Knowledge Base

Emergency! What to Do If Your Engine Overheats

One of the scariest possible moments for a driver that doesn’t involve a collision is when an engine overheats. While an engine overheating is certainly dangerous and can absolutely ruin a car, following some basic safety precautions and keeping a level head will keep anyone safe.

What to do if your car overheats:


1. Leave the car running and turn off the A/C and any non-essential electronics like the radio. This will allow the radiator to cool the engine properly.

2. If you see flames or suspect that there may be a fire under the hood, do not open it. The additional air will spread the fire rapidly and you could be severely burned before you have time to react.

3. The car may take up to 30 minutes to properly cool down. If you suspect that the car has cooled down, touch the hood with the back of your hand lightly to get a sense for the temperature. Once it feels cool, it should be safe to open the hood.

4. Only when the engine has cooled, look to see if there is any coolant left in the tank. If there is enough to get you to the next gas station or store, you should be able to drive the car without issue. If not, do not drive your vehicle as you may damage it further. Call for a tow.


Keep calm and don’t be in a rush to drive your car after it overheats. It is likely that your vehicle will recover and be fine. Put the safety of you and your passengers first, then worry about the car.

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

How to Save Gas Money on Your Summer Road Trip

Gas is on the way up with no sign of it going back down any time soon. As we move into peak summer road trip season, gas is climbing up to nearly $3 a gallon in many places. This means fuel efficiency is becoming more important.

Tips like these are especially important for families, who don’t have the luxury of driving a tiny fuel-efficient car. Here’s just a few ways to save gas and money on your road trip this summer:

Use the A/C



The age-old debate of which is less fuel-efficient: windows down or A/C on. It has been a subject of heated discussions on countless road trips. Now, the science is in.

While your A/C does reduce your fuel efficiency a bit, it’s nowhere near as much of a drag as leaving your windows open. Modern cars are extremely aerodynamic and opening the windows pretty much ruins that.

Drive Gently



Most cars now come with live fuel-efficiency readings. This is a great way to see how your driving habits are affecting your fuel economy.

In general, maintaining speed takes far less energy than gaining speed. This means it’s best to try and maintain a steady speed, especially on the highway. That means easy on the gas, easy on the brakes. For long road trips, applying the cruise control will help tremendously.

Poor driving habits–applying gas and brakes too often and too harshly-can reduce your gas mileage by as much as 35 percent. Learn to drive more gently and it won’t take long before you notice the difference at the pump.

Keep Those Tires Pumped



Ever try pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire? It’s pretty much impossible. Now, imagine that wheelbarrow is a car that weighs thousands of pounds. Maybe now you understand why it’s important to keep your tires properly inflated.

The proper PSI for your tires will be listed on a sticker inside the door jamb on the driver’s side. Keep a tire gauge in your car or make use of the ones at nearly every gas station. Tires that are under inflated by even just a few PSI will see a dramatic decrease in fuel efficiency.

Rotate and Balance



Having tires and wheels properly rotated and balanced is also a major contributor to fuel efficiency.

Uneven wear on tires and unbalanced wheels means that some of the energy that could be driving the wheels will be used just to keep the car rolling straight. Think about how obnoxious it is when you get a grocery cart with a shaky wheel. That’s how your car feels when you don’t balance your wheels or rotate your tires.

Get a Tune Up



There’s really never a bad time to get a tune up, but shortly before you set off on a long road trip might be the best time.

You’d be surprised how much your air filter, for example, affects your gas mileage. Having it replaced will make a huge difference. Plus, a tune-up is a great opportunity to have your mechanic look everything over.

Don’t Fill Up Too Often



Many people like keeping their tanks at least half-full (or half-empty, depending on your disposition). While it’s comforting knowing you’ve got hundreds of miles left on the tank, filling up too often can be a real drain on your fuel economy.

For starters, every stop for gas means driving a little out of the way. It also means shutting the engine off and turning it back on again. This is when your fuel efficiency is the lowest.

In addition, an emptier tank weighs less than one that’s full. If you allow the tank to get down to ¼ full, you’ll be pulling less weight and therefore see a small uptick in gas mileage.



While no single one of these tips is going to change your financial life forever, they will certainly add up, especially if you are putting a few hundred (or thousand, if you’re really lucky) miles on the car this summer!

As always, we are big believers in making things last and saving money. For more articles about how to keep your car running in tip-top shape, follow the Strutmasters blog.

De-Coded: What Your Engine’s Error Codes Mean

The dreaded “check engine” light. You’ve seen it, and now there’s no pretending it’s not there. You’ve got no choice but to take it in, right?

Well, that’d be wise, but maybe not!

In a very wise move, the Society of Automotive Engineers agreed on some standardization of their OBD II codes for vehicles in the 1990s. This meant that with some relatively simple diagnostic equipment, mechanics could get a computer readout of what a car’s problem might be.

Since then, these codes have become indispensable for mechanics. But did you know that you don’t need to take your car to the mechanic to have the OBD II code read? You can do it for free at your local auto parts store!

That’s right. While the equipment to read these codes was once prohibitively expensive, they’re now widely available to shops and retail customers alike. You can even buy your own to make reading those codes even more convenient. Here’s a link to a large selection of these readers online:
https://www.amazon.com/Code-Readers-Scan-Tools/b?ie=UTF8&node=15707381

But the question still remains, what do those codes mean?



While some of the codes are specific to makes, models or regions, some of them are universal. The categories of these codes are as follows:

P – Powertrain (engine, emissions, transmission)
B – Body (airbags, lighting, climate control, etc.)
C – Chassis (ABS, stability controls, steering, electronic suspension, etc.)
U – Network communications (only in vehicles made after 2006)

There are many, many specific “trouble codes” for your vehicle. After reading the code, a simple web search of the code using natural language like “what does OBD II code PXXXX mean?” should yield results.

This website also has a very thorough and well-indexed listing of hundreds of common error codes.

It is important to remember that these codes are just an initial diagnostic tool designed to narrow down the search for a problem. After understanding what the code is referring to, it is important to run an “old-fashioned” diagnostic on the part or parts involved. Basically, opening up the hood and watching things run.

While you might not be able to fix your vehicle yourself after getting the code read, you should have a good idea of how immediate or severe the problem is. While it’s ideal to take your vehicle to a mechanic anytime you see a warning light, there are certainly some problems that can wait longer than others to be fixed. If money’s tight, you may benefit from knowing you can wait a few hundred miles until that next check clears.

For more cost-saving tips and general auto advice, check the Strutmasters blog early and often!

6 Habits That Are Totally Destroying Your Car

bad-habits

We all have bad habits. Some people pick their nose in public. Others might not signal properly when changing lanes. Whatever yours may be, some habits can be devastating to your car.

Here is a list of some habits that wreak havoc on your vehicle. If you find yourself being guilty of any of these, do your best to change them today!



1. Harsh driving habits


You know the type. Accelerates hard and brakes even harder, seemingly at every intersection or light. They take turns too fast and would rather break the speed limit than let you onto the interstate.

Rest assured that driving will come back to haunt them in the form of degraded brakes, a worn out suspension, and decreased fuel efficiency.

If you think you might fit this description, ease up on the gas and brakes. Give yourself plenty of time to stop and try to maintain a steady speed.

 

Also, let people onto the interstate. It’s too dangerous to be competitive.


2. Ignoring your fluids


Your vehicle employs a variety of fluids to keep everything running as efficiently as possible. These are very easy to ignore since you won’t really notice them until something’s wrong.

Your car’s manual will have very specific information about how often to check and change your fluids. We’ve also written a handy guide on fluid maintenance for your vehicle. Getting into good fluid maintenance habits will significantly increase the lifespan and performance of your car.


3. Being careless with your tires


Your tires are your car’s first and, hopefully, only contact with the road. This fact alone should convince you that you need to take your tires seriously.

Proper tire maintenance habits include checking air pressure whenever you gas up, getting your tires regularly balanced and rotated and buying new tires when they’ve worn out.

Tires that are less than ideal create a ripple effect that impacts your entire vehicle.

4. Skipping regular services


Your car’s manufacturer suggests certain services at specific intervals for a reason. A car is made up of thousands of parts, many of which are moving parts. This means they will need to be serviced every now and again.

Even the best manufactured cars in the world still need regular maintenance and tune-ups. Things come loose or overheat. Uneven wear on your tires could be putting a lot of strain on one side of the vehicle.

Take the opportunity to have a professional assess and correct that. You’ll be glad you did when your vehicle is still in great shape years later.

 

5. Not washing your car


While this may seem like a purely visual choice, leaving dirt, grime and especially salt from sea air on your paint can lead to permanent damage to your vehicle.

Pollutants in the air can seriously degrade your paint and lead to rust on the body of your car. Not only does this look bad, it will cause a huge drop in your car’s value.

In addition, leaving your windshields and windows dirty can reduce visibility and cause a dangerous driving situation.


6. Dismissing the check engine light


No, it’s probably not just the light itself. While we all feel a sense of dread when see it, the check engine light is your car telling you it’s in pain. If you see this light, your vehicle needs attention.

Make sure to take your vehicle to a mechanic with the proper diagnostic equipment. Modern cars generate error codes that can be read with the right computer. These codes will tell your mechanic what’s wrong with the car in specific.

Ignoring this light is one of the worst habits you can have. While it might seem like you’re saving money by skipping out on the mechanic, a small problem that might be a few hundred to fix now could cost thousands later as your engine breaks down. Don’t ignore it.


Many of these habits are simply a matter of biting the bullet and doing what’s needed when it’s needed. If you’re the type that hates spending money, consider learning to DIY some of your auto maintenance. It’s one of those rare hobbies that saves you more money than it costs, and it will help you get to know how cars work in general.

Stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog for more great car care advice.

10 Signs You Need to Get to the Mechanic

take-to-mechanic

There are two types of people in this world–those who will drive immediately to the mechanic at the first sight of a problem and those who’ll happily put some black tape over the check engine light.

In general, it is never a good idea to ignore internal issues with your vehicle. Car problems have a way of getting worse over time. They almost never correct themselves.

Here is a list of ten problems that should have you headed to the mechanic right away. Remember that a small expense now will be a major expense later if left untreated.

1. Warning lights

All modern vehicles are equipped with warning lights that tell you when something is wrong internally. Some cars indicate the need for an oil change with a specific oil change light, others use the more general “check engine” light. Either way, if you see one of these lights, get your vehicle to a shop ASAP.

2. Oil smell

If you’ve smelled it once, you’ll never forget it. The smell of oil burning is a noxious, overpowering odor that tends to stick with you all day. If oil is burning, that means it’s leaking. If it’s leaking, you’ve got a problem. Take it in.

3. Vibrating on Flat Surfaces

Your car is designed to ride smooth over most road surfaces. If it vibrates while riding over smooth roadways, that indicates a problem with the wheels or the suspension. The best case scenario is that you’re in need of a tire balancing. Worst case scenario would be some bad bushings. Have it looked at.

4. Stalling out

If your vehicle starts stalling while you’re driving, it could be any number of problems. Cross your fingers it’s something as small as a loose spark plug or clogged fuel filter. These are small, easy-to-fix problems. However, stalling could indicate a much more significant problem.

5. Black oil on the dipstick

Even when it’s been driven on for a few thousand miles, your engine oil should be relatively transparent and gold-to-brown on the dipstick. Dark brown, black or opaque oil means that the oil is burning or it is being contaminated with dirt or grime. This can lead to major problems. Don’t ignore it.

6. Overheating

Modern cars rarely overheat. With all the advancements in coolants and diagnostic technology, if a car’s engine is getting too hot it’s a sign of a significant problem.

Most often, this arises from having too little oil or too little oil pressure in the engine. This means the parts aren’t properly lubricated and therefore generate lots of heat and friction.

7. Slow to start

If your engine is having a hard time “turning over” when you try to start it, this usually signals the need for a new battery. Usually you’ll see the dash lights flickering on and off as you try to start. This is because the battery is connected and has some “juice” left in it, but not enough to start the car.

Ask your mechanic to find the perfect battery for your vehicle.

8. Smoke from the exhaust

Contemporary cars will not blow smoke out of the exhaust. On a cold day you might see water vapor coming out of the tailpipe.

However, if you see actual smoke coming out of the exhaust, it’s a sign something is burning in the engine. This is usually oil and it means you have an oil leak somewhere. Don’t wait for it to get worse.

9. “Shift flares” or slow shifting

You should never have trouble shifting if you drive an automatic. Automatic transmissions are designed to shift at the optimal point in the torque curve.

Sometimes cars experience “shift flares” where they don’t shift as they are supposed to. This is when the car revs up to a very high RPM before actually shifting.

This could mean that you need a transmission fluid change or have a much more serious problem. Have it looked at by your mechanic right away.

10. Noisy engine

You should be well aware of what your engine sounds like normally. If it sounds noisier than its supposed to, you have a problem. Often this is the result of low oil and parts not being properly lubed as a result.

This can be tremendously damaging to your vehicle. Make sure you get it seen by a mechanic.  


It really does pay to stay on top of your maintenance. It might be a good idea to keep a separate fund for car maintenance, so that you can keep up with it as regularly and immediately as possible.

If you’re buying a new car, consider an extended maintenance plan. Paying for all your services up front will mean you’ll be less hesitant to take it in when it needs it.

Whatever you do, take care of your car and it will take care of you. For more tips and advice, keep up with the Strutmasters blog, filled with wonderful information and updated weekly.

How Often You Need a Transmission Fluid Change (and How Much You Should Pay for It)

transmission-fluid-strutmasters

At Strutmasters we are serious about fluid maintenance. The fluids in your car keep everything running smooth. Without them, you’d break down almost immediately.

Likewise, your car’s automatic transmission is what allows it to change gears and keep the engine running in its optimal gear for the speed and road conditions. So, it should go without saying that it is important to stay on top of your transmission fluid maintenance.

How Often Should I Change the Fluid?



This is another one of those that we just don’t have a standard answer for. The answer here is really, “it depends.” It can range anywhere from every 15,000 miles to “never.”

Most manufacturers recommend you first change your automatic transmission fluid between 60,000-100,000 miles and at intervals of 30,000 miles after that. This is one of those times you unfortunately do need to do a bit of reading.

Automatic transmissions are built in many different ways. Your manufacturer has put your vehicle through rigorous testing and should have a good answer that is specific to your vehicle.


How Much Is It Gonna Cost Me?



While the answer to anything transmission-related might seem like “how much ‘ya got?” regular maintenance isn’t going to break the bank.

When changing the transmission fluid, you will also need to change the transmission fluid filter. This typically runs about one-and-a-half to two hours worth of labor, which should cost you between $120-$160 in most places. The fluid and filter should cost around $50 purchased at retail prices.

All in all, you’re looking at a total cost of around $150-$215. It’s not cheap, but a quick google search of replacement transmissions for your vehicle should be plenty to motivate you to just bite the bullet and get it serviced regularly.


Is It Something I Can Do at Home?



Again, it depends.

This isn’t one of those maintenance projects you use to dip your toes into DIY auto repair. There is a decent amount of disassembly that needs to be done. This means you’ll need proper tools and a good working environment. If you’ve changed your oil before, you’re halfway there. Changing the transmission fluid is a little trickier just due to where the components tend to be located.

Also, unlike the motor oil, most transmission fluid reservoirs don’t have a drain plug. This means you’re in for a messy couple of hours.

It’s not an impossible task, and there are many great Youtube tutorials like this one to help you.

Just be aware of what you’re signing yourself up for before you bust out those wrenches.


With the manufacturing quality and technology what it is today, your automatic transmission should have a long and productive life with proper maintenance. Regular monitoring and care of your transmission fluid will save you thousands of dollars down the road.

For more great car care tips, stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog.

Leave It To The Mechanic: Car Maintenance You Should Never DIY

If you’re a fan of Strutmasters or a regular reader of the blog, we don’t need to tell you how much we love DIYers. In fact, our entire business model is based around saving customers money. We do this by making a product you can safely and easily install at home without being a professional mechanic. 


However, there are simply just some car jobs that should always be left to the professionals. Many problems require specific machines to diagnose or repair. Many simply require a professional lift and shop-grade tools. Some jobs require a kind of technical knowledge of “under the hood” that you won’t have unless you are a trained mechanic.

Here are some of those items.


1. Tire rotate and balance



You can absolutely put your car up on a jack and rotate your wheels. If you know how to change a tire, you can do this part with relative ease. However, one of the most important parts of this service is the balancing, which requires special equipment to do.

Unbalanced tires can lead to all sorts of problems from reduced gas mileage to additional wear and tear on the suspension to reduced maneuverability and handling. Add to that the fact that a tire mechanic can do the same job in a fraction of the time and it clearly makes more sense to just take it in.

Many companies offer free rotations and balances for the lifetime of the tires if you bought them from that company. Others offer lifetime balance and rotation plans for less than $100. This is a good investment.


2. Inside the engine repairs



The old saying that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” probably applies to cars more than almost anything else. It wasn’t that long ago that some basic mechanical knowledge would allow one to pop the hood, take an engine apart and fix whatever was wrong.

 

Nowadays, however, engines have gotten more sophisticated and more computer-driven. It takes a mechanic with intricate knowledge of systems and very expensive diagnostic equipment to fix.

When you try to fix internal issues yourself, you run the risk of tripping or accidentally disabling a number of sensors that help diagnose issues with your vehicle. This could lead to expensive false positives or problems going unrecognized in your car.

3. Filling up the A/C



Your air conditioner is acting up again. Just grab a can of freon and go to work, right? Wrong.

Your car’s A/C unit is a closed system, which means if you’re low on freon you have a leak. At the very best, adding freon to the system will just mean you’ll need to add more soon. At worst, your A/C unit’s compressor may also be leaking lube and a jump start of the compressor would burn it out very quickly.

Take your car to your mechanic to examine your A/C and repair it properly.


4. “Check Engine” light



More than likely, the problem is not simply with the light itself (although, if it is, celebrate cause you got lucky!). Though it may be tempting to reach under the hood and pull a few wires to turn off the light, resist the urge. A check engine light is no joke.

Modern auto shops have precise diagnostic tools that can read the codes coming out of your car’s computer and find the exact problem. Whereas in the past you may have had to pay for a mechanic to dig around and find a problem, that diagnostic can now be done with precision in a matter of minutes.

Your car will not pass an inspection with the check engine light on, nor will it pass an inspection if the light has been disabled. The earlier you get your check engine problem worked on, the cheaper it will be to fix it.


5. Air suspensions



Air suspensions, as we’ve covered, ride great until they don’t. Then they’re a hotbed of mechanical issues.

Air ride suspensions are complex systems that rely on computers to get the job done. Though the most common problem in an air suspension is a leaky air bag, even those are very difficult to repair or replace well.

Your car’s suspension is one of its primary safety features. You don’t want to risk driving on an improperly mounted or aligned suspension.

This is one of the many, many reasons we do what we do here at Strutmasters. Not only are standard coilover suspensions more reliable than air suspensions, they are also simple enough to work on and install at home.

 

If you’re experiencing problems with your air suspension and are handy with a wrench, a Strutmasters conversion kit is the best possible move you can make. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars and countless headaches.


At Strutmasters, we’re from the old school. We like to change our own oil and do the basic car maintenance many folks leave up to their dealer or mechanic. But it’s important to recognize when you’re doing more harm than good tooling around under the hood of your car. Know when to hand a job off to a professional and you’ll enjoy the DIY repairs you DO choose to do much more.

For more car care advice and tips, check the always-useful Strutmasters blog.

Boost Your Gas Mileage With These Easy Tricks

The price of gas is going up again which means getting the most out of your gas mileage is becoming more important. You could go out and buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, but that’s not realistic for most people. There are several simple ways you can increase your MPG with the car you currently own.

Here are some of the best tips we’ve found so far:

1. Remove weight



If you’re like us, you probably have some things rolling around in your trunk from months or even years ago. Take it out if you don’t need it!

Additional weight means the car needs more power to get to and maintain highway speeds. If you can lighten your load by even a hundred or so pounds, you’ll notice a difference in your wallet almost immediately. 

2. Reduce braking and accelerating



This is one of those times where it’s helpful to understand a little physics. It takes far less energy to keep something rolling than it does to start it or stop it. When you apply that to your car, it makes sense why maintaining a steady speed saves you a lot of gas over braking and accelerating.

Constant braking and accelerating is a hard habit to break for many drivers. This is especially true for those with any amount of road anxiety. Do your best to allow your car to maintain a steady speed. Consider using the cruise control when you’re on the highway.

3. Cut down on wind resistance



It sure is nice to cruise around with the windows down or sunroof open and enjoy a beautiful day, but it can seriously eat into your fuel economy.

Cars are engineered to be aerodynamic. This means they create as little wind resistance as possible to decrease the amount of power needed to keep moving forward. When you open the windows or sunroof, it “breaks the seal” of the car and allows air to flow into the car and provide resistance.

By all means, enjoy that sunny afternoon drive in the fresh air, but know that there is a tradeoff between that and optimal gas mileage.

4. Take a look at your tires



Believe it or not, your tires can be one of the biggest contributors to your fuel efficiency. Underinflated tires, especially, can severely reduce your gas mileage. Just think about when you were a kid and got a flat tire on your bike how much more effort it took to get it rolling. That’s how your engine feels when your tires are low.

Tires that are not balanced also reduce gas mileage, among other things. As we’ve mentioned before, tire maintenance is one of the simplest ways to ensure the longevity and performance of your vehicle. Pay close attention.

5. Plan your route



If you live outside an urban area, chances are you’re flogging all over town on one of those errand days. While this isn’t necessarily the fuel efficiency of your car we’re dealing with, driving fewer miles will certainly save on your fuel costs.

If you have multiple stops to make while you’re out, take a few minutes to plan your journey before heading out. There are now many apps for both iOS and Android phones that can help. They allow you to plug in a series of addresses and get an optimized route with directions.

You’d be surprised how quickly saving that 5-10 miles a week adds up in fuel savings.


Being efficient with your gas not only saves you money, it benefits everyone around you. None of these tips will cause any dramatic changes to your lifestyle or driving habits. In fact, most of them are just plain common sense and will improve your overall experience in addition to saving you money.

For more money-saving car care tips and practical guides, stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog.

What Bats Have to Do With Your Car’s Parking Sensor

Parallel parking has long been one of the more frustrating aspects of driving a car. With the advent of parking sensors in the early 2000s, however, the job got a lot easier. No longer are drivers forced to twist their necks and make an educated guess at the distance between them and the car or wall behind them.

Countless bumpers have been saved over the last decade and a half since the parking sensor went mainstream, but how do they work?


The answer has something to do with bats.

The Ultrasonic Parking Sensor



It is common for engineers to look to nature for inspiration. Velcro, for example, was invented when a Swiss engineer took a closer look at the seeds of a burdock plant, known around our way as “hitchhikers.” He noticed the hook structure and then replicated it using nylon to create what we know today as Velcro.

So, when engineers were trying to develop a system that would help drivers locate something they can’t see, like the front bumper of a car behind them, they looked to an animal that needs to navigate without the benefit of sight–the bat.

Bats use a system called echolocation to navigate their worlds, since they are effectively blind and often move around in the dark. They emit high-frequency sounds and then use the time it takes to reverberate back into their ears to determine how far away they are from an obstacle.

Ultrasonic parking sensors work in almost exactly the same way. They emit high-frequency sound waves which are inaudible to the human ear. Then, a sensor detects how quickly those waves take to get back to the car. It also detects any changes in the sound wave. The sensor then triggers an audible alarm to alert the driver to the distance.

The Electromagnetic Parking Sensor


More and more, manufacturers are moving to electromagnetic parking sensors. They are not dissimilar to ultrasonic sensors, but they emit electromagnetic waves rather than sound waves. This has an advantage over ultrasonic sensors in that they can better moving objects–an important feature for backing out of parking spaces in bigger lots where cars may suddenly appear behind you.

What Does the Future Hold?



The future of parking–and really of all driving–is full automation. Already vehicles like BMW’s i3 feature fully-automated parking, with 360-degree cameras, sensors, and even lasers that guide the vehicle into a parking space.

As we move towards self-driving cars, however, parking will become fully automated. Beyond that, it may become a thing of the past altogether. Some futurists believe that once cars become fully automated we may move away from private ownership and towards an on-demand model. Imagine that all cars were Ubers and far less expensive. Since they would continually drive around picking up passengers and taking them to their destination, there would be no need to park at all except to refuel or recharge. So many exciting possibilities.

For more car knowledge, stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog.