Frequently Asked Questions

Often times customers will have worn two of their tires out, but the other two are in fine shape. The customer will purchase two tires. The question now, where should those two best tires go? Contrary to what seems to be common sense, the two best tires should go to the rear of the vehicle. This logic holds true whether the vehicle is front, rear, or all wheel drive.

The reason being, the best tires will grip more, and if the best tires are in the rear, over-steer will result in wet, snowy or icy conditions. This same logic applies to rotating tires. Experts claim, if there is a 25% difference in tread depth, the best tires must go to the rear. It seems like a scam to make customers buy new tires for the front wheels as well, but I assure you the proof is in the pudding.

The lesson to be learned? Rotate your tires regularly to keep them even.

The first thing you must know in regards to a vehicle over heating is that most modern cars use dummy gauges. A dummy gauge is a type of gauge that only generally reflects the actual data. For example, the coolant temperature gauge will show cold, normal and hot, but will not show the many temperature fluctuations an engine goes through while driving. The problem with this type of gauge is that by the time the temperature gauge shows a hot reading, the engine has already reached a very high temperature, and has in many cases caused major damage to the engine.

Next you must understand the anatomy of a modern engine. Modern engines consist of a cylinder block, and one or two cylinder heads, depending on whether the motor is an in-line motor or a V’ed motor. Generally, an inline four-cylinder engine looks like this:

Head gasket diagram

The cylinder head sits on top of the engine block and a cylinder head gasket seals the space between them.
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Cold Engine Enrichment

A common complaint, especially when temperature start to drop is, “My car runs poorly cold, or my car is hard to start cold”. Both of these complaints are generally caused by a problem with cold start enrichment. In order for an engine to start and run cold, it requires more fuel than when it is hot. This condition where the engine needs more fuel cold is called cold start enrichment. Enrichment meaning a higher ratio of fuel to air.

If the car does not get the proper enrichment when cold, it will have trouble starting, or run poorly until the engine warms up. These complaints are mysterious at first, but once you learn the common causes, you can often cure them with little to no trouble.

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Whenever I recommend a new timing belt and water pump, I am often asked, “Can i do that myself?”. My short answer is, “No”. I would not recommend your average vehicle owner to attempt replacing their timing belt and water pump. We often see cars come in here with minor to major problems stemming from another shop installing a timing belt wrong.

That being said, here are some tips to help ensure the proper installation of a timing belt and water pump.
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A frequent cause of heartache for technicians, and car owners alike, is the failed E-test. Truth be told, just about any properly running vehicle will pass emission testing. This post will not be a laundry list of cheats. Rather, this post will be a comprehensive list of repair information, to aid in actually repairing the vehicle so it is in accordance with emission standards.

Pre-Test Tips

First and foremost, make sure your catalytic converter (cat) is hot before you go to emission testing. A cat is just a honeycomb of metal that becomes so hot it burns any left over fuel the motor was unable to burn. In order to incinerate the left-overs, the cat must become extremely hot.

The best way to ensure your cat is hot, is to cruise your car down the highway for 15 to 20 minutes before you go to test the vehicle. The exhaust temperature is the hottest during light throttle cruise. Running the car down the highway will heat soak the cat, to ensure it will “lite off” during testing.

A good old fashioned top end de-carb is always a good idea before emission testing a vehicle. If you can get a full injector purge, that is best. Simply adding BG’s 44k to the gas tank and sucking a bottle of de-carb through a vacuum line also works well. The carbon in a motor becomes hotter than the normal parts of the motor, which can lead to detonation, misfire, or high NOX due to elevated combustion chamber temperatures.

Check your cooling system. A faulty cooling system can cause pre-detonation, and high nox. Let your car cool down, and make sure the coolant is full. Low coolant levels can casue multiple problems. As recommended here replace your radiator cap every spring.

Catalytic Converter

Emission Failures – Rules of thumb:

Understanding emission fialures requires undersanding the 5 gases that result from internal combustion. The 5 gases we measuer are HC, CO, CO2, O2 and NOX.

5 Gas Analyzer Specifications at 2000 RPM extended hold, in neutral or park.

  • HC = 100 PPM or less
  • CO = Less than 0.3 %
  • CO2 = Over 13.5 %
  • O2 = Less than 1 %
  • NOX = 100 – 700
  • Lambda, will vary, depending on if you are under load.

Nox is a result of high combustion chamber temperatures.

Common causes of high nox are:

  • a lean condition
    • a vacuum leak
    • a failed O2 sensor
    • a failed MAF (mass air flow) sensor
    • a failed MAP (manifold absolute pressure) sensor
  • Incorrect timing; either ignition or camshaft / crankshaft sync
    • too much ignition timing (too advanced)
    • improper crankshaft/ camshaft timing
  • a faulty cooling system
    • a failed coolant temperature sensor
    • low coolant level
    • inoperable cooling fans
  • a failed EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system
    • Failed EGR Valve
    • Failed EGR Valve Solenoid
    • Clogged EGR Ports
  • a failed secondary air system.
  • a failed catalytic converter
  • a high compression motor

HC is from unburned or partially burnt fuel.

HC is generally a sign of misfire, but can also be that the engine is just way too rich. Common causes of HC are:

  • a rich or lean misfire
    • a failed O2 sensor
    • a failed MAF sensor
    • a failed coolant temperature sensor
    • a vacuum leak
    • dirty or sticking injectors
  • an ignition misfire
    • old or faulty ignition parts (plugs, wires, coils)
    • improper crankshaft/ camshaft timing
    • Improper ignition timing
  • a failed catalytic converter
  • a failed secondary air system

** A fuel leak (even a fuel vapor leak) near the tail pipe can also cause HC failure. The machines that suck the exhaust in and test it will also suck in the raw fuel and cause a HC failure.

High CO occurs when a car is too rich.

Common causes include

  • a failed O2 sensor
  • a failed MAF sensor
  • a failed MAP (manifold absolute pressure) sensor
  • leaking or sticking injectors
  • a failed coolant temperature sensor
  • a fuel pressure regulator leaking fuel into the vacuum port
  • too little ignition timing
  • a failed catalytic converter
  • a failed secondary air system

O2 is an indicator of air fuel metering

An O2 level over 1% indicates a lean condition.

CO2 is an indicator of over all engine health.

If CO2 is not over 13.5 % you have a general engine performance problem. Low compresion, poor ignition, faulty air fuel metering or the like.

You’ve probably noticed a pattern here. Honestly, there are a handful of systems which keep the car running properly, and the emissions low. As long as all the systems are working properly, you should be fine, the trick is determining which systems have failed.

You have to look at all five gasses to get an idea of what is going on. For example, if NOX and HC are both high, CO are low, and the idle is too high, I’d check for a vacuum leak causing lean misfire. To really hone in on the problem, you will also need a proper scan tool to watch data streams, and a 5 gas analyzer.

Correcting Emission Failures

automotive repair scan tool

This is a relatively inexpensive scan tool made by autolink. It pulls codes as well as reads and displays your basic drive-ability data. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to repair any modern car (1996 or newer). I have one, and i use it all day long.

Check your easy stuff first. Plug in a scan tool and run through your basic data, engine coolant temperature, MAF grams per second, baro pressure, intake air temperature, etc. and make sure nothing is out to lunch. For example, is the coolant temperature stuck at 0 degrees Celsius, causing the vehicle to permanently stay in cold start enrichment?

Check the Air and Fuel Metering

Make sure your vehicle is in fuel control. Modern cars have two fuel control modes, closed loop and open loop. When the car is in open loop, it is simply running a pre-made map, and makes little to no changes to the amount of fuel it delivers. When a vehicle is in closed loop, it is closely monitoring the engine and adjusting fuel and timing to create the proper air fuel ratio, and a good clean burn.

Learn more about closed loop Vs. Open loop by understnading how check engien lights work.

Watch your front oxygen sensor/s. The sensors should switch back and forth between high and low values. Many oxygen sensors are one volt systems, and will therefore switch between .02 and .98 volts. Other systems are five volt, some are 1.5 volt. The main thing to look for is rapid switching (every second or so) between low and high values. If the oxygen sensor is switching, then the ECU (engine control unit) is adjusting fuel. If an oxygen sensor is switching slowly, or sticking at a value, then there is a gross failure in the fuel control system (MAF, engine coolant temperature sensor, Oxygen sensor, etc.)

If the car is equipped with a MAF, check to make sure it is clean. A dirty MAF can cause a lean condition.

If you have an old style MAF, such as this:

mass airflow sensor

You can actually open these old MAF’s up and tune them. They are a simple flapper door that swings open as the engine draws more air in. The main downfall of these early MAF’s is that the spring wears out. As the spring wears out, the door will open further than it should, and the car will run rich. Watch your five gas analyzer and adjust it one click at a time. If you don’t have a five gas, you can always adjust a few clicks and then run it back through emission testing, it’s just far more time consuming. Generally speaking, you will need to tighten the spring two or three clicks per 100,000 miles.

Look for Ignition Problems

If you have a distributor on the car, set your timing. Ignition timing that is too far advanced will result in high NOX. Ignition timing that is too far retarded may result in high HC or CO.

While you are at it, also inspect your spark plugs to ensure they are new. Always, make sure you have the proper spark plug in your vehicle. Teh factory spark plug is always the best spark plug. If you are not sure what plugs to use, get a set form the dealership.

You can sometimes find a faulty ignition system by soaking the engine with water. The water will make it easier for the ignition system to arc to ground rather than going through the spark plug. If your car has coil on plug ignition, you can stress test the coils by making them jump a gap before the spark plug.

Ingnition Tester

This is a tester you can put in line in your ignition system. By making the spark jump a gap, you can stress the ignition system and find a failing system. Very handy.

As a last ditch effort, you can also check and ensure the crankshaft/ camshaft timing is correct. I have heard rumor of a new timing belt bringing a NOX failure back in line, once, but that would be fairly rare.

Check Emission Specific Components

You can also test your cat to verify it is working properly. First, you can install a back pressure tester in a pre-cat oxygen sensor bung. Rev the motor while in park or neutral and ensure the back pressure is low enough. If the back pressure is too high, you car is plugged, and requires replacement. You can also watch the front and rear O2 sensors to get an idea if the cat is working.

Further more, watch your five gas analyzer to verify the cat is working. Watch the five gas as the car warms up. Once the cold start enrichment has leveled off, drive the vehicle and watch the emissions. Before the cat is hot enough to light off, you will see all the emissions the car produces. At a certain point, if the cat is working, you will see the emissions drop as soon as the cat lites off.

Check your EGR system (if equipped), which recirculates exhaust gas to lower combustion chamber temperatures, and mainly lower NOX. Most EGR valves are opened by engine vacuum and a solenoid. With the engine running, apply vacuum to the EGR valve. If the valve works and the ports are clear, the engine should stumble and die. If the engine remains running, you have a faulty EGR system. If the Valve holds vacuum, but the engine doesn’t die, the ports are most likely clogged. If the EGR valve doesn’t hold vacuum, the valve is most likely bad. Certainly, the valve can be bad AND you have clogged ports.

Similarly, check the vacuum supply going into the EGR solenoid. if the solenoid has proper engine vacuum going into it, check the power and ground at the solenoid. Also, supply power and ground to the solenoid with the engine running. If the solenoid works, it will open and send vacuum over to the EGR valve.

Also check your secondary air system, if equipped. Secondary air system pumps air into pre-cat exhaust to help the cat light off. If your secondary air pump is electric, power it up and check to make sure it flows air. If your air pump is mechanical, let the engine idle and check to see if the air pump works. Mechanical air pumps often also utilize a solenoid which opens when the secondary air is required. Power up this solenoid and ensure it is working.

See also: Check engine light causes.

Any time gas prices climb, we are often asked, “is there anything I can do to improve my gas mileage?”. The fact of the matter, is there are numerous options for improving fuel economy. The racing industry has used all these techniques for generations to go faster, but the part that many people forget is that these same techniques also improve gas mileage.

Wet induction: Wet induction is a system that introduces a small amount of liquid to the air which is drawn into the engine. The liquid is generally water, but can be any number of liquids, such as denatured alcohol, or methanol. The liquid serves several purposes. It cools the incoming air, cools the combustion chamber, increases the compression ratio, cleans the intake valves and combustion chamber, and in the case of denatured alcohol, or methanol, it also increases the octane of the gasoline. All of these factors combine to greatly improve the efficiency of the motor.

Hydrogen induction: Introduce hydrogen into the in coming air stream, much like wet induction.

Propane induction: introduce propane into the air stream, much like wet induction. You can also alter a vehicle to run on propane alone.

Maximize air flow through the motor: Because a motor is just an air pump, any time you make it easier for the motor to move air, you will increase horsepower, but you will also increase fuel economy. Several techniques for increasing the motors efficiency include Port and polish, larger intake and exhaust, ram air systems/ velocity stacks.

Port and polish remains a favorite modification racers use to improve the way their engines produce power. By carefully honing out certain areas of the motor, it allows the motor to more easily draw air into, and push air out of the motor. The less work the engine must do to move air in and out, the more efficient the motor will be, and thus fuel efficiency will be increased. The head, intake manifold, exhaust manifold, and throttle body are all areas that can be ported and polished to improve air flow over the factory design.

A must for improved air flow is upgrading the intake and exhaust. Aftermarket intakes will be larger in diameter, and use a larger, easier breathing air filter. Also, an intake manifold with a larger plenum will allow for a more efficient motor. The larger plenum area reduces the amount the individual cylinders will compete for air, particularly at higher RPM’s. The exhausts will also be larger in diameter and will use larger, faster flowing catalytic converters, while still effectively keeping emissions an acceptable levels.

Another cheap and effective way to maximize air flow is the use of ram air and velocity stacks. Ram air systems use the vehicle’s forward movement to force air into the intake, rather than relying on the vacuum of the motor to draw the air in. Ram air systems also often employ a velocity stack. A velocity stack is simply a specifically shaped cone which increases the speed at which the air enters the motor by gradually tapering the space the air has to enter the motor. It’s based on simple physics; if a gas is moving through a confined space, and the space gets smaller, the air will move faster. The air then travels into the engine faster, and therefore makes the engine more efficient.

Tuning and engine management: One of the most effective ways to improve fuel efficiency is tuning. By advancing the ignition timing, and slightly leaning out the air fuel ratio, the car will greatly improve in power, and fuel economy. There are numerous systems available, ranging from simple off the shelf programming tools which come with pre-made maps, to full blown replacement, stand alone ECUs (engine control unit). All of these different tuning systems can be use to various degrees to improve fuel economy.

Weight reduction: One of the easiest ways to increase fuel economy is to simply make the car weigh less. Steel can often be replaced with aluminum. Many metal items can be replaced with fiberglass or carbon fiber. Body panels can be replaced with fiberglass, or carbon fiber (carbon fiber weighs less than fiberglass and is stronger than steel). Heavy steel rims can be replaced with aftermarket alloy rims (reducing rotational weight, such as the rims, axles, rotors has a dramatic effect on fuel economy). Seats can be replaced with lightweight versions. Heavy gas tanks can be replaced with much lighter fuel cells. Unnecessary items can be removed, or can be trimmed down (brackets, options, features, power windows replaced with hand crank etc) the list goes on and on.

Improved aerodynamics: Improving the aerodynamics of a vehicle will improve fuel efficiency. Body kits, canards, wings and underbelly pans can all be added to improve the ease at which the air moves past the vehicle. The less the car has to fight to get through the air, the more fuel efficient it will be.

Reduced drive train loss: All vehicles have some power lost through their drive train, as it is an inevitable part of the process. We can, however reduce that loss. Water and power steering pumps can be driven my electric motors rather than off the crank pulley of the motor. The motor and transmission mounts can be made much stiffer to reduce the amount of drive train loss due to the engine twisting in its mounts. Drive shafts and axles can be made from light weight materials to reduce the all important rotational weight, and thus also increase fuel economy. The motor itself can also be rebuilt using lighter weight parts (pistons, rods, crankshafts, camshafts, valves) in order to even further push the fuel economy by lowering rotational weight.

Gearing: One simple change is gearing. Just through gearing alone, we can alter a vehicles top speed, acceleration, and fuel economy.

Conversions: The be all, end all, for increased fuel efficiency will always be changing the way the vehicle is powered. Switching to diesel, bio-diesel, hybrid, or even hydro electric motors to power vehicles will be the top end, all out version of the fuel efficient vehicle. Gasoline vehicles can be converted to run on e85 or propane/ natural gas. Any car can be powered by any drive train, it is just a matter of making it happen.

BOB’s and WOW’s: In the automotive industry, there are bob’s (best of the best) and wow’s (worst of the worst). These are parts that meet manufacturer’s requirements, but they are at the extreme ends of the acceptable range. Some cars get all bob’s, some get all wow’s, most get a combination of the two. We will simply use nothing but BOB’s, as we will be able to strictly control the quality of product we are using.

Address pattern failure: Yet another ugly truth the automotive producers would rather not discuss is pattern failure. All vehicles have inherent problems with them. These inherent problems are referred to as pattern failure. We address these problems by using higher quality parts and engineering. By eliminating pattern failure, we will produce a better vehicle.

One of the most popular questions we get is, “what kind of car should I buy?”. Here are a few rules of thumb when it comes to buying a new or used car.

Always get a pre-buy inspection on ANY used car. A pre-buy inspection is generally about $60 and is well worth every penny. Also note, if the person or business selling the car is unwilling to let you have the car inspected, move on to the next car.

Secondly, maintenance is the key to longevity with any car. Read and follow the recommended maintenance schedules that the manufacturer has outlined for you vehicle. The only exception to this would be oil changes. Change your oil every 3,000 miles. Many manufacturers claim you can go longer between oil changes, but I highly recommend you change your oil every 3,000. By far the most common engine failure is due to poor maintenance of the engine oil. For more detailed information on properly maintaining your vehicle, please visit here.

That being said, here is my list of the cars I would recommend, in regards to least amount of mechanical trouble. Of course personal taste comes into play, but if you are simply looking for a dependable car that will maintain it’s value, this list goes from best to worst.

Japanese imports remain the most dependable cars. The Toyota family is the best and includes Toyota, Scion and Lexus. They hold their value, and rarely have problems. By far the cars we see the least of for repairs would be any type of Toyota.

The Nissan Family, Nissan and Infinity, are also very good cars. One important note, Nissan does not release their parts to aftermarket manufactures, which in turn means many parts for Nissan vehicles must be bought from the dealer which results in higher repair costs.

The Honda Family, Honda and Acura, is an excellent choice for a lower cost vehicle which will have little to no problems. They are very well engineered, they are easy to work on, and hold their value better than almost any other car.

Subaru, my personal favorite, is a fantastic line of cars. One word of caution, they are very susceptible to bad head gaskets. If a Subaru is over heated at all, the will very quickly warp the heads which will in turn lead to a fairly costly repair bill. They do however have one of the very best all wheel drive system of any make.

Mazda is another Japanese import. The rotory engine in the RX7 and RX8 is an amazing animal, but simply has problems with longevity. Also consider that many Mazdas are re-branded Fords. They often have problems with their automatic transmissions.

The Kia and Hyundai car family have come a long long way over the years. Although they used to be on the cheep side, they are now very good cars.

Mitsubishi’s are generally good cars, but would be lower on my list of Japanese imports. Mitsubishi makes many of the engines that Dodge and Chrysler use in their cars. Many Mitsubishi are also re-branded as Chryslers, and have been since the early eighties.

Any European import, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Land Rover, are all about the same. These are what we refer to as a “driver’s car”. They have great power, they’re comfortable to drive, they have all the gadgets. The biggest problem with a European import, is that they tend to fall apart after 60,000 miles. On top of that, everything for a European import is more expensive, when you can find a shop willing to work on them. The parts cost more, and so does the labor. Just about European car I would recommend selling before the factory warranty is up. Even the Bugatti Veron is rumored to be riddled with problems.

Domestics are just behind the times. They generally use older technology. Their interiors are generally not as nice, and they just break down more often. Their trucks are far superior to their passenger cars, and if you want a diesel truck, you basically have no choice but to buy a domestic.

The Ford Family, Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury (and some Jaguar), is most likely the best of the domestic big three. They have a terrible time keeping an automatic transmission from dieing an early death.
Their power steering pumps puke fluid out if you steer the vehicle with out the engine running. Also, the power steering will whine, and there is nothing you can do to fix it. Their air ride equipped vehicles have problems with leaks, leading to a rather comical squatting in the rear look.

The General Motors family, Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, Pontiac, Buick, Hummer, despite my hatred, is still better than Dodge, Chrysler, or Jeep. The fuel pumps go out on General Motors vehicles at the drop of a hat (60,000 miles). The intake manifold design is horrific and leaks coolant about the same time the fuel pump shuts down. They are rickity, and they use the same technology over and over and over, even if it doesn’t work. If you buy a Cadillac, expect to have to replace thousands of dollars worth of control modules over the life of the vehicle.

Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep. Just don’t do it. They are by far the vehicles we see the most for repair. Fuel pumps, engine control units, transmissions, bad motors, just about any major component that could go bad, does.

By far the most popular question we get is, “How Do I Find A Mechanic I Can Trust?”. This proposal remains very difficult to answer. The fact of the matter is that the quality of service you will receive will depend entirely on the actually mechanic working on your car. I’ve met fantastic and terrible mechanics at dealerships, chains and independent shops. Here are a few tips for finding the right mechanic for you.

Talk to the mechanics. This approach is far more difficult at some facilities, such as larger dealerships, but will garner the best results. If the mechanic attempts to talk over your head with technical jargon, I’d steer clear of him. He is most likely trying to impress you because he is actually a fairly low level mechanic. Similarly, I’d avoid a mechanic who talks down to you just because your car doesn’t happen to be your area of expertise. Look for someone who tries to explain things as clearly and as straight forward as possible. Most mechanics I have respect for always use a visual aid of some sort to help explain the situation.

Get several estimates in writing and read them carefully. Often times a shop will attempt to lure a customer in by offering a “lower price”, but these low ball estimates are often missing key components, or have lower quality parts attached to them. Similarly, many shops go for the “get them once” approach, where they will simply charge way more than any other shop in town. The idea here is that they may not get your business ever again, but they got as much as they could out of you the one time you visited their shop. Carefully compare the parts and labor costs. Ask the shop where they get their parts. After looking through a handful of estimates, it will most likely be very clear who you will prefer to do business with.

Ask what kind of warranty they offer. 12 months and 12 thousand miles remains an industry standard warranty, but each shop is different. Many shops, from independents to dealerships also offer a nation wide warranty. Questions about whether or not a shop will stand behind their repair will allow you to gauge how likely it is they will fix your car appropriately. Furthermore, any mechanic that becomes offended when questioned about his warranty should be avoided.

Look for a specialist. All mechanics have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to repairing vehicles. If you can find a shop that specializes in your specific vehicle, or a mechanic at a shop who specializes in your particular vehicle, you will often come out ahead. This remains one area that dealerships will always have an advantage because their mechanics work on the same make day in and day out.

Ask for references. Any mechanic worth his salt will have a long list of customers who will vouch for his skills and honesty.

If you do have a vehicle repaired, check your invoice to see if the mechanic has included the four C’s. A mechanic who does include the four C’s is almost always better than one who does not.

Lastly, I would offer the suggestion that most mechanics are not that bad. Many of us are just folks that like to fix cars. The problem is that a small percentage of mechanics are truly just crooks, and that small portion of the market has given us all a bad name. If you do a little home work, and ask the right questions, I am sure you can find an honest mechanic who will take care of you as if you were one of the family.

This post address vehicles that are not starting after having sat for a period of time. For information regarding a vehicle that died while driving and then failed to restart, please see this post.

First off, i recommend keeping a few things in the car for just this type of situation. A small socket set with metric or standard sockets (depending on the make of vehicle) a standard screwdriver, a Philips screw driver, a pair of pliers, a can of starting fluid or brake clean, a flashlight, jumper cables, and a tow rope. This small assortment of tools will get you far in life. Even the best mechanic is worthless with out some tools.

To start, try to crank (turn over) the engine. Observe what happens. If the car turns over very slowly, you most likely have a dead battery. Run your wipers, roll your windows up and down (if electric) and note the speed at which these work. If the wipers and window motors move slowly, your battery is most likely dead. Attempt to jump start the vehicle.

Take note to make sure you are connecting positive to positive, and ground (negative) to ground. Look at the battery for the denotation, often times battery cables have been switched and you can not necessarily trust red for positive, black for negative. Also, you may need to let the donor car run for a length of time while attached to the dead vehicle before the car will start. If the car dies as soon as the donor vehicle is detached, you most likely need a new alternator.

If you try to turn the motor over and nothing happens, or if you tried to jump start the vehicle and still nothing happens, you likely have a problem with your starter. If you have a bad starter, often you will be able to hear a faint “click” when you first try to start the car.

A starter generally looks like this,
Starter
It has two or three wires going to it, and generally has a sticker on it which reads “do not strike with hammer”. If you can find the starter, check to make sure the two or three wires are all attached and seem to be in good condition, which generally they will be. The small wire is the signal wire. Occasionally this small wire will have come off, or will have broken, however, more than likely, the starter is just going bad. They will hit a point where they are not making good contact somewhere inside them, and thus they don’t energies.

If you have something that will reach the starter, try taping it, preferably while someone tries to start the car. This process will often get a starter that is going out to turn the car over a few last times. This process of tapping the starter is why they generally have a sticker which reads “do not trike with hammer”. Although hitting the starter may get it to work a few last times, it’s also not good to go beating the thing to death. Use a bit of common sense and you’ll be fine.

If you happen to have a test light, you can check for power to the signal wire while someone turns the key. If you have no power at the signal wire during cranking, than hot wire it from the main lead to the starter, and the car will start.

The next set of options is for a car that is turning over normally. If the car turns over, but fails to start, you have a crank, no start condition. Common causes for a crank no start condition are loss of fuel, loss of spark, loss of compression or a flooded motor.

If a motor is flooded, it has too much fuel in the combustion chamber to start. All modern cars have a flood clear mode. If you hold the accelerator to the floor, the car will automatically go into flood clear mode. As long as you hold the accelerator to the floor, the car will not open the injectors, and will thus clear the engine of the excess gasoline. If the car is flooded, and you put the car into flood clear mode, the car will start to fire as soon as the engine is clear of the excess gasoline. Once the car begins to fire, simply let of the gas and continue cranking until the engine starts. Common causes of flooded motors are: old ignition parts, a very dirty throttle body, too little ignition timing, or an old and stretched timing belt.

A loss of fuel is a very common cause of cars not starting. The easiest way to check if the car has lost fuel is to spray a bit of starting fluid (brake clean also works) into the intake. Remove the air intake boot, open the throttle plate and spray a reasonable amount of fluid into the intake. Replace the intake boot and attempt to start the car. if the car fires and dies, or at least pops a bit, you most likely have lost fuel.

Try dumping a gallon or two of gas into the gas tank. Your fuel gauge may have stuck in the middle and left your car out of gas. Similarly, your fuel pump may have stopped working. Much in the same way that tapping a starter may get it to work, tapping a fuel pump can often jog it into working. Bounce the back of the car, kick the gas tank, bang the top of the access panel for the fuel pump (if equipped), anything to jostle the fuel pump may get it to work. Lastly, you may have lost injector pulse. If you have a test light, unplug one injector and check to see if the test light lights up during cranking.

Another common cause of a crank no start condition is loss of spark. Remove one spark plug, connect it to the ignition cable or coil pack, depending on the type of ignition system you have, and try to start the car. As long as the spark plug is grounded and you have a good ignition system, you should be able to see a spark arc across the spark plug. Loss of spark varies widely from car to car, but may be a bad distributor, bad crankshaft or camshaft sensor, a bad plug wire, bad cap or rotor, bad ecu or even a bad spark plug. If you have lost spark, you probably need to take the car to a shop.

The last cause of a crank no start condition we will cover is loss of compression. This event occurs when the timing belt or timing chain brakes, slips or strips. If you have a trained ear, you will hear that the car has lost compression as soon as you crank it over. The engine may turn over extremely quickly due to no resistance in the motor, or it may turn over with a strange off rhythm. Regardless of what has caused the loss of compression, you will most definitely need to take the car to a shop to repair a loss of compression.

One last thing to consider, if you use BG products to maintain your car, you receive a free road side assistance card. These cards are good for a gallon of gas, having someone unlock your car, or a free tow to the shop. This road side assistance card is one of the many reasons we recommend using BG products when maintaining your car.

I recommend keeping a few things in the car for just this type of situation. A small socket set with metric or standard sockets (depending on the make of vehicle) a standard screwdriver, a Philips screw driver, a pair of pliers, a can of starting fluid or brake clean, a flashlight, jumper cables, and a tow rope. This small assortment of tools will get you far in life.

If your vehicle stops running while you were driving, we call that a “Died in flight” situation. The main causes of a died in flight are a bad alternator and dead battery, a loss fuel, a loss spark, a loss fuel and spark, or a loss of compression.

One common problem is a dead battery due to a bad alternator. To start, try to crank (turn over) the engine. Observe what happens. If the car turns over very slowly, you most likely have a dead battery. Run your wipers, roll your windows up and down (if electric) and note the speed at which these work. If the wipers and window motors move slowly, your battery is most likely dead. Attempt to jump start the vehicle.

Take note to make sure you are connecting positive to positive, and ground (negative) to ground. Look at the battery for the denotation, often times battery cables have been switched and you can not necessarily trust red for positive, black for negative. Also, you may need to let the donor car run for a length of time while attached to the dead vehicle before the car will start. If the car dies as soon as the donor vehicle is detached, you most likely need a new alternator.

A loss of fuel is a very common cause of a car’s engine stopping and not re-starting. The easiest way to check if the car has lost fuel is to spray a bit of starting fluid (brake clean also works) into the intake. Remove the air intake boot, open the throttle plate and spray a reasonable amount of fluid into the intake. Replace the intake boot and attempt to start the car. if the car fires and dies, or at least pops a bit, you most likely have lost fuel.

Try dumping a gallon or two of gas into the car. Your fuel gauge may have stuck in the middle and left your car out of gas. Similarly, your fuel pump may have stopped working. Much in the same way that tapping a starter may get it to work, tapping a fuel pump can often jog it into working. Bounce the back of the car, kick the gas tank, bang the top of the access panel for the fuel pump (if equipped), anything top jostle the fuel pump may get it to work. Lastly, you may have lost injector pulse. If you have a test light, unplug one injector and check to see if the test light lights up during cranking.

Another common cause of a died in flight condition is loss of spark. Remove one spark plug, connect it to the ignition cable or coil pack, depending on the type of ignition system you have, and try to start the car. As long as the spark plug is grounded and you have a good ignition system, you should be able to see a spark arc across the spark plug. Loss of spark varies widely from car to car, but may be a bad distributor, bad crankshaft or camshaft sensor, a bad plug wire, bad cap or rotor, bad ECU or even a bad spark plug. If you have lost spark, you probably need to take the car to a shop.

The last cause of a car to die in flight and not re-starting I will cover is loss of compression. This event occurs when the timing belt or timing chain brakes, slips or strips. If you have a trained ear, you will hear that the car has lost compression as soon as you crank it over. The engine may turn over extremely quickly due to no resistance in the motor, or it may turn over with a strange, off rhythm. Regardless of what has caused the loss of compression, you will most definitely need to take the car to a shop to repair a loss of compression.

One last thing to consider, if you use BG products to maintain your car, you receive a free road side assistance card. These cards are good for a gallon of gas, having someone unlock your car, or a free tow to the shop. This road side assistance card is one of the many reasons we recommend using BG products when maintaining your car.