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Under the Hood

87, 89, 91: What’s The Difference Between Fuel Grades?

March 15, 2019

When you pull into a gas station, you use the same ‘level’ of fuel each time. Have you ever wondered why there are so many to choose from? Have you ever wondered what it all meant? Have you ever wondered what the purpose of life is?

Well, a young gentleman tweeted recently, asking this very question. So, after speaking with the friendly technicians at a friendly Kansas City auto service center, I’m ready to give you some answers to two of those three Qs (you can guess which ones). Here are some of the key differences between 87, 89, 91, and other fuel grades.

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Under the Hood

What Happens If You Never Change Your Car’s Oil?

October 15, 2018
A dealer friend of ours recently recounted a terrifying tale in which the protagonist failed to change his oil over the course of 8 years. We’ll spare you the gory details, but know this: the story didn’t end well for the owner of that poor car.

So, let us ask you: When’s the last time you changed your engine oil? If it was when St Louis still had a pro football team, we’re here to push you into the service center, like, yesterday. You don’t even want to know what happens to an engine when its oil and filters aren’t changed (but we’ll tell you anyway).

When to Change Your Oil

First, you need to know when to change your oil because “never” is not an acceptable length of time.

Although the traditional rule is to change your oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months, modern vehicles are typically a bit more lenient, requiring you to get an oil change after 5,000-plus miles. While that extended maintenance time is nice, it can also cause unintended consequences—namely forgetfulness camouflaged as peace of mind, leading to a missed oil change here and a skipped oil filter replacement there.
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Under the Hood

Headlights How-To

July 25, 2017
Driving without functioning headlights is not only dangerous, but illegal. Most headlight bulbs are estimated to last hundreds, even thousands of hours. So, worrying about your lights burning out is not a thought most drivers stress over. However, when the day comes that one of your lights burn out, I’m here to walk you through this easy fix! Tools you’ll need:
  • New bulb(s). You can’t go out and buy just any new light bulb. Your dealership’s service center or local auto parts store should be able to match a new light bulb to the make and model of your vehicle.
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Supplies to clean and hold the new bulb. Alcohol wipes and tissues/gloves work great.
  1. Locate the headlight holder
  • Find this by opening the hood of your car and locating the headlight in pursuit near the front of your vehicle. You’ll see a bulb holder with a power connector leading to it (this usually looks like a set of three wires). Congratulations, you’ve found the headlight holder.
  1. Remove the power wires
  • The wires you just located should be attached to a plug at the base of the headlight. They are usually held in place by a metal clip, screw cap, or plastic catch. Depending on which device is holding the wires, carefully loosen and remove the wires from it. To do so, you should see either a lever, clip, or device you can unscrew to loosen the power wires and remove the old bulb.
  1. Clean the new bulb
  • Use the supplies you’ve brought to handle the bulb. The gloves or tissues are meant to keep the oils from your skin from getting onto the new bulb. Clean the bulb with the alcohol wipes to ensure any oils, fingerprints, or dust have been wiped away.
  1. Install the new bulb
  • Once the bulb is clean, place it into the base of the plug where you just loosened the power wires and removed the old bulb. When installed correctly, none of the bulb’s rubber gasket should be visible. Now that the bulb is in, put the headlight holder back in place and plug the power wires into the new bulb.
  1. Test the new bulb
  • Simply make sure your newly installed bulb is functioning correctly by turning your headlights on!
Once you’ve followed these five simple steps–voilà! You’ve successfully changed your own headlight and saved yourself a trip to the auto shop!
Under the Hood

Old Car Restoration

March 8, 2017
Restoring an old car is like rebuilding yourself from the ground up. You assess how much time, money, and energy you are willing to invest in the project and you work from the inside out. Here is some information to get you started! Car Restoration Meter: How much are you willing to invest? Low level: Pick a car that still runs but can use a makeover, an upgrade, and some love. Not everyone has the time or enthusiasm to rebuild a vehicle. It is still fun and valuable to gain experience working on your car. These can be people that have next to no experience with cars and require a mechanic to fix a car problem, or just somebody who doesn’t have much time! Medium level: Find yourself a car that could use some loving. Get ready to feel uncomfortable because you may have to fix a thing or two that you’re not familiar with. These are cars that may require a little welding, some elbow grease, and some oil on your clothes. High level: You can be anywhere from a complete beginner to an expert. The thing people coming from all levels have in common is a passion to build something from close to scratch. Pick a vehicle that requires welding, interior and exterior work, and parts to be fixed. These people get the full benefit of making something come to life. Work from the inside out: Before you can actually work on the car you want to ensure that it is something that you can handle. Make a list of all damaged items, including any performance parts, damaged interior, leaks, to any rusted sections. Once you figure out if you can  restore the car then it’s time to go to work. People always want to start with new tires and a fresh paint job, but the inside is what counts at first. Focus on the essentials such as the engine, which is the heart of the car. Move on to hoses and any electrical components. Get to work on the transmission then the exhaust. Put on some tires and THEN you are ready for the interior. Expenses: Car parts are expensive. Try and find what parts you have that only need a cleaning or minor fixes and do those yourself. There are always places you can buy used car parts, such as Ebay, Craigslist, or junkyards. Don’t be so picky with the latest and greatest gear. Tools can be tough to come by. Your best bet is to have a friend that works on cars who can let you borrow what you need. Tips: Learn by reverse engineering. Take a car part off and really look at it, read up on it, and then put it back the same way you found it. This is how you learn about the mechanics of anything. Take advantage of resources such as books, YouTube videos, car forums, and anyone you know that works on vehicles. Car enthusiasts are usually more than happy to help with projects! There are plenty of forums online for people that have the exact same car as you. Google “year, make, model of car + forum” and you’ll find plenty of info. The internet is your friend! Final notes: You will feel discouraged at times but don’t give up. Try and involve some friends and family if you can. If all else fails, blast your favorite tunes on your speakers and you’re good to go.
Under the Hood

Signs It’s Time for a Transmission Flush

November 12, 2016
First of all—do you even know what a transmission flush is? The importance of this service often goes unnoticed or underrated, but it can prove to be very important to the maintenance, health, and performance of your car! If done correctly, it is a superb preventative measure for more serious issues that could arise in your vehicle later on. A transmission flush is a procedure used to remove debris and sludge found in your transmission, replacing the used oil with clean and fresh oil. Specifically, the oil in your transmission is removed, new oil (or sometimes cleaning solutions) are then run (flushed) through it with a professional grade machine to push out grit, grime, and gunk residue that can build up over time. Then, your transmission is filled up with new oil, and you’re 100% clean! Sound simple? It can be, but it is important to make sure that this procedure is done correctly for your car. Sometimes transmission flushes can cause more harm than good. Typically, it is important to get your transmission serviced every 30,000 to 45,000 miles (depending on your workload and type of fluid used.) But, if your vehicle has not been serviced in these intervals, or your service history is unknown, flushing could dislodge debris elsewhere in the fluid and cause more damage/increase the deterioration rate of your transmission. So for these reasons, you want to ensure that you are having the transmission fluid checked by a reputable and reliable source. But, if done right and regularly, transmission flushes help to prolong the overall life of your transmission, and are more in depth and beneficial than just a flush change. Here are some signs that you might need a transmission flush:
  • You hear strange noises coming from your car. If you hear grinding like noises, get your transmission checked.
  • You are checking your transmission fluid, and it is brown or black. *ALERT* Your transmission fluid should be bright red, so this is a red flag that you could need this serviced.
  • You are having shifting troubles. A dirty transmission can cause shifting issues and concerns, so a flush can keep your transmission running smoothly.
  • You’re gear slipping. Clean transmissions apply pressure to keep shifting properly, so a dirty one can impede the flow of fluid needed for this pressure, causing slipping. Gears need a clean and consistent flow to operate smoothly.
  • Your car is surging forward or falling back unexpectedly. Observe your RPM and see if it is consistent.  Dirty transmission fluid contains buildup that can cause inconsistent handling of your car. It might definitely be time for a transmission flush if you notice surges or inconsistency!
  • Your car stalls or delays when put into gear. Especially if you drive automatic, your vehicle should be able to move along as soon as it’s put into gear. If it stalls or delays, this can be a sign you have a serious transmission problem.
Look out for all of the above signs in your own vehicle. If you notice any of these happening, go in for a maintenance check and have them specifically check your transmission! More often than not, these are signs leading to transmission issues, but there still could be other causes—so it’s best to have it checked just to make sure. A transmission flush is not the answer for everyone, but it is important to be informed on and aware of if the need ever arises! If you are considering having one done, examine your owner’s manual first, and make sure it is something recommended for your specific make and model. A typical price range for having a transmission flush performed can range anywhere from $100 to $300, so it is not something to take lightly. It has many more factors than regular services, and you can usually expect to pay twice as much as a fluid change, due to the additional fluid required to completely service your transmission. Don’t let this scare you though! This procedure can be an easy and low cost maintenance option for your car when performed correctly. It also gives you peace of mind knowing the internal health of your vehicle is running smoothly, and can prevent and save you costly damages over time.
Under the Hood

Why Are You Getting Bad Gas Mileage?

September 16, 2016

If you’ve noticed that you aren’t getting as far on a tank as usual, there might be a few key reasons to consider. If you’re getting bad gas milage, it means your car is not running as efficiently as it could. Take a look at some of the reasons why you might be guzzling gas, and learn how to get more bang for your buck.

Highway driving. If there isn’t traffic, I find myself charging down the highway. Experts say that most cars get the best gas mileage around 40 to 60 mph. Anything more than that decreases your fuel efficiency. Slow down and keep the gas in your tank!

Idling. It’s not good for your car, and it’s not good for the environment. Whether you’re picking up your kids from school or pulling up at the ATM, turn off the engine. The A/C might be nice at the moment, but it’s killing your gas mileage.

Gasoline type. If you’re using E85 ethanol, it can seriously hurt your gas mileage. Also, if you’re pumping your expensive sports car full of regular gas when it calls for premium, you’re not going to get the fuel economy that the car is supposed to deliver.

Maintenance. A clogged air filter or a malfunctioning oxygen sensor are both killers of fuel economy. Other factors to consider are under-inflated tires and/or suspension that is out of alignment. Keep up with regular maintenance and your gas bill with thank you!

Under the Hood

Winter Maintenance Tips

February 7, 2016
Winter is hard enough without having to walk to work in the ice and snow… which is exactly what will happen if your car breaks down due to poor maintenance. Many people don’t realize how much extra care and attention a car needs during the colder months. Here a few tips to make sure you don’t get snow stranded: Check the battery. Cold temperatures significantly reduce your battery’s cranking power, especially if you park your car outside. Make sure you’re regularly checking your battery’s fluid level. On a conventional battery, remove the plastic caps on the top. If the fluid is low, add distilled water. On maintenance-free batteries, check that the window at the top of the battery displays a fully-charged status. If you’re unsure or having trouble, go to your local service station. There is usually little charge to test your battery (haha). Replace wiper blades. Even the most efficient wiper blades lose their effectiveness after about six months. When you know you’re gearing up for a season of icy windshields, go ahead and replace them. They are pretty easy to install, but if you have questions or prefer a professional, most service and auto part stores will change them out for free when you purchase the blades. Change the oil. Cold weather causes motor oil to thicken, which makes it harder for your car’s engine to turn over. Before winter sets in, make sure to visit your local service station for an oil change. They will also check your coolant levels (sometimes referred to as “antifreeze”), inspect your radiator and heater hoses, and do an overall “winter health” check. Inspect your tires. Tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees of temperature, so monitor your tire pressure at all times. Additionally, your tread level is extremely important during the winter, as your safety depends heavily on tire traction. In mild to moderate snow, a new set of all-season tires should do the trick. If your area receives heavy snow, you might want to consider buying dedicated winter tires. These tires don’t last as long as all-season tires, but they have tread patterns and rubber compounds that are specially designed to grip snow and ice. I know that new tires are an expensive investment, but you and your family are valuable cargo! The above maintenance and preventative care tips will help you have a safer winter! They’ll also keep your car drivable for years to come.
Money Matters, Under the Hood

Synthetic Oil vs. Regular Oil

January 29, 2016

Getting an oil change is generally a pretty common and uneventful experience. However, it can be costly depending on the type of oil your car should have. You will likely hear your mechanic talk about synthetic oil, but before you give the go-ahead on this pricey job, make sure you know what the difference is.

Synthetic oil is, at the base, a cleaner oil. It’s refined, distilled, and purified to get rid of any debris and impurities that regular oil possesses. This means that the oil circulates through your engine and comes out cleaner. If your engine is running cleaner, that usually means it’s going to run longer. Synthetic oil also performs better at more extreme temperatures. It is able to flow smoothly through the cold and the heat, while regular oil can break down and expose your engine to damage. However, it may not be worth the money. The biggest difference you will see with synthetic oil versus regular oil is how often you need to change it. It is recommended that you change your oil about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, but with conventional oil it’s about 7,500. It all really comes down to how long you want your vehicle to run on a single oil change.
Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

My Car is My Baby, So She Gets Checkups

May 14, 2015
For some of us, our car is our baby. We’re not engine savvy and changing tires are not our thing, but we are totally in love with our cars. Sadly, one of the things that doesn’t always come with that territory is when our car needs maintenance. We can get past those first two oil changes, no problem, but after that, the necessary maintenance can enter a gray area. Here is my secret for keeping my baby running at 100 percent. Every manufacturer creates recommended maintenance schedules for every kind of car owner. You can find these in your owner’s manual, but you can also find them on the good ol’ Internet. Simply log on to the manufacturers website and head over to the owners section. There you can find the maintenance schedule that best suits you as a driver. When the service center recommends maintenance, how are they to know if you are constantly in stop-and-go traffic or if you’re always driving in temperate conditions? They could be recommending a service months too early, or even months too late. I’ve taken the liberty of posting all of the McCarthy groups makes recommended maintenance pages—now all you have to do is click away! You lucky Nissan drivers have extra help with three different maintenance options depending on your driving habits. Nissan Toyota Chevy Hyundai You can always take your service center manager’s word for it when your baby needs a checkup, but why not be the responsible car owner I know you are and take the initiative to find out for yourself!
Under the Hood

Become a DIY Car Master

November 9, 2014
unnamed In today’s world, you can learn pretty much anything with the help of the good ol’ internet: fishtail braids, dinner party recipes and even how to clean your shower door with a grapefruit. (So random, right?!) Well, luckily learning car how to fix up your car on your own is no exception. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, and if you spend a little time checking it out, you too could become a car DIY pro! I think learning to fix small car problems yourself can be so empowering. No relying on a Mr. Fix-It man for every little thing! It’s convenient and cost-effective — so why not give it a shot? Here are a few of the best resources for getting things done on your car! 1. Car Talk Do-It-Yourself GuideCar Talk is always one of my first stops when it comes to car-related advice! These guys are funny, have a knack for explaining things simply, and total experts at everything to do with cars! This guide helps you decide what you can actually take on yourself — before you’re knee-deep in a DIY project that you can’t figure out how to finish! 2. Lifehacker: This website is a source for shortcuts and DIY projects of all kinds, so I decided to see if they had any car topics, and they certainly do! I love this article as a resource for some simple fixes you can do yourself. No scouring YouTube for the right video…they’ve got it all in one place! 3. AutoMD: As mentioned in the Lifehacker article, AutoMD is an amazing resource for everything that has to do with fixing your car. I especially love their easy-to-read format with numbered steps and tabs. And I TOTALLY love that they have a woman doing most of their video tutorials! Maybe I’ll have to interview her one of these days 😉 4. expertvillage: This is such a fun YouTube channel, with literally hundreds and hundreds of topics from ballet dancing to social media marketing! They have experts in each topic host the videos, and the car videos offer endless advice on DIY fixes..or things like driving stick shift! Just search within their YouTube channel for car videos! 5. AutoRepair: Though this website doesn’t have as many tutorials that will explain the fix-it process, it’s a great resource for determining what’s going on with your car and where to go from there. Even if you end up having to go to a mechanic, you’ll feel a lot more confident if you read up on the diagnosis here first! 6. This aptly named website is very helpful with simple fixes like brake pad repair or 0il changes. After reading a few of these articles, I feel like I can take on several simple tasks to repair my car! 7. RobertDIY: Mr. Fix-It himself has a YouTube channel, and it’s called RobertDIY! This guy is amazing and can literally fix just about any machine — including all types of cars! The thing I like about his channel is how specific his videos are. He demonstrates how to do things on certain makes and models, so you are never left wondering how it applies to your own vehicle. Genius, Robert!