How to Get Quality Automotive Services

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How to Get Quality Automotive Services

Automotive repair services are no different from any other service. You are entitled to get what you pay for, but how do you know you are getting good repair services if you do not know how a car works, and therefore how long a particular repair is likely to last? How can you tell that you are not being ripped off by an unscrupulous mechanic or repair shop if you don’t know what they did to your car to get it working again?  Read on and we will tell you how to tell if you are getting good auto repair services.

Look for Professional Certifications

The processes of training and certification of auto mechanics differ from country to country, but almost all countries have systems in place to regulate these processes. In fact, in many countries it is illegal for a mechanic to perform car repairs unless he is properly certified by a governing body, so your first step should be to ask about the qualifications and certifications of the people that are going to work on your car.
Qualifications and certificates of competence always include the name(s) of the training and/or certification authority, so be sure to check with these bodies if you suspect that a certificate may not be authentic.

Expect Great Customer Service

Repair shops depend on their good reputations and level of customer service to keep their existing clients, and to attract new business. If the reception you receive is poor, it is almost certain that you will receive poor repair services as well. If the management refuses to answer your questions or discuss your concerns with you, walk away because you will not receive quality service from such an establishment.

Get The Cost of Repairs Upfront

Price alone should never be the sole determining factor, but then again, the quoted price you receive should not differ by more than 10-, or 15% of that charged by other shops in the area. What is more important is the willingness of the shop staff to give you a breakdown of the costs of a repair. An honest mechanic will always tell you what needs to be done to effect a professional repair, and what each step in the repair process will cost, with both parts and labor charges included, as well as an estimate on the time required to carry out the work.
If you are provided with this information in a friendly, open, and transparent manner, it is certain that you will receive high quality services and customer care as well.

Ask About Parts Quality

Many mechanics use cheap, substandard parts to save costs and increase their profits. This is a world-wide phenomenon, and your best defense against this is to insist on the mechanic telling you where he gets his parts from.  No reputable mechanic will have a problem showing you the packaging of parts he uses for other cars, so check for well known and trusted brands.

Unbranded packaging is a sure sign of poor quality parts, and if you see this in a repair shop, you will receive poor, substandard services.

Look for A Neat and Tidy Shop

Repair shops that are neat, tidy, and well organized take pride in their work, which translates into good service and customer care. Return visits by unhappy clients because of recurring problems are bad for any repair shop, but shops that are proud of the quality of the services they provide are unlikely to see many customers return because the original problem was not repaired properly.
The same cannot be said for shops that are dirty, disorganized, or cluttered up by derelict cars and tools, parts, and other rubbish lying on the floor. Such a shop is not capable of providing high quality services, so avoid them at all costs.

Ask About Warranties

Mechanics that are proud of their work and professionalism will have no problem with issuing a warranty on the work they perform. This is especially important in cases where cars are no longer covered by factory warranties or maintenance plans.
In some countries, mechanics are legally obliged to issue warranties on workmanship, but where this is not a legal requirement, insist on a warranty against defects in workmanship- if the mechanic is honest and professional, he will have no problem with it, since his reputation depends on the high level of service he provides.

A final thought…

If you follow the tips outlined here, you can be almost certain that you will receive professional, high quality automotive services; however, you will never receive high quality services if you continually jump from one mechanic to the next, or if you are not clear about your needs and expectations. Mechanics are prohibited from carrying out unauthorized work unless the unauthorized work is required to compete the requested work safely, which means that replacing, or repairing something you did not authorize does not necessarily mean you were ripped off.

Honest and professional mechanics will always inform you if something else needs to be fixed, replaced, or rebuilt to complete a repair safely and reliably, and if this happens, you can be sure you are receiving a professional, high quality service because the mechanic or repair shop has your safety as their first priority- which is always a good thing.

How To Replace Your Car’s Headlight Bulbs

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How To Replace Your Car’s Headlight Bulbs

On many modern cars, it is almost impossible to replace headlight bulbs on a DIY basis because of the very cramped conditions in the engine bay. In some cases, the battery and/or other components have to be removed, while in many other instances, the entire headlight assembly has to be physically removed from the vehicle to gain access to the bulb. In these cases, the better option would be to have the bulbs replaced by professional mechanics.

However, for the purposes of this article, we will assume that access to the bulbs is possible without having to remove anything, so below is a step-by-step guide on how to replace your own headlight bulbs.

Step 1

Locate the wiring that leads into headlight. The wiring will often pass through a protective rubber cap, which has to be pulled off the back of the headlight assembly to gain access to the bulb holder. Remove this rubber cap, but note its position, since they often only fit back on in a particular way.

Step 2

In almost all cases, there will be three wires that are connected to the bulb with a plastic connector. Be careful when detaching the connector since in many cases, the connections can be extremely tight. Excessive force can damage, or even destroy the spring clip that holds the bulb in place in the headlight assembly. Apply a steady force, and move the connector from side to side slightly while pulling it off the bulb, but avoid sudden, violent movements that could damage the bulb holder.

Step 3

With the wiring detached, take a moment to look how the bulb is held in place. In some cases, there might be an intricate spring clip that hooks onto the headlight assembly in a certain way. In other cases, there might be small screws, so before you do anything, make sure you know how the bulb is held in place. At this point, it might be a good idea to take several clear pictures for future reference.

This is important since in some cases, you will not be able to see the indentations and notches that determine the bulb’s orientation in the holder. All bulbs fit into the holders in a certain way, which makes it important to have pictures to refer to if you cannot see how the bulb fits.

Step 4

Remove the old bulb from the holder, and fit the replacement without touching the glass part. The oil on your skin will stick to the glass, which will cause that part of the glass to heat up more than the rest, which in turn, will drastically reduce the life of the new bulb.
Replace all retaining devices in the exact reverse order of removal, and made double sure that nothing can come undone by checking that all screws are tight, and that the spring loaded retaining clip is properly hooked into place.

Step 5

Re-attach the plastic wiring connector, and replace the protective rubber cap. Make sure this cap is securely in place to prevent dirt and water from entering, or coming into contact with the wiring.  Switch on the headlights, and check that both the high-and low beams are working.

Helpful Hints and Tips

  • If you accidentally touch the glass of a new bulb, use an alcohol-based solvent to clean it.
  • Since the brightness of bulbs decrease over time, always replace headlight bulbs in pairs to ensure that both lights shine at the same level of brightness.
  • Resist the temptation to buy tinted headlight bulbs, since they might be illegal in your country, even though they are widely available.
  • The best quality headlight bulbs are those sold at the authorized dealer. Many aftermarket bulbs that claim to be brighter than OEM equipment do not last as long, and besides, the best aftermarket bulbs available are less than 10% brighter than standard bulbs.
  • If your car still uses sealed beam-type headlights, and you have replaced them for whatever reason, always have the lights reset at a reputable repair shop to ensure the lights do not blind oncoming drivers, and that they illuminate the road correctly to ensure proper vision at night.

Five Signs Your Car Battery Is Failing

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Five Signs Your Car Battery Is Failing

Nowadays it is rare to find a car battery that lasts for longer than three years or so, mainly because car batteries have reached the limits of their development potential. The demands of modern automotive electrical systems are such that batteries work much harder now than they have ever done in the past, and unless completely new battery technology is developed, all of us will at some point get that sinking feeling when the engine suddenly will not crank- just as we are leaving for an important meeting across town.

So how do you know when your battery is about to die on you? Some symptoms are not clear cut, since there are other issues that can mimic the symptoms of a flat or defective battery, so read on, and we will tell you how to diagnose a defective battery.

Slow Engine Cranking Speed

08-1_Weak-HeadlightsSlow cranking speeds can be caused by a defective starter motor, and/or poor ground connections, but if the engine cranks slowly, one way to test the battery is to let go of the key, and to switch on the wipers and the headlights.

If the wipers work noticeably slower than usual, or if the headlights appear markedly dimmer than usual, the battery is most likely defective.

If the lights and wipers work normally, the cause of the slow cranking is more likely to be:

  • A defective starter motor
  • Poor ground connections between the engine and the body work on the one hand,
  • Poor ground connection between the battery and the engine.

However, in some cases, the engine might start to crank fast, but gradually slows down as the battery fails. This is a sure sign of a defective battery, and most other possible causes can be ruled out.

Illuminated CHECK ENGINE Light

Check Engine LightEven though the car might start normally, low battery voltages can trigger the CHECK ENGINE light. Most critical systems that collectively make up the Engine Management System require full battery voltages to work, and even though they may work, they will not work at peak efficiency, and the fact that they receive less than a full battery charge will register on the OBD system, which will trigger the light.

Some symptoms of low battery voltages include rough, or erratic idling, misfiring at high engine speeds, and sporadic illumination of various warning lights, slow wiper speeds, malfunctions of the alarm, security, and central locking systems, erratic instrument readings, and even frequent, and unpredictable stalling of the engine.

Moreover, low input voltages can damage sensitive components, which can add huge amounts to the replacement cost of the battery, so never ignore any warning lights, even though the car may appear to be functioning satisfactorily, since not all cars will exhibit outward signs and symptoms of low battery voltages.

The only reliable way to confirm or eliminate the battery as the faulty component is to have a comprehensive diagnostic check performed, since even professional mechanics often overlook the battery as a possible cause of the illuminated battery light.

Frequent Jump Starts Required

08-2_Jump-StartsBatteries can fail without warning, so if you require a jump start in the afternoon when the car started normally in the morning, the battery is very likely at fault, especially if it is older than two years.

Another indicator of a defective battery is if the car will not start in the morning during cold spells, but starts in later in the day when temperatures have risen somewhat. The reason for this is that batteries are less efficient at low temperatures than at higher temperatures, which is why your battery has a “cold cranking capacity”.

In new batteries, this refers to the amount of power a battery can deliver at low temperatures, but as a battery ages, this capacity diminishes significantly, until it reaches the point where it does not work at all at low temperatures. The only reliable way to determine if this is the case is to have a “draw” test performed. Most battery centers will perform this test at no charge, provided you buy the replacement battery from them.

Smell of Battery Acid is Present

08-3_Car-Battery-AcidIf a battery has internal short circuit, the electrolyte, which is a mixture of sulfuric acid and distilled water, starts to boil, hence the characteristic smell of sulfur around the battery. However, a defective alternator can also cause the electrolyte to boil when it overcharges the battery, which will not necessarily trigger the CHECK ENGINE light, but it will eventually destroy the battery.

Nonetheless, even slight overcharging will damage the battery, which is why it is important to have the cause of the “rotten egg” smell investigated immediately it becomes apparent, or noticeable. Do NOT ignore this symptom, because a boiling battery generates large volumes of highly flammable hydrogen gas, which can produce potentially devastating explosions in the engine compartment, or worse, in the passenger compartment if the battery is located in the car, such as in many German cars.

Moreover, an overcharging alternator will not only damage the battery; it will almost certainly damage, and possibly destroy sensitive electronic components as well.

Battery Will Not Hold a Charge

08-4_Battery-Not-Hold-ChargeThere are several reasons why a battery will not hold a charge, such as defects in the electrical system that continually drains the battery over a period of hours to the point where it will not be able to start a car. However, other reasons include internal short circuits in the battery, or overcharging of the battery over extended periods of time, which causes the battery case to swell, deform, or form bulges on the sides of the case. Batteries that are damaged in this way will also run down in a matter of a few hours, and it may not be possible to recharge them when they do.

If this type of damage occurs, the only remedy is to replace the battery, and to have the car’s charging system checked at the same time to either confirm or eliminate overcharging as the cause of the battery failure. A thorough inspection of the car’s electrical system is also a good idea, because it will confirm or eliminate serious short circuits that could damage the replacement battery as well.

6 Signs That Your Car Needs Transmission Repairs

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6 Signs That Your Car Needs Transmission Repairs

No matter how well you look after your car in terms of regular maintenance and servicing, it is almost certain that you will encounter transmission related problems during the life of your car. Modern transmissions are extremely complex, and there are many things that can go wrong, but how do you know when it the problem is serious enough to warrant immediate attention?

The short answer is that any transmission problem is potentially serious (and expensive to repair), so if you recognise any of the symptoms below, have the issue investigated immediately to avoid adding to the repair bill.


There should be no hesitation at all when you try to move off from a standstill. Hesitation can be caused by low transmission fluid levels, excessive mechanical wear, and by fluid that is dirty, contaminated, or degraded as the result of overheating.
Hesitation is also dangerous from a safety perspective, since you could be hit by other cars from behind when they assume you are going to move, or, by drivers that don’t know your car is hesitating, especially when you plan to turn into, or across oncoming traffic from a side road.

Check Engine Light

Check Engine Light

On some cars the engine is controlled by the transmission, in the sense that the engine will not accelerate or respond to throttle inputs if there is something wrong with the transmission. In these cases, the CHECK ENGINE LIGHT will illuminate, even if the driver is not yet aware that a problem is developing.

CHECK ENGINE warning lights should never be ignored, and especially if the transmission is fitted with several “modes” of operation. The only reliable way to determine whether the engine or transmission is at fault is to have a comprehensive diagnostic check performed by qualified and certified technicians. If the transmission or transmission control module is defective, the transmission can fail completely and unexpectedly- even if the driver does not yet realize that there is an incipient problem present.

Mechanical Noises

All transmissions, regardless of whether they are manual or automatic, should operate without noises of any kind. Any clunking, grinding, whining, knocking, or thudding sounds are abnormal, and a sure sign that there is something seriously wrong with a transmission.
The most common cause of noisy transmissions is lack of lubrication, or the use of unsuitable lubricants and fluids, which from the perspective of a transmission, amounts to the same thing. Therefore it is vitally important to maintain the correct levels of only the lubricants that are specified for your vehicle.

Transmission Noise in Neutral

Transmissions may be noisy in neutral, but silent when gears are selected, which is a sure sign of worn parts, or fluid issues. In manual transmissions, this problem is almost always related to the condition of input shaft bearings, but in automatics, the problem could be any one, or all of a great many causes, such as worn or damaged clutch packs and planetary gears, among others.

However, resist the temptation to have the transmission flushed, even if a mechanic recommends it, on the grounds that the fluid might be dirty or degraded. Many, if not most mechanics cannot diagnose the cause(s) of noise(s) in automatic transmissions just by listening it, which is why you should only consult knowledgeable technicians on this particular issue.

Some transmissions are known to develop secondary problems after a flushing procedure, which why some manufacturers, such as Honda, prohibit the flushing of their transmissions. Other manufacturers might not ban the practice outright, but very few approve of the practice, so talk to your dealer before you flush your transmission.

Difficult, Harsh, or Erratic Shifting

There are dozens of possible causes for all, or any of these problems. Moreover, some symptoms can be the result of one or more problems, which is why it is very important to have any of these problems investigated and resolved as soon as they appear, because continued use of the transmission can lead to total failure.

Some of the more notable problems include the following:

  • Refusal to engage any gear.
  • Gear shifts are accompanied by mechanical noises, or harshness.
  • Vehicle does not accelerate as before.
  • Shifts happen unpredictably, or in some cases, erratically.
  • Hesitation in moving off from a standstill.
  • Vehicle has to be held stationary with the brakes while in “P”
  • Transmission “misses” some gears, for instance; it might shift into 3rd straight from 1st, or it might downshift from 4th gear into 1st, without going through the range as it should.

Vehicle Surges

While there are many possible causes of surging, one possible cause is occasional, or intermittent blockages of some fluid passages in the valve body of the transmission. The controlling mechanism of the transmission depends on sustained fluid pressure at different points at different times, which means that if a fluid passage is blocked intermittently, the clutch packs that transmit power in the transmission could slip, and engage on an intermittent basis.

Again, resist the temptation to have the transmission flushed, because the object that causes the intermittent blockage could become permanently lodged in a position where it could conceivably plug, and thus disable pressure circuits in the transmission.

When it comes to transmission problems, it is sometimes more cost effective to replace a transmission, as opposed to attempting repairs. Some failures and defects cannot be repaired economically, especially if the fluid had overheated.

Overheated transmission fluid forms several kinds of waxes and varnishes that can “weld” small parts together permanently, so when this happens to you, you might be better served by simply replacing the transmission, but be sure to have the cause of the overheating resolved as well to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

The Importance of Proper Wheel Alignment

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The Importance of Proper Wheel Alignment

While modern suspension systems work extremely well, they depend on complicated geometry to keep the wheels aligned, and the slightest misalignment results in poor directional control, rapid tire wear, and a host of other problems. It is no longer enough to have the wheels aligned only when you replace the tires: modern cars demand regular alignment checks to ensure long tire life, proper handling, and good fuel economy. But what is wheel alignment exactly and how is it performed? Read on and we will explain the issues.

What is Wheel Alignment?

If cars did not have suspension systems, the ideal set-up would be to have the wheels mounted perfectly perpendicular to the road surface and pointing straight ahead. However, cars do have suspension systems, and they consist of lots of components that all move and pivot in relation to each other, which change the position of each wheel in relation to the longitudinal axis of the car, as well as to each other.
Add to this the fact that almost all moving suspension components are mounted on flexible rubber mountings that wear out over time, which greatly affects the amount of wheel movement during both straight line tracking and cornering. Two more things to consider are the following:

  • Rolling resistance of a tyre tends to push the wheel towards the rear of the car
  • Torque on front wheel drive cars tends to pull the wheels forward.

Both of these motions exert large forces on the rubber bushings in the suspension, which deform to accommodate, or absorb these forces, but this results in the driving wheels being forced towards each other, which in turn, changes their positions in relation to the longitudinal axis of the car. Think of it this way: draw an imaginary line through each wheel along the length of the car, and the lines would extend forward to meet at some point in front of the car.

Now imagine applying driving torque to the front wheels, and being pulled forward, the two lines would move toward each other, since the deformation of the rubber bushings in the suspension are allowing the wheels to change their positions relative to each other. However, since the car is now moving, the rolling resistance pushes the wheels backward, which has the effect of separating the two imaginary lines, but only up to a point, since the force exerted by torque is larger than the rearward force caused by rolling resistance.

The Wheel Alignment Problem

The problem car designers have is to have the most tire contact with the road, with the least amount of rolling resistance, and to achieve this, they design cars in such a way that when they are at rest, the front wheels are either pointing away from each other, or in the case of rear wheel drive cars, pointing slightly towards each other. This is known as either “toe-in”, or, “toe-out”, which is cancelled out by the various forces at play when the car is moving under its own power. In cars on which the alignment is within specification, they tires will be almost perpendicular to the road surface, and pointing straight ahead, with the two imaginary lines extending nearly parallel to point very far in front of the car.

The same applies to the rear wheels; while they are subjected to different forces, the result is the same – the lines extending through each wheel will closely match those extending through the front wheels. On such a car, the wheels can be said to be aligned, and wear will occur evenly on the tires of each axle.

The Effects Of Miss-Alignment

Wheels can be miss-aligned on one axle, but also between axles, which usually happens when the rear axle is moved out of position because of accident damage or severe impacts with potholes and other obstacles. When this happens, the rear of the car will be pushed out of the track set by the front wheels, and while it may sometimes be possible to adjust the rear wheel alignment to compensate for this, in most cases the problem can only be repaired by replacement of the axle, or by extensive repairs by a competent accident repair specialist.

Other common effects of miss-aligned wheels include:

  • Rapid, or uneven tire wear:
    This happens because either the inside, or outside edges of the tire tread is forced into heavier contact with the road surface than other parts.
  • Poor directional control:
    Steering precision depends on the wheels being aligned in a certain way, and if this balance is upset, one, or both wheels will exert continuous steering forces on the car, which the other wheel(s) is forced to absorb, which in turn, causes rapid and uneven tire wear on both ties.
  • Increased fuel consumption:
    The rolling resistance of the wheels is just one force that needs to be overcome to keep a car moving, and with miss-aligned wheels, this resistance is increased in direct proportion to the amount of miss-alignment. Instead of the tire merely rolling along with the car, miss-alignment causes the tire to “rub” on the road surface, which can add as much a 10% to the amount of fuel used over a given time and period. Needless to say, tire “rubbing” can also reduce a tire’s life by up to 50%, and even more in extreme cases.
  • Increased wear on components:
    Miss-aligned wheels causes added strain on suspension parts such as ball joints, tie-rod ends, steering racks, control arm bushings, and others, since they are forced to absorb the increased forces involved in holding the wheels in place. With correctly aligned wheels, most of the forces involved in keeping the wheels aligned cancel each other out to some degree, which is one of the reasons these components last as long as they do.

There are of course other settings that influence wheel alignment, such as caster and camber, which determine the amount by which the pivot point of the steering moment deviates from the center of the wheel, and the amount by which the wheel deviates from the perpendicular relative to the road surface respectively.

Both of these settings are critical for correct wheel alignment, and serious deviations also lead to increased fuel consumption, rapid and uneven tire wear, added strain to suspension and steering components, and decreased vehicle control, which is why it is vitally important to have the wheel alignment checked, and corrected at least twice a year.
Doing this will not only save you fuel and extend the life of your tires- it will also give you a comfortable ride, and significantly reduce overall maintenance costs.

Why You Should Check Your Brake Fluid?

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Why You Should Check Your Brake Fluid

The importance of keeping your brake fluid in good condition cannot be over emphasised, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is the single most important fluid in any vehicle. How well the brakes work depends entirely how clean, fresh, and free of water and other contaminants your brake fluid is, which is why it is vitally important to check your brake fluid at least once a week. So what do you look for when checking the brake fluid? Read on and we will explain the issues.

Check the Level

Check Brake Fluid Level

On most cars, the level of the brake fluid will be visible through the translucent plastic of the reservoir, on which the correct level will be clearly marked. Over filling the reservoir causes leaks, but more importantly, spilled brake fluid will eat through the paint of the engine compartment.

A small, gradual drop in the brake fluid level is normal, and is caused by the normal wear of the brakes, but a sudden drop indicates a leak. Leaks can be in one, or several places, such as the rear wheel cylinders, ruptured pipes, or out of the back of the master cylinder where it attaches to the brake booster.

All brake fluid leaks are potentially dangerous, which requires that they must be investigated and corrected without delay to prevent unexpected brake failure.

Check the Color

Fresh brake fluid is either straw or amber in color and while some types, such as DOT 5, or Dot 5.1 fluid can be purple in color, these formulations are not usually used in normal production vehicles.

Over time, brake fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere, which can change the color to dark yellow, light brown, or even black. Other causes of discoloration are contamination by mineral engine oil, or the wear particles of moving rubber seals in the master cylinder. Brake fluid in this condition is dangerous, and the entire brake system needs to be flushed to purge the contaminated fluid from the system.

However, while it is possible to flush the brake system on a DIY basis, the procedure is best left to a competent repair shop due to the extreme complexity of many modern brake systems. Making a mistake could allow air to enter the system which might be impossible to remove by traditional bleeding methods.

The best way to purge brake systems is by extracting the brake fluid with a vacuum, which precludes the possibility of air entering the system if the procedure is carried out correctly.

How to Spot Brake Fluid Related Problems

The first sign of contaminated brake fluid is excessive pressure required to stop the vehicle. This could of course also be caused by vacuum issues, but in the case of brake fluid, the pedal will have a soft, or “spongy” feel.

This is caused by the presence of water that boils as the brake fluid heats up, and there is no remedy for this other than a complete brake fluid replacement. Other signs of degraded brake fluid could be:

  • Excessive pedal travel due to the presence of water in the fluid.
  • Increased stopping distances. There are many caused of this, but if the brake fluid is discoloured in combination with longer stopping distances, replacing the brake fluid will restore the brakes to full efficiency.

Can I Mix Different Brake Fluid Types?

The short answer is NO. Brake fluids with DOT 3 and 4 designations consist of glycol bases to which a package of additives is added. These additives are meant to provide lubrication of moving parts, as well as prevent corrosion, but generally, these types of brake fluid are fully compatible.

However, brake fluid with DOT 5 and 5.1 are based on silicone, and while they do not absorb moisture, they are significantly more compressible than DOT 3 and 4 types, and they can, and must only be used in systems that are designed specifically for them. Typical applications would be on race cars, and other systems that work at higher temperatures than those encountered on normal production vehicles.

Adding DOT 5 brake fluid to your system will at the very least lead to increased stopping distances, as well as having to apply more pressure on the brake pedal than normal.

How to Store Brake Fluid

Brake fluid should never be stored for longer that it would take to get the job of replacing it done. Brake fluid can absorb water from the atmosphere even in sealed plastic containers since most plastics are permeable to water in varying degrees, so if you have container of brake fluid that is older than a few weeks, discard it.

Only purchase brake fluid in the quantities you require immediately, and never use brake fluid from unsealed container because there is no telling how much water it contains. If you absolutely must store brake fluid for any length of time, only purchase brake fluid in metal containers. Metal is the only material that provides adequate protection against water absorption, but even so, do not use the brake fluid if the container had been left unsealed even for a few hours. Water is brake fluid’s greatest enemy, and if you allow contamination to take place, the water in the brake fluid will without any doubt be your greatest enemy as well.

Choosing The Correct Engine Oil

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Choosing The Correct Engine Oil

There was a time when almost any type or formulation of engine oil could be used in almost any engine, but that time is long past. Today, modern engines demand that oil be formulated in very specific ways to provide adequate and effective lubrication. Moreover, some oils can damage catalytic converters, so if you have ever wondered about what the correct type of oil is to use in your engine, read on and we will tell you all you need to know.


In the world of engine oil, this is probably the most misunderstood term. In simple terms, the word “viscosity” refers to oil’s resistance to flow, and this characteristic is always referred to with the letter “W”, which refers to an oil’s winter, or cold weather flow properties.

Since oil thickens in cold weather, and thus does not flow readily, it must be formulated in such a way that it will not thicken beyond a certain viscosity, or thickness. In standard laboratory tests, oil must flow through an orifice in a test apparatus at specified rates at specified temperatures, and it this flow rate at low temperatures that qualifies an oil as suitable for use in cold weather.

Thus, the “W” is always followed by a second number that indicates how well an oil flows at O0F (-17.80C), which in practice, means that an oil that is labelled 5W-30, will thicken less than another oil that is labelled 15W-30. In turn, this means that the 5W oil is more suitable for cold weather applications because it will remain pump-able at freezing temperatures, whereas the 15W oil will not be.

The number following the “W” rating refers to an oil’s resistance to thinning at a standard temperature of 2120F (1000C), which means that 5W-30 oil will thin out sooner (and more) than 5W-40 oil. In practical terms this means that if you live an area with freezing winter temperatures and scorching summers, you need to use oil that does not thicken too much, or thins out too much at elevated temperatures, and this scenario, you could use 5W-30/40 oil without running into problems.

However, it is always best to stick to the oil rating recommended by the manufacturer of your car, since your car was tested under a wide range of temperatures and driving conditions. It may be that the user manual will recommend a range of suitable oils, so do not use oil formulations that do not fall within this range.

Mineral vs. Synthetic Oil

There are very good reasons why you should use synthetic oil when the manufacturer of your car specifies its use, because the lubrication demands of many high performance engines cannot be met by regular mineral oil.

However, synthetic oil is only synthetic in the sense that it does not contain crude mineral oil. Thus type of oil is distilled in a complex process that uses carbon dioxide, methane, and other hydrocarbon molecules, but the result is oil in which all the molecules are the same size, which means that this oil has almost twice the lubricity of regular mineral oil.

The close engineering tolerances of high performance engines require better lubrication than can be provided by regular oil and using regular oil in an engine that requires synthetic oil will result in the certain destruction of the engine. Moreover, the crank case and emission control systems of these engines are designed to work with synthetic oil only, which means that the catalytic converters of these engines cannot function properly. Mineral oil will clog, or otherwise damage these converters, with possible secondary damage to other emission control related components, such as oxygen sensors.

Nevertheless, the enhanced lubricating properties of synthetic oil make it an excellent choice for use in normal engines that are designed to use mineral oil. The increased lubricity means less friction, which in turns leads to measurable increases in fuel efficiency, lower operating temperatures, and improved throttle response, especially when the engine is cold.

Can I Mix Oils?

It is never a good idea to mix different brands of oil. All oil, whether mineral or synthetic, contains a package of additives that reduce friction, cleans internal parts, inhibits corrosion, and reduces foaming.

The problem with this is that different oil manufacturers do not use the same additives in the same proportions and concentrations. Nor do they all use the same additives, which mean that in almost all cases, the additive packages in different bands of oil are NOT compatible. In some cases, the presence of some friction modifiers can cancel out the cleaning action of detergents in other brands, with a resultant build up of extremely harmful sludge and other contaminants, such as sulfuric acid, several types of varnish, and many different types of wax.
Always stick with one brand, and insist that this brand be used when you have your car serviced at a repair shop.

What to Look Out for In Engine Oil

  • Look for the API (American Petroleum Institute), and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) logos or badges on the packaging. All branded oils will have both these logos, and it means that the oil is formulated to perform in accordance with rigorous guidelines and standards.
  • Oil that is labelled with the letters “SL”, conforms to the highest standards of oil and lubrication technology. It contains all the required additives in proportions and concentrations that will provide the best possible protection against mechanical wear. However, do NOT mix brands, because while all “SL” labelled oils will deliver exceptional performance, their additive packages might not be compatible.
  • Synthetic/mineral oil blends are a good choice when the demands on the engine are occasionally increased, such as when towing. This type of oil is more cost effective than fully synthetic oil, but the presence of the synthetic component in the blend adds a significant improvement to the oil blend’s lubricating properties.
  • High mileage oil is recommended for engines with high mileages, and in which there may be significant amount of mechanical wear present. This type of oil does not thin out as much as other oils and they have special additives that “soften” the material oil seals are made from. In some cases, this type of oil can stop oil leaks from seals and gaskets, but this can take some time to happen, and then not in all engines. It is however, a good choice when your engine is old, or has completed a few hundred thousand kms.

What to Avoid

Almost oil manufacturers make oil that can be used in almost all engines, from compact runabouts, to diesel trucks. Dealers often use this type of oil because it is very cost effective for them, but the problem is that it hardly ever complies with the requirements of most engines.

Some engines, such as turbo diesels, require higher levels of detergents and friction modifiers than almost all gasoline engines. High levels of these additives can cause actual harm to some gasoline engines, and while it will not happen overnight, so to speak, the fact is that your engine was designed to use oil in which the various additives must be present in the correct proportions and concentrations.

Using this type of oil over extended periods of time deprives your engine of proper lubrication, and even if you change your oil and filters strictly according to your maintenance schedule, your engine will not last as long as a comparable engine that does not run on all purpose oil.

Look at the label on the packaging, and if it says “Suitable For Use in All Engines”, avoid it like the plague, no matter how much cheaper it is than a properly formulated oil. Rather spend a little more on the oil your engine needs, because if you look after your engine, it will look after you.

When to Change Your Car’s Transmission Fluid?

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When to Change Your Car’s Transmission Fluid?

You may have heard or read somewhere that you only need to replace your transmission fluid every 100 000 miles or so, but the fact is that by doing so, you could damage your transmission simply because you do not remove contaminants regularly enough. Your transmission depends on clean, filtered, and uncontaminated fluid to work properly. Something else you may not know is that most automatic transmission failures occur because dirty, degraded, and contaminated transmission fluid prevents the smooth operation of a myriad small, but critically important moving parts.

Automatic transmissions briefly explained

Without getting too technical, it is fair to say that instead of using a lot of different gears that need to be locked together on a manual transmission to achieve a power output, an automatic transmission only uses a few gears that can be locked together in different ways to achieve a similar power output.

Nonetheless, the way in which an automatic transmission uses the same gears to arrive at different speeds is controlled by a hugely complicated hydraulic system that is in turn controlled by a complicated electronic control module. The whole system is supplied with pressurized fluid by a powerful pump that also serves to circulate the fluid around the transmission for lubrication purposes, and this is where the quality, as opposed to the quantity, of the fluid in the transmission plays a critical role to prevent problems with harsh or erratic shifting.

While it is true that the actual gear set can function with relatively dirty fluid, the same cannot be said for the hydraulic control system. This system is mostly located in a part of the transmission called the “valve body”, and it consists of an intricate system of small-diameter valves, check valves, and pressure regulators that are all interconnected via small-diameter passages that supply each part with pressurised fluid.
One more critical component of an automatic transmission to consider is the set of clutches that locks different parts of the gear set together in different ways to achieve gear ratios. In most transmissions, the clutches are controlled by hydraulic actuators that are in turn controlled by an electronic control module, and the quality of the transmission fluid plays a crucial role in how well, or reliably these clutches perform to prevent slipping, or hesitation when taking off.

How does it all work?

In full automatic mode, a transmission will not shift up or down unless at least half a dozen sensors and control circuits agree that a shift is required, which is when a signal, or impulse is generated by the transmission/engine management system(s) that tells the transmission what to do.

When the transmission receives the impulse, one or more valves in the valve body is instructed to divert pressure to a different part of the assembly. This causes the clutches to re-arrange the way the gear set is interlocked, and the transmission is said to have executed a gear shift. In this manner, the transmission will shift gears in accordance with instructions generated by the control system(s) without any input required by the driver.

However, when one or more valve shuttles sticks in position because of the presence of contaminants in the fluid the transmission cannot execute the shift, but if it does manage to shift, the operation may cause harsh, or jerky shifts- or it may “miss” a shift, and shift to the next higher or lower gear.

Similarly, if the transmission selector is moved from “P” or “N”, the valve body may not be able to divert pressure from the by-pass circuit to an active circuit, which means that the transmission is unable to engage the desired gear because the affected valve shuttle(s) cannot move due to the presence of dirt, or other contaminants in the fluid.

So what is automatic transmission fluid?  

Apart from its excellent flow properties, transmission fluid is similar to other lubricating oils in the sense that it also contains additives that clean, lubricate, and prevent the formation of corrosion inside the transmission.

However, transmission fluids are not created equal, and some formulations work better in specific applications, which is why it is critically important never to use a generic formulation. Moreover, some transmissions, such as those on pick-up trucks require a specific formulation because it may run at higher temperatures than say, a transmission in a normal family sedan, which is why you should only ever use the formulation recommended, or specified by your manufacturer.

Moreover, the ability of a specific formulation to withstand the effects of heat is just as important as that formulation’s ability to resist oxidation, which is aggravated by higher than normal operating temperatures. Oxidation is the single biggest factor in the degradation of automatic transmission fluid, and when that is coupled to the effect of heat, some of the additives start to form various gums, varnishes, and sludge that can literally “weld” moving parts together. Once this has happened, the transmission must be replaced since there is no known way to free the seized parts without ruining the transmission.

Below is a table that illustrates the life expectancy of transmission when the fluid exceeds acceptable operating temperatures. Note how small differences in temperature bring about a drastic reduction in the life expectancy of a transmission.

Transmission Fluid Temperature Chart

From the above it will be seen that overheating of the fluid must be avoided at all costs, and since most cars use the same radiator to cool the transmission fluid that cools the engine, any engine overheating will affect the life expectancy of the transmission as well, which is why the transmission fluid MUST be replaced if the engine has overheated.

One more thing to remember is that transmission fluid is translucent and bright red in color when it is fresh.  Fluid that is not translucent, dark in color, or has a “burnt” smell, is degraded to the point where it could start to affect the performance of the transmission, and it must be replaced, regardless of the distance traveled.

Many car manufacturers recommend fluid replacement at 30 000 miles or so, but factors such as towing, carrying heavy loads, or engine overheating can dramatically reduce this mileage, so whenever this has occurred, have the fluid checked and replaced if necessary.

Some symptoms of degraded transmission fluid

It is not always easy to diagnose automatic transmission problems because many electronic issues could mimic the symptoms of dirty or degraded fluid. However, whenever your car develops transmission related problems, always check the fluid level and condition first, since in some cases, the problem can be resolved merely by replacing the fluid.

Bear in mind though that a fluid replacement may be too little too late in many cases, especially where the transmission has become noisy at any speed, or in any gear. Nevertheless, below are listed some of the most common issues that could be directly related to dirty, contaminated, or degraded transmission fluid.

Noisy transmission:

Dirty fluid can mimic the symptoms of low fluid levels that can cause some transmissions to be noisy.  So whenever your transmission becomes noisy in any way, first check the fluid level to confirm that the transmission is not running dry. If the fluid is at the correct level, but appears dark, “tarry”, or has a “burnt” smell, the cause of the noise is likely to be related to an inadequate flow rate. If however, the fluid is at the correct level and appears clean, fresh, and translucent, the cause is more likely to be a purely mechanical malfunction.

Harsh, or erratic shifting:

In almost all cases, this is caused either by a low fluid level, or dirty/contaminated fluid. In some cases, the issue can be resolved by replacing the fluid, but do not bank on this- in some cases, the harsh or erratic shifting may damage internal parts that can only be repaired or resolved by professional servicing and repairs.

Slipping in gear, or hesitation on take-off:

This is almost always caused by insufficient fluid pressure, which in turn, can have many possible causes. However, if the fluid appears dark, “tarry”, or has a “burnt” smell but is at the correct level, it would be safe to assume that one or more internal fluid passages is partially, or even completely blocked by dirt, varnish, or sludge. In these cases, a fluid replacement is seldom the answer, and the issue must be seen to by professional personnel.

Unexplained surging:

In transmissions that have not had their fluid replaced at recommended intervals, it is possible for dirt and sludge to cause intermittent blockages. However, a simple fluid replacement may, or may not resolve the issue, and in these cases, it is recommended that the transmission be flushed by suitable equipment, and by personnel that are trained to operate such equipment.
Incorrect flushing procedures can cause permanent blockages that cannot be cleared by any means, but it is also important to remember that some manufacturers, and Honda in particular, strongly advise against any form of flushing on their transmissions, so before you decide to have your transmission flushed, contact the manufacturer or dealer for information.

There are off course other causes of transmission problems that have nothing whatever to do with the condition of the fluid. Defective, or flat batteries, malfunctioning electronics, or extreme temperatures can cause most, if not all of the problems associated with degraded transmission fluid, so before you replace the transmission just because a mechanic says you must, have the electrical system of your car checked out with suitable diagnostic equipment.

It could save you a ton of money!

How to Finding A Good Automotive Mechanic

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How to Finding A Good Automotive Mechanic

Since every car owner needs automobile repairs and maintenance from time to time, it is important to establish a trustworthy person that can handle the task at hand with professionalism and skill. Finding the best mechanic for your car is definitely not an easy task especially when there are lots of auto repair shops in every city but not all workers are equally skilled in their job. While for basic tasks such as light repairs or easy maintenance (wheel changing, oil replacement) mostly any Joe mechanic with a more than six months in a service garage will be able to fit, advanced repairs (gearbox issues, engine manifold failure) require a totally different level of skill and care.

First of all, one should always research before paying for a mechanic’s service. Such research includes ensuring the mechanic is trained and certified by a recognized institution in your country. While the Internet is a broad place and holds lots of information, it should be easiest to check out for a certificate placed in the customer service lobby of the repair shop. For example, ASE is one of the most known and broadly accepted diplomas for automotive mechanics. Still, an accredited car technician might just be at the beginning of his career or might not be just as skilled as the accreditation mentions. Looking for a few reviews on the intended repair facility and if possible on the mechanic itself is a great idea. One may not find the required mechanic reviews on the Internet, especially if the service unit is rather small, but asking former customers is a decent way to develop an insight about the person and the company you wish to have your car fixed at.

If you are on a tight budget and cannot afford to spend a fortune on the highest end auto service, ask for estimation prices for the service your car requires. It is especially useful to ask for a written estimate when facing extensive repairs. This way, the estimate can be used to compare different mechanics. Remember though, an expensive service doe’s not always mean high quality. Since quality has to be a primary concern when undergoing vehicle repairs, a valid warranty must be issued at the end of the process. All reputable mechanics will issue a 30 to 90 day warranty for parts and service. Usually, mechanics that use high quality parts and accessories such as OEM auto parts is able to provide extended warranty.

Warranty is not the only reason to choose a mechanic that works with OEM parts. Unlike aftermarket components, OEM vehicle parts feature a higher quality thus ensuring an increased endurance over time and, when applicable, higher power output and increased comfort. In other words, it is better to pay 100$ for an OEM component that will last 5 years instead of paying 50$ for an aftermarket part you will have to replace every year.

Finally, after choosing the best mechanic you can, ensure reliability. A great mechanic will fix problems well and ensure their work is worthy of payment. Also, getting into a friendly relationship with the mechanic ensures a loyal connection allowing you to become a regular customer and win discounts. Also, having the car fixed always by the same mechanic will allow him to keep a service history and also to announce you for future issues that might need to be solved.

As one can see from the above lines, there are quite a few elements to be taken in consideration before applying for a repair service. Keeping in mind these key aspects will benefit on the long run, allowing the user to enjoy quality repairs and prolonged vehicle life at reduced costs.

How to Using Car Jumper Cables

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How to Using Car Jumper Cables

It does happen to everyone: you forget to turn off the CD player or headlights, and you leave the car parked for the rest of the night. When you get back to it in the morning, you realize that turning the key into ignition position does nothing or the electric motor barely spins, not enough to get the engine running. So, what is there to be done? Replacing the battery is probably out of question, since there is little chance you have a spare battery just laying around in your garage. Instead, you can ask for a fellow car driver to aid your battery by charging it over jump start cables.

Before getting into details about how to use jump start cables to revive a drained battery, a discussion is needed regarding how to choose the right pair of jump start cables according to your vehicle. One thing is definitely certain when buying jumper cables; you get what you pay for. There are three main characteristics to take in account when willing to purchase a set of jumper cables: cable gauge, clamp quality and insulation.

Cable gauge sets the amount of power the wire is able to allow to pass through. The higher the gauge (lower numerical index on the gauge meter), the higher amount of power the wire will be able to handle. Using thinner wires will take longer for the jump start procedure to begin, as it will require more time before the battery gets charged enough before being able to start the car again as usual. Thin wires are usually cheaper but can’t handle enough amperage to charge up the battery. If you try to use thinner cables in jump starting procedures, the wire will begin to heat up; this happens when it cannot cope with the amount of energy sent by the donor car. Finally, higher gauge cables can be built at longer lengths, allowing for easier connection between two cars.

Although the cost of cables rises as they are thicker, one will notice that clamps are also getting better. Low quality clamps are copper plated, while higher quality jumper cables will feature solid copper clamps which conduct electricity better. Copper plated clamps usually wear off after a few dozen uses due to the steel layer beneath which doesn’t conduct electric current too well.

On the same note as gauge size, insulation of the cable is equally important. Higher insulation can be found on thicker and equally more expensive cables. Colder climates ask for better insulated cables to avoid cracks due to low temperatures. Also, higher insulation aids pliability, allowing users to wrap cables back easily after being used.

Since critical points in acquiring jumper cables have been discussed, a brief description on how to get your car running again by jump starting is at hand. First of all, one should make sure that the donor battery has at least the same capacity as yours. Then, both vehicles should be put in park or neutral, and both engines shut off. Attach the red clamp at the positive terminal of each battery. You can find the positive terminal by looking after the “POS” or “+” sign near it. Next, connect one of the black clamps on the negative terminal of the donor battery, while the other end should be attached to a metallic unpainted surface of your car. Negative terminals feature the “-“or “NEG” sign near them.

Go ahead and start the car. If it doesn’t work, check the wiring again and let the donor car run for five minutes before trying again.