What Customers Should Know
Singing a Different Tune (Up) (Tune Ups)
Engines required a lot more maintenance in earlier times. You'd have to have your spark plugs, wires, rotors, caps, distributor points, fuel and air filters changed periodically. There were mechanical adjustments of a vehicle's timing, dwell, spark gap and idle mixture, too. Unless you like to tinker with old cars, a lot of those terms won't mean much to you.
That service was called a "tune up" back then, and you can see why. But now, computers have reduced the number of maintenance items, and a tune up is a whole lot different than it used to be. In fact, in some vehicle service facilities, that term is also a thing of the past.
A tune up of today would more accurately be called simply periodic maintenance. Now, most vehicles still have spark plugs and wires, fuel filters, air filters and PCV valves, and they should be inspected tested and/or replaced at regular intervals. Your vehicle's manufacturer has made recommendations on how often that should be. But it depends on your driving habits. Do you regularly tow a trailer? Do you drive on dusty roads often? Are you driving mostly stop and go in the city? Depending on your answers, to those maintenance intervals might have to be more frequent.
Your service advisor will likely remind you about those "must check" items such as spark plugs and wires, air filter and oxygen sensor. And now that the old-fashioned tune ups don't require you to take your vehicle in for maintenance as often, you can get the same benefit from scheduled oil changes or tire rotations. When your vehicle is in for those, a technician can keep an eye on your other systems (fuel, emissions, ignition) to make sure they are operating correctly.
One thing to remember. When you take your vehicle in for regular service or a specific issue, don't ever hesitate to ask you service advisor to explain what's being done and why. Hey, "In Sync" may have been a boy band of an earlier era, but it's always good for you and your service advisor to be "in sync" when it comes to what maintenance is good for your vehicle.
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Passing the Test (How to Prevent Emissions Test Failure)
Vehicle emission testing has become ubiquitous in North America and for a good reason. Clean air quality is important for the environment and all of us. Since vehicle emissions are among the main causes of air pollution, emission testing can alert you to problems in your vehicle than can be fixed so it won't needlessly pollute.
Emissions tests are looking for certain toxic gases internal combustion engines produce, such as nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, non-methane organic gases and formaldehyde. Emissions control systems reduce these gases if they are working properly.
The best way to minimize pollution is to keep those vehicle systems working properly, and periodic inspection and maintenance is the key. So if you want to make sure your vehicle will pass an emissions test, it helps to know what might go wrong.
Let's start on the easy one. Your gas cap could be loose, allowing vapors to escape into the atmosphere. The most common solution is to replace it. Or your air filter may be dirty. A dirty air filter may push your hydrocarbons pass the acceptable level.
Now to the more complicated things. The mixture of fuel and air in your engine may be tilted toward the "too much fuel" side. That could cause problems for your vehicle's catalytic converter, a device that converts toxic gases from your exhaust into less toxic pollutants.
Your vehicle has a closed system that prevents fuel tank vapors from escaping into the air; it's called the EVAP system. A technician can track down problems.
Vehicle engineers have gone to great lengths to minimize the amount of pollution your vehicle produces. Your vehicle's manufacturer recommends how frequently those systems need servicing. Keep those systems in good shape and you're likely to pass emissions tests with flying colors. Neglect them and you might find your vehicle failing an emissions test. When that happens, you'll have to get the problems repaired before you can get back on the road.
The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley
Drivers that "T" Us Off (Bad Driving Practices)
We've all seen drivers who do things that—let's be frank—really irritate us. They're inconsiderate, can put people in danger and make the road a much less friendly place. They really "T" us off. These are the bad drivers who fit their description to a "T."
The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley
Your Vehicle is Talking to YOU (Service Warning Signs)
Your vehicle may be like that famous battery bunny, the one that just keeps going and going. But while it may seem sometimes like you never need to take your vehicle in to be worked on, there are some things you should keep your eyes, ears and nose out for. They are warning you about something that needs attention at your vehicle service facility.
An old 80s TV show called "Knight Rider" featured a talking car. You already have a vehicle that's telling you things all the time. Give it a listen and it will keep you going safely down the road for many years to come.
The Third Brake Light (Third Brake Light Service)
So you thought you only had two brake lights. Look again and you'll see one in the center at a higher level than the two on either side of the vehicle. They're sometimes in the inside of the vehicle behind the back window, or they could be in the deck lid, on the roof or on the spare wheel carrier,
But why is that third brake on your vehicle? Experts say it helps prevent rear end collisions. Tests done by installing the third brake light in taxis and fleet vehicles showed fewer rear end crashes in the ones that had the extra light. The third brake light was mandated in new passenger cars in 1986 in the US and Canada. The requirement was added to new light trucks and vans in 1994.
Sometimes it's difficult to know if your third brake light is even working. Many vehicles have bulb warning systems that alert you to non-functional bulbs, but not all do. Your vehicle service facility will often check to see if all your turn signals, taillights and headlights are working during routine maintenance inspections, and they may notice that the third brake light is out.
So, do you have to have it replaced? Not necessarily. Many areas only require one brake light to work in the rear of a vehicle. So even though new vehicles have to have the third brake light, you may not get a ticket if it eventually stops working. But you may be missing an opportunity to drive a safer vehicle if you don't get it fixed.
In 1995, an insurance institute study found that 1986 model cars were involved in 5 percent fewer rear-end collisions from 1986-1991 than they would have expected without the extra light.
Ask your service advisor for advice. Keep in mind that in these days of drivers distracted by everything from texting to putting on makeup while driving, you can reasonably conclude that anything that makes you more visible to the vehicle behind you adds one more—possibly life saving—safety margin.
Stuck! (Vehicle Door Issues)
This may have happened to you. You drive somewhere and get out of your vehicle only to try closing the door and it just won't stay closed! What a helpless feeling. You can't lock it; you can't leave it like it is. Or, let's say you head down to your vehicle to head out to work in the morning and you can't open the door. What are you going to do now?
Vehicle doors take a lot of abuse. They are opened and closed hundreds of times and we expect them to just keep working perfectly all the time. They do require a bit of tender loving care. Let's take a look at two different scenarios of stuck doors.
First: the door that won't close. It's a security issue. It's also a safety issue. You can't really safely drive a vehicle with a door that won't close. What if you or a passenger is tossed out? Sure, some people try to tie a stuck-open door closed or bungee it, but that's dangerous. It's best to get that vehicle to the service repair facility as soon as you can, and having it towed is the safest way.
Second: the door that won't open. There are many reasons this can happen. Freezing weather is one, a misaligned door is another. There could be electrical issues. Corrosion could have broken a part inside the door. The possibilities, unfortunately, are numerous.
If you can't get into your vehicle's driver's door, with any luck another door might open and you can climb into the driver's seat and head on to the repair facility. A lot of people may be tempted to try to fix a stuck door themselves, but many wind up causing more damage to the door and have to have a trained technician step in to repair the mess.
One way to minimize the possibility of having a door stick open or closed is to make sure it gets regular maintenance. Door locks, hinges and latches should be lubricated at certain intervals. Locks should be kept clean. While many vehicles now have electronic locks, sometimes an electrical failure in the vehicle or key fob can inadvertently lock you out. Nearly every vehicle has a mechanical key in case that happens; if you don't know how that works, have your service advisor show you how.
Also, you technician can make sure your doors are properly aligned and aren't sagging. All of these things can help you keep your doors opening and closing the way they were designed to. Your next trip may "hinge" on your doors being in top condition.
What is a TPS? (Throttle Position Sensor)
You know you have an accelerator pedal; step on it and your vehicle is supposed to go. But did you know there is a part in your vehicle that keeps track of where the throttle is? It's called the Throttle Position Sensor, or TPS.
The TPS is a sensor that helps your vehicle figure out the right mix of air and fuel is reaching your engine. It does that by keeping track of the throttle and sending that information to your vehicle's computer. Other factors play a role in how well your engine is performing, including air temperature, how fast the engine is turning over and air flow.
When the TPS isn't working right, you may find your vehicle won't accelerate or doesn't have the power you're expecting when you press on the accelerator. In some cases, it may accelerate on its own. Sometimes your vehicle won't go over a certain speed. Your Check Engine light may go on.
Any of these symptoms should be checked out soon. If your TPS stops working right, your vehicle may not be safe to drive. Fortunately, most vehicles have a "limp home" mode that will allow you to get off a busy road to a safe spot.
Your service advisor can let you know which TPS is the correct replacement for your vehicle. Your shop may have to re-program the new TPS so it works correctly with other software in your vehicle.
It's a fact of life these days that computers control many of a vehicle's functions. The sensors that feed information to those computers help make your vehicle work the way it was engineered to and keep you motoring down the road safely and efficiently.
Don't Start with That (Bad Starter Motor)
We've all heard that expression, "That's a non starter." When it comes to your vehicle, that's not music to a driver's ears. That sickening sound when you start the ignition and instead of hearing the engine crank, you hear it slowly turn over and your dash lights go dim.
There can be many reasons a vehicle won't start, so here's a little history of how the starter came to be an important component of modern vehicles.
You have to move the engine's components to start it. The first cars had a crank that the driver would insert into the front, then start turning things over by hand. When the engine started, you had to release that crank immediately or risk a broken arm. Yes, it happened many times. So, they came up with a better idea: an electric starter, which was a big advance in automotive technology.
With this system, an electric motor rotated a series of gears that turned the gasoline engine's crankshaft so its pistons and parts moved and the engine drew in air. While this happened, electricity went to the spark plugs and fuel headed to the cylinders. When the gasoline engine caught, the starter quickly disengaged. Hey, no more broken arms!
Modern systems use the same principle, so when your vehicle won't start, here are a few things to look out for that might point to the starter.
If the engine turns over s-l-o-w-l-y, it may mean the electric starter motor may just be wearing out and doesn't have enough cranking power. Bushings, brushes, wire windings and a special switch called a commutator may be going bad.
If when you engage the ignition you hear a faint click, that could be a symptom one or more of the starter's components have failed. If you hear a loud click, it could mean that an electrical switch called a solenoid may not be switching the motor on.
If you hear your engine start to turn over but then it stops and is followed by a grinding sound, some gears may not be meshing the way they should.
There may be many more causes (bad alternator, relay, battery, engine, key fob), so this is when it's time to turn it over to your service facility. Sometimes they can send out their own tow truck or recommend a reputable towing company.
But it's best not to let it get to this point. Starter problems often give you advance warning that there is a problem with "almost" not starting or "almost" not turning over. So when you see that very first sign, "start" on over to talk this one over with your service advisor. The opposite of a "non-starter" is a starter, and that is music to anyone's ears.
The Part You've Never Seen (Flat Tires and Solutions)
They say your vehicle has one, but you've never seen it. And you might not even know it if you stumbled on it accidentally.
We're talking about the jack, that tool that allows you to lift one corner of the vehicle up so someone can change a flat tire.
So you say you'd never try to change a flat anyway, so you don't care where it is. But one day, you may find yourself in a spot where you're stranded with no cell service and you'll need to at least know the basics of what to do.
Well, here's the ironic part. Many of today's vehicles don't even have jacks and spares! Recently, manufacturers have been saving weight by supplying another solution for a flat tire, such as an inflator kit that has a tire sealant in it, or a small compressor. If your vehicle has one of those, it's a good idea to get to know how to use it before you need to use it. Hopefully you'll be able to call roadside assistance and they can take care of things, but circumstances may prevent help from coming for a long time. The next time you're here at The Car Doctors of the Antelope Valley for routine maintenance, ask one of our pros to show you the basics of your vehicle's flat tire tools. Consider watching an online video, too; there are plenty out there and may be specific to your make and model.
Some vehicles have a space-saving spare, a smaller one that is meant to get you on the road long enough to find a place to have it repaired or replaced. Those vehicles will also have a jack. Then there are vehicles that have a full-size spare tire and a jack. Again, you may prefer to call roadside assistance, but if no one is available or reachable (which is sometimes the case in a major storm), you may have to fix your own flat.
Some drivers do a "dry run" of changing a tire in their driveway during daylight hours so they at least know where the jack and spare are and how to use them. Our service experts may be able to help you locate each part and give you some tips. And again, there are many videos online that can show you the fundamentals of jacking your make and model of vehicle.
Nobody relishes a flat tire. You may be lucky and never have to change one. But in this case, a little knowledge is better than no knowledge at all. In the unlikely case you are stranded at the side of a highway at night in the middle of the rain with no cell service, you'll at least be one step ahead.
Out with the Old (Vehicle Parts that Wear Out)
Some drivers don't pay any attention to their vehicles until something breaks. Others take them into their service repair facility for maintenance even before a problem develops. Still, even if you fit into the second group, there are some parts on a vehicle that will simply wear out over time.
Your vehicle has gaskets in several places. They use a flexible material to seal the gaps between metal parts that fit together. After time, that material shrinks or gets brittle and fails. Eventually, after time, you will have to get gaskets replaced.
Same goes for belts. Your engine has belts that help take the mechanical energy of the engine to drive other parts such as the generator and air conditioner. Heat and age will eventually cause these belts to wear out or break, so you'll need new ones at some point.
You'll also find yourself buying brake pads. As much as you may try to go easy on them, brake pads work by wearing off a little bit of them each time they help you stop your vehicle. Do a lot of stop-and-go driving and you'll hasten the process.
No battery lasts forever, and your vehicle's battery is no exception. It can only charge and discharge electricity so many times. Count on getting no more than 4 or 5 years out of a battery, fewer if you live in a very hot spot.
Other parts that don't age well? Tires. They can have plenty of tread left on them, but rubber gets old and loses its flexibility. Tires have their date of manufacturer stamped on them for a reason.
Finally, your muffler is being subject to moisture from inside and out: inside because of moisture-containing exhaust and outside from the elements outdoors. Stainless steel or other alloys will last longer, but after a while, either the moisture or constant pounding from vibrations will take their toll.
That's why it's important to maintain every part on your vehicle. You can't wave a magic wand and make everything last forever, but take care of your vehicle and it'll take care of you.
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