Car Repairs & Maintanance
How Often Should I Change My Oil?
It sounds like a simple question that begs a simple answer. But, the truth is, there is no one simple, right answer to oil & lube change frequency, unless the answer is “It depends.”
In every case, the best answer starts with recommendations from the people who designed, built, and warranty the engine: the vehicle manufacturer. Most of what you need to know about your vehicle, and how to get the best service and protect your warranty, is in your owner’s manual packet. So let’s look in the index under “Scheduled Maintenance Services” or in the Owner’s Manual Supplement under the same topic.
Back to your question: How often should I change my oil? Again, the owners’ manual will specify recommended intervals, usually by mileage and/or time, whichever comes first: 3,000 miles or three months is an example of one popular recommendation. But look closely, as there are usually two schedules (remember “It depends”?)
There will be a “Short Trip/City” and a “Long Trip/Highway” oil & lube change schedule.
The names may change, like “Severe Duty” and “Light Duty,” but there will be explanations of which driving habits require which schedule. You have to read the fine print. While you may assume that excessive idling (like taxicabs) or extreme high-speed use or towing qualify for “severe,” the fact is that the driving YOU do, such as short trips, the frequent starts and stops during which the engine does not reach the operating temperatures that burn off moisture and prevent oxidation also are considered “severe” conditions and require the shorter change interval. So, a couple, one of whom is in sales and covers four states may need to change the oil in the company car every 7,500 miles or every 12 months (whichever occurs first) while the partner with an identical vehicle who only makes frequent, short trips may need to use the 3,000 miles/3-month service interval!
Oil change service: don’t forget the bonuses
Although manufacturers brag about extended service intervals (meaning less hassle and lower costs for the vehicle owner), there are many positives that happen during an oil & lube change. Someone is lubricating suspension components such as tie rod ends and ball joints (where grease fittings are available), topping off all under-hood fluids, checking filters (air, cabin, fuel), usually rotating your tires, checking tire air pressures, checking tires for cuts, bruises, bulges and uneven wear, and even looking at brakes. Most shops also will check your wiper blades (which you may remember only when it’s raining), lights (headlights, brake lights, running lights, turn signals, back-up lights, side marker lights, and license plate lights), and advise you of their findings. And overlooked components such as door hinges receive a squirt of needed lubrication during a professional oil change service.
How many miles you get out of a set of brake pads (with disc brakes) or shoes (with drum brakes) largely depends on individual driving habits and the type of driving you do. Brakes can last from 25,000 miles to 50,000 miles, and here is why:
Stop-and-go driving, as in city driving or on freeways during rush hour where the brakes are applied frequently, means a shorter service life than if you are driving the turnpike between cities in light traffic with your cruise control on.
Other causes of brake wear
Also, brake wear depends in part on how much weight the brakes are trying to stop; a heavily loaded van or truck, or a passenger car with 6 adults, will take longer to stop and result in heavier brake wear, than an empty or lightly loaded vehicle.
Another factor determining longevity is the composition of the friction materials, the pads or shoes. Harder materials last longer but are subject to noise and may wear the brake rotors faster. Softer materials will stop quietly and are easier on rotors, but will not last as long.
How long do brake pads last with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes?
On vehicles with disc brakes on the front and drum brakes on the rear, you can expect to replace the front pads twice before you need to replace the rear brake shoes. That is because when you brake the vehicle’s weight shifts to the front, so that the front brakes have to work harder.
To get the longest life from your brakes, drive smoothly, anticipating stops and applying pressure evenly and consistently. Do not carry any extra, unneeded weight in the trunk, and have your brakes checked when you have your tires rotated. That way the technician can alert you to any unusual wear, unseen leaks or other problems. You can refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation for inspection intervals.
Experiencing a brake problem?
If you experience pulsation (the brake pedal jumps or bumps when braking), or any brake warning lights come on, or you hear noises from the brakes - or experience any other type of brake problem have your vehicle checked by an ASE-certified technician as soon as possible!
Why Does My Vehicle Need a Wheel Alignment?
What are wheel alignments? Is it really a necessary service? The term defines the service: It makes sure the wheels and tires are in a straight line, or “aligned” with each other. When all four wheels are properly aligned, the tires work together more effectively. This results in better handling, better steering wheel return, better fuel economy (because the tires are not being dragged sideways as they are when misaligned), and, most importantly--what we all love to see—the tires will wear more evenly and last longer.
Tire Edge WearThere are three main angles measured and corrected during wheel alignments: caster, camber and toe. While these terms describe to technicians how the tires are positioned on the vehicle, the short version is that if these are not within factory specifications, the inside or outside edge of the tread wears away. The tire edge wear may be so severe that the steel belts that are under the tread may be visible. Although the rest of the tread may look good, if it has worn down that far the tire is unsafe and has to be replaced prematurely.
Reversing the Tire Edge WearSome car owners hope that, in this case, a mechanic can switch the tires, so that the worn edge is on the other side, or just align the wheels to get more use from the tires. Unfortunately, once a wear pattern starts, it will continue to wear regardless of your intervention. Correcting the problem usually means replacing two tires (four in some cases with all-wheel-drive or 4x4 vehicles), correcting the wheel alignment, and then following a more frequent schedule of tire rotation and wheel alignment checks.
What Role Does Tire Rotation Play?Even if the wheel alignment of your vehicle is perfect, if the tires are not rotated they will wear unevenly over time. This is because the four corners of the vehicle undergo different stresses, including different loads, the forces of braking and steering, and the “torque” or twisting forces when a vehicle accelerates. With a tire rotation, you are doing your part to even out and slow down the unique wear that comes from each wheel and tire position.
Tire Rotation RecommendationsMost tire manufacturers recommend rotating your tires every 5000 to 7,000 miles. For convenience, most drivers combine this service with oil changes. If you change oil every 3,000 miles, simply have your tires rotated every other oil change. If your vehicle can go longer between oil changes, such as 5000 or 6,000 mile intervals, then rotate tires with every oil change. During a tire rotation, expect the service technician to check and correct the air pressures, inspect tires for unusual wear or damage, and do a quick visual inspection of your brake pads and shoes.
Free Wheel Alignment ChecksAny time you have your vehicle in for service (oil change, tire rotation, etc.) becomes the perfect time to have the wheel alignment inspected. Most service Contact Us will do this check for free with any other service. Some may even give you a written printout of the wheel alignment check results. Checking it means a technician is also performing a free inspection of the vehicle steering and suspension systems for any issues that may lead to tire wear due to loose or worn parts. It also means peace of mind for you if it is within specs, or the opportunity to have the wheel alignment corrected before it begins to wear your expensive tires.
How Often Should My Vehicle Have Wheel Alignments?Vehicle wheel alignment should be inspected at least annually, and corrected without delay when the free check shows the alignment is out of manufacturers’ specs. Other times to check the alignment are before a long highway trip, or right after hitting a pot hole or curb or other such incident, whenever the vehicle “pulls” or drifts to one side, or if the steering wheel is off-center. And while a vehicle may go a long time before it needs wheel alignment corrections, factors like road conditions, driving habits, and the wear and condition of steering and suspension components all impact how fast the wheel alignment can change.
My Car Rides Fine, So Why Should I Replace the Shocks and Struts?
This is a question every technician has heard after recommending replacement of the MacPherson struts and/or shock absorbers on a vehicle. This recommendation is usually made based on a visual inspection of the truck, SUV or car suspension components (the struts and shocks in this instance).
Mileage: most manufacturers of shocks and struts suggest a close inspection after the average vehicle has been driven 50,000 miles.
Of course, the type and condition of roads driven, coupled with the driving style of the principle driver, will determine how long these parts will perform satisfactorily.
During the inspection, the technician will be looking for signs of fluid leaks that indicate one reason to recommend replacement. He will also look at how the tires are wearing.
Briefly, here's a technical explanation of struts and shocks.
These parts are designed to control the tires, to keep them in contact with the road surface as much as possible. If vehicle tires are free to bounce (which is what happens when struts and shocks wear) they are not as effective at gripping the road, so steering, handling, and braking are all affected. Shocks and struts are not just for ride comfort: their primary function, tire control, is a much more important role.
A Gradual Deterioration of Struts and Shocks
Because the wear of these components is mostly internal and cannot be seen like worn tires or brake pads, and because it is very gradual, the everyday driver is the last to notice the difference. A passenger riding in the vehicle for the first time may even comment on the “ride” that seems normal to the driver. But, regardless of how it may feel to you, worn struts and shocks will cause a change in tire wear and vehicle handling that should not go unaddressed.
Enjoy benefits of replacing worn shocks and struts.
Replacing these worn components will restore the ride control and handling the vehicle demonstrated when it was new. It also means longer tire wear. New shocks and struts also help reduce potential wear of other steering and truck, SUV or car suspension components.
Finally, replace your struts and shocks in pairs.
Shocks and struts should always be replaced in pairs or, better yet, all four, for even, predictable handling and control. After all, all four have been on the vehicle for the same number of miles and worked under the same conditions. Remember, too, that whenever the struts are replaced, it becomes important to check the alignment, as it may have changed, to protect your vehicle tires and assure maximum safety.
Have you checked the level and condition of the various fluids under the hood of your vehicle? You haven’t? That’s OK, you’re average, and just part of the club of drivers and vehicle owners who neglect this task, primarily because out of sight means out of mind. There is no “squeaky wheel that gets the grease” in this case. Fluids fade away slowly and silently.
Name a Fluid, Any One of the Automotive Fluids!
Quick, name one of the fluids in your vehicle. Did you say radiator? Radiator fluid is probably the one that comes to mind for most people, followed by transmission fluid. Of course, there also is windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, differential fluid, and the fluid that gets changed the most often, oil.
Even with an oil & lube change, which is the top-of-mind maintenance item of most motorists, we have to rely on the static cling sticker the last repair shop or quick-lube placed on the upper left corner of your windshield (there it is, hidden by the sun visor) as a reminder of the next oil & lube change. Of course, many newer vehicles do have built-in electronic reminders that let you know an oil & lube change is due. But other than the “low washer fluid” warning light on some vehicles, there are no visual reminders to tell you it’s time to change the other fluids.
The Order of Importance in Automotive Fluids
What are the most important fluids? All of them! Even the blue-water/alcohol mixture that is affectionately called “bug juice” can be a critical need on a sloppy winter day when a passing semi just splashed a bucketful of muddy water on your windshield and you are now traveling blind at sixty miles an hour.
Radiator fluid: protect your engine from freezing and overheating with the right mixture of automotive fluids.
Radiator fluid (common name, “antifreeze”) is a mixture of chemicals that cool the engine and protect and lubricate internal components such as water pumps and radiators; when properly mixed with water, it is called “coolant.”
Unlike water, a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze will not freeze at even the coldest temperatures we may encounter. Freezing would damage your engine (visualize what happened when you forgot that bottle of Pepsi you put in the freezer for a quick chill-down!) When water (or Pepsi) freezes, it expands, and that can cause engine damage (especially if you have Pepsi in your engine).
Engine protection tips
The correct 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze is best at protecting your engine from freezing AND overheating. Water alone will freeze when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or lower. So, when the red warning light comes on signaling that your engine is overheating while you are driving to work on a frigid morning with snow flying, you are understandably puzzled. After all, it’s freezing outside! Ah, remember that balmy summer Saturday when you “temporarily” put water in the radiator? The liquid that is supposed to be circulating, picking up the heat of combustion and carrying that heat to the radiator where it is released into the atmosphere, is not circulating, because it is water, and has frozen into clumps of ice in the engine.
As with everything else, too much of a good thing can be, well, just that, too much. Pure radiator fluid, just like water alone, is not better than the recommended 50/50 mixture because, by itself, radiator fluid cannot carry heat as well, and that means overheating in the summer. So just do it right (or have the shop do it, because they know how).
While the “anti-freeze” properties of car coolant are never lost (if that is what you are testing for), the effectiveness wears out, as corrosion inhibitors and lubricants become depleted, and the car coolant accumulates dirt and wear particles. That is when corrosion can occur, restricting radiator flow and performance; engine damage can begin. The best defense against this is a good offense, so change the coolant before it is unable to protect your cooling system. Start by checking your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation, or consult your trusted mechanic. He will offer to perform some quick and free tests of the chemical properties of your car coolant.
What’s the best for engine protection? Green, red or orange radiator fluid?
What gives? My Dad and I have always used the pretty fluorescent green stuff…but the stuff I can see in my vehicle’s overflow bottle is red. Can I use the green Prestone I bought from the car parts store? In most cases, the answer is “no.” Modern vehicles come with an array of different coolants, and most of them are not compatible. There is the original radiator fluid (like what you picked up),; there are organic, long-lasting antifreezes; and there are even synthetic antifreezes. So you need to start with what is the right one for your vehicle. Mixing them can cause catastrophic failure.
Doing it yourself, by opening the radiator petcock or removing the lower radiator hose to drain the automotive fluids after the engine has cooled, even if you use a garden hose to try to flush it, is not very effective in removing dirt, debris and even all of the old, corrosive antifreeze (you can’t get to what is in the cooling passageways in the engine block or in the heater core easily). And that does not even cover disposing of the poisonous old automotive fluids; you can’t just flush it down the driveway and into the storm sewer!
Shops have equipment they can connect to your vehicle to effectively flush and clean your engine and heater core, and then “exchange” the old fluid with the proper fresh mix of water and radiator fluid. They will also make sure there are no air bubbles (like a baby, the system may need to be burped) that would prevent a complete fill of car coolant. They will be checking the thermostat for proper operation, and will advise you on the condition of your radiator and heater hoses and drive belts.
And when that is done, congratulate yourself on being smart about engine protection – and maybe even saving yourself the unbelievable inconvenience of a breakdown!
AUTOMOTIVE FLUID EXCHANGE: AN IMPORTANT PART OF VEHICLE MAINTENANCE AND UPKEEP
Overview of your automotive fluid exchange
The fluids inside your vehicle’s engine are much like the ones in your body. They serve to lubricate, clean, and cool the engine. They keep it alive or, at least running smoothly.
After a while (and how long that “a while” is--is determined by vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations and the kind of driving being done), your car needs a fluid transfusion.
Exchanges of Vehicle Fluids
The vehicle fluids we will cover will be the automatic transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and differential fluid. Each is unique in its chemistry as well as major function, and longevity or replacement intervals. None are interchangeable.
Engine oil and engine coolant (radiator fluid) are discussed in separate articles on this web site.
Why Do I Need to Replace Vehicle Fluids?
All under-hood vehicle fluids work very hard. Each fluid is a unique mixture of different base chemicals and additive packages. Over time the additives wear out, break down, or drop out of suspension. This happens because of engine heat, oxidation, and in part because dirt and wear particles (small bits of metal from the engine) all work from day one contaminating these fluids. Understand that one of the functions of these fluids is to carry the dirt and contaminants in suspension until eventually they are flushed out and disposed of properly.
What is the Difference between An Automotive Fluid Exchange and a Fluid Flush?
Up to 15 or twenty years ago, the only choice a motorist had was either to drain and refill his vehicle fluids in his driveway (there was little EPA enforcement or public understanding of safe and approved disposal of these poisonous chemicals back then), or go to his or her local repair facility and have the system (whether brake or power steering or radiator, etc.) “power flushed.” Both methods (the driveway drain-and-fill and the power flush) were inefficient because both left considerable amounts of the old fluid in the system. The fresh clean vehicle fluids were quickly contaminated by any old fluid that remained behind. Of course, either way was still far better than not changing the fluid at all.
As technology improved, engineers created equipment that connected at critical places in each system and used new fluid to force out almost every ounce of the old fluid and the dirt and contaminants it carried. That is how the name “automotive fluid exchange” originated. The efficiency of this new equipment in cleaning the system being serviced increased greatly.
Exchange vehicle fluids on a schedule recommended by the manufacturer to keep your car in the best condition possible.
Here are tips on changing your vehicle fluids.
What You Need to Know about Automatic Transmission Fluid
Automatic transmission fluid is made in many different formulations, not only for different vehicles, but also in many cases because newer models of the same vehicle may require new, updated fluid for proper operation; this means that the new fluid may or may not be backwardly compatible. That also means you may not be able to use the newest fluid in your older vehicle.
Transmission fluid exchanges usually start by installing a quart of “cleaner” in the transmission, and running the engine for a specified time to loosen varnish and deposits. Then the exchange equipment is connected, and new fluid is pumped through the system, forcing out the now-used cleaner along with the old transmission fluid, dirt, and contaminants.
Servicing the automatic transmission fluid when recommended is critical. As the transmission fluid ages, it accumulates more dirt (as it is designed to do) and the additives are depleted. These combined effects of aging affect the heat-carrying ability of the fluid, and your transmission may overheat and consequently fail. The excess dirt also may clog the small passageways in the transmission cooler (a small “radiator” for the transmission), and hasten premature failure.
What you Need to Know about Power Steering Fluid
The most popular steering system in modern vehicles is the “rack and pinion.” It is lighter and more efficient than the center-link/steering gear box system used in older vehicles and many light trucks. The fluid that powers this hydraulic system, not surprisingly named “power steering fluid,” also performs functions such as cooling the system and holding in suspension abrasive dirt and other debris. Because the engines in most new vehicles run hotter than those of older generations—part of the engineering effort to improve efficiency—the extra heat under the hood also works, over time, to shorten the effective life of the power steering fluid.
So, when recommended by your owner’s manual or when chemical testing (dip strips) show additive depletion, the money spent replacing the fluid should be considered as proactive protection of your investment. It is insurance against preventable failures.
What You Need to Know about Brake System Fluid
Brake fluid’s most important function is hydraulic; that is, assisted by a pump that increases the force so you don’t have to push so hard, it transmits the pressure you apply to the brake pedal, through a master cylinder and maybe an anti-lock braking module, to the brakes at each wheel.
Brake fluid wears out over time as it accumulates moisture, and as corrosion inhibitors are depleted. Almost every brake fluid (labeled by Department of Transportation grading such as DOT 3, DOT 4,) is “hydroscopic,” meaning it readily absorbs moisture from the air. The formulation of DOT 5 makes it immune to this part of the aging process. And make sure, if you ever do it yourself and top off the fluid, that you use the right fluid. Your local shop can check the quality and expected remaining lifespan of your brake fluid with a quick chemical test and analysis.
What You Need to Know about Differential Fluid
The differential on rear-wheel-drive vehicles, sometimes called the “pumpkin” because it looks like one, transfers the engine power coming out of the transmission by means of the drive shaft, to the rear wheels. On front wheel drive vehicles the differential is there, right in front by the engine.
This unseen differential fluid works very hard for you, and never even gets a thank you in return. When clean and new, it helps reduce wear in the differential, and reduces the heat that is the enemy of most mechanisms. For smooth, trouble-free operation, service this important component by changing the differential fluid as recommended in your owner’s manual.
Limited slip differentials (which do just that, limit the slip of power to the wheels) are often an option on high–performance vehicles require a special fluid or one that is modified by a manufacturer-approved additive.