Articles:

See the Light (Automatic High Beam Dimmers)

It's happened to all of us.  We're driving down a highway at night and over a crest appears a car with its high beams blazing.  You are momentarily blinded, hoping the other driver will switch them to their low beam setting and restore your vision. Not only do we not appreciate being blinded, face it; we don’t want to be that other driver, either.  You know, the one who forgets to turn down their high beams. Why do we want high beams in the first place? They can improve safety when used correctly, giving drivers more reaction time since they can see farther down the road.  But research has found many drivers either don't use them or, when they do, they frequently forget to switch to low beams.  Enter the automatic high-beam dimmer. The quest for the perfect one began back in the 1950s, General Motors invented something it called the "Autronic Eye." It was a phototube which sat on the dashboard and turned down your beams when it saw other headlights.  ... read more

Categories:

Headlamps

The Power Behind your Engine (Alternator Diagnosis and Repair)

There's nothing like that sinking feeling when you turn the key and nothing happens in your vehicle.  A lot of us are quick to blame the battery.  But it may instead be your alternator that's failing. Your battery supplies power to start your vehicle, but the alternator is what sends power when your engine is running.  The good news is alternators last a fairly long time, and it's not unusual to get seven years out of one. But they can give up the ghost thanks to the harsh conditions in the engine compartment. Alternators have bearings inside them that keep things turning smoothly.  Debris, liquid, dirt and more can team up with the high temperatures your engine generates to cause those bearings to seize up.  That's not good, and if that happens, you may even be able to hear the bearings grind. Other symptoms of a dying alternator are a squealing noise in the engine compartment or your headlights may go dim and bright, dim and bright.  You might even notic ... read more

Categories:

Alternator

The Right Oil for the Season (Engine Oil Viscosity)

As the temperatures plunge, certain types of engine oil may not flow as easily as they did when it was warmer.  Makes sense, doesn't it? Just like molasses gets thicker as the temperature goes down, engine oil does the same thing. So, maybe you're wondering if you have to change your oil as the seasons change so it's just the right thickness to lubricate your engine parts.  How well engine oil flows is called its viscosity. There are different types of oil—some that have just one viscosity and others called "multigrade" oils.  Here's the difference. A single viscosity oil will flow better when it's hot but not as well when it's cold.  A multigrade oil is engineered so that its flow properties at cold temperatures are different than they are at warm temperatures.  In other words, a multigrade oil can start out in colder temperatures acting like a thinner oil and then behave like a thicker oil when it's warm.  That's a pretty cool trick and it's why mu ... read more

Categories:

Oil Change

It Wears on You (Tire Rotation)

If someone told you there was a fairly inexpensive way to improve your vehicle's handling, fuel economy and extend the life of your tires, you'd probably ask, "What do I have to do?" The answer is to rotate your tires.  But you have to do it regularly. A lot of drivers think skipping tire rotation is a way to save money.  But when you don't rotate your tires, they will almost certainly wear unevenly.  That's because when your tires touch the surface of the road, the friction and traction causes miniscule parts of the rubber to come off.  And that process isn't exactly the same on each corner of your vehicle.  Some vehicles have the drive wheels in the front, some in the rear and some on all wheels. Rotating your tires at regular intervals minimizes the differences in the way the tires wear.  The amount and pattern will be spread out equally if your tires spend time at all different positions.  The more even the wear, the more consistent traction, hand ... read more

Categories:

Tires

Don't Do It Yourself (Perils of DIY Vehicle Repair)

Your vehicle is a complicated machine, and yes, it would be nice if you could take care of all of its problems yourself.  There was a time when vehicles were simpler and it wasn't too hard for a weekend mechanic to replace brakes, adjust a carburetor or perform a tune-up.  But vehicles are far more complicated these days, with traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, air bags and fuel injection just a small sample of the new technologies.  Like a lot of things these days, technology changes in leaps and bounds.  Anyone who repairs vehicles has to stay up on the latest computers, sensors, suspensions, steering, electronics, hydraulics and more.  Many power steering, braking and heating and air conditioning systems that used to be mechanical are now being replaced by electronic systems.  Computers are an integral part of  much of the latest automotive technology, something you didn't see a lot of until as recently as the 1990s. Today's most hig ... read more

No Strain, No Gain (The Basics of Oil Filters)

Ever wonder what one of the best things is to ever happen to your vehicle's engine?  It's the little thing that usually looks like a can, the oil filter. Just like your kitchen sink strainer filters out errant particles of food from clogging your drain, the oil filter cleans out small particles that could cause your engine harm. Your engine operates in a dirty, hot environment and gathers a lot of tiny contaminants like dirt, dust, little metal shards and unlucky bugs that get sucked in.  Get those things circulating in your engine and those little particles can cause friction, which starts wearing out those finely machined metal parts.  You know how important it is to change your oil regularly.  It's vital that you change your oil filter at the same time to keep the oil as close to brand new as possible. Most oil filters look like a metal can with some holes in the bottom.  Inside there are carefully chosen materials that can screen out the contaminants while ... read more

Give it the Boot (Ball Joint Boot Replacement)

Your vehicle may be wearing boots right now and you might not even know it.  They're called ball joint boots.  They're actually protective, flexible things that protect parts of your suspension (called ball joints) from all the hazards the road can fling at them.  If one of those ball joint boots fails and you don't get it replaced, the ball joints themselves could wind up failing, a repair that can be even more expensive.  Ball joint boots not only keep things like rocks, salt, water and dirt out of your ball joints, they also help the ball joints keep their lubrication inside and working properly.  To do that, the boots have to be made of a flexible material, sometimes rubber, sometimes a synthetic.  They do take a beating, exposed to temperature extremes and debris, and eventually they can tear or crack just because of their age.  Unless someone is keeping an eye on your ball joint boots, you may never know there's a problem.  That's why when ... read more

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

Not So Cool (Air Conditioning Systems)

There's nothing quite like getting in your vehicle on a hot day, switching on the air conditioning and having warm air blow out of the vents.  You may have had no problem for months and then, one day, you are driving around in a sauna. You're hot stuff, but not in a good way! So what goes wrong when the AC isn't working? It could be a lot of things because the system has many different components.  One thing that's a common cause is the vehicle is low on refrigerant (it used to be called Freon).  If that's the case, it's not as simple as simply adding more.  Sure, it may fix it quickly for a short time, but it's more likely than not that the refrigerant will just leak out again. The original Freon used in air conditioners was destroying the Earth's ozone layer, so that's not used much any more.  But the one that's currently used also contributes to global warming, so it's important that as little of that escapes as possible.  So a technician will determine ... read more

Categories:

Air Conditioning

Taking the Heat (Batteries in Hot Weather)

Quick question.  Which is tougher on a vehicle's battery, the heat or the cold? Believe it or not, it's the heat.  Think about it.  The battery often sits in the engine compartment next to that motor generating lots of heat.  That can accelerate corrosion in the battery and may even cause water in it to evaporate.  That will weaken the cranking power of your battery and shorten its life span. To take care of your battery, here are a few suggestions.  It's a good idea to have it checked out to see what shape it's in.  At your vehicle service facility, they have diagnostic equipment that can evaluate its condition.  That can help you know how long you can expect it to last before having to replace it.  At the same time, you should have your charging system evaluated.  If your battery is not getting charged properly, it can be in great shape but not very useful when it comes to starting your vehicle.  A technician will also check the ... read more

Categories:

Battery
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