View Post

Cowling area and cabin air filters: Why you should keep them clean

In Cabin Air Filter, Maintenance by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Has it been a while since you cleaned out your vehicle’s cowling area or changed out the cabin air filters?

These maintenance items are often overlooked by drivers. However, checking them regularly can help drivers avoid problems.

Certain components can be found in the cowling, such as the cabin air filter and the windshield wiper motor.

During the fall and even the winter, leaves can pile up on the bottom of the windshield.

Cleaning the cowling area

New and rusted ignition coils for BMW.When water runs across the windshield, it goes into the cowling area and down the sides. We recommend clearing it on a consistent basis.

This may sound like another thing to add to your “to do” list, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to remove leaves and twigs.

Debris that collects in the cowling overtime could lead to a dirty cabin air filter and a musty or moldy smell in your vehicle. Other parts may be impacted, too.

This area became blocked on a BMW X5. The car was brought in with its check engine light on last week. The technician determined that the spark plugs and ignition coils needed to be replaced.

Because the vehicle had a clogged cowling area, water wasn’t draining properly. Instead, it dripped on the ignition coils overtime, causing rust buildup.

Another problem may happen as vehicles get older. The air intake for the car is normally located under the cowling.

If the drains are blocked up, then that water could start entering the cabin of the car where the air comes in through the blower motor. Next thing you know, your passenger side floorboards are wet. Leaves under the cowling area on a BMW.

That’s why you want to keep those leaves and pine needles off. The tiny helicopter leaves are the worst, because they can sometimes make it down between the openings in the cowling and collect below it. Cleaning the area off once a month helps prevent the debris from getting to areas where you can’t see it. 


Replacing cabin air filters

Cabin air filters help keep bacteria, pollen and dirt out of a vehicle’s front area.

They typically need to be replaced each year or so, depending on how much and where you drive the car.

This component is good for about 10,000 to 20,000 miles. If your drive home or to weekend adventures include dirt roads, you might change a cabin air filter sooner than drivers who mainly stick to paved roads.

If it’s been a while since cabin air filter replacement was performed on your vehicle, have your auto repair shop check it at your next oil change.

Mice and other animals sometimes take refuge in this part of the car. In fact, a couple of years ago, we worked on a Toyota where squirrels had built nests in the cabin air filter box

Rodents will also chew up cabin air filters. The material they are made out of are great for nesting. Animals are drawn to the insulation of wires, as well.

You can enhance the air in your vehicle further by having BG Frigi Fresh, a disinfectant, sprayed into the vents.

Maintenance matters

Vehicles are made up of many systems that need attention. Your car requires regular oil changes, flushes, and – when needed – brake repair, new tires and suspension work.

Through maintenance, you can keep it running for as long as possible and avoid premature or expensive repairs.

Cleaning the cowling area or getting a new cabin air filter may not sound like critical tasks. But the small steps of taking care of your vehicle can pay off in the long run.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located near Dale City, 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.

View Post

Mileage-based services: what does your car need and when?

In Alignment, Battery, Cabin Air Filter, Maintenance, Shocks and Struts by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

The lifespans of vehicles have lengthened over the years, which means that drivers are keeping them for extended periods of time.

To ensure that your car lasts as long as possible, it requires maintenance. After a period of time or as a vehicle reaches a specific mileage, certain tasks are recommended.

Some mileage-based services include flushes, replacing parts, and tune-up related items.

Year-based car maintenance

Every 3 to 5 years

Battery replacement is normally needed around every 5 years for good batteries. How long a car battery lasts can be impacted by the quality, type and size. Where you buy it from is another factor.

Worn tire on a Honda Pilot.No longer than 8 to 10 years

If it’s been 8 to 10 years since you last purchased tires, it’s time to invest in new ones. Depending on where you live, weather conditions and how you drive, your car may need new tires sooner.

Tires tread depth must be at least 2/32 of an inch. There shouldn’t be any chords showing or cracks in the sidewall

Mileage-based services

Every 3,000 to 5,000 miles

Oil changes on many vehicles should typically be performed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. We know that some manufacturers are recommending them every 10,000 to 15,000 miles or when the oil service light turns on. If you want to keep your vehicle for a long time, you may want to choose synthetic oil and have it changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

It’s a good idea to have tire rotations done every 5,000 miles, too. This service is a part of our oil change process.

Dirty cabin air filter on a Toyota Highlander.Between 10,000 and 20,000 miles

The lifespan of cabin air filters is normally 10,000 to 20,000 miles. This is determined by the kind of vehicle you have and the driving conditions.

How long air filters last vary, as well. They are among the components we check during oil changes. Air filter replacement can be suggested upon inspection or per the manufacturer’s guidelines. They could last somewhere around 10,000 or 15,000 miles.

Every 15,000 miles

Ram 3500 receiving a wheel alignment.It’s a good idea to have wheel alignments conducted once a year or every 15,000 miles. This service is also suggested when you purchase new tires and following any needed suspension repairs.

Tire balances and GDI induction services should be performed every 15,000 miles, too.

Every 30,000 miles

A few mileage-based services are needed every 30,000 miles. This can differ among vehicles and the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Typically, every 30,000 miles is the suggested frequency for brake fluid exchanges, coolant fluid exchanges, transmission fluid exchanges, power steering fluid exchanges, and fuel induction services.

If you want to receive some sort of extended warranty, you may want to start earlier than what the manufacturer suggests.

When a vehicle has between 50,000 and 100,000 miles

Worn struts on a Toyota Camry.

Worn struts on a Toyota Camry

When your car has between 50,000 and 60,000 miles on it, we recommend taking a look at shocks and struts. 

Depending on the vehicle, you may need to replace them as soon as 50,000 to 60,000 miles. Generally, you change these suspension parts between 75,000 and 100,000 miles.

When a car gets to 100,000 miles

Cracking serpentine belt on a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Cracking serpentine belt on a Jeep Grand Cherokee

If a car’s serpentine belts haven’t been replaced by the time it reaches 100,000 miles, now is a good time to do so. Also called “drive belts”, serpentine belts go around various engine components, including alternators and water pumps.

Any original spark plugs should be changed, as well. Swapping out spark plugs when needed helps improve a vehicle’s operation and extends the lifespan of subsystems.

After 100,000 miles

After a vehicle hits 100,000 miles, it’s important to keep up with the mileage-based services needed every 15,000, 20,000 and 30,000 miles. The manufacturers will have different recommendations.

Wherever you have your car worked on, make sure that the mechanic or auto repair shop is aware of what maintenance it needs and when.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located near Dumfries, 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.

View Post

Winter car safety tips

In Battery, Brakes, Cooling System, Fluids, Headlamps, Maintenance by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Today is the first day of winter.

Following a few winter car safety tips can help protect you on road trips, while you run errands, and anything in between.

Make sure your car is up-to-date on maintenance services.

Battery, brakes and belts

Car battery test on a BMW 328i.It’s a good idea to have a battery test performed, because weak car batteries are more likely to die during very hot and cold times of the year.

You should also ask an automotive expert to take a look at the timing belt – which surrounds pulleys – and the serpentine belt – which wraps around engine components.

Measuring brakes on a Toyota Sienna.

Measuring brakes on a Toyota Sienna

The brake system needs to be working correctly, as well. This includes the brake pads and rotors, calipers, brake hardware, and anti-lock braking system (ABS).

For a vehicle to operate safely, pads and rotors must be at 2/32 of an inch or more. If the red brake light or ABS light turn on, bring it to a shop or a mechanic as soon as possible.

Taking care of your windshield is also critical. Windshield wipers should be replaced if they are torn or leave streaks, making it difficult to see. Using washer fluid with the right temperature protection level helps prevent it from freezing.

More winter car safety tips

Other components we recommend getting inspected are:

  • Car lights
  • Coolant and other fluids
  • Tires and tire pressure

Cloudy headlight lenses on a Volkswagen Jetta.Winter is made up of shorter nights, rainy days, and snowy conditions. To help prevent accidents, car lights need to be checked regularly. When needed, replace any bad bulbs for headlights, brake lights, reverse lights, and fog lights. 

Headlights can grow foggy, and headlight restoration can be used to clear them up. Depending on how long you plan to keep your vehicle, it might be best to just replace the headlight assemblies.

Low coolant on a Hyundai Elantra.

Low coolant on a Hyundai Elantra

It’s important to keep an eye on a car’s fluids, as well. This includes the oil, coolant, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, and power steering fluid.

Fluid that’s lower than normal may be a symptom of a leak. If certain fluids – like power steering fluid – appear dark, your vehicle could be telling you it’s time to replace them.

If an auto repair shop performs a coolant fluid exchange or tops off your coolant, make sure they put in the right kind

Coolant can be blue, red, purple, pink, orange or green. The type a car uses depends on the metal used for the engine.

Checking the tires is another one of our winter car safety tips.

Has it been a while since you purchased tires? Is the tread getting close to 3/32 of an inch or 4/32 of an inch? It may be time to invest in new tires. Goodyear Tire and Kelly Tire produce all season options. Winter tires are also available.

You should also ensure that they have the right amount of air. As the temperatures dip, tire pressure decreases. Driving on low tires can impact their lifespan.

Many vehicles are equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS). If yours is, be watchful for the TPMS light, which may turn on if one or multiple tires don’t have enough air.

Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Goodyear tire dealer located near Lake Ridge, 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.

View Post

Regular oil changes prevent engine problems

In Maintenance by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Every 3,000 to 5,000 miles – depending on the type of car you drive – you (hopefully) get your oil changed. But have you ever wondered why you need it? 

Having this service performed on a regular basis can prevent engine damage. 

In this article we wrote, we talked about how a vehicle needs to be running on the right amount of oil. Otherwise, parts can’t be lubricated properly. 

Some engine components operate off of oil pressure that is controlled by the vehicle’s computer and oil pressure solenoids. These parts can include variable valve timing and camshaft phasers, which adjust the timing of the camshaft and the engine’s operation. Sensors, such as oil pressure sensors, can also become clogged.

These aren’t the only reasons why oil changes are necessary.

Sludge build up

Sludge that had built up on the engine of a Land Rover.Putting off this form of maintenance can lead to sludge build up. The engine could stop working, as well.

A Land Rover recently came in with a bad starter. While working on the repair, we realized that the engine had seized, which caused the starter to break.

One of our technicians ended up replacing the engine. When it was removed, you could see a significant amount of sludge that had accumulated as time went on.

Oil filter problems

Part of our oil change process includes putting in new oil and a new oil filter. (We also perform a digital inspection, look over the vehicle, and conduct a tire rotation. You can read more about what we do in our article “How Steve’s Auto Repair performs oil changes”.)

An oil filter that had collapsed and a good oil filter.

Problems can occur if the oil filter is in a car for too long. A while back, we worked on a car that had its oil filter collapse. This blocked the oil from running through the system.

Regular canister type oil filters have an oil bypass. So, when the filter gets clogged up, the oil won’t be forced through the filter material. 

On these canister type oil filters, there’s so much suction that they can collapse, like this one did. Then, that oil is just bypassing the filter. Not only did it send contaminants to the engine, but it was left there for so long that pieces of the oil filter were being sucked up into the engine. This can plug small oil galleries and result in an engine failure.

Our maintenance recommendations

Taking care of your vehicle doesn’t just happen with one appointment at an auto repair shop, it needs to be maintained over a period of time.

Make sure to use a high quality oil filter and oil – there are many good brands. This can make a big difference in the longevity of your vehicle.

You can also protect your engine and ensure that it continues performing well by having BG MOA added after an oil change. This oil additive decreases sludge build up and can increase the fuel economy on an automobile.

Aside from having your car checked on a regular basis, it’s important to get to know your car, what it needs, and when it needs it. The owner’s manual is a great place to start. Have oil changes and other services performed based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Also, bring it to a mechanic or auto service center you trust. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.

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.

View Post

Kinds of car axles used today, bad axle symptoms

In Maintenance by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

A lot of traveling happens between celebrations, fun with family, and day-to-day tasks.

Axles help keep our vehicles moving. So it’s important to make sure that they are in good shape.

Your vehicle may have a bad axle if you notice any of these problems:

  • Shaking steering wheel
  • Clicking noise
  • Noisy u-joints
  • Axle seals are leaking
  • Grease on tires

We will go into more detail later in this article. But first, let’s discuss the different kinds of car axles that can be found on vehicles nowadays.

Each vehicle is designed with different purposes and capabilities. The type of axle yours has is determined by a few different factors.

Types of car axles

The axles typically seen on automobiles today are: CV Axles, Straight Axles and Rear Axles.

Constant-Velocity Axles (CV) Axles

Constant-Velocity (CV) Axles are the first we will talk about. They feature CV joints that allow the front wheels to be equally operated by the transmission. 

A lot of cars that have front wheel drive and certain four-wheel drive ones feature CV Axles.

You may see them on vehicles with independent suspension, including the front of 4-wheel drive trucks and Subarus with all wheel drive. 

Sometimes, two kinds of axles are used. For example, CV Axles might be used on the front of a truck while Solid Axles are installed on the rear.

Straight Axles

Straight Axles are the next type we are going to discuss. Used on different suspensions, Straight Axles come with a simple design.

Years ago, these axles were pretty common among automobiles. Today, their usage is mainly limited to heavy duty trucks and the front of work vehicles. Jeeps and trucks that are lifted or used for offroading may have Straight Axles, as well.

U-joints can be found on the front of certain four wheel drive Jeeps. These parts make rotating the wheels possible.

Rear Axles

Lastly, there are Rear Axles. They have axle shafts that the differential links. 

Rear Axles come in varying designs – semi-floating, which can be seen on cars, light trucks and SUVs; and full-floating axles, which tend to be installed on heavy duty and certain mid-size trucks.

In the semi-floating axle design, the wheel and flange are attached by the axle. Meanwhile, full-floating axles rest on bearings and are held in by a retainer on the outside.

How to tell when axles are going bad

Earlier, we mentioned some bad axle symptoms. We would like to provide a deeper explanation about these different indicators.

Shaking steering wheel

A shaking steering wheel can be the result of the CV joint on a front wheel drive axle binding up due to lack of lubrication or wearing out. U-joints that go from the axles to the spindles on older jeeps with a straight axle on the front may bind up, as well.

Clicking noise

You could also hear a “click” while turning or accelerating. The CV joint might start making a clicking noise when it’s worn out from daily use. If the CV boot is broken or torn, water can get in, preventing the grease from working properly. If it’s really torn, sand and dirt start to collect and act as sandpaper. This causes it to wear out more quickly. You get the clicking noise when making a turn because it’s starting to bind up.

Noisy u-joints

Clicking isn’t the only sound you might hear. For vehicles that have straight axles, a squeaking sound can be coming from the u-joints.

Axle seals are leaking

On a front wheel drive car, axle seals would be in the transmission. If you have a bad axle that’s causing a vibration or bouncing up and down more than it should, that could make the seal go bad faster.

Grease on tires

When an axle boot tears, grease leaks out and can sometimes land on the tire. This is why it’s good to go to an auto repair shop that looks over different components of the vehicle to catch things like this. It may not be something you see just by looking at it at ground level.

Ways you can take care of axles

As with other parts of a car, maintenance allows the car axles and components associated with them to last.

This includes getting the CV Axle boots and the vent cap of Solid Axles inspected regularly.

U-joints should be checked and greased (when necessary), as well.

It’s also important that those who drive vehicles with straight axles ensure that auto repair shops and professionals use the correct kind of differential fluid when servicing them.

If you believe that there is something wrong with your car axles or you find out they’re going bad, don’t avoid replacing them.

The problem can worsen the longer it goes without being addressed. Plus, the consequences could extend to other areas of the car.

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.