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Why you do not want to put a cheap catalytic converter on your car

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

At some point in time, you may need to have a catalytic converter replaced.

There might be a running problem or possibly a code that comes up on the computer an auto repair shop hooks up to your vehicle.

Sometimes, the check engine light turns on and there’s a PO420 code, which relates to the catalyst system’s efficiency.

The cause of this code can range from an old catalytic converter that isn’t doing its job anymore to how a car is running.

You also may see a flashing check engine light, which means you’re having a misfire on the engine. If this indicator is flashing, you should have it looked at right away and avoid driving it.

Operating the car could cause catalytic converter damage and material in this component could actually melt. That causes a restriction in the exhaust, preventing the air from getting out.

For example, fuel-injected vehicles can have weird shifting issues, low-power, even some chugging misfire – not only from the ignition misfire or the engine misfire but just because it’s so restricted that the engine cannot run correctly. 

This is why having diagnostics done at your local auto repair shop over just having the codes from the computer read. You might get codes saying the engine isn’t running correctly when the catalytic converter is clogged up. It can also mask transmission shifting problems.

cheap catalytic converter
catalytic converter half the amount of material inside

Cheap catalytic converters are out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re good.

Catalytic converters are expensive because of the materials that convert bad exhaust gases to good exhaust gases.

The materials that make up the catalyst in the catalytic converter, are materials such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

What also can make a difference is how that material is made and how much the materials are in it. 

cheap catalytic converter

If you cut open a catalytic converter, the materials could make up three-fourths of the space, compared to a cheap catalytic converter that may only have half or one-third of the materials in the container.

This can impact how well it runs and its lifespan.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy an air filter. Your car uses a big air filter but you decided to buy a really small one. That small air filter isn’t going to collect as much dirt.

In the case of the catalytic converter, if you buy a cheap one, it’s not going to convert the exhaust gases as much.

A cheap catalytic converter may work for a while. In our experience, we have found that they’re good for about a year to maybe two years. An emission test is required every two years in parts of Virginia. Generally, they don’t make it to the next emission test before they need to be replaced. 

So, you’re better off replacing the catalytic converter with a good one that contains the correct amount of material. You’ll be better off in the long run. 

You should also be watchful of catalytic converter theft. Many are being stolen, especially off pickup trucks and commercial vehicles, because thieves can easily get underneath and cut them out.

Insurance companies want to go the cheapest route, so it’s important that you make sure they aren’t just having a shop weld in an aftermarket converter. If they do and you need to have it replaced later on, you will be stuck with the bill of replacing the pipes in the components before and after the converter. 

If you’re getting rid of the car, that’s fine. But if you’re going to keep it, make sure that the insurance companies are putting in Original Equipment (OE) equivalent parts and replacing the pipes.

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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Check engine light on an Audi

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

An Audi came in because its check engine light had turned on.

A check engine light comes on for many reasons. In this particular case, it was not flashing. 

If you have a flashing check engine light, that means you may have a problem that is going to cause catalytic converter damage or could cause some other engine problems because there was a misfire.

It was also low on oil, which was causing some different problems. There were some codes, because these engines that have variable valve timing are – a lot of times – controlled by oil control valves, which adjust the valve timing. 

We were able to clear the codes, reset the maintenance monitor systems, and get this vehicle back on track.

check engine light

Regular oil changes can help prevent engine damage. We recommend changing it every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Other reasons that the check engine light turns on can be anything from a sensor not recording or sending the signal correctly to a loose gas cap. The light may also indicate evaporative control problems or even issues with your transmission. 

So, when the light comes on you don’t really want to wait a long time to get it checked, even if it’s just a matter of coming to your local auto repair shop and having them check the codes. 

If we see a code that has to do with a gas cap, we’re able to just take a look at it real quick, make sure the gas cap seal isn’t broken, tighten it up, clear the code and let you drive it. If it comes on again from an EVAP code, then we can get into diagnostics. But this is one of the things you just don’t really want to wait too long to get addressed.

Even regular maintenance on Audis has to be done correctly. Using the wrong weight of oil, or not getting the cap back on, or knocking off a vacuum line can actually trigger a check engine light. 

Sometimes, with these vehicles, a little hose can come loose and you won’t even notice it. Even the dipstick not being pushed in all the way can cause an issue that an Audi can actually pick up.

If you do get an oil change and your check engine light comes on a day or two or three afterwards just talk to your auto repair shop and they may be able just to check something real quick. 

This is a very small list of reasons why your check engine light can come on: 

  • Gas cap 
  • Oxygen sensor 
  • Catalytic converter problem
  • Misfire
  • Coils 
  • Plugs 
  • The evaporative system 
  • Sensors 
  • Wrong oil and low oil 
  • Transmission problems 
  • ABS or traction control problem

So if your check engine light does come on, call your local auto repair shop. Let them at least check the codes and see if there’s anything that’s serious. If you keep your vehicle maintained, you can have many years with your Audi.

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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Noise diagnostics: What we go through to track down sounds

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Noise diagnostics can be complicated.

Vehicles make lots of sounds, and any of them can mean many things.

A growling noise could have something to do with a car’s wheel bearing, or it may indicate that you have bad tires.

Meanwhile, a squeaking sound can be caused by dry, moving parts.

Diagnosing noises is also difficult, because cars act like tuning forks — noise travels. 

You may hear a sound coming from one area when it’s actually coming from a different place. 

We worked on a vehicle recently where the front differential was going bad. However, the sound was traveling to the back of the car.

Our technicians first start noise diagnostics by taking the vehicle for a test drive.

Noise diagnostics
Test Driving

It’s important that we receive a good description from customers about what type of sound they’re hearing, where it’s coming from, and any other characteristics they noticed — such as a vibration.

Then, we try to verify it. 

Because some noises only occur during certain circumstances, the technicians attempt to recreate it.

If it’s a clunking sound, for example, the car may be taken on a road that contains potholes.

Wayne worked on diagnosing a noise on a 2008 Toyota Highlander last month.

The customer had noticed a screeching sound when driving down the hill on a certain road. During his test drive, Wayne took it on that road to listen for it.

After recreating a sound, we use a process of elimination to determine what part of the car the sound is connected to, such as the suspension or the engine.

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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Serpentine belt on BMW gets caught in engine

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

The driver of a 2009 BMW 535xi had an unexpected experience recently: his car stopped running in the middle of the road.

The culprit? A leaking oil filter housing that caused the serpentine belt to get caught in the engine.

Oil Filter Housing

Because of the leak, the serpentine belt — which surrounds parts of the engine — became soaked with oil.

It slipped off the pulleys, wrapped around the components, and began to fray.

After getting caught around the crankshaft pulley, it started working its way through the crankshaft seal into the timing cover.

Parts of the belt wrapped around the timing chain, throwing the car’s timing off.

It was also caught around the oil pan, which clogged up the oil pickup tube and prevented oil from entering the engine. 

serpentine belt
Oil pickup tube

When the customer’s car stopped running, he cranked the car and a crunching metal sound could be heard in the front timing cover. 

We knew that the timing chain needed to be replaced.

After removing the old timing chain and timing chain unit, our technician cleaned out material from the serpentine belt that had gotten into the timing cover.

New chains, a new tensioner and new bolts for the camshaft, sprockets and crankshaft were then installed.

serpentine belt
New timing belt

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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Diagnosing problems on BMWs and Mercedes

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Diagnosing “problem cars” that come in through an auto repair shop can be tricky and time consuming. 

Technicians at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire are using OPUS IVS AUTOLOGIC DrivePro to identify problems sooner and more accurately.

We have invested into this diagnostic platform for our BMW and Mercedes customers.

It also has very good capability for other European vehicles, including Volkswagens and Land Rovers

For many auto repair shops, using a scan tool that has limited functions becomes a roadblock.

Not only does DrivePro give near dealer capability, it also enables us to access the computers of vehicles. 

We are able to use the tool to code modules and reprogram vehicle computers, as well.

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.