Blog - Pawlik Automotive Repair, Vancouver BC

Maintenance Reminder Lamps

Lets look at maintenance reminder lights and what they mean to you and your car. First off, not all cars and trucks come with them so this may not apply to your vehicle. Looking in your owner’s manual will confirm whether or not this is an issue of concern for you.

For those vehicles that have them, maintenance Lamps will come in one of several forms: a light that says “O2 Sensor”, “Maintenance Due”, “Service due” or something of similar wording.

Diesel vehicles will may display “Air Filter” and/or “timing belt” lights.

Occasionally some vehicles (only pre 1995 models) use the “Check Engine” lamp as a maintenance reminder light as well as a warning for a computer engine control problem. What most of these lights have in common is that they are warning you that a particular part requires service: either by testing the part or replacing the part. It is not a do or die type of warning like the oil lamp, but rather a suggestion to attend to servicing a particular part.

After the service is performed the light must be switched off manually. This can range from a simple procedure of pushing a button, to connecting a scan tool to the engine computer, or removing the instrument panel and changing wiring connections.

The Oil Lamp

The Oil Lamp or Oil warning indicator

Over the years I have spoken to many car owners who are confused about the purpose of the oil lamp on their dash. You know the one that I mean, it usually appears as a red lamp in the shape of an oil can and illuminates briefly while starting the engine.

Oil Warning Light

To set the record straight, the only purpose of this light is to warn you of oil pressure loss. Should the light come on while driving, it is critical that you switch off your engine immediately and have the cause of the problem diagnosed. Failure to do so may result in expensive engine damage.

So now that we’ve defined what it does, let’s look at a common misconception about the oil light, which is that it indicates your engine is low on oil.

This light does not do this!

You must continue to check the level from time to time. If the light comes on due to low oil level it may be too late and you may have already damaged your engine. Some cars are equipped with a “low oil level” warning lamp. This lamp clearly says “low oil level” when it comes on. Should it switch on, checking your oil level would be the first thing to do.

Your Battery and Charging System

The battery is an electrical storage device whose primary purpose is to provide power to start your car’s engine.

It also enables you to run accessories with the engine off and provides reserve electrical power should your charging system be weak. Every time you start your engine the battery sends power to the starter motor which turns your engine over until the spark plugs spark and the fuel begins to combust. This process depletes your battery’s energy and continuing to attempt to start your car will eventually result in a dead battery.

Alternator

Enter the alternator, whose purpose is to generate electricity to recharge your battery.

So why call it an alternator when it really is a generator? Because it generates alternating current. Up until the early 1960’s most cars used a direct current generator. It was found that an alternator, which generates alternating current (which is converted to direct current) was far more efficient, reliable and used fewer parts.

Your car contains many electricity hungry components such as lights, ignition system, fuel injection, windshield wipers, heater fans and on and on. All of these require feeding which is done with the alternator; otherwise your battery would go dead.

Let’s look at the inner workings of the battery and the alternator. As mentioned, the battery stores electricity and how it does this is quite remarkable. Car batteries are of the lead-acid type which use lead plates and sulfuric acid. The chemical reaction between these two components creates electricity.

As the battery discharges, the sulfuric acid breaks up with the sulfur attaching to the lead plates, leaving water behind. As the battery is recharged the sulfur leaves the plates and becomes reunited with the water to once again form sulfuric acid. This dance goes on until the battery becomes old and weak.

While batteries store electricity, alternators create it by spinning a large magnet past a coil of wires. The alternator operates as soon as your engine starts. Inside the alternator are components to convert the alternating current into direct current which is compatible with your car’s electrical system. The voltage output of the alternator would soon overload the electrical system if it wasn’t for the voltage regulator which keeps the output down to about 14 volts.

What maintenance do these two items require? The alternator and most batteries require no maintenance, however some batteries can be topped up with water if the level runs low. The alternator is belt driven so the belt needs to be inspected occasionally and replaced if worn. Battery terminals may become corroded and these should be inspected and cleaned if dirty. Otherwise it is a trouble free system.

Using Sealants

Sealants are available as a quick fix for just about any vehicle leak from your air conditioning to your engine oil.


The question is, should you use them? The answer is, sometimes… with great caution.

We rarely use sealants; but under the right conditions they can do a good job and save you money.

Using the right product is essential. A bad sealant can cause more damage and that will cost you more money in the long run. Doing a diagnosis of the leak is essential to see if a sealant will help. For example, a coolant leak can be caused by many things: a blown hose, a water pump seal or badly deteriorated gasket. These will not be helped by radiator sealant. Whereas a pin hole in a radiator core or a very slight gasket seep can be sealed.

When repairing leaks in other vehicle systems diagnosis again is key. Knowing where the leak is coming from enables the technician to prescribe the proper repair.

Cabin Air Quality

Interior air quality is something that we take for granted… until it smells bad.

Although dogs and smoke can add an offensive odor to your vehicle cabin, the worst offenders can be molds and mildews. Not only do they create an uncomfortable smell, these nasty particles can create serious health problems.

How do they get into our cars? Molds and mildews grow in the presence of excessive moisture in the vehicle, and that usually happens in one of two ways. The first is through the improper long term storage of a vehicle, especially one that has a water leak. Once this type of mold gets into the vehicle it is almost impossible to remove short of replacing the complete interior. Fortunately this circumstance is quite rare.

The second and more common is mold and mildew formed in your vehicle’s air conditioning system. Under your dash sits the evaporator core, which is located inside a box. The evaporator core creates the cold air in the car and while it’s doing that it attracts moisture from the air. A great deal of water forms inside the box which drains out onto the road (if you look under your car on a hot day with the A/C running you’ll see this happening). Under certain conditions this moisture that can create a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Relief from this problem is available in two ways. One is to remove the evaporator box and manually clean it: a very labour intensive and expensive job.

The more cost effective way involves a procedure which uses a special spray designed to kill the nasty particles and freshen up the interior. If you are suffering from a bad smell in your vehicle when the heat or A/C is on these sprays are usually the best cure. If you don’t have a functioning air conditioning system then you need not worry; this problem doesn’t apply to you.

Lastly, another routine service (on vehicles so equipped) is to replace the cabin air filter at regular intervals. These filters clean the air coming into your car, but if they are overly dirty, will cause a strain on your heater fan motor, lack of air flow and odor problems. If your car has a cabin air filter it usually requires replacement at intervals between 25,000 & 50,000 kilometers.

Advantages of Synthetic Oil

Many of you have heard of synthetic oil and perhaps you have wondered whether your car or truck can benefit from it. The answer is yes; but before we look at the benefits, here’s a little about oil.

Synthetic Oil

Regular (mineral) oil is refined from crude oil and during the process, impurities are removed and special additives put in.

Synthetic oil takes the process further: it is derived from mineral oil but is further processed on a molecular level to create a uniform oil molecule. The difference is: mineral oil contains a variety of different sized molecules whereas synthetic oil contains molecules of the same size. Picture two flat metal plates with ball bearings in between; using a sandwich analogy, the plates are the bread and the bearings are the meat. The oil is represented by the bearings.

Mineral oil has a large variety of different sizes which allows the plates to move but there is less contact because of the differing sizes of the bearings(molecules). In synthetic oil the bearings (molecules) are all the same size giving much better contact between the metal plates. This allows synthetic oil to offer superior lubrication and last longer than mineral oil.

Oil serves four functions in your engine.

1) Reducing friction between moving parts.
2) Removing heat to the cooling system.
3) Keeping the engine clean by moving dirt into the oil filter.
4) Creating a seal between the piston rings and cylinder walls.

Synthetic oil, because of its uniform structure performs all of these tasks much better and for far longer than regular oil. It also withstands greater heat than mineral oil and can act as an insurance policy against engine damage should your engine run too hot. Yes, synthetic oil costs more, but this cost is minimal, especially when compared to expensive engine repairs.

Advantages of Synthetic oil

Superior protection of your engine’s moving parts
Flows better when cold (when most engine wear occurs)
Reduces friction which saves money on fuel
Lasts longer than regular oil
Does not break down at high temperatures
Excellent protection for turbo charged engines

What is a Short?

What is a short?

This term is used almost universally when describing an electrical problem; and nine out of ten times it is used incorrectly. Before we discover exactly what a short is, let’s take a look at how electrical circuits work using a simple lighting circuit as an example.

In your car, power flows out of the battery’s negative terminal, through a wire to the light bulb, out another wire to the switch, and via another wire, completes the circuit to the battery’s positive terminal. As you can see, the circuit has a certain ‘length’ and several components.

A short circuit means that power flows back to the battery before it runs the full length of the circuit. Usual causes are bare wires rubbing together or a failure inside a component (in our example it would be the bulb).

When a short occurs, nasty things such as melted wiring can be the result. Fortunately, most circuits are protected with fuses; so should a short occur, the fuse will blow, and break the circuit to protect wires and components.

Although shorts do occur, what more frequently happens is an open circuit. This is when a connection breaks and a circuit cannot be completed. Usual causes are broken wires, broken connectors, defective switches or failure inside a component. The result is often the same as a short (the light does not come on) but the cause is different.

So when one of your electrical devices doesn’t work, it could just as easily be an open rather than a short. And that’s the long and short of it.

The Myth of Car Computer Diagnosis

The “just plug in my car for diagnosis” folk tale

This myth has grown for many years. While connecting a diagnostic computer to your vehicle’s computer(s) is a crucial part of many diagnostic procedures, doing this will not tell the technician what is wrong; it only points to the area of the problem.

“Just hook my car up to the computer” myth I suspect, came from car manufacturers and salesmen who wanted to brag about their technology and how it makes their cars easy to fix. Diagnostic information accessed from your vehicle’s computer is often vital to solve driveability concerns but additional tests are required to confirm which component of the system is actually faulty.

For example, when your check engine lamp comes on, the trouble codes generated and the data available on the scan tool/diagnostic computer, is the information that the vehicle’s computer generates based on the information that it receives from numerous sensors.

Let’s say the code is for an oxygen sensor defect; the vehicle’s computer has no way of knowing if the sensor is reading correctly, a wire to the sensor has broken or the computer itself has an internal defect. From the information gathered on the diagnostic computer very specific tests must be conducted and this is where a technician’s skill, resources and other diagnostic equipment come into play to find the real problem.

So forget the “plug it in for diagnosis” myth; more thorough tests are always required to be certain to find the real cause of the concern.

Breakdowns vs. Regular Maintenance

The Difference Between a Breakdown Shop and a Maintenance Shop

A breakdown shop is a shop that sees their customer when:

• The customer feels it is time for an oil change on their vehicle.
• Their vehicle breaks
• A breakdown shop’s goal is to get their customers vehicle in and out of their shop as quickly as possible.

A maintenance shop is a shop that:

• Tracks and schedules their clients’ vehicle maintenance
• Educates and consults with their clients about all maintenance and repairs to be performed
• Performs inspections on their client’s vehicle every time it is in
• Provides advance knowledge about up coming maintenance and repairs on their customers vehicle
• Provides advance estimates for up coming maintenance and repairs so their customer can budget
• Spends time with their customer to build a long-term relationship

A maintenance shops goal is to:

• Build trust with their clients
• Save their clients’ money be helping to prevent costly and stressful breakdowns
• To make their clients’ motoring life as simple and easy as possible
• To take the responsibility for their clients’ vehicle maintenance

If these points appeal to you, then Pawlik Automotive is your best choice for vehicle service

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