What Are the Most Important Car Fluids to Check?

Liz Kim | Oct 13, 2020

Under every car’s hood, you’ll find a veritable nest of hoses and reservoirs filled with fluids, every one of them engineered to fulfill a specific role. And a part of being a responsible car owner is checking the fluid levels and replenishing them when necessary. 

Important Car Fluids to Check

Older cars need more frequent checks and maintenance because they tend to use more of these fluids and develop leaks with age. But their engine bays allow for easier identification of the various fluid reservoirs and easier access to measurement dipsticks. They’re also simpler to work on if you’re a do-it-yourself type.

Newer cars often have a plastic engine cover or shroud covering the mess of mechanicals. This makes the engine bay look neat and finished, and also makes it more challenging to identify and check various components. Apparently, automakers assume that a professional will service more complex modern vehicles at specific intervals outlined in the owner’s manual, or when a sophisticated self-diagnostic test warns you of a particular problem through an alert appearing on your smartphone.

In either case, opening your vehicle’s hood and acquainting yourself with the various fluid reservoirs can help you proactively keep your car in top shape. These are the primary fluids that a vehicle needs to run at peak performance.https://f7693b8d5dcba2e5862faa04b95cd3e2.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Engine Oil

Inside of your engine, many moving parts create friction. Oil lubricates these components and reduces friction, making it the lifeblood of your engine. It is normal for a car to use a little oil, and for oil to get dirty. This is why you should check your oil regularly to make sure your engine has enough of it, and that it remains clean. 

You can check your engine’s oil using the dipstick. Park the car on a level surface, pull the dipstick out of the engine’s oil reservoir, wipe the dipstick clean, put the stick back into the reservoir, and pull it out again. You’ll find fresh oil at the bottom of the dipstick, along with markings that indicate whether the reservoir contains an adequate amount of it or not.

If the engine oil is low, unscrew the oil cap and add small amounts of the proper oil until the dipstick measurement shows enough in the reservoir. Also, the oil on the dipstick should be light brown with a fluid viscosity. If the oil is dark brown or even black, or doesn’t easily drip from the dipstick, you are well beyond the time to get an oil change.

Older vehicles require more frequent oil changes than newer vehicles. Oil change frequency also depends on how you drive the car. Be sure to consult your owner’s manual for the car manufacturer’s recommendations.

Engine Coolant

An internal combustion engine creates a series of explosions to make its power. As you can imagine, this process also creates plenty of heat, as does the friction of the engine’s moving parts. Coolant, or antifreeze, is what disperses this heat, making it the second lifeblood of your car’s engine.

Coolant flows through the engine, carrying the heat to the radiator. Fresh air flows into the radiator through the front grille, chilling the coolant before it makes another trip through the engine. It is vital to make sure nothing blocks your grille and other air intakes to maximize engine cooling.

Never check your coolant when the engine is hot, as this could result in injury. When the engine is cold, open the hood and inspect the coolant reservoir. This component is typically made of opaque plastic and has measurement indicators that tell you whether there is enough coolant or if you should add coolant.

Optimally, you’ll need to check your engine’s coolant every 50,000 miles. Also, the process and the type of coolant can vary by car, so be sure to check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re using the correct method and materials for your vehicle.

If the coolant gets low, the car might overheat, which will damage the engine. A temperature gauge or warning light on your dashboard will let you know if the engine is overheating. Pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and turn off the engine. As logic dictates, and to avoid injury, allow the engine to cool off before opening the coolant reservoir or the radiator.

Transmission Fluid

Similar to the engine, a car’s transmission has many moving parts that create friction. Transmission fluid lubricates these parts, reducing both friction and premature wear. A change in transmission shifting behavior merits a check of the transmission fluid. 

Older cars have a dipstick that allows you to check the fluid level and fluid quality using the same methodology for checking the oil. Newer cars require a mechanic to check the fluid level and quality, and some modern vehicles have completely sealed transmissions that never require a fluid check for the lifetime of the car.

Brake Fluid

Car braking systems use hydraulic pressure to apply the brakes. Brake fluid moves through chambers and hoses to translate the driver’s request for braking at the pedal into the application of the brakes at the vehicle’s wheels. But irregularities in the fluid, whether the system has a leak, water has seeped in, or air is stuck in the system, can negatively affect braking performance. 

Check your brake fluid if your brake pedal feels mushier than usual, or if you experience a decrease in stopping action. The fluid could be contaminated or at lower levels than required. Making sure your brake fluid is in top condition could be as important as the effectiveness of your brake pads and calipers. 

Power Steering Fluid

While many modern cars use electric steering systems, there are still plenty of vehicles on the road equipped with traditional power steering. To make it easier to turn the steering wheel, power steering uses a hydraulic system with power steering fluid. If your car’s power steering suddenly feels heavy and hard to turn, this may indicate low power steering fluid levels or a leak somewhere in the system. The condition merits a check of the power steering fluid reservoir before visiting a mechanic.

Windshield Washer Fluid

Most likely, the most common fluid you’ll check underneath your car’s hood is the windshield washer fluid. Depending on where you live and how much you drive, you’ll regularly consume this fluid as you clean your windshield of bugs, grit, and dirt. Running low on this fluid impacts your ability to drive but doesn’t harm the vehicle’s mechanical components. 

You’ll know when it’s time to add washer fluid. You’ll see a warning light on your dashboard, and the windshield washer jets will stop working. Experts recommend refilling the washer fluid reservoir with official washer fluid instead of water. Except in extreme temperatures, washer fluid doesn’t freeze. It’s also easy to find at just about any gas station or auto parts store. Adding more to your car is as easy as finding the proper reservoir, opening the cap, and filling it up.

While most modern vehicles require little in the way of problem diagnosis or action on the part of their owners when it comes to vehicle maintenance, it’s always helpful to understand what the most important car fluids are to check, and why. Proactively examining the various fluid levels in the reservoirs under your car’s hood can help to prevent expensive repair bills later, while offering added peace of mind while driving your car today.

If you would like River City Fleet Services to make sure your vehicle fluids are OK, or for any other maintenance or repairs, please schedule an appointment today.

April 22nd is Earth Day, but You Can Celebrate All Year with These “Green” Auto Tips

By changing a few habits, you can do their part in helping the environment, say the experts at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE recommends regular vehicle maintenance and better driving habits as two easy-to-implement strategies. What’s more, improved automotive habits will help your vehicle last longer and command a better resale price.

The following tips from ASE can put you on the road to environmentally conscious car care:            

  • Keep the engine running at peak performance. A misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent. Replace filters and fluids as recommended in the owner’s manual.  
  • Don’t ignore that ‘Service Engine’ light. Today’s vehicles have much cleaner tailpipe emissions that they did 30 years ago, but a poorly running engine or faulty exhaust system will cause your vehicle to pollute much more than it would otherwise.  
  • Keep tires properly inflated and aligned. Not only will you reduce the engine’s effort and, thus, gasoline consumption, your tires will last longer too, saving you money and easing the burden at recycling centers.  
  • Have your vehicle’s air conditioner serviced only by a technician certified to handle and recycle refrigerants. Older air conditioners contain ozone-depleting chemicals, which could be released into the atmosphere through improper service.
  • Avoid speeding and sudden accelerations. Both of these habits guzzle gas. When waiting for friends or family, shut off the engine. Consolidate daily errands to one trip to eliminate unnecessary driving.  
  • Remove excess items from the vehicle. Less weight equals better gas mileage. Remove that roof-top luggage carrier after vacations to reduce air drag, too.  
  • If you do your own repairs, properly dispose of engine fluids and batteries. Some repair facilities accept these items from consumer. You can also contact local government for hazardous material drop-off/recycling stations. Remember too that improperly disposed fluids such as antifreeze can harm pets and wildlife.  

Schedule your maintenance or repair today, and help the environment and your vehicle!

If your gas-powered vehicle’s acceleration has gone from “zoom, zoom” to “putt, putt,” there’s probably a spark plug problem. Poor fuel economy is another indication the plugs or spark plug wires likely need replacing.

Although modern spark plugs last considerably longer than those produced 30 years ago, they don’t last forever and need to be replaced at regular intervals. It’s best to check the owner’s manual.

How Do I Know If My Spark Plugs Need Replacing? - Kelley Blue Book
River City Fleet Services Replaces Inefficient Spark Plugs

How Do I Know If My Spark Plugs Need Replacing?

ByRick Kranz 03/02/2022 4:00pm

spark plugs

What Does a Spark Plug Do?

A spark plug is screwed into each engine cylinder; it is needed to start the engine and keep it running. The biggest demand on an ignition system is to start the car and make it run. The portion of the plug that sticks out from the engine is connected to the vehicle’s ignition system, which must provide a specific amount of electric current to generate a spark inside each of the engine’s cylinders. The opposite end of the spark plug has two exposed electrodes that are located inside the cylinder. The electrical current from the ignition system travels to the plug’s center electrode. A high-voltage spark jumps a small gap to reach the second electrode.

That spark ignites the fuel-air mixture inside the engine cylinder. Each time a spark is created, a small explosion occurs inside the cylinder that pushes down against the top of the piston. If your vehicle has four cylinders, it has four pistons; six cylinders, six pistons, etc. each served by an individual plug.

The spark plug is a reliable workhorse. For example, at idle, say 800 rpm, the spark will fire 200 times per minute in a 4-cylinder 2.0-liter engine. As engine speed increases, say to 2,000 rpm, the plug fires 500 times per minute.

Types of Spark Plugs

As you probably know, different gas-powered cars boast different engines — which means they need different types of spark plugs. Depending on the number of cylinders your engine has will determine how many you need. It’s one for one. For example, if you drive a 4-cylinder engine, you need 4 spark plugs.

To go along with engine fit, most spark plugs get made from different types of metal, some being cheaper than others. However, cheap ones tend to last a shorter lifespan than ones made from more expensive metals. Manufacturers will typically recommend the type of spark plugs your gas-powered vehicle needs. It’s best to check your owner’s manual.

Get to know the types below.

Copper Spark Plugs 

Copper spark plugs, around for decades, are the most common and cheapest on the market. However, these tend to have a short lifespan, so you will need to replace them more often. 

Iridium Spark Plugs 

Iridium spark plugs offer a very long lifespan, which is reflected in the price. They are often the most expensive spark plug type on the market today. So, if your manual says you need iridium spark plugs, that’s what you need, because anything less might affect performance. 

Platinum Spark Plugs 

Platinum spark plugs last longer and typically run hotter. That means these spark plugs reduce carbon buildup in your engine. Since these are made with hard but high-quality metal, you can drive about 100,000 miles before needing to replace platinum spark plugs. If you drive a newer gas-powered car, some manufacturers will recommend this type.

Double Platinum Spark Plugs 

Double platinum spark plugs got their name not from a double coating, but because they are platinum on both the center electrode and the side electrode. These were made specifically for cars with “wasted spark ignition systems,” meaning two spark plugs are fired at once. This causes increased wear and tear on the spark plugs, which is why this type is necessary. You can use a regular platinum spark plug in a wasted spark system, but it will impact both performance and longevity. This type of spark plug also costs more. 

Silver Spark Plug Systems 

Silver spark plugs use silver at the electrode tip. These are pretty uncommon and are typically found in older European performance cars and motorcycles. Nonetheless, they are around but are often less durable than platinum and iridium spark plugs. Your vehicle will most likely not need these, but always double-check the manual. 

8 Signs the Spark Plugs or Spark Plug Wires Need Replacing:

1. Regular Maintenance

Check the owner’s manual for the replacement interval. Some automakers require a change at 18,000 miles, some at 30,000 to 35,000 miles, and others at 100,000.

2. Spark Plug Wires

Really old vehicles use a distributor, distributor cap, and spark plug wires. Some later models have an ignition system without a distributor, but they still have traditional spark plug wires. Newer vehicles use a coil-on-plug ignition system that eliminates electrical problems caused by worn-out spark plug wires. The industry now requires a more accurate control of spark and fuel delivery because of the need to annually boost fuel economy and reduce emissions.

Owners of older vehicles with spark plug wires may need to replace them because they become brittle and tend to crack. At that point, they are no longer providing the proper amount of electrical current to ignite the spark plugs and adequately burn the gasoline.

3. Fuel Economy Degradation

Dirty or fouled spark plugs reduce fuel economy because the plugs are not efficiently burning gasoline in the combustion cycle. Miles-per-gallon can drop by as much as 20% to 30%. A mechanic will replace the plugs and adjust each plug’s gap to factory specifications using a special tool.

4. Slower Acceleration

If it takes longer to accelerate, there’s less power to pass a car, for example, the issue could be worn spark plugs, they need replacing. However, a bad fuel filter, dirty or clogged fuel injectors, as well as issues with the oxygen sensor and ignition system can slow acceleration.

5. Rough Idling

If the engine is making a pinging, rattling, or knock-like noise, or if there is a strong vibration, the spark plugs and/or the spark plug wires could be to blame.

6. Engine Misfires

Replace the plugs more frequently if there’s oil on the plug’s tip when removed from the engine. The presence of oil is due to a cracked valve cover gasket, degradation of the spark plug O-ring, a faulty head gasket, or defective or worn valve guides. A repair is necessary because oil can cause the engine to misfire or prevent it from starting. An engine that continues to misfire could damage the catalytic converter, which might cost $1,000 or more to replace.

7. Difficulty Starting

Worn-out spark plugs can be the cause. Have a seasoned mechanic determine if the plugs need replacing. Simply, the engine will not start if the spark plugs can’t produce enough spark to start the combustion process. Some of the other causes for difficulty starting include issues with the ignition system, a battery needs replacing, or worn-out spark plug wires. Replace the car battery if it fails to produce enough voltage to start the engine.

8. Warning Lights

Finally, don’t ignore the “Check Engine,” “Malfunction,” or engine silhouette symbols. These warning lights may illuminate if the spark plugs fail, or if the spark plug wires need replacement. However, it depends on the automaker’s purpose for the light. It might be limited to warning the gas cap is loose, the vehicle is emitting emissions above U.S. regulations, the oxygen sensor or the mass airflow sensor may need replacing, and/or the catalytic converter is not operating properly.

One last reminder: If one of the lights mentioned above flashes, immediately shut off the engine and call a tow truck. The flashing light may signal a serious problem with the catalytic converter. Ignoring this warning could result in an expensive repair bill. Check the owner’s manual to know all the warning symbols for your vehicle.

If you prefer not to do the work yourself, you can check the average price for spark plug replacement for your vehicle, plus find a nearby auto shop to perform the service for you using Kelley Blue Book’s Service and Repair Guide.

River City Fleet Services can help you check and replace your spark plugs if needed.

Signs that your air filter needs a replacement

Signs that your air filter needs a replacement
Signs that your air filter needs a replacement

The air filter is an important part of the engine because it helps the engine to breathe clean air, and clean air is important because it helps the engine to run efficiently and properly. Usually, air filters are replaced on every service. Still, sometimes if the car is being heavily used under dusty conditions like construction sites or heavy traffic areas, then the air filter can get clogged up much faster. Because of this, you would have to replace the air filter sooner than usual.

Signs that your air filter needs a replacement

Today, we list down five signs that can help you to identify if your air filter needs a replacement.

Dirty air filter

The most important and most easy way to identify that you need a replacement filter is to open up the bonnet of your car and inspect the air filter. If your vehicle is new or the filter was replaced recently, then the air filter will be white or almost white. If the filter is covered with dust and debris or it has gone dark or dirty, then it is time to replace the filter.

Low fuel efficiency

Your fuel efficiency will drop because the engine will not be getting enough oxygen that is required to function properly and efficiently. The engine has to burn a mixture of fuel and air, and if the air is not in an optimum amount, then the combustion will not be in its most efficient way. This will lead to reduced fuel efficiency from the engine. However, if your car comes with fuel-injection, then this should not be a big problem because the fuel injection system calculates the amount of air that should go into the engine.

Check engine light turns on

Signs that your air filter needs a replacement

Well, there is nothing much that you can do if the check engine light turns on. This is because proper tools and proper knowledge is required to figure out why the light has turned on as it can be turned on for numerous reasons. Modern engines require a lot of air, and when the air is inadequate, the carbon deposits can accumulate, which can trigger the check engine light. The best thing to do in such a scenario is to contact your service station because they will be able to assist you.

Misfiring

One of the reasons for an engine misfiring is an improper mixture of air and fuel. If the air supply is restricted, the quantity of fuel increases in the mixture, which means that the spark plugs cannot spark the mixture effectively. Due to this, the engine misfires and jerks. Replacing the air filter might solve this problem.

Reduced power

If you have been driving your car for quite some time, then you start to understand it and feel if it behaves abnormally. If your vehicle is not responding to the throttle inputs as it used to do earlier, it means that the engine is not receiving the air that it needs. Just replacing a clogged air filter with a new one can increase the performance of the vehicle by up to 11 percent. On this same science, the performance air filters are based. Performance air filters provide more air and smoother airflow for the engine, which increases the performance of the engine and help it breathe even better.

These are the five signs that your car may need a new air filter. Replacing the air filter is beneficial for the engine as it helps smoother running and better longevity of the engine. The air filter protects the engine from the dust and debris that might enter the engine and helps to provide optimum fuel and air mixture. You must be attentive while driving and keep observing how your car is reacting to your inputs if you think that there is something wrong or abnormal. You should consult a mechanic as soon as possible and periodically check the status of the air filter.

Schedule an appointment today to get your air filter checked.

Safety and Service Checklist for Spring

Safety and Service Checklist for Spring

All vehicles suffer from the vagaries of winter weather no matter where you live or travel. And that is especially true for drivers who live in regions hit by February ice storms–midwest, south through Texas and northeast.

Don’t let those winter vehicle concerns become big problems in spring and derail that long-awaited get-away. And we’ve included a few items to make that ride more enjoyable, too.

Here’s our list of 20 seasonal tips as North America emerges from winter’s wake and gets prepared for spring adventure.

Important Items To Ask Your Service Advisor

  1. Schedule your vehicle’s bi-annual checkup. A spring inspection can identify small problems before they become expensive repairs.
  2. Perform a brake system test by pumping the brakes. Do you hear any odd noises or feel any vibrations in the steering wheel? Are the brakes “squishy”? Does the brake pedal drop to the flow? Call your service advisor immediately.
  3. If you haven’t already done so, swap out those winter tires for all-season treads. Warm temperatures shorten the life of the soft treads of winter tires.
  4. Check tire inflation. Underinflated tires can cause blowouts and accelerate tread wear.
  5. Inspect tires for bulges, odd wear patterns and balding tires.
  6. See any leaks underneath your vehicle? Cracks in fluid lines caused by severe weather can drain critical fluids slowly and, over time, damage key safety systems such as power steering and brakes.
  7. Did you encounter any potholes during winter? They could have damaged your vehicle’s motor mounts, suspension system.
  8. Check on wheel alignment. Proper alignment helps prevent uneven tire wear and improves steering.
  9. Wiper blades take a beating in winter. Replace them now to safely wipe away dirt and grime on springtime travel.
  10. Get a battery diagnostic. Does your vehicle struggle to turn over in the morning? A sure sign your battery may be weak or dying. Recent freezing temperatures can sap the energy out of a battery without warning.
  11. Reduce cabin allergens as spring blooms fill the air with pollen. Ask your service advisor to replace the cabin air filter to help remove allergens from your vehicle cabin.
  12. Invest in a bike rack for you and your springtime adventures. A variety of roof racks, trunk racks and connectors make it safe and easy to travel with extra gear. Choosing the correct rack for your vehicle requires know-how and experience to prevent damage to your vehicle and cargo. Ask your service advisor to make some recommendations.
  13. Fix any windshield chips and cracks encountered during winter. A small crack can grow and turn into an expensive window replacement.

Things to Do At Home

  1. Reduce glare from longer days and improve springtime visibility. Remove that thin, cloudy film accumulated throughout winter on the exterior as well as the interior of window surfaces. Use window cleaner designed for vehicles.
  2. Check the inflation and tread of your spare tire. Safety experts recommend replacement if you see any cracks or bulges.
  3. Consider window treatment that prevents spring rains from settling on your clean glass surfaces.
  4. Remove winter dirt and allergens by vacuuming clean the rugs and cleaning mats. For carpet, use a shampoo designed for vehicles.
  5. Use a waterless car wash and wax solution if you live in drought-stricken areas or when you are traveling away from home.
  6. Pack pet accessories such as seat belts, swim vest, portable water bowls, food hiking bag, seat and cargo area covers and a hammock for the middle seat.
  7. Buy a bag of microfiber cleaning towels for interior and exterior cleaning. They’re the choice of car care pros because they’re inexpensive, excellent for cleaning as well as mopping spills. Also good for springtime hikes with four-legged friends.

How much petrol does your car’s heating and air conditioning use?

Heating and air conditioning in petrol cars have completely different functions. However, everything changes if we’re talking about electric cars. We’ll calculate your out-of-pocket expenses.

Truck and Car Air Conditioning

Today, it’s difficult for us to imagine a trip in a car without heating or air conditioning, depending on the season of the year. But for half of their history, cars didn’t have either one.

It was only after 1940 that some models started to emerge that were capable of controlling the interior cooling/heating. It is still possible to find cars that, in their basic versions, do not include air conditioning.

But how much petrol does it consume to use the heating or air conditioning in your car?

Car heating is free

Though many people don’t know it, turning on the heat does not increase the car’s consumption of petrol.

Heat is obtained from the energy generated by the engine itself, and so it is enough to have it turned on to provide heat. For that reason, if you turn on the heat, you just need to wait a few minutes to feel its effects (however long it takes for the engine to heat up).

However, it is false to say that its consumption is equal to zero. The fan that makes the heat pass inside the car uses electricity from the battery. And to charge the battery, it also uses some petrol, but very little.

“By taking advantage of the heat dissipation from the engine, heating a car is practically free.”

Air conditioning: up to 1 litre per 100 km

Air conditioning, on the other hand, uses a compressor connected to the belt of the engine in order to function. This consumes energy, and therefore, petrol. It consumes between approximately 0.2 litres and 1 litre of petrol per each 100 km.

Obviously, consuming more or less depends on both the exterior temperature and the intensity at which you use the air conditioning. The machine needs to cool the air inside the car: the more degrees it needs to go down, the more petrol it will consume.

“Air conditioning of a car consumes between 0.2 and 1 litre of petrol at 100 km.”

Electrical cars: less dissipation, more sustainability

Everything changes with electric cars. A thermal motor wastes most of the heat it generates. As we’ve seen, this wasted part is what provides the heat in a petrol car.

However, an electric car strives not to waste anything. For that reason, if you turn on the heat, (in the case of electric cars) the consumption of energy will go up considerably.

Thus, we’re talking about a paradigm shift. By driving a petrol car, you are wasting every metre you travel… and a side effect of this is that you can obtain heating based on that waste. But it is false to say that heating is free. It comes from the petrol that you’re wasting.

By commuting in an electric car, everything is more controlled. When the car stops, energy consumption stops as well. Unless you need to use the lights, radio, or heating and air conditioning. The idea here is to always consume as little as possible, striving for zero waste.

If you drive an electric car and you need air conditioning or heat, the energy necessary will be extracted directly from the traction battery. You’ll have your cold/heat, but in turn, the autonomy of the vehicle will be reduced. How much? In normal conditions, it is around 10% or 20%.

To solve it, manufacturers are already implementing in their electric models, a small heat pump. This invention that is so common in homes and offices is thus carving out its niche in the future of driving by guaranteeing the maximum performance in any weather condition.

“In electric cars, both air conditioning and heating consume energy of the battery, and therefore, reduce autonomy.”

How Often to Change an Engine Oil Filter

With the exception of electric vehicles, all other cars (including your hybrid) have an oil filter. Regarding routine maintenance, the engine oil and oil filter are items that need to be replaced more often than anything else on the vehicle. Yes, even your tires. There has always been a debate as to how often this is necessary, and there always will be a debate because, well, it depends. A general rule of thumb is 5,000 miles between oil changes but this will vary based on vehicle age, usage, and manufacturer requirements.

how often to change oil filter

What Does an Oil Filter Do?

From complex climate control systems to one-time-use face masks, filters are utilized everywhere and have one purpose: stop things from getting to the other side. These things can be anything from large dust bunnies to particles of a few microns, depending on what is being protected. Because of this, filters are designed similarly by combining multiple layers of paper, fabric, and/or other materials to stop certain particulates from passing through. 

In an automobile, the oil filter captures these contaminants and prevents them from circulating through the engine. Without an oil filter, dirt and other particles much smaller than a strand of hair can and will freely travel into the engine assembly and cause damage due to clogs and other debris. If the engine parts can’t move, neither will the vehicle. 

Oil filters don’t just manage waste but also maintain oil flow. That being said, filters can only absorb a finite amount of pollutants. Once an oil filter is saturated, its efficacy is lost and, thus, you have an unprotected engine.

How Often to Change Oil?

Like everything vehicle related, your mileage will vary with regard to how often to change your oil. The frequency is based on a number of factors (and not what the local drive-thru oil change shop sign says). The age of the vehicle, road conditions, mileage, and your driving habits all play a role in how often maintenance is required.

For most car owners, following the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval will suffice, which is generally around 5,000 miles. Also, many newer vehicles come with built-in maintenance reminders. If you’re unsure as to whether to follow a mileage rule or calendar schedule (if you drive less than the annual average of 13,500 miles), checking the oil-life monitor is a safe bet and, if available, can usually be found within your instrument panel settings or under a vehicle maintenance/service/profile menu on a touchscreen display. 

Owners of older vehicles can do a simple visual check of oil level and cleanliness every month. The small divot near the dipstick tip will signify recommended oil level. If the oil mark is too low, feel free to top off. But if the oil color is too dark, that indicates dirty oil and time for an oil change. 

If you frequently drive in harsh weather and road conditions, you’ll be scheduling more service stops regardless. Because the vehicle and engine are working harder, the oil change interval will be more frequent and lean more toward the 3,000 to 5,000-mile markers. Owner’s manuals will list “severe driving conditions” as frequent short trips of less than 10 miles, stop-and-go driving in extreme weather, long-distance trailer towing, track driving, and driving regularly on rough, uneven, and/or salty roads. 

Another thing to consider is the use of regular oil or synthetic oil, the latter of which is increasingly being required in new vehicles. Older vehicles that initially were serviced with conventional oil can switch to synthetics. Industry consensus is that synthetic oils perform better and last longer — anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 miles — before needing replacement but the premium oil also is much pricier than conventional oil or synthetic blends.

What Does an Oil Change Include?

When servicing your vehicle, whether at a dealership, auto shop, or as a do-it-yourself project, the oil filter and engine oil must be replaced together. Although you can top off your engine oil if the filter is still viable, you cannot change the oil completely and ignore the old filter. Draining and replacing old oil is a wasted effort because once the new stuff travels through the used filter, what goes in clean comes out dirty. This is why a standard oil change isn’t just about the oil.

On service forms, you’re likely to see “lube, oil, and filter” listed in the details of an oil change. Simply referred to as an LOF in mechanics shorthand, during an oil change service, the old engine oil is completely drained and replaced with new oil, the oil filter also is replaced with a new one, and the chassis is lubricated. The last bit refers to grease fittings, which are access points (e.g., ball joints, tie-rods) for feeding lubricants into mechanical systems. Chassis lubrication is not specific or available only during engine oil changes, but it does provide that extra bit of maintenance to keep the suspension working smoothly and quietly.

What Does an Oil Change Cost?

Just like oil change intervals, how much an oil change costs also varies. When seeing advertisements for $20 oil changes, always check the fine print. These prices are usually for conventional oil only and at a certain viscosity. Some may or may not include the oil filter or disposal fees either. To be fair, oil filters are generally the cheapest component of an oil change service as the bulk of the final cost will come down to type of oil used, how much of it, and then labor.

So, while you can DIY for less than $20, expect to shell out a minimum of $30 for a conventional oil change and $50 for full-synthetic. These prices are at the low end of the scale, available at national LOF shops and large retailers or big-box warehouse stores that offer automotive services. Dealership visits will cost more but do include additional services like tire rotations, topping off fluids, multi-point inspections, and even a car wash. Service coupons are frequently offered as well.

Dashboard Warning Lights Explained

Your ride is perfectly happy to tell you when something’s wrong. But you have to listen. Understanding what warning lights do and don’t mean will help you help your vehicle.

BY NICK KURCZEWSKIMAR 20, 2021check engine warning lightADOBE STOCK / VCHALUP

Whether it’s an improperly closed door, or the dreaded check-engine alert, dashboard warning lights are how your car communicates with you when something goes wrong.

They light every time you start your vehicle, illuminated briefly as your car or truck warms up and makes sure all systems are safe and ready to go. Occasionally one light might stay on, indicating there’s a problem. Be equally alert if one or more warning lights don’t briefly illuminate. If they aren’t functioning, you might not be able to detect a problem they’d warn you about.

But if you don’t understand what a warning light means—or choose to ignore it—a small problem could turn into a bigger, more expensive, and potentially dangerous issue. And even the savviest car owner can have trouble deciphering the message a warning light is trying to convey.

“They’re all so different and cryptic, it makes it easy for most people to ignore them,”

Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety‘s Vehicle Research Center, said. “I think vehicles today tend to be so good, and reliable, and smooth driving, that for many people you can ignore [dashboard warning lights] for a while and still get a very good driving experience. Until you don’t.”

A career spent conducting crash tests and researching automobile safety gives Arbelaez unique insight into how cars protect their occupants. Yet, as vehicles grow increasingly complex, it’s the human factor that can present hurdles. “People often really don’t understand this highly complex device they’re motoring around in at very high speeds,” Arbelaez said. “How many people do you know read the owner’s manual? Very, very few.”

According to Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, one of the earliest dashboard warning lights was found in a 1933 Hudson.

Anderson points to a page in a 1933 Hudson Super Six owner’s manual in which a generator warning light is referred to as “the red jewel” on the car’s dashboard. The manual advises the light should turn off once the car reaches a speed just above idle. Should it start flashing while traveling above 20 mph, it means the battery isn’t being charged. “At this point,” according to the manual, “your electrical system should be checked by your Hudson dealer.”

So, nearly 90 years ago, our cars were already trying to tell us when something was wrong. To make up for lost time and past misunderstandings, let’s explore some of the most common dashboard warning lights and what each one means.

CHECK ENGINE:

check engine warning light

Check Engine Light

We’ll start with the worst. The check-engine light is the one car owners hate most. Usually, this warning is in the shape of a silhouetted engine, though sometimes it’s an even harder to miss all-caps “CHECK ENGINE” message.

While it seems like the scariest, this light is one the most ambiguous because it relates to anything having to do with the car’s motor and emissions system. The potential issue could be as minor as a loose wire, an ill-fitting gas cap, or worn solenoid. Or it could mean something far more serious is wrong in the heart of the engine itself.

If the check-engine light illuminates while you’re driving and everything seems fine with the car, don’t panic, but don’t ignore it, either. Get the vehicle to a mechanic to run a diagnostic test and source the problem. Since 1996, every new car and light-duty truck sold in the U.S. has been legally required to have an On Board Diagnostic system (OBD). This is a computer that monitors emissions levels and other vital engine components. With an OBD scan, sourcing a problem is easier—something as simple as tightening the gas cap might solve the issue. This also prevents an emissions-spewing vehicle from operating without the driver knowing there’s a problem lurking under the hood.

Should the light turn on and the vehicle suddenly begin operating erratically or making strange noises, pull over immediately and call for a tow. This means there’s a far more serious problem, such as a misfire that could permanently damage the car’s engine. Ignoring a blinking check-engine light could mean putting yourself at risk, and ruining your car’s powertrain.

BATTERY:

car battery warning light

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The battery warning is easy to decipher because it looks exactly like the thing that needs attention. For many car owners, this light conjures up the heart-sinking “whir whir whir” sound of a vehicle trying to start with a flat battery. Don’t be fooled if the battery light illuminates but the car starts up and drives normally. There could be a long-term issue with the battery itself, or potential problems with the vehicle’s wiring, alternator, or other electrical components.

COOLANT TEMPERATURE:

coolant temperature light

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Looking like a thermometer taking a dip in the ocean, the coolant temperature warning lets you know your car is running too hot. This could be caused by a broken water pump, low coolant levels in the radiator, a leaking or burst coolant hose, or even damage to the radiator itself. These are serious issues and could lead to much bigger engine problems if ignored. Like a blinking check engine light, driving an overheated car is not only unsafe, it also risks permanently ruining your four-wheeled mode of transportation.

TRANSMISSION TEMPERATURE:

transmission temperature warning light

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This indicates the internal pieces of your gearbox are reaching a critical point. This might be caused by excessively heavy towing, low transmission fluid levels, or, more seriously, excessive wear on the inner workings of the transmission.

OIL PRESSURE WARNING:

oil pressure warning light

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Winning the award for best throwback dashboard warning light, an oil can (complete with a drop of oil coming from it). An illuminated oil pressure light could indicate something as simple as your car telling you it needs its oil topped off. More seriously, it could mean a leak in the engine, or worn parts like a blown piston ring or broken oil pump. If the engine’s dipstick shows oil levels are low and adding oil turns the light off, then you’re in luck. If that doesn’t do the trick, or the light comes on shortly after you’ve added oil, it’s smart to get the issue checked as soon as possible. Driving for extended periods with an oil pressure warning light illuminated is another sure-fire way of causing big repair bills down the road. Like the gasoline sloshing around in the fuel tank, your car’s oil level is equally essential to keeping your vehicle running.

TIRE PRESSURE MONITORING SYSTEM:

tire pressure warning light

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This light looks like two-thirds of a circle with an exclamation point in the middle. Those little lines across the bottom are meant to symbolize the tread of a car tire. Cute, right? Unfortunately, things can get ugly if you’re driving on severely under- or overinflated tires. In many modern cars, the tire pressure monitors include a display in the driver’s gauges, or in a menu located within the infotainment system, to tell the driver the exact tire pressure at each wheel. As an example, if one tire shows significantly less air pressure than the others, stop the car and refill the tire to the correct pressure rating. Start the car and see if the warning light goes off after a few minutes. If it doesn’t, there could be damage to the tire that’s causing a rapid leak.

BRAKE SYSTEM:

brake system warning light

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We all love to talk about how quickly a car accelerates from zero to 60 mph. But things can get dicey if a vehicle doesn’t come to a quick and controlled stop when the brakes are engaged. A common mistake occurs when the driver pulls away with the parking brake engaged, causing this warning light (or one saying “Parking Brake”) to glow. A more troubling culprit could be worn brake pads, low brake fluid levels, or a problem with the anti-lock braking system (ABS). On a similar theme when it comes a car’s stopping power, an illuminated ABS light often means there’s an issue with a wheel speed sensor, or problem with connections and wiring that could prevent the anti-lock braking system from activating. It’s still safe to drive your car without ABS, just understand a repair is warranted to restore full braking effectiveness, especially during a panic stop scenario.

TRACTION CONTROL, STABILITY CONTROL:

traction control warning light

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It’s not meant to look like a car driving down a wild and curvy road, but it kind of does. This warning is often represented as the front view of a car, with two squiggly lines underneath, illustrating what these systems are trying to avoid, which is your vehicle slipping and sliding all over the road. Keep in mind, the traction control and stability control light will turn on when the system is activated. Punch the gas pedal when it’s excessively rainy or snowy, and chances are good you’ll see this dashboard light illuminate. That only means these systems are doing their job. If they turn on when your car is running at moderate speed on dry surfaces, however, there might be a flaw in the system. A common culprit would be a wheel speed sensor. Many vehicles allow the driver to adjust these systems using some form of driving mode selector. The highest performance settings in many sports cars will greatly minimize or completely deactivate traction control and stability systems.

AIRBAG WARNING:

airbag warning light

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It’s perfectly normal for this light to turn on when your vehicle is first started. Should it stay illuminated while driving, there could be a problem with one of the vehicle’s airbags. This won’t cause you to get stuck on the side of the road, but it could be dangerous in the event of an accident.

LAMP OUT:

light out warning light

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One of the less serious dash lights on this list. Then again, if the lamp or bulb in question is a headlamp or taillight, you could be risking an accident or pricey ticket. Ironically, the lamp-out indicator is usually depicted by what looks like a sun with rays around it. A burnt-out lamp or busted bulb wouldn’t be as illuminating.

WASHER FLUID, DOOR OPEN, LOW FUEL:

washer fluid, door open, low fuel warning lights

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There are three very basic ones every single person should know and understand. The washer-fluid icon is depicted as a windshield with a jet of water. When this appears, it alerts the driver the car is low on washer fluid. Not a major problem, unless your windscreen is filled with gooey bugs and you don’t have the means to whisk them away. The door-open icon is usually an overhead depiction of a vehicle with one or two doors open. This can be rectified in seconds; close the door or trunk and you’re on your way. Last but not least, the low-fuel indicator features the icon of a fuel pump. This means you’re running low on gas and it’s time for a pit stop. A final helpful hint: The arrow alongside this icon tells you which side of the car the vehicle’s gas flap is located.

If you would like to know what your light is telling you, contact us at River City Fleet Services

Car Maintenance Guide: Everything You Need to Know

ByChris Hardesty 08/19/2021 4:00pm

Maintaining your car
Car and Truck Maintenance Guide

Car maintenance is a crucial part of vehicle ownership. Taking care of your car by performing preventative maintenance helps to ensure you have safe and reliable transportation.

Use this guide to learn about common automotive maintenance issues. It’ll help you protect your investment and keep your car in top-running condition.

The Importance of Car Maintenance

When you perform car maintenance at regular intervals, it keeps your ride in proper working order and helps prevent expensive mechanical repairs down the road. When it’s time to sell or trade in the vehicle, having detailed service records can help boost its value.

Vehicle maintenance does require an investment of time and money. But taking care of your car can often help you avoid major repair costs that follow a roadside breakdown. We make it easy to get maintenance pricing for your vehicle so you’ll know how much you can expect to pay within your area.

Most important, failing to follow preventative maintenance guidelines could even void the vehicle’s warranty.

RELATED STORIES: Car Warranty Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Scheduled maintenance check-ups address a vehicle’s fluid levels for brake and power steering systems, radiator coolant, and engine oil. Other items with significant safety purposes, such as brake pads and windshield wipers, should be checked routinely and replaced when necessary to keep them operating effectively.

Automobile engines are complex machines containing many interconnected parts. Proper mechanical maintenance, including replacing spark plugs, drive belts, timing belts or chains, and changing air and fluid filters, is needed to identify problems and to keep the engine running as well as it should.

How Often Should You Take Your Car in for an Inspection?

Always follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. At the least, you should have your car inspected by a qualified mechanic every 12 months to look for problems.Please note that many vehicle manufacturers have replaced the printed owner’s manual you might be familiar with for an online version availability through the manufacturer’s website.https://62e296f71f1aff1c90938797247d88e0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlAdvertisement

Some states require car inspections or smog checks for annual registration renewal, depending on the area of the state and age of the vehicle. This type of inspection evaluates only vehicle emissions or essential safety criteria rather than a full mechanical inspection of the car’s health.

Having your car’s oil changed at a repair shop or dealership usually includes a multi-point inspection to check fluid levels, filters, and other components. In previous decades, a rule of thumb was to change a car’s oil every 3,000 miles. Since 2010, many vehicles use synthetic oil that can go up to 10,000 miles between changes.

In addition to outlining regular maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotation, manufacturers give guidance for inspection or replacement of certain parts when the odometer reaches 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and 90,000 miles, for example. Again, refer to the owner’s manual for your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.

RELATED STORIES: Car Tires Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Signs My Car Needs Maintenance Done

Even the most well-maintained car will encounter problems that require unexpected service. Often, the vehicle will let you know before it stops operating that there’s an issue needing attention.

The “check engine” light or “service engine soon” indication on the dashboard aren’t the only clues that should prompt you to call a repair shop:

  • Braking – Any problem with your brakes is a safety issue. Address a “soft” brake pedal and investigate any squeaking or scraping sounds immediately.
  • Lacking acceleration – A change in performance can mean that it’s time for an engine tune-up.
  • Vibration – Have a mechanic diagnose the causes if you feel shaking when the car is starting, turning, or stopping.
  • Stalling or difficulty starting – When your vehicle stalls or you can’t get it started, it’s time to get it checked.
  • Fuel efficiency – Bad sensors or leaky fuel injectors might be the reason for changes in your gas mileage.
  • Shifting – Automatic transmissions are designed to shift gears smoothly. Hard shifts and lurching might indicate a transmission problem.

There are less obvious clues that something might be wrong with the car, and these signs can be intermittent or vague. Remember that you know how your car drives better than anyone does. If something seems different, it might be the start of a more significant problem.

Contact a trusted mechanic at your local dealership or car repair shop when your vehicle isn’t performing well. Tell them what you feel and hear when the car begins acting up.

Vehicle Maintenance Checklist

Keep up with a schedule of preventative maintenance to maximize the lifespan and performance of your vehicle. Use this list to be aware of what – and when – tasks should be done to help keep your car in proper working order.

Service intervals can vary from make and model, so be sure to follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.

Service Immediately

  • Check engine light – This warning appears when the car’s control system discovers a problem. There is no reason to panic when you see this yellow warning light, but don’t delay a visit to the repair shop and don’t reset it on your own without knowing why it came on in the first place. A mechanic can run diagnostic tests to determine the cause.
  • Headlights/taillights – Check for blown fuses if a light goes out. Replace the light if that isn’t the problem. Driving with burned-out lights is unsafe and can bring you a traffic ticket.
  • Tire pressure light – A car’s tire-pressure monitoring system will alert you when the air pressure in a tire drops below a certain amount. Low air pressure can bring unsafe driving conditions, so inflate your tires to proper levels as soon as you can.

Monthly Check-up

  • Fog lights, turn signals, brake, and parking lights – It’s relatively easy to notice a headlight that isn’t working. Others aren’t as obvious, so walk around the car monthly to visually inspect the lights.
  • Oil and coolant levels – Check levels when the engine is cool at least once a month and always top off the levels before making a long trip.
  • Tire pressure and tread depth – Tires are essential to safe driving. Regularly inspect your tires and the spare for uneven wear, proper air pressure, and adequate tread depth. Use a penny to check the tread depth. If the top of Lincoln’s head is covered, there is still more than 2/32” of depth remaining, meaning there is still adequate tread left.
  • Windshield wiper fluid – Be sure the reservoir has an adequate supply of wiper fluid. It’s not possible to drive safely with an obstructed view, something that can result from a dirty windshield.

3-Month Check-up

  • Oil and filters – Engines that use conventional motor oil can be on a 3-month/3,000-mile interval. Those using synthetic varieties might have up to 10,000 miles between oil changes.
  • Battery and cables – Make sure the battery and cables have tight connections and have no corrosion or leaking fluid.
  • Belts and hoses – The serpentine belt and other belts in the engine compartment shouldn’t look glazed, cracked, or frayed. Hoses shouldn’t leak or have cracks or bulges.
  • Power steering fluid – Check power steering fluid level when the engine is warm and add more when needed.
  • Wiper blades – Driving with worn wiper blades is a safety hazard because of reduced visibility when it rains. Inspect the blades seasonally and replace them if they’re damaged or no longer clear the windshield.

6-Month Check-up

  • Rotate tires – Rotating tires helps extend their life by balancing the tread wear and can help prevent noise and vibration problems. Check the owner’s manual beforehand because some types of tires and wheels shouldn’t be rotated or have to be rotated in a very specific way.
  • Wax vehicle – Wash your car regularly and apply a wax coating at least twice a year to help protect your car’s finish from rust.
  • Exhaust system – Look for and repair any damage, especially if the muffler is making noise.
  • Battery performance check – Your car won’t start without a good battery. Beginning when the battery is 3 years old, test it twice a year at your auto parts store.
  • Chassis lubrication – Your owner’s manual will say if the chassis, steering, and suspension systems require periodic lubrication.

RELATED STORIES: How to Jump-Start an Electric Car Battery

1-Year Check-up

  • Air filters – Cabin air filters help clean the air inside the car and should be replaced annually. However, engine air filters keep debris out of your engine and should be inspected when the oil is changed.
  • Brakes – Inspect the brake system, including the brake fluid, brake linings, rotors, and brake pads, to help ensure the proper operation of these critical components. The lifespan for brake pads largely depends on the driving style of the operator.
  • Inspect shocks and struts – Take your car to the shop if you notice a decrease in smoothness when driving. Shocks and struts are an essential part of the car’s steering system and should be inspected by a professional.
  • Coolant/antifreeze – Replace every year. Flush the coolant and the entire cooling system after 60,000 miles.

2-Year Check-up

  • Ignition system – Good quality spark plugs, plug wires, coils and other electrical components can last up to 100,000 miles. Even so, it’s a good idea to have spark plugs checked starting at 30,000 miles. Rough running or hard starting can be a sign that they’re beginning to fail.
  • Transmission fluid – Check transmission fluid levels regularly and add more when needed. You can expect to change transmission fluid between 30,000 miles and 60,000 miles in a manual transmission vehicle and between 30,000 miles and 100,000 miles in an automatic transmission one.
  • Fuel filter – Manufacturer guidelines for fuel filter replacement vary. Some suggest replacement at 30,000 miles.

Long-Term Check-up

  • Transfer case fluid –The transfer case shifts power from the transmission to the axles in a 4-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle. Have a professional check transfer case fluid according to manufacturer recommendations.
  • Front and rear differential – Differentials are devices that split the torque from the engine and send power to the tires to propel the car. The differentials require lubrication, and a professional should check them according to manufacturer recommendations.
  • Change tires – Tires can last from six years to 10 years. Check often for adequate tread depth greater than 2/32 of an inch.
  • Battery – Test the battery beginning at three years. It’s time to replace the battery after five years.
  • Timing belt – Replace following the owner’s manual guidance, typically between 60,000 miles and 90,000 miles. Not all vehicles have timing belts. Yours might have a timing chain, which often needs no periodic maintenance (or replacement) unless there’s an issue.

These milestones for car maintenance are general guidelines and not an exhaustive list. Carefully follow your car manufacturer’s recommendations on scheduled vehicle service and use qualified mechanics to perform work on your car.

Read Related Car Maintenance and Repair Stories:

Chris HardestyChris Hardesty is an author specializing in electric vehicles and general advice related to car ownership. His 25-year journalism career includes leading editorial research at The News & Observer in North Carolina, The Mercury News in California, and Newsday in New York. After that, he was an online news editor at The Wall Street Journal before moving to the Atlanta area. He didn’t have a… Read More about Chris HardestyLinked In Social Network

FAQ

How Much Does Car Maintenance Cost?

The costs of car maintenance vary, depending on where you live and the year, make, and model of the car you drive. To help you determine costs of maintaining your vehicle, use our 5-year Cost to Own tool. The tool breaks out the maintenance costs over five years. When you divide it by five you can get your annual costs.

What Does Check Engine Light Mean?

When the “check engine light” flashes or illuminates on the dashboard, it means it’s time to get your car inspected by a certified mechanic at a dealership or local auto repair shop.

How Long Can You Drive With Check Engine Light On?

It’s not safe to drive a long distance with your check engine light on. Wherever you may be driving, pull off and go to your nearest car dealership or auto repair shop so they can run a diagnostic test and determine the issue.

There were lots of exciting developments in the automotive industry in 2021. We were there to cover it all.

Top 10 Cars You Couldn't Get Enough Of in 2021

There were lots of exciting developments in the automotive industry in 2021. We were there to cover it all, and you were eager to read about the hot new sheetmetal. Ford’s revived Bronco finally reached customers, the Toyota Tundra received its first redesign in over a decade, and we named our first EV of the Year, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which is also one of the top-selling electric vehicles on sale. As the year closes, we have assembled this list of the cars that our readers clicked on the most. Nearly all of these high-interest models are available for sale now, with the only exception being a retro electric van that’ll arrive soon.

River City Fleet Services, Inc.

River City Fleet Services, Inc.