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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.

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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White, blue or black smoke from your car

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

It can be a little concerning when you notice smoke from your car exhaust. This occurred to me recently when a friend started their Chevy Colorado. 

If this happens to you, you might think, “What’s wrong?” and “Is it safe to drive my vehicle?”

Before taking off down the road, you need to make sure your car is drivable. There are a few areas you can check:

  • Take a look at the temperature gauge, which tells you if the engine coolant temperature is where it should be.
  • Make sure there aren’t any warning lights or alerts on your dashboard.
  • Check the oil level and coolant level to ensure they aren’t low.

What to do if you notice smoke from your car

Wondering what to do if there’s white smoke from exhaust? What if you notice blue, gray or black smoke from your car? 

Having the car checked out by a trained automotive expert – like an ASE certified technician – is your best and safest option.

If you don’t see any warning lights and everything seems to be OK, drive the vehicle to a nearby auto repair shop as soon as possible.

If there is a problem, or something changes when you start traveling – if it starts overheating, for example – you should pull over at a safe location and call a tow truck. 

Choosing to ignore alerts, low fluid levels, or odd behaviors for too long could lead to more damage.

What do different smoke colors mean?

You can get a better idea of what’s causing the smoke by looking at different factors, like the color and the smell.

White smoke coming out of exhaust can be the result of a few different problems. It may indicate an engine problem or that coolant is going into the combustion chamber. A cracked cylinder head, a head gasket that’s leaking, or a cracked engine block are other possibilities.

A sweet smell is typically associated with antifreeze or coolant. Meanwhile, the smell of fuel can mean that the issue lies with the fuel system.

Blue, gray and black are other colors of smoke to watch out for. If the smoke from your car is gray or blue and you notice a smell that seems bitter, it might mean that the engine is burning oil. The situation could occur if valve seals are leaking, piston rings have become worn, a PCV valve is clogged, or the crankcase is overfilled with oil

Not using the correct kind of oil and not having regular oil changes performed may also cause this problem. We recommend oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the vehicle. 

Grey or white smoke coming out the back of the vehicle – but not necessarily the tailpipe – could be an external leak, such as engine oil dripping or transmission fluid leaking from a cooler line onto the exhaust.

Too much raw fuel burning could lead to black smoke that has a gasoline smell, a problem sometimes caused by a fuel pressure regulator that has failed, a bad engine sensor or ignition part, or a fuel injector that’s leaking. 

You should have your vehicle serviced at a car repair shop, because some of them – including Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire, an auto repair shop in Woodbridge, Virginia – perform visual inspections and note anything out of the ordinary, such as oil leaks and coolant leaks. Internal leaks are more difficult to diagnose, but your mechanic can help determine the problem and help you and your family stay safe on the road.

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.

Technician working on vehicle.

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.

Worn spark plug and carbon buildup on spark plug.

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.

Valve cover gasket and spark plug tube seals.

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.

Distributor-less ignition system and 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.

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Car heater blowing cold air

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

If you’re like me, you have or are getting ready to turn the heat on during your morning commute.

When you do it the first couple of times this season, you may notice a couple of problems.

A burning smell is one of them. This can happen if dirt kicks up in an area that hasn’t been used in a while. But if the issue persists, you should have it checked out at a repair shop near you.

The car heater blowing cold air is another common problem, which can stem from several underlying issues. These reasons include:

  • Low on coolant
  • Heater core problems
  • Thermostat not working
  • Blocked or broken heater control  

We will provide a deeper explanation about each possible cause below.

Low on coolant

A car heater not blowing hot air can occur when a vehicle’s coolant level is low. Coolant helps ensure that the engine temperature doesn’t get too high and prevents issues, like your car overheating. The warm air you feel when you turn on your heat is generated by hot coolant from the engine. If the right amount of coolant isn’t in the system – typically the result of a coolant leak – the heater won’t function correctly.

Air distributor box and heater core.

Heater core problems

We mentioned earlier that hot coolant is needed to warm up a vehicle. The heater core is also a necessary part of this process. A car heater not working could be caused by a bad heater core or if the heater core is leaking. Bad heater core symptoms include the vents blowing cold air, and fog on the windows or in the front seats. Debris called “scale” could also be blocking this component, preventing coolant from making it into the heater core.

Thermostat not working

If a car heater isn’t doing its job, there may be a problem with the thermostat, which opens and closes based on the coolant’s temperature. A bad thermostat may cause the engine to become too hot or too cold and lead to the car heater blowing cold air.

Blend door, actuator and heater core tubes.

Blocked or broken heater control

Another possible issue is a blocked or broken heater control. For a heater control problem, it can be a few things. With today’s vehicles having a lot of electronics in them, there are “mode door actuators,” which are little electric motors that move a little door back and forth. That allows the air to go through the heater core, or not, and helps adjust the temperature. You can also have a blend door sensor made out of plastic that can break and won’t move, only allowing you to feel cold air. You can also have problems with heater control cables on some of the older vehicles. Blockages may occur in the air distribution box – where the heater core is located – as well. Mouse nests, papers and other items can prevent air from making it to the heater core.

Air distribution box.

The type of car heater repair needed varies for each problem. Our technicians are able to perform diagnostic testing and replace the parts needed to address it.

Sometimes, if the heater core needs to be replaced the whole dash of the vehicle must be removed. This can take a little bit of time, so if you need a new heater core plan to be without your car for one to three days.

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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Signs that your vehicle needs a new turbocharger

In Diagnostics by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

A lot of newer vehicles today are coming with smaller engines.

To run the air conditioning, computers, and electronics, extra power is needed. Turbochargers provide that support.

This component takes pressure from the exhaust that spools up and forces air into the intake. That adds power. Then, the car adds more fuel, resulting in more boost.

Sometimes, turbochargers need to be replaced.

We recently installed a new one on a BMW that had its check engine light turn on.

While working on the vehicle, the technician realized that the wastegate had gone bad. As you’re driving down the road, the turbo puts pressure into the engine through the intake. When you let off the gas and are decelerating, that pressure has to go somewhere. The wastegate operates as a pressure relief valve, allowing the pressure from the turbo to go off without damaging the engine.

He determined this was the problem because the turbocharger going bad is a common issue with BMWs. Work had also been done on this vehicle previously.

A couple of years ago, we replaced the wastegate solenoid.

At the time, we thought the turbocharger may need to be replaced at some point. Installing a new solenoid was a cheaper option that we hoped would address the issue.

How to tell if you need a new turbocharger

The check engine light turning on is one symptom that a new turbocharger is needed. This light can be triggered if your turbo doesn’t hit the pressure it’s supposed to.

Keep in mind that a check engine light can come on for many reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with the turbocharger. 

You may also notice the engine making a whining noise and loss of power.

Blue or gray exhaust smoke is another indicator.

What causes it to go bad?

There are various reasons why turbochargers stop working. 

Not having enough oil and using dirty oil or the wrong type are the most common causes. These newer cars are very oil specific, because the turbo continues to run after the engine is off and it needs to be lubricated.

The turbocharger can also go bad simply from everyday use and if dirt, rocks and other debris enter it.

A “turbo underboost” code could indicate that the turbo is going bad. However, that isn’t always the case. When we get this code, our technicians determine the location of the boost leak by performing a smoke test on the turbo and intercooler.

Sometimes, the turbo is bad. However, we need to check that, because there may be a leak between the turbo and boost sensor.

Ways to maintain your vehicle’s turbocharger

Turbochargers are expensive. So, it’s important to make sure they’re maintained.

Regular oil changes are one way to take care of turbocharged engines. We recommend this service every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

It’s also a good idea to give your engine time to warm up before heading to your next destination and allowing it to cool down afterward.

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.