Know More About Transmission Fluid

Yes, though how often this service should be performed varies by manufacturer and vehicle, and it’s open to debate.

The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for many automatic transmissions doesn’t call for fresh fluid until 100,000 miles or, with some Ford transmissions, even 150,000 miles. A lot of mechanics say that is too long and it should be done at least every 50,000 miles. Manual transmissions may be on a different schedule, so it’s best to consult the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual.

Like other vital automotive fluids, transmission fluid deteriorates over time. Hard use — such as frequent stop-and-go city driving, hauling heavy loads, trailer towing — will accelerate the deterioration. That kind of driving raises the operating temperature of the transmission, and heat puts more strain on the transmission and the fluid, which helps facilitate gear shifts, cools the transmission and lubricates moving parts.

If you do a lot of driving under high-stress conditions, you should check the transmission level more often and have a repair shop check the condition of the fluid. Transmission fluid often is red but can come in other colors, and as it deteriorates it tends to turn darker. It may also acquire a burned odor that could indicate it needs to be changed or that the transmission is developing mechanical problems. Another indication it needs changing is dirt or other debris in the fluid. When you take your vehicle in for an oil change or other routine service, the repair facility may urge you to pay for a transmission-fluid change or flush. Even if they can show you that the fluid is darker than original, that might not mean you need fresh fluid right now. Step back, check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual and see what the manufacturer recommends before you decide. This also will give you time to price shop.

Many repair shops use flush systems that force out the old fluid and pump in new fluid. Though that sounds good, some manufacturers say you shouldn’t do that (Honda is one; there are others), so you need to know this before you agree to a flush. Look in your owner’s manual. Some manufacturers, such as Honda, also call for their own type of transmission fluid and warn that using other types could cause damage. Moreover, some automatic transmissions have filters that should be cleaned or replaced when the fluid is changed. Make sure the repair facility is using the correct fluid and procedures for your vehicle.

If you have never changed the transmission fluid in your vehicle and have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, should you change it now? We have seen mixed opinions on this, with some mechanics suggesting you should just leave well alone if you aren’t having shifting problems. Adding fuel to this theory are stories about older transmissions failing shortly after they finally received fresh fluid. We have a hard time accepting that fresh fluid causes transmission failure, so our inclination would be to have it done if you’re planning on keeping the vehicle a few years or longer. However, fresh fluid is not a cure for gears slipping, rough shifting or other mechanical problems, so don’t expect a fluid change to be a magic elixir.

Information About Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles

No, you don’t, according to every auto manufacturer we’ve talked to. The main advocates of the 3,000-mile oil change schedule are those who would profit by it: repair facilities, quick-lube chains and service departments at some new-car dealers.
Years ago it was a good idea to change the oil and filter frequently, but because of advances in engine materials and tighter tolerances, as well as the oil that goes into engines, most manufacturers recommend intervals of 7,500 miles or more.
Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche, for example, recommend oil changes every 10,000 miles. So does Toyota on several engines, including the Prius’ 1.8-liter four-cylinder and the Camry’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder. BMW says owners can go up to 15,000 miles between oil changes (with synthetic oil).
The intervals vary by manufacturer and engines, so consult your owner’s manual or maintenance schedule to see how often to change the oil in your vehicle and what type of oil to use. You may be surprised. We were surprised to learn that the Camry’s 2.5-liter engine requires 0W20 synthetic oil, for instance.
Manufacturers suggest you change oil more often for “severe” driving conditions, such as frequent trailer towing, extensive stop-go driving or idling in traffic, driving in extreme heat or cold, or frequent short-distance driving in which the engine doesn’t reach full operating temperature.
Some car companies, Ford and General Motors among them, equip most vehicles with oil life monitors that tell you when it’s time to change the oil based on vehicle speed, engine temperature, climate conditions, number of cold starts and other factors. They can all cite examples from owners who say the oil-life monitors indicated they could go even longer than the recommended change intervals.
If you’re nervous about going 10,000 miles or more between oil changes, then do it every six months, when you probably should also have your tires rotated (also explained in your owner’s manual). GM says to change your oil at least once a year even if the service indicator warning light doesn’t come on. With longer recommended intervals between oil changes, it’s more important to check the oil level at least once a month to make sure you have enough.
But to change oil every 3,000 miles is probably wasting money. Environmentalists say it also adds to the glut of used oil that must be recycled or disposed, and the state of California is trying to discourage the practice.
If the guy at the quick-lube shop says he’s only trying to help you when he recommends frequent oil changes, consider this: It is not in the interest of an auto manufacturer for you to suffer premature engine failure caused by worn-out oil. If that happens, they might have to pay for repairs under warranty and probably will lose you as a customer. Yet, they’re the ones advising you to follow longer oil-change intervals.

Common Catalytic Converter Problems

Mechanic man holding clipboard and check the car

Catalytic converters are located in the exhaust system, between the engine and the muffler, and are one of the last lines of defense against air pollution from vehicles. They use ceramic-coded beads and various precious metals (the catalysts) to convert pollutants like unburned gas and nitrogen oxide into harmless gases.

They often last for 10 years or more but can be damaged by contamination, becoming clogged or overheating.
One potential contaminant is leaded gas, which can destroy the catalysts, although it is rarely found in the U.S. Others contaminants include engine coolant, which can leak into the combustion system because of a faulty cylinder head gasket, and engine oil. Those fluids can clog a catalytic converter so that exhaust gases are restricted from passing through. Car engines are like athletes in that they require lots of oxygen. If the exhaust is restricted it means less air can get into the engine, and performance suffers. If the engine responds sluggishly or quits after running for a while, a clogged catalytic converter could be to blame.

Catalytic converters can overheat because of excessive amounts of unburned gas caused by a misfiring spark plug or a leaky exhaust valve. In addition, a failed oxygen sensor can cause overheating.

On many vehicles, the “cat” is located under the vehicle, and like other parts of the exhaust system, it can be damaged by road debris or by running over a curb.
Those precious metals we talked about can draw attention: Catalytic converters are frequently stolen because of the precious metals inside. Converters have small amounts of platinum, rhodium and palladium, all of which have value for metal dealers.

Simple Tips to Better Gas Mileage

With the average price of gas dipping below two dollars per gallon for the first time since 2009, many motorists have been seeing a real savings at the pump. Putting some of that savings toward basic auto care can lead to more miles per gallon and, in turn, more savings, says the non-profit Car Care Council.

The Car Care Council encourages motorists to be car care aware and perform these five simple steps to improve fuel economy and save money.

Check Tire Pressure: Keep tires properly inflated and improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent.
Use the Right Motor Oil: Improve gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent by using the grade of motor oil recommended by the manufacturer.
Replace Clogged Air Filters: Replacing clogged air filters on older vehicles can improve fuel economy and will improve performance and acceleration on all vehicles.
Check Engine Performance: Keep your engine running efficiently and improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.

Fix It: Addressing a serious maintenance problem, like a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to www.fueleconomy.gov.
Save Gas Beyond the Pump“Proactive vehicle maintenance is a motorist’s best money saving tip,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Routine auto care not only helps save on fuel costs, but it helps identify small issues so they can be serviced before they become bigger and more costly to repair.”

To help motorists increase fuel economy and take better care of their vehicles, the Car Care Council offers valuable tools on its website, including a free personalized schedule and email reminder service.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers.

Tips To Protect Your Car’s Interior

Try to add up the hours you spend in your car. It’s a lot, isn’t it? Commutes, errand runs and road trips can have you sitting in those bucket seats for hours on end, and during that time, you and your passengers are actually living in the interior. That means smudges on the windows, scratches on the dash and food in the seat crevices accumulate and leave you wondering what happened to the spotless interior you swear it had when you first bought the car.
A Quick Clean
Luckily, it’s not that difficult to keep a car’s cabin from looking a little too, well, lived in. First things first, get something to stuff your trash into. Just use a plastic bag or a container you don’t use around the house and throw it in the backseat. You can even affix a temporary hook to the door or seat to keep things even neater. Every once and awhile, take it out and relish in the fact that you haven’t spent an hour cleaning up. Keeping trash off the floor also preserves your carpets, which can get stained from any number of items.
The idea of taking a rag to your dash and leather seats is made easier if you have them on-hand. The key here is to just use a little bit of soapy water to wipe the surfaces of your car – some cleaning products contain alcohols that prematurely dry and age the materials by reducing the flexibility in the vinyl. Store a small spray bottle of your homemade cleaning fluid and a rag under your seat or in a storage bin for access when you’re waiting for your kids to get out of school or sitting in that crazy-long drive-through line. This will also come in handy when an emergency spill happens. Lastly, keep your car smelling like roses (or at least a laundromat) by adding dryer sheets under the seats.
Weather Resistant
You can’t discount the impact weather has on your vehicle either. In summer, sandy feet can quickly make a mess of an interior, and dare we mention the destruction caused by mud and snow? If you spend a lot of time ducking in and out of the elements, you might want to grab some all-weather floor mats. They’re easy to clean and do a great job of keeping the muck in one place.
The sun’s rays can also wreak havoc on your car’s surfaces, causing vinyl to crack over time and materials to fade. A simple solution is to regularly put a sunshade on the windshield. They’re inexpensive and help to keep your interior looking new.
Saving money on repair work and cleaning comes more easily when you take the time to make preventative care a priority. Not only will these tricks make your car a nicer place to be, keeping grime out of your ride will cut down on large maintenance costs in the future and will help to retain its value over time.

More Information About Car Battery

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.

Should You Know About Damaged Wheel

If it’s cosmetic or superficial damage, such as from scraping a curb, the wheel is probably still round and has no bent sections or chunks of metal missing. On the other hand, if the wheel is bent, cracked or structurally weakened from hitting a massive pothole, running over a steep curb or some other mishap, it may need to be replaced, though it could possibly be repaired.
A dented wheel may not be able to maintain a seal with the tire bead, resulting in consistent slow leaks or blowouts, and will be difficult if not impossible to balance so that it doesn’t vibrate at speed. A wheel with structural damage could eventually break apart. When in doubt about the severity of damage, a mechanic experienced in assessing wheel damage should inspect the entire wheel with the tire removed.
Whether to repair or replace a damaged wheel is often a judgment call, but because it involves safety issues as well as cosmetic concerns, the best course is to err on the side of safety.
Repair services that promise to restore badly damaged wheels to like-new condition might be able to remove dents and bends and make a rim look great again. However, there are no federal safety standards that apply to refurbished wheels, so you’ll be taking your chances as to whether they’ll still have their original strength and integrity.
Repairing more than superficial damage will not be an easy do-it-yourself project. Heat and specialized machines are used to straighten bends, and a complete refurbishment involves removing all paint and protective coatings, repairing corrosion and physical damage, then applying new coatings.
The cost of repairing a wheel will vary by size, type and amount of damage, and it might approach the price of a new or used replacement. Many original-equipment alloy wheels can cost hundreds of dollars (even thousands in the case of luxury and sports cars) to replace, so buying a used one can save money. However, it might be hard to determine if a used wheel had prior damage and is refurbished.

Know More About Tire Leak

If a thorough inspection of a leaking tire, which will probably require removing it from the vehicle, doesn’t find a nail or puncture, the leak could be caused by a pinhole in the tread or sidewall. The tire might not be the problem, though. The air valve stem might have a leak and need to be replaced, or the tire bead (where it meets the wheel) might not be sealed snugly against the rim (a common problem in areas that use road salt, which can corrode the metal surface).
Soap and water, or water alone, can help find the source of the leak. Mix liquid soap with water in a spray bottle and spray all parts of the tire — tread, sidewalls, the valve stem and opening (with the cap removed), and along the rim on both sides — until you find a spot where bubbles start to form. That’s where the air is leaking. This is easier to do with the wheel off the car, but you might be able to find the leak without removing the wheel, especially in front, where turning the steering wheel exposes the inner sidewall somewhat.
Another method is to remove the tire and wheel from the vehicle and dunk them into a tub of water. Bubbles will form at the spot of the leak. If the tub isn’t large enough to dunk the whole tire, do sections at a time.
Pinholes and small punctures in the tread can be plugged or patched. Large punctures cannot, and minor damage to the sidewalls or shoulders (where the tread and sidewall meet) typically calls for tire replacement, as well. Leaky valve stems and cores (the tiny valve itself, inside the tube) also can be replaced.
If the leak is because the wheel isn’t fully seated against the tire, sometimes removing the tire and applying a bead sealer can stop a leak.
Possible solutions for leaks that originate with the wheel’s bead seat are to remove the tire, clean off any corrosion and apply a bead sealer before remounting the tire. Some mechanics also suggest inflating the tire with nitrogen instead of air because its molecules are larger than oxygen, potentially making them less able to slip through the smallest holes. Perhaps more important, though, nitrogen contains less moisture — which will prevent rust if the wheel is made of steel (see more on this topic). Others suggest grinding or sanding off corrosion, though the time and labor required to do that might cost more than a new or used wheel — as might repeated nitrogen purchases.
When the wheel is at fault, it will be a judgment call as to whether it can be repaired or needs to be replaced. For example, pitting in the wheel can make the metal porous and allow air to leak out. That’s likely to warrant replacement.

All About Air-Conditioner Condenser

The air-conditioning condenser is a radiator positioned between the car’s grille and the engine-cooling radiator in which the gaseous refrigerant sheds heat and returns to a liquid state. The liquid refrigerant flows to the evaporator inside the dashboard, where it cools the cabin. Is your car not cool enough for you, at least temperature-wise? It might result from a clogged air-conditioning condenser or disabled cooling fan. A leak in the condenser also will result in a loss of refrigerant.
How do I know if my air-conditioning condenser has gone bad?
Well, it’ll be warmer than you want, or your windows will be foggy. If refrigerant leaks, the air conditioner won’t spit out much cold air, if any. Leaks can be located by adding an ultraviolet dye to the refrigerant. Air-conditioning output also can be diminished by crud that builds up on the front of the condenser, and cleaning the condenser may restore some performance.

How often should I replace my air-conditioning condenser?
As with other parts of the air-conditioning system, the condenser generally doesn’t need servicing as long as the system is producing cold air. Some mechanics recommend periodically inspecting the condenser for signs of damage or corrosion and doing an external cleaning or internal flush if needed.

Why do I have to replace my air-conditioning condenser?
Because it’s an integral part of your air-conditioning system, and you won’t be comfortable, or be able to see, if it’s broken. Some condensers can be cleaned externally with a hose, and others can be cleared of sludge with an internal flush, but many mechanics recommend replacing a condenser that is clogged or corroded.

Know More About Synthetic Oil

If your car’s owner’s manual says it does, you do.
For many consumers, whether to spend extra money for synthetic oil for an oil change is a difficult question to answer.

Manufacturers of synthetic oil promise more miles and better performance when compared with conventional motor oil, but it comes at a higher cost — sometimes twice as much per oil change. Is it worth the extra money?
Typically, high-performance vehicles will be more likely to require synthetic oil, as will vehicles that have a turbocharged or supercharged engine. However, if your vehicle does not require synthetic oil, the choice is trickier – and there is no clear answer.

Synthetic oil generally resists breaking down for longer than conventional motor oil (typically 7,500 miles to 10,000 miles, sometimes up to 15,000 miles, as opposed to 3,000 miles to 7,500 miles for conventional oil). That makes the extra cost a wash, if you have half the number of oil changes, but each one costs you twice as much. Other touted benefits include cleaner engines, better flow in cold temperatures, better protection when it’s hot outside and better performance with turbocharged engines.
There are also synthetic blends. As the name implies, these are blends of synthetic and conventional oils. They straddle a middle ground — they cost more than conventional oils but less than full synthetics, and are said to last longer than conventional oils but not quite as long as synthetics — but again, that’s a hard number to pin down since manufacturers are vague with their claims. An independent testing lab we spoke with said that synthetics often didn’t perform much better than conventional oils do.
Still, older engines may benefit from synthetics because it is less likely to form sludge.
If your car doesn’t require synthetic oil you should perform a cost/benefit analysis, but that can be difficult to do due to vague claims made by manufacturers. There may be no reason to spend more on synthetic oil, except for peace of mind.

Learn More About Muffler Rattling

loose bracket, rubber hanger or connector, or one that is badly corroded, can allow a muffler to rattle when you accelerate or drive on bumpy roads, or even when the car is stationary and idling.

A loose muffler can allow excessive movement in other components as well and increase the stress on those parts, so it can become more than an annoying noise if left unattended. If the muffler is hanging lower than normal, there’s also a risk that it could be broken off by hitting a bump or going over railroad tracks.

Modern exhaust systems are usually made of aluminized steel or stainless steel, but that doesn’t mean they or the parts that hold the exhaust components in place last forever. Heat, debris, road salt and moisture can all cause rust in the exhaust system.

Though a muffler rattle might be fixed simply by tightening a couple of bolts or replacing a broken hanger, the corrosion might be bad enough on the muffler or neighboring parts that they will have to be replaced.
A rattle or banging noise from the exhaust system might not be an external problem. Baffles or other components inside of mufflers can come loose and cause internal rattles.

In addition, the muffler may not be the only cause or even the culprit. Brackets and bolts securing tailpipes, heat shields above catalytic converters and other components can come loose, and catalytic converters can develop internal rattles when they go bad.