Most Recent Articles

Don't Start with That (Bad Starter Motor)

We've all heard that expression, "That's a non starter." When it comes to your vehicle, that's not music to a driver's ears. That sickening sound when you start the ignition and instead of hearing the engine crank, you hear it slowly turn over and your dash lights go dim. 

There can be many reasons a vehicle won't start, so here's a little history of how the starter came to be an important component of modern vehicles.

You have to move the engine's components to start it. The first cars had a crank that the driver would insert into the front, then start turning things over by hand.  When the engine started, you had to release that crank immediately or risk a broken arm.  Yes, it happened many times.  So, they came up with a better idea: an electric starter, which was a big advance in automotive technology.

With this system, an electric motor rotated a series of gears that turned the gasoline engine's crankshaft so its pistons and parts moved and the engine drew in air.  While this happened, electricity went to the spark plugs and fuel headed to the cylinders.  When the gasoline engine caught, the starter quickly disengaged. Hey, no more broken arms!

Modern systems use the same principle, so when your vehicle won't start, here are a few things to look out for that might point to the starter. 

If the engine turns over s-l-o-w-l-y, it may mean the electric starter motor may just be wearing out and doesn't have enough cranking power.  Bushings, brushes, wire windings and a special switch called a commutator may be going bad.

If when you engage the ignition you hear a faint click, that could be a symptom one or more of the starter's components have failed. If you hear a loud click, it could mean that an electrical switch called a solenoid may not be switching the motor on.

If you hear your engine start to turn over but then it stops and is followed by a grinding sound, some gears may not be meshing the way they should.

There may be many more causes (bad alternator, relay, battery, engine, key fob), so this is when it's time to turn it over to your service facility.  Sometimes they can send out their own tow truck or recommend a reputable towing company.

But it's best not to let it get to this point.  Starter problems often give you advance warning that there is a problem with "almost" not starting or "almost" not turning over.  So when you see that very first sign, "start" on over to talk this one over with your service advisor.  The opposite of a "non-starter" is a starter, and that is music to anyone's ears.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

How Far We've Come (Newer Vehicle Technology)

Automotive design has come a long way since the days of the Model T, especially when it comes to safety technology.  You can thank computers for a lot of the latest innovations.  Here are a few that have been making their mark in recent years.

Adaptive cruise control.  This is cruise control with a brain.  Not only will adaptive cruise control keep your vehicle going at a steady speed, it will also slow it down and even stop it if the vehicle ahead of you slows down and stops. 

Automatic emergency braking.  We've all been distracted while driving, and you've probably been in a situation where the driver ahead of you has suddenly stopped.  Or maybe your attention wandered for a minute and you looked up to see your vehicle closing in fast on the car ahead of you.  (After all, there are a lot more distractions in your vehicle these days.)  New systems that use cameras, lasers and other types of sensors will warn you to start braking.  If you don't heed the warning, they'll put on the brakes for you. 

Blind spot warning.  We all worry about hitting a car approaching from behind and on either side if we are changing lanes.  Rearview mirrors cover some blind spots but they're not foolproof.  Enter the blind spot warning system; it warns you with a noise or a light if a vehicle is in a spot you might not be able to see.

Lane departure warning.  We all try to stay in our lane, but sometimes our attention wanders.  If you start to drift out of your lane, new warning systems using cameras and other sophisticated sensors will tell you to get back in your lane.  Some send an audible warning, others use a vibration or warning light. Some will even steer your vehicle back into the lane. 

Rearview camera.  There was a time when trucks and SUVs were involved in horrible accidents because the drivers couldn't see what was behind them as they backed up.  Children and pets were among the tragic victims.  Now, inexpensive rearview cameras are required in the U.S. and Canada, saving lives and providing much more peace of mind for drivers of vehicles with rear visibility issues. 

It's important to make sure this safety technology is working correctly for these systems to be effective.  Your service facility can check and maintain these systems as the manufacturer recommends.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Beware of Potholes! (Avoiding Pothole Damage)

You may live in a region where roads become pockmarked with craters known better as potholes.  They're caused by moisture seeping through a compromised road surface that can freeze, expand and literally punch holes in the road.  And when your vehicle hits one of those holes that's big enough, the impact can flatten a tire, bend a wheel or tear apart a suspension component. 

To minimize pothole damage, leave enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you so you can see the road surface and any upcoming potholes.  That way you'll have time to slow down and steer around them.  Also, if you see what looks like a puddle of water, it may be hiding a pothole underneath, so treat it as if was a pothole.

If you keep your tires inflated to the manufacturer's specifications, they're more likely to withstand hard impacts.  And the slower you're going when you hit a pothole, the less likely you are to break something.   But if you do find you've hit a pothole pretty hard, here are some signs to watch out that could signal damage.

  • Your vehicle pulls to one side
  • The steering wheel shakes
  • You hear noises or clunks coming from your suspension
  • Your steering wheel is not centered when you are going straight

These are all symptoms you should have checked at your vehicle repair facility as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the more damage you may be doing.

You also may find after hitting a pothole hard that the tire on that wheel is flat. Try not to drive any more on that tire since you could do a lot more damage to the tire and/or wheel. A call to roadside assistance may save you money in the long run by limiting the damage to what's already done.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

'Tis the Season (Tires)

We all know about winter tires.  But did you know there is such a thing as summer tires?

Most people have all-season tires on their vehicles.  They work pretty well in a variety of weather conditions.  But if you want better handling and performance, you might consider switching to summer tires.  Here are a few things you should know about them.

Summer tires are good for high-performance vehicles like sports cars and luxury SUVs, but they don't have to be limited to those. They have a different tread pattern than all-season tires, with generally shallower grooves and more rubber that contacts the road.  The rubber is made of a stickier compound good for taking corners at higher speeds.  Plus it is engineered so it stays firmer the hotter the temperature gets. 

Here's a bonus.  That design also works well in warm, wet weather.  It makes sense, since more the more rubber that's touching the concrete or asphalt when it's slippery out, the better the traction. 

There are some things to be aware of with summer tires.  They often have asymmetrical or unidirectional tread patterns.  That sometimes limits the way these tires can be rotated on a vehicle.  Another thing to remember is it is NOT a good idea to use summer tires in any wintery conditions.  They lose traction as the temperature heads toward the freezing range and below since that rubber that's designed to stay firm at warm temperatures gets hard as a rock when they freeze.

But in warmer weather, summer tires can increase your braking and cornering capabilities.  Plus you'll notice more grip at faster speeds and higher temperatures than all-season tires.  So think about discussing summer tires with your service advisor to see if they'd be a good fit for the type of driving you do.  He or she will offer you some choices that are designed to meet your vehicle's specs.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Free Money (Almost) (Fuel Saving Tips)

You spend a lot of money on a vehicle, probably the most money you'll spend on anything except a house.  But the spending doesn't stop after you've bought it.  It goes into things like insurance, repairs and fuel.  One good piece of news is that you can cut down the amount you spend on fuel if you follow a few tips.

Keep your speed under 50 mph/80 kph.  Anything over that and your fuel economy will go down quickly the faster you go.  Sure, you can legally drive  faster than that, but practice this one tip and it can save you from 7%-14% on fuel.

Use cruise control.  The steady speed increases fuel economy by avoiding unnecessary braking and accelerating. 

If your vehicle is carrying unnecessary weight, unload it.  If you can save 100 pounds/45 kilograms, it can save you 1% of your fuel. 

Don't idle.  Let's say you're sitting in a parking lot with your engine running for 10 seconds.  Any more and you're wasting fuel.  Turn off your engine and start it when you have to get going.  You may have noticed that many newer vehicles automatically turn the engine off when the vehicle stops.

Avoid using a roof rack.  A cargo box strapped on the top of your vehicle can reduce your fuel economy by 2%-8% in city driving, by 6%-17% on the highway and by 10%-25% at highway speeds over 65 mph/105 mph.

Also, if you have roof rails on your vehicle with crossbars, you can save 1% of fuel simply by storing them somewhere else.  Some vehicles like Chrysler's Pacifica minivan allow you to store the crossbars inside the roof rails to reduce drag.

Keep tires at their recommended inflation.  It can save you 3% of your fuel bill.

Use the right motor oil for your vehicle.  Using the wrong kind can cost you 1%-2% more money on fuel.

Sure, many of those savings are small on their own.  But add them up and you'd be surprised at how much you can save.  Also, keep in mind that a well maintained vehicle will also save you fuel, so make regular maintenance trips to your vehicle service facility.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Have a Ball! Know your Ball Joints (Ball Joints)

We all have joints in our own skeletal system, but did you know your vehicle has some joints of its own? One of the most important is called a ball joint.

One of the interesting things is that it's somewhat similar to the ball and socket joints we have in our hips and shoulders.  A ball joint allows two parts it joins together to move in more than one direction at the same time.

Think about your wheels.  They have to move up and down when there are bumps in the road but in sideways directions when you are making a turn. As you can see, the ball joints are important for your steering and handling to work correctly.

Since ball joints do so much, they can wear out and become loose.  When the ball wears down or the socket gets worn, there can be too much play in them.  It can get so bad that the ball can come out of the socket and your wheel can fall off, a dangerous situation.  Ball joints can also seize up.  Some of them are sealed and never require maintenance; others require periodic lubrication.

Here are some signs that your ball joints are going bad:

  • Your vehicle pulls to one side
  • You can hear a clunking noise coming from a wheel area
  • Your tires are wearing unevenly, especially on the inside

The earlier a failing ball joint is discovered, the better. The best way is to have regular inspections by a technician.  Your service facility will periodically check ball joints at intervals recommended by the manufacturer. The cost to replace them can vary widely depending on whether you have a vehicle with a 2-ball or 4-ball configuration.  Also, sometimes just the joints can be replaced, but other times they are part of a larger control arm assembly that has to have all the parts replaced at the same time. 

Your vehicle's proper steering, handling and tire wear all contribute to a better, safer driving experience.  Make sure your ball joints are up to the job.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Singing a Different Tune (Up) (Tune Ups)

Engines required a lot more maintenance in earlier times.  You'd have to have your spark plugs, wires, rotors, caps, distributor points, fuel and air filters changed periodically.  There were mechanical adjustments of a vehicle's timing, dwell, spark gap and idle mixture, too. Unless you like to tinker with old cars, a lot of those terms won't mean much to you. 

That service was called a "tune up" back then, and you can see why.  But now, computers have reduced the number of maintenance items, and a tune up is a whole lot different than it used to be.  In fact, in some vehicle service facilities, that term is also a thing of the past. 

A tune up of today would more accurately be called simply periodic maintenance. Now, most vehicles still have spark plugs and wires, fuel filters, air filters and PCV valves, and they should be inspected tested and/or replaced at regular intervals.  Your vehicle's manufacturer has made recommendations on how often that should be. But it depends on your driving habits. Do you regularly tow a trailer? Do you drive on dusty roads often? Are you driving mostly stop and go in the city?  Depending on your answers, to those maintenance intervals might have to be more frequent.

Your service advisor will likely remind you about those "must check" items such as spark plugs and wires, air filter and oxygen sensor.  And now that the old-fashioned tune ups don't require you to take your vehicle in for maintenance as often, you can get the same benefit from scheduled oil changes or tire rotations.  When your vehicle is in for those, a technician can keep an eye on your other systems (fuel, emissions, ignition) to make sure they are operating correctly.

One thing to remember.  When you take your vehicle in for regular service or a specific issue, don't ever hesitate to ask you service advisor to explain what's being done and why.  Hey, "In Sync" may have been a boy band of an earlier era, but it's always good for you and your service advisor to be "in sync" when it comes to what maintenance is good for your vehicle.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com