View Post

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.

View Post

State Inspections piece by Steve’s Auto Repair owner published

In Inspection by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

State inspections and whether they are necessary has been heavily discussed by Virginia lawmakers and those working in the automotive industry.

This topic is the focus of an article that was published by InsideNOVA earlier this month.

The Northern Virginia media outlet shared an opinion piece by Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire Co-Owner ST Billingsley. 

Titled “State Inspections help keep local drivers safe,” the guest column talks about why the annual requirement is important.

One out of five vehicles didn’t pass the safety inspection in Virginia in 2018, according to Keep Virginia Roads Safe. Of those that failed, 78 percent had infractions associated with steering and suspension components. There were braking violations on 44 percent of the automobiles, and tire infringements on 41 percent of them. 

Vehicles, the article explained, can have issues without drivers being aware of them. If those problems aren’t addressed, they can jeopardize the safety of the drivers, their passengers, and others.

The number of deaths on highways rose in states that got rid of safety programs, such as South Carolina and Florida.

In the opinion piece, Billingsley also encouraged drivers to have their vehicle inspected each year, and avoid using cars that haven’t received regular maintenance or been checked over by an automotive professional.

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

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.

View Post

After hours pick up offered at Steve’s Auto Repair

In Maintenance by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

When you’re having work done on your car at a local auto repair shop, a bit of planning may be needed to bring the vehicle by or pick it up. 

Steve’s Auto Repair has a few different pick up and drop off options to make it easier for customers.

Some drivers can’t pick up their vehicle while we’re open. For that reason, we are now providing an alternative – our after hours key return.

This option allows you to acquire your car keys without having to worry about them being left in an unlocked vehicle.

After hours pick up option

If you are unable to come by between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, you may pay for any repairs or services through text or email. 

Once the payment has been processed, you will receive a code to use in our after hours key return. This will allow you to get your key.

When you are available, swing by Steve’s Auto Repair, which is located at 2603 Hanco Center Drive in Woodbridge. Then, type the code into the after hours key return.

By offering this after hours pick up option, we hope to make it easier for you to get back 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.

View Post

How brake problem can cause AC problem and act like engine problem

In Brakes by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Squeaking, grinding and squealing sounds are normally associated with needing new brakes.

The steering wheel may also start shaking. (You can read more about when to get new brake pads and rotors in this article.)

However, sometimes a brake problem can be disguised as something else.

The other week, we worked on a vehicle that seemed to have an engine problem and the air conditioning was being impacted.

One of our technicians worked his dad’s 2009 Chevy Malibu. It was experiencing problems when it was driven for 30 minutes or longer at around 45 miles per hour, especially on hot days. The A/C would stop working and the vehicle would feel as though it was running rough or stumbling. 

How we diagnosed the brake problem

Our tech had driven it back and forth during his lunch break but wasn’t able to duplicate the issue. 

The other day, his dad brought it by the shop when he noticed it was occurring again. The Chevy was driven up the street and – when it hit 35 or 40 mph – there appeared to be a misfire. On top of that, the engine seemed like it wasn’t producing enough power and there was shaking coming from the front end. The mechanic noticed a sort of pulsation, as well.

After pulling over on the side of the road, he pressed on the gas and it took a great deal of effort for the car to accelerate. He could tell there was a braking issue.

It was a very odd situation – the engine felt like it was lacking power, but the brake pads were trying to bite down on spots of the rotor, causing a symptom that resembled a misfire. No codes were being stored, the check engine light wasn’t turning on.

New brakes and brake hose.

We think the vehicle was attempting to accelerate while the gas pedal was pressed, and it cut off the air conditioning to provide more power. 

When the technician returned to Steve’s Auto Repair, he could smell burning brakes. Using a temperature gun, he checked each of the wheels and found that the left front one was much hotter than the rest. In fact, the temperature of the front left wheel was off the charts. This occurred because the caliper was locking up and trying to apply the brakes even when the driver wasn’t stepping on the brake pedal.

Orange and white discoloration around the pads and the reddish hue on the rotors are some signs that the brakes are getting too hot. 

To address the issue, the front brake pads, rotors, calipers and brake hoses were replaced. 

If you were looking to save yourself some money, you could replace one of the brakes. However, we like to change them as a set.

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.