Perhaps you can see or smell something that’s wrong with your vehicle, but you’re not sure how to explain it to a mechanic. While we’ve become quite accustomed to people trying to imitate car noises, we also like to share with our customers how certain vehicle issues are described among mechanics. Below, the folks at Croghan AutoCare, Ltd. have put together some notes that we have found helpful to explain to our past customers. We’d like to share these notes with you, to help you understand more about what’s happening to your vehicle, and to explain exactly what we mean when we say things like “hesitating” or “spongy.”
Performance Problems: Words and Phrases
- Cuts Out: Temporary, complete loss of power. Engine quits at sharp, irregular intervals. May occur repeatedly or intermittently. Usually worse under heavy acceleration.
- Detonation: Mild to severe ping, usually worse under acceleration and load. Engine makes sharp, metallic knocks that change with throttle opening. Sounds like marbles rattling around.
- Hesitation: Momentary lack of response as accelerator is pressed. Can occur at all speeds. Usually most severe when starting from a stop. May cause engine to stall.
- Missing: Pulsation, or jerking, that changes with engine speed. Exhaust has a steady spitting sound at idle or low speed. Not normally felt above 30mph.
- Rough Idle: Engine runs unevenly at idle. Car may also shake.
- Sluggish: Engine delivers limited power under load or at high speed. Won’t accelerate as fast as normal. Loses too much speed going up hills.
- Stall: Engine stops running or dies out. May occur at idle or while driving.
- Surge: Vehicle speeds up and slows down with no change on accelerator pedal. Can occur at any speed.
What’s that Smell?
- Sweet odor, usually accompanied by steam from under the hood: antifreeze or coolant leak.
- Clear liquid with a smell: brake fluid leak
- Heavy, thick odor, possibly accompanied by smoke from under the hood or from the exhaust: burning oil
- Acrid odor, like burned toast: electrical short
- Continuous, heavy sulfur odor, like rotten eggs: emissions
- Burning material or rubber odor: overheated brakes or clutch
- Metallic odor, usually accompanied by antifreeze/coolant odor: overheating
A Quick Guide to Leaks
- Black stains with a heavy, thick consistency: axle leaks
- Clear liquid with a smell: brake fluid leak
- Yellow, green, pink, or orange-colored stains that are lighter and thinner than oil: coolant leaks
- Brownish-colored stains: crankcase or power steering leaks
- Clear liquid with no smell: dripping water that has condensed in the air conditioner
- Black fluid: motor oil leak
- Greasy fluid that is pink, red, or clear: power steering or transmission leak
- Reddish-colored splotches: transmission leaks
- Oil Service: Every 3,000-5,000 miles, and no skipping! The oil is the blood of your vehicle, as it lubricates and cools the engine. The longer it goes without being changed, the darker the oil becomes. Dark oil is a sign of sediments in the oil. If there is too much of this sediment in your oil, it can’t lubricate properly. An oil service every 3,000-5,000 miles also means that a mechanic can inspect your oil level and see if you’ve been losing oil. This is especially important when the vehicle gets older, as it may begin to burn more oil. Yes, newer cars can go longer between oil changes, but this is at the owner’s risk, not the manufacturre’s and not the oil company’s. How many miles can you go safely? Synthetic or regular engine oil? Oil change sticker or dash information system? That discussion is part of our oil changes.
- Spark Plugs & Wires: Every 30,000 miles to 100,000 miles. Do you need a traditional design spark plug for $3.00 each or a new style Iridium for $27? Spark plugs and wires help to ignite the fuel in your engine, and bad spark plugs and wires can cause decreased acceleration, rough running and lower gas mileage. Did you know that some of the modern ignition systems now measure the arc of the spark over the spark plug and if the gap isn’t right or the plug is the wrong design a check engine lamp can be illuminated? It’s not points, plugs, cap, and rotor tune-ups anymore!
- Air Filter: Every 10,000 miles to 50,000 miles, depending on the air quality of where you drive. This isn’t for you (that’s the Cabin Air Filter), this is for your engine! A comment on reusable air filters (K&N, AFE, ETC). There is a time a place for these type filter such as high modified or racing vehicles. Most of the time the are just plugged from lack of maintenance or over oiled and causing a problem with the Mass Air Flow Sensor. We can clean the re-usable filter or we can replace it with a factory type paper element. Just make sure it’s clean!
- Cabin Air Filter: Every 10,000 miles to 50,000 miles, depending on the air quality of where you drive, just like the air filter, but this filter is for your comfort. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you have one, but if you do, we can find it and replace it. Sure is easier than taking apart the dashboard to clean the air conditioning/heating system!
- Fuel Filter: Every 30,000 miles on most gasoline cars. Dirt can enter the gasoline from the refinery, the tanker truck or even from the bottom of the tank at the gas station. Some filters are in the fuel tank and are part of the fuel pump assembly, those don’t get changed as a preventative maintenance procedure. A non serviceable fuel filter? Really!
- Coolant Flush: Modern cars use long-life coolant that is useful for 5 years or 150,000 miles, but any of the older cars with the conventional green colored coolant really need a flush every couple of years. The freeze protection won’t be compromised as long as the coolant is kept to a 50/50 mix. The boil over protection won’t be compromised as long as the radiator cap can hold its designed pressure. But the anti-corrosive properties do diminish over time. So instead of the corrosion attacking the chemicals in the coolant (that’s a good thing) the corrosion will attack your radiator, heater core, water pump, and even the engine (that’s a bad thing). Flushing the cooling system will get new sacrificial chemicals in the system to protect those metal parts.
- Transmission Flush: Every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Transmission fluid (oil) is what helps keep your transmission lubricated and cool. And like engine oil, the last thing you want is dirty fluid running through your gears. Or, even worse, no fluid at all, if it hasn’t been checked for leaks recently. Some cars and light trucks are “Filled for life” and “don’t require routine servicing”. Other cars and light trucks need a lift and a mechanic to check the oil level (Ford is bad about this). I argue that the life of the transmission will be longer with a little fresh fluid and a clean filter once and a while. Or we can estimate a replacement transmission if you don’t want to do the maintenance!
- Power-Steering Flush: Every 60,000 miles to 90,000 miles. Often overlooked until you don’t have it, power-steering fluid also cools and lubricates the steering in your car or truck and it’s a welcome commodity for most people. Anybody remember “Armstrong Steering”?
- Timing Belt: Do I even have one? That’s the big question today. Many modern engines are going back to timing chains that don’t have maintenance procedures like the belts do. We look it up and let you know if you have it and when it should be changed. Some models should be changed as early as every 40,000 miles (Volkswagen diesels – TDI) and other older domestic 4 cylinders should be changed every 105,000 miles. Typically the cost of the timing belt replacement will be one quarter that of the engine damage that can result from a broken belt. That’s easy math!
Kelley Blue Book: http://www.kbb.com – excellent source for finding the value of a vehicle.
National Automobile Dealers Association http://nada.com/ – another excellent source for finding the value of a vehicle
AutoTrader: http://www.autotrader.com – often used to see what the asking price is for used cars.
Fuel economy: http://www.fueleconomy.gov – lots and lots of information about vehicles, fuels and technology as it relates to fuel economy
NAPA: http://www.napaautocare.com – Great for getting the details on the AutoCare warranty or finding a NAPA AutoCare shop if you’re out of town.
Jasper Engines and Transmissions: http://www.jasperengines.com – Like the NAPA site, another great way to find an automotive repair shop by zip code if you’re out of town.
Watch this page for additional information and websites.