Car batteries are the strong, silent member of the automotive team. They do their job regardless of heat, cold weather and the drivers who demand so much of them. While a battery that allows a car to start at the first turn of the key is a joyful thing, it doesn’t last forever.
In fact, depending on where you live and how you drive, the condition of your charging system, and a number of other factors, a battery lasts about five years on average. And when it does give out, there’s generally no sign of trouble — your car just dies.
While the lead-acid car battery hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years, it’s still a difficult part of the car to check during routine maintenance. Simple battery testers can’t, at this time, muddle through the chemical complexity of what goes on in a battery. Instead, they provide a sort of snapshot of the battery at the time it’s being tested — without the context of the battery’s chemical composition before or after the test.
So, the rule of thumb is simple for battery replacement: You have approximately five years before the battery will theoretically begin its slide from chemical powerhouse to a chemical paperweight. At the five-year mark, we will start testing, and possibly detect a problem, before it’s too late.
But due to the nature of the chemical cocktail inside any battery, it may give out before the five-year mark, or maybe it will last for several more years. So, you have to ask yourself, “Do you feel lucky?”
We always do a visual inspection on your brakes during routine maintenance tasks such as changing tires or changing oil. This will let you know whether there is sufficient brake pad remaining left to safely operate your vehicle or if anything is obviously visually wrong with your brake system.
Sometimes though, there are reasons to suspect that there might be something amiss with the brakes because of one of the following abnormal observations during use:
Vibrations of the car or through the steering wheel during braking
Warning lights such as the Brake Light, ABS lights or traction control warnings
Unusual sounds during braking
If your vehicle is exhibiting any of those symptoms, we recommend a more thorough diagnostic brake inspection. These inspections are inexpensive (generally in the $80-$90 range at our shop), and will give you a much better idea of any safety concerns for your vehicle, and also give your more information about how expensive any repairs might be. This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether it is more cost-effective to repair or if it’s time to start to consider replacing your vehicle.
Have you ever wondered what a brake inspection involves? Here is what we do at our shop.
Diagnostic Brake Inspections at Access Automotive
Test Drive (Road Test)
Before we even begin inspecting your brakes, we want to make sure that they’re working properly and safely by doing a road test. driving them around for about 10 minutes or so. This lets the service technician confirm any reported symptoms, both under initial starting conditions when the rotors are cold, and also when the rotors have warmed up after use.
The technician will look for any brake warning lights illuminating and will listen for any unusual noises coming from your vehicle’s brake system.car when you press down on the brake pedal. We also confirm any warning lights related to the braking system.
2. Brake Fluid inspection Check
After returning to the shop, we inspect the brake fluid, both for level and condition. Although there are several different tests you can do on the brake fluid (copper assay, moisture test, conductivity tests), we find them to be inconclusive and wasteful. Our process is to look at the Master Cylinder for leaks and check the colour of the fluid against our samples on a drip tray.
We then put the car on a hoist for better access to the wheels and brake components. The technician will then inspect each wheel brake caliper individually for leaks. If there are no issues found during this step, we move onto the next part of the process.
3. Initial Visual Inspection
As we remove the wheels, although this may not directly affect the brakes, we inspect the wheel bearings, hub and lug nut holes for excessive wear or movement.
Next up, we visually inspect each component in order to determine whether there are any signs of wear or damage. 90% of the vehicles we work with have disc brakes, and the rest of this article will refer to a disc brake inspection. During the inspection we look at:
Brakes pad wear: We are looking for at least 2 to 3 mm material remaining in the brake pad for them to be considered safe, but additionally we are looking for uneven wear of the brake pads which might indicate seized callipers or some other mechanical issue with the brake assembly.
Callipers: We are looking for proper piston function (smooth operation of the brake caliper pistons and sliding pins).
Rotors: Primarily we are examining the rotors for abnormal marks (burn marks or corrosion). We also sometimes measure runout (how warped they are) if we think it’s close to a 0.004 inch deviation (maximum deviation before we find that problems start to occur), but in obvious cases of rotor warping we would skip an exact measurement to save you the diagnostic fee.
Look for cracked rubber brake hoses (long term could use a video)
Finally, we raise the vehicle higher to inspect all the steel brake lines from the Master Cylinder to the rear of the vehicle for leaks and corrosion.
Sometimes the inspection turns out to be a easy repair. small rock can wedge between the rotor and the caliper in the brakes which does not cost any more than the inspection to fix.
Sometimes though we find that the callipers are seized up, the rotors are warped and the brake pads are unevenly worn and replacement of the full assembly is warranted for safe operation. In that case we can help you to decide whether you’re better off replacing the brakes, or if the overall condition of the vehicle warrants moving on to another vehicle.
Now that COVID restrictions are being removed, lots of people are looking to hit the road again. Want to make your summer driving experience hassle free? Here are some suggestions:
Get a vehicle inspection done.
There isn’t one part of the vehicle that is not equally important for summer time as in other seasons. Brakes, battery, engine, cooling system, all ride control components etc. need to be operating as designed.
The best way to maximize your chances of your vehicle making your summer trips hassle free is to do a vehicle inspection ahead of time. We recommend at least two weeks in advance of your trip in case you find some unexpected repairs that need to be performed.
Pay attention to your vehicle’s Air Conditioning
Beat the heat by ensuring your vehicle’s Air Conditioning (A/C) system is working at peak efficiency, especially if you have black leather seats! While A/C systems are built to not leak, they aren’t leak-proof. Here are some of the warning signs of trouble:
The system isn’t cooling to the desired temperatures
The system makes loud or unusual noises when turned on
There are unusual odours coming from the vents
Water appears on the floor mats
The vehicle overheats, stalls or idles roughly when the system is turned on
The blower doesn’t work when the a/c is turned on
The defroster doesn’t work.
If you encounter any of these symptoms bring your vehicle in for an a/c system inspection and analysis.
Complete deferred maintenance items
Be sure to take care of general maintenance items for carefree summer motoring. An example would be the Cabin Filter. Do you really want to have smelly or no air coming from your vents on a long road trip? Just change it before it causes more potential problems. If your oil is due for a change, then getting it done before hitting the road is also highly recommended.
Check on the items you have in your car for convenience, safety and emergencies in the summer
Summer means time to make some changes. Bust out the t-shirts and shorts and enjoy the sun. You should also do a check of what you bring along with you in the car – no need for that snowbrush! Here are the essentials you should keep inside your car during the hot summer months.
First Aid Kit
Multi-tool Device / Swiss Army Knife
You may never have an emergency, but in the event that something happens, you will be prepared.
As of July 1st 2021, we are no longer requiring our clients to wear face masks at Access Automotive in accordance with the updated guidance from Alberta Health Services.
We are happy to wear face masks for our clients if they prefer. If you wear one in our front counter area, we will assume that your preference is that we wear one as well and we will put one on unless you let us know otherwise.
A tricky question that I get asked anytime there is unseasonably warm temperatures in March is whether it’s a good idea to switch over from winter to summer tires yet?
Like many automotive maintenance items, the answer we always give is: “it depends”.
Edmonton weather can be all over the place in spring
The average daily high temperature in Edmonton in March rises from -1 degree Celcius on March 1st to +7 degree Celsius on March 31. Since summer tires start to perform better than winters at +7 degrees, generally we recommend waiting until April. In unseasonably warm years though (such as 2021) in some cases it does make sense to switch over a bit early.
Factors to consider when deciding when to switch your vehicle over to summer tires
Questions we like to ask include:
How aggressive a driver are you?
Do you have an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle
Do you often work from home?
How often do you go out for groceries or shopping?
Do you have other urgent maintenance to do on your vehicle?
Do you frequently have to chauffeur kids or family around to activities or appointments
Are there known intersections you often drive through that have slippery conditions with new snow
Do you have all-season tires to put on for the summer, or true summer tires
Do you have 7 mm of tread or more remaining on your summer tires?
Are you going to be driving to BC on major highways such as Highway 3 or Highway 5
In general, the more aggressively you drive, the more often you drive and the more dangerous intersections you drive through, the less we recommend switching over to summer tires early. Also, if you are going to be driving in BC, keep in mind that driving without winter tires can result in a fine before March 31 on certain highways.
On the other hand, if you often work from home, you don’t drive to the store every day and you switch over to an all-season tire, then we can recommend beating the spring crush and switching your tires over a little earlier, especially if you have to drop by the car repair shop to do some maintenance anyway.
Even if you’re a candidate to switch your tires over a bit earlier, as a rule of thumb, we like to see a full week of warm weather in the forecast in mid-March before we generally recommend swapping tires. If we hit a few hotter days then don’t sweat it – a week of warm weather is not going to appreciably reduce the life of your winter tires.
Access Automotive Recommended Summer Tires
If you need new tires, here are our current top picks:
For trucks I like the Michelin LTX M/S which I recommend as the best value pick, the best performance pick and the best combination of value and performance. It is a great All-Weather tire that I use on my own truck all year round.
For cars I recommend the Michelin Primacy MXV4 for summer tires, both as the best performance and best value tire.
Test your car knowledge! If you submit your answers with your email before September 19th, we will enter you in a draw for a $25 gift certificate to Access Automotive – no need for a perfect score. My explanation for each answer will appear after you select a response for each question. Good luck!
Fall will be upon us before you know it, and with that is getting prepared for the challenging driving conditions that come with living in Edmonton!
Fuel Consumption Soars in cold weather – sometimes by as much as 50%. That’s hard on your wallet and hard on the environment
Warm Up By Driving
Once a vehicle is running, the best way to warm it up is to drive it. With computer-controlled, fuel-injected engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before driving away. Anything more simply wastes fuel.
Besides, more than the engine needs to be warmed up. So do the wheel bearings, steering, transmission and tires, and that can only happen when the vehicle is moving. For a typical vehicle, it takes at least 5 km of driving to warm everything up.
Although it is important to drive away as soon as possible after a cold start (but not before the windows are defrosted), you should avoid high speeds and rapid acceleration for the first 5 kilometres or so. The goal is to bring the whole car up to peak operating temperature as quickly as possible while maximizing fuel economy.
Use an automatic timer to switch on your block heatertwo hours before you plan to drive your vehicle. This isall the time needed to warm the engine.
Snow and vehicle weight.
You already know that extra weight increases fuel consumption. Snow building up in wheel wells and under bumpers adds weight and rubs against tires, further increasing rolling resistance. And snow piled on top of the vehicle increases drag and vehicle weight. For safety as well as fuel economy, clear snow off your vehicle before you drive away.
To prevent your windows from fogging up, open a window as soon as you enterthe vehicle.Clear snow from the air intake on top of the hood. Otherwise, thedefroster will draw moisture into the system and fog the windshield.
Your tires need special attention during winter. Cold temperatures decrease the air pressure in tires. Each tire that is under-inflated by 2 psi (14kPa) causes a 1% increase in fuel consumption. Check tire pressures regularly, and especially after a sharp drop in temperature. Before adding air to your tires let some air out of each valve and blow some air out of the hose. This prevents moisture from gathering in the valve, where it can freeze and cause the valve to leak. If possible use your own tire gauge, since the gauges built into air pumps are often inaccurate or missing.
Snow Tires vs. All Season Radials
For some Canadian drivers, all-season tires are sufficient for winter driving. Tires that do not have the ‘3 peaked mountain snowflake symbol’ may provide safe performance in most weather conditions, but are not designed for snow or ice-covered roads. If your roads are regularly snow-covered, snow tires will improve traction, reduce slippage and improve safety and save fuel. All-season tires do not provide the same grip below -15° C.
Take It Easy
One last tip for winter driving – take it easy. The more your vehicle slips and slides and spins its wheels, the more fuel you waste and the more you increase the chance of an accident. And we can all do with a little less stress!!
Anyone who has ever packed a car for a road trip knows that loading properly lies somewhere between science and art. As the last item is loaded, you can judge your packing success by how accessible items are as the kids ask them
Loading your car safely doesn’t mean stuffing everything but the kitchen sink into the trunk and hoping for the best. Proper loading requires careful planning and a lot of common sense.
Consider the following:
Can your vehicle handle the load
This is very important to consider, especially when pulling a trailer. If you’re not sure how much your vehicle can handle, ask your automotive technician for advice. Overloading can affect your car’s handling, stability and could damage your suspension.
Preparing your vehicle for the road ahead
A tune-up is in order, especially for long excursions. The last thing you want on vacation is a breakdown that could have been prevented by simple maintenance
Make sure your brakes are in good working order. Having that extra load in your trunk or with a trailer, will demand more from your brake system
Make sure your headlights are property adjusted. Loading your trunk can cause the front end of your vehicle to raise slightly. You don’t want to blind oncoming drivers.
First and foremost, plan your packing! You don’t want the kids’ toys and travel games underneath the luggage. Ensure that items you will need along the way are easily accessible (this includes the spare tire, jack and first aid kit)!
If you own a vehicle like a station wagon or mini-van, with an open cargo area, make sure none of the items packed could become dangerous projectiles in the event of an abrupt stop.
Visibility is essential – don’t overfill and limit the driver’s ability to see out of the windows.
A checklist is extremely valuable before you hit the road. Here are a few items you may want to add to your own personal list
If you have a lot of stuff to pack, a small travel trailer might be a good idea
Consider using a car-top carrier. But remember that loading up top will alter your vehicle’s handling. Be careful around bends in the road and when taking sharper turns. Make sure that you follow the manufacturers instructions. Securely fasten all latches and knobs when transporting. Pack roof top boxes with the concentration of the weight in the middle. Periodically remove the carrier for cleaning, lubrication and inspection.
When transporting anything on top of your vehicle, always be aware of overhead clearance. Make sure all mounting points are securely fastened.
If the 2-door hatchback you own just isn’t going to handle the family, the dog and all the luggage, consider renting a larger vehicle for your trip. It could take a great deal of unnecessary frustration out of your vacation. Contact your local AMA club for great car rental rates.