Direct Injection Engines and Associated ProblemsJanuary 26, 2017
We are seeing a lot of fairly new vehicles with GDI (Gas Direct Injection) engines with driveability problems and wanted to pass some information about them along to our customers, so that when you bring your vehicle in for service, you have a base understanding.
Direct injection engines are great for increasing power and reducing emissions, however, carbon building up on the intake valves is wreaking havoc with some of them. The carbon deposits cause the air/fuel mixture to be distributed unevenly leading to driveability problems and misfire codes.
We have been seeing problems with carbon buildup in engines for a long time, but the problem is much more severe in direct injection engines because the fuel and associated detergents are not hitting the back side of the valves. Oily air and debris from the PCV system gets pulled into the intake and then into the combustion chamber where it should be burnt off. In a port injected engine the fuel was injected into the intake manifold, allowing fuel to rinse off the valves. Now, in a direct injection engine the gasoline is injected right into the cylinder instead of onto the back of the valves, so that debris just gets baked on instead of being rinsed away.
Carbon buildup problems are starting to show up on engines now with as few as 15,000 miles on them. Problems like low power, engine misfires and in extreme cases, engine failure. With more than 45% of vehicles produced in 2016 using GDI technology, this is not a problem that is going away. What can you do about this? Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.
To start with you need to have the engine oil changed at least every 5,000 miles with synthetic oil (I know, the manufacturer recommendation is probably higher than that, do you think they set those recommendations to help you keep your vehicle in good running conditions for 300,000 miles? No they want you to buy a new car every four years or sooner) Second, you should have the induction system cleaned and often, starting at 15,000 miles. Finally it’s important to keep up on reflashes released for the PCM. On most vehicles we can hook up to your vehicle with a lap top and tell if you have the latest software updates and download them as needed. Manufacturers will make adjustments to engine timing through software updates that will help.
If you have questions about GDI engines, feel free to stop in or email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for your business!
Facts and Myths about the Mysterious Check Engine LightAugust 11, 2016
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about why a check engine light comes on. 1996 and newer vehicles have an OBDII computerized monitoring system. OBDII uses different sensors to gather information, vehicle speed, air temperature and engine temperature, for example. It feeds that information into the vehicles computer, commonly called the ECM. The ECM then adjusts things like air/fuel ratio so that the vehicle runs well. If OBDII detects a fault in one of the sensors, it will turn on the check engine light to let you know that something is wrong. Here are some myths cleared up about why the check engine light may be on and what you should do about it.
Myth: My check engine light is on, my oil must be low
Fact: A low oil level condition will not set your check engine light in most cases. That light will come on if something is wrong causing your vehicle to produce more one and a half times more the emissions than it was designed to produce. It will not come on if your oil level is low, if you need windshield washer fluid or if there is a problem with your brakes. If the oil is not changed regularly it is possible for a solenoid called the Variable Valve Timing Solenoid to get plugged and require replacing, but if your oil is just a little past due it should not make the light come on.
Myth: The code in the computer was for an oxygen sensor so I should replace it.
Fact: Your check engine light came on so you stopped at Auto Zone and they scanned the computer for you for free and said that the code was for a bad oxygen sensor, so they sold you a new sensor to replace. First of all, there is likely more than one sensor on your vehicle, are you sure you got the right one and are you sure you are replacing the right one? An oxygen sensor code, or any code for that matter, can come on for a number of different reasons. The oxygen sensor code, for example, could be caused by a problem in the wiring for the sensors or a plugged catalytic converter or a number of other things. A check engine light will direct you to what system is throwing the code, but it will not tell you what caused it. Further diagnosis is necessary, just replacing parts is expensive and the light may come back.
Myth: My check engine light came on, I should have the vehicle towed
Fact: So many things can make that light come on from a bad MAF sensor to a gas cap that isn’t seated properly. The rule of thumb is if the check engine light is on and flashing, pull over and have the vehicle towed. If it is on and steady and the car isn’t running so badly that it isn’t safe (bucking, hesitating, stalling) then you can drive it. If the light is flashing it is an indication of a misfire so severe that there is a danger of doing damage to the catalytic converters.
Myth: My check engine light has always been on, there’s nothing wrong with the car, the light just stays on.
Fact: The light will not come on if there isn’t a problem. It may be a problem that is hard to find, it may be a evaporative fuel leak that is so small it’s hard to detect, but if you bring the vehicle to the right technician with the right equipment it can be fixed. Depending on the code, not having it fixed can lead to poor gas mileage, carbon buildup in your engine and further damage done to other vehicle components eventually rendering the vehicle undrivable. Additionally, the illuminated check engine light causes the vehicle to fail emissions inspection.
Myth: You can disconnect the battery or pull the fuse for the ECM and the check engine light will go out.
Fact: The light may go out briefly, but it will come back, usually within 50 miles or less. Clearing the light will not fix the problem, as you drive it the OBDII system will run tests for each sensor, once the same problem occurs again the light will come back on. That’s why it’s always best if you have a check engine light issue fixed to have the technician NOT turn out the light, but to run a drive cycle if possible so that the light will go out on its own. That’s how you can be sure that the problem was fixed. This is especially important if you are bringing the vehicle in for an emissions test. It’s true that one component of the test is making sure that the light is not illuminated when the car is running, but another component is connecting it to a computer that checks to make sure that all the monitors are set. If you disconnect the battery and all those monitors are cleared, the computer can tell that and will not allow the vehicle to be tested until most of the monitors are set. This can be a real pain in the winter when some monitors require specific air temperatures that we might not reach for weeks here in Western Pennsylvania.
How to Make Your Tires LastApril 12, 2016
Finding out the tires that you thought should last you another 20,000 miles are worn out can really hurt your budget. New tires are a significant investment, but if you know how to take care of them and what to watch out for, they should also last a while. What can you do to make them last longer? A lot.
1. Check Your Tire Pressures Either pickup a good tire pressure gauge (remember, you get what you pay for) or stop in to have one of our techs check your tire pressures roughly every time you get gas. This is probably the number one thing you can do to insure long life. A tire will lose about 1psi a month under normal operating conditions, so that can add up and lead to new tires if you aren’t careful. Many new cars come with a tire pressure monitoring system, but don’t rely on that to keep you informed, sensors can fail. It’s best to be sure and check the pressures manually at least once a month.
2. Wheel Alignment One good pothole can throw your alignment off and cause your tires to completely wear out within 1000 miles. We recommend having the alignment checked whenever you get new tires and then twice a year.
3. Tire Rotation If you buy your tires from us we will rotate them for you for free as often as you like, we suggest either every oil change or every other oil change at the least. This can help you get even tire wear and longer tire life. Unevenly worn tires can cause poor handling and decreased fuel mileage. Tires wear unevenly because the front tires tend to wear out faster and on the outside edges. By rotating them you make sure that all the tires are getting the same amount of wear. When we rotate your tires we will also check and adjust your tire pressures and check your brakes.
4. Check Tire Depth You may have noticed on your receipt when you get your vehicle inspected that we list different measurements. Tire depth is one of those measurements. Worn out tires can lead to an accident or a blowout, neither of which you want. PA safety inspection code requires that tires be replaced when they reach a measurement of 2/32. For optimal performance in the rain or cold, we recommend replacement at 4/32.
5. Vehicle Maintenance In order to keep your tires from being chewed off it’s important to take care of any suspension or steering problems that pop us ASAP. Ball joints, tie rod ends and wheel bearings can cause tires to wear poorly and lead to premature replacement.
6. All Wheel Drive Vehicles We all like our AWD and 4WD vehicles when we are driving on snowy roads or slippery surfaces, they go like they do because the vehicle is able to divide the horsepower generated by the engine between all four tires. In order to transfer that horsepower, the driveline mechanically connects all of the tires so that the work in unison. Vehicles are designed to allow for momentary differences in speeds when a vehicle turns a corner, but they are not designed to run all the time with tires that have different circumferences or diameters. Replacing only 2 tires at a time or running different tires can lead to excessive heat and failure in the rear differential or transfer case. Tire rotations is especially important for AWD or 4WD vehicles because you want to keep the tire wear as even as possible.
7. Avoid Road Hazards This might sound obvious, but potholes are curbs contribute daily to blown out tires. If you have a leaking tire get it repaired ASAP. We are able to plug or patch tires as long as the problem isn’t in the sidewall of the tire. If your vehicle is equipped with tire pressure lights you have something else to worry about. Tire pressure monitors are made out of aluminum and fit into the valve stem area on the rim. Corrosion can lead to fairly frequent monitor failure and they can be fairly expensive to replace? Just the part can run $40-$100. They are a part of your vehicle’s safety program, though, and it’s important to keep them in good working order.
Spring MaintenanceApril 5, 2016
It may not feel like it at the moment, but warmer weather is right around the corner, and hopefully we have seen the last of the salt trucks for a while! What does this mean for your vehicle? It means it’s time for spring maintenance.
The best place to start is to give your vehicle a good cleaning and get rid of that grime that piled up over the winter. Road salt can cause corrosion which causes all sorts of problems under your car that you might not even be aware of. Lots of components from the sub-frame to the brake lines can be affected. Make sure when you are washing it to really get in there and clean everywhere, the bumper, under the hood, in the wheel wells and inside the wheels. This might be a good time to consider having your car professionally detailed. It’s also a good time to put away those snow brushes and ice scrapers, good riddance!
Spring is also a really great time to have the alignment checked on your vehicle. One good pothole can throw the alignment off and lead to premature tire wear. Tires are expensive, but alignments are not, with tax they run around $70 and are a worthwhile investment. In addition to heading off tire wear, an alignment can turn up suspension problems that are pending, allowing you to fix them before there is further damage, or worse, an accident.
Air condition checks depend on the individual. Some people like to have their system checked in the spring, some like to wait for summer. I suggest doing it now or early summer, waiting until later can lead to longer wait times to get an appointment and harder to get parts. This means aggravation for you when you are trying to get ready to go away on vacation.
Finally, this is a good time to just have the basics checked over. Harsher winter temperatures can be hard on things like wiper blades, belts and hoses. It’s a good time to get your brakes checked and tires checked.
We offer a spring checkup that will include checking all your fluids, testing the pH of your coolant, checking all your belts and hoses, checking your brakes and suspension and rotating your tires for just $30, throw an alignment in and I can take $5 off the total price and $10 if you add an alignment and oil change. This price includes a copy of the Digital Visual Inspection that a technician will do on your car.
The State Inspection ProcessNovember 19, 2015
Pennsylvania State Inspection and Emissions Process
State inspection is something that every vehicle owner is subjected to on an annual basis in Pennsylvania. Many people don’t understand how it works and what is required. This month I will cover the basics and answer a few common questions that we get.
The first thing you should do before you even make an appointment for your state inspection is make sure that you have your paperwork ready. You will need the following
1. A current vehicle registration from PennDot. We have to have this before we start either the emissions testing or the state inspection. You should get a renewal form in the mail from PennDot a month or so before you registration expires. You can renew through the mail, through PennDot’s website or through a notary who handles plates. We can’t accept a registration renewal form. However, if you process your registration online and have the printed out temporary registration, we are allowed to use that.
2. A copy of your current insurance card. We are allowed to look at the card on your cell phone app and take the information from there. The insurance card is required only to do the state inspection, it is not required to get an emissions test.
Making an appointment
One thing that many people don’t realize is that you do not have to wait until the month the inspection is due to make an appointment. Inspections can be done up to two months ahead of time. So, for example, if your sticker indicates a December expiration, you can have the inspection done as early as October and still get a December sticker. The benefit of having your inspection done early is that if there is a problem found, you have time to order parts and get the work done before your inspection is past due. If you wait until the last day of the month we almost never have appointments available and if we do, we probably don’t have time for any extra work that might need done.
Emissions testing, while seemingly complicated, is usually very simple. Here are some terms you should be familiar with
1. 5000 Mile Exemption: If you have owned your car for more than 365 days and it was registered in the state that whole time, and you have driven it less than 5000 miles during that time, you may qualify for a 5000 mile exemption. This essentially means that we don’t have to do an actual test on the car. We still have to verify the mileages and file the sticker electronically with the state, but the cost is roughly half that of an emissions test.
2. Waiver: If your vehicle fails the emissions test, you will probably hear about waiver requirements. Essentially the state has said that if you have spent $150 towards trying to fix the cause of the emissions failure, they will allow a waiver technician to put a waiver sticker on the vehicle. Not all technicians can do waivers, you have to take a fairly substantial class through the state and pass the required test. We are able to issue waivers, if you are interested in more information on waivers, feel free to contact us.
3. OBDII Test: Most vehicles that were made in 1996 or after get the OBDII test. Essentially, after entering all the vehicle information, we have to test the gas cap and then plug into the vehicle’s OBDII port to make sure that the check engine light is not illuminated.
Safety Inspection Process
During the safety inspection our technicians will take the vehicle for a test drive, pull it in to check the lights and then put it in the air to pull two wheels. They will look at the lights, at the brakes and tires, at the steering and suspension system, at the frame of the vehicle, at the exhaust and at the wiper system. We will not fail the vehicle for lack of maintenance even if we do make recommendations about maintenance that is due. Sometimes we will let you know something that we see that is going to fail within the next year, rusty brake lines for example.
If the vehicle fails safety inspection there is no waiver program. You are stuck having to repair any problems with the car in order to get a new inspection sticker, there is no monetary limit. You are not required to have the repairs done at the facility that failed the vehicle, you can take the vehicle home and do the work yourself or take it to a different garage. When you bring it back after the repairs are completed, however, the technician will charge you to check it all over again.
“Does my state inspection sticker have to match my registration sticker?”
No. It used to be that the state required that you make the expiration of the safety inspection sticker match the registration expiration. PennDot no longer requires this
“My inspection has already expired, will I get in trouble when I bring it in for inspection”
No, we will not penalize you for being late, you can however get a traffic citation from the police. I believe the fine now is about $90 PER STICKER that is expired, so that’s a pretty good incentive to be on time.
“Can you give me a paper that says I am waiting on parts to finish my inspection in case I get pulled over?”
I can give you a work order showing that we are in the process of bringing your vehicle into compliance with safety inspection requirements, but that is not guarantee that you won’t get a ticket. It is up to the officer if he wants to let you slide or not.
“My windshield is cracked, do I have to replace it to pass inspection?”
The state only requires that the windshield be free of cracks inside the driver’s field of vision. If you stop by we can check it really quickly and let you know if it will pass or not.
“Can you just put a sticker on it for me, I know that it’s safe, you can trust me”
We really can’t. First of all, we would be breaking the law. If we did “just put a sticker on it” and were caught, it’s a $10,000 fine, we lose our driver’s license and we lose our ability to inspect cars. If we put a sticker on it for you and you are in an accident that is caused by a vehicle failure (bad brakes, ball joint etc) we stand to lose a lot more when we are sued.
“My check engine light is on, I heard I should disconnect the battery to make the light go out for the emissions test.”
This is actually the worst thing you can do if the check engine light is on. Simply put, the way the OBDII system works is there are monitors that check the status of different emissions components. When the monitor senses a fault, it turns the check engine light on. If that problem clears up, it turns the light off. When you disconnect the battery, you clear all the data that the system was looking at for all the monitors (usually around seven). On most vehicles on the road, the state requires that all but one of those monitors be reset before the vehicle can be tested. Some of those monitors immediately check themselves and are cleared when you start the car, however there are four that will probably require a drive cycle to be checked and that can be an extensive process. Usually if you drive the vehicle 50 miles or so they will all set, but sometimes if the weather is just right, it can take hundreds of miles for them all to set. It is far easier and quicker, and potentially cheaper, to bring the vehicle in with the check engine light on, fail it, and then go through the repair or waiver process.
“Did you check my antifreeze when you inspected my car?”
Not necessarily. Checking fluids is a maintenance service and not required as part of the inspection process. Usually we will check all the fluids as a courtesy, however if you are brining your car in at the end of the month and we have a big line of cars waiting for inspection, we might not.