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Common electrical problems on vehicles

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Common electrical problems on vehicles today can range from something as simple as a fuse being blown to a computer or charging system problem. 

Some possible issues include:

  • The alternator going bad
  • A fuse that has blown
  • Problems with the throttle body
  • Corrosion buildup on the battery terminal
  • A bad car battery

Below is a more detailed explanation about each problem.

Common electrical problems

Bad alternator

Having a malfunctioning or bad alternator is one possible culprit behind electrical problems. Alternators take on the electrical load of the vehicle. On a nice, sunny day, there may not be a lot of electrical power used. However, on a rainy or winter day, you’re running the heater, the wiper blades are going, the lights are on, and you’re using the power windows. That’s a lot of power. The alternator helps adjust how much power is needed and recharges the battery. Some hybrid vehicles have two batteries – one is the hybrid battery, which helps propel the car, and a 12 volt battery that runs 12 volt accessories.

Blown fuse

Another common problem is if your cell phone or GPS stops working. With all of the accessory outlets – what used to be known as the cigarette lighter – when you start plugging four or five things into one outlet, that pulls a lot of power and can blow the fuse. Typically, you just have to check the fuse and fix it yourself. Take a look at the owner’s manual to figure out where the fuse block is and what fuse needs to be replaced. Or look it up on Google.

Throttle body problems

There may also be an issue with the throttle body, which is the flap that opens and lets air into the engine when you press the gas pedal. The one pictured above is electronically controlled, so it has everything from power and ground to a position sensor. These types of throttle bodies could also have a barometric pressure sensor, which tells the vehicle what the altitude of the car is – whether it’s at the beach or in the mountains. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle, there could also be a temperature sensor.

Corrosion on battery terminals

This photo shows a battery terminal that someone performed a quick repair on. Over a period of time, corrosion starts to build up. Copper doesn’t rust like iron rusts, but it does get a corrosion coating on it, making it difficult for electricity to get to the terminal. This can cause electrical issues and running issues. It’s even possible that your car won’t start or the starter may crank slow. That’s because it takes more power to travel through the corrosion than it does to go through a nice, neat terminal connection.

Dead battery

Car batteries don’t last forever. A battery’s lifespan depends on the type of battery, where it was made, and how it was designed. Generally, it can go 4 to 6 years before needing to be replaced. Vehicles with a lot of electrical accessories, such as safety lights or snow plows, or another feature used by work trucks, use a bit more power and could shorten the lifespan of the battery. If you travel on a lot of rough roads, the battery can bounce around, possibly disturbing the plates inside and impact how long it lasts. That’s why it’s important to ensure there is a secure battery hold down.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including BMW and Mercedes. Services include oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Honda Accord not blowing cold air

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

If you’ve noticed that cold air isn’t blowing through the vents when you turn on your car’s ac, it may be a sign of an ac leak.

A Honda Accord not blowing cold air was one problem we addressed earlier this week. Our Woodbridge mechanics solved the issue by replacing the air conditioning condenser.

You can read about how to maintain the condenser in this article we shared.

This particular car is using refrigerant 1234yf.

Air conditioning condenser problems

With the way certain vehicles are being manufactured, the metal for the condenser is thinner than it used to be.

Depending on the type of metal, we’re seeing that they’re corroding from the inside out. So, it could be the freon reacting to that metal. That’s why you may see certain types of cars and trucks having more problems with condensers than they did previously. We’re seeing that now where – for a specific kind of car – we’re seeing more condensers than we ever have.

Why you shouldn’t fix an ac leak with sealant

Now, you can buy a product that has sealer built into it from the auto parts store. Please don’t use that, because when you come to a shop we have to identify it and that can cause other problems with your repair. If you have an ac problem, just bring it to your service center so they can determine what’s going on and perform the correct repair without using sealant.

If you’re getting rid of the vehicle and you want to seal up a small leak, great. However, when we – as a repair facility – reclaim that freon, that sealant gets into the recycling machine and can contaminate the rest of the freon. It can even gum up and ruin the machine, which costs anywhere from $6,000 and $10,000. 

This may also be detrimental, because the sealant is going through the system. If the leak is too large and doesn’t seal up or you get another leak the sealant doesn’t address and the freon leaks out, then the air is now inside the system. So, everywhere the sealant is hardens up, potentially impacting the evaporator, condenser, and other parts. When that happens, you sometimes have to replace components.   

You also don’t want to just use the can with the red, yellow, and green gauge, because it can depend on the temperature outside, the humidity, and what RPM your vehicle is running at. The gauge may show green, but there could be air in the system and you could overcharge it.

In a lot of these vehicles that use R-1234yf, they don’t use as much freon as they were. So, you aren’t talking about 2 pounds, it may be more like 0.9 pounds or 1.1 pounds. You can easily overcharge, which can result in other issues, like damaging the air compressor and making the leak larger.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including BMW and Mercedes. Services include oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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AC repair on Chevrolet vans

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Chilly temperatures are lingering in Northern Virginia. However, AC repair has already begun for the year at Steve’s Auto Repair.

Last week, one of our technicians performed A/C diagnostics on a small bus body that’s used by a local Boys & Girls Club.

Our Woodbridge mechanics are able to do AC repair on Chevrolet vans and GMC vans.

These particular types of vans – so the 1500, 2500 and 3500 series of Chevrolet vans and GMC vans – basically use all of the same air conditioning components. 

A/C diagnostics: Blockage in the compressor

On the Boys & Girls Club vehicle, the A/C compressor stopped working and actually ended up even throwing the air conditioning belt. So, it had a belt on it, and we saw the compressor was really dragging down. 

Through some testing and by taking some lines apart, we were able to find out where a blockage was. You could tell that there was some blockage with the compressor just by reading the gauges. The high-pressure side was going way too high. 

This one has a dual AC system. Your normal vents in your dash is the front A/C. There’s also a small evaporator in the back where some more lines run to, but that also has its own receiver dryer.

Desiccant material and compressor material create little balls that clogged the line.

Desiccant material helps collect moisture that might be in the system, and it acts like a little filter. In this case, desiccant material and compressor material – such as seals and oil – was cooked together, creating little balls and clogging up the line. So, as the compressor was trying to force Freon through the line, it couldn’t go anywhere.


How we performed the AC repair

So, we flushed the lines with some special solvent, and  – afterwards – made sure that they were all dry. We got everything all cleared up and put a new receiver dryer in the back. On the front, our technician added a new A/C accumulator. It kind of works the same way, but it contains what’s kind of like a holding tank for Freon. 

A new compressor, A/C compressor belt and seals were also installed. New oil was added, and an EVAC and recharge on the system were performed, as well. We wrapped up the air conditioning repair by putting in the correct amount of R134 Freon and retesting the system. Everything was working fine. 

When you’re looking at doing an air conditioning job on a vehicle, sometimes you need to look below the surface. Yes, the compressor was bad, but it can also be important to find out what was the problem that made it go bad. Sometimes, the compressor just fails. 

But even with that, you want to make sure that you’re changing the expansion valve or an orifice tube – if that’s what goes in the particular vehicle – and the accumulator and/or the receiver dryer. Changing all of those necessary parts is the correct way to do the job, so your money is well spent and it lasts.  

A lot of problems could lead to car AC repair. Common reasons why an air conditioning system can stop working are explained in this article we shared.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including BMW and Mercedes. Services include oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

This article is co-authored by Contributing Writer Lily Brown.

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Engine noise on an Infiniti QX80

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

As your vehicle ages, you may begin to notice abnormal sounds or behaviors.

Maintaining your car through oil changes, mileage-based services, and the replacement of old parts can prevent a lot of problems. Some issues, however, can’t be avoided.

An Infiniti QX80 was making an engine noise recently. The driver brought it to our Woodbridge auto repair shop after hearing a whining sound that would go away when the vehicle warmed up. The car wasn’t too far along in its mileage – just a little over 120,000 miles.

Engine noise diagnostic testing begins

Our technician started his investigation, which involved the removal of many parts. This included the oil pan, the timing cover, and the 32 bolts that hold the cover on. Timing chain

The cause of the engine noise, he found, was the timing chain rubbing against the timing cover. The tensioner was also out further than it should be.

Timing chains ensure that the camshaft and crankshaft, components that control the opening of an engine’s valves, are in correct timing. Overtime, they can stretch and begin to bounce around.

In addition to getting new timing chains, the Infiniti QX80 will receive a new timing chain tensioner and new timing chain guides.

New timing chains, timing chain guides, and a timing chain tensioner.

The timing chain’s connection with other parts

For one of these engines, you may or may not get a PO340 code, which has to do with the camshaft position. It’s a sensor, so sometimes it can pick up if there’s some slack in the chain. 

Along with this particular vehicle, it would actually make a whining noise, not necessarily a rattling noise. If the chain was loose enough, you would have a rattling noise.

The other thing that’s important with these timing chains is the oil pump is right in front of the engine and is driven by the timing chain. On a couple of the camshafts, you have variable camshaft sprockets that are all oil controlled and driven off of the timing chain. There are many components that are connected with the timing chain.

Depending on what year it is, there could be an updated crankshaft timing gear. 

It’s also important to know that as the timing chain begins to stretch it can start to damage the oil sprayer. This requires a special tool to pull out and put back in to make sure the timing chain has the correct amount of oil, so it will last.

Maintenance and research

This timing chain problem is one that the company has had with its engines. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do to prevent this issue. It’s going to happen, even if you do take care of the vehicle.

But don’t let that discourage you from maintaining your car. A lot of other problems can be avoided with regular checkups. (Regular oil changes, for example, can prevent engine damage.) Also, if something were to happen to a part – knock on wood – you may be eligible for warranties, because you kept up with the recommended maintenance services.

Other than making sure your car’s basic needs are met, we recommend doing your research. Read your owner’s manual, and look up whether there are any common problems associated with your particular vehicle. That way, you have an idea of some potential issues to watch out for.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including BMW and Mercedes. Services include oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Spark plugs and ignition coils: when they should be replaced

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

When starting a vehicle, we don’t typically stop to think about all of the components and processes that make this action possible. 

Spark plugs and ignition coils are some of the little guys that are working behind the scene.

So, what do spark plugs do? Spark plugs team up with ignition coils and other components to get your vehicle to start. Fuel that is located in the cylinder head is sparked by the spark plugs. Ignition coils lend a hand by producing the voltage.

When to change spark plugs

How often to replace spark plugs has changed. These components have a much longer lifespan today. They used to be replaced around the 30,000 mile mark. This has been extended to between 60,000 and 105,000 miles. 

However, you should consult your manual for the manufacturer guidelines for your vehicle or feel free to contact your local auto repair shop.

If you’re wondering how to tell if a spark plug is bad, here are some indicators:

  • The check engine light turns on
  • You’re having trouble starting your vehicle
  • Your car runs rough when idle
  • Engine misfires (You may feel that your car is chugging when going up a hill or accelerating.)

With today’s vehicles, with OBDII systems if you feel the vehicle not running correctly and the check engine light is flashing you definitely have a misfire that could be causing catalytic converter damage.

spark plugs

Because of all the computer systems and safety systems in cars and trucks, if you have an engine running problem it could impact other safety systems, such as traction control and Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) systems. Since the engine wouldn’t be running correctly, the computer may turn those systems off when you have a problem.

If you are having a misfire, you need to get it diagnosed by your local auto mechanic to actually get to the bottom of the problem. Starting with computer diagnostics and pulling the code that may just show a cylinder misfire doesn’t really help you pinpoint the issue. They may need to perform some testing to determine if it’s a spark plug, coil boot, ignition coil, or an ignition control problem, such as an ECM (car’s computer) or an ignition module.

Types of spark plugs

There are different kinds of spark plugs produced. When replacing them on your vehicle, it’s important that you use the right type and avoid choosing the cheapest option.

We recommend using O.E. manufacturer specific spark plugs over O.E. equivalent, and here’s why:

Certain spark plug manufacturers are associated with specific vehicle manufacturers. For example, Bosch is known for producing parts for European vehicles. Many of these  manufacturers will also make spark plugs for other vehicles, and they may work just fine. However, they also might not for the long haul. This can be for various reasons, like the tolerances being off.

In addition to having spark plugs produced by various manufacturers, you now have different metals being used. There are tips made out of platinum and iridium. This can impact how long a spark plug lasts.

spark plugs

What can cause spark plug problems

There are quite a few issues that can cause a bad spark plug.

Spark plugs could go bad if carbon builds up, which may be a result of dirty air filters or fuel injectors, or if the fuel-air combination is too rich.

The spark plug tip becoming overheated multiple times, and engine oil entering the combustion chamber are other culprits of spark plug failure.

Overtime, the gap will get bigger, due to the metal wearing away from everyday use.

A lot of engines are designed where the spark plug is located in a tube in the middle of the cylinder head. The gaskets and seals can leak into the spark plug tubes. So, in some instances the fix may be replacing the spark plugs and the spark plug boots and also the valve cover gasket and spark plug tube seals.

How to tell if ignition coils are bad

If you notice that your car is misfiring or stalling, it could be an indicator of a bad ignition coil. Other symptoms include rough idle, misfire during acceleration, and hard start.

ignition coils

This part may stop working correctly if a vehicle has bad spark plugs or plug wires, or if there is an overload with the voltage.

Like spark plugs, ignition coils can be designed differently. Sometimes, ignition boots come separate from ignition coils.

There are four types of ignition coils: conventional, electronic, coil packs, and coil-on-plug. Without getting too much into the weeds, each type of coil has the same purpose of producing high voltage to the spark plug but are designed differently.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including BMW and Mercedes. Services include oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.