Should I Worry About How Hot My Engine Is Running?

Wondering whether or not you should be worried about your engine overheating? You should be very concerned, because an overheated engine can be far more than an inconvenience. In extreme cases, driving a car with an overheated engine even a short distance can destroy the cylinder head, engine block or internal parts.

Fortunately, most modern vehicles have a gauge that displays a constant temperature reading of the coolant circulating inside the engine, giving the driver an early warning about a problem in the cooling system.

For most cars, the normal operating engine temperature is in a range of 195 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, though most dashboard temperature gauges don’t show an exact temperature. Instead, there are typically markings for cold and hot on the edges of the gauge and a normal range in the middle. In most cars, the temperature needle will be at or near the center when the engine is at normal operating temperature, which usually takes at least a minute or two to reach after starting a cold engine.

In some vehicles, the needle may never reach the middle of the gauge, so don’t be alarmed if it stops short of the midpoint. Instead, you should monitor where it is when the engine is fully warm so that you know what “normal” is for your engine. That way, if the needle starts creeping up higher, closer to the hot mark, you’ll have early notice that something is wrong in the cooling system.

Using the air conditioning at full blast, stop-and-go driving on a scorching day, and towing can raise the engine temperature above normal, so don’t panic if there’s a small change in the gauge reading. You can pull off the road for a while or turn off the A/C and turn on the heater to try to cool things off. If possible, let the engine cool for an hour and check the coolant levels. If you have the supplies on-hand, consider topping off the radiator with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water or a premixed coolant.

If the temperature gauge consistently shows the engine is warmer than normal, have your cooling system checked ASAP. There are many possible reasons that your engine is running hot, including low coolant levels, a clogged or closed thermostat, a failed head gasket or a water pump malfunction.

Today, an increasing number of new vehicles don’t have temperature gauges. Instead, they have a warning light that (usually) glows blue when the engine is cold — one way of telling you that turning on the heater will generate cold or cool air. The blue light goes off once the engine reaches its normal temperature.

All vehicles also have a warning light that’s supposed to come on when the engine exceeds its normal temperature (it also illuminates for a couple of seconds when you start the engine). Without a gauge, though, it’s anybody’s guess as to how high above normal the temperature is or how long it’s been above normal.

If a red or yellow temperature warning light comes on, assume the worst: get off the road, shut off the engine and call for help. It’s better to play it safe than risk having to buy a new engine. Or a new car.

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Do I Need to Replace a Damaged Wheel?

Do you need to replace a car’s damaged wheel? Not if it’s cosmetic or superficial damage, such as from scraping a curb. If your car has steel wheels, you might just have a damaged wheel cover; if the underlying steel rim is sound, you merely have an aesthetic problem and might choose to repair or replace the cover. It’s a similar story for alloy wheels, which don’t have covers: If a scuffed rim is still round and has no bent sections or chunks of metal missing, it’s likely the problem is merely cosmetic — but it’s wise to keep an eye on any wheel that has sustained curb rash to ensure that the tire doesn’t develop a slow leak over time.

On the other hand, if the wheel is bent, dented, cracked or structurally weakened from hitting a massive pothole, running over a steep curb or some other mishap, it may need to be replaced, though it could possibly be repaired. A dented wheel may not be able to maintain a seal with the tire bead, resulting in consistent slow leaks or blowouts, and it will be difficult if not impossible to balance so that it doesn’t vibrate at speed. A wheel with structural damage could eventually break apart. When in doubt about the severity of damage, a mechanic experienced in assessing wheel damage should inspect the entire wheel with the tire removed.

Whether to repair or replace a bent wheel is often a judgment call, but because it involves safety as well as cosmetic concerns, the best course is to err on the side of safety and avoid a delay.

Repair services that promise to restore badly damaged rims to like-new condition might be able to remove dents and bends to make a rim look great again. However, there are no federal vehicle safety standards that apply to refurbished wheels, so you’ll be taking your chances as to whether they’ll still have their original strength and integrity.

Repairing more than superficial rim damage will not be an easy do-it-yourself project. Heat and specialized machines are used to straighten bends, and a complete refurbishment involves removing all paint and protective coatings, repairing corrosion and physical damage, then applying new paint and clear coat.

The repair cost will vary by rim size and the type and amount of damage, and it might approach the price of a new or used replacement. Many original-equipment aluminum wheels can cost hundreds of dollars to replace — or even thousands in the case of luxury and sports cars, which combine larger wheels with low-profile tires that provide less protection. So buying a used one can save money. However, it might be hard to determine if a used wheel had prior damage and is refurbished.

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Why Does the Pedal Vibrate When I Hit the Brakes?

When it comes to brakes, there are no good vibrations. The most likely reason that you feel vibrations through the brake pedal is because a brake rotor — the rotating disc that the brake pads are pressed against by the calipers to slow the wheel — is unevenly worn, or what some call “warped.” (It’s unlikely that a rotor could truly be warped from normal use as opposed to a manufacturing defect, but thinner and thicker sections — uneven wear — have the same effect as warping and can cause the rotor to vibrate or shake.)

Brake vibration, or what can also be referred to as a shaking or pulsation, often is the result of parts of the disc brake’s rotor being thinner than others instead of uniform all around. As the brakes are applied, the brake pads will be pressed by the calipers against high and low spots that the driver feels through the pedal or steering wheel. Rust and dirt also can build up on a rotor and cause minor vibrations in the vehicle.

A rotor’s thickness needs to vary by only a few thousandths of an inch for the driver to feel vibration through the brake pedal or steering wheel. In more serious cases of warped rotors, the whole vehicle can shake or the steering pull when the driver hits the brakes.

One cause of distorted rotors is that the brake pads, the friction material that gets pressed against the rotors, aren’t being fully released by the calipers when you remove your foot from the pedal and cause friction as the wheel rotates. If the vehicle’s pads “drag” on the rotors too long, the brake rotor and/or the pads can become damaged.

In some cases, warped rotors can be resurfaced (machined) on a brake lathe to create a smooth, even rotor finish, to stop the shaking provided there is enough thickness left in the rotor. Resurfacing rotors to make them smooth requires scraping off the top layer of metal. If too much of the rotor thickness already has been used up, then the rotor should be replaced with a new rotor to cure the brake vibration.

Rather than disc brakes with rotors front and rear, some vehicles’ rear wheels still have drum brakes in which brake shoes (essentially curved brake pads) are pressed outward against the walls of the drum to slow the wheel. The drums also can wear unevenly and vibrate. Those vibrations or shaking in the vehicle might be solved by machining the braking surface.

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Water Pumps: What You Need to Know

The water pump, often referred to as the coolant pump, circulates liquid coolant through the radiator and engine cooling system, and is powered by the engine itself. It ensures that the engine temperature is maintained at a safe level while operating. If it fails, the engine may overheat, causing serious damage if left unchecked.

How do I know it’s time to replace my water pump?
A pump that leaks even a little is on its last legs, and one that makes rumbling or screeching noises is getting close to failing. Another sign that it’s about time to replace the pump is when the engine temperature warning light is illuminated on the dash. Contaminated coolant and corrosion can cause seals and internal pump parts to fail.

Why do I need to change my water pump?
Water pumps generally don’t need to be replaced unless leaks develop or the pump completely fails. An important exception to this is that some water pumps are driven by the timing belt, and not the accessory drive belt, and most mechanics recommend the pump be replaced at the same time as that belt (and vice versa). That’s because both are hard to reach and require considerable time and labor cost to replace.

How often should I replace my water pump?
With any luck, you shouldn’t have to replace a water pump even if you keep a vehicle for 10 years or more; they often last that long. Unless you see the warning signs listed above, there’s generally no need to replace it unless you are replacing the belt that drives it.

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. We’ll give you a range for what your repairs should cost in your area.

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Transmission Fluid: What You Need to Know

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.

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What’s a Cabin Air Filter and When Should You Replace It?

The cabin air filter, a feature found on most late-model vehicles, cleans the air that comes into the interior through the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. It catches dust, pollen and other airborne material that can make riding in a car unpleasant, particularly if you have allergies or other respiratory problems.

Recommendations on when a cabin air filter should be replaced vary by manufacturer — some say every 12,000 or 15,000 miles, others longer — and how often can depend on how much you drive and where. Check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. If you drive in heavy traffic in an urban area that has poor air quality, you could need to replace the cabin air filter annually or even more often. However, that also could be true in a desert climate where there is a lot of dust to filter out.

Some signs that you need a new cabin air filter are reduced air flow through your climate control system, such as when you crank up the fan too high and get more noise than results. Another is persistent bad odors. Even if you don’t have these warnings, however, you should have the air filter checked at least once a year, and you may be able to do that yourself.

Many cabin air filters are located behind the glove box and are easily accessible by freeing the glove box from its fasteners; the instructions should be in your car’s owner’s manual. Other cabin air filters are located under the dashboard and may not be easy to reach, or under the hood where fresh air enters the climate control system. Some of these air filters are expensive — as in $50 or more at dealerships — so you could save money by buying a replacement at a parts store or at and doing it yourself.

If a dealership service department or repair shop recommends you get a new cabin air filter, ask to see the current one. Depending on how long the air filter has been in service, you might be shocked at what you see: a filter clogged with leaves, twigs, insects, pollen, soot and grime that literally covers the entire surface that comes in contact with incoming air can all be a problem for the cabin inside your vehicle. You’ll know it’s time for a cabin air filter replacement for your car.

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