.

Bando is the OEM belt of choice for all Asian cars. It’s designed to properly fit the pulley grooves at the correct ride level to give superior performance and durability.

Behr/Hella Service has long been known for its refrigeration and cooling system parts on Mercedes Benz and BMW. From A/C parts to radiators and thermostats to A/C control systems, Behr is the OE brand on many European cars. Through its worldwide affiliations with other companies, its name is also found on many replacement refrigeration and cooling system parts for other makes of automobiles.

Brembo brake discs, designed specifically for the Formula One racing circuit, are now offered for street use. Since 1961, Brembo has been the exclusive supplier of brake calipers to Porsche and brake rotor supplier to racers worldwide (FIA Rally, Formula One, CART, NASCAR, Porsche, Ferrari and more). You can’t do any better for fit and performance than Brembo.

Continental (aka CRP, Conti, or Conti-Tech), according to most experts, is the only belt you should put on European cars. Continental is an OE supplier and its superior, service-free belts outlast any other brand on the market. Continental also produces many of the OE hoses found on your car. Now with the Rein Automotive brand, Continental offers OE quality replacement filters, gaskets and other maintenance items.

Corteco and Micronair are divisions of The Freudenburg Group and supply a large number of filters, seals, mounts and maintenance items for most European cars.

Daikin is one of a group of affiliated clutch brands manufactured in Japan for Honda, Nissan and Toyota. It is a market brand containing the original FCC clutch products found on these cars. With original material, fit and performance, Daikin is the clutch component brand to use on your Japanese car.

FAG is world-renowned for its bearings and tensioner assemblies. Since its pioneering work on roller bearings starting in 1885, FAG has been a world leader for over 120 years. Again, another brand name that probably came as standard equipment on your car.

Fahrzeug Technik Ebern (FTE) is a major brake and clutch hydraulics manufacturer in Ebern, Germany.

Febi Bilstein is known for OE suspension and steering systems. From Bilstein shocks and struts to Febi bushings, tie rods and control arms, you’re assured of high quality products from Febi Bilstein.

Fichtel-Sachs clutches – see Sachs Boge above.

GK, a division of Autex Autoeile Germany, is an OE manufacturer of water pumps. They offer superior quality and performance for German cars.

Hella lighting and electrical products are original equipment on many models and offer superior replacement parts on all cars. See also Behr/Hella Service above.

Hirschmann is a world leader in communication antenna technology and is the OE supplier to European car makers. Since the first telescoping design in 1939, Hirschmann has been at the forefront of innovation.

Jurid brake pads (a division of Bendix/Allied Signal) were the OE brand on BMWs throughout the 1990s and continue to be the major supplier in Europe. For fit, finish and performance, you can’t do better than Jurid for your BMW.

Kolbenschmidt is an OE brand name that can be found on hundreds of quality metal parts throughout the European car market – engine blocks, pistons, bearings, induction pipes, water pumps and other high-grade components. With such diverse and time-tested engine experience, Kolbenschmidt is a testimonial to “competence around the engine”.

Laso offers superior quality OE water pumps and metal components for European auto makers.

Lemfoerder, now also part of ZFTNA, is the OE brand for heavy metal parts on most BMWs, such as control arms, support arms and bushings. Lemfoerder is always the highest quality original equipment (OE) brand you can find. Now also known for many other automotive parts and kits, you can count on Lemfoerder to be a perfect fit every time.

Loebro, a division of GKN Drivetech, is the OE CV joint, U-joint and axle boot king for European cars. GKN is the largest manufacturer of new OE constant velocity products with over 40% of the total world market. In fact, GKN has been the world leader in front-wheel drive engineering for almost 40 years.

Lucas-Girling/TRW-Lucas is another large OE manufacturer of brake and hydraulic products. The TRW group of companies supply OE and replacement parts for nearly every make and model car on the road today.

Mahle-Knecht, Hengst, Mann-Hummel and Crosland are all high-quality OE suppliers in Europe of various automotive filters. Air filters, fuel filters, oil filters, power steering filters and AC/pollen/micro filters are the most common maintenance items on cars today and these quality brands will ensure OE specification service, fit and performance.

Meyle Products, located in Hamburg, Germany, offers a constantly expanding range of high-quality steering and suspension products (tie rods, center/drag link, control arms, support arms, ball joints, bushings and kits and more) for European cars.

Meyle engineers analyze original parts, especially those with known issues, to develop improved alternatives that exceed the reliability and longevity of the original OE parts. Whether it’s reinforcements on aluminum control arms, full-metal ball joints or tie rod ends, enlarged diameter stabilizer link ends, or modified molding design for rubber-to-metal mounts, Meyle optimizes the original part designs. With more than 30 years experience in the European market Meyle has distinguished itself with its nearly 200 improved heavy-duty “HD Quality” technically optimized parts to replace and improve the OE version.

Mintex, a division of TMD Friction, has over 100 years experience supplying the auto makers of Europe with brakes pads, including the manufacture of Pagid and Textar brake pads. It was the first brake pad company in Europe to earn the new “Regulation 90” approval for safetey in meeting or exceeding OE specifications on its pads. All the brake pads are built to OE specifications for material compound, are non-asbestos for health safety and are low dusting for cleanliness of your wheels.

Nissens is a Danish alternative radiator and AC condenser brand for Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Saab and Volvo. These radiators incorporate all the latest updates to OE specs, fit exactly as the original brands and are often a more cost-effective solution than the OE brand.

NSK, GMB, KML and FCC – These four Asian manufacturers offer a wide range of OE components (bearings, water pumps, clutches and more) for both Asian and European cars. Superior design and durability make these products the best you can buy for Asian cars.

Ocap engineers and supplies steering and suspension sub-systems for some of the most prestigious sports cars, private passenger cars and special vehicle manufacturers in the world. OCAP’s strength lies in its dynamism and expertise to partner with OE manufacturers from the earliest stages of designing and engineering to FEM analysis and bench testing.

Pagid brake pads, a division of TMD Friction, are an OE or better alternative brand and are preferred by many professionals for numerous European cars. As an OE supplier of brake pads for Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Saab, Volkswagen and Volvo, these pads have the most up-to-date formulation and shims for optimal performance and noise reduction.

PBR Deluxe (Axxis, Repco, MetalMaster) is a brand that’s changed its name several times over the past several years but not its high quality. Although not OE on any car, PBR Deluxe brand pads are a popular replacement brand for most car makes. In the standard “Deluxe” line, they produce an organic pad that performs quietly and cleanly on your import car. The “MetalMaster” line of full metallic pads are a durable, high-quality, all-metallic pad designed for certain applications to either replace semi-metallics or extend pad life.

Pierburg appears on several fuel pumps in many European cars and is an excellent alternative for many other cars. The compact design and quiet operation of the Pierburg pumps are renowned.

Ruville, based in Hamburg Germany, has been a leading spare parts provider for over 80 years.

SKF is the leading global supplier of products, solutions and services in the rolling bearing and seals business. SKF was founded in Sweden in 1907 and currently operates 76 production sites in 22 countries. They are reknowned for their high quality products for a wide variety of car makes.

Stabilus hood, trunk and tailgate shocks – see Sachs Boge above.

Textar brake pads, a division of TMD Friction, are the OE pads on most Mercedes-Benz cars and have been for many, many years. Formulated for quiet operation and high performance, there are no better pads for most Mercedes original applications or as replacement pads on any European model car.

Uro Parts is a division of APA Industries. As a marketer of replacement seals, gaskets and parts for European cars, Uro Parts strives to offer affordable OE quality fit and finish.

VDO-Siemens is world renowned for its electrical parts, pumps, sensors and switches. An OE brand on many European cars, VDO is now part of Continental Automotive GmbH. Continental acquired Siemens VDO Automotive in December, 2007.

Victor Reinz, Goetze, Meistersatz and ElringKlinger are the four companies representing nearly every OE gasket or seal found in European cars. If you need a seal or gasket – from valve cover gaskets to head sets to axle seals – it will probably have one of these names on it at AutohausAZ.

Zimmermann brake rotors were our original and only Porsche brake rotor supplier but they have expanded tremendously over the past few years. The quality is second to none as replacement on all late model import cars – not just Porsche – with the high demand on ABS high-pressure systems. Heat fade resistance and longevity are Zimmermann’s strong suits and Zimmermann brake rotors are one of your best buys for great braking performance. Since January 2008, Zimmermann has been applying the Coat Z-AntiCorrosion coating to select part numbers to further improve longevity.

Adler, Nissin and NTP OEM hydraulic products are known for their durability and proper fit. This is the only master cylinder you want to put on Hondas.

Tips To Diagnose Engine Knock and Low Oil Pressure Needed Repairs

Oil pressure light flickering? Engine knock? Both? Major repair problem or minor annoyance? Either way, you should always quickly investigate the source before it becomes an even bigger problem.

Oil pressure – or more precisely the lack of it – in certain parts of your car’s engine can become a major repair nightmare. All engines lose a certain amount of oil pressure over time as normal wear increases bearing clearances. But unusually low oil pressure in an engine, regardless of mileage, is often an indication that something is seriously wrong and requires immediate repairs.

That “tappet” noise may be only one sticking lifter but it may also indicate an oil flow problem that will eventually cause damage to at least one valve.

A flickering oil light is more difficult to troubleshoot if your engine is not obviously in need of major repair work.

Modern engines with hydraulic lifters, tight tolerance bearings and miniature oil filters require conscientious monitoring of oil pressure.

The following diagnostic tips (excerpted from “Troubleshooting Low Oil Pressure”, Underhood Service, 10/97) will help you determine whether you have a major repair problem or just a minor annoyance.

Diagnostic Tips
A good place to start your diagnosis of a low pressure condition is at the dipstick. Check the oil to see that it’s at the proper level (not low nor overfilled). If low, the engine may be burning or leaking oil. Adding oil may temporarily remedy the low pressure condition, but unless the level is properly maintained, the problem may recur.

If the engine is leaking oil, try new gaskets or seals to fix the leak. If the engine is burning oil, the valve guides and seals are most likely worn, but the rings and cylinders might be bad, too. A wet compression test and/or leakdown test will tell you if it’s the valve guides or rings and cylinders that are worn.

The least expensive fix in the case of worn guides is to install new valve guide seals (if possible) without pulling the head.

The best fix is to pull the heads and have the guides lined, knurled, replaced or reamed for oversized valve stems. Worn rings and cylinders would call for a complete overhaul.

Also note the condition of the oil and make sure it’s the correct viscosity for your car and climate.

Heavier viscosities, such as 20W-50, straight 30W or 40W, may help maintain good pressure in hot weather but are too thick for cold weather driving and may cause start-up lubrication problems – especially in overhead cam engines.

Light viscosities, on the other hand, such as straight 10W or 5W-20, may improve cold weather starting and lubrication but may be too thin in hot weather driving to maintain good pressure.

That’s why most car and OE parts manufacturers recommend 5W-30 in modern engines for year-round driving.

If the level is okay, the next thing to check would probably be the pressure sending unit. Disconnect the unit and check the warning lamp or gauge reading.

If the warning light remains on with the sending unit disconnected, there’s probably a short to ground in the warning lamp circuit. Likewise, if there’s no change in a gauge reading, the problem is in the instrumentation, not the engine.

Bad sending units are quite common, so many mechanics replace the unit without checking anything else to see if that cures the problem. This approach might save time, but it’s risky because unless you measure pressure directly with a gauge attached to the engine, you have no way of knowing if pressure is within specifications or not.

Most warning lamps won’t come on until pressure is dangerously low (less than four or five pounds). So don’t assume the absence of a warning lamp means pressure is okay, especially if the engine is making any valve or bearing noise.

If a check of pressure reveals unusually low readings, check the filter. It’s possible the filter might be plugged with gunk. Replace the filter and see if that makes a difference.

The next step is to drop the oil pan and check the oil pump pickup screen. If the screen is clogged with debris, you’ve found the problem. Also, check to see that the pickup tube is properly mounted and positioned, is firmly attached to the pump (no leaks) and is not obstructed.

If the pump is mounted inside the crankcase, the next step might be to remove and inspect the pump. Open the pump cover and measure clearances. Also, check for scoring or other damage. A broken pump drive would tell you something entered and jammed the pump. If the pump is worn or damaged, replacement is your only option.

If the pump appears to be okay, the next step is to measure the rod and main bearing clearances. Check the clearances on the main bearing closest to the pump (this has the greatest effect on pressure) and clearances on the furthest rod bearing (this will show the greatest wear).

If the bearings are worn, they need to be replaced. But before you do so, carefully inspect and measure the crankshaft journals to check for wear, scoring, out-of-round and taper. If the journals need attention, the crank will also have to be reground or replaced.

Other diagnostic checks might include camshaft end play and/or pulling a valve cover or the intake manifold to check the cam bearings and lifters.

Remember, excessive clearances or leaks anywhere in the engine’s oil supply system can contribute to low pressure.

Once you’ve identified and repaired discovered problems, your final check is to start the engine and make sure pressure is within your car’s specifications. Use a mechanical pressure gauge and don’t rely on the dash gauge or the warning light to verify that the repairs you’ve made have eliminated your problem.

One Final Warning
If you insist on driving blind and deaf to the obvious warnings coming from under your car’s hood, the next sound you hear may be a rapping or knock noise from the rod bearings – which will eventually be followed by dead silence as your engine seizes and your car coasts to a dead stop.