young man adding oil and checking engine air filter

4 Car Fluids You Should Care About

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If you want to keep your car running properly (and avoid breakdowns), you need to worry about your car fluids. Checking and changing car fluids is an important part of your car running (and running well). Before you head out, check these four car fluids for a smooth trip (and a lot more trips over the years).

Oil

Oil is listed first in the list of car fluids simply because it SO IMPORTANT. Motor oil lubricates the engine, allowing engine parts to run with minimal friction.  Oil also absorbs heat from the engine and reduces the wear and tear on engine parts. If you want to keep your car’s motor running, you need to regularly schedule oil changes. How often you need an oil change (and what kind of engine oil to use) depends on the year and model of car.

Modern cars don’t always need oil changes every 3-5,000 miles, but the exact number of miles varies. You can find the oil viscosity and number of miles recommended between changes in the owner’s manual (or ask your mechanic).

In addition to regular oil changes, add an oil level check to your list of regular car maintenance. Plan on checking the oil level at least once a month. A regular check is important to make sure there is enough oil in the engine at all times. Low engine oil can lead to premature part wear and engine overheating. Here’s how to check the oil level:

  1. Turn off your engine and grab a paper towel.
  2. Open the hood of your car and locate the dipstick.
  3. Pull the dipstick out and wipe off the end with the paper towel.
  4. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out again.
  5. Closely look at the lines on the end of the dipstick. Make sure your oil level is between the two lines (and not above the max line).
  6. If your oil level is low, add oil.
  7. Make sure you added enough by checking the oil again when you are done.

If you find your oil level is low at every oil level check, mention it to your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue.

Coolant

Coolant is another car fluid that prevents overheating. This car fluid does exactly what the name implies: it cools the car. The coolant level is easy to check:

  1. Stop the car. Wait until the car cools to check the coolant.
  2. Open the hood.
  3. Locate the coolant resoivoir.
  4. Make sure the coolant level is at the max line on the side of the tank.
  5. Add coolant as needed (again, DO NOT do this right after stopping the car).

Water can also be added to the coolant reservoir, but it’s usually recommended that the water be combined with coolant. The exact ratio of the water-to-coolant mixture can usually be found on the coolant container.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is not as easy to check as motor oil and coolant. You can find directions for a do-it-yourself project here or ask your mechanic to check it at your next appointment. The fluid should be red when you check the transmission fluid. Brown transmission fluid (or another darker fluid) usually indicates that the transmission fluid is breaking down. To find out how often your car needs a transmission fluid, ask your mechanic or check your car manual.

Most importantly, don’t miss scheduled transmission fluid changes. Transmission fluid is important for smooth gear changes and proper lubrication. Schedule a regular transmission fluid change (every 30-100,000 miles) to help prevent transmission breakdowns.

Windshield Washer

Windshield washer may not be an important part of a running car, but it is incredibly important during a rain or snow storm. Instead of waiting until windshield washer is out, add windshield washer fluid regularly so you have it when you need it. To change windshield washer:

  1. Stop the car.
  2. Open the hood.
  3. Find the windshield washer reservoir.
  4. Fill the reservoir with windshield washer.

As long as you’re checking the windshield washer level, inspect your windshield wipers for wear and tear. If they are in bad shape, replace your windshield wipers before you need it during a particularly bad snow or rain storm.

young man stranded by overheating car

The Lazy Car Owner’s Car Maintenance Checklist (By Mileage)

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Your car needs regular vehicle maintenance to ensure that your car stays on the road longer and with less breakdowns. Regular battery checks keep you from being stranded with a dead battery. Regular transmission flushes protect against premature transmission failures. The list of vehicle maintenance and benefits from maintaining a car maintenance schedule can go on and on.

You can find a complete car maintenance checklist in your vehicle owner’s manual, but who has time for that? If you’re a car owner who doesn’t, this car maintenance schedule can help keep your car running better and longer. A well-maintained vehicle is also easier to sell and can bring you a higher resale price. Contact (and get to know) a local trusted mechanic who can keep your car on the road and the boxes checked off on your car maintenance checklist.

Car Maintenance Every 3,000 miles

___Use tire pressure gauge to check tire pressure & fill up as needed

___Check oil level

___Inspect windshield washer

___Turn on headlights and tail lights to see if there are any burned out bulbs

___ Check transmission fluid level

___ Inspect vehicle belts and hoses for rips, wear and tear

___ Examine car battery and cables for corrosion and damage

___Check tire tread for amount of tread (every 3,000 miles and more often as the tires wear)

___ Change the oil (every 3-10,000 miles depending on the type of oil and auto manufacturer recommendations)

Every 15-30,000 miles

___Replace the cabin air filter

___ Purchase a new air filter (If the vehicle is driven on dusty roads, the air filter should be replaced every 15,000 miles.)

Every 30,000 miles

___ Have new tires mounted and balanced (every 30-60,000 miles depending on the type of tires, amount of miles driven, and amount of tire tread)

___ Replace spark plugs (every 30-100,000 miles depending on the spark plug specifications, earlier if these signs of worn spark plugs are present)

___ Flush the power steering fluid (every 30-100,000 fluid, have the system inspected if fluid level is low)

___ Replace vehicle brakes (approximately every 25-70,000 miles, earlier if there are any signs of worn brakes)

___ Inspect the fuel pump

Every 50-60,000 miles

___Flush the automatic transmission fluid (every 50-150,000 miles, earlier if the transmission fluid is dark red or brown)

___ Replace the battery (typically every 3-5 years, earlier if the battery show signs of a failing battery)

___ Replace the fuel pump (every 60-90,000 miles depending on condition)

man filling up car at gas pump when gas mileage gets bad

8 Reasons Your Gas Mileage Is Bad

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Paying for gas at the pump can be painful enough. But when the cost of every fill-up increases (even though the price is the same), the impact can feel excruciating—especially on your budget. If you’ve been asking, “why is my car getting terrible gas mileage all of a sudden?” it’s time to check your car for one of these problems (or to contact a mechanic to diagnose more serious gas mileage issues).

Low tire pressure

Low tire pressure is one of the most common causes of low gas mileage. To get the most mileage from every tank of gas, check the owner’s manual or decal on the inside of the driver door for the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure (not the PSI printed on the tire!). Check the tire pressure often (directions for checking tire pressure here) and add air as needed. If you can’t or don’t have time to check the tire pressure, ask your mechanic to check the tire pressure at your next appointment.

Oxygen sensor issues

The proper fuel-air mixture is essential for a smooth-running engine. It’s also important element of getting good gas mileage. Oxygen sensors, which are in vehicles produced after the 80’s, produce data that is relayed to the vehicle computer. The data plays a key role in determining the amount of fuel is added. When an oxygen sensor fails, the engine may burn rich and cause a drop in fuel mileage. If you notice decreased fuel mileage or suspect faulty oxygen sensors, schedule an appointment with a mechanic.

Clogged air filters

A car’s air filter ensures proper air flow to the engine. When the air filter is dirty, the engine compensates by adding more fuel and burning rich. Besides decreased gas mileage, a misfiring engine, lit check engine light, or a strong smell of gas are signs of a clogged air filter. On average, air filters should be replaced every 3 years or 30,000 miles. If you drive your car on dusty roads, plan on scheduling an appointment to replace the air filter more often.

Old spark plugs

Because spark plugs are responsible for the spark that ignites the fuel-air mixture in your engine, worn spark plugs can cause your fuel mileage to drop. Spark plugs should be replaced every 30-100,000 miles; the exact mileage depends on the type of spark plugs. As spark plugs age, the gap at the top of the spark plugs widens. The wider gap can also cause slow starts, engine surges and misfires, and slow acceleration.  

Faulty fuel injectors

Fuel injectors are responsible for the exact process the name implies. Because these car parts are responsible for adding fuel, faulty or clogged fuel injectors play a part in fuel mileage. In addition to a decrease in fuel mileage, you should schedule an appointment to find out if fuel injectors are the problem if the engine misfires or accelerates slowly. A check engine light is also a sign that it’s time to schedule an appointment with an experienced mechanic.

Fast accelerations & sudden braking

Not every cause of bad gas mileage is related to faulty car parts. Stomping on the gas pedal and sudden braking can send you to the pump more often. Unless absolutely necessary, try to avoid sudden accelerations and braking on the road. Smooth driving and accelerations are a key part of maintaining good gas mileage.

Excessive idling

Leaving your car running once in a while won’t cause gas mileage to drop, but excessive amounts of engine idling can negatively impact gas mileage. Even just a few minutes of idling can burn as much gas driving a mile down the road.

Hot weather

The hot weather itself doesn’t affect gas mileage, but using the air conditioning all the time does. Excessive AC use can decrease gas mileage. Instead of turning on the air conditioner, try to open windows as much as possible—except for when traveling at high speeds. Open windows at high speeds can impact the aerodynamics of the car and decrease gas mileage.

car with broken transmission

How can I tell if my transmission is going bad?

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You need your car’s automatic transmission to get down the road. After all, the automatic transmission shifts gears when a car accelerates and decelerates. When the transmission fails, you and your car aren’t going anywhere.

A failing transmission is never welcome, but there is good news. Often, signs of a failing transmission show up early, giving car owners the chance to get the transmission repaired or replaced BEFORE it breaks down.   

Dirty or leaking fluid

Clean, full transmission fluid is an essential part of a healthy transmission. Driving a car with low or dirty fluid (typically a dark brown color) for an extended amount of time can leave a car susceptible to transmission failure. If you see transmission fluid under the car, contact a mechanic to find out if there is a failing gasket and to prevent more damage from being done.

If there is no leak, check your transmission fluid periodically to make sure it is not dirty or low. Turn your car on and let it run for a few minutes.  With the car in park, pull the transmission dipstick up and wipe it with a clean rag.  If the fluid on the rag is brown, schedule an appointment for a transmission flush.  On average, the transmission fluid should be replaced every two years or 30,000 miles.

Clunking & Grinding

If your car clunks or grinds when shifting, it’s time to contact a mechanic to get the transmission inspected. The problem may be as simple as dirty fluid or could be as complicated as a failing transmission part. Either way, an experienced mechanic can diagnose the problem and recommend the transmission repair that keeps the car shifting and you on the road.

Warning light

Most cars have a dashboard warning light that signals there is an issue with the transmission. The exact look of the light varies; most transmission warning lights resemble a gear with some kind of symbol inside it (i.e. thermometer, exclamation point, etc.) The appearance of the symbol doesn’t matter, but the signal does. When the warning light comes on, contact a mechanic immediately to diagnose the problem and give you information on a repair.

Slipping, Surges & Hesitation

Since an automatic transmission is responsible for going through the gears, it makes sense that the most common signals of transmission failure occur during shifting. Motor surges, hesitations, and slipping gears can all be signs that the transmission fluid needs to be changed or there is a more serious problem. Don’t drive around with any of these signs for too long, which can cause more damage. Schedule an appointment to get the transmission shifting correctly, and to keep you on the road.http://www.tirerifik.com/Section/Contact/Get_Appointment/index.html

A road with a pothole that can damage cars

How do potholes damage cars?

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“I just drove through a pothole that was so deep I didn’t think I was going to get out.”

“I hit that pothole so hard I need to visit a chiropractor.”

Corny jokes about potholes may be funny, but the damage potholes do to cars—-and your wallet—is not. While the potholes that pop up (literally) on our Wisconsin roads every winter and spring look innocent, potholes can do a substantial amount of damage to our vehicles. Specifically, driving through a jarring pothole can damage:

  • Vehicle alignment,
  • Suspension parts,
  • Tires and Rims,
  • Exhaust System

Sometimes the signs of pothole damage are immediately evident, such as a missing muffler or a flat tire. But if the problem is under the car, it can be a lot more difficult to notice problems arising from pothole damage. If ignored, these problems can damage other parts and cause costly breakdowns.

So how do you know if your car needs to be seen after running over a pothole? Contact a mechanic if your car shows any signs of common car problems caused by a run-in with a pothole.

Signs of a Misaligned Car

Rough roads and potholes are rough on a car, causing an imbalance the can cause a vibration or shake that worsens as your car accelerates. Usually, the shake starts between 35-45 mph and gets worse as you go faster. A misaligned car also causes the tire tread to wear unevenly. If one part of the tire wears down too far, the tires need to be replaced sooner than normal.

An alignment can also cause problems with steering. A misaligned car can pull to the left or right. The steering wheel may vibrate and does not stay centered when driving straight. While you can drive with these issues, a car with alignment issues costs more to drive over time and can become a safety issue. Driving your car with a shake or pull can also be a safety hazard when roads become slippery, such as in a heavy rain or when there is ice.

If your car shows any signs of a misaligned car, contact a mechanic who can do a complete alignment.

Signs of Suspension Problems

Your car’s suspension takes the brunt of the force from uneven roads, especially potholes. It can be hard to detect signs of suspension problems, but there are signs to look for:

  • Uneven tire wear (this can be noticed when tires are rotated)
  • Rough car ride
  • Car that nose dives after braking
  • Fluid leak
  • A pull to the right or left when driving

If you notice any of these issues, don’t wait. Worn suspension parts can damage other parts and wear tires prematurely. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic.

Signs of Tire and Rim Damage

Car tires and rims are the only part of a car that directly impacts the road, making it a target for pothole damage. The best time to check a tire for damage is immediately after hitting a pothole or when checking the air pressure.

The damage to a tire or rim may be a visible scratch, dent, or a missing part. Other less visible problems, such as a small hole or puncture, can cause tires to lose air slowly. If your tire is low on air pressure frequently, contact a mechanic right away to see if the tire can be fixed. When not fixed, a tire puncture can get worse and mean a total replacement.

Signs of Exhaust System Damage

The most obvious signs of exhaust system damage from a pothole is loud engine noise. If you notice a louder than normal engine, contact a mechanic to get the exhaust system inspected. Other signs of exhaust damage are a hissing or popping, a vibration felt through the gas pedal, or a decrease in gas mileage. In extreme cases, an exhaust leak can lower gas mileage by 3-4 gallons per mile.

Does my windshield need to be replaced?

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Busted auto glass or windshield that is cracked and shattered.A rock hits your car windshield. Debris falls off the back of a truck. A chunk of ice hits the windshield just right. That’s the bad news. The good news is an unexpected crack or chip does not mean your car’s windshield needs to be replaced.

You can find out for sure at a local repair shop. Your mechanic can look at the damage and decide whether the car needs a windshield repair or replacement. Often, this check can be done during a regularly scheduled oil change, maintenance, or repair appointment. Don’t wait too long; your windshield is an important part of you and your passengers’ safety.

Vehicle windshields are made of laminated glass manufactured strong enough to withstand impacts and provide structural support. Typically, front windshields are comprised of three layers. Rear windshields and side windows are usually manufactured with tempered glass.

Simply, vehicle windshields play a key role in safety, which is why it often needs to be replaced when there is damage. However, a windshield can be repaired if the damage fits in any of these criteria.

Crack is small

Small cracks and chips can usually be repaired without compromising visibility. In general, chips and cracks less than six inches can be fixed as long as the damage is not in an area that might impact the structural strength.

Position of damage

The location of the windshield crack or chip plays a large role in determining whether repair or replacement is the right solution. If the damage is situated in front of a camera or sensor, impedes driving visibility, or in any area that could compromise strength, a full windshield replacement is usually needed. A mechanic can look at the damage and tell if you a windshield can be repaired. 

Windshield repair or replacement?

Beyond the size and position of the windshield damage, there are several other key differences between a windshield repair and replacement. A windshield repair is usually cheaper and takes less than an hour. The car can be driven as soon as the repair is complete. While a windshield replacement takes the same amount of time, it is usually recommended that the car not be driven until an hour after the replacement.

Depending on the cost, car insurance does not usually cover a windshield repair or replacement; it depends on the amount of deductible and the terms of the insurance. Contact a mechanic to find out if windshield repair is feasible, get a free quote, and get a clear windshield view.

Why is my car slow to start in cold weather?

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woman trying to repair broken down carWhen the weather is frigid, it can be hard to convince yourself to head out into the freezing cold. It can even feel like your car doesn’t want to go out—especially when your car is slowly cranking. A car slow to start doesn’t have to be a normal part of cold weather; if it is, there are a few key reasons why your car starts slowly on a cold winter morning.

Why is a car slow to start in winter?

When the temperature drops, engine oil turns to the consistency of molasses. It takes more power to turn over an engine when the oil is sludge. If a battery is low on power, the result is the slow cranking of the engine on a cold morning. Eventually, the battery stops working.

Car batteries can decrease in power due to age or the heat. Summer heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, damaging the battery’s internal part and decreasing battery performance. Older batteries can also lose power over time; car batteries should usually be replaced every 3-5 years. (Schedule an appointment to get a new battery installed.)

Slow cranking is only one sign of a dead battery. You can also tell if a car battery needs to be replaced if it needs to be jump started on a regular basis. Some cars also have a dashboard warning light that comes on when battery power is low.

In extremely rare cases, cars might not start in cold weather because of moisture in the fuel lines. Put simply, condensation can get into the fuel lines. The moisture can interrupt the flow of fuel and cause a slow start (or no start at all).

Older vehicles with carburetors can also have issues in the cold weather. This problem primarily occurs after the car has been sitting for a long time.

Sometimes, the slow start of a car has nothing to do with the cold weather. A slow-starting car can be caused by old spark plugs, which should be replaced every 30-100,000. (Ask your mechanic if it’s time for the spark plugs to be replaced.) A failing starter or corroded wiring can also cause a car to start slowly (or not at all).

How can I keep my car starting smoothly in the cold weather?

To avoid the annoying slow start of a car in cold weather (and other winter breakdowns), use these cold weather car maintenance tips:

  • Have the battery checked on a regular basis. A mechanic can test the battery to determine when it is low on power.
  • Regularly schedule oil changes. Ask your mechanic how often the oil should be changed.
  • When the temperature drops, check the tire pressure on every tire (including the spare). Frigid temperatures cause a sharp drop in air pressure (use these step-by-step instructions for checking tire pressure). Make sure to check the spare tire as well, so it is in good shape in case of a flat tire.
  • Make sure car fluids are topped off. Add checking the oil and antifreeze level on a regular basis. Both of these fluids are essential for a smooth-running car.
  • Pack an emergency car kit. A car kit may not stop a car’s slow start, but it can be helpful if a battery suddenly goes dead or the car breaks down. Use this list of emergency car kit essentials to assemble a complete kit—and don’t forget to pack cold weather gear that can keep you warm when you get stranded in the freezing weather.

What are the signs of an exhaust leak?

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cars in traffic with an exhaust leakAn exhaust leak can put you at risk for inhaling harmful carbon monoxide fumes; even repeated minor exposures to car exhaust gases can trigger irritating symptoms. An exhaust leak can also negatively impact the health of the car. A leaking exhaust can lead to expensive repairs, such as a catalytic converter replacement, or a loud or terrible-sounding exhaust.

Exhaust leaks can occur at the rear of the car or under the hood. Typically, rust corrodes exhaust pipes and forms holes or gaskets wear down. The best way to find an exhaust leak is to ask a mechanic to inspect the system. An exhaust system inspection is recommended for any car more than 5 years old.

Exhaust leaks are more likely to occur in vehicles that drive short distances. Because the exhaust system doesn’t heat up, the condensation from the exhaust settles onto the pipes. This can cause corrosion and exhaust leaks, which can be diagnosed after the tell-tale signs of an exhaust leak occur.

Hissing or Popping

The most obvious sign of an exhaust leak is a hissing or popping sound. Unfortunately, the sound can be covered up by the sound of the engine, road, or inside the passenger cab. An exhaust system leak can also make the engine sound louder.

Vibration

A vibration can be the signs of many car problems, such as bad brakes or a car in need of an alignment. When the vibration is felt in the gas pedal during driving, this can signal that there is an exhaust system leak. Even small holes can trigger the vibration; be sure to mention the vibration to a mechanic who can inspect the system.

Decreased Gas Mileage

An exhaust system leak can disrupt sensors, decreasing the gas mileage of a vehicle. In extreme cases, the leak can lower gas mileage by 3-4 gallons per mile.

When does a serpentine belt need to be replaced?

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young woman inspecting serpentine belt in a carSerpentine belts may not be as well known as other car parts, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. A serpentine belt is a belt that keeps the pullies for the alternator, air conditioner, and power steering pump going. In some vehicles, the serpentine belt is also a key part in keeping the water pump running smoothly.

What belts need to be replaced in a car?

The other good news is that—in most vehicles—the serpentine belt is the only major belt. In older cars, many belts were used to keep cars going. Most modern cars only use a serpentine belt (there are some cars that use another belt to run accessories); this is extremely convenient for car owners who commonly have to monitor only one belt.

How often does a serpentine belt need to be replaced?

Because of modern technology, serpentine belts usually have to be replaced at 160,000 miles. The amount of time between serpentine belt replacements vary among car owners based on mileage driving and climate. A mechanic or car owner should check the serpentine belt regularly when the miles start adding up (such as at oil changes).

What are the signs that a serpentine belt needs to be replaced?

There are three main ways to tell if a serpentine belt needs to be replaced:

  • High pitched squeal. An audible squeal or chirp can signal it’s time for serpentine belt replacement. These car noises can usually be heard inside the car (and also from the outside). A squealing can also be a sign that other car parts need to be replaced; contact a mechanic to diagnose the problem and fix the source of the squeal.
  • Excessive cracking. Over time, the brutal Wisconsin temperatures can wear down serpentine belts. The belts start to crack and chunks of belt can start to break away. If the serpentine belt is not replaced, the belt can slip and damage other car parts further.
  • System failure. When a serpentine belt breaks, the transfer of power to other systems does not occur. This means that the alternator, air conditioner, and other key car systems stop working.

Who can replace a serpentine belt?

A serpentine belt replacement can be performed by a knowledgeable car owner or a mechanic. If the latter is the choice, ask the mechanic to check the serpentine belt on a regular basis. In most cases, replacing a serpentine belt is a fairly affordable car replacement.

12 Winter Breakdown Tips

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car winter breakdownNo one wants to be stranded by a winter car breakdown, but sadly do they do happen. When they do happen, it’s nice to have a trusted local car repair shop. These winter car breakdown tips are for that in-between time when you’re stranded on the side of the road. You know what we’re talking about: when the car suddenly starts making odd noises, or stutters (no gas?), or won’t start. You’re stuck. You’re stranded. Here’s what to do while you wait for help:

  • Keep up with required maintenance to avoid breakdowns (use these car maintenance tips to prevent winter car breakdowns).
  • Try not to stop on a curve or hill.
  • Turn on your flashers so you are visible to other cars.
  • Pull over as far out of the road as possible without getting stuck.
  • Carry the name of your trusted roadside assistance provider.
  • Keep your cell phone charged so you can make an emergency call.
  • When calling for help, give as much information as possible about your location (i.e. closest businesses, closest highway exits, etc.)
  • Always carry an emergency car kit.
  • Stay with your vehicle.
  • If the vehicle still runs, turn it on periodically for warmth. (Make sure the exhaust pipe does not get blocked by ice or snow.)
  • If the road is slippery, be careful about getting out of the car (both for your own safety and because of other cars coming).
  • Get the vehicle towed to your trusted car repair shop ASAP so you can get back on the road.