What should I do if my car overheats?

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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.

Why does my car (or truck) squeal?

car mechanic working on car that is squealingNo one wants THAT car: the squealing car that becomes a head-turner; you know squealing car that EVERYONE notices (not for the right reasons) and makes them wince when you drive by (or brake, or start up, or…).  Worse yet is when a squealing car turns into a broken down car and you’re stranded on the side of the road.  If your car is squealing, here are some of the most common reasons why and what to do about it.

Serpentine belt

Your vehicle thrives on a working serpentine belt, which keeps your AC, power steering pump, and other vital parts of your car going.  If you notice a squealing from under the hood, ask your mechanic to check your serpentine belt to see if it needs to be replaced. Don’t wait too long; a broken serpentine belt means a broken down vehicle, leaving you stranded.

Brakes

All car or truck brakes squeal on occasion; it’s time to be concerned when the squealing is consistent and doesn’t stop.  Vibrations, pulling to the right or left when braking, and a soft pedal are other signs that you need to make an appointment with your mechanic for brake replacement.

Power steering pump

Your power steering pump is part of the system that helps you turn the steering wheel easily.  If you are having problems turning or your car starts squealing when you start it up, try adding power steering fluid. If that doesn’t make the squealing stop (or make turning the steering wheel easier), make an appointment to get your power steering pump checked (and replaced if needed).

Alternator

If you hear squealing, worn alternator bearings may be to blame.  Since your alternator recharges your battery and provides electrical power, this is a major problem that needs to be addressed.  Visit your mechanic to get your alternator replaced and get you back on the road (without the squealing!).

Spring Car Maintenance Checklist: 14 Items that’ll Keep You on the Road This Summer

Family in convertible car smiling when spring car maintenance is doneIt’s FINALLY spring!  Time to gear up for summer fun: road trips, camping, days at the lake, and all the other exciting parts of summer.  Don’t forget to ready the car or truck that gets you there so you can make sure you get to the fun without a breakdown on the side of the road (and melting in our hot humid weather).

____Get your alignment checked (here’s why you should get your alignment checked in spring).

____Get your snow tires removed (find out when to remove your snow tires here).

____Check your tire pressure (here’s how to check your tire pressure).

____Inspect your tires to see how much tread is left (use this easy test) and for any blistering or hardness.

____Give your car a good wash, especially the underbody (to remove the salt).

____Vacuum and clean the interior.

____Have your battery tested to make sure it can make it through the summer (the truth is that heat is harder on batteries than cold. Read up here.)

____Inspect your brakes to see if your pads or rotors need to be replaced (signs of failing brakes here).

____Check your air filter to see if it’s dirty.

____Make sure your car is up-to-date on oil changes.

____Have your windshield wipers replaced (if needed).

____Check all your headlights and tailights to make sure they work.

____Have your transmission fluid flushed (here’s how to know if you need it).

____Have your spark plugs replaced (know when it’s time with these signs).

If you don’t have the time (or expertise or equipment) to get all the items checked off your spring car maintenance checklist, make an appointment to get your car ready for all the driving that a fun summer requires.

Tire Shopping 101: Choosing the Right Tires for Your Car

car tiresBuying tires isn’t like going to the grocery store, and choosing the right tires is a lot more important than the kind of soup you buy (and a lot more expensive).  Use these tips so you can make the right decision and purchase the best set of tires for your vehicle and your driving style.

Tire Size

You can find the size of your tires on the side of your tire, in your user manual, and sometimes on the inside of the driver-side door (or you can ask the experts when you head in to buy). Tire size is written in a series of letters and numbers, such as P255/55R17.

The first letter indicates the kind of vehicle the tire is intended for.  Here are some of the most common letters you find in tire sizes:

P-passenger cars

LT-light truck

T-Temporary spare

After the letter is a number, these numbers specify width, in millimeters, between the two sidewalls.  In our example above the width between the two sidewalls is 255. The second number, in this example 55 is the aspect ratio.  The number is a percentage, and the higher the percentage, the larger the sidewall of the tire. The last number, 17 in this case, is the diameter of wheel that the tire fits on.

Driving Style & Conditions

Once you’ve determined the size of the tires you need, it’s time to decide which tire is ideal for your driving style.  Are you looking for tires for your muscle car?  Look for tires with a higher speed rating.   Do you need tires for a daily commuter? Look for tires that can make it through all the miles you put on, maintain safe tread depth, and give you a quiet ride. Do your research and give the tire shop you contact all the information about your car and driving styles. If you drive in wet, snowy, and icy conditions, ask the experts to recommend a tire with a proven record on winter roads.

Snow Tires

Sometimes the right set of tires is two set of tires.  All-season tires, the most common tires on our cars, are designed for rain, heat, cold and snow. They give you a good all-around tire for those conditions, but the “take” is that they are not specially equipped for winter.  Snow tires are specially constructed with a softer compound and tread pattern designed specifically for gaining additional traction.  If you have to routinely head out in the winter weather, snow tires give you an added advantage (along with these safe winter driving practices).  If you want the advantages of both tires but don’t want to have to deal with mounting and unmounting the tires twice a year, buy a second set of tires and rims so you can easily have the right tires when you need it.

7 Parts of Your Car to Check this Spring

couple in convertible on road trip after getting car checked by mechanic for springWe don’t care how warm it gets; no one wants to be stranded on the side of the road this spring.  Make sure you get these parts of your car checked so your car doesn’t break down in this fantastic spring weather (or in a spring storm!).

Tires

Tires are the obvious choice since they are your primary source of traction. The number one way to gain that traction is by having tires with adequate tire tread for driving.  To find if your tires pass the test, make an appointment with your mechanic.  An experienced mechanic can check your tires to see that they have been wearing evenly (uneven wear might indicate a problem with your suspension or alignment) and have enough tread to make it until fall.  You can also use the penny test to check tire tread: put the penny in the tire tread.  If you can completely see Abraham Lincoln’s head, you need new tires.

As long as you are checking your tire tread, check the pounds-per-square inch (PSI) of your tires as well (or have your mechanic check the PSI).  You can find the correct PSI for your car on the decal on the inside of the driver’s side of your car.  It’s normal for your car PSI to be low after a cold winter weather; now is the time to make sure you have the correct tire pressure for safe summer driving.

Battery

The heat of our Wisconsin summer is hard on your car battery (even harder than the cold!). If you have been having problem with inconsistent starting or a long, rough start, now is the time to get your car battery tested.  A mechanic can tell you if you need a new car battery (usually when your batter is 3-5 years old).

Brakes

Don’t let our spring showers fool you: it’s normal for car brakes to squeak occasionally when they’re wet.  Any noises beyond that are a clear sign it’s time to get your car into the mechanic; squealing, grinding noise, a pulsating brake pedal, or a soft brake pedal are all signs it’s time for new brakes.  Make an appointment as soon as you can to get your brakes replaced.  Failing brakes are a safety hazard—especially when the spring and summer storms make our roads wet and slippery.

Air filter

An air filter is one of the most overlooked parts of your car, even though a clogged air filter can affect the performance of your car. Your air filter should be inspected annually and replaced as needed (when clogged and dirty).

Alignment

Rough winter roads and spring pot holes are the worst case scenario for any car, causing your car to be unbalanced and wear on your suspension parts and tires unevenly. If your car pulls to the left or right, steering wheel does not stay straight when driving or your tires wear unevenly, make an appointment for a wheel alignment before you head out a long spring or summer trip.

Windshield wipers & Headlights

Before you get stuck driving in a spring or summer rainstorm, check your windshield wipers and headlights so you have optimal visibility. Ask your mechanic to check your windshield wipers and headlights at your next oil change or check them yourselves to make sure your car is ready for spring and summer driving.

Another flat tire! Why does my car tire keep going flat?

tire that needs to be inspected for small holeA tire that goes flat again and again can cost you a LOT of time. After all, who wants to be stopping every few miles to fill up a tire with air?  Or stranded in the garage every morning with a flat? It’s inconvenient and a huge pain when you need to get somewhere FAST.

The way to get rid of that pesky inconvenient flat?  Figure out what’s causing your repeated flat, so you can figure out how to keep your tires full of air and on the road (and you don’t always have to replace the tire!).

Small leak

The problem: A small object, such as a nail, can puncture your tire and cause a small hole that leaks.

The solution:  Jack your car up and remove the tire.  Check the tire over carefully for any small holes or punctures.  If you can’t find any obvious holes, fill the tire with air and put your ear to the tire.  Listen very carefully for the sound of air escaping.  If you can’t hear anything, use a spray bottle to apply soapy water to the tire.  Small bubbles indicate there is a leak in the tire.  Schedule an appointment with your mechanic so they can fix your tire and get rid of that annoying leak (or so they can find the leak if you don’t want to).

Bad valve stem

The problem: Tire valve stems can go bad over time, causing air to seep out a little at a time.

The solution: To determine if your valve stem is the cause of a repeated flat tire, spray your valve stem with soapy water and look for bubbles.  If your valve stems are bad, the fix is a very affordable new valve stem.

Bad tire bead

The problem: Your tire bead is the outside surface that seals your tire to your tire rims.  If the tire bead is damaged, usually from corrosion from road chemicals, your tire is going to slowly leak air.

The solution: Contact a mechanic to fix the problem or use the spray bottle and soapy water to find out if your tire bead is the source of the leak.  If the tire bead is the source of the problem, it’s time to make the call and order a new set of tires.

Leaking rims

The problem: Dented or bent tire rims can cause a persistent tire leak, and you may not even notice the rim is warped.

The solution: Often, a good spray of soapy water can tell you if your tire rims are the source of the recurring flat.  Contact your mechanic to confirm your rims are faulty and purchase a new set of rims.

Cold weather

The problem: Cold winter weather can cause tire pressure to drop, though it should not cause so much air to leak that your tire pressure monitor system dash light repeatedly comes on.

The solution: Check your tire pressure (instructions for checking tire pressure here) and add a quick pound (or several pounds) of air to your tire.  Wait for the warm weather that’ll eventually come and eliminate your flat tire.