Why should you check your oil?
Oil is like the life blood of your engine and it needs taking care of. It will also give back to you with better fuel economy and a long running life. Engines burn oil naturally and as the vehicle gets older it will burn more oil. Before you go on a road trip you should take a few minutes to check the oil since on some vehicles you won’t be able to make it between oil changes without checking it and possibly adding oil. When you check your oil you are looking for two things. First, if it comes up to the full mark, and secondly how dark it is. If the oil level is down you should add some and if it is dark it could mean that you are close to needing an oil change. The exception to this would be a diesel engine where the oil goes black right away.
How to check your oil - step by step
Do you know how many people tell me they’ve never even opened the hood on their vehicles…….. This really isn’t a difficult process :)
If you are going to check your oil, which I highly recommend here are the steps. First the vehicle needs to be shut off and sitting for at least 10 minutes and it should be parked on a level surface for obvious reasons.
Next you have to find the hood release. It most vehicles it is located to the left of the steering wheel down by the foot well and you pull it until you hear a pop or click. This means the hood has been released.
Go to the front of the vehicle and this is where it can get tricky because there all kinds of different release mechanisms depending on the vehicle you drive. You might need to try and peak in there or use a flash light to find it. Mostly I see people doing it blindly feeling away. Either way, once you find the release open the hood and if it doesn’t have a shock to hold it up look for a hood prop which will either be on the ledge in front of the engine or attached to the hood itself and look for a hole that says “prop”.
Now you have to find the dipstick! I asked this once at a car care clinic and a lady said she had left him at home. All kidding aside though, the dip stick will either be yellow, orange or black and it could be have a t-handle or be circular. It may also have an oil symbol on it or say engine oil.
You will need a rag and you pull the dipstick out and wipe it off. Re-insert the dipstick and pull it out. Once you pull it out keep it level so that you get an accurate reading. Remember what you are looking for to see where it comes on the dipstick and the colour. If it doesn’t reach the “max” line or the “top dot” you should be adding oil. Remember oil is the life blood of your engine and it needs taking care of.
Adding oil and determining the grade?
So where do you add the oil? Is it through the dipstick hole? In 99% of cases I would say “no” unless you drive a certain year of Cavalier. In that case where you check and add the oil are one in the same.
When you are looking for the place to add the oil there will usually be a cap on top of the engine with an oil symbol. Once you find the cap, I always say “righty tighty, lefty loosey”. Just take the cap off and add oil, but how much do you add? If the dipstick is down one dot, that usually means 1 litre but if you aren’t sure add just a bit of oil, wait a few minutes and check the dipstick to see where it came up to. Over-filling can be just as harmful to your engine as not having enough oil it. When it is overfull the engine has to work harder and this causes wear and tear within the engine. If you overfill it you should take it into your repair facility and have some drained out.
To determine what grade of oil your engine takes you can usually find the information in a couple of places. In a lot of vehicles the grade is written right on the oil cap and if all else fails it will be listed in the specifications section of your owners manual. Always put what grade of oil your engine requires as this is what the engineers have determined is the best for your engine and emissions. What do the numbers mean? 5 W 20……… When you see two numbers it means it is a multi weight oil. The lower number means how fluid it is a cold temperatures and the second number is how it flows at high temperatures. W means it is good for winter.
Synthetic vs Regular Oil Synthetic vs Regular Oil
There is always great debate over this. Some vehicles require synthetic oil and you must run it.
Synthetic oil was first developed for jet engines because it doesn’t break down at high temperatures. It was first introduced into the automotive industry in 1972. This oil is superior at very high and very low temperatures. So if you live in an area where you experience extreme temperatures, than it could be a good investment. Some engines (especially turbocharged) DO benefit from a reduction of sludge buildup that is a result of the extreme heat generated by the turbocharger assemblies. Synthetic oil is an excellent choice for those that race or really drive hard as the oil is more resistant to foaming at extreme engine speeds.
Regular motor oil works great if you are diligent about doing your oil changes at 3 months/ 3,000 miles. In most vehicles you will be fine. We have many customers that have gone beyond 250,000 miles on Castrol gtx (regular oil).
If you were to go into your repair facility and say you had a puddle of red fluid under your vehicle, chances are they are going to start looking at the transmission. Automatic transmission fluid looks like cranberry juice when it is new. When it is time to change it, it will look like red wine. When it is overdue it will appear dark brown or black.
Some vehicles still have transmission dipsticks which are typically located on the drivers side of the engine and will be red in color. It is a different process to check your transmission so I would suggest leaving it up to the pros. However, if you must check it then make sure the vehicle is warmed up and with it running pull the dipstick out, wipe it off, re-insert it and pull it out again, and look to see if it comes up to the full level. It is helpful to check it several times as fluid can be moved around with the dipstick itself. You could also smell it to see if it smells burnt or look for particles in it. Many transmissions no longer have a dipstick so following the manufacturers recommended guidelines is important. I have seen more neglect on dipstickless transmissions than you could imagine, I think it is a big mistake for automakers to eliminate this crucial insturment. A general guideline is: change thansmission fluid every 30,000 miles.
With a manual transmission the process is somewhat different and the vehicle needs to be put up on the hoist so the technician can get at the plug. I wouldn’t suggest doing this yourself, besides how many people have a hoist in their garage ?
Signs your transmission is going bad, or may be low on fluid
If you’ve ever had to replace a transmission you know that this can be a costly venture and I wouldn’t always suggest buying a used transmission as you are usually buying someone else’s problems.
If your transmission hesitates when you put your foot on the gas or when it shifts there are clunks. These are signs that your transmission isn’t happy and you want to relay this information to the technician when you take your vehicle in. It will likely require them to take your vehicle for a road test to determine the issues.
What does the engine coolant/antifreeze do?
Engine coolant has three jobs. The first is to protect the aluminum engine parts; the second is to keep the engine from overheating and the third is to keep the engine from freezing.
When a shop checks your coolant they put a test strip in it to check the acidity of it. As the coolant deteriorates it becomes acidic and starts to eat away at the aluminum engine parts. The shops also have another tool to check the temperature of the coolant. When it is new it should go down to approximately minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit. A shop will usually suggest doing a coolant flush when the coolant doesn’t go below - 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your car has overheated and you lost your coolant, in a pinch you could add water to the engine to get you through, but before you do anything make sure it has cooled down. Give the upper radiator hose a good squeeze before removing the radiator cap, if the hose is very firm, DO NOT REMOVE THE RADIATOR CAP YET. Wait for the engine to cool until the hose is soft. Also, this isn’t something you would want to do on a consistent basis as water doesn’t have any lubricants in it to help with the water pump or corrosion inhibitors to protect metal components.
Engine coolant colors
Engine coolant can come in many colors. In addition to this there is also regular coolant and long life coolant. Coolant can be green, orange, pink, blue and purple to name a few. So it is important to know what you take in your vehicle. If you don’t know, ask your technician. If you have a puddle of coolant on your driveway make sure you get it cleaned up as many coolants are highly toxic to animals and especially dogs, as they are attracted to the sweet smell and taste of it.
The green coolant which is quite common is good for approximately 2 years and the Orange coolant which is called long life coolant is good for approximately 5 years. I always suggest referring to the professionals when it comes to dealing with coolants. Sometimes when we try to do things ourselves we can create larger problems.
Windshield wiper blades should be changed twice a year! Most people tell me they can’t remember the last time they changed their wipers. If you can’t see where you are going then that’s a problem and we don’t realize we need new wipers until it’s raining!
The cold weather makes the wiper brittle and the hot sun makes the wiper blade dry. That’s why twice a year is suggested. If you buy wiper blades at a shop they will usually install them for you as part of the service. Some wiper blades have a dot on them that will be black when they are new and when they require changing it will turn yellow. I think this is a great idea as long as you know what the dot is for :)
When your wiper blades get torn it is usually self inflicted. Especially if you live in a cold climate where there is snow. What happens is we use our wipers when it is snowing and we get home and just shut our car off and don’t turn the wipers off. We get up the next morning and start our car and the wipers are frozen to the windshield but they are still turned on! This is how the wiper blades get ripped or it can also be caused by our over exuberant windshield scraping. If you forget to pop your wipers up, make sure you pull them loose before you turn the wipers on as damage can occur to the wiper motor and wiper linkage from the wipers being frozen to the windshield
A tip in the winter time, if you know there is going to be a storm is to pop up the wiper blades. You can do this on all vehicles but you can do it on a lot of them. It will make it a lot easier to clean your windshield in the morning.
Air filter- What does it filter? Why should it be changed?
The air filter is like the nose of your car. It filters the air that the engine needs to burn the gas. When the filter gets dirty or clogged up it makes the engine work harder and starts to reduce your fuel economy. Remember, your engine is essentially an air pump. The easier it flows, the more power you will make, and the more efficiently it will operate.
This is something that most shops will check every time you take it in for an oil change but it shouldn’t require changing every time unless you aren’t being diligent with your oil changes. A general guideline is every 10,000 miles. The exception to this would be if you live on a dirt road or are driving through construction on a consistent basis. Some filters have a 20,000 mile life! High mileage air filters are made from multiple layers of filter media, starting with a course, then finer, then a super fine final stage of filtration. Cheap air filters do NOT have multiple layers, but they WILL fit into your air box. Be aware of bargains-you get what you pay for. I do NOT recommend k&n type oil filters!
Cabin air filter, what is it, and where is it located?
Not every vehicle comes with a cabin air filter. If your vehicle does have one it is located on the passenger side of the vehicle in one of three locations. It could be under the hood, in the glove box or under the dash. If you suffer from allergies, having a cabin air filter could be a good thing as it takes the pollen out of the air so you aren’t breathing it in your vehicle. What happens is that some shops don’t check the cabin air filter on inspections so sometimes it doesn’t get changed and it gets clogged up. If it gets clogged up you will notice the it sometimes start to smell inside your vehicle, or when you turn your defrost on high it won’t blow very well onto the windshield. Many shops have told me that they have seen mice make homes in peoples cabin air filters or they will be chock full of leaves if someone parks their vehicle under a tree.
I have seen cabin air filters cause the blower motor to fail when they are plugged. The blower motor requires more power when it has to work harder. The air that is pumped on some designs is actually the air that cools the motor. So with a dirty cabin air filter, the motor is working harder, and getting less cooling air!
The other thing that happens is sometimes the book says it has a cabin air filter and when the technician goes looking for it they can’t find it or it will be an empty box! Some vehicles say they don’t have a cabin air filter and it turns out they do! The only thing I could think of is when you buy the base model of a vehicle it likely doesn’t have a cabin air filter but if you move up in trim levels it will come with a cabin air filter. Your owner’s manual will tell you the replacement interval for your cabin air filter. If you don’t have a manual, we can easily tell you the interval with our computer system.
Back in the good old days, cars didn’t have a fuel pump. The fuel was supplied to the engine via the old tried and true Newtonian system called GRAVITY. The fuel tank was simply mounted above the engine! Then it was attached to the engine as vehicle lines and safety required that the tank be mounted under the car. In most modern vehicles the fuel pump is located in the gas tank of the vehicle. In this case you should try to keep your gas tank above ¼ tanks. Some people are guilty of going down to the gas light on a regular basis. The reason you don’t want the gas tank to go super low on a consistent basis is that the gas actually helps to keep the fuel pump running cool by actually flowing through it. When you run really low on fuel, the fuel in the tank actually warms up. When the pump runs hot this is extra wear and tear on it and if you’ve ever had to change a fuel pump you know that this can be a costly repair.
When you start your car in the morning and you hear squealing coming from under the hood this is the early signs of needing to replace your serpentine belt. These belts are good for around 60,000 miles
The serpentine belt operates a lot of things in your car. It operates your power steering, air conditioning, alternator and water pump. If it were to come off while you were driving you would notice immediately as you would lose your power steering and it would become very difficult to steer. Your air conditioning would also stop working. The next thing that would happen is that your car would start to overheat as the water pump is no longer circulating coolant through the engine to cool it and then your car would die since the alternator is no longer charging the battery.
When the technician is inspecting the belt they are looking for two things depending on the belt. They are looking for cracks in the belt and if the belt is what they call a “new technology” belt the technicians have to measure how deep the grooves are in the belt. Recently the belt companies changed the material they use so the belts are no longer supposed to crack, but not every vehicle has this new style belt on it and that’s why the technicians still look for cracking.
Not every vehicle has a timing belt, some have a timing chain. So the first thing you need to do is find out whether you have one and if you do when does it need to be changed? . A timing belt is something that can be checked, but only approximately. If you have a technician check your timing belt, they can check for cracks and glazing of the inner surfaces. The big problem is TIMING BELTS THAT LOOK GOOD CAN FAIL. This is because the timing belt is comprised of fiberglass cords that do not allow for stretching. In practice they do stretch a little, but not enough to use as a guide for replacement. Manufactures' intervals are the only way to go.
There are two types of engines. 1. Interference style and 2. Non-interference. If you have an interference style engine (ask the shop) and the timing belt were to break the valves would hit the pistons and this is where it can become quite costly to repair. If you have a non-interference style engine the vehicle would just stop.
The attitude “if it ain't broke don’t fix it”, isn’t a good attitude to have with this.
This is a fairly expensive job, ranging from $600 and up, but if it were to break, the costs would likely be in the thousands. When the belt breaks, the engine's internal timing is lost, this allows the valves to hit the pistons, which then bends the valves. If the valves are bent, they can be replaced by removing the cylinder head. By the way, i have heard it many, many times that breaking the timing belt requires engine replacement, that is just not true. 99% of the time, when the timing belt breaks, the engine IS repairable.
When you take your vehicle in to have the timing belt replaced the shop will probably suggest changing the water pump and belt tensioners and rollers at the same time since if any of those components fail, it will result in the same effect as the belt breaking. I always recommend changing the oil seals as well as i doubt they will last another 90,000 miles! Our aim is to make sure you don't have to service anything in the timing belt area until then.