Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.

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.

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.