Replace Your Brakes Tips

Just as your gas mileage will vary depending on where and how you drive, so it goes with the life of brake pads (or linings), the friction material that gets pressed against a metal disc or drum to stop your vehicle. How long will they last? That depends on a lot of factors.

If you drive only 8,000 miles a year but it’s mainly in a crowded urban area such as Chicago, Boston or Washington, D.C., you will need to replace brake pads more often than someone who drives 28,000 miles a year across the flatlands of Nebraska. You use your brakes a lot more in urban driving than on a rural highway.

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut schedule that tells you when it’s time to replace the brakes, so you need to rely on your ears and the advice of an experienced automotive technician. Most vehicles should have their tires rotated at least every six months, and that is a good time to have the brakes inspected, as well. A mechanic can check the thickness of the pads and the condition of the brake hardware to spot wear.

Many cars have built-in wear sensors that scrape against a brake disc when the linings needed replacing. The driver will hear an annoying screeching sound when they apply the brakes (or when the brakes are released on some vehicles).

Those sensors aren’t on every vehicle, so drivers should listen for squeaks, squeals, grinding (often a sign that brake pads are entirely gone) and other noises that indicate wear. Some minor noises can be eliminated by cleaning the brakes, but persistent, prominent noises usually mean parts are worn. Other signs are pulsations through the brake pedal, longer stopping distances, or when you apply the brakes your foot goes down further, closer to the floor. Because brake linings wear gradually, you may not notice the demise in performance, so that’s where the experienced eye of a mechanic can help.

All cars have a brake warning light that comes on for a few seconds every time you start your car. If it comes on while driving, that probably means your brake system is low on fluid because of a leak or a problem with the brake master cylinder. Note that this is not the same warning light that comes on when you apply the hand- or foot-operated parking brake.

All cars and light trucks also have front disc brakes. Most have rear discs, as well, though some lower-priced cars still come with rear drum brakes. With discs, it has been common practice to just replace the brake pads and resurface the rotors on a lathe if needed so the surface is even and smooth.

In recent years, however, more automakers have switched to rotors that are lighter and thinner to reduce weight and save money. Discs used to last through two or three resurfacings, but don’t be surprised if when it’s time to replace the pads you’re told you also need new rotors. The current ones may not have enough material to be shaved off in resurfacing and may not be as durable as those from, say, 10 or more years ago. In addition, repair shops are reluctant to resurface rotors because it adds time to a job and the quality of the work can vary by who does it and how good they are. Instead, it is faster, easier and more profitable for repair shops to just install new rotors along with new pads.

Replacement Brakes From My Automaker

You don’t have to buy any replacement parts from the original manufacturer when it comes to so-called “wear” items such as brake pads, windshield wiper blades, air filters and the like. Several companies make replacement parts that meet or exceed specifications set by the manufacturer, and these are the parts you’re most likely to get when you have your car serviced at a repair shop that’s not affiliated with a dealership.

Are these replacement parts as good as the ones that come with the vehicle manufacturer’s name on the box that you’d get at a dealership? In many cases, yes, and some may even be of higher quality. On the flip side, there are also a lot of cheap, knockoff replacement parts that are inferior to original equipment, so beware of parts you find online or in stores that are priced way below the going rate elsewhere. You’ll definitely get what you pay for.

If you’re concerned about what parts a repair shop is putting in your car, ask them to detail the parts before you give them the go-ahead to perform any work, and ask your mechanics why they’re using that particular brand. Reputable repair shops use reputable parts. Some repair shops that advertise low prices for services such as brake-pad replacement may save money by using lower-quality parts. Better parts also tend to come with longer warranties, so ask about that.

Keep in mind that vehicle manufacturers don’t make most of the parts that go into their vehicles, including brake pads and rotors. They buy them from suppliers that make them to a manufacturer’s technical and quality requirements. Replacement parts may come from the same supplier that made the original equipment parts but have a different name on the box.

Dealerships often promote their service departments by advertising that they sell and install “genuine” manufacturer replacement parts. Because that ensures they’ll fit properly and meet all performance standards, that’s a good thing.

The reason that you need check at a glance

Most cars have see-through reservoirs for brake fluid under the hood so that owners can check at a glance to make sure it’s at the proper level. That, however, tells you nothing about the condition of the fluid.

Brake fluid absorbs water over time, particularly in areas with high humidity, when moisture seeps through rubber hoses and seals. Water reduces the boiling point of brake fluid, and in situations that put high demands on your brakes — such as mountain driving, towing or making repeated hard stops — the fluid can become so hot that it impairs stopping ability or causes temporary loss of braking power.

Because of this, some manufacturers recommend changing your brake fluid as often as every two years. Others have longer intervals, and some make no recommendation about changing brake fluid. Owners should consult their car’s owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer recommends. If you’re unsure what to do, consult a repair shop and ask them to test your brake fluid.

One sign that your brake fluid is contaminated with water is that your brake pedal will have more travel than normal; that could also be a sign that your fluid level is low, the brake pads are worn or there’s air in your brake lines. Because the same symptom can suggest a variety of issues, having a trusted mechanic perform a thorough diagnosis is your best course of action. Seasoned mechanics can usually tell if fluid needs changing, as it will be dark and murky; if in doubt, ask your mechanic for more proof than an eyeball test.

Though some repair shops use maintenance or repair visits as an opportunity to sell additional services, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss a sales pitch for fresh brake fluid. In addition to affecting brake performance, water in the brake fluid can also cause corrosion over time. Down the road, you may need to replace rusted components in your brake system.

Car Battery in a New Car Last

Though battery problems are often associated with cold weather, Consumer Reports magazine says heat is a bigger enemy of car batteries and will take a bigger toll on performance and reserve capacity. The magazine recommends that vehicle owners in hotter parts of the country have their car battery tested after two years of ownership and then every year after. Those who live in colder areas can wait four years to test performance and capacity, and then every year after.

“Heat kills batteries,” according to John Banta, a Consumer Reports project leader and part of the team that tests batteries for the magazine. “Many times in cold climates your battery fails to start your car on a below-freezing day. The reason this happens is that the heat of the past summers has weakened your battery. When you use it in the cold, the starter requires more electrical current to turn over the cold engine with its thickened oil.”

Testing a battery’s performance and reserve (or amp-hour) capacity is not just a matter of seeing whether it will hold a charge (or checking the electric eye found on some batteries to see if it is green), so testing is best done by an auto technician.

Rotate at high speeds without vibrations

Smooth driving is a balancing act that requires getting the wheels and tires to rotate at high speeds without vibrations. That’s not a slam dunk; a dirty little secret about wheels and tires is that they usually aren’t perfectly round, even when brand new. What’s more, their weight often isn’t evenly distributed, so they’re heavier in some spots than others.

Either issue can cause annoying vibrations. Out-of-balance tires can also cause rapid tire or suspension wear, so it’s not just about ride comfort.

That is why when new tires are mounted on wheels they’re spin-balanced to detect vibrations. Some vibrations can be eliminated by rotating the tire on the wheel so the heavy or “high” spot is in a different location that better matches up with the wheel. Small weights are attached to the wheels with adhesives or clips to counteract the heavy spots and provide a smooth ride. Over time, though, the weights can fall off. If that happens to a front wheel, you may feel vibrations through the steering wheel that typically become more pronounced as vehicle speed increases.

Many tire dealers include free lifetime rotation and balancing with new tires (something you should ask about before buying). Tire rotation is when the vehicle’s tires are removed and reattached at a different position to ensure they wear evenly, which should be done every 5,000 to 7,500 miles on most vehicles, or according to the automaker’s recommendation.

Many consumers neglect the balancing part and have their tires rotated only periodically. If balancing was included with the tires, it would be wise to remind the shop to check the balance at the same time. Even if balancing costs extra, it’s a good idea to have it checked at least every two years, or more often in areas where roads are not well-maintained.

Vibrations can also be caused by a bent wheel, a damaged tire (which won’t be fixed by balancing), worn suspension parts or worn wheel bearings, so balancing the wheels and tires may not eliminate all vibrations.

Tires and wheels are balanced before being attached to the vehicle by spinning them on a balancing machine that identifies heavier or stiffer spots that cause vibrations. Some tire dealers and repair shops use “road force” balancing machines that simulate the weight and forces applied to tires and wheels during driving conditions. They say this method provides more accurate and detailed readings that allow more precise balancing.

Replace Accessory Drive Belt Tips

Most vehicles have a rubber belt on the front of the engine that drives accessories such as the air-conditioning compressor, power steering pump and alternator. If this accessory drive belt (also called a V or serpentine belt) breaks, the battery won’t get charged, the air conditioner won’t blow cold air and the power steering will go out. In addition, if the belt drives the water pump, the engine could overheat.

Most manufacturers call for periodic inspection of the belt as part of scheduled maintenance, but few list a specific replacement interval, and inspection intervals vary widely.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, says to inspect the belt every two years or 20,000 miles, while Volkswagen says to check it every 40,000 miles. On most Ford vehicles, the manufacturer says to start inspecting it after 100,000 miles and then every 10,000 miles. On many GM vehicles, the first recommended inspection is at 150,000 miles or 10 years.

Though these belts often last many years, they can become cracked or frayed and need to be replaced. That’s why they should be inspected at least annually on vehicles that are more than a few years old. In addition, if a belt needs to be replaced, the pulleys and tensioners that guide the belt should be inspected to determine if they caused damage other than normal wear.

A belt that isn’t cracked or frayed may look like it’s in good shape, but grooves on the hidden side may be worn enough that the belt slips on the pulleys that drive the accessories. That will cause problems in systems that rely on the belt to keep things humming. For example, a slipping drive belt may cause the alternator to work intermittently or at reduced power, and the battery won’t get fully recharged as a result, perhaps triggering a warning light.

Another sign of a worn belt is a squealing noise under acceleration. That could indicate that the belt is slipping because of wear, a belt tensioner is loose or a pulley is out of alignment.

Most modern vehicles use belts made from ethylene propylene diene monomer, a synthetic rubber that lasts longer than older types of engine belts. Most belt manufacturers estimate the typical lifespan of an EPDM belt to be 50,000 to 60,000 miles, and some say it’s more than 100,000 miles. However, it can be hard to tell how worn one is with just a visual check because EPDM belts are less likely to crack or lose chunks of rubber than other types. They should be inspected by a professional.

Remove a Sticker From Your Car Tips

Stickers on cars can symbolize just about anything under the sun. They can show support for a certain political candidate, identify you as a proud parent of an honor student or the fact that you just love that one special dog breed. Others are required by local laws, like city stickers. Some even come attached to your new car straight from the dealer.

But political campaigns and straight A’s end at some point, and those city stickers need to be replaced every year.

While removing stickers isn’t as easy as putting them on, we have some advice that should make the job a little less sticky.

What you need:

Hair dryer with hot air settings
Razor blade or a box cutter (if removing from glass)
Sturdy plastic card — could be a library card, credit card, frequent shopper card or ID
Two clean rags or detailing towels
Glass cleaning solution (if removing from glass)
Tree sap remover solution
Quick detailing spray

What to do:

1. Ensure that the sticker and the surrounding area are free of dirt. Doing this removal process works best after a car wash.

2. Plug in the hair dryer, turn the heat setting to hot and hold the hair dryer just a few inches above the sticker. Do not place the hair dryer directly on top of the sticker and the car’s paint.

Rotate Your Tires, should you ?

A good time to rotate your tires is when you get the oil changed, assuming you do that at least once a year and more often if you drive, say, more than 10,000 miles annually. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that the tires be rotated on the same schedule as oil changes. In most cases that means every 7,500 miles or six months, though some have stretched the oil-change interval to 10,000 miles, such as on many Fords, Volkswagens and Toyotas. BMW allows up to 15,000 miles between oil changes, but that is too long to wait to rotate the tires.

The tires mounted on the drive wheels of any vehicle perform extra duty because they apply the power to the pavement. On front-wheel-drive vehicles that is amplified by the weight of the engine and transmission, and because the front tires do most of the work in turns. Rotating the tires between front and rear a couple of times a year spreads out the burden so they wear evenly. Automakers that offer all-wheel-drive cars also recommend rotating tires. Subaru, for example, says to do it every 7,500 miles or 7.5 months, whichever comes first.

There are exceptions to these examples, particularly with performance models that may have different schedules for tire rotation. We suggest you follow the recommended schedule outlined in your owner’s manual, but rotate the tires (and change the oil) at least once a year. You don’t have to go to a car dealership to have this done, and many tire dealers and other repair shops will perform both jobs for about $30 total.

Typically cost at least a couple of dollars more per quart than conventional oils

Most major oil brands market oil made specifically for engines that have more than 75,000 miles of wear, claiming that additives help reduce engine wear and provide anti-aging benefits. They are often a blend of synthetic and petroleum-based oils, and they typically cost at least a couple of dollars more per quart than conventional oils. But are they worth the extra dough?
Some oils may be more beneficial than others because they contain conditioners purported to rejuvenate seals to prevent or stop oil leaks, a common ailment in engines with a lot of miles on them.

Internal seals and gaskets become brittle and shrink as they age, allowing oil to seep by. Sometimes this becomes visible as oil stains on a garage floor or as streaks of oil on lower engine parts. When valve-guide seals wear, oil can leak into combustion chambers and the engine will literally start burning oil. With small leaks, blue smoke from burning oil may not be visible from the exhaust, but your oil level will probably drop below the full mark on a regular basis.

The seal conditioners found in some high-mileage oils may reduce or eliminate small leaks and seepage by rejuvenating seals to their original size and shape. If an engine isn’t burning or leaking oil, or if it uses, say, less than a quart over 6,000 miles or so, switching to high-mileage oil may not be worth the extra cost for you. It’s really a judgment call if you should pay more for high-performance oil when your car has 100,000 miles on it but is using little or no oil. It doesn’t hurt and it could prevent leaks from starting. Most vehicle manufacturers would say it’s normal for an engine to consume some oil between oil changes.

In addition to having seal conditioners, high-mileage oils usually boast more detergents designed to clean out sludge inside the engine, plus other additives meant to reduce wear on moving parts. Every oil, though, makes similar claims that it does great things inside an engine.

What You Need to Know About Brake Pads

Subject to tremendous friction and heat, brake pads wear down and must be replaced as part of a car’s regular maintenance. In disc-brake systems, the brake pads are the friction material the caliper squeezes against the rotating disc, or rotor, to slow the wheel’s rotation and stop the car. In drum brakes, the pads are called shoes.

How Do I Know When to Change My Brake Pads and Rotors?
Squeaks, squeals and metal-to-metal grinding noises are typical signs you’re past due for new brake pads and/or rotors. Other signs include longer stopping distances and more pedal travel before you feel significant braking force. If it’s been more than two years since your brake parts were replaced, it’s a good idea to have the brakes checked at every oil change or every six months. Brakes wear gradually, so it can be hard to tell by feel or sound when it’s time for new pads or rotors.

How Often Should I Replace Them?
Brake life depends mainly on the amount and kind of driving you do, such as city versus highway, and your driving style. Some drivers just use the brakes more than others. For that reason, it’s hard to recommend time or mileage guidelines. On any car more than 2 years old, it’s a good idea to have a mechanic inspect the brakes at every oil change, or twice a year. Repair shops can measure pad thickness, check the condition of the rotors, calipers and other hardware, and estimate how much brake life remains.

Why Do I Need to Change My Pads and Rotors?
Brake pads and rotors are “wear” items that require periodic replacement. If they aren’t replaced, they’ll eventually wear down to the metal backing plates to which they’re mounted. Rotors can warp, wear unevenly or be damaged beyond repair if the pads are worn down to the backing plate. How long pads and rotors last depends on how many miles you drive and how often you use the brakes. The only guarantee is that they won’t last forever.

How Much Should I Pay?
The cost of repairs can depend on where you are as much as it does on what you need fixed. To get an estimate for your repair, go to our estimator, plug in your car’s year, make and model information, add your ZIP code, and choose the repair you need. We’ll give you a range for what your repairs should cost in your area.

Store Your Car for Winter

From washing and waxing to detailing the interior, people baby their cars in all sorts of ways. But it’s equally important to take care of your car before you put it into storage. Here are a few tips to make sure your car is ready to go when you are.

The Final Detail
Thoroughly clean your car, inside and out, before storage. The last thing you want to do is put a car cover on a dirty car. Give your ride a good handwash, polish up that chrome and apply a coat of wax to the paint. Make sure to get rid of any tree-sap drops, too.

If there are unpainted metal places under your car that are prone to rust, buy a can of rubberized undercoating and spray on a protective coat, keeping in mind that it needs to be reapplied yearly. Be careful not to spray this coating near any exhaust components that can get hot because products like this can be very flammable. For collectors, if you’re worried about keeping your car in original condition, a coat of WD-40 will also work. You can also stuff a sock in the exhaust pipe so that small animals won’t find a new place to set up camp, but be sure to remove it before you start the car again.

Throw out food wrappers, soda cans and any other trash that may have accumulated in the cabin. If you plan on steam-cleaning the carpet, do that far enough in advance of (or after) storing the car to avoid moisture buildup and mold. For added interior protection, you can buy a set of seat covers. To soak up cabin moisture, purchase a few packs of desiccant from your local dollar store or convenience store to place on the floor.

Mice and other small animals can create trouble if they get inside your car. Even though there isn’t a surefire way to protect your car from mice, there are steps you can take to make your car less appealing to them. “I usually go to the dollar store and buy the cheapest drier sheets I can find, and put those inside my vehicles,” said Davin Reckow, parts specialist for Hagerty Collector Car Insurance. You can also place mothballs in socks and set them both inside and around the car, but you’ll probably need to air out the cabin to get rid of that distinctive smell. Mousetraps work well outside the car, but never put them in your car. The last thing you want to find is a dead mouse on your passenger seat, especially months later. If you are storing your car in your own garage at home, remember that pest poison traps can be hazardous to your pets.

The Big Story When I Bought My First Car

Whether you’re a young adult entering college or a city dweller finally giving up on public transit, buying your first car represents a new chapter in life. But being a newbie to the car-owning world can lead to some costly maintenance mistakes if you don’t do your homework.

When I bought my first car, a 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt, I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve learned a lot over the past few years about how to maintain a vehicle. Now, as my beloved first car approaches its 10th birthday, I wonder if it would be aging more … gracefully had I been prepared to maintain it when I first bought it.

Below are six maintenance truths that I wish I’d known when I bought my first car:

t seems like everything has a healthier alternative these days. Do you like white rice? Well, brown rice is better for you. Yogurt? Greek is better. With all the healthy-alternative-facts out there, it’s easy to assume there’s a better version of gasoline that will make your car run better for longer.

Many young drivers like me have experienced the pull toward premium, but in reality, using premium gasoline in an engine that recommends regular does not provide any significant boost in acceleration or fuel economy.

Some high-performance vehicles require or recommend premium gas, but unless that’s the case with yours, you’re better off saving the money and reaching for good ol’ regular unleaded.

2. Recalls Are to be Taken Seriously
Upon hearing that I drive a Chevy Cobalt, someone recently responded with, “Wait, isn’t that the car where the key falls out of the ignition?”

Yes, yes it is.

The Cobalt has had several recalls over the years — some for a faulty ignition — that I was unaware of until recently. Luckily, my car is in the clear, but I should have done my due diligence.

While deciding on your first car, you’re probably looking for affordability and fuel economy — but failing to research recalls could lead to big regrets down the line. Once you buy your first car, be sure to keep an eye out for new recalls, and take them seriously.

3. Driving on Empty Can Damage Your Engine
The day I splurged and treated myself to a full tank of gas was a special day. During the first few years of owning my car, I tended to put $10 worth in and hope it lasted all week, which meant spending a lot of time testing the limits of “empty.”

What I didn’t know then was that, according to Consumer Reports, gas acts as a coolant for the electric motor of the fuel pump that moves fuel from the gas tank to the engine. If you’re running on fumes, especially on a hot day, the pump’s motor can overheat. If your fuel pump burns out, replacement costs could hurt you.

Replacing a fried fuel pump costs a whole lot more than a tank of gas, so nowadays I fill up instead of questioning the authority of the “low fuel” warning light.