What Customers Should Know
In the Hot Seat (Repair and Maintenance of Seat Heaters)
It's chilly outside. You flip on that switch that looks like a picture of a seat with little heat waves rising from it. You expect soon you'll feel that warmth but… wait! It's not getting warmer. Oh no, what's wrong with my seat heater? There could be lots of reasons it's not working, and it could be as simple as a fuse or as major as the heating element itself. But it's something to leave to a pro to diagnose and repair.
Let's say it turns out to be a blown fuse. Simply replacing the fuse may not fix it because there was a reason the fuse blew in the first place. It's possible the on-off switch has worn out or corroded. Perhaps the wiring connection isn't completing the circuit (could be corroded or full of dirt) or the voltage reaching the heating element isn't correct.
There's a little sensor that keeps track of the seat heater's temperature called the thermistor. When the seat is hot enough, it will stop the juice from heating it any more. Sometimes those fail. But if all of these components are healthy, you may need a new heater element.
Those seat-heating elements are made up of wires that get sat on. A lot. That can put significant strain on them. Putting something heavy on the seat can break them. Or, if you put your knees on the seat cushion as you're getting something in a rear seat, that can also damage the element. Sometimes they can be repaired but often they have to be replaced. And here is where the technician's expertise comes into play. That heater element is attached to the seat's fabric and replacing it can be tricky. It also can require disassembling a lot of the seat to access it.
Seat heaters are a wonderful feature and they make your vehicle oh, so much cozier. So keep them working and enjoy the warmth!
The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley
A Squirrely Problem (Animals Nesting in Engine)
If you park your vehicle outside, you are exposing it to all sorts of critters that would love to use it for nesting, food storage and shelter. There are plenty of pictures online of people who've discovered there was more than an engine under the hood. In one case, the driver of an SUV started to smell a slight burning odor when she was driving. Turned out to be 200 walnuts and a lot of grass had been stored there by some industrious squirrels preparing for the upcoming cold weather.
The SUV owners had their vehicle inspected not long before this happened, but it doesn't take some animals long to set up house in what they think is the ideal spot to make their winter home. Obviously, that can create problems. Squirrels, mice, rats and other small animals can chew through hoses and wires. Plus what they store as food and nesting material may prevent engine parts from moving the way they are supposed to. Imagine a radiator fan that won't turn because it's laden with heavy walnuts. Or the fire hazard created by flammable brush on a hot manifold.
Probably the best solution is to store your vehicle inside a rodent-tight building, but that's no guarantee. Unfortunately it doesn't take a very big hole or gap for small mice or other creatures to get in. Some careful sealing with materials like cement or steel wool can reduce rodent access effectively, but they're always looking for access so you can't let down your guard.
If you're not able to store your vehicle inside, you may try spraying lavender or mint essence around the engine or in the wheel wells. Rodents don't seem to like those odors very much. If you drive your vehicle every day, you're less likely to have unwanted residents than if you leave it sit for days. In either case, if you have experienced animal problems in the past, open your hood and inspect your engine frequently.
Check with your service adviser for recommendations on how to keep animals out of your vehicle. You're not the only one whose vehicle looks like the perfect winter apartment to some critters. Preventing animals from getting to your vehicle is worth some time and expense because damage from gnawing teeth can be very costly and difficult to repair.
The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley
Chilly Warning (Diagnosing a Noise in Cold Vehicle)
When the weather gets colder, sometimes the noises your vehicle makes will change. For example, you may notice a whining sound when you get going in the morning. It may go away when the vehicle warms up, but it's best not to ignore that sound because it could be a warning of worse things to come.
Colder temperatures cause different components to behave differently. Let's take a look at a few of them. First, the fluids in your vehicle. Cold temperatures can make them behave a little differently, such as engine oil, transmission fluid and power steering fluid. Those characteristics could change if the fluids are older and full of contaminants.
Belts also can create a whining noise when cold. Since they turn pulleys that move other things, several factors can create issues. Increased friction can change proper tensions on belts. Plus, belts change as they age and may crack, get loose or develop a glazed surface. Belts and pulleys also must be aligned properly to work the way they're designed to.
As you can imagine, it's easier for a technician to diagnose a noise if the vehicle is making it. And if a vehicle only makes a noise when it's cold, that sound may be gone by the time the vehicle makes it to the repair facility. That means a driver may have to consider dropping off the vehicle the night before so the technician can be the first to start it the following morning. Most service facilities can accommodate that with either a drop-off box or other arrangement. Heed your vehicle's warning when you start to hear unusual noises. That's a cool idea you should be able to easily warm up to.
The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley
The Puzzling Puddle (Leaks Under Vehicle)
Ever notice a little spot of liquid under your vehicle after you've parked in your driveway or garage? It may have been something as simple as water left from air conditioning condensation. But then again, it could be a sign that there's trouble brewing in one of your vehicle's systems.
You can help your service facility diagnose the problem by getting a little sample of the drip. At the same time, you may save yourself a tougher clean up task by preventing the leaky fluid from really messing up the driveway or garage floor. The first thing is to put something under the vehicle. A flattened out cardboard box will do fine. You may also want to slip a little disposable aluminum tray or pan under it to catch a bit of the fluid. Chroma and consistency can help a technician quickly figure out what kind of fluid you're dealing with. You can take your sample with you when you go to your service facility.
Also note how much of the substance is there over what period of time, when you started to notice it and its location relative to the vehicle. Is it on the passenger's or driver's side? Front, middle or back? Vehicle's have different designs, so where their equipment is located will depend on make and model.
The leaky fluid will have a certain look to it and consistency. If it's blue, it may be windshield washer fluid and a sign that your washer fluid tank has a leak. If it's green, it could be antifreeze. Orange may mean rusty water or transmission fluid. Brown? Might be oil.
There should be no leaks in your powertrain if things are maintained properly. A small leak may not seem like a big deal, but sometimes they can get much bigger quickly. A coolant leak, for example, may suddenly go from pinhole to flood, draining your cooling system and putting your engine in danger of overheating.
It is a really good idea to have a professional check out your leaks as soon as you notice them. And the more clues you can provide, the happier the technician will be as the search for the problem gets underway.
Wash Me, Wash Me Right (How to Wash a Vehicle)
Most would agree they'd rather drive around in a clean, shiny vehicle than one coated with a layer of dirt. When warmer weather comes around, some of us are bound and determined to wash our own vehicles. And to protect the paint and its luster, there are a few things to keep in mind when you get out the bucket and soap.
The next time you have your vehicle in for maintenance, you might ask your service advisor for recommendations on vehicle washing accessories. They are usually up on the brands that produce the best results. You may not be a detailing pro, but there's no reason your vehicle can't look like you are.
Idle Talk about Engines (Causes of Rough Engine Idling)
When you slow down at stoplight, your vehicle's idle should be smooth as silk. But what happens when the engine is missing or idling roughly? That's your engine's way of telling you, "Hey, I've got something wrong with me and if you don't get someone to find out what it is, I may not start the next time you turn the key."
You can help your service facility if you can describe the problem in detail. Here's a list of things to make a note of:
Make sure you describe the problem in as much detail because it will help a technician diagnose the problem.
One of the first things they'll check is how the spark plugs are firing. Modern iridium plugs are supposed to last a long, long time. But they CAN eventually wear out. Inspecting the firing end can help the technician figure out the root of the problem. Corroded or worn out spark plug wires, too, can contribute to an idling irregularity.
There are other potential problem spots, too. The technician may check the ignition coil, timing piston rings, valves and cylinder walls.
If the mixture of air and fuel isn't correct, that may affect how smooth your vehicle is running. Your service facility is equipped with diagnostic equipment that helps them pinpoint the problem. Once that idle is smoothed out to the way it used to be, you'll be the smoothest operator on the road.
H20 No! (Driving Through Standing Water)
In a year marked by unusually heavy flooding in North America, drivers are very aware of the possibility they may find themselves driving where water has come over the road. It can be a daunting and frightening situation. Flooding waters can move quickly and unpredictably, so you have to keep your wits about you when you encounter that situation.
Here a sample of one vehicle manufacturer's guidelines on what to do. First, the vehicle is designed to go through some water, but you must be careful. Never attempt to drive through water deeper than the bottom of your tires.
You can get out of your vehicle to check the depth of the water, but you can never be sure that you aren't going to drive into a spot where the road has washed away. You can't see below the surface of the water, and suddenly you could find yourself in a place where the road drops off unexpectedly. In swift moving storm runoff, your vehicle could literally be floating away with the current, putting your life and those of your passengers in mortal danger.
Never go more than 5mph/8 km/hr when you drive through standing water. That minimizes the waves you create. If you DO find yourself in water that is touching your drivetrain components, that water can damage them. And if you get water in your engine, it can lock up in seconds and stall. The potential damage can be catastrophic.
You may have found yourself driving in water deep enough to reach your drivetrain components, and it's essential that you have a technician check the fluids to make sure they haven't been contaminated. That includes engine oil, transmission and axle. Driving with fluids contaminated with water can severely damage those components.
The bottom line is to avoid driving through water at all if you possibly can. Check your vehicle's owner's manual to see if there are specific guidelines for driving YOUR vehicle in standing water. It's information that could save your life.
No Fueling! (Fuel Filler Location)
If you've ever gotten in an unfamiliar vehicle, maybe a rental car, you may have pulled up to the gas pump and wondered, "Which side is the fuel filler on?" Here's a tip for you. There is usually a little arrow on the instrument panel near the fuel gauge that points to the side where the fuel filler is.
But why are the fuel fillers not all on the same side, anyway? There are lots of reasons. At one time, many manufacturers tried putting them in an easy-to-reach spot: in the center of the vehicle's rear end. Some even hid them behind a hinged license plate door. Cool place, but it turned out not to be a good idea. When a vehicle with a fuel filler in the rear was hit by another vehicle from behind, it was much more prone to catch fire and explode.
Safety regulations now dictate that the fuel filler doors be placed within crumple zones and away from where they can drip fuel on hot exhaust pipes or near electrical connections. But why do manufacturers put them on either side?
Some say it should be on the side away from the road. That way if you run out of gas and have to add a little from a gas can as your standing at the side of the road, you'll be a little farther away from passing traffic. So some companies from North America and many European firms with left-hand drive put their fillers on the right side.
Some manufacturers think convenience for the driver is paramount, so they put their fuel fillers on the driver's side. If you have a vehicle with a cable release for the fuel door inside the cabin, it's usually on the same side as the steering wheel. As you can see, there's no standardization.
Fuel doors need regular maintenance such as lubrication, and your gas cap (if your vehicle has one) should seal properly. Have your service facility inspect those regularly. Wherever your fuel filler is, it's obviously important that you can get at it easily because you have to fuel up sometime. Otherwise, you're not going to go too far!
Not-So-Common Sense (Sensor Failures)
So your vehicle won't start. What's the first thing that comes to mind? Battery dead? Starter motor worn out? Out of gas? Well, those are all reasons that make sense. But your vehicle may be refusing to start because one of its computers is being warned that to do so might damage it. Here's how that works.
You have lots of computers in your vehicle. They need to know the status of things so there are several sensors monitoring various things going on. These sensors send information to the computers that adjust the fuel and air mixture so you don't waste fuel. They know when things aren't quite right and prevent you from starting your engine if that's going to damage it.
Other sensors make sure the coolant is the right temperature, check to see you are not polluting the air and make sure other electronic components are performing their tasks correctly.
Here's an example of a sensor doing its job. Your engine needs oil to lubricate metal components so the friction doesn't damage them. Your engine has an oil pressure sensor that tells a computer called the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) if things are good to go or if there's something wrong, maybe the oil pressure is too low to keep things lubricated. If it is, it gives a signal for the vehicle not to start, protecting the engine.
Of course, the sensors can go bad, too, with some of the same results. And so someone has to figure out if it's the sensor that's failed or if it really has detected a problem. That is the challenge for technicians with specialized equipment to decipher the signs. If a bad sensor is found, it may need to be replaced. Sometimes a thorough cleaning can do the trick. In either case, your service facility can track down the problem and get you back on the road. Makes sense, doesn't it?
The Byte Stuff (Your Vehicle's Computers)
Nobody has to tell you that computers are a part of so many things in our lives. Smartphones, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, televisions. You name it—it has a computer in it. And your vehicle is no exception.
The earliest cars relied on the technology of their time, and there was no such thing as a computer. But now, it's not unusual for a vehicle to have as many as 150 computers in it.
They perform a variety of functions. An important one is diagnosing your vehicle's problems. There are various sensors throughout modern vehicles that measure thousands of data points. When something is not working correctly, they send a signal to another computer that stores that information. The data can be read by someone who has a special computer that plugs into a port in your car. It displays certain codes that help technicians track down the culprit.
But it's not just the diagnostics that are computerized. Everything from your vehicle's fuel injection to anti-lock brakes is. Convenience features such as power windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a wi-fi-hot spot, streaming video and navigation are all sophisticated computers. Then there are the safety features; air bags, traction control, automatic emergency braking and a host of others are all dependent on computers.
It is important that those computers work correctly because they interface with many of the other computers on board. To properly diagnose problems with those computers requires training and special equipment. Your service facility has invested considerable resources into both, and they are equipped to properly evaluate and repair and/or replace malfunctioning components.
Some lament the days when backyard mechanics could pull out their tools and do their own repairs. Those days are fast disappearing with the computerization of vehicles. But look at the bright side. Your vehicle does so much more, has so many more features and travels far more safely than those past generations drove. And they're bound to get better and more sophisticated down the road.
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