Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Your Car 101 (Series) - What to look for when buying a Used Car

Buying a Used Car?  8 tips to make sure it's not a money pit.
These days, it can sometimes be scary buying a used car.  You've worked hard and saved your money, but the lemon law doesn't apply to that used car you're looking at.  So how do you know that car will be a reliable, sound car that will keep you from dumping more into it?  Here are 8 tips to help you decided if you should move on to the next car.

1) Check the paint.  Being a used car, it might have a few bumps, chips, and scratches, but look closer...  If there are scratches in the color of the paint instead of the exterior clear coat of the vehicle, it has been repainted.  The paint could have been unsightly and the previous/current owner chose to repaint it.  OR the vehicle could have been in an accident at some point.  Keep in mind, CarFax only shows accidents that have been reported.  So if there was an accident where a claim wasn't filed or the DMV didn't know about it, you won't find it.

Another indication if the vehicle has been repainted is what's called "trash".  When clear coating a vehicle, body shops can't guarantee a 100% dust free environment.  Trash are specs that are embedded into the paint.  You can easily tell these by lightly swiping your finger or hand across it.

2) Check for oil.  Cars are typically well detailed before selling.  Usually, there's a nice coat of shine on the plastics in the engine bay.  However, if you look closer, you will still find signs of past or current oil leaks.

Look under the engine.  Most people aren't going to spend the time to pressure wash and thoroughly clean the underside of a vehicle.  If there is an oil issue (engine, steering, etc...), you should be able to notice it underneath.  It will look like blob of caked on black soot.  A giveaway is if you see a black, textured clump in certain areas and not others (typically on the section facing the front of the vehicle and not on rear), then it is from a past/current oil leak.

Bring a rag and pull the dipstick.  Check the oil like your normally would (pull, wipe off, reinsert, and pull again.)  Not only should the oil be present between the two indicator marks, the oil should not be clumpy.

3) Check the coolant.  You can view the coolant in the coolant reservoir or the radiator.  (DO NOT remove the radiator cap unless the engine is cool.  Very slowly and cautiously is a good rule of thumb.)  The coolant should be a light green or red.  It should NEVER be brown.  Brown coolant can be evidence of a rusty radiator or rust inside the motor.

4) Check bushings (this mainly applies to vehicles over 3 years old).  Bushings are the rubber components
at two adjoining metal parts.  Their purpose is to absorb vibrations of the engine and the road.  They take quite a beating depending on the driver.  Turn the wheel to the right, exposing the back side of the wheel.  Glance behind the wheel to see if any of the rubber components are worn, show grease, or ripped apart.  Turn the wheel to the left and repeat.

Also check the motor mounts.  These are the rubber components that not only absorb the vibrations from the engine, but attach it to the car.  You should find at least three.  Here you're looking for the rubber to have completely separated from its metal housing.  The heat of the engine will cause rubber to dry and crack.  This is natural.  But if the rubber has completely separated, that can be a cause for a chain reaction of repairs.

5) Check gaskets.  This can be hard sometimes with other engine components in the way.  Most vehicles have a separate gasket that prevents oil from getting into the spark plugs.  Easiest way to check this is pull the spark plug wire.  If there's oil on the end of the wire, the spark plug gasket needs to be replaced.

Head gaskets can't be checked visually.  However, valve cover gaskets can.  Some engines have a plastic cover.  If possible, go ahead and remove it.  The metal on the top of the motor is usually called the valve cover.  (There are exceptions to this rule, and it's difficult to explain without going in depth on the other components.)  If the valve cover gasket needs to be replaced, you will either notice oil or clumps of black soot but only on the motor below the valve cover.  Most of the time a simple fix but go ahead and inquire about it while you're there.

6) Go over the electronics.  We automatically assume everything works, but sometimes that's not always the case.  Turn on the headlights, wipers (don't forget the rear if equipped), turn signals, flashers (go ahead and check this since it's on a different switch), interior lights, radio - change channels, etc..., defrost (if you can), air, a/c, and heater.  If the vehicle is equipped, check the power seats, steering wheel adjustment, mirrors, windows (all of them), and 4WD.

7) Go over the tires.  They should have a solid consistent appearance.  Old, worn, or rotting tires will show cracks in the side of the rubber.  If you decide to purchase the vehicle, keep in mind that tires showing this will have to be replaced soon.  Better safe than to have a blow out while driving.

8) Of course, drive it!  Yes, I know that you're going to test drive the vehicle.  However, here's a few things you might not have thought to pay attention to.

While at idle (car isn't moving but in drive), watch the engine's temperature.  If you find it rising, it has some cooling issues which could mean replacing the thermostat, replacing the radiator, or there is air in the coolant system.  Left alone, this will completely destroy a motor.

Does the car drive straight without any force?  If the car is wanting to drift to the right or left, it may need an alignment or there has been some significant suspension damage.

Of course, these aren't to be substituted for letting your trusted mechanic look over the vehicle before purchasing.  But I hope it helps you to purchase a great vehicle versus a money pit.

- Bryan Lin | CEO, The Motorsports Authority, Inc. |

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Your Car 101 (Series) - How do I know my alternator is bad?

Problems Starting?
That is a very easy DIY (Do It Yourself) check.  First, let's understand the basics of the alternator, and it's relationship with your car and your battery.

The Battery

Your battery is what starts your car.  It stores enough "energy" to get your motor moving.  That is why the CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) is important when choosing a replacement battery.  The battery also provides a backup for your car when the car sees a larger draw on it's electrical system than what the alternator can handle.  This can be seen with people that have a large subwoofer/amplifier system.  You can see their headlights or interior lights dim each time the bass hits, or when the amplifier puts a huge draw on the electrical system.

The Alternator

The alternator keeps the car running and recharges your battery after the car starts.

Checking the Alternator

SO, the quickest and easiest way to check your alternator is to

       1) Start the car.
       2) Once running at idle, disconnect your battery.

Understanding the basic principles above, two things will happen.  If the alternator is bad, the car will shut off since there is no longer electricity being generated for the car to operate.  If the alternator is good, the car will stay running and your issue may be elsewhere.  If the car won't start at all, even with a jump on the battery, then you might check the battery.

- Bryan Lin | CEO, The Motorsports Authority, Inc. |

Monday, December 3, 2012

Your Car 101 (Series) - How do I know my brakes need to be changed?

How do I know my brakes need to be replaced?
Bad Brakes?  DIY on checking your brakes.
There are two ways you can go about this.  The easiest is to look at your brake reservoir (assuming all other part are working correctly).  Let me explain...

Option 1

Do you remember your first bicycle with the hand brakes?  It had two little pads that pressed against the front or rear wheel.  Your car really isn't that much different.  Each rotor has two pads with it, and the rotor is fixed to your axle.  So when your wheels are turning, so is your rotor.  When you want to stop, the two pads press against each side of the rotor, bringing your vehicle to a stop.  The difference between your car and that bicycle is the car uses brake fluid whereas a bicycle uses a cable.  When you pulled the cable, the two pads would press against the wheel.  When you push your car's brake pedal, you're pushing fluid out of the reservoir, through the brake lines, and telling the brake pads to push against the rotors.  Make sense?'s the key factor.

Each time you apply the brakes, you lose a certain amount of brake pad.  Depending on how you drive, it'll be more or less.  However, when you release the brake pedal, the pads only move back from the rotors a certain amount every time.  This is good, because the pads don't have a large distance to travel to slow your vehicle down.  However you have less pad now and less goes back in the reservoir.  Therefore, as the brake pads wear down, so does the fluid level in the brake reservoir.  

Now for the "watch out for"s.  First, remember where the fluid is to begin with.  If you don't, you can't tell if your fluid level is dropping.  Your brake master cylinder is the big part on the back wall which the brake reservoir is attached to.  That could possibly be going bad as well.

Option 2

This is the fun part.  Option two is jacking up your vehicle and removing the wheel and tire.  Once removed, you can look into the brake caliper to view the brake pads.  You can tell with your eyes whether your pads need replacing. 

Option 3

If you have access to a lift, you can put the car in the air without removing the wheels.  Sometimes (especially if you have larger wheels), you can still see the pads.


Do NOT wait too long.  If you hear a grinding noise or feel through the brake pedal that there is metal on metal contact, it might be too late.  See...when the pads get down to the point where the metal in the middle is exposed, the pads then start grinding into the rotors and putting grooves in it.  This is very bad for new pads and will accelerate the wear of any new pads.  Also, with it not being a flat surface, the pads will only come in contact with part of the rotor and that can affect braking distance and capabilities.  The results?  New rotors, which typically starts around $50 each corner.  Changing them on a regular schedule and keeping an eye on the pad's wear will save you some money in the long run.

- Bryan Lin | CEO, The Motorsports Authority, Inc. |