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Coolant leaking from Volkswagen Beetle

In Automotive Diagnostics, Vehicle Fluids by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

This is the latest chronicle on the most recent car problem I had with my Volkswagen Beetle. I hope that my experience helps you address any issues you face.

I was taking my exit off I-95 South when I noticed what sounded like a rattling noise – and then turned into a grinding noise – as I stepped on the gas. 

I reached out to the General Manager at HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire, thinking it was some sort of belt issue. 

However, as I spoke with him, I began to see other problems. Smoke was emitting from the front of my vehicle and I heard a loud beeping noise. That’s when I saw the engine temperature light and low oil pressure icons appear on the dashboard. This information was shared with the General Manager, who recommended I check my oil level.

Engine temperature warning light

I safely arrived home, where my fiance and I confirmed that there was oil in the system but saw that the coolant reservoir appeared empty. When he heard this, the General Manager suggested we add refrigerant to see if it had a fast leak. If it did, I would need to have the vehicle towed to their Woodbridge auto repair shop. Coolant was added and, sure enough, it leaked out immediately.

Why is coolant leaking from my car?

My Volkswagen Beetle was towed to HomeTowne Auto Repair the next morning. 

When it was brought into the shop, they found that one of the heater hose connectors had broken.

Broken heater hose connector

What appeared to be smoke was actually steam. This occurred because the coolant was leaking directly onto the hot exhaust, which was burning it.

After replacing the connectors, one of the technicians topped the system off with coolant. However, when he turned the vehicle on coolant once again poured out.

Why was coolant leaking out of my vehicle?

Through a deeper investigation of the problem, they found that there was a crack in the oil filter housing. 

coolant leaking
Crack in oil filter housing

After replacing this part, a coolant system flush was performed to ensure that there weren’t any air pockets. My Volkswagen was then taken on a test drive to confirm that no other leaks were present.

Other possible causes behind coolant leaks

Coolant leaks are usually a matter of time and age. Rust, corrosion and impact are factors, as well.

They can be the result of many different components going bad. These include the water pump, radiator, heater core, thermostat, heater hoses, and radiator hoses. You also have multiple bypass hoses, depending on the car.

This article we wrote talks about some signs that you have a bad water pump.

Some high performance vehicles have two water pumps – a main one that’s belt or chain driven and there’s usually one that’s electric which supplements the cooling system. For hybrids, there’s a completely separate cooling system for the hybrid battery. Your hybrid vehicles will have their own water pump, hoses and thermostat.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Noises from the air conditioning system

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Whenever something is wrong with your vehicle, you may begin to hear strange sounds. The a/c is no different. Noises from the air conditioning system are one symptom you may notice when there is an issue.

What does a normal AC sound like?

When the ac compressor comes on, depending on the type of vehicle, you may hear a click and you might see the tachometer go down a little bit and back up as the engine is compensating for the load of the ac compressor. 

Weird noises from the air conditioning system

Now that we’ve covered what you should be hearing, let’s move on to those odd noises, and what’s causing them. 

Strange air conditioning sounds include:

  • Buzzing noises: If you notice a buzzing noise, it could be an ac compressor relay.
  • Clicking sounds: You should also keep an ear out for clicking sounds. A loud clicking is one indicator that the a/c compressor clutch is going bad. If it’s happening quickly, it could be that the system is low on Freon.
  • Clicking sounds inside the car: This noise may be due to actuators behind the dash that control the vent doors. Sometimes, the plastic pieces break or the motors go bad, and they will make a clicking noises.
  • Squealing noise: Squealing sounds are sometimes created if the a/c compressor clutch wears out. Other potential culprits include a bad pulley or pulley bearing, oil getting onto the clutch, or the compressor seizing up. The squealing could also be a loose a/c compressor belt.
  • Rattling sounds: The ac compressor or the compressor clutch going bad produce rattling sounds, at times. This noise – as well as knocking sounds and groaning noises – can also be heard if mounts are loose or broken. The drive belts becoming worn or damaged is another possibility. 
  • Rattling noise inside the vehicle: If you hear a rattling noise from within the car and you have kids or you put stuff up on the dashboard, we have found that paper clips and pens will fall down in the vents. Depending on how high you have the blower motor up, they might rattle around in there.  
  • Vibrating noises: An a/c hose rubbing against a component could lead to vibrating sounds. The blower motor going bad electrically or being unbalanced can create a vibration noise inside the car.
  • Swooshing sounds: As the ac system starts to build pressure, you may hear what sounds like water going through pipes or a swooshing noise. It usually has to do with the expansion valve or the orifice tube that the Freon is expanding through.

Other a/c problems

Leaking air conditioning condenser.

In addition to hearing noises from the air conditioning system, drivers may notice that it just isn’t working correctly. Maybe hot air is blowing out of the vents when the AC is turned on, or no air is coming out at all.

Air conditioning problems can be the result of several issues. A constricted air conditioning condenser and being low on freon are among the possible reasons why the a/c isn’t working.

Our Woodbridge mechanics can perform car ac repair services. This includes a/c diagnostics and electrical diagnostics, replacing parts, and tracking down any leaks. Check out this article we wrote to learn more about the a/c repair services we offer and what you can do to maintain this system. Conducting noise diagnostics is another service we offer.

Air conditioning condenser fan.

If you are hearing any noises that are listed above or others that we didn’t mention – whether they are coming from the air conditioning or not – reach out to us. We can help you determine the problem.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Crank no start on Ford F-350

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

A crank no start is a common problem that can occur with any vehicle.

It’s the reason that a customer brought their Ford F-350 to our shop earlier this month.

When looking into the problem, our technician found that the fuel injectors weren’t pressurizing. A high pressure oil system is used to pressurize the injectors, because they need 500 PSI just to fire. 

To determine the cause behind the pressurizing issue, he hooked up an air line to the oiling system and discovered a leak on the oil stand pipe. There was a broken o-ring, as well. When o-rings break, they will leak internally, resulting in a loss of pressure.

For this diesel, we needed to replace the oil stand pipe, which allows oil pressure to pump up the fuel injectors, and oil. They come as a set. The crank position sensor was also broken and a new one was installed.

Oil stand pipe

Possible causes behind crank no start

A crank no start is a signal problem.

There are numerous possible causes behind this issue – so many that we wouldn’t be able to cover all of them in this article. 

Fuel delivery is the most common reason a vehicle won’t start, because if it’s cranking that means your battery has juice.

Most vehicles have a fuel pump in the tank, and then you will have a high pressure fuel pump under the hood. Either of those components could become clogged or broken. Some automobiles have in-line filters that may get clogged. A lot of newer vehicles have their filters in the fuel pump. You might also have a simple relay or fuse go bad.

Fuel injectors have tiny needles that go in and out. They could become clogged, preventing the needles from moving. Usually, however, injectors alone won’t prevent a car from starting. Instead, the vehicle will start but run poorly. 

The glow plugs, which are responsible for starting the engine on a diesel, could also be the culprit. They could have gone bad and need to be replaced.

Cam and crank sensors not functioning correctly is another possibility. This would be indicated by the vehicle’s inability to fire.

How determining the problem has changed

Years ago, vehicles had carburetors, rather than fuel injectors. Automotive technicians would follow the philosophy of “air, spark, fuel.” They would check those areas, and it didn’t get more complicated than that.

Now, it’s not so simple, because there are signals. Vehicles that are produced today have computers, parameters that need to be set, and security devices. Having so many more features at play can make the process of tracking down the problem a bit more difficult and time consuming.

Performing diagnostic testing on vehicles with a crank no start is one of the services we provide. If your vehicle is refusing to start, have it checked out by a car repair shop near you. 

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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How to tell if your car alternator is bad

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Are you having trouble starting your vehicle?

Your car alternator going bad could be the cause behind this problem.

Here are some bad alternator symptoms:

  • Battery light comes on
  • Grinding, growling and whirring noises
  • Electronics not working correctly
  • Dead or slow car battery
  • Burning electrical or rubber smell

More in-depth explanations of each indicator can be found below.

Battery light turns on: One of the first signs that you would see if your car alternator is going bad would be when the battery light comes on. It can be mistaken for a regular battery issue, but really it’s indicating that the battery isn’t being charged. Alternators are designed to take the load from the electrical system and charge the battery. Generally, you see 13 to 15 volts with an alternator. The battery light may turn on if it goes below that, or if it starts reaching 16 or 17 volts, which indicates an overcharging problem. Overcharging can cause many other problems in your vehicle. Depending on the electrical load – that can be anything from the air conditioning running, headlights, wiper blades, the radio, even the electrical doors like those found on minivans – can make the battery warning light flicker. That’s because the alternator is fluctuating and trying to compensate for the vehicle’s electrical load. If you start seeing that, it’s a good time to bring your car in for us to check the electrical system and, specifically, the alternator. That way you don’t end up on the side of the road.

Noises from under the hood: Hearing noises that are coming from underneath the hood is another common symptom to watch out for. Due to age and wear, the bearings on alternators can start to go bad. You may notice a grinding or growling noise. You can confirm that this is the problem if the alternator is on top by placing a screwdriver on the metal part of it and holding the screwdriver near your ear. If you hear the growling sound coming from there rather than another area, then that will tell you that the bearings are the culprit. Other noises can occur if the pulleys aren’t aligned correctly or the belt pulley bearings are worn, which can create grinding or growling noises and may sound as if it’s the alternator. Whirring is another bad alternator sound that will increase in frequency when you accelerate and decrease as you let off the gas. That is a sign that the alternator is trying to work really hard and is starting to go bad.

Electronics stop working or have delayed response: If your car alternator is going bad, the electronics on a vehicle may act haywire or work slower than normal. On some cars, you can see the dashboard behaving strangely  – the gauges may be moving back and forth, the lights might turn on and off. Newer vehicles have so many electronics. The alternator’s main job is making sure the car is safe to drive on the road. So, it could begin turning off electronics to ensure the engine and brakes continue to function. Really dim or bright headlights are another sign of a bad alternator. The headlights can appear dim if the component is undercharging or overcharging, the lights may get brighter as you hit the gas.

Dead battery or battery is slow to crank: Do you have a dead car battery, or has it taken longer to crank? You might not need a new battery. The problem could lie with the alternator. As you’re driving, the alternator is responsible for charging the battery. If it isn’t able to do that well, but it has enough juice to keep the electronics running the battery won’t be charged correctly and the next time you go to start the car you’re going to either have a slow crank or no crank. It may just “click” – as if you accidentally left your headlights on. You can jump start your car so you can head over to a car repair shop. But if you experience this problem, you should bring the vehicle in so a mechanic can check it out.

Burning smell: In extreme cases, drivers may notice something that smells like rubber or electrical wires are burning. The electronics inside the alternator or the bearings become hot and, next thing you know, you’re starting to cook the insulation on the wiring in the alternator. If it’s an electrical short, that’s where you get the wire burning smell. Basically, it’s an electrical fire. When the alternator is being overworked, it tries to push too much electricity through there and will melt items. If you notice this issue, you should stop and maybe even disconnect your car battery, because if there is an electrical short you don’t want any electricity running through there.

Drivers who experience any of these bad alternator signs should bring their vehicle to a nearby repair shop. The technicians at HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire are able to check alternators, perform courtesy inspections, and conduct diagnostic testing. 

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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The role car computers play

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

When you turn on your car, you’ll notice lots of lights on the dash and it may take a few moments before it stops looking like a Christmas tree.

The reason? There are many computers and modules that run various systems, such as the transmission and engine. Giving the car a minute allows these computers – called Electronic Control Units (ECUs) – to reset. Together, the ECUs form the Controller Area Network (CAN).

Sensors and modules send information to the computers and there are gateway modules that help direct traffic. So not only do you have sensors, you’ve got modules that actually control things, gateway modules that allow access, the CAN network, and the computer.  

Signs of computer problems and how we address them

If there’s a problem with a computer, the vehicle won’t work the way it should. You may notice a few issues. In addition to triggering the check engine light, a malfunctioning computer can impact the fuel economy and result in a no start.

Depending on what it is, there are driver information centers. It can be done through the dashboard lights or small computer screens that explain what’s going on or the system being affected.

Electronic problems can be difficult and time consuming to fix. Our technicians begin addressing the problem by performing a visual inspection. Then, we hook up the computer. We have special scan tools and we even have different ones depending on the type of car we’re working on. The scan tools at the auto parts stores may give you a code, but they don’t allow you to have full access. 

Reasons car computers fail

There are many possible culprits that can lead car computers to fail. It can be as simple as a sensor going bad and needing to be replaced.

Wiring can also become chafed. We’ve seen everything from too much being crammed under the seats, where a lot of modules are now located. In low end and high end vehicles, we have seen problems that have been the result of people spilling drinks or leaving the windows open. 

Sometimes, water leaks can occur due to windshield seals. The water goes in and it will corrode the connectors. You may not see it, so it could be difficult to diagnose because the water goes in, gets in the connector and starts to corrode it, causing an intermittent problem.

car computers
Water collected in the well of a Mercedes, causing a module to corrode.

In the case of one Mercedes, water soaked into the carpet and collected in the well, which was below the floor mat level. Overtime, this issue caused the module to corrode.

We’re finding water intrusion problems with all of the electronics in these cars – not just with the Mercedes. Even with the way the metals are sometimes made, you’re getting corrosion or connection problems, and that’s what’s leading components to fail. 

Some modules are underneath the vehicle or behind bumpers on panels. Even though they aren’t out in the elements, they see a lot of water and salt from the road. We’ve seen modules corrode on the outside and ruin the modules.

Shortage of car parts

With the parts shortages right now, where we used to be able to get just about any part within 2 to 4 days – even if it wasn’t as common – we’re starting to receive them in 2 to 4 weeks. 

For some of these older vehicles, we’re needing to rely on remanufacturers. You’re not able to get some new old stock from the dealer anymore. There’s even a shortage of used parts for some remanufacturers to rebuild them. So we may have to remove the part, send it off for repairs, and wait for them to send it back. That can take 3 to 6 weeks. 

With all that’s going on with the economy, it can delay vehicles getting fixed because we don’t have any other choice.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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My car is making a clunking noise

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Are you hearing a clunking noise when you’re driving? Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy (well … hopefully not).

Clunking and rattling sounds are one sign you may notice when there is a problem with your car’s steering and suspension.

So, what’s the source of all that racket?

Well, the question of why a car is making a clunking noise isn’t an easy one to answer. Because many components make up this part of a vehicle, the direct cause might be hidden under layers of possibilities.

Possible causes of clunking noises

There are numerous reasons that could be behind a clunking sound.

It may be the result of parts – like strut mounts and bushings – wearing out overtime, due to age, wear and tear, driving conditions and driving style. 

Common causes of a clunking noise include sway bar links, which are small links and easier to damage. 

Sway bar end links and sway bar bushings are problems that are often misdiagnosed, because they sound worse than they are.

We worked on a Range Rover that had a clunking sound. When working on the vehicle, we found that not only had the ball joint come out of the steering knuckle, but the sway bar end link was broken.

Struts have mounts on the top that can make a knocking sound. The spring typically lasts the lifetime of the vehicle, depending on what model you have. Normally, the strut inside won’t make any noise. Bearings located on the strut mount, however, could make a knocking noise when they wear out. 

The issue might also have to do with the drag link, control arms or coil springs. Other culprits of clunking noises are: idler arms, pitman arms – which are part of a drag link-type steering system – and tie rod ends.

What to do if you hear a clunking noise

If you hear an odd noise, you should make a note of what it sounds like – whether it’s a clunking, squeaking, groaning, moaning or popping. 

We also recommend that you pay attention to when you hear it, or what you are doing at the time. Are you turning, speeding up, slowing down, or going over a speed bump?

These details can be shared with a mechanic or a car repair shop near you, saving them a lot of time by helping narrow down what’s causing the sound.

Being honest when talking to an automotive professional is also helpful. If you have been in a car accident or hit a curb recently, we suggest you mention it. That may be the clue needed to determine the problem.

Tracking down a sound, as well as ordering and installing any necessary parts does take time. So, don’t be surprised if the mechanic or auto repair shop asks to keep the vehicle for a few days.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics. 

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Did your check engine light turn on? Here’s what you need to know.

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

The check engine light turning is one problem that can be worrisome for drivers. 

When this indicator refuses to go off when someone is starting their car, or when it appears as they’re heading down the highway, it tends to come with the “Uh-oh,” reaction.

So, what should you do when a check engine light turns on?

If the symbol is flashing, you need to have it looked at right away. 

A flashing check engine light means that there’s a problem with the engine. Choosing to wait it out could damage the catalytic converter.

If the indicator is solid, it doesn’t need immediate attention. However, it’s important to have a mechanic check it out as soon as possible.

Can you drive with a check engine light on?

You shouldn’t drive if the light is flashing.

It’s OK to keep driving if it is solid, but it’s a good idea to have it checked out that same day. 

We recommend this because if it’s dangerous you’ll want to have it fixed immediately. Secondly, if you put it off too long you can get several more codes that could be related to the first one. You will likely spend more money on diagnostic testing so the auto repair shop can sort it all out.

What can cause a check engine light to come on?

There are many reasons why the light turns on, some are simple while others are more complex.

It could be anything from low oil to issues with a component, such as the catalytic converter or the coolant system.

Others causes include problems with the ignition system, fuel injection system, evaporative system – which has to do with your gas tank and gas cap – and sensors that are on various parts of the engine.

There are many reasons why the check engine light turns on.

What do we do during check engine light diagnostic testing?

Check engine light diagnostic testing starts with performing a basic check, which helps us rule out any simple problems.

Our technicians then do a preliminary code scan, which gives us a starting point, and start testing related parts.

We follow the testing procedures the manufacturers recommend and look for any Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) and updates.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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My car won’t start. What’s wrong?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

It is very inconvenient when your car won’t start, especially if you have somewhere to be.

There are many possible culprits behind this issue.

The problem could be as simple as a car battery, alternator or starter going bad. It could also be a more complex issue.

Dead Battery 

If you hear a clicking sound or the check engine light turns on, the battery might need replacing.

Batteries can go bad for a number of reasons. Leaving your lights on is one that many of us are familiar with. 

There could also be a problem with the charging system or corrosion on the battery terminals. Electronics in your vehicle, such as clocks and computers, can eventually cause your battery to die.

Old and weak car batteries are more likely to go bad when it’s extremely hot or cold outside.

Starter going bad

A vehicle may not turn over if it has a bad starter, which is responsible for starting the engine.

It has a gear that shoots out and quickly spins, starting the flywheel.

A clicking sound can be a sign that you need a new starter. However, a car with a bad starter won’t easily start even when a jumper box or jumper cables are used. Here are some other signs that your starter is going bad.

A starter will, at times, stop working without warning.

If you turn you over a few times, you may be able to hit it right and get your car started. 

However, if this tactic doesn’t work you probably need to have it towed to a repair shop.

Alternator problem

The alternator is responsible for generating electricity, which is used for electronics or to recharge the battery.

An alternator going bad is another reason why a car won’t start.

This can be indicated by the battery light turning on or flickering. The alternator may be struggling to charge the battery, which can make it difficult to start a vehicle.

In addition to the alternator going bad, the problem may have to do with brushes or diodes. A serpentine belt could also have gotten caught around the alternator.

Other issues

Issues with a vehicle refusing to start could be more complicated and lie with a sensor or control system not functioning.

The transmission sensor, for example, could be the reason.

There may also be a problem with the fuel system, such as a bad fuel pump or the fuel filter becoming clogged.

Whatever the reason behind your car not starting, you should bring it to a mechanic or auto repair shop as soon as possible. 

Even if you’re able to get it started again, you might not be as lucky next time.

Also, the sooner you can bring it to a repair shop, the sooner they can pinpoint the issue and have you back on the road again.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics. 

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What causes a check engine light to turn on?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

A car’s check engine light isn’t an indicator that should be ignored.

The symbol clues you in that there’s a problem. The issue itself can span a number of components.

If your car’s check engine light is blinking, which means that there’s an engine issue, we recommend bringing it to a mechanic as soon as you can.

Waiting to have it checked out can cause catalytic converter damage.

A light that remains solid should be looked at soon.

Some causes include a dead car battery and spark plugs or ignition coils going bad.

The check engine light could indicate that the catalytic converter isn’t working right. This was the case with a Dodge Caravan we worked on last year.

Problems with the circuit, catalyst system and coolant system are also reasons why it turns on.

A misfiring engine is a more serious problem that the light would point out.

Before dropping your car off at an auto repair shop, make sure the gas cap isn’t loose. Loose fuel caps can trigger it, as well.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics. 

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What is an intercooler?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Parts of a vehicle heat up as it’s driven.

Certain components help cool them off.

Charles, one of our technicians, replaced the intercooler of a 2015 Audi A4 last month.

Audi A4

Intercoolers are heat exchanging devices that are found on top or in front of the engine of supercharged or turbocharged cars. 

The turbo takes pressure from the exhaust. It spools up and sends more air into the air intake, creating more power — also known as “boost”. More power equals more heat.

A heat exchanger is needed to lower the intake air temperatures, which can prevent damage to the engine.

Air to water intercoolers are used on drag racing cars. Those using them will add ice to the intercooler, so the intake air temperature becomes even cooler.

The Audi was brought in when the check engine turned on. It had a running rich code. 

Charles disconnected the intake tube from the throttle body. He performed a smoke test and smoke started pouring out of the intercooler.

Some type of impact caused the air leak. When the air was passing through, it sucked in unmetered air, causing it to run rich.

New intercooler and old intercooler

When you notice a problem with your vehicle, it’s important to share as much information as you can with the mechanic or auto shop.

These details — even the ones that seem irrelevant — can help them address the issue and get you back on the road sooner.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.