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Why is My Check Engine Light On?

So your Check Engine light is on and you’re wondering what it could mean. Let’s see if All Tune and Lube in Tempe can help out a little.

The first thing you need to do is find out why, right? Take your car down to a shop you trust to have the codes read. The parts stores will read the codes for you but they’re probably not going to be able to give you a feel for how serious the problem is; very serious or not so much of a problem. A regular auto repair shop is likely to have more experience and be able to provide a bit of guidance you’re not likely to get from a parts store. If anyone wants to charge you for reading codes on a car built after 1996 RUN AWAY! Cars built before that can be a little problematic.

Here are the five most common CEL codes:

  • Oxygen Sensor fault. Can be bank 1 or 2 (refers to the side of the engine if you have a V6, V8 or H4 or H6) or it can be sensor 1 or 2 if your car has sensors both upstream and downstream from the catalytic converter. Sensor 1, the upstream sensor, is also called a fuel air trim sensor. The computer that controls your engine gets information from that sensor that affects the way your car runs and your fuel economy. Sensor 2, the downstream sensor typically monitors the catalytic converter. Just about anyone with a little mechanical knowledge can replace an oxygen sensor and if you’re sure that’s the problem just go for it. That being said it’s not always that simple. Your shop has equipment that can trace the function of the oxygen sensor and make sure that’s the problem.
  • Gas cap loose, damaged or missing. OK, this one is a no brainer, right? Pretty much. Take a look the gas cap and you’ll see a rubber ring around it up at the top of the treaded part. If there are cracks replace it with an original equipment cap! The aftermarket caps just don’t seem to be up to snuff. From time to time we see this code come up when the cap hasn’t been tightened enough. Make sure you hear it click at least 3 times. If the light comes back on it could be that there’s an evaporative system leak that’s mimicking a fuel cap problem. Take it to a shop.
  • The third most common code we see is the dreaded P0420 Catalytic Converter Efficiency Below Operating Threshold. There are rare exceptions but you’ll probably need a new cat.
  • The next most common is a Mass Air Flow Sensor fault. Like the upstream oxygen sensor, this item provides information to your cars’ computer for engine management. MAF sensors don’t fail all that often but they do get dirty, especially if you don’t change your air filter often enough. These sensors are easily damaged and take a special cleaner. If that doesn’t take care of the problem take your vehicle to a shop (All Tune & Lube Tempe for example!) that has the equipment to test it. There’s not usually a lot of labor to the job but the part can get pricey.
  • The last are the misfire codes. All sorts of things can cause your engine to misfire. Spark plugs, ignition wires or COP boots, ignition coils and fuel injectors come immediately to mind. Don’t let anyone just do spark plugs and wires on your car until they’re sure of what the problem actually is.

There are all sorts of additional faults that can turn the Check Engine light on. If your car seems to run OK but the CEL is on, take it by your shop as soon as you have an opportunity. If your car starts running poorly or if the CEL is flashing get to the shop ASAP. Thanks, from your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care, Tempe AZ.

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What Does an Oxygen Sensor Do? Tempe Arizona

An Oxygen Sensor is a little device that fits on the exhaust system of your car and monitors how much free oxygen is there. Pretty straight forward, but why would you need it? I’ll tell you why.

Way back in the day, all gasoline engines were carbureted. That means that they had a mechanical carburetor that used the physics of air moving through a restriction to suck fuel in to the air stream and then in to the engine. Worked great for a hundred years and still works perfectly in some applications but it’s not super precise. If you want performance, fuel economy and low emissions then electronic fuel injection is the way to go. But if you’re gonna have electronic fuel injection you also need a computer to run it, and that computer is gonna need a couple sensors so it can accurately meter fuel to the engine. The primary sensors are a Mass Air Flow sensor and, our buddy, the Oxygen sensor.

The oxygen sensor tells the computer how much oxygen there is in the exhaust (duh). If there’s too little oxygen in the exhaust then there must be too much unburned fuel (hydrocarbons) and the engine is running rich, if there’s too much oxygen then there must be too little fuel (running lean) and your engine is producing nitrogen oxide. Both these conditions are bad for your engine, bad for fuel economy/performance and bad for the environment. By monitoring how much oxygen is in the exhaust the computer can adjust how much fuel is being injected in to the engine and keep it running most efficiently.

OK so far? Now your car probably has at least two oxygen sensors. The “upstream” sensor is the one that does what I just described. There is also a “downstream” sensor and its’ primary job is to monitor the catalytic converter. The catalytic converters’ job is to burn off any remaining hydrocarbons from the exhaust and the downstream oxygen sensor checks to make sure that job is getting done.

Both these sensors will wear out and fail. They have myriad ways of failing and can throw an amazing number of Check Engine Light codes when they do. I’ll get in to that stuff in other posts.

I hope you’ve found this useful! Your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care Tempe Arizona

Posted in: Oxygen Senors, Vehicle Maintenance

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What is an Evaporative Emissions Leak? Tempe Arizona

Right at the top of the list of codes that we see on cars coming in to the shop here at All Tune and Lube Total Car Care in Tempe are those related to evaporative emissions leaks. These are the faults you hear about that can be as simple as a loose or bad gas cap, but they can indicate more serious problems too.

An EVAP leak code indicates a fault that is permitting gasoline vapor to escape. The first question we’re asked when these codes show up is “Is it safe to drive my car?” and the short answer is sure, but you want to get it taken care of as soon as you can. The Evaporative Emissions System (EVAP for short) is a pollution control system and doesn’t affect drivability, safety or fuel economy. What it does is help keep fuel vapor out of the air we breathe.

The fuel system on a modern car is sealed so that vapor can’t just willy nilly escape in to the atmosphere. There are a couple systems that work together to allow the fuel tank to vent, but trap the vapor produced by gasoline and run it back through the engine. The most important and most easily replaced part of this system is the fuel cap. It’s not hard to tell why. I mean, right there is a big ol’ hole leading right down to the fuel tank. Without a cap that seals properly, nothing else in the EVAP system works.

The other major components are the vapor canister, purge control solenoid and flow sensor. These work together to collect fuel vapor and send it back to the engine intake when conditions permit. The fuel tank, vapor canister, purge control and flow detector are connected by various lines or hoses.

On the whole, the EVAP system is pretty robust, doesn’t require any maintenance (though some manufacturers recommend replacing the charcoal canister from time to time) and doesn’t give much trouble. When trouble does occur the codes that show up most often are the P0440 Large EVAP Leak (That’s the one most likely to be a fuel cap) or something like a P0443 Purge Valve Fault. Sometimes we’ll see a P0442 Small EVAP Leak which can be a bear to locate and repair.

Anyway, I hope you found this useful and if you do have EVAP issues you’ll remember us. Your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care Tempe Arizona.

Posted in: Emissions Leak

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When to Replace Brakes Tempe AZ

After a (too long) hiatus it’s time to post a new article to the High Performance All Tune and Lube Tempe Blog! Yeah! This time we’re gonna deal with brakes, specifically how often they should be changed.

First off, while your brake pads and rotors will have to be changed eventually, there really is no time or mileage interval for changing brakes. The wear on the brake pads and rotors is more a function of how your car is driven rather than age, that and the materials the pads and rotors are made of.

It’s like this, if you drive mostly in the city you’re going to wear your brakes out more quickly than you would driving long distances on the highway. I mean, around town you’re always on and off your brakes, right? On the freeway (like the open road freeway, not Phoenix rush hour freeway) you might not touch your brake pedal until you’re getting off to fuel up. So a thousand miles around town will put more wear on your brakes than ten thousand miles on the interstate. Also, if you tend to brake hard coming to stops (I’m looking at you Dj!) you’ll wear your brakes out faster than if you kinda coast to a stop (That would be you Leanne). Additionally, pads and rotors can be made from a number of different materials. Pads made with a softer compound usually perform better in congested stop and go traffic but loose some performance when they get hot. Harder materials tend to work better once they warm up but work less well when cold. The softer materials are used mostly on commuter cars and sedans. The hard stuff typically goes on performance cars or trucks that haul heavy loads. Brake rotors are similar, softer steel for light cars, high carbon for trucks and performance cars.

OK, you say, but when should I replace the darn things! How do I know when they’re used up? I’ll tell ya. The easiest way is to have your mechanic check your brakes each time you have your oil changed or have your tires rotated. (You are taking your car to a real mechanic for service aren’t you? Not to a quick lube, right?). Any reputable shop, like All Tune and Lube Tempe for instance! will check the condition of your brakes as part of a regular service. They’ll inspect your car and give you the run-down on its’ condition. Failing that, be aware of unusual noises, squeaks, squeals or, heaven forfend, grinding. Most, but not all, brakes have a small tab attached to them that will start to make a noise when the pads get down to their limit and many others are made in such a way that they’ll start to make noise when they get thin. Something else: you probably have a light on your instrument cluster that says “BRAKES”. That light is a warning that your brake fluid is low. Could be because the pads are getting thin and the brake fluid is down in the calipers or it could be that there’s a brake fluid leak. Either way it’s time to take your stead in and have it checked. No guarantee that you’ll get a warning though. The best thing to do is visually check them regularly.

Another clue that some sort of repair is needed is vibration when you use your brakes. This isn’t usually caused by the brake pads but by warped rotors. Often the rotors can be machined (turned) flat again, sometimes not. Even when they can be turned the rotors are thinner than they were before and are more susceptible to warping again. Best to just replace them.

I’m sure I left out a ton but I hit all the high spots. Hope you find this usefull! From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Tempe. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

Posted in: Brake Repair

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Why Does My Car Air Conditioning Smell Bad? Tempe Arizona

Ever get in to your car or your friends car and get smacked in the nose with the smell of old gym socks or spoiled cheese? Wonderful experience, isn’t it? Real hard to get a second date with that special someone if that’s what they think of when they think of you! The reason for this stench is mold growing in the air box where a device called an evaporator is located.

The evaporator is a radiator like item that is kept very cold by your cars’ AC system. The warm air is drawn through it, cooling the air that is then pushed in to your car so you can ride in air conditioned comfort. You know from the “cold glass on a warm day” thing that water condenses on cool surfaces, right? Well the same thing happens on your cars’ evaporator. So much water will condense on the evaporator that there has to be a drain tube from that air box. The problem is that not all the water drains out and when you turn your car of at the end of a trip and the interior of that box warms up you now have a lovely place for mold to grow.

Here’s what you do about it: Starting right now, about 5-10 minutes before you park your car, turn your AC off while leaving the fan running. This gives the fan an opportunity to dry the evaporator out and deprive that stinky mold of the water it needs to grow.

Next, to try to kill off that mold, you can spray some kind of disinfectant through the system. Roll the windows down, crank the AC on, not on MAX and don’t press the RECIRC button. Spray the disinfectant through the air vents at the bottom of the windshield behind the hood. Let the system run for 15-minutes or so. This doesn’t always work but it’s cheap and you can do it yourself.

If the home-brewed remedy doesn’t get it done you can bring the car in to the shop where we have some special products that can ordinarily kill off the offending fungus. 90% plus success with this stuff.

Lastly, in extreme cases, the evaporator has to be removed and replaced, the air box mechanically cleaned. 100% success but a bit pricey.

Here comes the pitch! Let us do the work! Your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care Tempe. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

Posted in: Air Conditioning, maintenance repair

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Car Maintenance Schedule Tempe Arizona

Happy Driver 3-16-15_0If you’re going to keep your car alive and well over the long haul there are certain things you have to do on a regular basis. We call these items Routine Maintenance. Your cars owners’ manual has a list of scheduled routine maintenance services and the recommended mileage for those services, but if you’ve lost your manual here’s a list and the typical mileage intervals.

Every 3,000 to 7,000 Miles
The oil and oil filter should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommended auto maintenance schedule with a majority suggesting the oil and oil filter be replaced between 3,000 and 7,000 miles. The low number is for conventional motor oil and the higher number for full synthetic. At the same time you should inspect the level and condition of the transmission fluid, coolant, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid. You should also check the wipers, tires and tire pressure, brake pads and all exterior lights.

Every 15,000 to 30,000 Miles
Replace the air filter every 15,000 miles or as needed. Every 20,000 miles inspect the battery and test the condition of the coolant. Most 25,000-mile maintenance service requires replacing the fuel filter if your car is equipped with one. Every 30,000 miles inspect the coolant, radiator hoses, HVAC system and all suspension components and on many cars, have the transmission serviced.

Every 35,000 to 50,000 Miles
Inspect and test the battery every 35,000 miles. Every 30,000 to 100,000 miles replace the spark plugs and spark plug wires, and inspect the ignition and air induction systems.

Every 60,000 Miles
Replace the brake fluid, radiator hoses, coolant, power steering fluid and timing belt, have the transmission fluid flushed and replace the transmission filter. Inspect the HVAC, suspension components and tires.
Oil changes and air filters are very important parts of engine maintenance; however, a thorough inspection of all engine, transmission, cooling, brakes and suspension components should also be performed regularly. The owner’s manual provides a routine auto maintenance schedule based on engine mileage for most cars.

Hope this is useful!

From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Tempe Arizona. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance

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Where Can My Car AC Be Leaking? Tempe Arizona

Cold CarIf your cars’ AC system is low on Freon (It’s not really Freon, it’s a product called R-134a), you have a leak. No two ways about it. Your cars’ AC is a closed system, meaning that it circulates the same refrigerant over and over again and as long as there’s no leak it will never run out. Now, having said that, some leaks are big enough that they need immediate repair if you want your system to work, and some are very small, so small that you don’t have to re-charge the system but every other year or so.

So where do these leaks most commonly occur? Far and away the most common place for a leak in the AC is at the service ports. There are two of them, one at the high pressure side and one at the, wait for it…low pressure side (Who woulda guessed?). Inside the service ports are little valves that look all the world like the valves in your bicycle tires. Over time the seals that keep them from leaking wear out or get hard and they fail. Easy enough to replace when you have AC service done and we typically replace them as a preventative measure when we re-charge a system.

Now, the AC system in your car has a number of rubber o-ring seals in it as well and these are the second most common spot for leaks to appear. Of those we see more leaks at the AC compressor where the hoses attach than just about anywhere else. After that it would be the o-rings that seal the system to the thermal expansion valve next to the firewall. The best repair for failing o-ring seals is to replace them all. After all, if one’s gone, the rest will be following soon. Bunch o’ quitters!

You’ve probably notice that there are a couple of rubber hoses associated with your cars’ AC too. Those rubber hoses are the third most common point of failure as far as leaks go, usually at the metal collars that attach the fittings to the hoses. You’re pretty safe just replacing the offending item, re-charging the system and going on your merry way.

The last items are way less common: A leaky compressor. The compressor has a seal on the front behind the pulley/clutch that’ll go bad occasionally. Also the compressor splits in half around the middle and there’s a seal that will leak. When this happens get ready to replace the compressor ‘cause it’s really tough to get the darn thing to seal up correctly after disassembling it.

A hole in your condenser. That’s the thing at the very front of your car behind the bodywork that looks like a radiator. They get hit by rocks from time to time, something to which they react poorly.

Way down the list but something we still do see is a leaky evaporator. That’s another piece that looks a bit like a radiator. It’s tucked up way up under your dash and it’s pain to get to. You don’t want a leaky evaporator, they’re labor intensive.

I hope this helps a little.

From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

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Car AC Not Blowing Hard Enough Tempe Arizona

Cold Car 5-11-15Your car’s air conditioner is working but it’s just not blowing air as it’s supposed to. Maybe it only works with the fan in the highest setting or maybe it doesn’t work at all? Maybe the air will come out through the defroster vents or the floor vents but not through the dash? OK, no sweat. Here’s what to look for.

So, you can hear the fan coming on and changing speeds but you’re not getting much air through the vents. Check your cabin air filter. Most cars have a filter that cleans the air coming in to the cab of the vehicle and they get VERY dirty because folks forget about them. We have a couple spectacular examples here at the shop, and I saw one once that was so dirty and clogged that the fan sucked it in to the ducting. This is a common and easily fixed problem. Well, as long as you don’t let the filter get sucked in to the fan.

Can you hear the fan come on and does the sound change as you turn the fan switch? If you’re only getting one or two speeds out of your fan there are a couple of things it could be. We get vehicles in from time to time where the fan only works on the highest setting because the blower motor resistor is burned out. The blower resistor is a little device that typically bolts up right to the blower motor and allows the fan to work at different speeds. When it fries the only speed remaining is high. If all you have is high speed, I’d condemn the blower resistor right away if I didn’t know anything else. Also, the fan switch in the control head can fail, but that’s a bit more rare. If you have to fiddle with the fan switch to get it to work then it’s on its’ way out. Stop messing with it and replace it.

How obnoxious is it to have your AC working great but it only blows through the defroster or the floor vents? I mean it’s nice to have cool feet but is that really what you wanted? No it isn’t! Well, down deep inside the dash of your vehicle, way in there where there is a bunch of scary wires and black boxes and a sign reading “Herre Thar Be Dragons” are a couple widgets called mode control motors. Sometimes vacuum operated, sometimes electric, they control doors inside the air handling system that direct the air one way and the other. They’re plastic motors in plastic boxes with plastic gears. They’re made cheap as dirt and fail all the time. Most often, but not always, they’ll give you some warning with a noisy “click, click, click”. Some of these are easy enough to access, some are a real bear. When you start hearing that “click” bring it in and have it fixed.

There are a number of automatic climate control systems that are run by a computer in your car. We’re not going in to them because they’re very complex and require a skilled diagnostician.

Hope this helps some.

From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care Tempe Arizona. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

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How are Cylinder Heads Repaired? Tempe Arizona

Cylinder Head 5-07-15I just wrote a little article about blown head gaskets. Now I’m going to tell you how the repair usually goes. While there are a number of ways a cylinder head can be damaged, I’m going to focus on the most common way: being warped due to overheating.

So the poor, sick vehicle is in the shop, we’ve done the appropriate tests and determined it has a failed (blown) head gasket. Well, why did it fail? The proximate cause is almost always overheating but why did it overheat? Leaky water pump? Blown coolant hose or radiator? What is the condition of the coolant? Once the root cause of the problem has been located then we can get on with the primary repair, the cylinder head.

The next thing we have to do is remove the cylinder head for repair. If the engine is a V6 or V8 we’re going to strenuously recommend removing both heads and re-sealing them both. Once removed the heads are pressure tested for cracks and to insure the valves are sealing properly. If there are any cracks the head will be replaced. If not, the head will be surfaced, that is machined to be sure the side that sits against the head gasket is flat and smooth enough to seal properly. If the valves aren’t sealing as they should, they and their seats are ground so they will. The valve seals are replaced and the valve springs tested for proper tension. While the heads are being machined we’ll clean the block deck and check it for flatness or other damage.

OK then, the machine work is done and it’s time to reinstall the heads. We use only the highest quality gaskets when we reassemble an engine. Whenever they’re available we use multi-layer steel (MLS) head gaskets. If we’re working on a timing belt engine we’re going to replace the timing belt, the timing belt tensioner and idlers and, most likely, the water pump. We’re going to recommend new coolant hoses and new belts too in order to limit future problems. The old coolant is flushed out, fresh coolant installed and the engine oil is changed.

Road Trip! Well, road test really. Out we go to insure that everything is working as it should. When the car gets back to the shop, one final inspection and it’s ready to go home, just as good or better than before there was ever a problem.

From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Total Car Care. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

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What Makes a Head Gasket Go Bad? Tempe Arizona

Failed Head Gasket 5--7-15If you’re wondering what it is that causes a cylinder head gasket to fail it could only be for one reason: You have a car with a blown head gasket. Bummer. Expensive too. At least it’s not terminal.

Let’s start off by explaining what a gasket does. If you have a container of some kind and it has a couple of parts that need to seal together so that whatever is inside doesn’t leak out you need a gasket between those parts so they’ll seal. Next time you open a jar look inside the lid. Around the edge you’ll see a rubber ring, that’s a gasket. The weather strip around your door is also a gasket, intended to keep the outside elements out and the nice comfortable inside air in.

Now, the engine in your car is made up of a bunch of parts and there are a number of gaskets used to keep the various fluids (including air) inside where they belong. The gaskets that have the toughest job are the cylinder head gaskets that go at the business end of the engine, between the engine block and the….Cylinder Heads! The engine block is a large chunky piece of metal, often iron, that contains the pistons and crankshaft. The cylinder head is a much smaller piece of metal, usually aluminum nowadays, that contains the combustion chambers and valves. There’s a ton of heat generated in these two, particularly in the head. If you remember your high school physics you’ll know that heat makes things expand, things like your block and heads, then they contract as they cool. This expansion and contraction causes there to be a little bit of movement between the heads and the block. In all modern engines that I’m aware of the gaskets have been engineered in such a way that this small amount of movement doesn’t have any effect on its’ ability to seal, though there were a few engines that had some real problems in the ‘90s.

Overheating is the biggest cause of head gasket failure. The engine block, being the more robust part and not having exhaust gasses routed through it, deals with this heat better than the heads. The heads can get so hot that they warp, expand to a point that they can’t return to their normal shape. When that happens there’ll be spots where the head gasket isn’t held as tightly as it needs to be and it will fail, leaking coolant, compression or both.

Sometimes the cause of failure will be corrosion. Poorly maintained coolant will allow corrosion to eat away at the head or block and eventually tunnel around the head gasket. A lot of times the owner is unaware of the problem until there’s enough of a coolant leak to overheat the engine. Then, see paragraph above.

The key to keeping this from happening to you is maintenance. If hoses are replaced before they fail they won’t blow out. If someone is keeping an eye on your radiator and water pump the chances of dramatic failure decrease. If your coolant is properly maintained it can’t erode your engine. We would like to provide that service to you.

From your Local Mechanic, All Tune and Lube Tempe. Complete Auto Repair and Maintenance.

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