View Post

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.

View Post

Does my car need a new rear differential?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

The rear differential on a Ford Escape has been replaced. 

A bearing noise could be heard. After performing a diagnostic test, one of our technicians determined that the part needed to be replaced.

Located between the rear wheels, the rear differential takes the rotational energy created by the drive shaft and splits it equally to the wheels.

Overall, they’re pretty durable. However, they can go bad overtime, due to normal wear and tear or if you regularly take the vehicle off-roading.

Replacing and maintaining the rear differential

If they wear out and you don’t address the issue, the wheels can lock up. 

You may need a new rear differential if you hear noises, there’s looseness, or your car has been damaged in an accident.

One of the ways you can prolong the life of your differential is to replace the differential fluid every 30,000 miles. We suggest using BG Full Synthetic Differential Fluid. Some other vehicles — or depending on use — may have a shorter service time.

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.

View Post

Why is diagnostic testing important?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

A customer came to HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire, because their vehicle’s check engine light had turned on.

They stated that they weren’t having any problems when driving the car, but the light had turned on a couple days earlier. 

The check engine light coming on is one problem that can be addressed through diagnostic testing.

You may have heard of this process if you’ve had something going on with your car. 

Diagnostics might sound unnecessary, but it’s a very helpful and important part of getting your vehicle back on the road.

The importance of performing diagnostics

Diagnostic testing goes beyond reading a code or looking over a vehicle.

Anybody can take a car to have a code read, or check it out themselves with a flashlight. Diagnostic testing enables technicians to dig deeper into the problem.

Codes are like zip codes — they tell us where in the neighborhood you’re supposed to be. However, further investigation is necessary, because they can mask other issues.

For example, there could be a code for a catalytic converter and we could say, “OK. We read the code. Replace it.” But the code could really be caused by oxygen sensors that aren’t reading correctly.

Through diagnostic testing, technicians are able to determine the actual reason for a failure or problem, which can help you save money in the long run.

Diagnostic testing process

The diagnostic testing process begins by gathering relevant information from our customers. 

This includes any sounds, a problem (or problems) they are experiencing, when they are noticing an issue, and any incidents that may be connected with it.

Providing as much information you can helps us narrow down the investigation and come up with a solution more quickly.

Once all of the details have been collected, our Woodbridge mechanics will conduct a courtesy inspection, where they ensure that nothing seems amiss on the vehicle.

Then, the technicians try to encourage the problem to reoccur. This includes performing a test drive, which helps them determine if there are any odd noises or the car isn’t running correctly. As the procedure continues, we hope to zone in on a certain part of the vehicle and, eventually, the cause itself.

While diagnosing a noise or behavior, we also do our own research using Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) – in case it’s a common problem with this type of vehicle. Additionally, our employees utilize diagnostic equipment with built in diagnostic capabilities and other resources that are tailored to auto repair shops.

Using a scan tool on a Jeep.
Using a scan tool on a Jeep

It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem, especially if what the driver is experiencing isn’t occurring all the time. 

For example, the A/C on a Chevy Colorado we’re working on next week will randomly stop blowing air. That could be caused by a few different problems – it may have a bad blower motor or the wiring may need to be replaced.

So, performing diagnostics can take time. You may even need to pick up the vehicle and bring it back when the problem starts happening more frequently.

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.

View Post

Signs that your gas tank is leaking

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Do you smell gas? Your vehicle’s gas tank could be leaking.

That is the case of 1990 GMC Sierra, which was brought into HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire.

The owners of the vehicle mentioned that they can smell fuel and see fuel when adding it.

When Jason started working on the GMC Sierra, he noticed the two seams of the gas tank are leaking. It will need a new tank.

If you smell fresh, raw fuel away from the gas station hours or days after you fill up your tank, then you probably have a fuel leak.

In the 1980’s, when cars were carbureted, it was normal to smell fuel when walking by the hood of a vehicle. Nowadays, everything is electronically controlled and the gas needs to be contained within the evaporative (EVAP) system at all times. 

Gas tank replacement

A vehicle needing a new gas tank is rare.

Today, tanks are made up of plastics and are resilient. They take impact very well and don’t typically rust or deteriorate.

Some tanks, however, are made with plastic and have a metal ring where the pump sits. The rings do corrode, which causes gas leaks and the releasing of vapors.

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.

View Post

Is your vehicle’s sunroof clogged?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Over time, the sunroof of a vehicle can become clogged.

Charles from HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire faced this issue when he was working on a 2012 Toyota RAV4 last month.

The vehicle had come in because of a dead battery. 

As he was looking into the problem, he noticed that the check engine light and oil pressure light stayed on, even when the key wasn’t in the ignition.

Check engine light and oil pressure light.
Check engine light and oil pressure light

The floor on the passenger side was also saturated with water.

Many of the connectors were soaked and the sunroof was open.

Soaked floor on passenger side of Toyota RAV4.
Soaked floor

Potential sunroof clogged causes

Cars with sunroofs have a tube that runs down the vehicle. 

If the sunroof is blocked with leaves or the bottom of the tube becomes clogged, it won’t drain properly. Instead, any water will overflow into the vehicle.

Charles cleared the hoses and, after closing the sunroof, ran water over it to make sure there weren’t any leaks in the tube.

Leaks can be the result of a poor windshield installation. Door seals can leak, as well.

As fall comes to an end and winter approaches, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for this problem and make sure your drains are clear.

You can do this by checking the sunroof for any leaves or buildup. 

To check for any clogs in the tube, pour a bottle of water over the closed sunroof and look for any water that’s come out the bottom of the car. If you don’t see any water, you could have a clog.

If you suspect that there’s a clog in the tube, you should bring it into an auto repair shop to have it addressed. 

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.

View Post

Check engine light started flashing

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Written by Erin Flynn

My work week had an unexpected (and slightly stressful) start.

I had filled up the gas tank for my Volkswagen Beetle on my way to work. But when I was leaving the gas station parking lot, my vehicle began to shudder. 

It stopped and then started shuddering again a little while later. As I was traveling down the road and preparing to merge onto I-95, the check engine light began to flash. “Oh no,” I thought to myself. A few minutes passed, and the light became solid.

I decided to have my car checked out and I cautiously made my way to HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire. With a lot of luck, I arrived safely and explained my experience to the employees.

Valve cover on Volkswagen.

Determining the problem

When checking my car, the Woodbridge mechanics found out that it needed a new ignition coil. 

They used a scan tool and noticed that there was a misfire, which means that the air in the fuel isn’t igniting the way it should. This problem may be the result of a bad spark plug or ignition coil, or too much or too little air or fuel.

Some symptoms of a misfire include the check engine light coming on, and a vehicle stalling, running rough or shuddering.

After the misfire occurred on cylinder 3, the technician swapped out one of the ignition coils with another one and saw the misfire followed to cylinder 2. If there had been an issue with the spark plug, the second misfire would have happened on cylinder 3.

Ignition coils, which can be found in most makes and models, command a spark plug to spark. Poor connection and oil intrusion can cause them to fail. They can also go bad over time. 

Ignition coil.
Ignition coil

Why did my check engine light turn on?

An ignition coil or spark plug going bad are a couple of culprits behind a check engine light turning on. However, there are many causes, such as a loose gas cap, low oil, a malfunctioning catalytic converter, and problems with the coolant system.

Meanwhile, a flashing check engine light may be a sign that there is an engine problem.

More reasons why the light turns are explained in an article posted on Bumper.com.

If you noticed that the check engine light came on and is remaining solid, there’s no need to panic. But the sooner you have your vehicle checked out, the better. Choosing to have it looked at early on can help automotive professionals pinpoint the issue more easily and quickly. 

However, if your vehicle starts shuddering or your check engine light comes on, you should have a mechanic or auto repair shop look at it immediately. We also recommend that you avoid driving the car. Waiting to address a blinking check engine light could lead to bigger, more expensive issues, like catalytic converter damage.

It’s also a good idea to reach out to an expert if any other lights appear, or if you notice strange behaviors or sounds. To learn about dashboard lights and what they mean, check out this article we posted.

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. 

View Post

What is a fuel injector?

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Certain components need to be in good working order in order for your vehicle’s engine to run properly.

Its performance can be impacted when there is a problem with the fuel injectors. These parts are responsible for sending fuel to the cylinder, allowing the engine to operate.

A 2008 Jeep Wrangler that was brought to HomeTowne Auto Repair and Tire needed new fuel injectors. The vehicle’s check engine light had turned on, and it had a fuel injector code.

The intake manifold on a Sahara Jeep Wrangler.
Intake manifold on a Sahara Jeep Wrangler

Replacing fuel injectors

To reach the fuel injectors, we needed to remove the intake manifold. On this Jeep Wrangler, the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) tube runs from the valve on top of the intake.

While working on the vehicle, we realized that a fuel injector was out of specification. We needed to install new injectors before rechecking it.

The steps to replace fuel injectors vary among vehicles. Some fuel injectors are in the intake manifold. Others are mounted directly into the cylinder head like a spark plug. That’s called direct injection.The general injector replacement process includes releasing fuel pressure, disconnecting the fuel rail, and pulling the fuel injectors out of the fuel rail.

Intake manifold.
Intake manifold

The number of injectors depends on the cylinders. Most vehicles have one per cylinder but some have two for each cylinder.

Fuel injectors normally last the life of the vehicle. However, there are a few common issues found with some automobiles. For example, when certain Chevrolets reach 70,000 or 80,000 miles they will have a misfire at a cold start. This problem tends to resolve itself as the engine warms up. We’ve worked on a bunch of those vehicles. 

Signs of fuel injector problems

The check engine light turning on isn’t the only sign that the fuel injectors aren’t working correctly. You may also notice the vehicle is riding rough and lacking power.

Other indicators of a fuel injector problem include the car having trouble starting or using more fuel than normal. 

Another symptom that can appear if something is wrong with the injectors are engine misfires, which is when the fuel isn’t ignited right.

As high tech as some of these vehicles are becoming – such as certain Mercedes engines – it could take a while to diagnose and track down what your misfire problem may be due to the injectors. 

A direct replacement may not be a fix. The manufacturer may have to read the values of the injectors overtime, and they can recommend what cylinder the injector should be put in to balance out the engine. 

However, it’s always good to check the basics first, such as spark plugs, ignition coils and the operation of the fuel injectors.

Fuel injector maintenance

The best way to make sure a vehicle’s fuel injectors last is to take care of them over a period of time. Having fuel induction services conducted regularly is one way you can maintain them. 

Recommended every 30,000 miles, the fuel induction service cleans out the air induction and fuel injection systems. Contaminants are removed from fuel injectors and other parts by a fuel system cleaner.

It’s a good idea to replace any bad fuel injectors in your vehicle sooner rather than later. If you have a symptom that’s linked to a fuel injector problem and the part isn’t replaced, the symptom will continue to grow worse.

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.

View Post

Check engine light may indicate catalytic converter problem

In Automotive Diagnostics by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

A catalytic converter helps reduce pollution by changing a vehicle’s exhaust emission.

Ray from HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire installed a new one on a Dodge Caravan on Monday.

The vehicle was brought to the shop when the check engine light came on. 

When checking the O2 sensors on the computer, he realized that the catalytic converter wasn’t working properly.

An old catalytic converter and a new catalytic converter.
An old catalytic converter and a new catalytic converter

Catalytic converter types

Different types of two-way and three-way converters are available. Years ago, one-way converters were used. 

Ray installed a two-way converter, which contains chemicals that changes the air.

The type of converter a vehicle needs depends on the make and model, and how the engine runs. 

Some converters don’t go bad. 

Others may need replacing if a misfire occurs. A misfire shoots raw fuel in the converter, which can’t switch over raw fuel. 

In addition to the check engine light coming on, the smell of raw fumes is another sign that a vehicle needs a new one. However, the check engine light would be your first indicator.

There are many reasons why a check engine light turns on. If it does, it’s a good idea to bring the vehicle into an auto repair shop soon.

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.

View Post

Is your battery light on?

In Automotive Diagnostics, News by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

If your battery light comes on or flickers on your dashboard, it could be a sign of an alternator going bad.

The alternator is driven by the engine to produce electricity to run the accessories in a vehicle and recharge the battery.

Some common problems that could lead to an alternator not working correctly can be normal wear and tear, and the brushes or diodes going bad. A common overlooked problem is a drive belt — or serpentine belt — becoming loose or stretched and slipping around the alternator.

The large number of electronics in today’s vehicles and all the accessories drivers like to plug in puts a heavy load on the alternator. The alternators actually have to be more heavy duty than before so they can charge the battery at a consistent rate. 

Battery light and other signs of an alternator problem

The battery light coming on steady or flickering, especially when you come to a stop, are some signs that you’re having an alternator problem.

If you’re having a problem starting your car, it could be because the alternator is struggling to charge the battery.

If you believe you’re having any problems, you’ll want to have your vehicle checked with good electrical diagnostic equipment at your local auto repair shop. Because of the demand on the electrical system and the way alternators are designed, the old way of checking alternators isn’t always accurate.

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. 

Don’t end up stranded on the side of the road this holiday season

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

checking tire pressure.

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and if you’re like one of the 1.4 million other Virginians planning to travel for the holiday, or throughout the holiday season, then you need to make sure you’re prepared – otherwise you may end up on the side of the road.

According to AAA, the travel numbers for 2017 are up by 44,000 people – a 3.2% increase from the last year. In fact, they’re expecting Thanksgiving to be the most heavily traveled holiday in a dozen years. Totals for Christmas traveling may be even higher.

AAA says that they plan on rescuing more than 330,000 motorists left on the side of the road for the Thanksgiving weekend, primarily due to lockouts, flat tires, and battery issues. And whether you’re going just down the road, or traveling several hours out of state, it pays to be ready.

Here’s what you can do to prepare your vehicle for the holiday season:

  • Check the air pressure in all of your tires, including the spare tire you keep in the back. “If you end up with a flat, and you go to put the spare tire on, next thing you know the spare tire is flat,” said HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire owner ST Billingsley.
  • Check the oil level and fluid levels. These may need to be topped off to prevent overheating and other issues on that long holiday drive.
  • Make sure that you have windshield washer fluid in your wiper blades. “A lot of times when you’re driving on dirty roads, you go to use the windshield wipers, and there’s no washer fluid in there,” said Billingsley.
  • Check for any obvious battery corrosion. This could be a sign that something is wrong with the battery terminals, or that your car battery needs to be replaced before you head out of town.
  • Double-check that you have roadside assistance as part of your car insurance, or through a company like AAA. It’s easy to call the insurance company and check if you have roadside assistance in your plan. Don’t? It’s worth adding it for situations like this.

But even the best laid plans can go awry. If you’re on your travels and end up on the side of the road, here are some things you should have stocked and ready to go in your vehicle: Oil dipstick.

  • Flares or safety triangles. If you are on the side of the road, you want your car to be visible, and make other drivers aware that you’re there for a reason, especially if you need assistance. Make sure you’re careful when placing them on the side of the road during a breakdown, to prevent being injured or hit in the process.
  • Heavy duty work gloves. “Say that your tire’s flat and you’re in the dirt or all that, or you know sometimes it might be cold, grabbing all that metal…it’s just nice to have,” said Billingsley.

And if you’re too busy to do all of the checking and maintenance yourself, consider bringing it in to HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire so we can check it out before you head home for the holidays. Basic checks can be done by any Valvoline windshield washer fluid.automotive shop, although what they check varies from place to place.

At HomeTowne, we check the fluids and top them off, check the air pressure, check washer fluid, check the vehicle lights, rotate the tires, check the brakes, and more.