Category Archives: Automotive

How Hot My Engine Is Running

You should be very concerned, because an overheated engine can be far more than an inconvenience. In extreme cases, driving 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 the cooling system.

The normal operating temperature for most engines 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 vehicles, 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 the temperature gauge consistently shows the engine is warmer than normal, have your cooling system checked ASAP.

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.

What You Need to Know About Pump

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.

According to every auto manufacturer talk

No, you don’t, according to every auto manufacturer we’ve talked to. The main advocates of the 3,000-mile oil change schedule are those who would profit by it: repair facilities, quick-lube chains and service departments at some new-car dealers.

Years ago it was a good idea to change the oil and filter frequently, but because of advances in engine materials and tighter tolerances, as well as the oil that goes into engines, most manufacturers recommend intervals of 7,500 miles or more.

Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche, for example, recommend oil changes every 10,000 miles. So does Toyota on several engines, including the Prius’ 1.8-liter four-cylinder and the Camry’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder. BMW says owners can go up to 15,000 miles between oil changes (with synthetic oil).

The intervals vary by manufacturer and engines, so consult your owner’s manual or maintenance schedule to see how often to change the oil in your vehicle and what type of oil to use. You may be surprised. We were surprised to learn that the Camry’s 2.5-liter engine requires 0W20 synthetic oil, for instance.

Manufacturers suggest you change oil more often for “severe” driving conditions, such as frequent trailer towing, extensive stop-go driving or idling in traffic, driving in extreme heat or cold, or frequent short-distance driving in which the engine doesn’t reach full operating temperature.

Some car companies, Ford and General Motors among them, equip most vehicles with oil life monitors that tell you when it’s time to change the oil based on vehicle speed, engine temperature, climate conditions, number of cold starts and other factors. They can all cite examples from owners who say the oil-life monitors indicated they could go even longer than the recommended change intervals.

If you’re nervous about going 10,000 miles or more between oil changes, then do it every six months, when you probably should also have your tires rotated (also explained in your owner’s manual). GM says to change your oil at least once a year even if the service indicator warning light doesn’t come on. With longer recommended intervals between oil changes, it’s more important to check the oil level at least once a month to make sure you have enough.

But to change oil every 3,000 miles is probably wasting money. Environmentalists say it also adds to the glut of used oil that must be recycled or disposed, and the state of California is trying to discourage the practice.

Injectors Need Periodic Cleaning

Cleaning fuel injectors is a service frequently recommended by dealers and repair shops, but unless there are noticeable signs of clogged injectors (such as a rough idle, stalling, poor acceleration or high emissions levels) it might not be necessary. One tipoff is that fuel injector cleaning is not typically listed on automakers’ routine maintenance schedules.

Many shops promote a quick/easy injector service that runs a cleaning solution through the injectors while they’re still mounted in the engine. A more thorough (and expensive) process for severely clogged injectors requires removing the injectors and cleaning them on a machine designed for that purpose.

Fuel injectors clog when deposits build up over time and thousands of miles; when that happens, they don’t deliver the fine mist of gas that provides maximum performance and efficiency. If that happens, you’ll notice a loss of engine performance or lower fuel economy.

The type of gasoline you use also can be a factor. All gasoline is required to contain detergents that prevent carbon deposits, varnish and other gunk from forming in the fuel system, but not all brands use the same amount. Lower-priced brands often use only the minimum, but the so-called Top Tier brands use more detergents, and some vehicle manufacturers recommend them because of that.

Detergents have been required by the EPA since 1995 because many vehicle owners complained of clogged injectors and fuel-system deposits. Not only has gasoline gotten better since then, but so have the injectors, so problems aren’t as widespread as they used to be.

However, gasoline direct injection, a more sophisticated injection system that operates under higher pressure, is becoming commonplace in engines, and some GDI systems have proved to be more prone to clogging than regular fuel injection.

Cost of replacement depends on the cars design

The fuel pump sends fuel from your car’s gas tank to its engine. Fuel pumps are usually electrically powered and located directly in or on the fuel tank. The ease and cost of replacement depends on the car’s design, and the decision to replace it should be undertaken only after determining that the problems aren’t electrical or related to the fuel lines.

How do I know if my fuel pump is bad?
The most obvious sign is that your car won’t start because fuel isn’t getting to the engine, though there are many possibilities for a no-start situation. One way to tell if the fuel pump is at fault is that when you turn the ignition on you can’t hear the pump motor activate inside the gas tank. Another is intermittent loss of driving power, particularly during acceleration or while driving at highway speeds. If the pump appears to be OK, the problem might be that the fuel pickup in the tank is clogged and can’t deliver enough gas.

How often should I replace my fuel pump?
With luck, the fuel pump will last the life of your vehicle. Fuel pumps are not a regular maintenance item, so they generally are replaced only on an as-needed basis. Some owners replace them before they fail as preventive maintenance, but unless the pump is showing signs of failing, there is little reason to do so. Many vehicles have fuel filters that can clog, so the filter should be checked (and replaced if needed) when diagnosing issues with a fuel pump.

Why do I have to replace my Fuel pump?
If the pump is showing signs that it may fail it should be replaced – the vehicle won’t start or intermittently loses power — or you may find yourself stranded.

Replace Accessory Drive Belt

Most vehicles have a rubber belt on the front of the engine that drives accessories such as the air-conditioning compressor, power steering pump and alternator. If this accessory drive belt (also called a V or serpentine belt) breaks, the battery won’t get charged, 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.

Most manufacturers call for periodic inspection of the belt as part of scheduled maintenance, but few list a specific replacement interval, and inspection intervals vary widely.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, says to inspect the belt every two years or 20,000 miles, while Volkswagen says to check it every 40,000 miles. On most Ford vehicles, the manufacturer says to start inspecting it after 100,000 miles and then every 10,000 miles. On many GM vehicles, the first recommended inspection is at 150,000 miles or 10 years.

Though these belts often last many years, they can become cracked or frayed and need to be replaced. That’s why they should be inspected at least annually on vehicles that are more than a few years old. In addition, if a belt needs to be replaced, the pulleys and tensioners that guide the belt should be inspected to determine if they caused damage other than normal wear.

A belt that isn’t cracked or frayed may look like it’s in good shape, but grooves on the hidden side may be worn enough that the belt slips on the pulleys that drive the accessories. That will cause problems in systems that rely on the belt to keep things humming. For example, a slipping drive belt may cause the alternator to work intermittently or at reduced power, and the battery won’t get fully recharged as a result, perhaps triggering a warning light.

Another sign of a worn belt is a squealing noise under acceleration. That could indicate that the belt is slipping because of wear, a belt tensioner is loose or a pulley is out of alignment.

Mustang Performance Packages

Ford’s performance accessory division, Ford Performance, is taking a good thing and making it better. New performance packages boost the power and torque of the 2015-17 Ford Mustang with the EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder and the GT with 5.0-liter V-8 engine. Each package is backed by a Ford Performance warranty when fitted by an authorized installer, plus the performance computer reprogramming is 50-state emissions-compliant.

Related: What’s the Best V-8 Muscle Car for 2016?

The Mustang EcoBoost gets perhaps the most notable increase for the money with its EcoBoost Performance Calibration Kit. For $699, the package includes a cold air intake with conical air filter and handheld programmer to increase horsepower from 310 horsepower to 335 hp, and torque from 320 pounds-feet to 390 pounds-feet. Ford notes bigger gains below its peak number of up to 100 hp at 6,000 rpm.

On the V-8 side, three available packages range from a performance calibration and drop-in air filter to borrowed components from the track-ready Shelby GT350 for increasing power. Beyond bigger numbers, manual-transmission GT Mustangs are calibrated to include a no-lift shift feature that allows drivers to keep the accelerator floored during shifting to maximize acceleration. The automatic transmission also receives updated performance calibration.

The GT’s Performance Calibration Power Pack 1 ($599) includes the performance-tuned calibration and a drop-in K&N performance air filter for gains of 13 hp and 16 pounds-feet of torque with 40 more pounds-feet at 1,500 rpm. The GT Cold Air Intake & Calibration Power Pack 2 is $949 and replaces the drop-in filter with a conical cold-air intake from the GT350, plus a larger 87-mm throttle body. With the included calibration, power is up 21 hp and 24 pounds-feet of torque.

The most-extreme GT package is Performance Intake & Calibration Power Pack 3. For $2,395, the third package adds a GT350 intake manifold to the second power package’s contents and boosts peak power 37 hp and 5 pounds-feet of torque to 472 hp and 405 pounds-feet of torque. Ford Performance says a mighty 60 hp is gained at the now-7,500-rpm redline, up from 7,000 rpm.

Change Engine Coolant Tips

For some vehicles, you’re advised to change the coolant every 30,000 miles. For others, changing the coolant isn’t even on the maintenance schedule.

For example, Hyundai says the coolant (what many refer to as “antifreeze”) in most of its models should be replaced after the first 60,000 miles, then every 30,000 miles after that. The interval is every 30,000 miles on some Mercedes-Benz models, but on others it’s 120,000 miles or 12 years. On still other Mercedes, it’s 150,000 miles or 15 years.

 

Some manufacturers recommend changing the coolant more often on vehicles subjected to “severe service,” such as frequent towing. The schedule for many Chevrolets, though, is to change it at 150,000 miles regardless of how the vehicle is driven.

Many service shops, though — including some at dealerships that sell cars with “lifetime” coolant — say you should do it more often than the maintenance schedule recommends, such as every 30,000 or 50,000 miles.

Here’s why: Most vehicles use long-life engine coolant (usually a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water) that for several years will provide protection against boiling in hot weather and freezing in cold weather, with little or no maintenance. Modern vehicles also have longer intervals between fluid changes of all types partly because environmental regulators have pressured automakers to reduce the amount of waste fluids that have to be disposed of or recycled.

Coolant can deteriorate over time and should be tested to see if it’s still good, as it can be hard to tell just by appearances. Even if testing shows the cooling and antifreeze protection are still adequate, antifreeze can become more acidic over time and lose its rust-inhibiting properties, causing corrosion.

Corrosion can damage the radiator, water pump, thermostat and other parts of the cooling system, so the coolant in a vehicle with more than about 50,000 miles should be tested periodically. That’s to look for signs of rust and to make sure it has sufficient cooling and boiling protection, even if the cooling system seems to be working properly. It can be checked with test strips that measure acidity, and with a hydrometer that measures freezing and boiling protection.

If the corrosion inhibitors have deteriorated, the coolant should be changed. The cooling system might also need to be flushed to remove contaminants no matter what the maintenance schedule calls for or how many miles are on the odometer. On the other hand, if testing shows the coolant is still doing its job and not allowing corrosion, changing it more often than what the manufacturer recommends could be a waste of money.

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Honda Accord V 6 or Four Cylinder

Many mid-size sedans offer a more powerful engine instead of a base, economy-minded four cylinder. In the 2017 Honda Accord, a 278-horsepower V-6 replaces the standard 185-hp four-cylinder. You’re looking at a minimum $30,000 to get a V-6 because that engine is only available on higher-end trims. Is it worth it? We pitted the four-cylinder against the six-cylinder in fuel economy and acceleration tests to find out.

You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the six-cylinder is faster and the four-cylinder is more fuel-efficient. We compared the most-expensive four-cylinder EX-L with navigation and Honda Sensing, which stickered for $31,655, and a V-6 Touring that racked up the bill to $35,665. The big question, of course, is what do you get for the added cost? Much to our surprise, the V-6 proved to be more than just a little faster. Watch the video for more.

The most-extreme GT package is Performance Intake & Calibration Power Pack 3. For $2,395, the third package adds a GT350 intake manifold to the second power package’s contents and boosts peak power 37 hp and 5 pounds-feet of torque to 472 hp and 405 pounds-feet of torque. Ford Performance says a mighty 60 hp is gained at the now-7,500-rpm redline, up from 7,000 rpm.

Premium fuel of 91 octane or above is required on all four-cylinder or V-8 packages. Installing go-fast parts adds an inherent risk to the rest of the vehicle, but that’s less of a concern with the Ford Performance warranty, which covers potential breakage caused by the installed parts for 36 months or 36,000 miles from the original warranty start date. Beyond that, the original powertrain warranty of five years/60,000 miles covers parts not broken because of Ford Performance parts, but anything related to the installed parts isn’t covered. Click here for more details on Ford Performance’s warranty.

Smorgasbord of New Engines

In a move to change how its cars drive, Toyota announced wide-ranging plans to roll out new vehicle platforms and engines over the next five years. The automaker says it will offer its next generation of powertrains in at least 60 percent of the cars it sells in the U.S., Japan, Europe and China by 2021.

Related: GM Expands New Transmission Use for 2018

The automaker said it wants to make its cars “fun to drive” — a seemingly tall order for mainstays like the Corollaand Camry but something Toyota has indeed done with cars like the Scion FR-S-turned-Toyota 86 coupe. The automaker said its next drivetrains will improve performance by about 10 percent and gas mileage by about 20 percent versus the current crop. Across three continents, Toyota plans a massive rollout: 17 versions of nine engines, 10 versions of four transmissions and 10 versions of six hybrid systems by the end of 2021. The first of them arrives in 2017, Toyota said, but it’s unclear how many of those will come to the U.S. market.

Among the highlights:

 

New Four-Cylinder Engine

What changed: The next generation of Toyota’s larger four-cylinder engine has the same 2.5-liter displacement as the current four-cylinder, but Toyota will add direct injection and promises “ample torque at all speeds” and “one of the world’s best thermal efficiencies” — a technical term to measure how well an engine turns combusted fuel into energy output.

Where you might see it: The Camry and RAV4 both have port-injected 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines; both cars are likely candidates for the next 2.5-liter.

Why it matters: Rival automakers like Honda, Hyundai-Kia and Mazda have switched from port injection to direct injection in their mainstay engines, and the resulting benefits — more precise fuel metering to improve power and fuel efficiency — would be a welcome upgrade for Toyota shoppers.

 

New Transmissions

What changed: Toyota will develop eight- and 10-speed automatic transmissions with lower-friction components and compact packaging. The automaker promises ultra-quick gear changes with the 10-speed unit, and it separately mentioned a “new kind of continuously variable transmission.”

Where you might see it: The 2017 LC 500 coupe from its Lexus luxury division has a 10-speed automatic that Toyota says is the first of its kind in a luxury car. The automaker hinted that the 10-speed could end up in other rear-drive luxury cars, so it could show up in the next-generation LS or GS sedans.

Why it matters: Toyota already has eight-speed automatics in mainstream cars like the Highlander, but if the automaker replaces its six-speed automatic with the gearbox elsewhere — think Camry, RAV4 and the like — it could drive some mileage improvements. Still, we’ve observed in cars from Jaguar to Toyota that more gears can often hurt drivability, and fuel-efficiency gains can face diminishing returns as gear counts go ever higher. Toyota promises “lag-free and rhythmical acceleration that meets driver expectations, even in cases of sudden and heavy accelerator pedal use,” but the proof will be in the pudding.

 

Next-Generation Hybrid Systems

What changed: With a lot of pages taken from the fourth-generation Prius’ playbook, Toyota plans an “enhanced” 2.5-liter hybrid system for its mass-market hybrids and an overhauled higher-performance hybrid system for its rear-drive cars. Its plug-in-hybrid system, meanwhile, gets more power and a larger-capacity battery for EV ranges that could top 37 miles — but that’s in Japan test cycles, not U.S. EPA cycles.

Where you might see it: The current Avalon Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and several Lexus hybrids have 2.5-liter-based systems, while the Lexus GS 450h and LS 600h employ rear-drive-based hybrid systems. Toyota’s overhaul could affect all of them.