Here are some questions that come up frequently.

dogs in car

Q:  How often should I have my oil changed?

A: Most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing the oil every 7,500 miles in passenger car and light truck engines. Most oil companies recommend changing the oil every 3,000 miles.  Synthetic oils, like AMSOIL, need only be changed every 25,000 miles or yearly.


Q: How can I find a competent mechanic to fix my car?

A: For starters, ask around. Ask your friends and the people you work with.  Any mechanic who does good work and has been around for a while will have a good reputation. In addition, look for the ASE logo.  Mechanics who have the ASE logo have passed National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence competency tests and are certified.  Technician must recertify every 5 years to keep their credentials.  


Q: How can I get the most out of my present vehicle?

A: Most of us want to get the most out of our motoring dollar.  One of the best ways to do this is by extending the life of your present vehicle.  With new car prices in the US averaging well over $10,000, money invested in keeping your existing vehicle in good shape could save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a year.  When you consider the true cost of buying a new car (price of the car, sales tax, license and registration fees, insurance), it is not difficult to justify investing a few hundred dollars to repair your present vehicle.

The safety aspects of maintaining a vehicle should not be overlooked.  Failing brakes, exhaust leaks and other problems can be prevented by following sound car care practices and manufacturer service schedules.  By following a regular maintenance plan you can expect thousands more satisfactory and safe miles for your vehicle.

If your vehicle has passed the 100,000 mile mark and you want to significantly prolong its useful life, it is time to have it thoroughly evaluated by a professional automotive technician who can recommend needed repairs and service.  His facility is equipped to perform this service.  He has factory level information detailing your vehicle’s service requirements.  Our high-mileage inspection goes beyond a cursory “once over” and is designed to get to the root of potential problems.  Ask your service technician exactly what is involved in this service.  He will be happy to go over the evaluation process and provide you with a comprehensive estimate for any work.  He will tell you about repairs that are necessary today and also alert you to items that are potential problem areas you may want to address today for more trouble free miles tomorrow.  Naturally, you make the decision as to what work is actually performed.


Q: How do I know when my car really needs a brake job?

A: There is no specific time or distance recommendation for replacing brake linings.  The best way to determine the effectiveness of your brakes is to have your brakes inspected to see if they meet the minimum acceptable thickness.  If you have brake problems like grabbing, pulling, vibration or noise have your brakes checked immediately.


Q: My car failed an emissions test. What do I do now?

A: A mechanic can help you figure out why your car failed the test and can get the problem fixed.


Q: My car air conditioner is not putting out much cold air.  Does it need refrigerant?

A: If your air conditioner isn’t producing much cold air, it could need refrigerant or any of a number of other issues could be causing the problem.  Only a skill professional can determine the exact cause.


Q: My check engine light is on.  What should I do?

A:  The check engine light, also known as the Emissions Malfunction Indicator light (MIL), Power Loss light, Service Engine Now light, or Service Engine Soon light, is intended to alert the operator when a system failure may cause an increase of harmful emissions.

If your car’s check engine light comes on when your ignition key is in the on position, but before the car has started, this is just the car’s diagnostic system testing itself and is completely normal.  If your check engine light comes on, either intermittently or solidly, while the car is running then the diagnostic system in the car has detected a problem.  You should take your car to a certified mechanic to have the problem diagnosed and remedied.

The on-board diagnostic system continuously monitors all engine and transmission sensors and actuators for electrical faults and other problems.  When a failure is detected that will result in emissions exceeding predetermined levels the computer stores information about the problem and illuminates the MIL.  Once the MIL has been lit it will remain on until the vehicle has completed three trips in which no problem is detected or the fault has been corrected.


Q: When I try to start my engine, nothing happens.  What's wrong?

A: Total silence usually means that current is not reaching the starter.  You may have a dead battery, corroded battery cables, or an open neutral safety switch.  Try cleaning your battery posts and cable connectors.  If the engine clicks but does not start it may be a bad solenoid or starter.


Q: Why does my car need preventive maintenance?

A: Here is what’s in it for you…

  • More dependable car
  • A car that retains the “new car feel”
  • Less chance of a costly breakdown
  • A safer car for you and your family
  • Doing your part for cleaner air
  • A car worth more at trade in or sale
  • An intact warranty


Q: What kind of maintenance is recommended for the cooling system?

A: Replacing coolant on a regular basis will prolong the life of the radiator and other cooling system components.  Most new car maintenance schedules call for coolant changes every three years or 50,000 miles. Many mechanics recommend every two years or 24,000 miles.  Some even argue that annual coolant changes on late model vehicles with bimetal engines (aluminum heads  & iron blocks) and / or aluminum radiators is a good idea.

What is most important is that the coolant be changed before it loses its corrosive resistance.  Antifreeze is made of ethylene glycol (which never wears out) and various additives (which do wear out).  Some additives provide “reserve alkalinity” to neutralize internal corrosion.  As long as the coolant is changed before the reserve alkalinity is depleted, the cooling system should be no worse for wear.   If you wait too long, the result can be expensive internal corrosion in the radiator, heater core and engine.

How can you tell when it’s time to change the coolant? The only way to know for sure is to test it by dipping a test strip into the coolant.

When coolant is changed, the system should be reverse flushed rather than simply drained.  This will dislodge and remove accumulated debris in the system.  It also removes old coolant that would otherwise remain in the engine block.

Use of a cooling system cleaner is not necessary unless the system has been badly neglected and is full of lime deposits.

The cooling system should be refilled with a 50/50 mixture of ethylene glycol antifreeze and clean water.  This provides freezing protection down to -34 degrees F and boil-over protection to 265 degrees F.
When the coolant is changed the mechanic should:

  • Inspect all belts and hoses. 
  • Make a visual inspection for leaks. 
  • Pressure test the radiator and cap.
  • Check the operation of the heater and defroster.

The thermostat does not need changing unless it has been causing trouble or the engine has severely overheated.  If the thermostat is replaced, it should have the same temperature rating as the original.  This is extremely important on late model vehicles with computerized engine controls.  Fuel, ignition, and emission functions are all affected by coolant temperature.


Q: Do I need to have my brake fluid replaced periodically?

A: Brake fluids are hygroscopic, which means they attract and absorb water.  Over time your brake fluid will absorb water which can cause internal corrosion of calipers, wheel cylinders, and steel brake linings.  In addition, moisture contamination can reduce the boiling point of the fluid which can lead to fluid boil and brake fade.   Experts recommend replacing the brake fluid as a preventive maintenance every two years or 24,000 miles.  By the time your car is 12 months old your brake fluid contains about 2% water. After 18 months the water content is approaching 3%, which is enough to reduce the boiling point by 25%.  After several years it is not unusual to find brake fluid that is 7% to 8% water.


Q: If my ABS warning light is on, is it still safe to drive?

A: When the ABS (anti-lock braking system) light is lit it means that the ABS system has detected a problem and has been deactivated.   The brakes will still work, but they will not have the ABS system to help on slick surfaces and there may be a loss of the power assist.  ABS is essentially an add-on to the braking system.  It only comes into play when traction conditions are marginal or during sudden panic stops.  The rest of the time it has not effect on normal driving or braking. 


Q: Why should shocks and struts always be replaced in pairs?

A: Unlike other parts of the steering and suspension system, shocks and struts on the left and the right sides of a vehicle wear at about the same rate.  If one shock or strut has gone bad, the other is likely to go bad also. There is a difference in the wear rates between front and rear shocks and struts, but this depends on the loading of the vehicle.   In general, if the front shocks or struts need replacing, so do the rear ones.
Shocks and struts are designed to dampen spring oscillations as the suspension goes through bounce and rebound.  This prevents unwanted gyrations and helps keep the wheels in contact with the road.  The resistance inside the shocks or struts dampens spring oscillations while limiting body and suspension motions.  After years of use the pistons and shaft seals inside the shocks or struts wear out.  Shocks may need replacing in as little as 30,000 miles.  Struts usually last about twice as long.  The deterioration in ride quality due to wear on the shocks and struts is very gradual and hard to notice.  Replacement is needed if any of the following symptoms are noted:

  • A bouncy or uncomfortable ride
  • Nose dive when braking
  • Excessive body sway when cornering
  • Tail squat when accelerating
  • Fluid leaks
  • Physical damage to the shock or strut or its mounting hardware
  • Cupped tire wear
  • Indications of bottoming (check suspension stops)
  • Vehicle fails a bounce test (two or more oscillations after rocking and releasing the bumper)
  • When the rod on a gas pressurized shock or strut does not extend itself (indicating it has lost its gas charge)