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Articles:

Don't Start with That (Bad Starter Motor)

We've all heard that expression, "That's a non starter." When it comes to your vehicle, that's not music to a driver's ears. That sickening sound when you start the ignition and instead of hearing the engine crank, you hear it slowly turn over and your dash lights go dim.  There can be many reasons a vehicle won't start, so here's a little history of how the starter came to be an important component of modern vehicles. You have to move the engine's components to start it. The first cars had a crank that the driver would insert into the front, then start turning things over by hand.  When the engine started, you had to release that crank immediately or risk a broken arm.  Yes, it happened many times.  So, they came up with a better idea: an electric starter, which was a big advance in automotive technology. With this system, an electric motor rotated a series of gears that turned the gasoline engine's crankshaft so its pistons and parts moved and the engine drew in a ... read more

A Real "Pane" (Window Maintenance and Repair)

It's pretty frustrating when your driver's window won't work.  You can't get your food at the drive-thru without opening the door, have a tough time using the ATM from your vehicle, can't have that fresh breeze blowing through your hair as you listen to your favorite road tunes. Plus, there's a safety factor.  Your windows provide an escape route in case you need to get out and the doors won't work.  Let's take a look at what's going on when your window won't operate. Most vehicles these days have power windows.  They have an electric motor in each power window and sometimes those fail.  They often give you a warning that they're on their last legs by making a noise or hesitating, so if you get a sign like that, have a technician check it out. Loss of power can also be due to a blown fuse, a bad switch or faulty wiring. All windows have something called a regulator that moves the glass up and down.  They have a lot of moving parts in them which can break ... read more

Positive and Negative (Battery Care)

You notice when your smartphone's battery starts to go weak on you.  It runs out of juice faster than it did when it was new.  Bet you pay attention to that pretty closely. Unfortunately, many of us don't pay the same attention to the battery in our vehicles. If your battery got you through the cold-weather months, you might be thinking you're all set until next winter. But you might be surprised to learn this: Hot weather is harder on a battery than cold weather.  (Note: we're talking about a conventional vehicle here, not an all-electric, plug-in one.) The way your vehicle's battery holds a charge is that it has chemicals inside it, and they react with each other to produce electricity.  A vehicle battery discharges electricity and then needs to be recharged.  Unlike your smartphone that you plug in each night to charge, the way a vehicle's battery gets recharged is by using the mechanical energy of the engine.  It's a pretty cool system that's been arou ... read more

Categories:

Battery

It's Brake Time (Brake Calipers)

Race car drivers have demonstrated the advantages of disc brakes, so most modern vehicles use them.  Sometimes just the front wheels have disc brakes, but many vehicles now have them all the way around.  A major component of the disc brake is called a caliper.  It works by squeezing brake pads against the disc or rotor, kind of like a bicycle hand brake.  The brake pads themselves are what contact the rotor, causing friction to build and the wheel to slow down, but it's the calipers that apply the pressure to the pads. Caliper design has evolved over the years, and there are two common types.  One is called a floating caliper.  It has one or two pistons on one side of the disc. When you push down the brake pedal, the piston or pistons in your caliper put pressure on that one side.  A mechanism connected on the other side of the disc applies pressure as well, squeezing your disc so the vehicle stops.  Floating calipers are less expensive since the ... read more

Categories:

Brakes

Busted! Air Conditioning (Air Conditioning Maintenance)

Your vehicle's air conditioning is something you count on when the weather heats up.  But there's bound to be a day when you turn it on and one of these things happens: Only warm air blows out Cold air starts blowing out but then it turns warm on its own It's not blowing air at all It blows smelly air out Some people are tempted to try to make the diagnosis—and the repair—on their own.  They think it's just run out of refrigerant and they can pick up a can at a local auto parts store and re-charge it.   If only it was that easy. A vehicle's air conditioning system is complex and made up of many parts.  A compressor, evaporator, condenser, tubing, hoses, sensors, valves… the list goes on and on. Each of these components could be the reason for the problem.  It could be a leak that's letting the refrigerant escape, but simply re-charging the system hasn't fixed the problem. You have to find the source of the leak and fix it. Service faci ... read more

Categories:

Air Conditioning

Slippery When Wet (Driving on Wet Leaves)

When the leaves fall, you might take a sightseeing trip to see them at peak color.  Or you may simply live in a spot where there are a lot of trees.  When those leaves get wet, you'd be surprised to learn just how slippery they can be.  We all know ice is slippery to drive on.  What causes tires to slip on ice is a thin layer of water that comes between the road and your tires.  Wet leaves can have the same effect.  The surfaces of leaves are super slick when they're dry, even worse when you add a little moisture.  There's one other thing about leaves.  They are smaller than each tire's footprint, so your tread grips the pavement with uneven traction. One study showed that your stopping distance can more than double on a surface covered with wet leaves when compared to that same road when it's dry.  Double! That can spell trouble.  So if you find yourself heading into an area with wet leaves on the road, slow down before you get into a ... read more

The Neglected Windshield (Windshield Care)

You look at it every day, yet you don't really see it.  We're talking about your vehicle's windshield, and if you're not seeing it at all, that's probably a good sign.  The fact is that unless our windshields get fogged up, hazy or cracked, we don't pay all that much attention to them.  Considering how vital front visibility is in a vehicle, paying a little more attention to your windshield will pay off in the long run. Keep it clean!  In ancient times when gas stations had attendants who filled your tank for you, they used to clean the outside of your windshield while the fuel was being dispensed. In these days of self-serve gas, we don't have that luxury any more.  But it's a good idea to clean your windshield regularly, even when it's not filthy. If you let dirt build up on the outside, it acts like fine sandpaper when you turn on your wipers when the glass is dry. Really, try to avoid turning on your wipers unless your windshield is wet.  If you must u ... read more

Start Me Up (Ignition Systems)

When you start up your gasoline engine car, you may not know that it's using the same ignition principles as it has for decades.  You have spark plugs that require enough power so a spark can jump across a gap at its tip.  Years ago, a vehicle's 12-volt system had to produce 15,000-25,000 volts to do that, so engineers came up with something called an ignition coil that bumps up the voltage. It also has to be done at just the right interval called timing. The first systems had a distributor, a mechanical device with a rotating disc that switched the power to the ignition coil on and off.  That higher voltage then was sent to the spark plugs at the correct time interval. But the mechanical "points" had to be replaced and adjusted every 12,000 miles/20,000 kilometers.  Engineers later replaced the switching mechanism with solid state ones, but they still needed replacement after 120,000 miles/200,000 kilometers. The next evolution came in the 80's when the distributor ... read more

That Vexing Vapor Venting (Vapor Coming out of Vents)

You may have noticed sometimes on a hot and humid day, vapor will come out of your vehicle's vents when you have the air conditioning on.  Is that something to be concerned about? Well, it depends. Sometimes that steam or vapor can be caused by water accumulating in the vent system after it has condensed.  And sometimes water can pool at the bottom of a vent.  When you turn on the blower mower, the air hits the water and may create steam or vapor that you can see in the cabin. One thing to check is if that vapor smells like anything.  If it doesn't, that's a good sign. You may be able to run the fan for a while and the issue may just go away when things dry out.  But moisture collecting in the ventilation hoses in a hot vehicle may be a breeding ground for mold, and that can have health consequences. There's another possibility. Ventilation systems often have drains to get rid of any accumulated water, and debris can sometimes clog them.  A technician can ... read more

The New Blade in Town

If your windshield wipers are streaking and chattering when you turn them on in the rain or snow, it's time for a little "blade renewal." And when it comes to new wiper blades, there are some new designs that are worth a look. One of the latest is called the beam blade.  It's different than conventional blades you might be used to.  Instead of a metal frame and a rubber blade that slides in the frame on a track, the beam blades have an enclosed spring-steel band that allows the rubber wiper to conform to the windshield glass shape much more tightly.  There are some key advantages to beam blades, which is why many vehicle manufacturers are making them standard on their latest models.  For one thing, they work well in all weather conditions, including the heat of summer and the icy, snowy cold of winter.  Since there is no separate frame, snow and ice can't form in gaps like conventional wipers and prevent the blade from clearing your windshield.  Many beam ... read more

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