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The dangers of potholes

Spring is here, and that means pothole season in Michigan. Sometimes it’s not possible to avoid hitting a pothole. When that happens, watch for these 3 signs of possible damage to your tires and or suspension.

Signs your car is out of alignment

Alignments focus on angles. The angles can be affected by the condition of steering and suspension components. These items like ball joints, control arm bushings, and tie rods wear with time, age, driving and road conditions (think Michigan potholes). Once parts become worn and loose, angles change which directly affects the position of the tires. In simple terms, an alignment is the re-establishing of manufacturer specified angles for your car. We’ve posted before about the benefits of taking care of your tire investment. Have an alignment performed every 18-24 month to make sure your tires are wearing properly. At Irish Hills Collision & Service we test drive first, then perform a full suspension and steering inspection prior to an alignment. After the alignment is complete, the technician test drives a second time to verify the handling and steering wheel position.

What are the signs of misalignment?

• Greater wear on one edge of the tire compared to the other edge
• Rubbing your hand over the tread and it feels bumpy and your hand catches
• Off-center steering wheel, even though you’re driving straight

Hitting a curb, pothole or being involved in a small accident can knock a car’s alignment out of specification.

Large pothole in road

Front-end vs. four-wheel alignment

All wheels can be adjusted. Therefore, every vehicle is truly a four wheel alignment, whether or not adjustments can be made to each wheel depends on the vehicle. Front wheel measurements are taken based on the position of the rear wheels. However, vehicles with front and rear independent suspension are true four-wheel alignments. Vehicles with a straight rear axle (no adjustments possible) are considered front-end alignments.

Correcting the angles for optimum driving

There are three angles technicians are focused on when aligning your vehicle; toe, camber, and caster. Each one represents a different plane your tire is in relationship to the road and the axles.

Toe is the position of the tires, either pointed inward towards each other or outwards and away from each other, as viewed from the front of the car. To get an idea, place your feet on the ground and turn your toes towards each other. This would be toe-in. Conversely, turning your toes away from each other would represent toe-out. Toe in or out creates edge wear and chopping of tire tread blocks.

Think of camber as the angle which the tire is leaning outward at the top  (and inward at the bottom), or inwards at the top (towards the frame of the vehicle) and outwards at the bottom on the road. Depending on the severity of the camber angle, you could expect to see extreme tire wear on either inside or outside edges of the tires.

When you turn the steering wheel, the front wheels respond by turning on a pivot attached to the suspension system. Caster is the angle of this steering pivot, measured in degrees when viewed from the side of the vehicle.

Once your car is properly aligned by a professional, you can expect a better driving vehicle. You might also notice improved fuel economy as your tires aren’t fighting against the road. If you’re seeing uneven tire wear and noticing your steering wheel off-center, call us to set up an appointment for an alignment.

Are you ignoring your cars’ warning signs?

Some people seem lucky with their vehicles – never appear to have car troubles. Other people seem like the unluckiest people with their cars that you’d think they bought a lemon. Owning a sound and reliable car doesn’t happen by chance. It takes paying attention to the warning signs the car gives you that it’s not operating properly. Ignore the signs and you’ll risk harming the car and reducing the longevity of it. And, it’ll most likely cost you more in the long run.

Car overheating

Easy car-care tips

What may be surprising is that the following list is really easy to stay on top of.

Ignoring the check engine light: this system comes on only after the vehicle has performed self-checks during start-up. When conditions are present for a certain amount of start-ups, the light comes on telling you “get me to a service shop”. If the light is flashing that means stop driving the car or something worse could happen. The longer you ignore this light, the greater damage you may do to the car and your wallet.

Unaware of maintenance schedules: All car manufacturers outline maintenance schedules for the optimum performance of each specific vehicle model. These schedules can be found in your owner’s manual. It’s critical that your car or truck be inspected periodically so that worn parts can be identified and replaced before causing greater damage and expense.

Delaying or missing regular oil and filter changes: Your car or truck needs a certain volume of oil to be properly lubricated and operate. The filter – fairly self-explanatory – traps debris that may be circulating in the oil system. The fluid and filter need to be changed on a regular basis in order to keep the engine components moving and under proper pressure. Oil will break down over time and provide less protection to the multiple moving parts. Less protection leads to greater risk of damage.

Harsh driving: Jackrabbit starts, NASCAR turns and Dukes of Hazard stops can be hard on your car and your fuel economy. While you can’t control the conditions you drive in, you can control how you drive. Give your vehicle the distance it needs to slow down and safely stop. Hard shortstops will prematurely wear our brake rotors and pads. Observe the speed limit for optimum fuel economy. If you’re hauling items in your SUV or truck, check the load rating on the vehicle and make sure you’re not overloading it.

Overlooking your tires: We wrote in a previous blog post, your tires are a big financial investment, so it’s fiscally smart to take care of them. Lack of tire rotation and driving on under-inflated tires are the two most common ways we see tires prematurely wear out.

Dirty car syndrome: Are you the type to wash your car only occasionally during the winter? Understand that salt and road grime is eating away at your body panels and frame. Not to mention it’s contributing to bolts and nuts seizing. Wash your car as soon as you can after traveling on heavily salted/sanded roads. If you travel frequently on dirt roads, same goes for you. Washing will keep the wheel bearings, axles and other critical suspension/steering parts clean, as well as the body and frame. It’s hard to inspect a dirty vehicle.

You can prolong the life and value of your car by following these few tips. According to Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. “Routine maintenance can go a long way toward saving money, avoiding headaches and protecting your vehicle investment.”

Buying a used car – what to look for, what to run from

Happy couple with car purchaseLeased and retired rental vehicles have created a swell of available used vehicles in the marketplace. Many are in excellent condition and may have a portion of the original factory warranty remaining on the car. For these reasons, buying a used car may be appealing to you. Follow these tips when considering a purchase so that you get the biggest value for your money.

Exterior

Check the exterior carefully for deep scratches and dent. Don’t forget to look at the roof. Look at the gaps between body panels. If space is inconsistent – too tight or too wide, it may indicate a structural shift under the panels. Look carefully for rust, along edges of wheel wheels, at bottom of body panels. Check that all exterior lights are working and that none of the light lenses are broken or cracked. Open and close all doors, hood and trunk. All tires should be the same brand and model. Use a tire tread depth tool to measure the remaining tread on tires. Check the sidewalls for bulges or any signs of cracking and dryness.

Don’t be sold on a used car just from looking at the exterior. You can’t tell the real condition of a vehicle until you’ve inspected the underside.

Interior

Since you’ll be spending a fair amount of time inside the car, you’ll want to make sure the interior is free of odors. A musty mildew smell may be an indication the vehicle was in a flood, or at the very least, has some type of water leak. Touch the carpets to see if there is any moisture. Check the trunk for moisture and odors as well. Try all the buttons and levers, checking the windshield wipers, seat adjustments, heater controls, fan and AC controls. Check all the windows, from each of the window control positions. If the vehicle has an aftermarket radio/stereo system, inquire about the installer credentials. Sometimes a DIY job creates more headaches down the road, especially with something as critical and delicate as electrical wiring.

Check the upholstery for stains, including the headliner. Any unusual staining on headliner can be an indication of leaks.

The engine compartment

First impressions are important. If you see an oily greasy engine compartment, you may be looking at trouble. Hoses should feel firm, not mushy and certainly not cracked and dried out. Check belts as well; firm, not mush and no cracks. The battery (hopefully it’s located in your engine compartment), should have clean terminals and not be covered by a greenish-white corrosive build-up. Ideally, the battery terminals should be greased and cables tight. If the battery is not in the engine compartment, check under the passenger seats in back of vehicle. Obviously with the battery located here, it will be in a much cleaner condition as it’s not in contact with any elements.

While the engine is cool, check the color of the antifreeze. It should be light green, light orange, pink or blue. It should never look like thick chocolate milk or rusty-red sludge. If it’s brownish in color, it is possible that a liquid sealant was added to the coolant in an attempt to slow down or seal a coolant leak. This could be a big problem-car, depending on your budget and time.

Regardless of the seller – dealer or private party –insist on taking the vehicle to your mechanic for a full inspection and test drive. If the answer is ‘no’, you may want to ask yourself what is the seller not wanting you to see? Be wary of someone selling a car that refuses an independent inspection.

Ask for copies of service records and the location of the previous service shop. Don’t forget to use online tools such as CARFAX and the vehicle recall feature at https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.

Are you buying a used car soon?

Happy Car BuyerBring your new used car to our mechanic shop, and for just $49.95 you’ll get a full inspection and write-up of the vehicle’s condition. The inspection is a great tool to have before you purchase, so that you have information for negotiating. We’ll test drive, and inspect on the hoist. You can feel confident that we’ll thoroughly inspect the suspension, exhaust, steering components, wheels, tires and brakes and look over the engine compartment. Fluids that are accessible – we’ll check their condition and level. We provide you with a report indicating items that may be maintenance items in the near future. With this information, you can budget your new used car expense against what you’re willing to invest in.

Call our mechanic shop today at 517-592-5987 (extension 2) to set up a Used Car Inspection. We can usually schedule the appointment within a day or two of requesting an appointment.

The Check Engine Light mystery

You’re cruising down the road, and all of a sudden your eye catches a light on your dashboard. The dreaded Check Engine Light is on. You feel your stomach start to sink and a million thoughts go racing through your mind from “oh great, what now?”, “do I keep driving?” to “am I safe?”

Check Engine LightThe often misunderstood Check Engine Light is part of your vehicle’s self-diagnostic system. Every time you start your car and drive, the vehicles’ computers go through a series of checks. If something is amiss, it will turn the light on and store a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC). The reason the light is on can range from simple to serious. That’s why it’s best to never ignore the Check Engine Light.

What the light means

When the Check Engine Light symbol is illuminated, it’s letting you know that a self-check in the emission system failed. The DTC (trouble code) will give reference to what area of the emission system may be failing or struggling. Consumer Reports explains it best:  The [car’s] computer monitors and adjusts dozens of components and processes. For example, it continually samples exhaust emissions as they come out of the engine and again when they leave the catalytic converter, a device that removes carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollutants from the exhaust. The system also monitors your car’s fuel system to ensure that gasoline vapors are not escaping into the atmosphere through a leak or even a loose or missing gas cap. In most cases, if a problem occurs, the computer will wait to see if it corrects itself before turning on the light. 

Your time and trust is too valuable to us for us to approach problem solving by throwing parts at the issue.

What to do with a Check Engine Light on

Flashing or steadily lit lights indicate different problems. A steady Check Engine Light doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an emergency – but it does mean make a service appointment soon. If the light is flashing, then it’s best to stop driving and call for a tow. The problems could cause greater damage to the emissions components if the car is driven further. In some cases, you may experience a loss of power; this is your car’s way of going into self-preservation mode until it can be serviced.

The value of free code readings – something for nothing?

Automotive parts stores may offer to scan the codes for free for you. But remember, they are a parts store and their mission is to sell parts. Let’s say you have a code P0457; the parts store may try to sell you a replacement gas cap. You buy it, install it, and off you go. Check engine light stays on. Now what? You probably aren’t going to go back to the parts store because their solution didn’t fix the problem. Go see a professional ASE certified mechanic who has the diagnosis skills to interpret why P0457 is on in the first place. After a thorough inspection and testing, the ASE certified tech concludes the leak was detected at the EVAP leak detection pump.

At Irish Hills Collision & Service, we attack the “whys” of a problem like a dog to a bone. Once we understand “why”, then we know “what” needs to be replaced, reprogrammed, cleaned and or adjusted. Your time and trust is simply too valuable to us for us to approach problem solving by throwing parts at the issue. Our approach is: test, diagnose, repair and test.

Stay on the road longer with these basic tire maintenance tips

You just spent upwards of $400 or more — most likely way more — to outfit your vehicle with dependable tires. That’s a big financial investment, so it makes sense to take good care of them. Follow these tire maintenance tips to get the most miles out of your tires.

Key tire maintenance points for longevity

Proper air inflation is critical for the safety of the tire and handling of the vehicle. Over-inflating tires can causes stress on the sidewall of the tire and may cause a blow-out during an impact collision or striking a pothole. Over-inflating can also cause a crowning of the center tire tread, creating uneven wear in the center of the tire tread.

On the other hand, under-inflating tires also weakens the sidewall of the tire and won’t support the vehicle properly. On an under-inflated tire you’d expect to see excessive wear on both other edges of the tire. An under-inflated tire could have a blow-out when hitting a pothole or the vehicle may hydroplane in wet conditions. Each vehicle manufacturer has a placard installed in every vehicle they make, indicating the proper air inflation for tires in winter and in summer. Our experts rely on these guidelines from the manufacturer for proper tire inflation.

Notice your low tire pressure light come on in cooler temperatures? That’s not a surprise. When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, the air becomes denser and it lowers the tire pressure inside the tire. According to Consumer Reports, you can expect a drop in pressure about 1 PSI for every ten degrees Fahrenheit drop in air temperature. We recommend checking air pressure regularly, even if the warning light on the dash isn’t on.

It’s a good habit to perform a  visual inspection of tire condition. Make this part of your monthly tire maintenance that you can do at home. Bulges or cuts (especially after hitting a pothole or curb) can indicate internal structural problems with the tire. Left not repaired, you risk a serious handling issue with the vehicle.

Tire balance and rotation for smooth riding

Besides proper inflation and regular visual inspections, rotating tires on a regular basis helps maintain even tire tread wear and prolong the life of your tires. Oftentimes, the tire manufacturer requires regular rotation in order to not void the tire warranty. Failing to rotate creates uneven wear and causes poor handling of the vehicle. We recommend rotating tires between every 6,000 and 10,000 miles. We find it’s easier to keep track of when rotations are scheduled with regular oil changes.

Tires are are always balanced after being mounted to the wheel. Why is balancing done? Because no wheel or tire is perfectly round. Also, weight distribution in either isn’t perfect. By adding slight weight (in ounces), and spin balancing it’s possible to create a smooth and vibration-free rotation. Tires that are unbalanced will have a vibration possibly combined with noise, and may become uneven in the tread wear. Unbalanced tires also negatively affect the suspension of your vehicle, not to mention ride comfort. It’s a good idea to have the balance of your tires checked at least every 18-24 months, or more often in areas with poor road conditions and potholes, or if you frequently drive on dirt roads.

Rotation tire patterns for 5 vehicle types

Tire Rotation Patterns

Depending on the type of tire your vehicle has, directional, asymmetrical or open shoulder, tire rotations should be performed regularly by your technician. Conventional rotation patterns are shown in the illustration above.

Performance tire and wheel trends have created the need for additional tire rotation patterns:

  • The “Front-to-Rear” pattern may be used for vehicles equipped with the same size directional wheels and/or directional tires.
  • A “Side-to-Side” pattern may be used for vehicles equipped with different sized non-directional tires and wheels on the front axle compared to the rear axle.

What to do if you notice uneven tire wear on your tires? Make an appointment with us right away for a suspension and tire inspection. Uneven tire wear can be a result of worn suspension components, not just tire balance or inflation. If your car feels like it is pulling or if you have to turn the steering wheel to drive straight, your wheels may be out of alignment, or the suspension needs attention. If its time for new tires, check our tire rebate page for special offers.

Cold-weather driving tips

Cold-weather drivingDriving in cold-weather could be a competitive sport – at least in our area. With deep wet snow, ice, extreme wind chill temperatures and gusty tundra-like winds, it makes good sense to prepare for change in driving conditions. Follow these cold-weather driving tips to improve your travel experience throughout the winter.

  • Even though fall is over, deer are still active even during the winter months. Deer often travel along tree lines and in drainage ditches; and being creatures of habit – they’ll travel those routes year after year. When you see one deer, slow down; they travel in groups and there may be more following.
  • Always wear your seat-belt; the odds of surviving a crash without great injury or death are two to three times greater when wearing a seat-belt.
  • Cold temperatures put added stress on your battery, particularly if you park outdoors. Come in and we’ll perform a voltage load test.
  • With the potential for freezing rain, sleet and icy snow, a great pair of wiper blades is a meaningful investment.
  • Antifreeze helps lower the freezing temperature of the water in your radiator, which helps prevent freezing in cold weather. If you haven’t done so in a while, consider replacing the coolant.
  • Tires lose approximately 1 pound of pressure for every 10-degrees Fahrenheit drop in temperature. Visit us and we’ll check the air pressure and valve stems of your tires. Also, rotating tires to get the best tires forward is also a smart idea. Did you know we sell tires? We have a huge assortment to choose from, including national name brands! Check out our tire rebate page for current deals on tires.
  • Have your brakes inspected. Dust shields behind the rotors help keep out road debris (think salt and sand) and help prolong the life of your rotors. We can check the amount of brake fluid in the reservoir, and measure the thickness of the brake pads so you understand how much stopping material you have left on your brakes.
  • Keep an emergency kit accessible in the vehicle. Basics include a blanket, flashlight, first-aid kit, ice scraper, jumper cables and a snow brush. If space isn’t an issue, consider adding a change of clothes, snacks and flashlight batteries.

Brakes are one of the main safety features of any vehicle

Did you know that during a tire rotation, our ASE certified technicians routinely perform an inspection of your brakes? Maintaining your braking system is essential to safe driving and upkeep of your vehicle. We inspect the condition of your brake rotors and note any corrosion. Excessive corrosion limits the amount of contact between pad and rotor. This reduces the stopping power of the vehicle. Tech’s also measure the thickness of the brake pads and verify the wear is even across the length of the pad. Uneven pad wear is indicates a potential problem with the brake caliper. Hoses are visually inspected for worn areas and possible leaks.

When it comes to vehicle safety, the brake system is at the top of the list, so have your brakes checked by an auto service professional at least once a year,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Knowing the key warning signs that your brakes may need maintenance will go a long way toward keeping you and others safe on the road.”

Disc brake rotor

Have one of our technicians perform a thorough brake inspection if you notice any of the following when braking:

  • Hearing noise(s) when applying the brakes
  • Feel a pull to one side while braking
  • Vibrations in the pedal or steering wheel when applying the brakes
  • Brake light is illuminated on the dashboard
  • Brake pedal pushes all the way to the floor

Brakes are designed to be a wear-item, the parts are meant to wear and be replaced. Depending on drive style, road conditions and type of brake materials, the wear may be slow or rapid. Be cautious of anyone who tries to sell you a lifetime warranty. The adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is applicable when it comes to lifetime warranties on brakes.

After-market Cold Air Intake Kits and Filters – Do they really help?

They look mighty; they make promises of additional horsepower, but are they really worth the money and live up to the hype of performance?

Recently, we had a 2010 Chevrolet 1500 Silverado come in with rough-starting and fuel odors at start-up. Upon opening the hood, the tech is faced with a beefy stainless steel aftermarket air system. From his experience, aftermarket add-on’s are usually a good place to start when diagnosing problems.

Within a few moments of looking over the air system, the tech sees a point of un-metered airflow. See picture  below for location; between the mass airflow sensor and the throttle body. This could be a big part, if not all of the reason for the rough start and fuel odor.

Open and unmetered airflow in this stainless steel tube has created rough-starting problems on this 2010 Chevy Silverado.

Open and unmetered airflow in this stainless steel tube has created rough-starting problems on this 2010 Chevy Silverado.

The tech resolved the rough start issue. He reattached a poor fitting crankcase ventilation fresh air intake hose to the aftermarket air intake system. Even though the problem was resolved, the customer wanted the original equipment components reinstalled.

Why we’re not a fan of high performance Cold Air Intake Kits

Aftermarket re-usable performance air filters are usually coated with oil. As the air passes through the filter, the air collects small amounts of oil. These oil particles attach themselves to the wires inside the Mass Air Flow sensor, making the wires dirty. Dirt particles end up being stuck to the oily wires. When the wires become dirty, the sensor cannot properly detect the amount of incoming air. This ends up causing incorrect information to be sent to the ECM regarding fuel ratio. Incorrect data causes performance problems.

Ironic, isn’t it? The main selling feature of an aftermarket re-usable air system is for increased performance. Yet those systems more times than not, end up causing performance problems. If they really lived up to the promises, don’t you think the manufacturers would be using them?