Christensen Automotive | Gardnerville 775.782.2605 , Carson City 775.882.8888, Reno 775.322.8100, South Lake Tahoe 530.544.9940, Fallon 775-423-5455

Basics of Alignment- Camber, Caster, and Toe

Alignment Normal wear and road conditions can take their toll on your car’s steering and suspension system, possibly throwing alignment settings out of specifications. Therefore the alignment should be checked periodically on an alignment machine that takes readings to make sure everything is within specifications. Your alignment should be checked if you are experiencing uneven wear on your tires, experiencing any kind of steering or handling problem, and it may be required when certain steering and suspension components are replaced. An alignment can help to maximize tread life on a new set of tires and ensure optimum handling and traction for driving safety. Typical service recommendation for an alignment check is annually or when you purchase new tires. Be sure to ask for a four-wheel alignment. This is because all four wheels influence directional stability, steering and handling and should be considered a must for all AWD, 4wd, front wheel drive and minivans as well as rear-wheel drive cars with independent rear suspensions. There are 3 specifications that are checked in an alignment service: Toe Toe is probably the easiest measurement to understand. If you look down at your feet and turn your toes inward this is toe-in, turn your toes out, this is toe-out. Most vehicles are intentionally slightly pigeon-toed. The best tip-off to a toe problem is a saw-tooth wear pattern that’s equal on both front tires. If the tread blocks point toward the frame, then toe-in is excessive; pointing outward indicates too much toe-out. You may also find that incorrect toe angle is causing the car to pull left or right. Camber Camber is the measurement...

Water Pump- The Heart of the Cooling System

Think of the water pump as the heart of your vehicle cooling system. Its job is to continuously circulate engine coolant through the cooling system – from the radiator to the engine and then back again. If the water pump fails the cooling system itself will fail to function. Your vehicle will run hot and possibly suffer serious damage from engine overheating. Fortunately, a water pump that is about to give up the ghost will “bleed” – leak coolant. It may also make noise as its bearing loses its way. Telltale signs of a failing water pump are coolant leaks originating from the water pump itself or the surrounding engine area. A wet engine or a coolant weep through the vent under a water pump are also sure signs of impending water pump failure. Another red flag is if the water pump is making more noise than usual. This may be from a defective impeller or an impeller that’s no longer properly attached to its drive shaft. Finally, if you see your temperature gauge on the dash jump into the red, this is another good sign there is a failure in your cooling system. Pull off to a safe location and turn the engine off, driving any further with an over-heated engine will cause expensive damage fast! When it comes to water pump longevity, they actually tend to last a long time. Since a water is either working or not, replacement is a matter of necessity rather than preventive maintenance. On the other hand, since often times much of the cooling system or even the engine may need to...

Pre-Travel Holiday Checklist

About this time next week it will be Christmas, and all of us here at Christensen Automotive wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. And remind you, if you are travelling to visit with family and friends make sure that you or your mechanic has given your vehicle a quick maintenance and safety check prior to setting off, so you are able to enjoy your holidays without worrying about your car. Here is a quick guide of what you should check: • Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering and brake and transmission, as well as windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant. • Check the hoses and belts that can become cracked, brittle, frayed, and loose or show signs of excessive wear. These are critical to the proper functioning of the electrical system, air conditioning, power steering and the cooling system. • Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots. You can find the optimum pressure for your vehicle on the sticker on the inside jam of the driver’s door. • Check lighting to identify any problems with exterior and interior lighting as the chance of an accident increases if you can’t see or be seen. Clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag. • Check wipers. Wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace them if they leave streaks or miss spots. Also, make sure the windshield washer reservoir is filled...

What’s In Your Emergency Roadside Tool Kit?

Break-downs are never convenient but having some basic tools at your disposal can help you get to a safer location or failing that allow you make the scene safer for yourself until help arrives. So if you are driving these holidays, even if it is no great distance I hope that you have checked on or prepared your emergency roadside toolkit. The list below provides a few items that should be included. Flashlight- There are all sorts of flashlights available in today’s marketplace, but it’s tough to beat some of the machined aluminum jobs out there. Always be certain the batteries are fresh  and keep a spare bulb in place, you never know when a bulb will expire. Tool Kit- You can buy pre-packaged emergency tool kits. Or you can make your own. Essentially, you don’t need to pack tools to overhaul the car on the side of the road. Instead, think about items like a pair of pliers, flat blade screwdrivers in two different sizes, a Phillips-blade screwdriver, a good quality adjustable wrench, a pair of vise-grips, a set of wire cutters (preferably with a wire stripping option), a pocketknife and perhaps a small ball peen hammer. Add a roll of mechanic’s wire; a small roll of electrical wire, several spare fuses, a roll of electrical tape and you can fix a number of roadside maladies. Wrap everything in a small sports bag and you’re done (and likely at a cost that’s less than half of a commercial kit). First-Aid Kit- A small 8-10-person first-aid kit can cost less than $20 and will include the majority of what you’ll need in...

Where’s The Heat?

It is cold outside and hopefully your heater is working as it should. Heaters work off the warm air absorbed by the radiator from the warmed-up engine. If your cold-day car ritual is to turn up the heat and blower right after you turn the ignition switch, all you’ll get is cold air. Only once the engine warms up will the passenger compartment warm up as well. So what is the cause if that warm air never arrives? Below is a laundry list of possible causes as to why you may be left sitting in the cold. Coolant is low. If you’ve just recently changed the  antifreeze, check the coolant level in the radiator to see if the radiator is full. An air pocket in the heater core or hose may be interfering with the flow of coolant through the heater core. You should also check for obvious leaks and have them repaired as necessary. An open thermostat or one that’s too cold for the application. A defective heater control valve. This valve allows coolant to circulate through the heater core even when the heater isn’t being used. A plugged heater core. Accumulated crud in the cooling system may plug the core and block the flow of coolant. The only cure here is to replace the heater core. To prevent the problem from reoccurring, the cooling system should be flushed and refilled with a fresh 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. Distilled water is best since it contains no minerals. An inoperative airflow control or inlet door in the heater ducting or plenum. If the defrosters aren’t working either,...

Getting A Grip On Winter Driving

With the end of daylight savings and a definite chill in the air, you may be thinking about your winter tire options. As a brief overview there are 2 main winter tire choices, studs, studless, and then there are “all season” tires. Each has their benefits and constraints and your choice should be based on what conditions you mainly drive in. An easy way to make sure the tire you purchase is rated as a winter tire is to look for the “snowflake-in-a-mountain” symbol on the sidewall of the tire. A good set of winter tires on all four wheels regardless of whether your vehicle is front, rear or all wheel drive will improve handling and traction on snow and ice. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and in fact most owner’s manuals recommend installing four winter tires so you maintain the most balanced and controlled handling possible in all winter driving conditions. It is imperative to keep the same level of traction at all four corners of the car; otherwise, the full benefits of ABS or traction control systems will be lost. Below is a quick list of pros and cons of each type of winter tire. All Season Tires Pros: Can be used all year round Cons: Does not provide enough traction in snow or icy conditions Studs Pros: Good traction on ice and hard packed snow Cons: Loud, do not handle well on wet or dry pavement, damages roads. Additionally, studded snow tires are only permitted on Nevada roads between October 1st and April 30th Studless Pros: Good traction in all winter conditions, quiet, remain flexible in...

Winterizing Your Vehicle

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. As I’m writing this the forecast was for only a slight chance of precipitation, but winter driving conditions are here and can be harsh and there is no worse time for your vehicle to break down. A few simple checks and simple preparedness can help to keep your vehicle running smoothly this winter. These suggestions are taken from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and the AAA. Cooling System – The primary function of the cooling system is to keep the engine from overheating. The system should be flushed and refilled as recommended by your owner’s manual. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. The AAA recommended protection level is -36 degrees. Heater/Defroster – must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility. Windshield Wipers – Replace old blades. Rubber-clad (winter) blades will help to fight ice build up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent-you’ll be surprised how much you use. Remember to carry an ice-scraper. Battery – Have checked for corrosion, cracks and dirt and to make sure it still operates as designed and then have it cleaned or replaced if necessary. Lights – Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag. Brakes – Nothing is more important than your car’s ability to stop itself and if your brake pads are worn you will not be able to stop your vehicle when you need to. You can check for brake pad wear by...

How to read a tire sidewall

Coupled with the “max load” number, which is found near to “max press” on the sidewall, you can know the maximum load-carrying ability of a tire. Know this: It’s air pressure that allows the tire to carry a load. At one pound per square inch (psi) of air pressure a tire can support no weight. To increase its load-carrying capacity, air pressure must be increased. (Imagine a plastic soft-drink bottle: With the top off, it’s easily crushed, but new and unopened it can support a grown man.) However, at some pressure, adding more air to the tire will not provide increased weight-carrying capacity: That’s what the “max load/max pressure” means. Molded into every tire sidewall is a series of codes that give valuable information to the consumer regarding that specific tire, such as name of the tire, its size, whether it is tubeless or its tube type, the tire grade, speed rating, the maximum load, maximum inflation, important safety warnings, etc. Let’s look at a typical passenger car tire to see what those letters and number really mean: Example: P255/60R15 102T “P” means this is a passenger car tire (as opposed to a tire made for a truck or other vehicle). P-metric is the U.S. version of a metric tire-sizing system. LT designates the tire as a light truck (or SUV) tire. “255” Section Width: The width of the tire in millimeters from sidewall to sidewall. This measurement varies depending on the width of the rim to which the tire is fitted: larger on a wider rim, smaller on a narrow rim. The number on the side of tire...

HIGH MILEAGE CAR CARE

According to Edmunds.com, owners are keeping their cars longer than they did a few years ago, a trend that is expected to continue until the economy rebounds. The U.S. Department of Transportation says an average car should last about 13 years and 145,000 miles before its scrapped. As a vehicle’s ages, its performance decreases and oil starts to break down at a faster rate. Over time, seals begin to deteriorate; gaskets become brittle, leaks become more prevalent and oil consumption increases — all leading to a reduction in engine performance. As more of the nation’s cars exceed 75,000 miles and approach the 100,000-mile mark, regular maintenance becomes an increasingly important way to prevent costly car repairs. As a vehicle ages it is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule. Don’t rely solely on more general recommendations, and certainly not the “dealer’s recommended schedule,” which will cost you more than necessary. Following the manufacturer’s schedule carefully not only means fewer problems as a car ages; it also prevents the manufacturer from ever voiding your warranty based on “neglect.” Also make sure you keep records of all maintenance and repairs for your vehicle. These maintenance schedules work for vehicles getting normal use, but many people put extra stress on their vehicles. Manufacturers will also provide a severe use maintenance schedule. Any of the following qualifies as “severe” use, which may require shortening the normal maintenance cycle: Towing. Off-road driving. Driving through dust storms or in dusty conditions. Frequent, short (less than 5 miles) trips or frequent stops and starts. Cold climate operation. Some other tips to help make your vehicle...

Servicing a manual transmission

The manual transmission system is pretty simple in comparison to its automatic cousin. Their gears are located along parallel shafts inside the transmission housing. Power flows when gears are meshed. During gear changes, or when the car is stationary and the engine is idling, a clutch is used to interrupt the flow of power from the engine to the transmission. However, if you are experiencing issues the symptoms are similar to the automatic, and include: slipping, hesitation, bucking, grinding gears and difficulty shifting. Unlike the automatic however, where you actually have to flush the fluids with a machine for preventative maintenance. The manual requires a simple, in comparison, drain and fill of the transmission fluid. Most manufacturers recommend that manual transmission fluid be changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Under heavy-duty use, such as towing or stop-and-go traffic, some manufacturers suggest changing transmission fluid every 15,000 miles. This is because the transmission fluid provides lubrication to gears, bearings, shafts, and other internal components. Heat, pressure and friction can slowly breakdown the additives in the manual transmission fluid and contamination occurs over time as the synchronizers, bearings and gears in the transmission wear out. The resulting metal particles then float around in the lubricant. And we all know that oil with microscopic particles of metal in it does not lubricate as well as clean oil. So if these contaminants are not drained out, they will shorten the life of your transmission. Checking the transmission fluid in a manual transmission can be difficult. A few thoughtful manufacturers have included a dipstick, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. If you own...