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Diagnostic testing on a Toyota Tacoma

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Diagnostic testing is a process of elimination.

As our technicians work on vehicles, they determine where the problem lies and, through research and communication with the customer, figure out the cause.

Some issues, however, aren’t so cut and dry.

A Toyota Tacoma was brought in because it would occasionally stutter when going uphill, even after the driver let off of the accelerator. The symptom started recently and was growing worse.

What we did to figure out the problem

First, we took the truck on a couple of test drives and checked for Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs). 

Then, one of the techs performed a transmission drain and fill to get rid of any contaminants. While the problem did get better, it didn’t go away completely.

This led us to take a look over parts and determine that it may need a new transmission.

The complexity of diagnostic testing

There’s not always one way to approach everything. Sometimes, cars have mechanical failures that don’t trigger a trouble code, which acts as a starting point. 

In the case of the Toyota, the symptom being described felt like many problems – a shift shutter, a misfire, a bad tire – and was intermittent. 

Rather than following a diagnostic tree that a manufacturer provides, we need to use logic and experience to isolate the issue. 

This includes checking fluid levels and, sometimes causing a fault to ensure that components are working. For example, we may purposefully leave a sensor unplugged to see if it will cause a circuit code.

With the Tacoma, it was a mixture of possible misfires, differential problems and transmission problems.

This is why we can’t say that one level of diagnostic testing is needed to address an issue. It could require further investigation. We just don’t know until we start working on it. 

Read about why diagnostic testing is important.

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.

Check engine light causes graphic.

What do we do during check engine light diagnostic testing?

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 problems

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 reasons why a car won’t start

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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Common car heater problems

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Your car heater can be just what you need on chilly winter, fall or spring days. However, there may come a time where you flip it on and feel cold air blowing through the vents – even after the vehicle has been running for a while. 

What can cause this unpleasant occurrence? Well, a car heater blowing cold air can be the result of a few problems. It could indicate:

  • More coolant is needed
  • There is a problem with the heater core
  • The thermostat isn’t functioning correctly
  • The heater control has become blocked or broken

Below is more information about these different issues.

Car heater problems? Here’s what it could be.

It needs more coolant: Hot air generates from the heater core. Coolant, which runs through the engine and heater core, becomes hot. Coolant has to go somewhere, so if you need to add coolant, it’s likely that there’s a leak. Coolant leaks, which are also known as “water leaks”, can develop anywhere – the heater core, radiator, heater hoses, thermostat, and other areas.

Problems with the heater core: The heater core can become blocked by scale, which is debris created by a chemical reaction. If the heater core is blocked, coolant isn’t able to enter it and send cold or hot air through the vents. 

The thermostat is malfunctioning: The thermostat expands and contracts, depending on the coolant’s temperature. If it’s stuck open, too much coolant is flowing, causing the engine temperature to stay too low. This can cause cold air to come through the vents. If the thermostat is stuck closed, the engine temperature becomes too hot.

Heater control is broken or blocked: The blendor actuator, or “blendor switch” – the knob on your dashboard – tells the actuator how much to open the door. This determines how hot or cold the air that enters your vehicle is. If it breaks or gets clogged, air – or the type of air you want – won’t flow through. Blockages may be caused by papers, mouse nests or other objects. If the car heating problem is occurring on an older car, there might be something wrong with the cables for the heater control.

What do I do if my heater is blowing cold air?

When you realize you have a car heater problem, take a few minutes to look at the heating system. You or one of your passengers could have accidentally pressed the wrong button or adjusted the settings.

Once you have confirmed that everything appears to be set correctly, contact a nearby car repair shop. They may be able to help you troubleshoot it. They can also have one of their mechanics take a look if it seems to be a deeper issue, or diagnostic testing is needed to resolve the problem.

HomeTowne Auto Repair offers car heater repair services. Our automotive technicians can help you figure out where the trouble lies and restore that precious heat to your vehicle.

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

During your daily travels or on extended trips, you may have noticed your car’s check engine light turn on.

This symbol isn’t one that should be ignored for long. When it appears on the dashboard, it’s cluing you in that there’s a problem. What that issue is exactly … well, that mystery can take some time to solve. The root cause could span a number of components and various systems.

Every vehicle is made up of a different set of monitors. Some examples include fuel monitors, EVAP monitors, and catalyst monitors.

The car is constantly testing itself, with several tests performed at one time. Each test has a certain parameter, and a code is sent if something is wrong.

Flashing check engine light

Check engine light on Kia Optima.

Before we delve into the possible culprits behind a check engine light, we want to point out that you should avoid driving a vehicle if the icon is blinking.

If you’re driving when this occurs, pull over to a safe location and have it towed to a mechanic or auto repair shop you trust. Continuing to drive the car when the light is blinking can lead to catalytic converter damage.

A lot of times, a flashing check engine light may indicate a large misfire. You could have a bad spark plug or ignition coil. It’s also possible that a fuel injector is failing or the driver inside the computer isn’t sending the signal to that cylinder.

It’s OK to use the car if the light remains solid, but we recommend getting it looked at as soon as possible. Bringing the vehicle in sooner rather than later allows the automotive expert to address any major problems. This also makes it easier for them to figure out the initial code (and helps up the diagnostic testing process).

Check engine light causes

Numerous problems can lie behind a check engine light.

Maybe the spark plugs or ignition coils are going bad, or there’s a malfunctioning sensor. You might have a loose gas cap that needs to be tightened. Being low on oil is another possibility.

Spark plugs.

The could be a sign that the catalytic converter isn’t working right. This was the case with a Dodge Caravan we worked on.

Problems with the circuit system, catalyst system and coolant system are also reasons why the symbol appears.

A misfiring engine is a more serious issue that the icon would point out.

Here are other potential check engine light causes:

  • Problems with the transmission
  • Oxygen sensors
  • Evaporative system issues
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS) problems
  • Wrong oil

Other symptoms to watch for

If you see the check engine light turn on, make sure to note when it appeared. We also recommend that you keep an eye (or ear) out for other symptoms. 

Does the vehicle feel like it’s running rough? Do you hear any noises? Did any other dashboard lights come on?

The sounds and behaviors you notice can vary. So, just be aware of anything out of the ordinary.

Some of your observations might not seem important. However, sharing these details with an automotive professional can narrow down their search as they track down what’s causing your check engine light problem.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located near Lake Ridge, 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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Five possible reasons why your air conditioning isn’t working

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

When the sun is beating down during your commute or on long car rides, it’s nice to have an air conditioning system that works correctly.

In the spring and summer, many drivers will notice that the AC won’t do its job. There isn’t one set answer for this issue. A number of problems can prevent cold air from flowing through the vents.

Below are five potential causes of a/c problems.

Some air conditioning issues

Low on freon: One possibility is that the car could be low on refrigerant. This means that the system likely has a leak. Air conditioning leaks could be coming from multiple locations, including fittings, rubber gaskets, and lines.

Low pressure line between the condenser and compressor leaking.
Refrigerant leak on Nissan Altima

Malfunctioning expansion valve: It’s also possible that the problem lies with the expansion valve, which helps control the amount of freon that flows through the A/C system. This component may not be working correctly.

An expansion valve.
Expansion valve

Electronic Climate Control System: Another part that could be failing is the Electronic Climate Control System. This function determines how cold or hot it gets in the front of the car.

An electronic climate control system.
Electronic Climate Control System

Operator error: Today, the setup for A/C systems varies among vehicles. So, it’s very easy to hit the wrong button — or not the one you should. It’s a good idea to read the owner’s manual and make sure you aren’t missing something.

Turning on the air conditioning.
Turning on the air conditioning

Constricted air conditioning condenser: You might also want to check to see if the condenser is constricted. Due to improper cleaning or an impact, the fins could become bent and block the airflow.

Old air conditioning condenser.
Old air conditioning condenser

Testing the a/c system

The reasons mentioned above are just a few potential culprits behind air conditioning problems. 

As we mentioned, an a/c system might not be working due to a leak. Because leaks aren’t always visible and can occur in different areas, we need to narrow down the search. To do this, we take a look at how the system is running. 

With a machine, our automotive technicians determine the amount of refrigerant it has. Through vacuuming, they can see if leaks are present. Ultraviolet dye and oil are injected into the system to determine the location of the leak. The car AC is recharged after this process.

How soon we can see the ultraviolet dye varies. Sometimes, a vehicle needs to be driven 100 miles or so and brought back to the shop before we can find the leak. 

Drivers don’t need to wait until they’re experiencing a problem. However, it’s important that they avoid waiting too long before having the system checked again. The dye can get all over the place or wash off.

Bringing your car in for a/c repair

When bringing your vehicle in for a/c repair, provide as many details about the problem as possible.

Some important information includes what you noticed, when you noticed it, and what has happened since then.

You may be asked if you have good airflow through the vents, if you can change the temperature control, or if an event occurred around the time that you started experiencing the problem.

These answers and additional details allow us to focus on certain areas or issues.

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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Rear differential repairs offered at HomeTowne

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Noises can tell us a lot about car problems. Some may indicate that rear differential repairs are needed.

One technician recently installed a new rear differential on a 1998 Pontiac Firebird. The car was brought in when the driver noticed a rotational noise from the rear.

At first, we thought the universal joints — also known as u-joints — were the culprits, because they were older and dried out. U-joints connect different parts, such as the driveshaft and rear differential.

Replacing them, however, didn’t fix the problem.

After further investigation, we decided that the rear differential needed to be replaced.

A Pontiac Firebird.
Firebird

What is the rear differential?

The rear differential sits between the rear wheels. It takes rotational energy the drive shaft creates and splits it to the wheels equally.

In this article we published, we talk about how you can prolong the life of your differential and some signs it’s going bad.

We replaced the rear differential in this situation, but we also do rear differential repairs.

Other sources of sounds

Sometimes axle bearings on the rear axle can go bad and make a growling or humming sound. That sound can depend on the type of vehicle and whether it’s coming from the left or right side of the vehicle.

The carrier bearings, which are attached to the ring and pinion, is a noise that people will hear in the car, especially if the pinion bearing is going bad. 

The pinion bearing is near the front of the differential, and that is where the driveshaft and the yoke of the differential connect. That’s also a common place for the front pinion seal to leak.

Another common problem is where the rear axle shaft seals begin to leak. It’s possible on some vehicles where the differential fluid could be slung around and actually get on the brake pads and rotors. 

This may reduce your braking ability — and in extreme circumstances — could catch on fire. Normally, you would just see smoke coming from the wheel, and it would stink.

Clutch packs, which can be found on some limited slip differentials or posi track differentials, can also cause some noise.

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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Why is my car air conditioning not working?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

There are many reasons why a car air conditioning isn’t working correctly.

They can range from a leak to needing a new part.

A car being low on Freon, also known as refrigerant, is an indicator that there’s a leak.

Leaks can occur on rubber lines or fittings, because they undergo extreme temperature changes.

The rubber gaskets, which expand and contract, can become brittle overtime.

You should only need to recharge your car A/C if there’s a leak.

HomeTowne Auto Repair is able to recharge a car air conditioning, and we do offer air conditioning repair.

One part that may need to be replaced is the air conditioning condenser.

We installed a new one on a 2005 Acura after a customer noticed the air conditioning wasn’t as cool.

Air conditioning condenser.
Air conditioning condenser

When you turn on the air conditioning, Freon travels — as a gas — from the air conditioning compressor to the air conditioning condenser.

The air conditioning fan blows air over the condenser, cooling the Freon and causing it to turn into a liquid.

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 experience with my car’s starter going bad

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Written by Erin Flynn

A couple of months ago, I stopped by a gas station while I was on my way to work. When I restarted my Volkswagen Beetle, the engine didn’t turn over. 

(Ironically, this was the same gas station I was at when my check engine light started flashing in November.)

I tried a few more times. It wouldn’t start, and all I heard was silence and — several seconds later — a “click … click … click.”

All of the dashboard lights did come on.

Dashboard lights on a Volkswagen.
Dashboard Lights

Since my battery had been replaced within the past few years, and I hadn’t left any lights on or electronics plugged in, I ruled out the battery. I called HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire and spoke with them about the issue.

The General Manager offered to drive down to the gas station, which is in Fredericksburg, and help. A friend of mine who lives closer came by and jumped my car.

After she arrived, we attempted to jump start my car multiple times and were unsuccessful. 

I spoke to the General Manager again who gave some suggestions. He asked me to try jump starting my car again. The first attempt — nothing. The second time — nothing. The third — my car came back to life.

Jump starting a car.
Jump Starting Car

I brought my car by HomeTowne Auto Repair and learned that I needed a new starter, which is responsible for starting the engine.

The starter has a gear — called a bindix — that starts the flywheel by shooting out and spinning quickly.

A clicking sound is one of the signs that it’s going bad.

Sometimes, a starter will stop working without showing any symptoms.

If you’re in the same boat I was in, your best bet is to keep trying to jump start your car and check the battery. 

If you turn it over three or four times, your starter may have a flat spot and get started one time. After that, it shouldn’t be trusted.

If it still won’t start after you’ve tried jumping it, you will probably need to have it towed to a mechanic.

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.

One of our technicians replaced the intercooler of a 2015 Audi A4 last month.

Audi A4 on a lift.
Audi A4

What does the intercooler do?

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.

Our work on the Audi A4

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

The technician 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.

Old intercooler and new intercooler.
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.