A modern day vehicle is a highly sophisticated piece of machinery consisting of many different systems that take many years to design. And as complicated as everything is the skill an auto technician possesses is a result of many years of practice, much like a good doctor. And like a doctor, it is impossible to know everything because there is just too much to learn. However, to understand and know the history of your vehicle and its characteristics will speed up any diagnostic time, thus saving on cost. To know your regular maintenance schedule and to regularly perform those duties will extend the life of your vehicle not to mention added enjoyment due to better fuel consumption, top performance and more importantly less breakdowns.
Auto technicians must be capable of dealing with many different systems in a car, such as: engines; drive trains; cooling/heating systems; air conditioning; fuel injection systems; ignition systems; electrical systems and emission control just to name a few. Each of these categories can fill a book by itself. With that said, when your car develops a problem or you have a complaint, it’s very important that before you bring it in for service, you take note and provide has much details as possible. A car cannot speak so it’s up to you to pay attention and observe the following questions to aid in the diagnosis:
When did it first happen?
When does it happen? When the engine is cold or hot?
How fast were you driving? Slow or fast and at what speeds?
Can you make the problem reoccur?
How often does it occur? Once in awhile or all the time?
What does the noise sound like? Squealing, chirping, clacking or humming?
Any instrument lights or gauges reacting?
What about the outside temperature?
Any unusual smoke and what color is it?
Unusual odors? What does it smell like? Rotten Eggs?
Does the problem occur when you are turning corners or going straight?
Get the message? The more information that you can provide relating to the problem the better your chances of achieving successful results. The technician should always try to recreate the problem to verify the complaint. In addition, these are the same questions the auto technician should ask you prior to diagnosing your vehicle’s problem. Unfortunately, the wrong information or a communication breakdown can often lead to misdiagnosis resulting in unnecessary expense and loss of time. So it is highly recommended that wherever you go for service, you get the opportunity to talk directly to the technician that’s actually doing the work. Often when you visit a large shop you only talk to the service advisor and some of them have never held a wrench in their life. By the time your complaint is past on to the technician, the information is distorted, which could lead to costly unnecessary repairs. Not to mention that if the technician has special instructions for you that too can get distorted and lost. Likewise, would you go to a doctor and explain your illness and discomfort to the receptionist? Probably not!
Lube Oil and Filter
Let’s start with probably the most important and common service and that’s a regular lube, oil and filter change. If you don’t do anything else to your car, at least do this. It’s probably better to own a car with 250,000 K’s with regular oil changes and maintenance than a car 100,000 K’s without any. With that said, it should be performed every 5 – 6,000 Kilometers or 4 months whichever occurs first. Oil is the blood of your engine. It’s a cleaning agent that cleans, lubricates and cools the engine. It’s exposed to combustion pressures, unburned fuel, carbon and extreme temperatures so the minute it is poured into the engine, its additives are deteriorating. Of course this oil is pumped through the filter where the dirt is trapped, therefore, at the time of the oil change, the filter must also be changed. Lubrication basically means lubricating the front end of the chassis, drive shaft u-joints and checking all fluids. Most newer passenger vehicles do not have grease fittings as the front end components are factory sealed so we just check all fluids. In addition, tire pressures and a visual 20 point or more inspection should also be performed at this time.
Often a customer asks for a tune up thinking it’s the answer to all their engine running problems – not! Although a lot of engine running conditions are cured by a tune up, it is not a guarantee “fix all”. It is however, a great place to start as your tune up related parts are exposed to wear and contaminating conditions, therefore, they must be in good working order before looking for additional problems. In the old days, a tune up used to be done at least once a year because the points wear out and the timing would automatically require adjustment after they were replaced. Spark plugs and filters were replaced at the same time which everyone called a “tune up”. Nowadays, everything is computer controlled and new breeds of maintenance habits are required and a so-called “tune up” is a service based on mileage. Following your owner’s manual is an excellent guide of when maintenance is required. Regular spark plugs are good for around 30,000 K’s and some platinum plugs are available with an expectant life of 100,000 K’s or more. Points and condenser are a thing of the past as a matter of fact, the distributor is on its way out too. With that said, the distributor cap and rotor is a dying breed. However, all filters should be regularly changed, including the PCV valve at approximately 30,000 K’s or sooner under extreme conditions. Plug wires should also be closely looked at for arcing, rubbing and chaffing from the high under hood temperatures and because of the close proximity of other components. Other parts that are “tune up” related is servicing/replacing the oxygen (02) sensor. Again it’s a service based on mileage. The purpose of the O2 sensor is that it measures the oxygen content in the exhaust, then sends a signal to the computer which responds accordingly to achieve the cleanest emissions and best fuel economy. The cost of a modern “tune up” has gone up as well. Tune up parts for a modern fuel injected vehicle such as an O2 sensor can cost as high as $150, platinum spark plugs at $25 each per cylinder and a fuel filter can reach $50 or more. So, it’s impossible to quote a firm price on a proper job because it depends on what your vehicle needs. However, I do know that if someone offers a so called “tune up” for $100 or less including parts, it’s wise to ask yourself what kind of job you are getting and best to drive the other way.
Fuel Injection Service
Most pre 90’s vehicles had a carburetor. Today, computer controlled fuel injection is the choice of fuel management for the best emissions, best response and drive ability. This system consists of many different sensors, a throttle body, fuel injector(s), fuel pump and a computer. Under various driving conditions and over a period of time, gasoline leaves gum, varnish and carbon on some of these components so it’s important to service and clean them regularly. A good rule of thumb is every 2 years for an average driver or about 30-40,000 K’s. This service should include cleaning the throttle body, idle air control motor and injector(s). The results are better fuel consumption, restored responsiveness and not to mention safety by curing some stalling problems. Performing this service along with a maintenance tune up would be an excellent idea.
A timing belt connects the bottom of the engine to the top. Its job is to keep the engine synchronized allowing for proper timing of the piston and valve position so your fuel can be ignited at precisely the right time. Most vehicle manufactures recommend that you replace the timing belt between 80 – 100,000 K’s. It’s behind the timing cover so inspection usually requires removal of that cover. However, when you have the cover off for inspection, you may as well replace it, as the job is half done. Neglecting to replace the timing belt could result in the vehicle to suddenly stop running with potential to cause severe engine damage as the pistons and the valves loses its synchronization therefore, possibly colliding. It’s nothing a $1000 or more can’t fix but what’s more important is for safety reasons – the thought of your engine stalling just as a bus is coming quickly towards you is an ugly thought.
Cooling System Service
The purpose of the cooling system is to cool the engine and control it at a certain temperature for maximum efficiency without overheating. It also provides you with heat during the winter months. Main components related to the cooling system is: the water pump; radiator; radiator cap; heater core; thermostat; hoses; belts; cooling fan and coolant. They all play a major role in how your cooling system operates and should be checked regularly. By neglecting to repair any of the main components as they wear or malfunction can result in overheating and severe engine damage. Inspection of the complete system once a year is a good rule of thumb and flushing the coolant every 2 years is important even if the protection level is showing good. You see, the additives in the antifreeze eventually breaks down and develops electrolysis which becomes a form of acid causing more harm than good. This chemical reaction actually disintegrates your gaskets and other aluminum engine components.
With the price of a rebuilt transmission these days at $2000 plus, it’s increasingly important to maintain this piece of machinery more than ever before. What’s involved in a transmission service, is a road test; replacing the gasket; filter; fluid and making the necessary band adjustments if adjustable. A good rule of thumb for this service is every 2-3 years or 40 – 50,000 K’s whichever comes first would be sufficient for normal driving conditions. Under heavy-duty conditions, such as towing, perhaps once a year or 20,000 K’s as a transmission operates under extreme temperatures. It’s cheap insurance against a costly repair.
Differential/Transfer Case Service
Although servicing these items are not as common, it’s not to be forgotten. Transfer cases and differentials are not exposed to the extreme temperatures as the engine or transmission, however, servicing these units every 100,000 K’s would be a good rule of thumb. Servicing is basically draining and refilling with new fluid.
CV Axle Boots
At both ends of each axle are rubber covers called CV (constant velocity) boots that protects the CV joints against water and dirt while keeping the special grease in. Over time, these boots can be punctured by a stone thrown from another car or crack due to age and eventually split causing all the grease to spin out, therefore allowing dirt and water to penetrate the joints. Theoretically, this will destroy any exposed CV joint in a very short period. The most common complaint for a bad outer CV joint is a clicking or clacking noise when turning corners or a vibration under acceleration indicating a bad inner joint. By catching the boot before it actually splits and ruining the joint is the key that will result in a third of the cost compared to replacement of the complete axle shaft if it is noisy.
With obvious reasons, the brake system plays a vital role in your vehicle operation. For a typical vehicle, the average life for front brakes is about 30,000 K’s and for the rears about double that. A complete brake inspection should be performed twice a year for the following: road test for squealing, grinding and pulsation; lining wear; mounting hardware; drums and rotors; hydraulic system and the emergency brake system. Any time unusual noises are heard such as squealing, grabbing of the brakes or a spongy pedal, immediate attention is required. By reacting quickly as these symptoms occur can save you hundreds of dollars by preventing further damage. For example, a front brake reline, caliper service and machining the rotors can be as low as $130 plus taxes for a vehicle with a good hydraulic system. However, if left unrepaired, the rotor will eventually be destroyed and possibly damaging the hydraulic system as the seals can tear and eventually leak. Cost can then rise to an average price of $80 per rotor (2 per axle) and $60 per caliper (2 per axle), excluding labor. Enough said as the mathematics can speak for itself.
Any time you have a feeling of control loss in your steering wheel such as: hard steering; looseness; shimmying; uneven tire wear or even weird noises from your front end area, have it checked. Your front end consists of many different linkages and joints of different nature and sizes. By regularly changing the oil in your engine, these parts may have grease fittings for grease, which is part of the lubrication process. It should also be a part of any courtesy inspection. Any excessive play or looseness found on any component should be replaced immediately and aligned if necessary. They play an important part of your vehicle as they contribute to the direction that you want to turn. Failure of any front-end component could result in very serious consequences.
The suspension system is what supports the weight of the car body against the frame. The springs determine the vehicle height and the shocks absorbs the impact from different road conditions allowing you full control while preventing your vehicle from bouncing all over the road. Springs often last the life of the vehicle however, the shocks should be regularly checked for leaks. Weak or leaking shock absorbers will lose its ability to dampen the various road conditions resulting in your car feeling bouncy or even clunking in big potholes. Like your front end, this should be a part of any courtesy inspection and should be inspected in an oil change service.
A good electrical system plays an important role in your vehicle. Starting off with the battery, it’s the initial source of power. As you turn the key, electrical current is transferred to you starter allowing it to turn your engine over. During this process, the ignition and fuel system is working simultaneously to start your engine. Once your engine is running, your alternator takes over and recharges the battery and supplies electrical energy to your radio, lights, ignition etc. Failure of any one of these electrical components could result in your vehicle not starting or worse, the vehicle stalling in the middle of the road in the case of a bad alternator. Having your vehicle’s electrical system checked once a year is a good idea and the battery’s fluid level checked monthly. If you ever notice a battery light on, in your dash or your starter just clicks or turns over slowly have it checked immediately, otherwise you could find yourself stranded in a most unfortunate situation.
A periodic check of the exhaust system makes good sense as your exhaust muffler/pipes are subject to water and road salt causing rust. The give away here is when your engine is getting louder and sounding more like a truck than a car. Often it’s the muffler rusting out as it is located at the back of the car where the temperature of the exhaust is the coolest. Moisture collects there and does not evaporate fast enough. During an inspection the connecting pipes, converter and resonator should also be checked and replaced if it is equally rusty. By driving with a leaking or loud exhaust is not only annoying, but also a health hazard as you are also exposing yourself to carbon monoxide poisoning.