The following are some questions that we often get from our customers along with the answers that can help you to understand either what is going on or what choices you may have. Please feel free to call us or stop by with any of these questions or others that you may have about your vehicle.

Q: The “check engine” light came on. What should I do now?

A: Vehicles from 1997 and newer have a computer monitor called OBD II. That stands for on board diagnostics II.  The US government instituted standards to this OBD version so that if your car was having a failure in any emissions related components you would be notified by the check engine light.  Vehicle manufacturers often monitor many other systems as cars get more and more complex and use the same warning light to alert you to a system component problem.

If you get a check engine light appearing on your instrument cluster you should have the computer scanned for fault codes that will indicate a failing component or symptom.

The most common faults that will trigger a check engine light are:

  1. A loose or faulty gas cap
  2. A failing O2 sensor
  3. A failing catalytic converter
  4. Ignition faults caused by bad coil packs or high voltage leads
  5. Faulty Mass Air Flow sensor

These are, of course, not the only components that could trigger a check engine light, but are the top five causes.

So you might check and make sure that your gas cap is on tight and in place, but you should not waste your time second guessing what the real failure might be. Have a qualified technician with a scan tool read the failure codes and any pending codes from your car’s computer.  Many parts stores offer a free service to check your OBD II port data.  Their tools will be good enough for a preliminary scan and diagnosis, but should be followed up with a visit to us for an in-depth scan.  Since manufacturers use many more sensors than those just to ensure emissions meet Federal regulations there could be other components signaling a problem.


Q: How long should my shocks last?

A: Shock absorbers (and struts) are key suspension components. Your suspension’s springs absorb variations in the road surface to provide you with grip and a more comfortable ride than you would have with a solid suspension, and the shock absorbers dampen the spring action so your car doesn’t continue to bounce and jounce.

Typical shocks will have a life of between 30,000 and 60,000 miles of use before their effectiveness degrades. As you can imagine, over that many miles the degradation is slow and the change is often not noticed.

As your miles roll by you may notice that your tires are getting uneven wear that resembles “cupping” or patches of more wear in the tread. That is one indicator that your springs are no longer being controlled by your shocks.  You may also find that it takes a few bounces for your suspension to settle down when you take a bump.

When your car is on an inspection rack the technician can observe if the shocks or struts are leaking the fluid that is used to dampen, another sign of failure. The top mounts for the struts or rubber bushings for the shocks may also show degradation from thousands of miles of use.

If your vehicle needs new shocks or struts you should always replace them in pairs at a minimum. There are many quality choices available in replacement shocks and our technicians can help guide you to a choice that meets your driving style and budget.  There may be other components such as bump stops and dust boots that should be replaced at the same time.


Q: When should I get my car aligned and why should I care if it is steering straight?

A: At a minimum be sure to have your car aligned when you get your tires replaced.

If you strike a deep pot hole you should consider getting your alignment checked as well. Often a bump such as that will result in a suspension component being bent or over-stressed. Let us know if that has occurred so that we can be certain to take a close look at the key components.

Getting your car aligned when you have new tires put on can mean that you will receive the maximum wear from your tires. You should also consider rotating your tires front-to-back every other oil change in order to maximize tread life (some cars have different sized tires front and rear and in that case you won’t be able to rotate the tires).

Tire pressures are paramount to the life and performance of your tires. To help with that the Federal government has mandated the use of TPMS (tire pressure monitor systems).  Some systems are indirect, measuring tire rotation to determine if there is low pressure, and other systems measure directly inside the tire with a sensor that communicates with your car’s computer.  The TPMS systems are meant to indicate a significant loss of tire pressure which might be several pounds below the recommended tire pressure listed on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb.

The best thing is to check your tire pressures once a week using a quality tire pressure gauge. Keeping your tire pressures at the recommended level will mean less rolling resistance than if your car was driving on underinflated tires, and that means better fuel mileage.

When you schedule an alignment help us to provide you with a good alignment by ensuring a full or nearly full tank of gas and ask us to check your tire pressures to see that they are at the factory recommended pressures.


Q: How do I know if my tires are out of balance and how does that happen?

A: Certainly have your new tires balanced, and if you are having them rotated. If you experience a vibration that come in around 60-65 mph it is likely that the tires might be out of balance.  A vibration felt in the steering wheel indicates front tires and if you feel it in the seat then it could be the rears.  In any case have those all checked.

We use a Hunter tire balance machine that features “Road Force”. That provides us with a way to check that the tire and wheel assembly is as round as possible.

Tires, even when new, are not perfectly round. Wheels can also be out of round due to road hits or other impacts.  This means that there is a possibility that the high spot of the tire lines up with the high spot of the wheel and the combination results in a bounce similar to if you had an egg shaped tire rather than a round one.  The “Road Force” feature allows us to tell if there is a problem with the mounted tire and wheel assembly.  If a high “Road Force” is detected we can use the machine to measure the run-out of the wheel itself as well as the tire.  The machine will suggest how to reorient the tire on the wheel to minimize the out-of-round condition even to the point of determining if the wheel is too bent or the tire is too bumpy to mount in a low force configuration.

We are the highest rated Tire Rack installer in our area and strive to provide you with professional service. If you choose to order your tires from Tire Rack you can have them drop-shipped right to our shop.


Q: How do I know when to replace my brakes? And what kind of brake fluid should I use?

A: Many late model cars have wear sensors built into their brake pads. These can either be an electrical sensor that will light up a warning when the pads are too thin, or they are mechanical noise makers that are attached to the brake pads and are designed to make a squealing sound as the pads get thin enough to allow it to rub against the brake rotors.

The best way to check brake wear is visually. When the wheels are removed for new tires or other reasons the technician can take a look at pad wear and rotor wear.  The tech can also spot signs of calipers that are malfunctioning.

Even when there is some brake material left on the brake pad backing plates it may be prudent to replace the pads with new ones. All the brake components should be checked and potentially replaced to ensure that they function properly.  The rotors might need to be replaced or, at the very least, resurfaced.  Since rotors are not only a friction surface, but a heat sink used to dissipate the high temperatures, it cannot be cut too thin and still do its job.

When pads are replaced the brake fluid should be flushed and replaced. We recommend to our customers that this be done once a year even if the brakes do not need a replacement.

Brake fluid works well because it is a non-compressible fluid. Because of that quality it transfers the pressure from your foot to the corners of the car where your brakes reside. That means that your brake pedal feels properly firm when you apply the brakes.

Brake fluid chemistry means that it is also hydroscopic. That is a fancy term that means that it likes water.  So much so that it will absorb water right out of the air.  Water boils at 212 degrees F and dry brake fluid needs to boil at temperatures of 450 F or even much higher.  As it absorbs water from the air it not only boils at a lower temperature but it is more compressible.  Having that water floating around the insides of your brake components can also lead to corrosion from the inside out.  Replacing your brake fluid once a year helps to keeps you safe and extends the life of your brake system.

We use the best quality brake fluids in DOT 3 and DOT 4. We can also source specialized brake fluids for track use along with DOT5.1 fluid.


Q: Should I use synthetic oil in my engine? Is it worth the expense?

A: Modern synthetic oils will provide better lubrication in modern cars than standard refined crankcase oil. Synthetic oil does a better job surviving hot engine conditions such as mountain driving or hot summer days with air-conditioning running at full blast.

Many car manufacturers specify fully synthetic motor oils. Consult your owner’s manual for the type and viscosity that should be used in your car’s engine.   Oil ratings are particularly important on cars that use direct injection for delivering fuel to the cylinders.  In those cases it is not just the viscosity rating, but the lubrication standards of the oil itself.  Your owner’s manual will specify what that minimum is.

In the early days of synthetic oils coming into the market place people found that switching from conventional oil to full synthetic resulted in leaks at the seals. For the most part, this is a thing of the past and once an engine has gone through a break-in (the first 500-1000 miles since it was manufactured or rebuilt) it can spend the rest of its life using fully synthetic.

Synthetic blends are not an effective compromise. Either go full synthetic or stay with conventional oil.  Many owners find that using fully synthetic oil means more miles between oil changes.

The best way to determine how long you should drive between oil changes is to consult your owner’s manual or have your oil analyzed at each oil change.

Key to oil life is using a quality oil filter. We use high quality oil filters and can obtain premium filters as well.


Q: What should I do if my car overheats and what could happen?

A: Your engine produces a lot of heat, almost 70% of the energy produced by burning gasoline results in heat. Your cooling system removes the heat by circulating coolant to the radiator via a water pump and the flow is regulated by a thermostat that works to bring your engine up to a proper operating temperature quickly.

If you have a gauge on your instrument cluster that shows your engine is getting too hot you should find a safe place to pull off the road where you can shut off your engine and get assistance. If need be you can help dissipate the heat by turning on your car’s heater and blowing heat into the interior until you can get the engine stopped.  The car’s heated is basically a small radiator and in that case can help remove heat, but not as well as your radiator.

Overheating can be caused by several things, none of them good. You could have a leaking or broken hose or a leak in your radiator.  A radiator fan could be failing or the thermostat could be stuck closed.

Your engine runs most efficiently when it is warm, but running hot is not good. If you run it too long when it is overheating it can warp the cylinder head and cause expensive damage.

We recommend having your cooling system checked for wear and tear at least once a year or prior to the extreme seasons of winter and summer. If you get a sweet smell of anti-freeze while you are driving or when you come out to your parked car it could mean that a coolant leak is starting.  Have it checked as soon as practical.

Some coolants are supposed to have a useful life of 100,000 miles, but if you check your owner’s manual that may not be true if your car is driven in severe conditions. If you check the definition of severe driving conditions you might be surprised to find that even heavy stop and go driving or driving in other typical conditions are considered severe.

Coolant is designed to help carry heat away, lubricate the water pump, and lower the boiling point so that the system can be pressurized. This environment is tough on your entire cooling system and it is prudent to have it checked and fix problems before they become extreme.