The piercing, high-pitched squeal of defective brakes. When you hear it next to you from another car, it’s annoying. When you hear it from your own car, it’s scary.When is a little squealing just a natural mechanical sound of brakes doing their job, and when is it a sign of serious mechanical failure? Many mechanics will say that squealing from your brakes – even brakes on a reasonably new car or new brakes recently installed on a used car – is “normal.” That’s a misnomer. The condition is never “normal,” but it is “common.”
Modern brake pads (the plates used to protect the main metal parts in your braking system) and their linings are no longer made of asbestos (thanks to the EPA), but of tiny slivers of metal and other materials compressed tightly together. These high-tech brake pads and linings are much harder than asbestos. They have excellent friction qualities, but, unfortunately, they often make noise because of the metal fibers contained in them. If you rub metal on metal, even if it’s nearly microscopic metal fibers, you can imagine how you’re going to hear some squealing.
The trick is to determine whether the noise is a problem or just an annoyance.
Sometimes the sounds are the result of tiny variations in the surface of the pad. The newer type pads often don’t conform as easily to the surface of the rotor. For example when the perfectly sized asbestos pad (with its snug fit to your brake parts) was replaced by the high-tech metal fiber pad, either the newer pad wasn’t made to fit quite as well – or the metal fibers don’t adhere to the brake part as efficiently.
In such cases, the imperfect fit will leave tiny gaps in the brake pad’s service, leaving room for slight friction that can give rise to a squeal. In such cases, it’s not a major problem and not worth worrying about as a driver.
A squeak or squeal may also be the result of vibrations. If you’ve had a new set of brake pads installed and are hearing this sound, have the brake work re-checked by the mechanic that did the work. Chances are something was not installed properly. They should be looking for loose parts.
Changes in temperature or changes in the moisture content of the atmosphere also affect friction characteristics that can set off a round of squeaking and squealing. In these cases, intervention by your mechanic isn’t necessary.
However, when should you consult a professional to look at your brakes?
Drip, drip, drip: First, look down where car was parked after you move out a parking space. Are you leaking break fluid? You’re checking for stains or small puddles of fluid that don’t look like oil or coolant. Motor oil will probably have a brown or black look and feel slimy to the touch. Coolant will appear green and more watery. Brake fluid can look like fresh motor oil, but it doesn’t have that slimy feel. You’ll need to get your hands dirty, but check those puddles. If you’re leaking break fluid, consult a mechanic. You may need to check the seals or bleed the brake lines. Squeal, squeal, squeal: If the noise from your brakes is constant, you probably have a problem. Consult a mechanic immediately. He or she will check the brake calipers, brake shoes, master cylinder, etc. The cost of the potential repair will vary according to the fault. Scrape, scrape, scrape: One sound you should never hear from your brakes is the horrible scraping of metal on metal. In such cases, you have no brake pad left and are literally stopping your car by grinding your metal brake parts against each other. After only a few instances of this metal on metal friction, your brakes parts will be absolutely ruined. As soon as you hear such metallic scraping, call a tow truck and get to a mechanic. The money you spend on the tow will be nothing compared to the money you’d spend on an entire new brake system.
So, your brakes require a little detective work on your part. A sharp ear, a few dirty fingernails and some common sense will keep you going – or, in this case, stopping – for countless miles to come.
It’s bad enough when you have car trouble in your local neighborhood – or even in your own driveway. However, nothing could be worse or potentially more scary than have your car break down hundreds of miles from home. Vacations are supposed to be a time for fun and relaxation, but the difference between pleasure and misery often lies in whether or not you took the proper steps to get your car ready for that long trip.
Before you leave home, there are several simple steps you can take to protect your vehicle, your trip and your loves ones.
First, in case anything does go wrong with your vehicle, make sure you give a trip plan to someone trustworthy. Now, you can go to work on that car of yours.
You can tackle each of these quickly before you hit the road:
- Change oil and filter
- Begin your trip with a clean car, both inside and out. It will help you find your map when you need it, etc.
- Try not to put luggage over the car. It creates air friction and slows you down – bringing more gas. If it is unavoidable, cover with strong sheet and tie them very well.
- Keep a small garbage bag inside the car.
- Change air filter.
- Cover headlights and front of the car with a protective sheet to prevent bug clogs or other damage.
- Get an extra set of car belts.
- Change spark plugs.
- Make certain your tire iron and jack are in the car.
- Check your spare tire.
- Pack a fire extinguisher.
- Bring towels for cleaning dirty windshields, spills, etc.
- Get a spare key for the car and keep it in your wallet or elsewhere on your person
- in case you lock your keys in the car.
- Fix sun protectors for side windows and front windshield.
- Get enough cassette tapes or audio CD to cover the trip.
- Bring a plastic funnel to add water or other fluids Bring a water bucket in case you need to use a river or lake for emergency coolant.
- Always fill your gas tank when it is half full. Don’t wait too long.
- Make sure your owner’s manual is handy.
- In addition, you should make a checklist of items to pack in a car survival kit.
- These can include:
- A chain or think towing rope
- Electric charger wire
- Screw drivers and wrenches of different sizes
- Bunjee cords
- Before pack up, make one final check of the following:
- Tires condition
- Check tires tread and look for signs of strain, bulges or other damage.
- Tire pressure. Don’t over inflate.
- Wipers and wiper fluid. When the rain falls, you don’t want to discover your wipers are useless. In addition, bug hits can really mess a windshield, so you’ll need a full fluid reservoir.
- Flush radiator, if you haven’t done so in a while.
- Fuses and Horn.
- High and low beam headlights.
- Oil, power steering and brake fluid.
- Loose cables Heater and air conditioner, if making a seasonal trip.
Once your car passes muster, there are some tips for effective driving. After all, you may not be a part of your car, but if you’re not functioning properly, your car’s condition really doesn’t matter.
Know your limits and plan your trip around them. If the longest drive you have ever taken is 300 miles in a day, don’t plan a trip with a string of endless 500-mile days. Whether you are capable of riding 500 miles per day, or 1,000, the ability to make miles tends to decrease as the length of the trip increases.
Forget about high speeds. A steady driver can book more miles, enjoy more mountain vistas and drive more twisty miles than someone bent on making the best times across a mountain pass. You’ll also save on gas over the long haul.
Leave the Vivarin and coffee at home. If you get tired, pull over and rest. If it’s midway through the day, try a nap of about 30 minutes. If it’s getting dark, hole up in a motel. It’s not worth risking your safety if your body is telling you it needs rest.
Learn to avoid boredom. Long drives usually mean moving across areas that you might not consider prime spots. . For times like this, carrying a tape player with your favorite music or a book on tape can prove invaluable.
Finally, stay away from trucks. Truck drivers hate having anyone follow them. When you are behind a truck, you become a liability to them. Never tailgate. Instead of paying attention to the road, a trucker will start worrying about the people on their tailgate. After that, it doesn’t take much for disaster to follow.
With proper preparation before a trip, and a good attitude during a journey, you can make sure you not only survive a long trip – but also enjoy it.
Should You Repair Your Car Or Buy A New One? Unless you’re James Bond and sitting behind the wheel of a brand new, $250,000, gadget-armored V-12 Aston Martin Vanquish, it’s natural to dream of driving a better car, a newer model or just a more reliable vehicle – depending on the status of your current wheels. However, most of us live in a practical world of hard financial decisions, and the purchase of a new car is not to be taken lightly. So, when should you repair your car, and when should you buy new transportation?
This is obviously a subjective question without a clear, right or wrong answer. Many factors figure into this decision, and it shouldn’t be made lightly. If you figure that the average driver purchases perhaps only five to 10 cars in an entire lifetime, it’s not like deciding whether to buy a Hershey Bar.
First, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions. If money is a finite resource for you, as it is for most of us, have you properly budgeted and examined how much you can afford to spend on repairs as opposed to buying a new car?
In addition, you will obviously need to determine the nature of the malfunction. What broke down? Is it serious? What’s the total cost of parts and labor? What’s that expense compared to the total outlay of a down payment and new monthly payments on a replacement vehicle?
In most cases, you save significantly by fixing your current car as opposed to purchasing a new vehicle.
Be aware of how much new cars cost these days – regardless of whether you buy or lease. Even moderately priced smaller models (like Honda Civics, Toyota Tercels and Ford Escorts) can carry a sticker price of $15,000 loaded. If you lease the vehicle and add in the various related fees, the total amount spent climbs higher (and, you’re left with no equity after the lease period).
If the body of your current car is in reasonably good shape and the car suits your needs, take it to your mechanic and find out how much it would cost to bring it into mechanically good condition. You may find that, even if it needs transmission or engine work with new tires and shocks, these repairs may cost less than the sales tax on a new car. Check out your present vehicle thoroughly, then decide.
Beyond your personal budget for repairs, another way to check on whether it’s reasonable to repair your car is to check its current Kelley Blue Book value. A general rule of thumb is that if a cost of repairing your current car is less than 15% to 25% of your car’s total Blue Book value, it’s still worth repairing. Obviously, if you are finished making installment and your car is now an asset and payment-free transportation, it becomes an even wiser move to keep the car.
If you do choose to drop your old car, should you buy new or used? A two-year-old used car will cost significantly less than a new car – and, in many cases, it will look the same. Body styles change only once every four to six years, so you won’t be able to distinguish a three-year-old car from a new one.
On the other hand, there is the concern about buying a used lemon. A good mechanic should be able to tell whether the used car is in good shape and has not been in a major accident. You must check the reliability rating for the car you are looking at in an unbiased publication such as Consumer Reports. Remember that a properly selected and well maintained used car kept for five years will give you just as good service as a new car for about half the price.
The question of repairing, buying or leasing comes down to your personal preferences, finances and driving needs. When you make your final decision, be sure not to overreach yourself, and don’t give up on Old Faithful before her time.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with information about your auto repair and help you choose the right company. Over the years, I’ve learned that choosing the right repair shop can be confusing. In fact, people have so many misconceptions about auto repair shops that I decided to offer this consumer information so when you need to select an auto repair company, you can make an informed, intelligent decision.
In this report, I’ll share with you four costly misconceptions about getting your car repaired, offer a few suggestions to help you save time, and then I’ll give you six questions you should ask every auto repair company before you set up an appointment.
Here’s Misconception #1
Your car manufacturer specifies regular maintenance schedules just to get you to back into their shop to make more money off of you.
No. Although manufacturers are making cars that last longer and require less overall maintenance, they do require some preventative maintenance.
If maintained properly, you can expect your car to go over 100,000 miles without major service. For instance, most engines have timing belts that must be replaced before they wear out and break and cause even more expensive damage.
A shop can give you an accurate price quote over the phone without seeing your car.
NO. You can waste your time calling 20 different shops and get 20 different price quotes and chances are every one of them will be wrong. Unless the shop has had a chance to examine or test drive the car in person, there is no way to accurately diagnose your problem and give you an accurate price quote.
Beware of any shop that is willing to give you a quote over the phone without seeing the car. Most likely they’ll tell you a real low price just to get you to set up an appointment. Then they’ll probably hit you with a much higher price once you get there.
Most repair shops will recommend extra work just to get you to spend more money.
The fact is, any repair shop that doesn’t look for potential problems is actually doing you a great disservice. Quality repair shops do a 68-point inspection on every car that comes into their shop to uncover those inexpensive repairs that may be needed now, before they turn into major expenses later.
Something as simple as discovering and then changing a worn belt may save you the danger and embarrassment of breaking down on a busy highway and an expensive towing charge.
All repair shops are the same.
No. In fact, there can be a huge difference between repair shops. The new car technology requires constant training to keep up with all the changes. It also requires the shop to have the latest diagnostic equipment available.
The repair shop with the best trained and certified mechanics and most up to date equipment will usually do the best repair for you.
Here are a few suggestions that will help you choose a good, reputable repair shop:
- First, ask around. Has anyone you know had a good or a bad experience with a particular repair shop?
- Next, try to find a shop that has a lot of repeat customers. Customers are more likely to stay with a repair shop that they trust and one that does a good job for them.
- And finally, make sure they guarantee all their work with at least a 6 month / 6000 mile warranty.
Now, here are the six questions that you must ask any auto repair shop before you set up an appointment:
- Do they have the most up to date training and diagnostic equipment for your particular make of car?
- If they give you an estimate over the phone, will they absolutely guarantee the price?
- Do they do a full safety inspection for free to uncover any other potential problems?
- Are all their technicians ASE Certified?
- Will they pickup and deliver your vehicle for you, or offer you a ride to and from work the day your car is being serviced?
- Do they Guarantee all their work with at least a 12 month / 12,000 mile nationwide warranty?
By following my suggestions and asking the repair shop these questions, you’ll gain all the information that you need to make an informed, intelligent decision.
They’re several basic truths throughout the world of mathematics. Two plus two always equals four. The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is represented by the Greek letter Pi. And, it’s almost always cheaper in the end to maintain your car properly instead of investing in major repair bills or, in a worst case scenario, a new vehicle.
Not only does such affordable maintenance help to steer you clear of expensive major repairs, but such forethought protects you against every motorist’s nightmare – a breakdown on a busy freeway or during a long trip several miles from civilization.
Basic maintenance includes taking your car into the shop for regular checks of your brakes, timing belt, transmission, sparkplugs, ignition system, fuel injectors or carburetor and belt and hose replacements.
Now, such routine checks are not free, and you should be prepared to bring your vehicle in for check-ups several times throughout a year. However, the cost of these simple procedures dwindles in comparison to catastrophically expensive failures that leave you needing a new transmission, new cylinders or an entire brake system.
A good mechanic’s labor usually runs anywhere between $75 to $120 dollars, depending on where you live. That means your labor bill alone could push up into the hundreds of dollars, and you haven’t even bought your parts yet.
In addition, new car prices continue to push up into the low five-figures, while it’s almost impossible to snag a solid used car for less than $5,000 to $10,000.
Meanwhile, basic maintenance procedures, like oil changes (usually $30 to $50 for the complete procedure at most auto shops) and coolant system flushes, are so quick and comparatively inexpensive that there’s no reason not to treat your car right and keep it on top of its game.
In fact, an oil change presents the perfect opportunity to take full inventory of your vehicle. Many good repair shops make a point of checking all of your car’s vital systems when you bring it in for its 3,000 mile black gold transfusion.
What steps can you take to properly maintain your car and make sure you won’t be heading into the repair shop or the dealership against your will?
First, if you want to keep your current vehicle in solid working order, carry out preventive maintenance with the help of a trusted mechanic. It’s much cheaper because major repairs are labor intensive and far more expensive than the cost of preventive maintenance. Motorists can easily double or even triple the life spans of their present cars simply by performing the proper maintenance, practicing good driving habits, and avoiding the kinds of mistakes that send most cars to the junkyard. For example, drive gently during a new car’s first 50 miles. Vary your speed for the first 1,000 miles of the car’s life. Failing to do so results in improper setting of the piston rings that leads to increased oil consumption throughout the life of the car. Also, have your mechanic change the oil promptly after the first 1,500 miles to eliminate bits of metal and grit found in a new engine. Consider those first miles a shakedown period – just as you would the first voyage of a sailing ship.
In addition, avoid sudden stops. Accelerating aggressively only to slam on the brakes at the next traffic light does not save time. It only causes needless wear on your engine, transmission, suspension and brakes. Anticipate traffic patterns to keep your speed as constant as possible. Since most lights on city streets have timed lights working in unison with each other, you’re not going to beat them all unless you observe the speed limit.
In the early days of automobiles, brakes were so unreliable that prudent drivers always shifted into a lower gear when descending hills or approaching busy intersections. Today, brakes are very advanced and safe. They’re also far less costly to repair than the engine and transmission components. Use engine braking only when descending a long, steep grade. At all other times, use your brakes.
When you first start your car, let it warm up a bit before moving. Most engine wear occurs in the first moments after you start your car – when the cylinders need cold oil.
To avoid trouble later, let your engine idle with your foot off the accelerator pedal for about one minute. Once you are under way, drive slowly and avoid using your heater and other power-hungry accessories until the engine reaches its proper operating temperature – after about three minutes. Accelerating briskly with a cold engine can cause the engine’s head gasket to fail. Premature use of accessories speeds wear of engine bearings, since they are not yet well oiled.
Finally, never forget the most obvious and well-publicized steps in car maintenance – changing the air filter and the oil.
For many motorists, oil maintenance means simply adding the occasional quart of 10W40. In fact, 10W30 offers far more protection against engine wear than 10W40. Manufacturers now recommend 5W30 for some models.
By the time you are a quart low, it is time for another oil change. Make sure your mechanic changes conventional motor oil once every three months or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.
As for the filter, switch from a disposable pleated-paper air filter to a reusable wetted-foam filter, if possible. The cost should run about $20 to $40. To lock out dirt, apply a thin layer of grease to the seal between the filter and the filter housing.
Despite manufacturer’s claims, the pleated paper filters neither reduce engine wear nor boost performance. In general, when you compare the odd $30 to $50 fine-tuning procedures to the cost of a major repair with expensive parts in labor, it’s a no-brainer. Save yourself and your wallet a little heartache and stay on top of your basic maintenance.
Every car, except the rare electric vehicles, has a tailpipe and gives off exhaust. However, some cars just go too far.
You see them driving down the street every day – cars with thick, smelly smoke billowing from their tailpipes. Not only is it impossible to see through and unpleasant to get stuck behind on the road, you know that what you’re seeing cannot be good for the air!
However, what do you do when your car is the offender? It all depends on what manner of smoke your car is sharing with the world.
During normal operation, the emissions from a car’s tailpipe should be invisible. But, what if they’re not? Should you be worried if you notice what looks like smoke? What should you do?
Proper modern service shops employ diagnostic machines capable of pinpointing the cause of bad emissions in a matter of minutes. The cost is typically around $50. Still, there are steps you can take to monitor your car’s exhalation:
Thin white vapor: Don’t worry.
A thin cloud of white vapor that quickly dissipates after leaving the tailpipe is probably the result of normal condensation buildup inside the exhaust system. It should disappear after only a minute or two of engine operation. It may even be accompanied by a slow drip of water. This is a common sight when cars, even new ones, are first started in the morning, since condensation builds up overnight like dew on the grass.
Blue or gray smoke: See a mechanic.
Thick blue or gray smoke that doesn’t dissipate quickly is most likely the result of oil burned in the engine’s combustion chamber. It can be caused by something as minor as clogged oil passages, or it may point to something more serious that could require extensive engine work –like an oil leak caused by weak seals around the pistons.
If your engine is burning enough oil to produce visible exhaust smoke, the oil level will drop over time and require periodic top-offs. That will cost you because motor oil isn’t free. (Just ask the Saudis!) Worse still, burning oil can foul the engine’s spark plugs, causing breakdowns ranging from rough idle and reduced fuel mileage to hard starting and sluggish acceleration.
On turbocharged and fuel-injected vehicles, the presence of bluish-gray exhaust smoke may indicate turbocharger failure, especially if accompanied by a high-pitched whine. The turbo may need to be repaired or replaced. The oil lines to and from the turbo should also be replaced. A properly experienced mechanic will be able to take care of both.
Regardless of the cause of this type of smoke, you should have the vehicle checked out by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
Black smoke: First, replace your air filter. If it doesn’t clear, see your mechanic.
Black, sooty smoke is usually symptomatic of an engine that’s burning too much fuel and nearing collapse. Because engines run inefficiently when cold, they use extra fuel at start-up to ensure a smooth idle and hesitation-free acceleration. If the smoke clears up as the engine warms to operating temperature, it’s probably nothing worth your worry.
Should the smoking persist, a clogged or dirty air filter is a likely culprit. On carbureted vehicles, the choke and choke linkage could also have a buildup of gum and varnish. If the filter checks out OK, a faulty sensor, a clogged fuel injector or another intake-system component may be the cause.
Because of the vast complexity of modern fuel-injected engines, your best bet may be to have the car checked out by a mechanic with specializes in these types of repairs.
Thick white smoke: Call a tow truck and head to your mechanic.
Unlike the wispy white vapor described above, billowing white smoke is usually an indication of serious engine trouble and warrants immediate attention.
If you continue to drive the vehicle, the engine could overheat and suffer extensive damage. Smoke of this sort is usually caused by the engine burning coolant, and can be the result of a blown head gasket, a damaged cylinder head or a cracked engine block. Such serious failures can mean a new engine or an engine rebuild – or even a new car entirely.
Even a small coolant leak can lower the engine’s fluid level, resulting in overheating and catastrophic engine damage like a seize-up. A coolant leak into the engine’s oil system may not cause any tailpipe smoke but could cause the oil to become thin and milk. Finally, the coolant can turn to brownish sludge – which is useless to your engine. These conditions also require immediate attention.
You shouldn’t panic when a little puff comes from your tailpipe, but keep an eye on it. Your vigilance and knowing what to do in these worst-case scenarios could mean the difference between a a minor adjustment and a major repair.