How to Keep Your Old Car Running Well

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cars on highway headed out for ThanksgivingYou want your car to hit 300,000+ miles? It can happen (we’ve seen it), but not without a bit of effort (maintenance!). Here’s how to help your car become a high-mileage beauty—and keep it running well.

Don’t miss an oil change

No matter how busy life gets, don’t forget to get regular oil changes that keep your engine running well. Oil breaks down over time, and dirty oil can have dirt and contaminants in them. Regular oil changes ensure you have clean oil that properly lubricates your engine and keeps it running smoothly. Make sure you schedule your oil change (you can even do it online!) and don’t miss the appointment.

Don’t wait to replace spark plugs and battery

A car’s spark plugs should be replaced every 30,000-100,000 miles, depending on the kind of spark plugs in your car. Talk to your mechanic about when your spark plugs should be replaced, and stick to a stringent schedule. Worn spark plugs can lessen the life of other parts of the engine or damage other parts of your car, such as the catalytic converter. Look for signs that your spark plugs need to be changed, such as slow starting, less acceleration when you hit the gas, or an occasional engine surge or misfire.

Your car battery is also an integral part of your car; make sure you get a new battery when the battery is 3-5 years old, if your battery is dead often, or if your car is slow starting. Schedule an appointment so you can get your high-mileage beauty started and on the road.

Keep up on tire tread and air pressure checks

It’s normal to want to jump in your car and go, but a quick tire check can be important both for your ride and the wear on your car. Improperly balanced or low tires can wear parts of your car unevenly, causing premature replacement. Check your tire tread on a regular basis; note if the tread is worn low or if the wear is uneven. Use a tire pressure gauge to make sure your tires are inflated to the proper air pressure, which you can find on the decal on your door. As an added bonus, a quick tire check can also give you optimal gas mileage as you put more miles on your car.

Replace brakes

Brakes are an important safety part of every vehicle, and therefore an essential part of a well-running car. Brakes typically need to be replaced every 25-70,000 miles. Make sure you watch for signs your brakes need to be replaced: a vibrating brake pedal, squealing when you brake, or when the car pulls to the left or right. Make an appointment when you notice any of these signs, or ask your mechanic to check your brakes at your next oil change.

Change the air filter

A clogged air filter can compromise the performance of your high-mileage beauty, so make sure you ask your mechanic to inspect your air filter annually. Air filters should be replaced when the air filter is dirty—so you and your car can stay on the road for a long time.

Back-to-School Car Checklist that Gets You to School

happy collage school girl student portrait in classrom with well-maintained carStudents, you can’t live in denial any more: summer school practices are starting and back-to-school is right around the corner. Time to get ready with all the normal back-to-school activities: buy school supplies, make sure your closet is stocked, get your car ready for the commute.

The last item on the list may not be on your short list of getting ready for school, but it should be; you don’t want to be stranded trying to get back and forth to class or all the extra curricular activities that come with school.

Interior & Exterior

___ Clean out the inside of your car.

___ Vacuum the interior.

___ Add organizers for books and snacks.

___ Wipe down the dash.

___ Wash the exterior.

Car Maintenance

___ Check the battery.

___ Replace the air filter.

___ Schedule an oil change (or check your oil if you had one done recently).

___Check the tire tread and pressure (instructions here).

___ Replace tires (if needed).

___ Have your brakes checked.

___ Pack an emergency car kit (use this emergency car kit list).

If you have a check engine light on, you should also get that resolved before it causes further problems. Check with your mechanic to find out if your spark plugs need to be replaced to prevent engine misfires and that your suspension is ready for the commute to school.

How long do brakes last? When do my spark plugs need to be replaced? (And other key car part replacement questions!)

car getting oil change in need of part replacementPart replacement is a normal part of car ownership; after all the only way to avoid car repairs and maintenance is to park your car (which defeats the purpose of owning a car!). To help you decide when is the right time to replace important car and truck parts like brakes, spark plugs, and battery, we’ve put together this guide to help you take care of your car well.

Brakes

When to replace: Anywhere from 25-70,000 miles. The exact mileage depends on the type of brakes, driving style, type of vehicle, and amount of braking.

Signs your brakes need to be replaced:

Spark plugs

When to replace: Approximately 30,000-100,000 miles depending on the kind of spark plugs you choose. After your mechanic replaces your spark plugs the first time, stick to a strict schedule of spark plug replacement. Waiting too long to replace spark plugs can damage other parts of your vehicle. If you don’t know when it’s time to replace spark plugs, ask your mechanic to check your spark plugs at your next appointment.

Signs your spark plugs need to be replaced:

Battery

When to replace: An estimated 3-5 years. Batteries can give out at different ages, however, so it pays to be vigilant for signs of battery replacement. If your battery starts giving you warning signs within the warranty period, contact the store you purchased it from immediately.

Signs your battery needs to be replaced:

 Air filter

When to replace: About every 15-30,000 miles depending on driving conditions. If you drive through dusty areas, your air filter is going to need to be replaced every 15,000 miles.

Signs your air filter needs to be replaced:

How can I make my brakes last longer?

worn brake pades & rotorsWe all try to get more for our money. We clip coupons. We watch sales ads. We try to get more food at the grocery store. More, more, more. So why wouldn’t we want more mileage out of our brake pad and rotors?

Ease up on the “lead foot.”

Driving fast is not hard on your brakes, but stopping hard is. Fact is, if you’re going fast on the road, you’re going to need to hit your brakes hard to stop. Slow down, especially when you know you’re going to need to stop frequently.

Keep your car in good repair.

When certain components of your brakes get stuck or lock up, brakes can wear unevenly or heavily, sending you to the shop for premature replacement. Ask your mechanic to check your brakes every time you have your tires rotated or routine maintenance done to your car.

Don’t overuse them.

Every time you hit the brakes, you wear off a bit of material on your brakes. Only brake when you need to, and avoid mindless braking when you hit the brakes just because the car ahead of you braked.

Allow for more distance between you and the car ahead of you.

Leave drafting to the professional race car drivers. When in traffic, don’t drive too close to the car ahead of you so you don’t have to suddenly stop. You’ll get in less accidents and get more mileage out of your brakes.

Minimize your heavy loads.

Overloaded cars and towing vehicles wear down brakes, simply because you need to use more brakes to stop. If getting more mileage from your brakes is your goal, don’t overload your car and clean out heavy items when you don’t need to carry them.

Flush your brake fluids.

Proper lubrication is the key to long brake life. Make an appointment to have your brake fluids flushed so your brakes stay lubricated, you stay safe, and you get more miles out of your brakes.

6 Car ‘MUST Check’ Before Your Summer Road Trip

young beautiful couple using tablet in the car on a road tripSummer road trips with your family and friends are supposed to be EPIC—not held up when you’re stranded by a breakdown. Take a few minutes to check these parts of your car over before you hit the road so the only EPIC you experience is fun and not an epic breakdown.

___Oil level & color

This is one of the quickest and easiest checks to make before you head out on vacation. Turn off your engine, open the hood, and pull out your dipstick. Wipe it off and do the same again; when you’re done, make sure your oil level is between the two lines and that the oil looks red (clean). If it doesn’t, make an appointment immediately and get your car in for an oil change. A road trip with dirty oil or with a low oil level can lead to long-term engine and part damage that can put a damper on your future trips.

___Tires

Tires are one of the most important safety features of your car; after all, properly inflated tires don’t go flat (unless you run over something) and help you maintain proper traction when you need it. As an added bonus, a tire with proper air pressure can save you money with optimal gas mileage. Check your tire pressure by using a tire pressure gauge and your tire tread using this penny trick.

___Brakes

As far as safety goes, brakes are one step ahead of tires. Test your brakes before you go, and pay attention to signs that your brakes are wearing down: grinding noises, squeaking, soft brake pedal, and when your car pulls to one side. Be aware, too, that brakes wear at different rates so your front brakes may go out before your rears. If you are concerned about any of your brakes, ask your mechanic to check them at your next oil change.

___Lights

When you’re heading into unknown territory on a road trip, properly working headlights and taillights can be the key to a safe trip (and can keep you on the right roads!). Before you leave, turn on your headlights and make sure they are working. Do the same with your blinkers and taillights. Ask a friend or family member to press your brake lights so people behind you know you are stopping.

___Windshield wipers

Windshield wipers are invaluable during one of our summer thunderstorms—especially when you’re on a road trip. Check your windshield wipers and washer fluid before you start your vacation. Check your windshield washer reservoir and fill as needed.

___Emergency car kit

All these checks should equate to an uneventful road trip (at least as far as your car is concerned), however it never hurts to have emergency supplies on hand for those just-in-case situations. Make sure you have a flashlight (and a spare set of batteries), blanket, jack and lug wrench, jumper cables, first aid kit, and a spare cell phone charger in an emergency car kit for anything that might come up when you’re on your vacation.

What should I do if my car overheats?

car gauges that indicate engine is overheatingAn overheating engine is a major inconvenience, as well as a sign of a problem. Cars and trucks don’t normally overheat; here’s what to do if you’re stranded by an inconvenient overheating engine.

Turn off your vehicle.

When you see the temperature gauge on your dash dipping into the danger zone, pull over wherever you are and turn off the engine. Your engine needs to cool down completely before you can get on the road again; you can open the hood to try and hasten the process but be very careful so you don’t get burned. If you are worried that the problem needs professional attention, call a tow truck.

Don’t touch the radiator cap (right away).

DO NOT REMOVE THE RADIATOR CAP until the engine has had a chance to cool. The exact time it takes to cool depends on the outdoor temperature; it can take a few minutes in the winter and up to a half hour during the steamiest summer weather. If you remove the radiator cap before the engine cools, hot fluid can boil up over the cap and cause severe burns.

When you do remove the radiator cap (after the engine has cooled), use a cloth when you unscrew the cap. Pull the cap off quickly to avoid any hot fluid. Check your fluid levels and refill if needed.

Watch your gauges.

Once you’ve made sure that your fluid levels are at the correct level, watch your gauges to make sure your engine doesn’t overheat again. Turn off your AC if the temperature gauge heads into the danger zone, and turn on the heat if the gauge keeps creeping up. If it overheats, it’s time to make an appointment with your mechanic to find the source of the problem; you don’t want to have to stop and start every time it overheats OR cause more damage to the engine.

Head to your local repair shop.

It’s not common for your car to overheat; modern cars don’t normally overheat unless the fluids are dry or there is a problem. Make an appointment to get your car into the mechanic  to get your car checked or talk to your mechanic if you have an oil change scheduled.

Does my windshield need to be replaced?

Busted auto glass or windshield that is cracked and shattered.Hail damage. A rock from a dump truck. Tree branches that fell. There are a million reasons why windshields get cracked, chipped, or shattered—and a million thoughts and questions that go through your head when you see the windshield damage.

When can a windshield be fixed?

Auto windshields are manufactured with three layers. If the damage to your windshield fits into any of these criteria, your windshield may be able to be fixed:

  • the crack or chip is small;
  • the damage is not to the edge of the windshield;
  • the crack, chip, or other damage is not compromising your visibility (you can’t see right because of the damage).

Repairing the damage is usually cheaper than windshield replacement, and does not compromise the safety of the window. Fixing a small chip on a window is also a preventative measure, so the chip doesn’t cause further damage requiring a full auto glass replacement. Make an appointment as soon as possible to get your windshield repaired so you don’t have to worry about getting an emergency windshield replacement.

Does a cracked, chipped or shattered windshield need to be replaced?

If the damage to your windshield covers a large portion of glass, penetrates all three layers, or is in a critical structural area, your windshield needs to be replaced. Contact your local repair shop as soon as the damage occurs to make sure that they have the glass in stock.

How much does it cost to fix or replace a windshield?

The exact cost of your windshield repair or replacement depends on the nature of the repair and the make and model of the vehicle. If you have comprehensive insurance coverage, your insurance company may cover the cost of the repair regardless of your deductible amount, giving you a complete auto glass repair at no cost. Some repair shops can contact your insurance company for you and coordinate direct payment if the repair is more than your deductible.

3 Reasons Your Car is Slow to Start

car mechanic working on car slow to startIt only takes a little bit of cranking of your car engine and a slow start to dredge up a feeling of panic. Why won’t my car start? What’s wrong? Why is the engine cranking?  Is it going to happen again…and is my car going to start next time I need it?  You don’t need to drive straight to the mechanic, but you should make an appointment as soon as possible; whatever car part is causing the engine cranking and slow start can lead to a no-start.  We can’t diagnose your problem through the internet, but we can give you the most common part culprits that cause engine cranking and slow starts:

Battery

When car batteries start to die, the energy in the battery starts to decline—the same energy needed to start your car quickly. Most batteries start to give out around the 5-year mark (though we’ve seen customers have problem as early as 3 years.)  To keep from getting stranded, look for these signs of a dying battery, and know the age of your battery so you can be proactive about battery replacement.  You can also contact your mechanic to check your battery for low voltage.

Starter

Your car’s starter plays a very big part in the process it’s named after.  The signs of a failing starter include an engine cranking and slow start, a grinding noise, or, eventually, no start and a clicking noise.  The grinding noise is connected to freewheeling, a term used to describe when the gears in your starter malfunction.  There is not necessarily a “shelf life” for a car starter; unlike a battery, there’s not a guideline in years (or miles) for replacement.

Spark Plugs

If your car takes its sweet time turning over, don’t automatically put the blame on your car battery. A quick spark from your spark plugs ignites the fuel-air mixture in your cylinder, creating the combustion that starts and keeps your car engine in motion.  As spark plugs age, the gap at the top of the spark plugs widens and wears, slowing down the spark and the strength of the spark.

Spark plugs need to be changed between 30,000-100,000 miles depending on the kind of spark plugs in your car. Ask your mechanic when you should have the spark plugs replaced, and stick to a stringent schedule. If you procrastinate too long, worn spark plugs can lessen the life of other parts of the engine or damage other parts of your car, such as your catalytic converter.

Another cause of a slow start can be the wiring in your car, a corroded connection, or any other number of parts.  The best way to find out the cause of your slow start, and to repair it, is to schedule an appointment with your mechanic.  They can make sure that your slow start doesn’t progress, and your car starts up quickly—without panicked moments.

How much pressure does my tire need?

car tires on gray backgroundIt was a Facebook post that got everyone’s attention—and hopefully made the poster pay attention to her tires.  “The tire pressure on my van’s tire was 15 psi-I’m guessing that’s not good?”  Needless to say, 15 psi is not the correct tire pressure for her van (or for almost any tire).  If you’re asking the same question, here’s the answer—and answers to a few other common questions about car and truck tires.

What is the correct psi for my tire?

First of all, psi stands for pounds per square inch.  In essence, it is the amount of pressure that you should have in your tire (and for good reasons: safety, tire wear, ride, money savings, gas mileage).  The answer is different for every car and truck, but is fairly easy to find.  The proper psi for your vehicle can be found in your car’s owner manual or on a decal that is on the frame below you as you climb in the driver’s side door.

How often should I check the psi of my tires?

Your tire pressure may rise and fall with the weather and road conditions, so make sure you check it on a regular basis.  To remember, have your mechanic check at every oil change.  Don’t rely on a quick glance or the tire pressure monitor on your dashboard; sometimes your tire can be low and you don’t even know it. If your tire pressure psi is consistently low, contact your mechanic to find out if the problem can be fixed or if you need a new tire.

How can I find out what the psi of my tire is?

The first step is to buy a tire pressure gauge; they’re fairly inexpensive (depending on how high tech of a gauge you buy) and easy to find.  Next, unscrew the cap from your tire stem.  Insert your gauge into the end of the stem.  Your tire pressure gauge tells you what the psi is (here’s a video to help you figure it out) so you know if you have a leak and if your tire is at the correct psi.

5 Checks to Make Before You Head Out Camping

picture of camper in mirror being towedThe ‘open’ signs are popping up at campgrounds across Wisconsin.  In 2016, approximately 37 million households went camping across the country.  That means our Wisconsin roads are about to be clogged with cars or trucks and campers headed to the great outdoors.  If you’re one of them, here are five checks to make now so your camping weekend is a safe and enjoyable one (without breakdowns).

Tow Rating

Towing your pop-up camper or travel trailer that exceeds your maximum tow rating can be a recipe for disaster.  Before you head out for your camping weekend, make sure your vehicle is rated to tow the camper safely.  The tow rating can be found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual and the weight of your camper can be found on the trailer or in the camper’s owner manual.

If you tow a camper that is heavier than your vehicle can handle, your stopping distance is increased and your vehicle handling may be compromised.  Regular towing with a camper over your tow rating can wear your tires faster, stress your overworked engine and transmission, and cause an increased amount of breakdowns.

Tires

Your vehicle’s and camper’s tires are one of the most important safety features when you tow.  Check the tread on every tire, especially if your truck or camper have been sitting idle.  If the tire tread is worn (here’s how to test) or has cracks or other signs of damage, call your mechanic to get new tires on your vehicle before your big camping trip.

TPMS light on dashDon’t just look at your tire and assume your tire pressure is correct.  Tires can be significantly low on pressure without showing they are flat.  Check the tire pressure on every tire and make sure your tire pressures are at the correct pressure.  If you find a tire is consistently low on air, head to your mechanic to get the tire fixed.  For your vehicle, that pressure can be found on the decal on the inside of your driver’s side door.  Do not rely on the TPMS sensor on your dashboard.  A TPMS sensor may not activate a dash warning light until your truck’s tires are 20% or more underweight. Low tire pressure can cause premature flats, leave you stranded waiting for a tow, compromise your vehicle and camper ride, and decrease your vehicle’s gas mileage.

Hitch

Before you head out to the campground, thoroughly check your trailer hitch.  Check your hitch connection with this simple test: try to lift the camper hitch off your truck.  If it lifts off, the connection is not adequately connected and you need to inspect your hitch, safety chains, and all wiring before you leave.  No one wants to see their camper rolling down the highway without them.

Lights

Properly working camper lights are both a necessity and for your safety.  When driving down the road, other cars and tracks use your trailer lights for visibility and to know whether you are turning.  Before you head out, test your camper trailer lights (directionals and brake) and inspect your wiring and connections.

Trailer Brakes

If you are towing a camper that is more than 2,000 pounds, trailer brakes are recommended for handling and stopping.  Always check your trailer brake connections and test your vehicle to ensure it stops when you need it.  If you don’t have trailer brakes as part of your truck package but haul on a regular basis, contact your mechanic to have a trailer brake controller installed in your truck so you and your camper get to the campground safely.