Maintenance Monday: Get Your Car Ready for Summer

Summer is quickly approaching, and while the sunshine is much anticipated, it’s important to get your car ready for the warmer weather. The heat, stop and go traffic and dusty roads all can take a toll on the reliability and performance of your vehicle. Here are a few simple tips to get your vehicle ready for the summer.

summer car maintenance

Cooling System
The most common cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. Cars have small but efficient radiators and cooling systems and only work properly if they are completely full of coolant. If there are small leaks that go undetected, you can bet that the cooling system will fail when it’s hot outside. Have the system checked thoroughly and change the fluid as per the manufacturer’s recommended service table. You should also keep your eye out for any leaks, and if you notice something is off, have your car checked out. If you decide to check the coolant level yourself, be careful and do not open the system when it is hot. Let it cool down overnight before you open the cap. If it’s low, make sure that you top it off with the correct fluid. There are several different types of coolant these days and some of them are not compatible with each other and can ruin your entire cooling system. In a pinch, clean water is always safe. It is never a bad idea to keep a gallon of fresh water in your trunk just in case you or your car gets thirsty.

Tires
Tires are one of the most overlooked service items. An under-inflated, over-inflated, worn down or misaligned tire can be extremely dangerous, particularly in hot summer weather. An under-inflated tire bulges outward and puts pressure on the sidewalls of the tire. With enough heat and pressure, that tire eventually can blow. An over-inflated tire, on the other hand, makes less contact with the road and can lead to hydroplaning in wet conditions.

Tire pressure changes with the rising temperatures — approximately one to two PSI (pounds per square inch) for every 10-degree increase in outside air temperature. Keep a tire pressure gauge in your car to ensure they are set to the correct pressure (usually, there is a sticker on the driver’s door jamb that specifies the level). Make sure you check the spare as well! Lastly, ensure that your tires have adequate tread. It helps to turn the steering wheel all the way to one side and look at the tread depth. There are wear indicators built into every tire, which are small rubber lines that run across the tread section and are located between the tread blocks. When the tread is at the same depth as the wear indicators, the tires will need to be replaced.

Air Conditioning
Just like anything else in your car, the A/C system requires routine service and a marginally operating system will fail in hot weather. The condition and level of the refrigerant are the leading factors in determining your A/C’s ability to cool. As the A/C refrigerant deteriorates, or leaks out, the system is less efficient.

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, and stay on steadily. If the compressor clutch is cycling or clicking every few seconds, then your system is low on charge and should be serviced. Most automotive repair shops have the ability to recharge the system — the service will usually cost less than $200 and can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. When you bring your car in, make sure the repair shop puts a tracer dye in the system when they perform the re-charge. This will ensure an accurate diagnostic of any potential leak if the system begins to deteriorate. The typical interval for most vehicles to have the A/C serviced is every 4 to 5 years, and if you keep it serviced, your A/C system will provide you with consistently cool performance.

These are just a few simple things you can do to get your vehicle ready for the summer.

Maintenance Monday: Buying a Used Car

The seasons are changing and flowers are blooming, which means it’s about that time to start planning summer road trips. You might be eyeing a newer vehicle to take on those trips, and if you decide to go the route of buying used, it’s important to understand how to avoid a lemon. Buying a used vehicle can be like rolling the dice on a craps table. Many people do not sell or trade in their vehicle unless they are having some sort of issue with it. There are plenty of good buys out there, however, and typically if the vehicle runs good and looks decent, it’s a keeper. Following a few simple rules will make your used vehicle purchase a safer one.

Maintenance Monday: buying a used car

The best purchases are typically from a private party who purchased the vehicle new and have properly maintained the vehicle. The general rule of thumb is that the fewer owners, the better. Ask for all of the maintenance records and repair history, because proper maintenance from day one is a great way to keep that vehicle reliable for the remainder of its life. Be cautious of buying a used car from a used car dealer – many of those vehicles were purchased at an auction house and may have underlying issues that even the dealer is not aware of. If you do end up negotiating a deal through a dealership, insist that you get a warranty so that if something does come up within a reasonable time period, they are responsible for it. Some problems don’t present themselves right away.

If you are buying from a private party or a car dealer, always insist on a test drive. The drive should be long enough to get a good feel for how the vehicle runs, handles, rides, brakes and accelerates. If something doesn’t feel right, sound right or smell right, walk away from the deal before it is too late. Here are the basic checks you should do:

  • Open the hood and look for obvious problems such as oil or coolant leaks.
  • Check the oil level on the dipstick – if the oil level is low, the engine may be burning or leaking oil. If the oil is very dark and thick, it might have been awhile since the last change.
  • Pull out the transmission dipstick. The fluid should be a pink or red color. If it is dark brown or has a burned smell, the transmission may have problems.
  • Look at the tires. Uneven wear usually means worn suspension parts that could be expensive to replace.
  • Turn everything on and off to see if it works. This includes the lights, turn signals, wipers, heater, defroster, air conditioner, power windows (front and rear), power seats, radio, power door locks, etc. Anything that doesn’t work should help you negotiate a lower price.

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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.

car_maintenance_monday

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!

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.

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.

Maintenance Monday: Is Your Car Trying to Tell You Something?

Your driving routine likely goes something like this: jump in the car, turn up the music, and get to your destination as quickly and safely possible. But when you are tuned into your favorite radio (or Pandora/Songza/Spotify) station, you might be oblivious to the sounds your car is making. Whether it’s a squeak or a clunk, some noises may lead to larger repairs if they are not dealt with accordingly. Here are a few examples of common noises and the systems that could be affected by them.

car maintenance monday

Does your car squeak when you apply the brakes?

Most vehicles are fitted with disk brakes, which use brake pads that squeeze against the brake rotors when you apply the brakes. There is a small metal warning tab affixed to the brake pad that is designed to squeak when the brake pads are getting low. The noise is very high-pitched and hard to miss. When you hear squeaking, the brakes will need to be inspected and possibly changed. No need to panic and call a tow truck, but head to your mechanic as soon as you can.

Does your car clunk or make a crunching noise when you go over bumps?

These noises indicate that something in your suspension needs attention. Suspension components are typically made out of metal and need to pivot so that the vehicle can go over bumps. The pivot point, or bushing, is typically made out of rubber and can dry out, crack, or tear over time. Once this happens, there will be a crunching noise when the suspension component articulates. Worn out suspension components will affect alignment, causing your car to feel unstable and tires to wear prematurely.

Does your car make a groaning sound that gets louder the faster you drive?

Anything that spins in a circular motion will have a bearing that makes it turn. Bearings require lubrication and are often factory-sealed and not serviceable. Over time, these bearings can dry out and fail, causing all sorts of problems. Typically, a worn bearing will start making a groaning noise around 15 mph and get progressively louder and higher-pitched as the vehicle moves faster. The noise may come and go as the vehicle is turned from left to right because the load is being transferred on and off of the failing bearing. If you hear this noise, it’s time to see your mechanic ASAP as a failing bearing can cause all sorts of other components to be damaged. (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…)

Maintenance Monday: Roadside Safety Tips

 

Maintenance Monday

 

Summer is quickly approaching and chances are a road trip (or five) is in your near future. However, with increased travel comes increased chances for car trouble. Whether it’s a flat tire, breakdown, or an accident, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some sort of roadside emergency in your lifetime. And if this happens on a busy street or freeway where you’ll have to contend with heavy traffic, a bad situation can quickly become worse.

If you have an emergency while driving, your personal safety should be your first priority. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are roughly 4,000 pedestrian fatalities every year, accounting for 12% of all traffic fatalities and 59,000 pedestrian injuries from roadway crashes. Practicing smart roadside safety can help prevent you from becoming an unfortunate statistic. Here are my safety tips to help prevent one accident from becoming two.

Move to Safety
Regardless of the situation, the first thing you must do is get your vehicle to a safe spot away from traffic. If you’ve been in an accident, motion for the other driver to do the same before assessing the damage. Even if you have a tire blowout or a flat, move out of the way before attempting a repair, even if it means damaging your car even further. The cost of a new tire could be minimal compared to any additional harm or damage that could occur.

Make the Call
Once you’ve moved to a safe location, stay in your car and call for help. If something is wrong with your car, call a tow truck or your insurance provider’s roadside assistance. If you’ve been involved in an accident, call the police and file a report, no matter how big or severe the accident is. The police will help sort everything out and determine who is responsible for what damages. If someone is injured, you should also call for emergency services immediately. And if you break down in a dangerous area, make sure to keep your doors locked until help arrives.

Stay Visible
Carry flags, flares, or reflective triangles in your vehicle so you can mark your location in the event of an emergency. You should also turn on your hazard lights so that other drivers have advanced warning of a problem ahead. Even if it’s a bright sunny day, it’s still important to alert other cars that something is wrong.

These are just a few simple things that can reduce the possibilities of turning a bad situation worse. If you do get involved in an accident as a Metromile customer, our customer service advocates are available to help you throughout the claims process.

Maintenance Monday: 5 Spring Cleaning Tips for a Healthy Car

 

Hello, Metromile community, Mechanic Matt here! Even if you aren’t driving a ton it’s still important to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. Just in time for spring cleaning, follow these simple steps to ensure your car stays healthy and reliable.

Healthy Car

1. Have your oil changed regularly. This isn’t a ploy for repair shops to make more money. It is important to change oil either at the recommended service interval or every 6 months, whichever is sooner. Engine oil can degrade and collect moisture if the car sits for too long, and moisture inside of an engine can be detrimental.

2. Check your (spare) tire pressure. Most tires will hold air indefinitely, however, some leak very slowly thus creating problems when you embark on a road trip. My advice? Check the spare also. The spare gets overlooked at most garages and is useless if it’s flat when you need it the most. The spare tires are usually in the trunk beneath the carpet.

3. Protect your vehicle from the elements. Spring brings sunshine and birds chirping, but that also means potential damage for your car. Wash it regularly to remove any contaminants that may be harming the paint (such as bird poop) and get it waxed at least once a year for protection. Ultraviolet rays can also degrade both the exterior and the interior. Keep the interior nice and pretty by installing a sunshade to keep direct sun off of the dashboard and lower the interior temperature of the vehicle tremendously.

4. Keep your battery charged. Even while your car is turned off, all vehicles have very small battery drains for the clock, radio presets, and computer memory. If your vehicle sits for long periods of time make sure to unplug cell phone chargers, GPS devices or anything else that uses a power port. If you are planning on storing your vehicle you should look into a battery tender, a small charger that keeps your battery topped off every day. It uses 110 A/C power so keep it close to an outlet.

5. Pay attention. Nobody knows your car quite like you do. You know how it sounds, feels, drives, and smells. When your car sounds, feels, drives or smells different, it is trying to tell you something. If you aren’t sure what an indicator on the dashboard is trying to tell you, check your owners manual. And if you are using the Metromile app it can also give you a diagnosis of your car’s running condition.

These are just a few simple things you can do to keep your vehicle alive and well.

-Mechanic Matt