What Customers Should Know

A Squirrely Problem (Animals Nesting in Engine)

If you park your vehicle outside, you are exposing it to all sorts of critters that would love to use it for nesting, food storage and shelter.  There are plenty of pictures online of people who've discovered there was more than an engine under the hood.  In one case, the driver of an SUV started to smell a slight burning odor when she was driving.  Turned out to be 200 walnuts and a lot of grass had been stored there by some industrious squirrels preparing for the upcoming cold weather. 

The SUV owners had their vehicle inspected not long before this happened, but it doesn't take some animals long to set up house in what they think is the ideal spot to make their winter home.   Obviously, that can create problems.  Squirrels, mice, rats and other small animals can chew through hoses and wires.  Plus what they store as food and nesting material may prevent engine parts from moving the way they are supposed to.  Imagine a radiator fan that won't turn because it's laden with heavy walnuts.  Or the fire hazard created by flammable brush on a hot manifold.

Probably the best solution is to store your vehicle inside a rodent-tight building, but that's no guarantee.  Unfortunately it doesn't take a very big hole or gap for small mice or other creatures to get in.  Some careful sealing with materials like cement or steel wool can reduce rodent access effectively, but they're always looking for access so you can't let down your guard.

If you're not able to store your vehicle inside, you may try spraying lavender or mint essence around the engine or in the wheel wells.  Rodents don't seem to like those odors very much.  If you drive your vehicle every day, you're less likely to have unwanted residents than if you leave it sit for days.  In either case, if you have experienced animal problems in the past, open your hood and inspect your engine frequently. 

Check with your service adviser for recommendations on how to keep animals out of your vehicle.  You're not the only one whose vehicle looks like the perfect winter apartment to some critters.  Preventing animals from getting to your vehicle is worth some time and expense because damage from gnawing teeth can be very costly and difficult to repair.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Wash Me, Wash Me Right (How to Wash a Vehicle)

Most would agree they'd rather drive around in a clean, shiny vehicle than one coated with a layer of dirt.  When warmer weather comes around, some of us are bound and determined to wash our own vehicles.  And to protect the paint and its luster, there are a few things to keep in mind when you get out the bucket and soap.

  • Cool body.  It's not a good idea to wash a vehicle when the body is hot.  If it's been sitting out in the sun or you've been riding around on a sunny day, make sure you cool your vehicle off by either moving it to the shade or wetting it down with cool water. The problem with washing a hot vehicle is that it's going to dry so fast, minerals in the water can form hard-to-remove spots on the paint.  And some of those can be really difficult to get out.  Best to avoid it.
  • Slippery when wet.  Make sure you wet your vehicle down thoroughly before you get the washing mitt out.  Experts keep a couple of buckets of soapy water on hand, and they use soap especially engineered to remove dirt from a vehicle without stripping off the wax that might be on it. 
  • The washing mitt.  Experts say to use a mitt with hundreds of moisture-absorbing strands on it.  Start washing at the top and move down.  If you keep dipping the mitt in the buckets frequently, a minimal amount of dirt will stick to it and that will prevent scratching the paint. 
  • Wheels last.  Wait until you've finished washing the body before washing the wheels.  Some detailers prefer special wheel-washing tools or brushes. 
  • Rinse it well.  Hose the vehicle off thoroughly to get all the soap off, then dry immediately.  Some people swear by a chamois, others like cloth better.  Cotton or microfiber towels will do.  

The next time you have your vehicle in for maintenance, you might ask your service advisor for recommendations on vehicle washing accessories.  They are usually up on the brands that produce the best results.  You may not be a detailing pro, but there's no reason your vehicle can't look like you are.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Idle Talk about Engines (Causes of Rough Engine Idling)

When you slow down at stoplight, your vehicle's idle should be smooth as silk.  But what happens when the engine is missing or idling roughly? That's your engine's way of telling you, "Hey, I've got something wrong with me and if you don't get someone to find out what it is, I may not start the next time you turn the key."

You can help your service facility if you can describe the problem in detail.  Here's a list of things to make a note of:

  • When is the problem happening, when the engine is cold or when it's been running for a while?
  • Does the rough idling occur when I'm accelerating or when I'm going at a steady speed?
  • Does it happen at high speeds?  Does it happen low speeds? Does it happen at both?

Make sure you describe the problem in as much detail because it will help a technician diagnose the problem.

One of the first things they'll check is how the spark plugs are firing.  Modern iridium plugs are supposed to last a long, long time.  But they CAN eventually wear out.  Inspecting the firing end can help the technician figure out the root of the problem.  Corroded or worn out spark plug wires, too, can contribute to an idling irregularity. 

There are other potential problem spots, too.  The technician may check the ignition coil, timing piston rings, valves and cylinder walls. 

If the mixture of air and fuel isn't correct, that may affect how smooth your vehicle is running.  Your service facility is equipped with diagnostic equipment that helps them pinpoint the problem.  Once that idle is smoothed out to the way it used to be, you'll be the smoothest operator on the road.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

No Fueling! (Fuel Filler Location)

If you've ever gotten in an unfamiliar vehicle, maybe a rental car, you may have pulled up to the gas pump and wondered, "Which side is the fuel filler on?" Here's a tip for you.  There is usually a little arrow on the instrument panel near the fuel gauge that points to the side where the fuel filler is. 

But why are the fuel fillers not all on the same side, anyway? There are lots of reasons.  At one time, many manufacturers tried putting them in an easy-to-reach spot: in the center of the vehicle's rear end.  Some even hid them behind a hinged license plate door.  Cool place, but it turned out not to be a good idea.  When a vehicle with a fuel filler in the rear was hit by another vehicle from behind, it was much more prone to catch fire and explode.

Safety regulations now dictate that the fuel filler doors be placed within crumple zones and away from where they can drip fuel on hot exhaust pipes or near electrical connections.  But why do manufacturers put them on either side?

Some say it should be on the side away from the road.  That way if you run out of gas and have to add a little from a gas can as your standing at the side of the road, you'll be a little farther away from passing traffic.  So some companies from North America and many European firms with left-hand drive put their fillers on the right side.

Some manufacturers think convenience for the driver is paramount, so they put their fuel fillers on the driver's side.  If you have a vehicle with a cable release for the fuel door inside the cabin, it's usually on the same side as the steering wheel.  As you can see, there's no standardization.

Fuel doors need regular maintenance such as lubrication, and your gas cap (if your vehicle has one) should seal properly.  Have your service facility inspect those regularly. Wherever your fuel filler is, it's obviously important that you can get at it easily because you have to fuel up sometime. Otherwise, you're not going to go too far!

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

H20 No! (Driving Through Standing Water)

In a year marked by unusually heavy flooding in North America, drivers are very aware of the possibility they may find themselves driving where water has come over the road.  It can be a daunting and frightening situation.  Flooding waters can move quickly and unpredictably, so you have to keep your wits about you when you encounter that situation.

Here a sample of one vehicle manufacturer's guidelines on what to do.  First, the vehicle is designed to go through some water, but you must be careful.  Never attempt to drive through water deeper than the bottom of your tires.

You can get out of your vehicle to check the depth of the water, but you can never be sure that you aren't going to drive into a spot where the road has washed away.  You can't see below the surface of the water, and suddenly you could find yourself in a place where the road drops off unexpectedly.  In swift moving storm runoff, your vehicle could literally be floating away with the current, putting your life and those of your passengers in mortal danger. 

Never go more than 5mph/8 km/hr when you drive through standing water.  That minimizes the waves you create.  If you DO find yourself in water that is touching your drivetrain components, that water can damage them.  And if you get water in your engine, it can lock up in seconds and stall.  The potential damage can be catastrophic.

You may have found yourself driving in water deep enough to reach your drivetrain components, and it's essential that you have a technician check the fluids to make sure they haven't been contaminated.  That includes engine oil, transmission and axle.  Driving with fluids contaminated with water can severely damage those components. 

The bottom line is to avoid driving through water at all if you possibly can.  Check your vehicle's owner's manual to see if there are specific guidelines for driving YOUR vehicle in standing water.  It's information that could save your life.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

Not-So-Common Sense (Sensor Failures)

So your vehicle won't start.  What's the first thing that comes to mind?  Battery dead? Starter motor worn out? Out of gas?  Well, those are all reasons that make sense.  But your vehicle may be refusing to start because one of its computers is being warned that to do so might damage it.  Here's how that works.

You have lots of computers in your vehicle.  They need to know the status of things so there are several sensors monitoring various things going on.  These sensors send information to the computers that adjust the fuel and air mixture so you don't waste fuel.  They know when things aren't quite right and prevent you from starting your engine if that's going to damage it. 

Other sensors make sure the coolant is the right temperature, check to see you are not polluting the air and make sure other electronic components are performing their tasks correctly.

Here's an example of a sensor doing its job.  Your engine needs oil to lubricate metal components so the friction doesn't damage them.  Your engine has an oil pressure sensor that tells a computer called the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) if things are good to go or if there's something wrong, maybe the oil pressure is too low to keep things lubricated.  If it is, it gives a signal for the vehicle not to start, protecting the engine. 

Of course, the sensors can go bad, too, with some of the same results.  And so someone has to figure out if it's the sensor that's failed or if it really has detected a problem.  That is the challenge for technicians with specialized equipment to decipher the signs.  If a bad sensor is found, it may need to be replaced.  Sometimes a thorough cleaning can do the trick.  In either case, your service facility can track down the problem and get you back on the road.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

The Byte Stuff (Your Vehicle's Computers)

Nobody has to tell you that computers are a part of so many things in our lives.  Smartphones, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, televisions.  You name it—it has a computer in it.  And your vehicle is no exception.

The earliest cars relied on the technology of their time, and there was no such thing as a computer.  But now, it's not unusual for a vehicle to have as many as 150 computers in it.

They perform a variety of functions. An important one is diagnosing your vehicle's problems.  There are various sensors throughout modern vehicles that measure thousands of data points.  When something is not working correctly, they send a signal to another computer that stores that information. The data can be read by someone who has a special computer that plugs into a port in your car.  It displays certain codes that help technicians track down the culprit. 

But it's not just the diagnostics that are computerized.  Everything from your vehicle's fuel injection to anti-lock brakes is.  Convenience features such as power windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a wi-fi-hot spot, streaming video and navigation are all sophisticated computers.  Then there are the safety features; air bags, traction control, automatic emergency braking and a host of others are all dependent on computers.

It is important that those computers work correctly because they interface with many of the other computers on board.  To properly diagnose problems with those computers requires training and special equipment. Your service facility has invested considerable resources into both, and they are equipped to properly evaluate and repair and/or replace malfunctioning components. 

Some lament the days when backyard mechanics could pull out their tools and do their own repairs.  Those days are fast disappearing with the computerization of vehicles.  But look at the bright side.  Your vehicle does so much more, has so many more features and travels far more safely than those past generations drove.  And they're bound to get better and more sophisticated down the road.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

No Yolk! Rotten Egg Smell (Sulfur Smell Causes)

The pungent smell of rotten eggs can send people running for the hills.  So when that odor is inside your vehicle, yikes!  Yolks!  The good news is that a trained service technician can search the source of that smell and stanch the stench… that comes from another words that begins with S.  Sulfur.

Fuel contains small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, but they're enough to stink up a vehicle when it's not properly burned.  You may know that the smell of rotten eggs can often be a sign of a catalytic converter that isn't working the way it should.  That could be due to age, damage or an abundance of oil that's clogging it up. 

If a sensor in charge of managing the fuel has failed, the engine can run with too rich of a fuel mixture.  That can overload the catalytic converter and allow some of the byproducts to escape without interruption from the chemical reaction that is supposed to prevent them from going out the tailpipe.

There's another possibility, but it's usually only in stick shift vehicles.  That's leaking, old transmission fluid.

Catalytic converter repairs are best left to a professional. Technicians at your vehicle service facility have equipment and training that can help them pinpoint the cause of this funky fragrance.  Once the cause is found, repairs made and/or parts replaced, the smell should go away fairly rapidly.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

"Current" Affairs (Blown Fuses)

You may be driving along and find that suddenly your radio stops working.  There are no numbers on the display.  Then when you get home, you notice the garage door opener doesn't do a thing when you press the button. Hmm, this was working just fine this morning.  Are the two problems somehow related?

No, your vehicle doesn't need an exorcism. This has all the signs of an electrical issue, and when you experience symptoms like those, you've probably blown a fuse.  Most vehicles have fuses just like most houses have circuit breakers (some houses still have fuses). They cut the power when it reaches a pre-determined threshold that could cause major damage if it was allowed to continue.  You might say fuses take one for the team.

Most modern automotive fuses are plastic with a thin strip of metal in them designed to melt when a calibrated amount of power passes through.  The philosophy is it's better for an inexpensive fuse to be destroyed than your sound system or your engine's main computer.

It can be tricky to figure out what fuse has blown and why.  Modern vehicles have many computerized electronic components; they can easily be damaged if too much electricity gets to the wrong spot.  At PDR in Urbana, we have technicians trained to trace which fuse has blown and why.

While sometimes a simple fuse replacement will fix the problem, other times there may be some other electrical component that has failed, causing the circuit overload.  Our technicians have special equipment to track down where the power problems are, get to the root of the problem and fix it at the source.

Keep in mind, fuses are there to protect your vehicle. And when they shut down your radio, garage door opener, vanity mirror or anything else, just be thankful they're doing their job. They may have saved you from a much more expensive repair. They've sent an important signal to you about your electrical system.  That's why it's good to keep up with "current" affairs.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

DOG FOOD IN YOUR ENGINE (Keeping Rodents out of your Engine)

A technician was telling us the other day that he was servicing an engine and spotted something he'd never seen before: A collection of dry dog food siting on a horizontal metal ledge near the base of the engine.  It was neatly stashed and was in a spot where the food pellets couldn't have simply fallen down in there.

Even though it's the first time he'd seen dog food in an engine, he immediately knew what was going on.  Critters like mice or chipmunks had found the dog food somewhere nearby and had used the engine as a nice storage unit. 

Mice, squirrels, chipmunks—you name it—like the heat of the engine.  And they'll use that to store up supplies of food for use in cold weather when outside food supplies are scarce.  The problem is they'll also chew on engine components while they're there. And they can do a lot of damage if they start gnawing on the wires.  Depending on how much of your electrical system needs to be replaced, repairs can mount up to the thousands of dollars. 

Those electrical problems can be tricky to track down, too, because the rodents can get to spots technicians don't have easy access to.  Oh, the signs are there; they'll find mouse droppings, acorns… even full mouse nests in your engine.  Yikes.

OK, but even if you get your vehicle fixed, how do you keep the critters from simply setting up their personal pantry again? Here are some things to try:

  • Don't leave any food in your vehicle
  • Get rid of that sweet-smelling air freshener. The rodents can mistake the scent for food and head right for your vehicle.
  • If you have a garage, block all access points for rodents. This can be very hard since they can squeeze through the tiniest spaces you can imagine.
  • Some people keep mothballs under the hood; rodents don't love 'em.
  • Pop the hood every couple of weeks and look for signs of mice: nests, droppings or stored nuts, acorn shells and pet food.

The next time you bring your vehicle into PDR for maintenance or service, your technician will be on the lookout, too. Hey, the dog food belongs in the dog's dish, not supplying fast food for little critters with razor-sharp teeth that can create electrical system mayhem.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com