- How much does it cost to…?
- My check engine light just came on. What does that mean?
- My brakes squeak. Does that mean I need new brakes?
- How can I learn more about my vehicle and its operating systems?
This is one of the more common questions we get asked, and for a good reason. Responsible drivers are aware of the need to maintain their vehicles, but are also aware of the need to stay in a budget that works for them. Simple jobs, sometimes referred to as "canned" jobs because they are predictable, usually have a simple price or limited range. These may include an oil change, replacing the brakes, flushing the transmission, etc. The thing we have to realize is that not every car manufacturer builds their cars the same (thank the Lord). As a result, even "canned jobs" prices don’t apply to every situation. Although I cannot really answer this question in this forum, I can say this. It costs nearly 50% less to maintain your vehicle than to wait for something to go wrong.
Starting in the early 80’s, vehicles began using computers to calculate ideal fuel and spark sequences for improved fuel efficiency. Starting in 1996, Federal law required that all vehicles built or imported into the United States for use on our roads were required to have a uniform computer connection and program that could be used to identify the emissions system performance and faults.
During the last 20 years, the check engine light in your vehicle has evolved into an early warning system that responds to even the slightest infraction, such as a loose or missing gas cap. The problem we face is that the same light that says the gas cap is loose may come on if there is a major failure in the fuel or spark management system, or even a looming transmission failure.
My advice is to categorize the occurrence using the following criteria:
- Light comes on intermittently, everything seems normal; no noises, loss of fuel economy, or running problems… Check the oil and coolant levels, contact the shop and make an appointment to stop by for a Basic Diagnostic service at your convenience.
- Light comes on steady, the engine runs or sounds different, possibly a change in fuel economy or performance… Check the oil and coolant levels, contact the shop and make an appointment as soon as you are able for a Full Diagnostic service. Limit your driving until it is known what is wrong.
- Light comes on steady or flashes, the engine runs or sounds different, there is a distinct change in performance or drivability, and you can tell something is wrong… Stop driving, contact the shop immediately and make arrangements for a Full Diagnostic service as soon as possible.
Not every brake noise is serious, but it’s very serious that you know the condition of your brakes. If your brakes squeak, it may be a sign that they are worn down to the wear indicator and service is needed soon. It is also possible that you are experiencing a harmonic noise due to improper installation or a mismatch of lining material with the vehicle, or that one of the shims or springs has shifted out of position. Have your brakes checked right away if there is a persistent noise or squeak.
Since the introduction of disc brakes in the late 60’s, we have experienced a variety of brake noise problems. During the 80’s the concerns about asbestos became very apparent, and brake manufacturers had to start changing the formulas of brake linings to eliminate asbestos. Since then there has been constant change in what materials are used in brake linings on different cars. As a result, there is not one brand or formula that is smooth, quiet, and reliable on every vehicle.
If you drive a GMC pick-up and tow a trailer, you are not going to have good results if you use the same stuff that makes a Ford Focus stop well. Some pads have a high metallic content for wear and heat resistance, while others are made of entirely organic materials for smooth, quiet operation. The latest trend is to incorporate ceramic materials in the linings for improved noise and heat resistance. The key is to match how a vehicle is designed and used with a brake lining that is engineered to meet those needs.
Another important part of the brake system is the drums and rotors. A properly machined finish on an accurately sized part, made of the correct type of metal, is essential to creating a braking surface that will not vibrate, shudder, or squeak. No matter how good the brake linings, if the companion braking surface is damaged or improperly prepared, your brakes will not work properly. That’s good to know before you load your new baby into the car for the first time or set off on a trip across the country.
NAPA AutoCare has developed an interactive website that contains a wealth of information about the repair and preventative maintenance of every critical system in your automobile. This invaluable resource contains animations and videos that will educate you on the inner workings of your vehicle and help you understand the most common problems that come up.
Click on the button below to access the website now: