Knowledge Base

The Motor Oil FAQs – Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

At some point while learning to drive, you certainly had the importance of your car’s motor oil drilled into your head.

These days, between digital monitoring systems, computer records at your mechanic and the extended life of advanced oils, it’s not something we think about regularly anymore. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good to be up to snuff on some good general knowledge.

Here is a list of FAQs about motor oil:

Q: How can I tell if my motor oil is still good?

Many modern vehicles have monitoring systems in place that tell you when the oil needs changing. However, it’s always good to know how to check these things yourself. Every vehicle will still have a dipstick that you can use to check the oil level and quality.

Pull the dipstick out and look for the fill line. The oil will leave residue to indicate whether it is full enough (or too full!). You can check the quality of the oil by looking at the color and feeling it. Healthy oil will be a clear reddish gold and feel smooth. Oil that needs changing will be darker brown to black and feel grainy to the touch.

Q: Should I be worried if my oil is black?

While it’s probably time for an oil change, this isn’t something to panic about. Black engine oil just means that it is doing what it is designed to do–keep your engine components lubed and clean.

However, just as you wouldn’t want to wash dishes with dirty water, dirty oil won’t do as good of a job as clean oil.

Q: How often should I change my oil?

The answer used to be pretty standard–every 3,000 miles. Over the last few decades, though, advances in engine and oil technology has changed that.

Depending on your car and the type of oil you are buying, you can now go 5,000 to even 15,000 miles without an oil change. The packaging on the oil you buy and your owner’s manual should provide all the answers you need about suggested timing.

There is no replacement for regular observation and maintenance, however. Changes in seasons or road conditions may significantly shorten the lifespan of certain motor oils. Be sure to check your own oil regularly.

Q: Can I change my own oil at home?

Yes! A thousand times yes! It wasn’t that long ago that it was common for people to change their own oil. It is some of the most basic, regular maintenance you can do and it will bring you closer to your vehicle.

If you are generally handy and have a few tools, the job shouldn’t take you more than an hour. Just be careful to make sure you are using the correct oil for your car (consult your owner’s manual), you’re not cross-threading any parts when replacing them, and that you follow all state and local laws regarding disposal of the old oil.

All that said, it is also relatively inexpensive to get an oil change these days. There is never a bad time to check in with your mechanic and ask him to look over your car. An oil change is a great opportunity to ask while they’ve already got the hood open.


Q: Does motor oil in the bottle go bad?

The short answer is “yes, but it probably hasn’t.”

Engine oil typically has a shelf life of up to five years. In all honesty, it can probably go much longer than that. If the bottle is stored in extreme temperatures or extreme humidity, it may experience a noticeable drop in quality.

A good rule of thumb is that if you remember buying the oil, it’s probably still fine. Most bottles have a “best if used by” date stamp on them, too.

Q: Where should I get my oil changed?

If you’ve decided to get your oil changed by a professional, you can choose pretty much anywhere that does any kind of car service. There are several chains that offer quick walk-in oil change services. These are mostly very professional and inexpensive.

You may want to consider going to a local mechanic or your dealer’s service shop. The oil change is a great opportunity to look over the car since you’ve already got the car in the repair bay. The better your mechanic knows you and your vehicle, the better they can serve you and help save you money in the long run.

For more car care tips and knowledge, visit the Strutmasters blog.

Be Prepared: Pack the Ultimate Road Trip Kit

With the frost finally lifting for the season it’s time to get out and see the country. There is no more iconic way to explore this beautiful land than the classic American road trip. With a national network of scenic highways and byways, the journey is often also the destination.

The road is a great place to travel but a pretty awful place to run into problems. A well-prepared emergency kit can help keep you and your passengers safe and headed towards your destination. Here are some of the essentials you should pack for your trip:

First Aid kit
A basic First Aid kit can be found at pretty much any convenience store or supermarket. Make sure to have at least bandages, sterile gauze, and rubbing alcohol.

 

Basic tool kit
Pack pliers, screwdrivers to fit all the screw heads used in your car, an adjustable wrench and some sort of sharp blade.

Blankets
The “space blankets” used by emergency response teams are great because they pack down small and work really well to hold in heat.

Jumper cables
Even better, you can now buy rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with jumper cables. Charged properly, you should be able to jump your car without another vehicle. These batteries can also charge your other devices.

Motor oil
Bring at least a quart of motor oil in case you need to top up.

Coolant
Especially if you are driving long stretches of desert highway or other hot, dry areas. Bring at least a gallon just in case.

Tire sealant
Fix-a-Flat and other brands of emergency tire sealant can be a lifesaver. Flat tires are the number one reason for roadside assistance calls. Many of these flats can be fixed with these tire repair kits.

Food and water
Pack at least two bottles of water for each person in the car. Make sure to pack nutrient and calorie-dense food that doesn’t spoil easy, like granola or fitness bars.

 

Pen and paper
You may need to write down a phone number or something else when your phone’s battery life is at a premium. Writing things down on paper ensures you’ll have that information when you need it.

 

Most car manufacturers offer their own roadside assistance programs these days which you can purchase from the dealer. There are also third-party options like AAA. These services are always worth the money. They are often less than $100 per year. If you need towing even once during the year, it pays for itself. Plus, it is hard to put a price on peace of mind.

With tips like these and others you’ll find on the Strutmasters blog, you’ll be sure to have a safe, happy and fun road trip season.

How to Choose the Right Battery For Your Car

You go out to your car in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, ready to conquer the day. You put the key in the ignition and…nothing. Maybe a little whine. Maybe a rather pathetic attempt to turn over. Maybe just the indicator lights coming on.

Your battery is dead. Time to replace it, probably.

Not all car batteries are created equal. Here are a few steps to determining first, whether you need a new battery and if so, choosing the best possible option for your car.

1. Test your current battery



You may not actually need a new battery just yet. There are many reasons why your current one wouldn’t respond while it still has plenty of “juice” left in it. Maybe there’s a loose connection. Maybe it just powered down because a cabin light or headlight was left on and it just needs a jump.

Most auto parts stores offer free battery testing, but that does you very little good if you’re stuck with a car that won’t start. These days, battery testing gizmos are readily and cheaply available. It’s one of those things that’s just good to keep around, especially if your car or battery is getting on in years.

If your battery tester tells you it’s time for a new one, move on to step two.

2. Get your numbers correct



There are a vast number of different batteries made to fit different cars. Some are more standard than others.

The battery itself should display the size and voltage, but your best bet is to consult your owner’s manual. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, a quick search of your vehicle’s make and model should tell you what you need. Likewise, many auto parts stores have a digital and print catalog of what parts fit your specific car.

Note that sometimes different engine sizes in the same line of models use different batteries. Make sure that you buy the correct one for your vehicle. The wrong size or voltage can fry your vehicle’s electronics, which would cost you a lot more than just a new battery to repair.

3. Do your research



With search engines and infinite information at our fingertips, there is no excuse not to do your research these days. Try entering “best battery for [make, model, year]” into your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

Beware that much of the content online, especially around consumer products, is sponsored. Make sure to get a second opinion from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something. Ask your mechanic what they would use, or hit online forums dedicated to owners of cars like yours.

The right battery will last significantly longer than one that is made of cheaper materials, so consider whether it’s more economical to buy a cheaper one now that you may have to replace 2-3 years earlier than one that is more expensive.

4. Warranties are good



Many batteries carry a warranty. These often vary in length. Consider buying the battery with the longest warranty if they are relatively the same in other factors. This will ensure that if anything happens, you won’t be stuck shelling out another $100-$200 sooner than expected.

5. Replace it (correctly)


Replacing a car battery yourself is one of the easier DIY auto repair tasks. If you know how to take off and put on the terminals, you can replace a battery.

Note that batteries are far, far heavier than they appear. Be prepared to lift about 10-15 pounds without a very secure grip. Always wear gloves.

It is highly advisable to clean the area around the battery thoroughly while you have the space to do so. In most cases, a simple wipe-down with a clean rag will get all the grease and grime from around the housing. This will help keep the new terminals clean and the connection solid.

Here’s a short video to help you if you want to try and install it yourself:


The install is also a quick and easy job for a mechanic, and you shouldn’t have to pay for more than half an hour of labor to do so. Consider going to a mechanic and having them look over the car while you’re there.

 


Maintaining your car’s battery is essential to keeping its electronic system healthy. It is always better to replace it before it needs a new one than after. Keeping a strong, healthy battery in your car will bring you peace of mind and ensure that you make it where you need to be on time–no morning surprises!



For more car care advice and maintenance tips, check out the Strutmasters blog.

How to Clean Foggy Headlights


So your headlights aren’t as bright and perky as they once were. It happens to all of us.

Years of grit, grime and ultraviolet light have rendered your once gleaming headlights hazy and dull. You could make a trip to the store and spend $15-$25 for a “headlight cleaning kit,” or you could stay right at home and make them shine using things you already have around the house.

Just follow this quick and easy guide to get those headlights beaming bright again!

What you’ll need:

  • “Regular” baking soda-based toothpaste. Avoid anything with beads, mini breath strips or other debris in them as they’ll scratch up your lights.
  • Toothbrush
  • Cloth or old t-shirt
  • Bucket of water
  • Sponge

How to do it:



Put a healthy squeeze of toothpaste onto your cloth. Use the cloth to smear a layer of toothpaste over the surface of the lens. Let it sit for 15 minutes.

Use a toothbrush to scrub the lens using a tight, circular motion. You should start to notice the lens clearing up at that spot. Use a little “umph” to get it completely clear.

Once you’ve gotten the entire lens surface, use a sponge and clean water to gently clean away the remaining toothpaste. The result should be headlights that shine like new!



Here’s a video to help:

How To Tell If Your Brakes Are in Trouble

The best way to determine if your brakes are up to snuff is to have them inspected by a professional. It’s quicker, easier and less expensive than you may think and there is simply no substitute.

However, for whatever reason it’s not always easy or even possible to get an inspection. Chances are, you’re reading this guide because you’re concerned about your brakes. You probably came to that conclusion because you sensed that something might be wrong.

Follow those instincts. This guide will help you look for signs of trouble in your brakes.


1. How does it feel?



Try to envision what your brakes were like when they were new. Are you having to use more force to stop the car? Does it take longer to stop in general? Does the brake pedal feel mushy? If so, it’s probably time for some maintenance or replacement.

This should be your first point of inspection. If anything feels like it’s not working how it should, it probably isn’t.

2. Follow your nose



If you’ve smelled burning brakes before you’ll recognize it in an instant. It has a distinct burned chemical smell, almost like singed carpet.

This smell happens because your worn-down brakes are generating too much friction. This friction causes your brakes and rotors to get so hot it burns your brake fluids and any other greases in the assembly.

Needless to say, this can be quite damaging to more than just the brakes themselves.

3. What’s that sound?



There is a distinct screech that brakes make when they are worn down or malfunctioning. It is ear-piercing and can be heard from hundreds of yards away. You will certainly notice it when it comes.

This sound almost certainly indicates a problem. It is caused by direct metal-to-metal contact between the brakes and the rotors. This can cause severe damage to the rotors and the brakes themselves.  Fortunately it usually just requires new brake pads to be fixed.


4. Got the jitters?



If you’re driving on a flat surface and apply braking pressure, does it stop smoothly? Or does it feel likeyou’re grinding or pulsing against the rotors.

When this happens it will cause the pedal or the steering wheel in your car to vibrate. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to get it checked out.


5. Been a while?


Maybe you haven’t noticed any obvious signs of brake failure, but it has been a long time since you’ve had them inspected.

All cars are different, but in general you should be getting yours checked every 25,000 miles. They are the primary safety feature on your vehicle. You should be able to have them inspected at many places near you. It is well worth the money, if for nothing else other than peace of mind.


Good components save lives. Get your brakes checked and buy quality parts.

Stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog for more car care and safety tips.

How to Restore Your Brake Fluid


Any idea how often you should replace your brake fluid? Chances are, your guess is as good as any. Surprisingly, this information is often left out of owner’s manuals. While “every 25,000” seems to be a good ballpark figure, the lack of consensus means it’s probably one of those things you should just monitor when you can.

The following guide will help you test to see if your brake fluid is healthy and restore it if it isn’t. A full “brake fluid flush” cannot be done at home as it requires special equipment. What you will do is replace it gradually until the old, worn-out fluid is refreshed with new, healthy fluid. It will make a huge difference in your vehicle’s braking and it will delay the need for a brake flush, saving you money in the process.

Step 1 – Test your fluid



Purchase a brake fluid test strip from your local auto parts retailer. Pop the hood and look for the brake fluid reservoir. It should be clearly marked.

Dip the test strip and compare it to the chart on the test strip’s packaging. Brake fluid is a golden color when new and gets darker as it gets used. If your brake fluid is fine and doesn’t need refreshing, close the hood and call it a day. If it does, proceed to step two.

Step 2 – Replace the brake fluid



Use a turkey baster to suck out the old fluid from the reservoir. Make sure to expel it in a suitable waste container and dispose of it properly.

Then, pour the new brake fluid into the reservoir. Wipe up any spills around the area. Screw the cap back until it’s on snug.

Step 3 – Rinse and repeat



Your car’s braking system will still have lots of old fluid and probably some gunk in it. The new fluid you put into the car will mix in get dirty almost immediately, defeating the purpose of adding it in the first place.

After replacing the first round of fluid, drive the car for a week or so. Then, check the fluid again using another test strip. See where it lands on the color chart.

Repeat steps two and three until the fluid looks new.


We love saving our people money with tips like these. For more guides like this and car care advice, check out the Strutmasters Blog.

5 Signs Your Car is Out of Alignment

Death. Taxes. Your car going out of alignment. These are some of the few certainties in life.

A car being out of alignment does more than just annoy the driver or prevent them from steering with their knees (tsk tsk!), it can pose a serious safety hazard and put serious strain on a number of your car’s components.

Here’s a quick guide on how to recognize your car needing an alignment.


1. Your handling is feeling loose


When your car is new its handing should feel “tight” and responsive. If it goes out of alignment, you may notice that it “wanders” around the road a little bit. It may be a little sloppy when taking turns.

In general you might find that the car doesn’t respond as directly or immediately to the directions you give it via the steering wheel. If you are experiencing any of this, take your car into the shop to have the alignment checked.


2. Your steering wheel sticks to one side


This one is a little more obvious. When all’s well, your steering wheel will be perfectly centered. When the alignment is really off, it will tilt to one side.

Note that while your wheel should be centered on a flat road, depending on the crown of the road it may be off center by a few degrees. A general rule of thumb is if the misalignment is immediately noticeable and obvious, it’s probably time to get that alignment checked.


3. Your tires are wearing out unevenly


Next time you take your vehicle into the shop for a balance and rotation, ask the mechanic to take a look at how the tires are wearing in addition to how much. While it’s fairly simple to do this at home, these guys see a lot of tires every day and are a great judge of what’s “normal” wear and tear versus what’s irregular.

If it appears that your tires are wearing out unevenly, get that alignment checked out immediately. This is symptomatic of an alignment problem that’s not just affecting your tires, but also your entire suspension system and wheels.


4. Your steering wheel fails to re-center itself



Your car is designed so that your steering wheel will right itself after it’s been turned. This is a pretty important safety feature and it acts to assist drivers. While it is important to always right the wheel yourself for safety reasons, it’s still a great way to see if all’s square under the hood.

If you find a long, straight road with light traffic, see if your wheel aligns itself naturally after you’ve turned it a bit. Make sure to be ready to steer if needed. If the wheel doesn’t return to its centered position right away, you’ve got a problem.


5. Your car starts to “pull”


If you’ve somehow ignored all the other warning signs, this one is the final straw. A car that is severely out of alignment will “pull” itself to one side or another in its natural position, rather than stay centered. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you why this is dangerous.

If your car is pulling, you are a serious danger to yourself and everyone else on the road. Take care of that problem as soon as possible.

At Strutmasters, we are huge fans of DIYers. That’s why our suspension conversion kits are designed specifically to be easy to install at home.

However, an alignment is something that requires specialized equipment and some serious know-how to do. This is not a problem that will correct itself, it will only get worse. Take care of yourself and be considerate of others on the road and correct your alignment today.

For more car care tips, check out the Strutmasters blog.

Tips: How to Lube Up Your Suspension and Steering

Your vehicle’s suspension and steering components are critical to its driveability. These components take care of your control, comfort, safety and wear and tear on other components. We have already detailed how a worn out suspension can do serious damage to other parts of your car.

Regular maintenance of components like ball joints, tire rod ends and center links can significantly improve the quality of your ride and extend its lifetime. While car design is moving towards more vehicles having “sealed” components that don’t need to be lubricated, they still benefit from regular inspections. Still, many cars have “serviceable” components that require regular maintenance like lubrication.

Fortunately, keeping your steering and suspension oiled up isn’t too difficult, especially with the help of this handy guide.

What You’ll Need
Floor Jack
Grease gun w/ cartridge
Jack stands
Creeper
Rags
Owner’s manual
Wheel blocks

Part 1 – Lift the vehicle

Safety tip:
Make 100% certain that the floor jack you are using has the right weight capacity to safely keep your vehicle lifted. Double-check your jack stands as well. Your car’s VIN label will have the vehicle weight, located either on the driver’s door jamb or the door itself. It is abbreviated as GVWR.

A creeper is a great tool to help you slide in and out from under your vehicle. If you don’t have one and don’t want to buy one, use a piece of cardboard.

Locate the points at which the vehicle needs to be jacked. In our experience, when working at home it’s much easier to do this one side at a time.Some cars feature a distinct marker or a cut-out to indicate where the jack should be placed. If you cannot find these on your car, check your owner’s manual.

Secure the wheels. Put your wheel blocks in front or AND behind both of the rear wheels. Lift the car slowly until the tire has no more contact with the ground. Once you’ve done that, place the jack stand at the lowest point underneath the car.

 

Safety tip:

Make sure that the jack stand is placed in a sturdy part of the vehicle such as the chassis. Once in position, lower the car slowly onto the stand. Don’t remove the jack. Keep it in its heightened position.

 


Part 2 – Grease the components

Use your creeper or makeshift creeper to slide under your car, keeping your grease gun and rag with you. Locate the ball joints, tire rods and any other serviceable components. They will have a grease fitting on them. Check all of the suspension and steering component assemblies to be sure you find all of them.

On most cars you will find one upper and one lower ball joint in addition to a tire rod end (outer). Starting from the driver’s side and working towards the middle of the car you will find a “pitman arm” which is connected to the steering box. You may also find a center link, if your car has one, which connects the right and left tie rods to each other. Some cars also have an idler arm that supports the center link from the passenger side.

All of these should be easily reachable, except on cars with an offset wheel design. With those vehicles, you may have to take the wheel off to get to the grease fitting. Consult your owner’s manual if this is the case or if you are unsure.

Use the grease gun to fill each of the components with grease. Depending on your car, they may have a rubber “boot” surrounding them. If they are overfilled there is a chance they may burst. It shouldn’t take more than a few pumps to properly fill them.

Many components are designed to simply expel excess grease. If that’s the way your car is designed, grease running out of a component is the signal that it is full.

Use a rag to wipe off any excess grease.

Lower the car and repeat parts one and two again, this time on the other side of the vehicle.


Part 3 – Lubricate the rear suspension (maybe)

Many cars have a rear suspension that does not require lubrication. If your car features an “independent rear suspension” it may have these components. Consult your owner’s manual to see whether or not your rear suspension has serviceable components before spending time lifting your vehicle.

Here’s a great reference video to help in case you get stuck:



The Ultimate Guide to Fluid Maintenance

Quick! Where is your power steering fluid and how often should you check it?

Unless you’re one of the more dedicated car owners among us, you probably have to check your owner’s manual or Google for the answer. Don’t worry, it’s okay! We are here to the rescue with this handy guide on how and when to check your different fluids.


Transmission Fluid

In a car with an automatic transmission, the transmission fluid is what keeps the gears moving smoothly.

The well for the fluid is located in a different place in each vehicle, so consult the internet or your owner’s manual to find it. It will have a dipstick, just like your engine oil. Since the transmission is a closed system, you aren’t checking for levels, but for the shape that the fluid is in.

Healthy transmission fluid should be essentially odorless and have a pinkish-red hue to it. If the fluid appears brown, black or smells burnt it is time to replace it.

How often to check: Once a month
When to replace: Depending on the car and driver, between 50,000 to 100,000 miles or whenever the fluid appears brown or burnt, whichever comes first.

 

 

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid, like transmission fluid, is within a closed system. If your levels are low, there is something seriously wrong and you should take your car to the mechanic. It is still important to keep an eye on it.

If your brakes don’t feel like they are supposed to, the fluid is the first place to look. It’s probably the likeliest source of issue and certainly the cheapest and easiest to fix.

The brake fluid should be visible in its container/well. Look at the color. It should be a slight golden color. If it is brown, it needs to be replaced.

How often to check: Whenever you change your oil.
When to replace: Every two years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.

 

 

Engine Oil

This is probably the one you’re used to checking. By the time you own a car, someone should have drilled into your head that you need to check and change your oil regularly. Maybe you even know how to do it yourself.

 

But for those of you who don’t, the question has become a lot more complicated than it once was. It used to be that “every 3,000 miles or six months” was a standard, catch-all answer. Nowadays, different manufacturers have different recommendations for how often you should replace your oil and it’s important to follow their recommendation.

While checking your oil every time you fill up with gas is a smart move, with newer cars you can probably get away with checking it less frequently.

Engine oil exists in an open system, so it is likely it will fall below safe levels and need topping up from time to time. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep a bottle or two on hand at home.

How often to check: At least once a month, preferably more often.
When to change: Consult your manufacturer’s recommendation.





Power Steering Fluid

The power steering in your car ensures that steering is smooth an easy. Cars that are low on power steering fluid will start to make creaking sounds and the driver will notice a tactile difference when driving.

The check for power steering fluid is a visual one, just pop the hood and look for the well, which should be clearly labeled. Consult your manual if you can’t see it right away.

Power steering fluid should remain at relatively the same level at all times. If it is low, there is a good chance you have a leak. Take your car to your mechanic if this is the case.

How often to check: Once a month
When to replace: Maybe never. Consult your manual.





Coolant

Take a wild guess at what this stuff does! Since you can probably guess what coolant does, you know how important it is. Like engine oil, the health of your car’s engine depends on this to function properly.

Wait until your engine is cool to the touch to check the coolant. This is a simple one. Just unscrew the radiator cap and take a look. There should be a line or hash mark indicating the proper coolant level.

If it needs topping up, go ahead and do it but be sure to use the same type of coolant that is already in the engine. If you have never replaced the coolant in your car, your manufacturer should have that information freely available.

How often to check: At least twice a year: once before the beginning of spring and once before the beginning of fall.
When to replace: Every two years.




Wiper fluid

While “low windshield wiper fluid” doesn’t sound like an emergency, it’s an important one to keep an eye on.

Visibility is one of the cornerstones of safety. If your windshield is dirty or obscured in any way, it puts you and everyone else on the road at risk. Good windshield wiper fluid cleans your windshield and decreases the friction between your wiper blades and your windshield, reducing wear and tear on both.

Wiper fluid is usually the easiest of your car’s fluids to monitor and replace. Pop the hood and look for the reservoir and fill to the line if it’s not there yet.

How often to check: Every time you fill your car up.
When to replace: Top up as needed. Consider seasonal fluids which may perform better depending on weather conditions.






At Strutmasters, we want your driving experience to be as easy, inexpensive and pleasurable as possible. That’s why we make suspension conversion kits that save owners thousands and keep cars on the road longer than their original air suspensions.

If your car is showing any warning signs of suspension failure, be sure to visit our website or call our suspension experts at (336) 597-2397 for a free consultation today.