When should I change the engine air filter in my car?

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young man adding oil and checking engine air filterAn engine air filter may seem a small and insignificant part of a vehicle (after all, how many people talk about getting their cabin air filter changed?), but an engine air filter plays an important role in protecting and extending the life of an engine. An engine filter catches dirt and contaminants before they enter the motor.

There is another filter, the cabin air filter, on the car that needs to be replaced regularly. The cabin air filter catches debris before it enters the vehicle and ensures the air quality in the vehicle cabin.

Why should I change my engine air filter?

A dirty engine filter can become clogged, compromising the performance and fuel efficiency of the engine. Unlike other part replacements, there are no obvious signs that the engine air filter should be replaced. Typically, the decline in performance is gradual over time without any overt signs. In some cases, a dirty air filter can cause engine misfiring or a drop in gas mileage. Fortunately, a mechanic can tell if an engine air filter needs to be replaced with a visual inspection. Ask a mechanic to check when scheduling the next oil change.

How often should I change my engine air filter?

The schedule for engine air filter replacement varies on road conditions and vehicle specifications. Check the vehicle manual for the exact mileage recommended by the auto manufacturer. As a general rule, an engine air filter should be replaced every 30,000 miles or 3 years; however, the engine air filter should be replaced more often if the vehicle manufacturer specifies or if the vehicle is driven on roads that are usually very dusty. Some vehicle manufacturers also say the air filter should be replaced if the car is driven often in very hot and heavy traffic conditions.

Your Complete Car Maintenance Checklist

car getting oil change in need of part replacementWant your car to last a long time? Regular maintenance is an important part of keeping your car on the road and reaching “high mileage beauty” status. If you don’t have the time (or expertise) to keep up with regular car checks and maintenance, finding a mechanic you can trust can be just as vital for getting as many miles as possible out of your vehicle. Once you’ve found that mechanic, schedule regular car appointments (and allocate time as needed for do-it-yourself checks) to keep up with your car maintenance checklist.

Regular Car Checks

___Check tire pressure

___Check oil level

___Check windshield washer

___Check headlights and tail lights

___Check transmission fluid (every 3,000 miles)

___Check belts and hoses (every 3,000 miles)

___Check battery and cables (every 3,000 miles)

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

Replacement Schedule

___ Oil Change (Change oil every 3-10,000 miles depending on the auto manufacturer recommendations.)

___Cabin Air Filter (Replace every 15-30,000 miles or once a year. Check the owner’s manual for their recommendation.)

___ Air Filter (Replace 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.)

___ Brakes (Replace every 25-70,000 miles. The exact mileage depends on the type of brakes, driving style, type of vehicle, and amount of braking. Watch for these signs of brake failure and ask your mechanic to check them at every oil change.)

___ Tires (Replace every 30-60,000 miles depending on the type of tires and amount of miles driven)

___ Spark plugs (Replace every 30-100,000 miles depending on the kind of spark plugs)

___Power Steering Fluid (Flush every 30-100,000 fluid. Have the system checked if the fluid is low)

___Automatic Transmission Fluid (Replace every 50-150,000 miles. Check the transmission fluid for condition and consult the owner’s manual to determine exact mileage for replacement.)

___ Battery (Replace every 3-5 years)

___Fuel Pump (Replace every 60-90,000 miles depending on condition. Check it every 30,000 miles.)

Your replacement schedule may be slightly different, depending on the amount of miles and kind of driving you do. For a customized maintenance list for your vehicle, ask your mechanic for their recommendations and follow their schedule closely.  

7 Back-to-School Car Maintenance Tasks to Tackle Before Your Student Hits the Road

teen in car learning to drive and to do car maintenanceFor those of us with high school and college students, back-to-school is about more than just purchasing back packs and notebooks. It’s also about making sure your student’s set of wheels stays on the road and they can get safely back and forth to school (and sports games and wherever else they head…). While car maintenance is an ongoing task (throughout the school year), there are steps you can take to ensure that your student’s car is safe and ready for miles of back-to-school driving.

Change the oil.

An oil change is essential car maintenance task that ensures a long-lasting and smooth-running engine. Clean oil properly lubricates and lengthens the life of the engine. Schedule an oil change for your student’s car before school starts, and schedule regular oil changes throughout the school year.

Test the brakes.

Properly-functioning brakes are one of the most important vehicle safety systems. Put simply, you don’t want the brakes to fail when your student needs them most. Have your mechanic do a full inspection of the brakes to ensure that the brakes wear evenly and there are adequate brake pads. Teach your student to look for signs of brake replacement, such as a vibration, squealing, soft pedal, or a pulling to the right or left.

Check tire pressure.

A tire with the right amount of air pressure is not only important for safety but can also can save money on gas mileage. Check the tire pressure to ensure that the air pressure is the same as indicated on the decal on the driver’s side door. Teach your student to check the air on a regular basis (use this guide to teach your teen car maintenance basics). The air pressure should be checked on a regular basis, whenever the tire appears low, or when the TPMS sensor lights up on the dash. Add a tire pressure gauge to the emergency kit for easy access.

Rotate tires.

Tire rotation ensures that tires wear evenly, contributes to a smooth ride, and lengthens the life of the tires. The pattern of the tire rotation is different for every vehicle; front wheel drive cars are rotated slightly different than four-wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. If a car has different tire sizes, the same size tires are rotated. Schedule a tire rotation every 6-8,000 miles or every 6 months.

Check tire tread.

To make sure your student isn’t driving around on bald tires (which can be extremely dangerous), check the tire tread to ensure there is enough tread for safe driving. There is an easy way to do this; use the penny trick (and show your student how to do so as well). Put a penny into the tire tread. If you can see all of Abraham Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tires.

Test the battery.

No parent wants to get an SOS call from their stranded child. Batteries typically fail every 3-5 years; have your battery tested to ensure it is in good enough shape to make it through the school year. If there is any doubt, replace the battery so your student is not stuck with a dead battery. To prepare your student for the occasional dead battery from a light left on, add charging cables to the emergency kit and teach them how to jump a dead battery.

Stock an emergency kit.

A well-stocked emergency kit can be invaluable if your student ends up stranded on the side of the road or in a parking lot. Pack supplies that can be helpful in any kind of weather, such as on a snowy winter day. Place all the supplies into a durable, waterproof container. The car emergency supply kit should contain:

  • Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • Jack and lug wrench
  • Jumper cables
  • Winter boots
  • Snow shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Rags and hand sanitizer

How can I prevent a flat tire?

tire removed because it has a small leak that can lead to a flatA flat car tire when you’re trying to get somewhere. Nothing can bring a bigger feeling of dread (other than a car that won’t start) and annoyance—especially when you’re in a hurry. A flat tire can’t always be prevented (here’s a local phone number to call for road service for a flat tire), but there are a few ways you can prevent your next flat tire.

Check for small leaks.

A small leak can turn into a big problem—and a big price tag—if not caught early. Depending on the size and location of the weak, small leaks can be fixed without having to replace the tire. However, if the tire is not repaired a small leak can get bigger and need to be replaced. If your tire repeatedly goes flat, check for small leaks by listening and looking. Some leaks are large enough that you can hear them. Other leaks can be found by spraying soapy water onto the tire. The presence of bubbles means a leak—and that you should take the tire in for repair.

Be careful in road construction zones.

Orange barrels are a mainstay on summer roads. Other than a major traffic delay, road construction zones can also be a source of a flat tire because small sharp remnants from road work can remain on the road. Drive slowly through road construction zones to protect the road workers, and drive carefully to avoid a flat tire. Try not to pull over in these areas, before or during the road work, to prevent picking up a screw or metal object that can puncture your tire.

Do a full inspection of your tire.

Improper tire tread, a bad valve stem, or a leaking rim can lead to repeated flat tires—and every one of these problems can be caught with a visual inspection and a spray bottle with soapy water. When you have to repeatedly stop to fill up your tires (even with just a pound or two of air), check the tire tread for damage or uneven wear. If the problem is not visible, spray the tread and rim to see if there is a slow air leak. Take the tire to a mechanic, who can give you options for repair or replacement of your tire problem.

Keep your tires at the right PSI.

A properly inflated tire can prevent future issues, including uneven tire tread. It can also decrease gas mileage and increase the life of the tire. Check the decal inside the driver’s side door or the owner’s manual for the right pounds per square inch (PSI) for the tires (not the tire itself). Use a tire pressure gauge to check the tire pressure on a regular basis (especially when the temperature drops). Do not rely on your eyes alone to check the tire pressure; a tire can be low on pressure without looking flat. Similarly, do not wait until the tire pressure monitoring sensor (TPMS) light shows up on the dashboard; the TPMS sensor may not light up until the pressure is 20% low, far below what is recommended.

Get a regular tire rotation.

A regular tire rotation is more than just car maintenance; it’s a preventative task that keeps your tires in good shape. As a general guideline, tires should be rotated 6-8,000 miles or every six months. Regularly rotated tires wear evenly, ensure a smooth ride, and prevent flat tires. Keep your tires in good shape. Schedule a regular tire rotation, or request a tire rotation when you schedule an occasional oil change.

Ways to Prevent an Overheating Car

young man stranded by overheating carIt’s hot outside. As the summer temperatures rise, people, pets, and even our cars can be affected by the heat. Though an overheating car is not as common as it used to be, drivers still get stranded on the side of the road from a car malfunctioning from the heat.

While random overheating problems still occur, most vehicle overheating problems can be avoided with a few preventative measures.

Get a new battery.

Even though drivers notice more failing batteries in the winter, summer heat is harder on car batteries than the cold of winter. The heat and humidity of summer causes battery fluid to evaporate, damaging the internal parts of the battery.

If the battery is more than three years old or if the car is slow to start, doesn’t start, or starts rough, have the battery checked. Batteries typically fail between 3-5 years of age.

Monitor fluid leaks.

The primary reason for fewer overheating engines is the advancements in vehicle cooling systems. One of the signs of a failing cooling system component is a coolant leak. Monitor your vehicle for coolant leaks by placing a piece of cardboard under the car whenever parked. Some water drips are normal, especially when the car’s air conditioning system has been running. A red or green fluid leak should cause concern, however, as this is a sign of a coolant leak. Refill the coolant and schedule an appointment with a mechanic to inspect the cooling system. (An oil leak should also be a cause for concern; contact a mechanic to inspect the car.)

Fill the coolant.

Coolant is one of the most important parts of the cooling system, so it should be filled up and ready for summer. Ideally, a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water should be used; some coolant comes pre-mixed while others come in a concentrated form ideal for the winter temperatures. If filling coolant at home, do not tackle the task while the engine is hot. This can cause burns. (Use this video on how to fill engine coolant.) The coolant system should be flushed on average every 30,000 miles (contact a mechanic to get an appointment); the exact intervals are different for every vehicle and can be found in the owner’s manual.

Watch the gauges.

Cars are manufactured with dashboard warning lights and gauges for a reason; monitor them carefully. If the gauges creep into the high range, pull over and let the engine cool before starting it up again. Mention the incident to a mechanic, or, if it happens often, make an appointment as soon as possible to get the cooling system inspected.

30 Tips for a Safe (and Fun!) Road Trip

Family in convertible car smiling when spring car maintenance is doneIt’s time for summer road trips! Summer road trips are an experience to look forward to and talk about for years to come—not a time for inconvenient car and truck breakdowns! Want to make your summer road trip an epic adventure to one of our awesome Wisconsin destinations (Door County, Apostle Islands, Lake Michigan beach, Brewer game, etc.) or an out-of-state trip that everyone remembers? Use these tips to get your vehicle ready and running from the moment you leave until you pull back into the driveway.

Before departure

  1. Check the oil level (use this video); car engines run rough and can die prematurely if low on oil.
  2. Pack an emergency road kit with these supplies.
  3. Carry oil and windshield washer along for emergency fill-ups.
  4. Make sure you a phone charger in the car so you don’t get stranded.
  5. Pack a first aid kit.
  6. Schedule an oil change.
  7. Have your brakes checked.
  8. Check the tires to ensure there is enough tread using the penny trick.
  9. Fill up windshield washer.
  10. Check headlights to ensure they are working.
  11. If towing, check the trailer lights to ensure they all function properly.
  12. Make sure directional and brake lights work.
  13. Verify and double check child safety seats to ensure they are installed properly.
  14. Do a quick refresher course on where the spare tire is located and how to change a tire.
  15. Make sure you have the phone number for your roadside service (in your phone and on a card).

On the road

  1. Fuel up often; you never know when there won’t be another gas station between stops.
  2. Check vehicle fluid levels every time you fill up.
  3. Pack road games and fun activities for kids as you drive.
  4. Stay up-to-date on changing weather conditions so you don’t get stuck in severe weather.
  5. Pack water and snacks so you are hydrated and in good physical condition as you drive.
  6. If towing, periodically check the towing hitch.
  7. Follow all road signs carefully.
  8. Know where you are going so you don’t make frantic lane changes or cause an accident.
  9. Try to avoid pulling over on the side of the road, which can cause accidents.
  10. Allow more stopping distance in front of you, especially when in an unfamiliar area.
  11. Take frequent breaks or switch drivers so you are not driving tired.
  12. Don’t mix high speed and alcohol in your road trip, which increases your chance for accidents.

When you get home

  1. Check all vehicle fluids and refill as needed.
  2. Schedule an oil change (if needed).
  3. Restock the emergency road kit and first kit (if needed).

Simple “Tricks” that Get More Miles Out of Your Tires

car tiresTrying to hold off on buying your next set of tires? These simple tricks can lengthen the life of your tires so you don’t have to spend money until you’re ready (and a new tire special comes up that you can take advantage of!).

Have your tires balanced after mounting.

The effort to extend the life of your tires starts from the moment you buy your set of tires. After you purchase a new set, always have the tires mounted and balanced. Balancing gives you a quieter ride, less shake, and prevents uneven wear on the tire.

Check you tire pressure regularly.

A tire running with incorrect pressure can cause uneven wear, sending you to the tire shop earlier. Find out what the correct tire pressure is for your car in the manual or on a decal in the frame on the driver’s side door. Regularly check the tire pressure (use this step by step guide) or ask the mechanic to check the air at your next oil change, and add air as needed (especially during cold months or when the temperature changes suddenly). Don’t wait until the Tire Pressure Monitoring System warning light comes on; many TPMS warning lights don’t come on until the tire is 20% under the recommended tire pressure. Because more of the tire is in contact with the road when the tire pressure is low, the tires wear down faster.

Get a regular tire rotation.

Tires wear differently depending on where the tire is positioned. This is especially true for front wheel drive vehicles which use the front tires primarily for traction. To get an even wear on all the tires, schedule a tire rotation every 5-8,000 miles or with every second oil change (if scheduled every 3,000 miles).

Make sure your car is aligned.

A car alignment ensures that your car is balanced and that the tires are wearing properly. Watch for signs that your car is not aligned, which can wear down the tire tread and suspension parts faster than normal. Look for a vibration or shake that gets worse as the car goes faster, loud tire noise, or shaking. When you notice signs that the car alignment is incorrect, schedule an alignment (typically every 6,000 miles).

Get suspension issues fixed right away.

The suspension parts of your car play a part in the ride and wear of the tires. If you notice any signs that the suspension parts are worn and need replacement, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Signs of worn suspension parts include a car that leans abruptly forward when you brake, oil on your shock, sudden pulling to the right or left, or a lot of bouncing when driving. Prompt repair and tire maintenance can get you a few extra miles before you need to order your next set of tires.

3 Tire Checks You Shouldn’t Skip (Ever!)

tire that needs to be inspected for small holeCar and truck tires may not be one of the most flashy car parts, but they play an important role in safety on the road. Your tires are the only part of the car that is in constant contact with the road, and one of the most vital safety components when road conditions are hazardous.

Like other car parts, tires need regular maintenance to keep them performing well when the road is icy and wet. Tire maintenance can also extend the life of the tires and save funds by maintaining peak gas mileage.

Tire Pressure

Why: Maintaining optimal tire pressure plays a role in gas mileage and tire life. An underinflated or overinflated tire can accelerate the tread wear of your tires. With an overinflated tire, less of the tread is touching the road wearing parts of your tire tread more quickly. An underinflated tire does the opposite: more of the tire is wearing down faster. A tire not wearing properly leaves you vulnerable to blown tires and more frequent tire replacement.

How: Look on the door frame or in the owner manual to determine the optimal pounds per square inch of each tire (psi). Purchase a tire pressure gauge. Remove the cap from the tire stem, and insert the tire pressure gauge into the tire stem. You should not hear any air escaping during this time. The tire pressure gauge should either electronically or manually give you the psi of the tire.

How often: Tire pressure should be checked at least once a month, and more often when the temperature drastically changes or if the tire is consistently low on air (if the tire is often low, schedule an appointment with a mechanic to see if the tire can be fixed). Do not rely on simply looking at tires or on the Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensor warning light on the dash. Sometimes TPMS sensors do not light up until the tires can be 20% under optimal tire pressure. You can also ask your mechanic to check tire pressure when you schedule an oil change.

Tire Tread

Why: Driving tires with low tread (bald tires) is a safety hazard. As the tire tread wears down and have minimal tread, tires cannot channel water correctly. Tires with low pressure can also blow prematurely.

How: Do the penny test. Take a penny and place it into the tread of the tire, then check to see how much of Abraham Lincoln’s head you can see above the tread. If you can completely see Lincoln’s head, you need new a new set of tires. Place the penny in several places around the tire. Tires can wear unevenly, leaving you with low tread and an unsafe tire. If you notice extremely uneven wear, schedule an appointment with your mechanic. Uneven tire wear can be a sign of a problem, such as a worn suspension part, alignment issue, or improper tire pressure.

How often: Tire tread should be checked as early as 15,000-20,000 miles after purchase. In addition to the penny test, the tire tread bars are going to start to show.

Tire Rotation

Why: Tires can wear unevenly if left in the same position, leading to premature wearing and replacement. Unevenly worn tires can also prematurely wear down suspension parts and cause unsafe driving. During a tire rotation, mounted tires are removed and repositioned from side-to-side or front-to-back.

How: Schedule an appointment to have your tires rotated. The exact tire rotation pattern is dependent upon the tires. Cars with different-sized tires are limited to changing the same size tire with another tire of the same size (whether that’s side to side or back to front). If your tire tread patterns are asymmetrical, tires can only be swapped back-to-front and vice versa.

How often: The general guideline is every 6-8,000 miles or six months if you do not put a lot of miles on your car or truck. If you are getting an oil change every 3,000 miles, schedule a tire rotation with every other oil change.

Campers: Don’t Tow Until You’ve Done these 5 Truck & RV Checks

RV in mirror being towed by truckThe temperatures are rising in Wisconsin (finally!). Time to get the RV out of storage and head out to for a weekend (or week!) of campfires, fresh air, and great stories from a relaxing weekend. Before you buy the ingredients for s’mores, however, make sure you do a full inspection of the RV and truck so you can get to the campground for fun weekend without a breakdown.

Check the truck tow rating

Trucks (and SUVs and vans) have a tow rating for a reason. Before you head out for your camping weekend, make sure your vehicle is rated to tow the RV safely.  Don’t tow a RV that weighs more than the vehicle tow rating; towing a RV (especially repeatedly) can compromise vehicle handling, significantly increase stopping distance, put additional stress on the vehicle engine and transmission, and wear down tires and other vehicle parts prematurely.

How to check: The tow rating can be found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. The weight of your camper can be found on the trailer or in the camper’s owner manual; remember to factor in items that add to the weight, such as water and personal items.

Inspect the tires on the truck and RV

Worn truck and RV tires can ruin a camping trip very quickly. Worn tires are more likely to blow during the trip and can be a safety hazard during summer storms. Even with the correct amount of tread, truck with low pressure (or too much pressure) can lower gas mileage, cause tires to wear unevenly, and put undue stress on suspension parts (needing premature replacement).

How to check: Check the tire tread and pressure of every tire (including spare tires) on the truck and RV. Use a penny to check the tread; place the penny on the tire. If you can see Abraham Lincoln’s head completely, there is inadequate tire tread for travel. The tires may also need to be replaced if there are cracks or other damage; contact a tire shop to see if the tire can be fixed or get replacement tires before your next camping trip.

For tire pressure, use a tire pressure gauge to ensure every tire is at the correct pressure. The correct tire pressure (pounds per square inch-psi) can be found in the truck manual or on a decal on the inside of the driver’s side door. (Do not rely on a warning light on your dashboard; this may not activate until the tire is 20% under pressure.)

Look closely at lights

At some point, you are probably going to travel in the dark of night or during a dark storm. Its times like these when properly working truck and RV lights are a must for the safety of everyone involved.

How to check: Regularly check truck headlight and turning signals to ensure that all lights are in running order (or ask a mechanic to replace bulbs during your next oil change). Before you leave the driveway (or storage facility), connect all wiring to the camper and turn on the vehicle. Stand behind the RV and check all lights: directionals, brakes, and running lights.

Test the hitch

An improperly hitched camper heading down the highway is a hazard to the vehicle and all the cars around them. It can also damage the RV and bring camping trips to an end.

How to check: Inspect the hitch, chains, and wiring for corrosion or damage that could cause the towing equipment to fail. Next, check the hitch connection by trying to lift the RV 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.

Check the trailer and truck brakes

For those towing a camper that is more than 2,000 pounds, trailer brakes are recommended for handling and safe stopping. Trailer brakes needed to be wired into a truck’s wiring system.

How to check: 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 RV get to the campground safely.

Questions to Ask Before Buying Your Next Set of Tires

car tires on gray backgroundBuying a new set of car tires is a huge investment, both in tires and your safety. That’s why it makes cents (pun intended) to ask questions about this big purchase.

What size tires do I need?

The simplest way to determine what size tires are needed for your car is to look at your current size of tires. You can find the size on the tire, usually in a series of letters and numbers (i.e. P235/55R17, 225/70R17, 265/70R15). The tire size could include the letters LT (light truck), P (passenger), or T (temporary spare). These letters are usually followed by a series of numbers. The first three numbers are the width between the sidewalls of the tire, such as 175, 235, or 255. The second number is the aspect ratio, which is a percentage. The last number, typically between 15-20, is the diameter of the wheel rim that the tire fits on.

How do I drive?

Choosing the cheapest tires is an option, but not always a good one. Be honest with your driving style and intentions. If you want a daily commuter tire for basic driving, look for tires built specifically for high mileage driving. For tires for a muscle car, research tires with a higher speed rating (or let your mechanic do the research).

What is the condition of my current tires?

The condition of your current set of tires can give you clues about any car issues. Before you put on the next set of tires, have your current set inspected to make sure they are wearing evenly. If you find uneven wear, make an appointment with a mechanic. Uneven wear can be a sign of a mechanical issue, such as worn breaks or suspension parts. An unevenly worn tire can also mean that the car needs to be aligned so the new tires and existing suspension parts are not worn down prematurely.

Do I need one or two set of tires?

If you have to drive through all kinds of weather (including our famous Wisconsin thunderstorms and winter snow storms), two sets of tires may make more sense for long-term driving—especially if your car does not handle well in the snow. All-season tires are manufactured for all sorts of summer and winter conditions; however, a set of tires designed for every condition does not perform as well as tires built specifically for snow and ice. Snow tires are manufactured with a compound specifically tested for driving through snowy conditions.

Are there any tire deals going on? How much is the total cost?

Before you purchase, ask if there are any deals on tires that meet your specific criteria. Tire manufacturers often offer rebates and sales on select sets of tires. If you do purchase tires with a rebate offer, be clear on deadlines for submitting paperwork and what needs to be submitted.

The cost of the tires is not the final price; tires need to be mounted on your set of rims and balanced. Balancing the tires minimizes shaking at highway speeds and ensures even tire tread wear (assuming all parts are aligned and in working order). Ask your tire shop or mechanic for a total cost so you can drive away on your new set of tires with all the information you need.