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Good Question

by Cathy Reichow

Q. My yellow check engine light comes on, what does that mean?

A. When a yellow check engine or service engine soon light comes on, you should make an appointment to have your vehicle checked. What that light means is that the computer is sensing a problem. It could be very minor such as a sensor out of range or it could be that a sensor needs to be replaced. If a red light comes on, your car needs immediate attention. Shut off the engine and have it checked out right away.

Q. I took my car to a shop and they charged me for two hours of diagnostic charges. Why does it take two hours on the diagnostic machine to find out what is wrong with my car?

A. Unfortunately there is no "magic machine." What it requires to accurately diagnose today's vehicles is a combination of a few things. First the technician needs to properly road test the vehicle, then he may do a visual inspection of your vehicle. He may do a series of scan tests, computer code tests, fuel pressure and volume test, wiggle and tap tests, and finally he may need to scope the engine this all requires time. It's not unrealistic for today's vehicles to require 3 to 4 hours to accurately diagnose a driveability concern.

Q. Do I have the right to ask what brand of parts a repair shop used on my car?

A. When you take your vehicle to a shop for repair, you should not only get an itemized bill with part number and brand name, but it should list everything that was done on your vehicle. The best advice I can give you is to find a shop that does this gives you a detailed invoice of what was performed and what parts were replaced. You should be offered to see or take your old parts if you want to. It's also great if the shop can document if there is anything else your vehicle may need in the future. That way you can budget for future needs.

Q. I was in an accident where the right side of my car got hit. The air bag did not go off, how come?

A. Most cars that are equipped with air bags have three sensors that activate the air bag system. When you are involved in an accident two out of the three air bag sensors need to be activated for the air bag to deploy. Most sensors are located in the front of the vehicle; therefore, unless you have nearly a head on collision, the air bag will not deploy.

Q. The yellow ABS light comes on for my brakes. Does that mean I won't have any brakes?

A. When the yellow ABS light comes on that means that something for the ABS system is not functioning properly therefore your ABS system will not function. The ABS (anti lock brake system) is designed to work in panic stops. It keeps the wheels from locking up and skidding. Your regular brakes will function the way they were designed to work from the factory. ABS is, however, a very important safety feature and I would recommend you have the system checked by your shop as soon as you can.

Q. I have a front wheel drive car and I hear a popping noise when turning a corner. What could cause this noise?

A. A popping or clicking noise when turning is almost always a sign of a worn CV (constant velocity) joint going bad. If a joint is noisy, a visual inspection would be in order. The technician would first inspect for loose or torn boots. If the boot is torn and the joint has lost its lubricant chances are the joint has been damaged by water and dirt and will need to be replaced.

Q. When should I service my cooling system?

A. At my shop we recommend to our customers that the cooling system be serviced every 2 years or 24,000 miles (car manufacturers say 3 years 36,000). There are additives in antifreeze that provide alkaline to help neutralize internal corrosion before it begins. We are finding that after 2 years the antifreeze starts to lose the corrosion resistance. When having your system serviced, it should be flushed to help remove debris that may have accumulated in the system. It should then be refilled with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and clean water. This is also a great time for a visual inspection of your hoses and belts.

Q. My technician suggested that I have a fuel injection service performed on my car. Could I just add some fuel injection cleaner to my gas tank?

A. Many of today's vehicles that are fuel injected require a professional cleaning every so often. I like to see my customers have a fuel injection service done when they have their tune up done. A fuel injection service is definitely different than the cleaners you put in your gas tank. This procedure disables the fuel system temporarily so that a cleaning solution, under pressure, can be run through your fuel injection system. This cleaning process also helps to break up carbon deposits that may be built up on your engine valves. The process may also include cleaning the throttle plates. If you have a fuel injected vehicle this service should be added to your yearly maintenance list.

Q. I drive an older vehicle that is equipped with air conditioning and it uses the R-12 type of refrigerant. I am worried that I won't be able to get it repaired if I need to this summer.

A. Many people have asked the same question and are worried about their older cars that have this type of refrigerant. As of right now there is still plenty of R-12 available but at an expensive price. In most cases if your car just needs to be recharged or has a minor problem with the system which can be repaired for a few hundred dollars it is better to just have the A/C repaired. However, if it is a major repair and you plan to keep the vehicle for a while, you may consider having the system retrofitted for R134a - the new product. Kits are available for almost every vehicle.

Q. My vehicle seems to be rusting especially on the bottom of the doors. Any ideas why this is occurring? I had my vehicle rustproofed when it was new.

A. If you live in a climate where you have seasons of rain or snow it is important to have the drain plugs that are in the bottom of the doors removed and let any moisture escape that may have built up over time. Most rustproofing warranties include an annual touch up and inspection for a small fee. Try to have this done annually. Also keep your car's exterior as clean as you can. Avoid road dirt and salt build up. A semi annual wax will help keep the paint color from fading and the outside elements from penetrating the paint.

Q. My car is four years old and when I took it in for service, they told me my battery was marginal. Since winter is over, should I wait until next winter to replace it?

A. Four years is the average life for a battery. Unless you enjoy being stranded, replacement of your battery is a good preventive maintenance item. A weak battery can affect your electrical and computer system. Hot summer weather can have the same effect or worse than winter weather on a car battery. Take the plunge . . . buy a new battery. When having the battery installed it's important that the battery cables are cleaned and then protected with anti corrosive spray. Your technician will also go through a procedure to reprogram your computer system. Some cars require that this be done with a scan tool. Make sure someone qualified replaces it for you.

Q. What can I do to get my car ready for summer?

A. Especially in hot weather driving, it is important that your oil is fresh and clean and the proper weight for summer temperatures. Have your oil and filter changed. Make sure your air cleaner element is not clogged with dirt and debris. Check in front of your radiator to make sure there are no left over leaves and winter grime in front of it. You can use a garden hose to clean this area. Check your records to see how long it's been since your fuel filter has been replaced. Every 15,000 miles is the recommended mileage span for today's cars. Check your tire pressure. Proper inflation is essential for even tire wear and low tires can also affect fuel mileage. Fill your washer fluid bottle; dry dusty days are ahead. Clean or replace your wiper blades for clear vision. Check and fill all other fluid levels, transmission fluid, coolant (do this with the engine cold), brake fluid, power steering fluid. Have a friend help you check your lights to make sure they are all in working order. Finally on a nice summer day find a shady spot to give your car a good cleaning and wax. You and your car will both feel better.

Q. My front end shimmies especially at low speeds. Does this mean I need a front end alignment?

A. Not necessarily. Alignments are usually performed to cure a pulling condition or to correct poor handling. If your car shakes or shimmies as you are driving, chances are it's caused by a worn tire or defective tread structure. It also can be due to a faulty front end component. Have your front end inspected. Your technician will road test the vehicle. They should inspect tie rods and ball joints for excessive wear. He or she will most likely inspect your tires for worn / uneven areas and for belt separation. If you do need new tires or have a worn end component then an alignment will usually be performed once these items are replaced.


Co - owner of Dan R's Automotive Sales & Service, ASE Certified Auto Parts Specialist, President of the Toledo, OH Chapter of ASA and Car Care Council Women's Board member. Cathy is now an editorial contributor to Car Care Council whose purpose is to educate motorists about maintenance and repair.

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