Maintenance Monday: Keep Your Car in Better Shape This Year

It’s good to start the year off with positive intentions, like resolving to lose weight, to stop smoking or to keep better care of your vehicle. There are a couple of simple things that we can do to keep our vehicles more reliable and safe through the entire year, so here are my car maintenance tips on how to get your vehicle ready for 2016.

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1. Check the battery. Most batteries are designed to last approximately 5 years. Batteries begin their life with around 650 CCA (Cold Cranking Amps), which is the amount of reserve capacity that the battery can hold. With a new battery, you can (but shouldn’t) leave your lights on for hours and your car will still start. As the battery “ages,” the internal plates develop oxidation and cannot produce the same amount of reserve capacity. There is little we can do to prevent or slow this process down, so we need to make sure we change the battery before it leaves us stranded. Batteries typically have a date code imprinted on them, so you can look to see when the battery was installed. If it is close to that 5-year limit, have it changed. Sometimes, your car will let you know the battery is getting weak by cranking slowly upon start up. If you think the engine sounds slower than normal, you are probably correct. Most automotive repair shops will do a complimentary battery and charging system inspection, so be proactive and have this done sooner rather than later.

2. Check your tires. There are three things to check for while looking at your tires. The first and most easy is to check is the air pressure in all five tires. Wondering how a car can have five wheels!? The spare tire, which is usually in the trunk, often gets missed when the vehicle is serviced. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a flat tire and finding out your spare is flat as well. There should be a sticker on the driver’s door jamb that has your car’s recommended tire pressure, so do yourself a favor and fill up all of the tires to the correct pressure.

The next thing to check is the tire tread depth and condition. All tires will have as “wear indicator” that lets you know when the tread has reached 2/32 of an inch. This wear indicator is discreet and located between some of the tread blocks. If the tire tread is the same depth as the wear indicator, it is time to change your tires.

Lastly, we need to make sure that the tires are not too old. Rubber can dry out over time and cause the tires to get hard and eventually fail due to age. The Department of Transportation (DOT) recommends changing your tires when they are 10 years old. You can determine how old your tires are by locating the DOT number on one side, and the last four digits of that number designate the week and year that tire was manufactured. If the tire read DOT 45684 2512, they were made in the 25th week of 2012. Now just because you bought your tires a few years ago does not mean that the tires are only a few years old. Tires can be several years old before you purchase them. Give your tires a good look at and you might prevent a roadside catastrophe.

These are just two simple things we can do as a New Year’s Resolution to keep our vehicles safe and reliable. In my opinion, they take way less time than making it to the gym!

Don’t Drive Much? How to Save (and Even Make) Money

Just because you own a car doesn’t mean you are regularly taking it out for a spin. Perhaps you only use it when you are heading on a road trip, grabbing groceries from the store, or rushing to work when you “didn’t hear your alarm”. When you realize you’ve only clocked 5,000 miles in the past year, you might feel pressed to justify such a large investment. But it’s your car, it’s your way of driving your friends to the beach this weekend. We get it, which is why we compiled some easy ways to keep your car running smoothly and maybe even leverage it to earn some extra cash.

drive less car tips

Know the basics: There’s no need to spend a lot of time on car maintenance when you aren’t driving much, but there are a few tips to remember in order to avoid costly repairs. Know how to deal with a flat tire and keep your tires properly inflated. It’s also important to change your oil on a regular basis as it keeps your car running smoothly and extends the life of the vehicle. Lastly, fix your brakes if they are squeaky because that likely means the brake lining is starting to wear thin.

Be smart about car storage: If you are leaving your car idle for a long time, the ideal place to store it is in a garage because it prevents theft and also protects against the elements like that blazing summer sun. Garage parking can be expensive, especially in the city, so if you don’t need frequent access to your car you should shop around for the cheapest garage space instead of paying a premium to park in the closest garage. If the most viable option is keeping it outside, consider purchasing waterproof car cover to keep it clean to save on long-term costs of wear and tear.

Try pay-per-mile insurance: If you are a low-mileage driver and drive less than 10,000 miles a year (around 200 each week) you could save a lot of money with pay-per-mile insurance. Your monthly bill is based on the miles you drive, so if you don’t drive much, you won’t pay much. Worried about the occasional road trip? Metromile won’t bill you for more than 150 miles a day (250 in WA)! If you are interested in seeing how much money you could save, try getting a free insurance quote.

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Maintenance Monday: Keep Your Car Safe All Winter Long

Many of us just turned back our clocks for Daylight Savings which means shorter, colder days are soon to be upon us. So as you break out your sweaters from storage and invest in a few space heaters, it’s also important to make sure your car is winter-ready. Wet roads, dark commute hours, ice, snow and cold temperatures all put a strain on our vehicles and could lead to costly accidents, so it’s important to take precautions before it’s too late. Although winter doesn’t officially start until next month, there are some things that we can do ahead of time to prepare for the chill.

Maintenance Monday

Ensure your tires have tread.

Tires are the most important component to safe winter driving. It doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you drive, the tires are the only contact your vehicle makes with the road. The area where the wheel touches the ground is called the contact patch, and while it’s small in size, it’s important to keep it as efficient as possible. Tires are designed to expel water, snow and other road debris so that the tire tread does not fill up and lose contact with the ground. If the tread loses contact, your car will hydroplane and you could totally lose control. Avoid this by ensuring your tires are in good shape and have about 1/3 of an inch of tread. You can measure with a penny – simply take the coin and hold it with Lincoln’s head facing down. If the penny goes in past the top of his head, the tires are good, but if the tread does not reach the top of his head, the tires need to be replaced. Keep in mind that even though the tires seem fine, lower tread depths are still less efficient are and may have problems if pushed too hard.

The other component that keeps the contact patch efficient is vehicle speed. If there is a lot of water or debris on the road surface, slow down. This allows the debris to be expelled through the tread more efficiently and keeps the tire firmly planted on the road.

Check your wiper blades.

Functioning wiper blades are very important in maintaining full road visibility. Winter months are cold and dark, and when the roads are wet, the light from your headlights bounces off of the road surface and makes it more difficult to see. If your windshield is wet, dirty or streaky, visibility will be impaired even more, which can potentially lead to errors in judgment and ultimately an accident. Wiper blades are inexpensive and can usually be purchased for $30 or less at most auto parts stores or online.

Inspect the engine coolant.

Engine coolant is made up of over 50% of water. The rest of the coolant is comprised of chemicals that help lubricate the water pump, keep the engine cool and prevent it from freezing. If you live in an area that gets below freezing temperatures, it is important to have your coolant changed or at least checked before the temperatures get too low. If the coolant in your engine freezes, it can expand to the point where something inside of your engine cracks or causes the radiator to break. Both of these situations can be very expensive since a whole new engine will be needed. Take control of that situation and have your cooling system inspected before the freeze.

These are just a few things that you can do to keep you and your vehicle safe during the winter months.

Break These “Bad Car Habits” Before They Start

For the last post in our new car owner series, we are going to shake things up a bit and focus on the things you shouldn’t do. If you recently purchased a new car (congrats!), there are a few habits you should avoid from the get-go so you can maintain your car’s value if you ever decide to sell. While it might sound counterintuitive to start thinking about selling your car soon after buying it, you will get the most bang for your buck when you take good care of your valuable investment from day one.

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Ditch the dirt.
There’s no harm in becoming borderline-obsessed with keeping your new ride squeaky clean. While it’s totally fine to skip a wash or two, don’t let it become a habit. Things like sunlight, rain and even bird poop can wear away at a new car’s finish. Stay mindful of the dirt that can build up and have your car washed a couple times each month, either at your local carwash or at home if you have space (a great way to save money). If you are living in California amidst the drought, check out this article about how to wash your car with a single cup of water. It is also recommended that you get a full detail a few times a year, which is likely offered at the carwash as well.

Avoid aftermarket accessories.
It’s tempting to personalize your car to truly make it “yours”, but be weary of tweaks that can’t be undone. Avoid any add-ons that alter powertrain or safety equipment – this can interfere with your car’s warranty. Even things like bumper stickers can leave residue and reduce your car’s value. Stick to things that can be easily switched out like an air freshener or the classic fuzzy steering wheel cover.

Control the mess.
It’s your car, so you can do whatever you want in there. But do keep in mind that every time you take your dog for a spin, light a cigarette or chow down on a burger, there is a chance you could damage the interior. Plus, eating while driving is considered distracted driving and unsafe. Be mindful of how you treat your car’s interior and you’ll be proud to give your friends a ride instead of trying to mask a lingering stench. (more…)

Maintenance Monday: How to Keep Your New Car in Tip-Top Shape

Purchasing a new car can be very exciting. From the initial research to negotiating with the dealership to showing it off to all of our friends, it feels good to have finally bought a new car. But after the purchase you need to focus on keeping that new car looking and driving like new. Let’s face it, your car will never look the same as it did when you drove it off the lot. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your new ride in pristine condition.

Maintenance Monday

1. Have the exterior waxed. The paint on your vehicle will have to deal with some pretty harsh conditions over the years such as extreme heat, UV rays, rock chips, bird droppings, and even snow and salt. Having the exterior professionally waxed every year will create a protective layer on the exterior surfaces that will help in minimizing the effects of the elements, keeping your new ride looking sharp for many years to come.

2. Avoid the temptation to apply a bunch of shiny protectants to the interior. Although these products will make things look shiny and smell good, they can actually remove the plasticizers out of the interior finishes, increasing the likelihood of age or sun related cracking. There are products that are designed to clean interior surfaces with a Ph-balanced solution but use them sparingly.

3. Regular preventive maintenance is probably the most important thing you can do as a new car owner to keep your car healthy. Anyone who’s spent a ton of money on repairs will warn you not to ignore preventive maintenance. The basics, such as changing your oil, checking your tire pressure and getting scheduled inspections and are like getting regular checkups at the doctor. This keeps your car healthy and also gives a chance to catch anything serious before it becomes a major problem. That could save you thousands down the road.

4. Pay attention to recalls. We have all seen small problems turn into major ones when the dealerships sell products that have safety defects. Some of these problems do not become apparent until years after the vehicle was made. Manufacturers are proactive these days in alerting the consumer of these issues, so pay attention to them. You may receive a voluntary recall notice in the mail years after the purchase, so make sure you take the necessary steps as soon as possible so that your car stays safe and reliable for years to come.

These are just a few simple things that you can do to keep your new ride looking good and running smooth.

Car Maintenance 101: What to Do When You Get a Flat

If you’ve never gotten a flat tire – lucky you! And if you have, maybe you wish you had been a little more prepared to deal with this all-too-common yet extremely frustrating situation. While most cars typically come equipped with a spare, there’s more to fixing a flat than simply calling a tow truck or learning how to change your tire. Follow these tips to ensure that you don’t lose steam the next time your tire loses air.

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Take preemptive measures.
Underinflated tires are one of the most common causes of flats because they create more friction, potentially leading to excessive heating. Overinflated tires are concerning as well because they can cause uneven wear on the treads and blowout if they get too hot. To avoid both of these scenarios, use a tire gauge to ensure your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI level, which you can find in your car owner’s manual or door jamb. And since you never know when you will encounter a bump in the road (both hypothetically and realistically speaking), make sure your spare tire is properly inflated as well.

You should also keep an eye on your tires to check for anything that looks off. While it’s pretty difficult to eyeball the ideal PSI level, you’ll be able to notice if your tire pressure seems super low or if there are any weird bulges. It’s also important to keep an eye on your tire treads to see if they start to look worn out. Try this quick trick: stick a penny in the treads with Lincoln’s head upside down, and if you can see all of his head, it’s time to replace your tires. Head to your local mechanic to check things out before it’s too late (cue the scary music).

You’ve got a flat – now what?
Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire… or a flat tire. When your tire is so flat that the rim is grinding against the road, the friction will cause smoke. As if we needed to tell you this, smoke coming from your car is a strong indicator that you should pull over as soon as possible. Ideally, you should get off the highway, but if that isn’t an option you should stop where the shoulder is wide enough. Mechanic Matt has some good roadside safety tips, including the importance of setting out flares even in broad daylight. Once you are safely pulled over, go ahead and put on your spare if you know how to change your tire. If you don’t, just call a local towing company. If you are far from home, Yelp is a great way to find the most reliable services in the area. (more…)

Don’t Drive Much? How to Save (and Even Make) Money on Your Car

Just because you own a car doesn’t mean you are regularly taking it out for a spin. Perhaps you only use it when you are heading on a road trip, grabbing groceries from the store, or rushing to work when you “didn’t hear your alarm”. When you realize you’ve only clocked 5,000 miles in the past year, you might feel pressed to justify such a large investment. But it’s your car, it’s your way of driving your friends to the beach this weekend. We get it, which is why we compiled some easy ways to keep your car running smoothly and maybe even leverage it to earn some extra cash.

drive less car tips

Know the basics: There’s no need to spend a lot of time and money on car maintenance when you aren’t driving much, but there are a few tips to remember in order to avoid costly repairs. Know how to deal with a flat tire and keep your tires properly inflated. It’s also important to change your oil on a regular basis as it keeps your car running smoothly and extends the life of the vehicle. Lastly, fix your brakes if they are squeaky because that likely means the brake lining is starting to wear thin. There’s no need to stop your car on the side of the road, but you should get them serviced soon after you hear the noise. If you are hungry for more car maintenance advice, we had one of our customer experience advocates share her favorite tips.

Be smart about car storage: If you are leaving your car idle for a long time, the ideal place to store it is in a garage because it prevents theft and also protects against the elements like that blazing summer sun. Garage parking can be expensive, especially in the city, so if you don’t need frequent access to your car you should shop around for the cheapest garage space instead of paying a premium to park in the closest garage. If the most viable option is keeping it outside, consider purchasing waterproof car cover to keep it clean to save on long term costs of wear and tear. Read more in our recent blog post about car storage tips.
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Beat the Heat: Summer Car Maintenance Tips

It’s hot out there. As tempting as lounging at the pool or beach all day may be, sometimes it’s just not feasible. You’ve got places to go, people to see. And if a car is needed to get things done, the sweltering temperatures can lead to a malfunctioning A/C, burning hot steering wheel, or even a dead car battery. While we can’t bring you cooler weather, we can help you beat the heat with these hot weather car maintenance tips.

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Prevent battery meltdowns: Cold weather can trigger problems with your car’s battery, but hot weather is actually just as brutal. Excessive heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, resulting in a malfunction in the charging system. This will potentially destroy the battery. It’s a good idea to have your car inspected for safety and serviced before you head out on a summer road trip.

Get the most out of your air conditioning: Your A/C should also be serviced regularly, but if it still doesn’t seem cold enough, Mechanic Matt has some tips on how to get the most out of your system. If you are in a dry climate with low humidity, use the “fresh air” setting to bring in outside air, which allows the A/C system to cool more efficiently. And if you live in a humid area, set the A/C to “recirculate”, which eliminates the use of high-moisture outside air and makes it easier for the A/C system to cool things down.

Keep an eye on your coolant levels: Your cooling system is working overtime to keep your engine from overheating. To keep it working efficiently, make sure the coolant and distilled water mixture is 50:50. But never open a hot radiator cap, because hot pressurized coolant can spray out! If you aren’t a DIY kind-of-person, your mechanic can change the coolant for you. This should typically be done once a year, but you should check your owner’s manual for recommendations on the frequency.

Avoid sauna status: If you aren’t lucky enough to find that coveted shady spot, your parked car can quickly turn into a sauna. This unfortunate predicament can result in a burning hot steering wheel, a faded interior, and a whole lot of sweat. Consider buying a windshield sun shade which shields your car’s interior from the hot blazing sun. When you return to your car, open the doors for a few minutes to let heat escape, because glass windows insulate heat inside. You could also leave your window cracked (just a bit – you don’t want someone to be able to reach inside!) or get your windows tinted. (more…)

Car Storage: What to Do When You Don’t Drive Much

Does your car ever sit unused for an extended period of time? Whether it’s because of a long vacation (lucky you!) or a newly found appreciation for public transportation, we’re big fans of using your car less. However, you don’t want a dead battery or engine problem the next time you decide to take your car for a spin. Follow these precautions to ensure your car is in running condition the next time you need to use it.

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First things first: where should you keep your idle car stored? The ideal place is in a garage because it prevents theft and also protects against elements like that blazing summer sun or a torrential downpour. If you don’t have access to a garage, look for a car storage service, which is typically offered by most major storage companies. If the most viable option is keeping it outside you should consider purchasing a waterproof car cover to keep it clean. Regardless of where your car is stored, there are a few things you should do before leaving it in hibernation mode:

  1. Keep it clean: All dressed up and nowhere to go? It may seem silly to get your car nice and spiffy just to keep it locked away, but dirt and residue can eat away at your car’s exterior if left on for a long time.
  2. Fill’er up: It might also seem contradictory to fill up your gas tank to go… nowhere, but this will prevent moisture from accumulating inside the fuel tank. Excess condensation can lead to acceleration problems, and when the inevitable winter chill returns, a fuel line freeze. If you will be storing for a very long time, it also might help to purchase a fuel stabilizer to prevent gasoline from becoming gummy. Plus, you’ll be pleased to find a full tank of gas the next time you drive!
  3. Don’t lose power: All vehicles typically experience a very small amount of battery drain, even while turned off. Mechanic Matt suggests purchasing a battery tender, a small charger that keeps your battery topped off every day.
  4. Get some air: Use a tire gauge to make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended tire pressure (follow @Metromile to find us at a local event where we give them away for free). If the tires are under-inflated, head to the gas station to add some air because flat spots can develop as the vehicle’s weight presses down on the tires. Even while idle. It could also help to have an air compressor on hand to quickly inflate a flat if a gas station isn’t in close proximity.

When you are ready to brush those cobwebs off your car (hypothetically speaking, hopefully) do a quick inspection before starting the engine. Check the windshield wipers, tire pressure, fluid levels, brakes, and under the hood to see if anything looks off. If it’s been awhile and you are uneasy about the condition, take your car into your local mechanic for a professional opinion. And if you are often leaving your car unused, you could be a great candidate for per-mile insurance because your monthly bill is based on the miles you drive. Check out metromile.com/insurance to learn more!

Maintenance Monday: Get the Most out of Your Car’s A/C

 

Maintenance Monday

Summer is upon us and those triple digit days are right around the corner. Is your car’s air conditioner ready? Here are some simple things that I suggest you do to get the most out of your A/C system:

My A/C was recently serviced but still doesn’t seem cold enough.

If your car’s A/C system has been recently serviced but still doesn’t seem cold enough, you can maximize its efficiency by following these easy steps. If you are traveling in a low humidity or dry climate such as Arizona, use your car’s “Fresh Air” setting. This brings in the outside air and allows the A/C system to cool the hot, dry air more efficiently. If you are traveling in a humid area, set your air conditioner to “Recirculate”. This will eliminate the use of the high-moisture outside air, making it easier for the A/C system to cool off the air and keeping you nice and comfortable.

Why isn’t my air conditioner blowing cold anymore?

It’s probably due to a lack of regular maintenance. Just like everything else in your car, like the brakes, hoses, and tires, the A/C system also requires routine service. The condition and level of the refrigerant is the leading factor in determining your A/C’s ability to cool. As the A/C refrigerant deteriorates or leaks, the system is less efficient at turning the liquid into a gas. This transition makes the gas cold. If you suspect your A/C system is low on refrigerant, most automotive repair shops have the ability to recharge the system. This service will usually cost less than 200 dollars, but can save you thousands of dollars in the long run as systems running low on refrigerant can damage very costly components within the A/C system itself.

One trick in determining if your A/C system is low on refrigerant is to start your vehicle, put the A/C on “High” and listen for the compressor clutch to come on. The compressor clutch will make one loud click sound as it engages. It should stay on steady. If the compressor clutch is cycling or clicking every few seconds, your system is low on charge and should be serviced. (more…)