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How Do I Check the Fluids on My Car?

I always hear that I should check the fluids on my car.  What fluids are there to check, and where do I find them? 

While every car is just a little bit different, there are 6 main fluids you should regularly check on your vehicle:

  1. Engine Oil
    While this one seems obvious, it is often forgotten.  No matter how new your car is, it is always a good idea to check your oil level every few times you fill up.  The oil dipstick is usually located toward the front of the engine, and (most of the time) has a yellow handle.

    To check the level, pull out the dipstick, wipe it off, and reinsert it again to get an accurate reading.  Most dipsticks will have a “Low” and “High” line.  If it is in between those two lines it is within a safe operating zone.  Add 1 quart of oil if the level is below the “Low” line (there is often an oil cap on the top of the engine where you would add the oil).  Once you add a quart, always recheck the level on the dipstick to make sure it doesn’t need any more.

  2. Coolant
    Most cars have a coolant overflow bottle that is usually located close to the radiator, towards the front of the engine.  These are often designed with the same idea as the oil dipstick – there’s a “High” line and a “Low” line.  You want to make sure the level is in between those two lines.  If the level is slightly low, you can often add only water to top off the level.  If the level is significantly low, or the overflow bottle is completely empty, you may want to add a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water to make sure the coolant doesn’t get too diluted.

    Also keep in mind that if the overflow bottle is completely empty, you may need to open the radiator to see if the level is low in the radiator itself.  If you have never done this before, it is usually a good idea to have a mechanic inspect the fluid level since the radiator can build up quite a bit of pressure once the engine is warmed up (the last thing you want to do is take off the radiator cap and get hot antifreeze spray up at you!)

  3. Brake Fluid
    The brake fluid has a smaller container that is located towards the back of the engine, usually on the driver’s side.  This fluid is pretty simple to check.  Just like the coolant bottle, if the level is below the “Low” line, then you’ll want to add fluid to get it up to the proper level.  If you find that the fluid level is low, be sure to have your brake system checked at your next service.
  4. Washer Fluid
    This bottle can often be confused with the coolant overflow bottle, because they can often be the same size and/or shape.  Some of these bottles will actually have a dipstick attached to the cap that will show you how full the level is.  There is no need to worry about overfilling this fluid.  Simply top off the fluid with water, or add washer fluid concentrate to the mixture if the level is very low.
  5. Transmission Fluid
    If your car has a manual transmission, there isn’t an easy way to check the fluid under the hood.  It is usually needs to be checked from underneath the vehicle.  If, however, your vehicle has an automatic transmission, it is usually possible to check the fluid level.  Many vehicles will be equipped with a dipstick that is similar to the engine oil dipstick, except that it is usually located more towards the side or rear of the engine, and will often have a red handle instead of a yellow one.

    To check the level, first make sure the engine is running, and the car is in Park.  Pull out the dipstick, and clean it off (just like you do with the engine oil), reinsert it, and then pull it out again to get an accurate reading on the level.  There will be a “Low” and a “High” line.  Follow the same rule of thumb as engine oil when adding oil – only add more when it’s below the “Low” line.  The big difference here is that you will often need to add the fluid through the same tube that the dipstick is located.  So, if you ever need to add fluid, you’ll want to make sure you have a funnel handy

  6. Power Steering Fluid
    This fluid usually has a smaller reservoir (usually a black color) with a small cap on the top.  It is often located on the passenger side of the engine, but can vary a lot depending on the car.  This fluid is pretty simple to check – just unscrew the cap, pull it out of the reservoir, and you’ll see a little mini “dipstick” that will show you if the fluid level is low or not.  Just like with the other fluids, it will have a “Low” and a “High” line.  Some cars will even have a clear bottle that has the markings on the side, so you don’t even need to unscrew the cap.

Final Words
When adding fluid to your vehicle, always be careful to not overfill the fluid.  Fuller is not always better.  Always shoot to have your fluid level remain within the “Low” and “High” zones, and you’ll be on the right track.

Every car is a little different.  Some cars don’t even have some of these fluids, or don’t provide a means to easily check them .  If you ever need help learning where these items on your specific car, we’re always happy to show you where they’re located

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Do 2 New Tires Go on the Front Or Rear?

I just got a quote from a tire shop for two new tires and they said that I should have my new tires put on the rear. My car is a front wheel drive – I always thought you’re supposed to put the new tires on the front. What’s the deal?

You are in the same boat with many people – traditional practice had always been to install new tires on the front if a car is a front wheel drive. While that had been the recommendation for many years, recent research in the tire industry suggests that this is not necessarily the safe practice that we all once thought it was.

I could try to explain it to you here, but these sites do a great job of thoroughly explaining the reasoning behind this recommendation.

Tire Rack has a great article on this question:
www.tirerack.com

Michelin’s website has a good video that shows why this practice is recommended:
www.michelinman.com


Have a question for Dan? Send it to askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

How Often Do I Really Need to Change the Oil in My Car?

My owner’s manual says I only need to have the oil changed in my car every 7,500 miles. Your shop still recommends doing it every 3,000 miles. Why is that?

 
A Cheap Insurance Policy

Let’s first start by saying that, at Juanita Firs 76, we see an oil change as much more than just draining the oil, replacing the filter, filling it back up, and sending you out the door. We believe in taking care of our customers, and part of that is letting them know the full story on their car. That’s why, with every oil change, we always provide a full vehicle inspection free of charge.

With that in mind, we see an oil change as a great insurance policy – it’s like taking your car into the doctor for a checkup every 3 months. It’s a great way for you to keep tabs on where your car is at, and minimize expensive surprises down the road.

The automotive industry has done a great job at innovating new, longer-lasting oils, and there is no doubt that oils can hold up much longer than they used to. So, while your oil may hold up for 7,500 miles, just remember that a lot of other things can happen in 7,500 miles.

An Unfortunate Example…

We had a customer not too long ago that had a fairly new luxury car that was designed to have the oil changed every 7,500 miles. The car was towed into our shop because it had quit running. We had never worked on the car before, and when we evaluated it, we found that the engine oil was extremely low, and that the engine had seized (meaning that this customer would have to have the engine rebuilt – a very costly repair).

This car had only 80,000 miles on it. When we told the customer the situation, they were surprised that it could have run out of oil, because they had it changed religiously every 7,500 miles, just as the manufacturer recommended. Clearly, this car had an issue with either leaking or burning oil that the customer was unaware of. The cause of this issue may have been identified earlier if the customer had had their oil changed more frequently.

 
Have a question for Dan? Send it to askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

 

Should I Take the Emissions Test with My Check Engine Light On?

My car is due to take the emissions test, and my check engine light is on. Should I get the light fixed first?

Take the emissions test first.

Yes, you will fail the test if the check engine light on. Think of it this way: You’re going to have to fix the light either way. If you have the check engine light repaired after you fail the test, then those repairs will go toward the $150 waiver required to get back through the emissions test.

For example, let’s say you got the light fixed before you took the test and had to spend $200 to fix a problem with an oxygen sensor. You go to take the test two weeks later, and….Whaatt?? The check engine light comes back on right before you go to take the test. You fail the test, and find out that your car now has a problem with the catalytic converter that is causing the light to come back on. You won’t be able to apply the $200 you spent before taking the test toward the $150 waiver, so you’ll now have to spend at least another $150 toward fixing the catalytic converter.

Now, flip that around. You see that you check engine light is on. You take the emissions test and fail. You bring it into the shop and we see that there are two problems: one with the oxygen sensor, and another with the catalytic converter. We replace the oxygen sensor for $200 (which is over the minimum $150 required) and you’re well on your way to getting your emissions done. You ultimately still have an issue with the catalytic converter that will need to be addressed, but now you can save your money and replace it when it is convenient for you to do so.

In the first scenario, you end up having to spend more money to get through emissions and get your tabs. In the second scenario, you have more control over how much money you spend and when you spend it.

 
Have a question for Dan? Send it to askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

Isn’t All Gasoline the Same?

Does it really make a difference what type of gas I put in my car? I’ve heard it’s all the same – is that true?

The Difference is On the Truck

Gas does come from the same place – all gas trucks load up their fuel at the exact same terminals. What makes the difference between brands is the additives that are added to the gasoline. These additives are added to the fuel at the time the delivery truck is filling up. Simply put: the gasoline becomes 76, Chevron, Safeway, or Shell gas at the time it is being loaded onto the truck.

Why Additives Matter

The additives in the fuel make the difference between a gas that cleans your car while you drive, or a gas that allows nasty carbon deposits to build up inside your engine (causing costly repairs down the road). Many cheaper brands of gasoline will only put in the minimum additives required by the government, while higher quality brands will sometimes put close to double, sometimes even five times more than the government’s recommendations. Make no mistake – there is a difference between name-brand gasoline and the cheaper brands.

Top Tier Gas

The EPA instituted a mandate in 1995 requiring that every gasonline contain a certain amount of detergent additives. Automakers BMW, Honda, GM, Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi found that the level recommended by the EPA was not enough to keep their vehicles running at top performance.

To combat this issue, these auto makers created a new standard, called Top Tier Gas. For a gasoline to be considered Top Tier Gas, it must have a certain amount of detergent additives that is much higher than the minimum EPA requirements. This higher level of detergent additives reduces emissions, prevents carbon deposits, and keeps engines running better, longer.

We won’t presume to tell you that 76 gas is better than any other gas in the world, but there are definitely certain brands that are better for your car than others. Here are the brands in our area that are considered Top Tier Gas:

  • 76
  • Chevron
  • Texaco
  • Shell

Watch this video to learn more about Top Tier Gas:

You can also learn more at www.toptiergas.com


Have a question for Dan? Send it to
askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

Why Does My Car Keep Getting More Coolant Leaks?

I just had my water pump replaced to fix a coolant leak. I drove the car for a couple of days, and now it’s leaking coolant again. The shop I went to told me that my radiator needs to be replaced now. Isn’t this something they should have noticed when they replaced the water pump?

This is a really good question! There are a few important things to know about coolant leaks:

Fixing a coolant leak is kind of like plugging a dike.                        

Once you fix one leak, another one pops up. Water follows the path of least resistance, so it will leak out of the weakest point in the system. Once you have repaired that weak spot, the water will then escape from the next weakest spot in the system. Here’s an exaggerated example: If your water pump had a hole the size of a quarter, and the radiator had a hole the size of a pin, the water is going to be leaking out of the quarter-size hole rather than the pin-sized hole. Once that quarter-sized hole is repaired, and the cooling system is able to operate at full pressure again, only then would you be able to even notice the pin-sized hole from the radiator.

Sometimes there are multiple weak spots in the cooling system that just don’t start leaking until the larger leaks are repaired.

Coolant acts as a solvent.

Think of coolant like a laundry detergent. It is designed with certain cleaning agaents that allow it to clean debris that builds up in the system. Many cars, especially ones that haven’t had the coolant regularly changed, may see that there has been gunk that has built up in the system that is actually helping plug up some of the areas that may otherwise leak. Once new coolant is added to the system, it can actually loosen some of the debris, causing it to “unplug” the leak.

Coolant leaks can be tricky. Even if the shop had pressure checked the system after they replaced the water pump, it may check fine immediately after the repair, but after the new coolant has circulated through the system, it may take a few days or weeks before a new leak surfaces.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have your cooling system serviced on a regular basis. Keeping fresh coolant in your vehicle prevents it from having corrosion that can cause leaks in the first place, while eliminating some of those nasty goobers that clog up your cooling system.


Have a question for Dan? Send it to askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.

What’s a Brake Rotor?

My brakes are really noisy. I had them looked at, and the mechanic said it needs new pads and rotors. What’s a rotor, and why would it need to be replaced?

A brake rotor is a disc-like surface that the brake pad comes into contact with when you’re braking. You push on the brake pedal, the caliper squeezes the brake pad onto the rotor, and it slows your car down.

Brake System
The pads and rotors get awfully friendly over time, and develop matching grooves in the surfaces. When brand new brake pads are installed, those new, smooth pads need a new smooth surface to match up to.   That’s why every time you have the brake pads replaced, we recommend having the rotors either replaced or resurfaced (which basically means that a certain amount of material is shaved off so that the surface is smooth again).If the rotor is still thick enough, it can be resurfaced.  It does eventually wear down to a point in which they become too thin to resurface, and have to be replaced.

Have a question for Dan?  Send it to askdan@gascan.com

Dan Amundsen is a Master ASE Certified Technician, with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He has been the owner of Juanita Firs 76 since 1978. He runs a true family business with his two children, three nieces, and many just-like-family employees that have been with the company for over 15 years.