Friday, September 27, 2013

Do You Need Winter Tires?

You've probably heard people talk about “winter” or “snow” tires.  For many of us that travel on major roads and don't live in a place that has harsh winters, the “all season” tires will be just fine.

“Winter” or “snow” tires come are made with a different kind of tread.  They have these special raised areas on the tires that will do a better job of digging into the snow or ice, and are particularly useful if you find yourself on back roads that are not plowed, or substantial inclines.  More often than not, winter tires and chains are recommended in places like Colorado or areas with mountainous terrain.  If you live someplace with a relatively mild winter mild winter, snow tires might be overkill.

That being said, now would be a good time to make sure that the tires you do have are ready for the upcoming change in weather.  Long hot summers can be taxing on tires.  The heat starts to break down the rubber, and if you parked in direct sunlight, don't be surprised if your tires are showing some cracks.

The change in temperature will also cause your tires to expand and contract.  This kind of thing will actually change the air pressure in your tires, and cause stresses on them, too.  Don't be surprised if you get up in the morning and your tires have a little less air than they did when you went to sleep. 

With all the advances made in engines and internal technology, everything still comes back to those round rubber things.  They are the thing that keeps you safely on the road, and makes sure you stop in plenty of time.  Check them now, before the winter weather starts to fly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Easiest Way to Kill a Car? Forget Your Oil Change

It’s true that the old “every 3000 mile” rule has changed over the years.  Depending on the car, and depending on the type of oil, the frequency with which you change your oil may not be “3000 miles,” but ya gotta do it.  

It’s just oil… as long as it’s slippery – what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that as you turn your car on and off, that oil is not only trying to lubricate everything, but also clean the system as well.  Many new oils contain detergents that keep sludge from building up, and it’s the sludge that can cause big problems. 

Also, consider your commute.  If you’re one of those people that starts the car, drives 5 or 6 minutes, and you’re at your destination… you may need oil changes more frequently than that nice round number.  If your engine doesn’t fully heat up, your oil isn’t going to make it all the way through the places it needs to go.

Most importantly, if you goof this one up… that big fancy warranty probably isn’t going to cover it.  Proper, routine oil changes are your responsibility, and missing one could void the whole warranty.

Doesn’t take long… and it will save your engine

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stop Winter Stopping Problems

OK, so the seasons are going to change.  We can’t stop that.  However, it’s not a bad idea to do something about your brakes so you can’t count on stopping during winter.  
Winter driving check brakes

Before we even talk about the brakes themselves, let’s make sure the brake fluid is at the proper levels.  Your brake fluid is the stuff that is actually moving the pistons around to apply pressure and make your brakes work.  Fluids will move slowly in the winter, and if the levels are off, that can add up to a number of problems.  The brakes themselves may be fine, but if the brake fluid is leaking, low, or just not there… you will definitely have some challenges. 
Another consideration are the shoes.  No… not the brake shoes, but your shoes.  Believe it or not, many accidents occur each year because people have on wet, slippery shoes.  Their feet slide off the edge, and there just isn’t time to recover.  So… dry your shoes. 
And, of course, know what type of brakes you have.  If they are standard brakes, you’ll need to pump them slightly on slippery roads.  If you have an anti-lock brakes (ABS), the brakes will do the pumping for you.  Just apply as normal, and always keep eye contact with the road. 
Yes, your brakes are important… but the other things around the brakes are just as vital.  Stay safe!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Car Vs. Used Car

Should you buy a new car… or should you buy a used car?  The answer is:  It depends. Sorry.

Let’s look at some of the things that may help you make your decision.

Used cars vs. News Cars US Automotive
This could be a great used car...right?

New cars today do have very impressive warranties.  And, quite frankly, new cars built today are built much better than they were a generation ago.  But, used cars also come with warranties.  Sometimes it’s the remainder of the hefty warranty from when it was new, and other times you can purchase an additional warranty for used cars.

Used cars are always cheaper than new cars… in a perfect world.  But, if you’ve learned anything about the economy in the past few years… things aren’t always what they seem.  Interest rates on new cars can be quite low right now, sometimes even 0%.  Interest rates on used cars are almost never as low as new, which could mean both a higher payment each month, and a higher total cost of the car at the end of the loan.

New cars are typically in top condition, and your risk of something going wrong should be relatively low.  However, with so many manufacturers offering pre-certified used cars, the risk of trouble with many used cars is also relatively low.

On a strict apples-to-apples comparison, a good used car will almost always be the better financial deal.  But, according to, if you expect to hang onto a car longer than most, and are looking for a more robust warranty, a new car may make more sense.  BankRate, Edmunds, and all have great tools to help you through the process.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tire Trouble Taking a Toll

By know you know the old trick of putting a penny in the treads of your tires to see if you can still see the top of Lincoln’s head.  If some of Abe’s head is covered, you more or less have healthy tires.  If not… Mr. Lincoln will be very disappointed in you.

 It’s not a perfect test, and you really need to check all around the tires to be sure there isn’t uneven wear, bulges, or cracks.  But, it’s a good place to start.

Here are some other things to consider:  How exposed to the elements are your tires?  Places with extreme swings in temperatures and harsh weather conditions can shorten the life of a tire.  So can having tires exposed to the sun and air for long periods of time.  If possible, park in a covered area during the day to extend life.

Also, be sure to pick fresh tires.  All tires are stamped with a production date so that you know how old the tires are before you buy them.  By law, tires have to be clearly marked… unfortunately, the law didn’t say anything about the markings being understandable.  You may see a code that says something like “LMLR5107.”  Focus on those last numbers and you’ll see that the tire was manufactured on the 51st week of 2007.   “PQRR313” would suggest it was made in January of 2013.   

That date is pretty important because after 7 to 10 years, the rubber just isn’t as good as it used to be.  If your “new” tires are already 3 or 4 years old, you may not get the 6 years/60,000 miles you were expecting.

Proper inflation, stay away from rusty nails, see how Lincoln’s head is doing once in a while… and you should have safe tires for your nextjourney.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beware: The Hurricane of Bad Cars

Not quite a year after Hurricane Sandy caused untold amounts of damage to the eastern seaboard, unsuspecting car buyers are finding themselves in formerly flooded cars.  

Many of these cars are being sold privately or at smaller used car lots, but the risk is real.  Once corrosion starts in a car, it begins to slowly break down vital parts of a car.  A car that may have been sitting in a few feet of salty sea water is an even greater risk.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people are shampooing the carpets, squirting some Febreze around, and passing these off as great used cars. 

AAA has offered up some clues to help you buy smart… and stay safe. 

First, trust your nose.  If you are picking up any kind of a mildew smell, or if it seems like they are overdoing the air fresheners, start asking questions. 

Take some extra time to look under the car and pay close attention to tight areas that are hard to clean.  If you are seeing mud trapped in there, or detect corrosion, you could have a formerly flooded car. 

Spend a few extra dollars for a CARFAX report.  Pay particular attention if the car spent anytime in the northern Atlantic states in the past 12 months.

Lastly, your own personal mechanic is your best friend in these kinds of situations.  They know exactly what to look for and can advise you accordingly.

It’s important to know that selling flood damaged cars without disclosing that information is highly illegal.

Just keep in mind there were hundreds of thousands of cars that sat soaking in the flood waters last year, and some are making their ways to private sellers and tiny dealerships.  Be extra vigilant.

Any questions?  Just ask our trained mechanics here at US Automotive. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

DIY Auto Air Conditioning Repair

A car that just will not cool down makes for a frustrating ride to work in August.  When you are getting warm air coming from the vents, the go-to solution is often a “recharge” of the magic refrigerant.  And, barring any other issues with the A/C, that can do the trick.

Enter a new product that is appearing on shelves:  A simple can with a gauge that promises to have your air conditioning blowing cool air again in just 30 minutes.  Does it work?  According to most reviews, the answer is a resounding…


If it truly is low levels of refrigerant, the tried and true “recharge” will do the trick.  But, it begs the question:  why was it low in the first place?  As a car gets older, the pressure levels will drop, but a drop in pressure could also indicate a leak.  Any recharge (DIY or otherwise), will eventually go down again and you’re back in the same boat.

While both professional mechanics and do-it-yourselfers have given these products favorable ratings, others do have some reasonable concerns.  Your air conditioning system has many pieces, parts, and hoses that can fail.  Some mechanics have expressed concern that if the pressure is too low or too high, you could invite other problems.  Others have noted that the product in these cans is not professional grade and could compromise other parts of the system.

All in all, if you have an old car and the expense of replacing a compressor in an A/C system doesn’t make sense anymore, you could skate by with a recharge from a professional or by using one of these off the shelf products.

But, as with anything… if something isn’t doing what you think it needs to be doing, or the problem keeps repeating itself, it’s time to visit a pro.

Stay cool!