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Saving Money on Exterior Defects

scratchesFrom dents to paint scratches, a car”s exterior can get grungy fast. Here”s how to repair those imperfections without spending too much.

Over the course of a car’s life, exterior imperfections like dents and dings occur no matter how careful you are. Everything from the weather to an overly enthusiastic Little Leaguer can inflict expensive damage to the body. The more damaged it becomes, the more time and money it takes to deal with it. Luckily, we can share a few tricks to keep you from spending a fortune to maintain your car’s looks.
Scratches are almost unavoidable if you have a car. A misplaced key or runaway shopping cart can easily cause damage to your vehicle’s paint. You usually don’t need to head to the body shop to get them fixed; the most minor ones can be smoothed out by any number of DIY scratch removers, found online or in auto parts stores. For slightly deeper ones, we’d recommend the $20 Quixx Scratch Remover. Make sure to follow the instructions very carefully with this product. It involves gently sanding the area, a process that can make the scratch worse if you’re not careful.
Before you go rushing off to the body shop to take care of a dent on your car’s sheet metal, give the repair a go yourself. The first trick involves a plunger and won’t cost anything at all, as long as you have one handy. Firmly place the plunger over the dent. Then, using the suction power, pull the dent out with it. Voilà! If that doesn’t work, you might need to pick up a hair dryer and air duster. The hot/cold combo can expand and contracs the metal enough to pop it out. This video explains it all in detail (despite the poorly formed English sentences). Considering dent removal can be a pricey repair, spending a little time to cover all your options first is decidedly worth it.
# Paint Chips
Paint chips are tricky, and the best way to conceal them is to ensure you have the exact color match to your car’s paint. Since every manufacturer has different blends, the result is that the white paint you bought for touch-ups might not exactly match the hue of your Toyota Land Cruiser. Dr. Colorchip’s kits(starting at $39) provide all the tools needed to make the body paint look like new without you having to spend a couple hundred dollars at the body shop.
# Cloudy Headlights
If you’ve noticed your headlights have turned a milky color, you’re not alone. Cloudy headlights are caused by an oxidization of the protective covering, and the problem isn’t just a cosmetic issue, but also a safety concern. Mobile services are available, but they can cost up to $100 and replacement parts would cost even more. Luckily, there are a number of products out there designed to clear up your headlights for about $20, like the Crystal View Headlight Restorer. They’ll take the layer of film off the covering while restoring UV protection and sealing them against the elements.

Does the Brand of Gas Matter to Your Vehicle?

fill-gas-carYes, it does matter, because some brands contain more detergent additives that can prevent carbon deposits from forming inside your engine.

These are the so-called Top Tier brands that use considerably more detergent additives than is required by the EPA. Several vehicle manufacturers recommend using Top Tier gas so they and their dealers don’t receive complaints from owners about poor performance or fuel economy caused by carbon deposits, fouled fuel injectors or other issues.

Most major oil companies have adopted the voluntary Top Tier standards for detergent additives, including Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Phillips 66, Texaco and Valero, among others.

The vehicle manufacturers claim that using other brands of gas over time can allow carbon deposits to form in combustion chambers, which can cause engine knock or pinging (premature fuel ignition), and on intake valves, which can impede valve operation.

This doesn’t mean you should never use anything except Top Tier gas.

As a practical matter, the smaller, independent gasoline brands are often cheaper than the major brands, and for people on a tight budget, saving pennies per gallon matters. Additionally, for some motorists, the nearest Top Tier station may be miles away, making it impractical to fill up there consistently. And if you’re on an interstate highway and your tank is nearly empty, you have to take what you can get.

Some vehicle manufacturers, such as Hyundai and Kia, suggest that owners who don’t use Top Tier gas add a fuel-system cleaner to their tank periodically to clean out any deposits or gunk. You should first check your owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer says about Top Tier gas and fuel additives.

Using Top Tier gas as often as is practical and economically feasible, plus periodically adding a fuel system cleaner if you often use other brands of gas, should do the trick.


Tire Safety Tips

tire-safetyIt just takes a penny to check whether your tires are worn or losing tread. Inspecting your tires for wear and tear, alongside checking tire weight and arrangement, are fundamental to guaranteeing your vehicle’s wellbeing out and about and enhancing gas mileage and execution. The non-benefit Car Care Council suggests that drivers be auto care mindful and check tire condition and weight consistently.

“The penny test is a straightforward, yet powerful, approach to check tire tread. In the event that you see Lincoln’s head over the tread, you are prepared for new tires,” said Rich White, official chief, Car Care Council. “Tires are basic to a vehicle’s taking care of and footing, and keeping up legitimate weight is imperatively vital to vehicle wellbeing. Underinflated tires are under anxiety and will wear unevenly, making them should be supplanted sooner. Routinely checking tire adjust and wheel arrangement decreases tire wear, enhances taking care of, and expands mileage.”

Vehicle owners should check the pressure of all tires, including the spare, on a monthly basis and more often during colder weather. In addition, the tread should be checked for uneven  or irregular wear as well as cuts or bruises along sidewalls. Tires should be inflated to recommended pressure levels, rotated every 6,000 miles to promote uniform tire wear and be replaced if worn or damaged.

If the vehicle shakes or pulls to one side, it could be a sign of an alignment issue. Because uneven or accelerated tire wear may indicate an alignment problem, it’s a good idea to have the alignment checked at least once a year. Wheel balance can change as a result of normal tire wear and unbalanced wheels can cause rapid wear of shock absorbers and struts.

Know when Need Wheel Alignment

If your car drifts to one side and you have to turn the steering wheel away from the center position to drive straight, that is a good indication that your wheels are out of alignment. Perhaps it is the result of hitting a deep pothole or scoring a direct hit on a curb while parking.

Before you head off to a repair shop to have your wheels aligned, a job that typically costs about $60 to $100 for most vehicles, it would be a good idea to check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires can also cause a vehicle to pull to one side, so eliminate that possibility first.

You might also want to inspect your tires to see if there is uneven wear, such as the tread being worn off along one edge, another sign of an alignment issue. However, it can be hard to separate normal from excessive wear, so unless you’re well trained in “tireology” you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Vibrations in your wheels are different from alignment problems. Vibrations are probably caused by wheels being out of balance or bent (potholes can do that) or because suspension parts are worn, and getting your wheels aligned won’t solve those problems.

Some vehicles require only that the front wheels be aligned, but many car-based models require four-wheel alignment. Alignment specifications differ by vehicle, and it isn’t as simple as just making sure all four wheels are pointed straight ahead.

Depending on the vehicle, proper alignment involves setting the camber (inward or outward tilt of the wheels when looking head on), caster (wheel tilt front or back looking from the side) and toe-in or toe-out (looking down at the wheels from above). The adjustments are measured in fractions of an inch and require specialized alignment equipment.

Wheel alignment isn’t usually listed by vehicle manufacturers on the recommended maintenance schedule, so how often it should be done is open-ended. If your vehicle tracks as straight as an arrow, you’re wheels likely are properly aligned. Even so, it’s a good idea to have your alignment checked annually, such as when you have your tires rotated. You certainly should have it done when you buy new tires so they don’t immediately start to wear unevenly. Many shops guarantee alignment work for up to one year, so bring your vehicle back before the guarantee ends to have the alignment checked again (assuming that service is free).


Tune up Included

Actually, there is no such thing as a tuneup in the traditional sense of replacing parts to bring the ignition and fuel systems up to specs for maximum performance and efficiency, and there hasn’t been for years.

About the only things left from the traditional tuneup are new spark plugs, which is typically done every 100,000 miles, and replacing the air filter periodically. The federal EPA and Department of Energy say that replacing a clogged air filter will not improve gas mileage but can improve acceleration 6% to 11%. The agencies do not say what benefit can be derived from fresh spark plugs, but computers that control today’s engines adjust the air-fuel mixture and spark timing to compensate for wear, such as when the electrodes on spark plugs are worn down.

Even so, some car owners still dutifully take their car in periodically to have it “tuned up.” Instead, service technicians will inspect and perhaps test the fuel, ignition and emissions systems to look for faulty vacuum hoses, oxygen sensors and other parts that can hurt performance. The federal government, for example, says a bad oxygen sensor can give engine computers false readings and reduce fuel economy as much as 40%.

Having your vehicle serviced and inspected periodically is a good way to extend its life and keep it operating efficiently. However, walking into a repair facility and asking for a tuneup is a bad idea because it indicates you’re still living in the previous century and have extra money you would like to spend. Some in the auto-repair business will take advantage of those opportunities.

Look in the owner’s manual for your vehicle (or separate maintenance schedule) to find what the manufacturer recommends, and see if you can even find the words “tuneup.” For example, we looked at the maintenance guide for the Ford Fiesta that also applies to other Ford vehicles. The first mention of anything related to a traditional tune-up was to replace the engine air filter every 30,000 miles. The only other related item was to replace the spark plugs every 100,000 miles.


Replace Ball Joints

Worn ball joints allow too much movement in the suspension, so the driver may feel more vibrations — or hear squeaks or rattles on bumpy surfaces or when turning — caused by looseness in the suspension. Other signs of worn ball joints include uneven tire wear and steering that wanders instead of going straight.

Because these symptoms also can apply to other suspension and steering issues, any or all of the above are good reason to have a thorough inspection conducted by a qualified mechanic before pointing the finger at the ball joints. Some ball joints have wear indicators, but others have to be checked by raising the car off the ground and seeing if the wheels allow excessive play. In addition, some ball joints have rubber dust covers that, if torn, can allow dirt and water in. That can damage the joint.

Front ball joints connect the suspension control arms to the steering knuckles; their ball shape allows the suspension to move up and down and the wheels to pivot when you turn the steering wheel. On vehicles that have rear ball joints, they act like hinges to allow the wheels to move up and down with the road surface. Vehicles with strut-type front suspensions have only lower ball joints, but double-wishbone styles have upper and lower ones.

They often last more than 100,000 miles but can wear out earlier if driven frequently on rough roads, which puts more stress on the suspension. Load-bearing ball joints that carry the weight of the vehicle tend to wear out sooner than those that aren’t load-bearing. Ball joints used on most modern vehicles have grease sealed inside them (some require that grease be added periodically). The seals can leak with age, and once the grease leaks out, that will accelerate wear and eventually cause failure.

Don’t ignore warning signs of worn ball joints, because eventually they can break. That can break a control arm or other suspension part, allowing the wheel to come loose. Ball-joint replacement is typically not listed on a vehicle’s maintenance schedule, but many manufacturers recommend they be inspected for wear at regular intervals, such as at oil changes.


Expensive vs Inexpensive Wiper Blades

When it comes time to replace windshield wiper blades, does it serve you best to spend more money on pricier brands?

Prices depend mainly on type and brand. There are three basic types of wipers. The most common is the frame type, which uses a metal framework to support the wiper. This is the most widely used and most affordable style of wiper.

The second type is the winter wiper, which has a rubber shell around the framework to keep it from collecting snow and ice that would hinder the mechanism’s flexibility and ability to conform to the windshield. Some winter wipers claim to use special compounds that keep the blades pliable in the coldest temperatures.

Finally there are beam-style wipers, a one-piece design that allows the blades to better adhere to the curved shape of the windshield. Other advantages include their aesthetic appeal, a claimed longer life and snow and ice resistance comparable to the winter wiper. Beam wipers are increasingly common on new cars.

In addition to the three types of wipers, there is a price separation between large, well-known brands and smaller, generic brands  much like the difference between brand-name and generic cereal at the grocery store.

Whether you should splurge on the beam-style or winter blades depends on you. If you live in the snow belt, winter blades would be a wise investment at the beginning of each winter. For beam-style blades, it depends on how much you’re willing to spend for aesthetics. Overall, the cheaper blades should do as fine a job of cleaning your windows when new. The same applies to generic versus well-known brand names. Our experience suggests that frequent replacement  every six months to a year is more important than the initial price paid.


About Car Wax

If your car is usually parked in a garage or otherwise sheltered from the elements, waxing it twice a year should be enough to protect the paint finish. But if your car is frequently exposed to snow, rain, road salt or even just spends most of the time outdoors, it probably should be waxed every three to four months.

Wax not only gives your car a shiny glow, it adds an extra layer of protection against harsh weather, salt, bird droppings, tree sap, ultraviolet rays, vehicular and industrial pollution, and other assorted crud found in the air and on roads. By not waxing your car on a regular basis, you are giving these corrosive substances a better chance of damaging the clear coat, the finish on top that seals the paint, and exposing the paint below. In addition, if you have to rub and scrub an unwaxed car to get it clean, you risk rubbing through the clear coat and into the paint.

Regularly washing your car gets rid of much of this stuff, but some, such as bug splatters and tar, can require additional elbow grease to remove. Many automatic car washes will “wax” your car for an extra fee as it rolls down the line, but these generally are just a thin application that may not even last weeks, let alone months.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone, thoroughly cleaning the exterior and applying a good-quality wax by hand at least twice a year can keep the paint finish on your vehicle looking almost new for years.

Rust isn’t nearly as common on cars as it was 30 years ago, but it is still the silent killer that never sleeps if you let salt or other corrosive materials accumulate.

If you live in the snow belt or near an ocean, the best medicine for protecting your car from salt damage is to get it washed on a regular basis, such as weekly. Even if it hasn’t snowed, there is still salt residue on the roads that winds up on your car, especially underneath on brake, suspension and other parts you can’t easily see.

Though some vehicle owners avoid automatic car washes because they fear the brushes can scratch or damage paint, most car washes give the underside of vehicles a good cleaning, so salt and road crud doesn’t build up and cause corrosion.


Things You need to Know about Automatic Transmission

An automatic transmission is one that doesn’t require the driver to shift gears manually. There are more types of automatic transmissions than ever before, including conventional torque-converter step-gear automatics, dual-clutch automatics (sometimes called automated manuals), continuously variable automatics and hybrids. Although different in design, their performance can be remarkably similar to the casual driver. Though manual shifting with paddle shifters is now common, the automatic functionality and lack of a third pedal mean that a car is an automatic.

How do I know if my automatic transmission needs work?
Signs that an automatic transmission needs attention include that it is slow to shift into Drive or a higher gear during acceleration, it shifts harshly into the next gear or it slips out of a gear while you’re driving. Unusual noises such as a whine or a buzz indicate problems, and a grinding noise, such as metal-to-metal contact, is a serious issue. Some vehicles have transmission warning lights that illuminate when computers sense a problem, but many don’t. A transmission issue can trigger the check engine light. Transmission fluid is usually red; a puddle of oily red fluid under your car indicates it is leaking.

How often should I get work done to my automatic transmission?
Automatic transmissions often last 100,000 miles or more without needing repairs, although it’s not unheard of for mechanical (or electronic) gremlins to strike before that. If you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing the transmission fluid (and possibly its filter), and don’t abuse the transmission, your chances of avoiding repairs are good. Frequent hard acceleration or grueling stop-and-go driving, such as taxicab or delivery-vehicle duty, can shorten the life of a transmission.

How much should I pay?
The cost of repairs can depend on where you are as much as it does on what you need fixed. To get an estimate for your repair, go to estimator, plug in your car’s year, make and model information, add your ZIP code, and choose the repair you need.


About Drive Belt

The drive belt is a reinforced rubber belt that allows the engine’s rotating crankshaft to drive components such as water pumps, alternators, air-conditioning compressors, power-steering pumps or superchargers. Your car may use separate belts for one or more components or hit multiple pulleys with a snaking serpentine belt. Belts are relatively inexpensive items that are best replaced when worn, damaged or simply old rather than after they fail. Serpentine belts in particular, because they power so many components, disable the car completely when they break.

# How do I know if my drive belt is bad?
The accessory drive belt (also called a V, or serpentine, belt) drives the air-conditioning compressor, alternator and, on many vehicles, the power steering pump and water pump. If this belt breaks, none of those systems will work. If the belt is cracked, frayed or badly worn, it can slip on the pulleys it rides on, and the accessories it drives won’t receive all the power they need, which may trigger a warning light. A qualified mechanic can usually tell by looking if a belt needs to be replaced.

# How often should I replace my drive belt?
It should be inspected at least every year on vehicles that are more than a few years old to check for wear, and it should be replaced as necessary. Most automakers call for periodic inspection of the belt, but few list a specific replacement interval. Though these belts often last several years, they can become cracked, frayed or worn on the side that is hidden from view.

# Why do I have to replace my drive belt?
If this belt breaks, the battery won’t get recharged, the air conditioner won’t blow cold air and the power steering will go out. In addition, if the belt drives the water pump, the engine could overheat.

# How much should I pay?
The cost of repairs can depend on where you are as much as it does on what you need fixed. To get an estimate for your repair, go to our estimator, plug in your car’s year, make and model information, add your ZIP code, and choose the repair you need.

Things You need to Know about Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid keeps the parts in your automatic transmission moving smoothly together. Like other vital automotive fluids, it can deteriorate over time. Hard use — such as frequent stop-and-go city driving, hauling heavy loads, trailer towing — will accelerate that deterioration. That kind of driving raises the operating temperature of the transmission, and heat puts more strain on the transmission and the fluid, which helps facilitate gear shifts, cools the transmission and lubricates moving parts.

# How do I know if my transmission fluid or filter has gone bad?
Automatic transmission fluid darkens as it ages; if it becomes brown or almost black that is an indication it needs to be changed. Dirt or debris in the fluid and a burned odor also are signs. Many transmissions have filters that should be replaced or cleaned periodically, and because that usually requires removing a fluid pan, it should be checked when the fluid is changed. A clogged filter can prevent enough fluid from being pumped to vital parts of the transmission and cause gear slippage, sluggish shifting or a high-pitched whine when accelerating.

# How often should I replace my transmission fluid or fluid filter?
Check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual because the recommended intervals from vehicle manufacturers are all over the board, from as early as 40,000 miles to as long as 150,000. Some even say it never has to be changed, though many mechanics advise that it should be done every 50,000 miles to be safe. As with engine oil, it doesn’t hurt to change transmission fluid more often than is recommended, but you might be paying extra for little benefit. If your transmission has a fluid filter, it should be changed every time the fluid is changed (although some filters can be cleaned).

# Why do I have to replace my transmission fluid and filter?
Transmission fluid deteriorates over time, especially from hard use. Over years and thousands of miles, the fluid loses its ability to facilitate gear shifts, cool the transmission and lubricate moving parts. In addition, it picks up dirt and debris that can damage internal parts. Many transmissions have filters to catch that debris, but the filters can clog and prevent enough fluid from being pumped to vital parts of the transmission, causing gear slippage, sluggish shifting or a high-pitched whine when accelerating.

# How much should I pay?
The cost of repairs can depend on where you are as much as it does on what you need fixed. To get an estimate for your repair, go to our estimator, plug in your car’s year, make and model information, add your ZIP code, and choose the repair you need.