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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!
Under the Hood

Everything You Need to Know About Coolant

January 4, 2014
Sometimes the only way to understand and take care of your car is to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Thankfully, this time we’re only going to get our hands dirty figuratively: we’re going to learn about car parts! Woo hoo! 🙂 Though it’s not the most glamorous topic, car parts are the nuts and bolts that keep your car getting you from Point A to Point B. They do a lot for us on a day-to-day basis, and learning a little more about them can help extend the life of your car. And who doesn’t want that? First, let’s talk about coolant (also known as anti-freeze). Simple property, important job I picked this term because it’s a common word that gets thrown around when your car has problems. It’s an essential part of a happy, healthy running car. Usually a mix of water and ethylene glycol (a syrupy liquid), coolant is a simple property with an important job. Coolant helps to: -Prevent your engine from freezing -Keep the water pump running smoothly -Keeps rust from forming on your car It’s all about team work With the help of the radiator, water pump, hoses and thermostat, the coolant allows the engine to function properly by preventing overheating. Because the engine produces high temperatures but needs to stay cooler to run, having your coolant at the optimal PH level and freeze point will keep your engine running and your car in motion. (Coolant can turn acidic and start eating away at the metal of the engine if you don’t maintain it!) Here’s how to make sure everything is A-OK under the hood: -Change your coolant every 2 – 3 years depending on the manufacturers recommendations -Check the freeze point of your coolant with an anti-freeze tester available at any auto parts store -Have your coolant system flushed every 5 years to remove corrosion that builds
Under the Hood

What's that smell?

December 27, 2013
Keys in, engine running, you’re about to go on a fun road trip with your friends. As everyone piles into your new car, you begin to smell a horrible fragrance. Your new car smell is now replaced with a pungent odor of rotten eggs. “Where is that smell coming from?”, you ask you friends. Now you’re looking behind seats, and searching the glove compartment for leftover take-out. But to your dismay no rotten food is found. Scratching your head for an answer, you decide to ask the question online, “Why does my car smell like rotten eggs?” No need to fear, I have the answer right here! Clue number one, your engine was running when you smelled rotten eggs. Sulfur is found in gasoline, which could leave hydrogen sulfide residue in the exhaust. This could mean a fuel-injection problem, but often times it’s a failed catalytic converter. Being a car owner, you might encounter various problems with your vehicle. For all those that dreamed of being Nancy Drew or one of the Hardy Boys, this is your chance to shine! Check for all possible clues to figure out what is wrong, smell being one of them. Here are a couple of smells that could detect problems with your vehicle. 1. Maple Syrup- Ethylene glycol is leaking somewhere, perhaps the radiator or heater hose. If you smell the odor inside the passenger compartment then it probably means a bad heater core. 2. Gym Socks- Can you smell a yucky mildew smell? This is from moisture condensing inside your a/c evaporator. When you come close to your home, try turning off the a/c and running the fan on high to dry the system. 3. Gas Station- If you smell raw gasoline the there is something wrong with your vehicle. Usually it means there’s a leak from a fuel-injection line or a fuel-tank vent hose. 4. Burnt Paper- If you can smell something like burning newspaper, it could be your clutch facing burning off as the clutch slips. 5. Burnt Carpet- This happens when your brake pads are overheated. You could have a dragging brake caused by a seized-up brake caliper piston. Keep solving the mysteries of your car problems, but if you ever need a helping hand, feel free to ask me!
Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

Bundle up and buckle up, it's time for cold weather!

November 6, 2013
It is 41 degrees right now and all I want to do is curl up in the warmest blanket possible right next to a fireplace with a huge cup o’ cocoa. As you can probably tell, I don’t fare too well during winter 😉 And you know what else doesn’t run at peak performance during cold weather? Your car! So bundle up and buckle up, folks, it’s time to prepare your vehicular transport for the chilly weather! 1. First off, shout out to all the mamas and papas in the world who’ve given this advice to their kiddos driving in icy weather at any point in their life: “Take it slow. Don’t drive any faster than the speed at which you’re willing to hit a brick wall.” Driving slowly and carefully will always be an option that the driver can have full control over. 2. Pack some heat for the cold. Some items I’d suggest for your trunk in case of emergency: ice scraper, windshield de-icer, flashlight, blanket(s), extra layers of clothing, a first aid kit, water, and  snacks. 3. Double-check your headlights and any other lights on the exterior of your car! 4. I went on a tiny road trip this past weekend, and before I left I checked the air pressure in my car tires… And thank goodness! The air was almost 10 PSI lower than I normally had ’em at. The cold weather is going to do funky things to your tires, so make sure you double check, especially before trips! 5. Replace your windshield wipers every 6 months, and make sure you’re super on top of that once it starts raining, hailing, and snowing. Special wipers might be necessary if the weather dictates. 6. Always make sure your heater and defroster are in proper working order. 7. It can’t hurt to take a trip to your local auto store to have certain things looked over. This includes the battery, exhaust system, and anything else that might normally cause problems during winter. 8. Have chains or snow tires if your area is known to get dumped on with snow. I cannot stress this enough. 9. Keep your gas tank half full at all times. 10. Don’t be a hero when it comes to driving! Take it slow and steady if you feel it necessary!
Under the Hood

How quickly can you change a flat tire!?

October 16, 2013
I’ve clocked myself at five minutes before. Okay, okay, I’m just kidding. I’m not that fast,  but I HAVE gotten pretty good at changing out tires! That being said, I’m going to give you a brief run-down of how to change your tire and get off the side of the highway as quickly as possible. 1. First off, you need to safely get to the side of the road. Aim for a flat, solid surface on which to get your handiwork done. Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 3.40.05 PMjackwrench 2. Once your car is off and in park, it’s time to pull out your car jack and spare tire! Your spare tire could be anywhere from on the back of your car, to under the trunk or already in your trunk. (The key to getting your tire changed quickly is already knowing whereabouts your spare and your jack and wrench are!) 3. Place the jack under the car frame near the tire you’re in the process of replacing. And make sure the jack is making contact with a metal part of your car’s frame — putting it against plastic will crack the plastic. jackjack2Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 3.51.37 PM 4. From there, raise the jack until it’s not lifting up, but supporting the car. 5. Time to loosen the lug nuts! Take the wrench that came with your car and twist the nuts holding your wheel in place in a counterclockwise motion. Don’t take them all they way off… not yet at least! If this doesn’t really make sense, keep in mind that by keeping the tire on the ground while loosening the nuts will make sure you’re turning the nuts and not the wheel. 6. Now it’s time to crank up the jack until the tire’s off the ground! And now you can safely remove the nuts all the way by hand. 7. Switch the tires! Take off the flat one and replace it with your spare.   star2 8. Reapply the lug nuts by hand, and then tighten with the wrench in a star pattern giving each nut a single twist until they’re all equally tight. 9. Lower the car, and right before you put the full weight back on the tire, tighten those lug nuts as much as possible one last time, just for safety. 10. Put your old tire in your trunk and you’re good to go!   So what do you say, can it be done in 5 minutes? If your answer is yes, I’d suggest you make your way to a NASCAR pitstop 🙂
Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

Automobile ABCs, Part 4

September 10, 2013
Howdy, everyone! How’s your fall going thus far? Hopefully it’s not too crazy, and you don’t miss summer too badly… Anyways, we’re (almost) on the final stretch of our Automobile ABCs! I want to thank everyone who’s participated by asking questions… seriously you are all awesome! Today I’m going to conquer letters P, Q, and S. power   P: What is power steering? (Asked by Keeley O’Grady.) Power steering is the pneumatic pump that turns the tires with the steering wheel. Older cars without power steering have much larger wheels because they needed more leverage to get the tires to turn. If your power steering goes out, you’ll notice that it’s super difficult to turn the steering wheel. To get an idea of what it’s like to drive without power steering, turn your car on and shift into neutral. Now try to steer. Not so easy, eh? camera Q: Rear view cameras are showing up on lots of cars. Can they be retrofitted to any car? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) Word on the street is by 2014, all cars will require rear view cameras. Why? Because they’re a great safety mechanism. But if you’re in love with your classic car that is most definitely lacking in the camera category, have no fear. It’s totally possible to have one installed. In fact, you can buy a DIY kit from aftermarket manufacturers. Check out a sweet video here. wheel S: What is the best position for my hands on the steering wheel because of the airbag? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) The old suggestion of positioning your hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock is dead and gone. Now, with the placement and deployment of airbags, experts suggest a 9 and 3 o’clock placement.
Under the Hood

Automobile ABCs, Part 3

September 4, 2013
On to part three of my Automobile ABCs! If you haven’t yet, check out part one and part two! SONY DSC K: Is KEYLESS ignition really safe? (Asked By Ted Wienstroer.) Technology gets more and more fancy by the day, and cars that need no key to start are a great example — I mean, it’s totally cool that you can simply press a button and your car starts up. But along with the trend of keyless ignitions is the increase in complaints and traffic incidents. Examples include forgetting to turn off the vehicle, leading to unlocked cars and even carbon monoxide poisoning. So is it really worth it?  Studies performed found that it’s more driver behavior that causes incidents — simply put, without the action of turning and twisting a key in the ignition, folks simply forget the car is still on (despite the alarms that sound when you leave the car on). Basically, it’s a personal choice. Human behavior precedes the keyless ignition because we’ve all been brought up one way (to turn a key in the ignition), and it’s hard to peel off from that path. links_clutch_speedo (1) L: Linkage… car turns left when I turn right? (Asked by Steve Jones.) The linkage in your transmission enables the changing of gears in your vehicle when you tell it to. If you happen upon any issues like problems with shifting, trouble with starting your car or hearing a clunking sound from your transmission (technically it should be silent), then it’s most likely a transmission/linkage problem and you might just have to break the bank to fix it (transmission repairs don’t come cheap!). But if you find that your steering wheel is acting funky, and you need to turn the wheel left to go straight, etc., then it’s more of an alignment issue. My advice? Take it into an auto shop and have them look at the alignment and suspension for any broken or bent parts. newMC M: Master cylinder… pedal to the floor… uh-oh! (Stated by Steve Jones.) First off, your master cylinder is designed to put hydraulic pressure on the brake pads. A bad master cylinder means a bad braking system, and nobody wants to deal with bad brakes. Now if you start to notice that your brake pedal doesn’t start engaging until it’s practically against the floor, that is most likely a sign of low brake pressure. Definitely have it checked by a professional ASAP. down N: Is it okay to coast downhill in neutral? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) There’s a myth that states shifting into neutral while driving downhill will save you gas. Sadly, this isn’t true. Not only that, it’s more dangerous, as well. In an article I found written by Mike Allen, he states:
When coasting in neutral, the engine is idling, consuming just as much gasoline as when it’s idling at a traffic light or warming up in your driveway, roughly gallons per hour (gph), depending on your vehicle. Some small cars with roller cams may do slightly better, but a rule of thumb for idling fuel consumption is 1 gph . Let’s use 1 gph as a starting point, just to make the math simpler. Suppose you are coasting down a mile-long hill at an average speed of 30 mph, which will take close to 2 minutes. During this period, you’ll consume approximately 0.033 gallons of gasoline, for a consumption of 30 mpg.
In addition to consuming gas, taking your vehicle out of gear puts you at risk for losing control in emergency situations — besides, cars were not designed to shift in and out of neutral at driving speeds. Think twice, folks! oring O: What are o-rings in cars? (Asked by Keeley O’Grady.) Let’s keep it simple: Google states an o-ring is “a gasket in the form of a ring with a circular cross section, typically made of pliable material, used to seal connections in pipes, tubes, etc.” Basically, o-rings are used to seal off certain parts under your hood.
Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

Automobile ABCs, Part 2

August 27, 2013
On to Part 2 of my Automobile ABCs series! If you missed the first part, I’ll try not to be too offended, but you can definitely make me feel better by checking it out here 🙂 And to those of you who might’ve forgotten the gyst of the Automobile ABCs, I’m simply on a mission to give car tips about every letter of the alphabet! Last time I did letters A through E, so today I’m ticking off F through J! fwd F: Front-wheel drive…. what’s that noise when I make sharp turns? (Asked by Steve Jones.) One of the possibilities of that weird noise you hear could be from a worn out or damaged constant velocity joint (CV joint). Inside the joint is found six steel balls positioned in grooves and held in place by a cage. As time passes with your vehicle, the once firmly-held-in-place balls soon start to rattle around the cage, causing the noise when turning. The joint is usually silent when driving straight, but when you turn your steering wheel, the joint bends and causes the balls to slide around the cage. This is actually a serious situation that should be remedied ASAP. Under certain circumstances, you could lose steering control. fwd G: Gas gauge… says 1/4 tank… but it’s out of fuel. (Stated by Steve Jones.) A funky gas gauge reader is the sign of a bad fuel sender. This is never good because you could suddenly run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or something like that. The sending unit can become ajar simply by a bump in the road, etc. (not that it will with every pot hole you hit, but it’s a possibility), so at the first sign of a gas gauge misreading, it’s time to get it checked. Don’t be afraid to toss in your own suggestion of what could be the problem (fuel sending unit). fwd H: How can you clear fogged headlight lenses? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) Lucky for you, cleaning your headlights can be so very easy, and done with supplies around your house! Believe it or not, the easiest way is by using toothpaste! (I mean, it can clean your teeth, so why not your headlights, right? 😉 ) Simply grab some standard white toothpaste and spread it around on your headlights with a cloth until you see the grime coming off. Then, wash off the toothpaste with water and voila! fwd I: Should you minimize the number of keys in the ignition switch? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) I took this question as, “Should you minimize the number of keys and keychains hanging off your car key in the ignition switch?” (Sorry if that wasn’t your point, Ted!) This was an easy tip for me, because I already shared it back in June! The weight of a heavy keychain can wear out the tumblers inside the ignition, and lead to ignition switch failure? You’ve been warned! fwd J: Jump starting… red on red or BOOM! (Stated by Steve Jones.) The necessary cables for jump starting your vehicle are most likely going to be red and black in color. Upon connection to the car battery, you must make sure the ends of the cables never touch each other — doing so could result in damage to one or both cars. You’ll connect the clamps in the following order: 1. Attach one red clamp to the positive (+) terminal of the dead battery. 2. Connect the other red clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery. 3. Attach one black clamp to the negative (-) terminal of the dead battery. 4. The other end of the black clamp needs to attach to some piece of grounded metal somewhere on the dead car. Often times, this’ll be the bolt where the thick negative cable connects to the chassis. If that doesn’t work, keep an eye out for a metal bolt or nut attached to the engine.
Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

Automobile ABCs, Part 1

August 15, 2013
Who doesn’t love learning all there is to know about cars? I’m definitely a big fan of it, so I decided to take on this rather large and daunting blog post subject. I decided there’s no better way to learn all you can about cars than finding a car fact to go with every single letter of the alphabet. So with that said, here goes nothing. Starting off with A-E:


A: Is there ever a time that I should turn my ABS (anti-lock brake system) off? There must be, otherwise it wouldn’t come with a switch to disable it. (Asked by Terry Berggren.) I’m not going to recommend turning off your anti-lock brake system, because I believe it’s more a personal decision than anything. That being said, The National Safety Council states the following concerning ABS:
Four-wheel ABS is a safe, effective braking system when used properly. It offers an important safety advantage by preventing the wheels from locking during emergency braking situations, allowing drivers to maintain control over steering and operate vehicles more effectively.
Needless to say, ABS isn’t something you just want to turn on and off haphazardly. On the other hand, I do know of people who simply don’t feel as safe with ABS on. Disabling the ABS isn’t going to change the brake feel for good breaking, but it will make bad braking techniques worse. Simply put, a lot of people (your insurance company included) think ABS on is the safer bet, but some people have also had negative experiences. You’re not going to be arrested for not having your ABS off, but you need to be fully confident in your decision.

Cadillac CTS-V Cross-Drilled Brakes. X06SP_CA001

B: How often should I expect to have my brakes checked? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) Generally you’re going to want to check your brake system out about every 10,000 miles, or at least once a year. On that note, it’s also important to consider your driving techniques and the terrain you generally drive on. If you live in a hilly area, you’ll be hitting your brakes more frequently; and if you’re a constant braker in general, that’ll wear ’em down faster, too.


C: Clutches… how to tell yours is going out. (Asked by Steve Jones.) There are a few ways to tell if your clutch is in its final days/weeks. First, if your clutch goes out most of the way before the gear catches in a simple drive around the neighborhood, it’s probably worn out a bit too much. Second, a burning smell is not a good sign. It means there’s some direct friction from your slipping clutch. Third, if your vehicle shakes and shudders as you shift gears, then it’s a bad clutch. The shaking will be most apparent in first gear and reverse. And last, if you remove the inspection cover to see your clutch and notice visible damage to the actual clutch, then it is time for a new clutch, my friend.


D: Which is better, DISK/DISK or DISK/DRUM brakes? (Asked by Ted Wienstroer.) Most cars these days have DISK/DRUM setup and they’re completely adequate. An Edmunds article discusses why disk/drum gets the job done:
Today’s front disc brakes are truly exceptional in terms of stopping power. Combined with the fact that between 60 and 90 percent of a vehicle’s stopping power comes from the front wheels, it’s clear that a well-designed, modern drum brake is all that’s required for most rear wheel brake duty.
Higher performance cars that might deal with sanctioned racing activity can totally justify a four-wheel disc brake system.


E: Electronic fuel injection… how to clean those pesky ports. (Asked by Steve Jones.) First things first: you’re going to need to purchase a fuel injector cleaner kit, especially if you want to have all of the supplies necessary. Also, make sure you review the layout of your fuel injectors so you know what to expect and what to look for. Disconnect the fuel pump from the fuel injectors, then attach the cleaner to the fuel injectors. Remove the cap from the fuel tank, which’ll stop excessive pressure from building up, and then turn the vehicle on and let the engine run. This’ll take about 5-10 minutes. The engine will eventually shut down on its own after the cleaner has been fully used. Remove the cleaner, reattach the fuel pump, and replace the fuel cap. Turn your car on again, listen for any weird noises, and take your car out for a spin just to make sure everything is running smoothly!