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Car Facts

Helpful facts about your car’s systems.

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Fluid Maintenance
A vehicle’s service life often extends to 200,000 miles + these days and good fluid maintenance practices are an important contributing factor to your vehicle’s longevity.

  1. Engine Oil. Intervals vary depending upon the type of oil your vehicle uses. Traditionally, oil is to be changed every 3,000 miles. Some of today’s oils do allow longer service intervals but you must be certain you are using an oil compatible with your manufacturer’s engine requirements.
  2. Automatic Transmission Fluid. Some manufacturers consider this a “lifetime” fluid; others recommend changing at certain intervals. You can check this in your owner’s manual. NOTE: we do NOT recommend “flushing” transmissions but we do recommend fluid changes.
  3. Manual Transmission Fluid. 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles. Be certain to use fluid recommended by the vehicle manufacturer to meet application-specific lubricant requirements and maintain proper performance.
  4. Drive Axle Lubrication. Drive axles in vehicles driven in snowy climates tend to absorb water which will contaminate the axle oil. Check to see if your owner’s manual recommends changing at certain intervals or only if the oil becomes contaminated.
  5. Cooling System. If your coolant appears rusty or off-color, or if it doesn’t test at the maximum rated freezing point, it should be replaced. Be aware of any leaks you may see or any coolant warning lights that come on and have your vehicle checked. NEVER OPEN YOUR RADIATOR CAP WHEN HOT.
  6. Brake Fluid. Brake fluid levels should be checked periodically and flushed every two years or during replacement of certain brake system parts.
  7. Power Steering Fluid. Power steering fluid can become contaminated with wear particles or moisture. Have it checked periodically.

Tire Monitoring Systems

Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems: Why We Have Them and How They Affect Your Vehicle

The federal government mandated installation of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) in most vehicles produced in 2006-2007 and in all vehicles produced after those years after a series of accidents attributable to underinflated tires. Underinflated tires cause excessive tire wear, unsafe driving conditions, and poor fuel mileage. The TPMS measures pressure in your four road tires (and, in some vehicles, your spare) and sends the tire pressure readings to your vehicle. You generally will not see your tire pressure monitors as they are located on the inside rims of your wheels and are covered by the tires. The Check Tire Pressure light will turn ON if the tire pressure in one or more tires is incorrect. Even if the light turns ON and a short time later turns OFF, your tire pressures still need to be checked.

You can usually find the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressures on a sticker on the side of the driver’s door.

When you put air into your tires, the TPMS may not respond immediately to the air you’ve added. It may take up to 30 minutes of driving over 20 mph for the light to turn OFF after you have filled your tires to the recommended inflation pressure. If the light does not turn off, have your vehicle checked.

When one of your road tires has been replaced by the spare, the TPMS system will continue to identify an issue to remind you that the damaged road wheel/tire needs to be repaired and put back on the vehicle or that the installed spare needs to be “trained” to the vehicle. Some vehicles also require “retraining” of the wheels after tire rotation.

Refer to your Owner’s Manual for more detail about your particular vehicle. And remember that no monitoring system can replace the driver’s vigilance in maintaining and operating a vehicle.


There are costs associated with proper maintenance of your Tire Pressure Monitoring System, but the protection this system provides could save your life.

Cold Weather Driving

Drivers need to be prepared on the road when temperatures drop.

  • Keep a heavy-duty ice scraper and snow brush in your vehicle. Snow or ice covering the vehicle’s windows can obstruct the driver’s view. Also brush snow from headlamps and taillamps to help others see your vehicle.
  • Cold weather reduces tire pressure, so check tire pressure often. The proper tire pressure for a vehicle is usually found on a decal on the driver’s door jamb. See your owner’s manual for tire inflation directions and details.
  • Check for worn wiper blades. Cold temperatures can make blades brittle, and ice on the windshield can cause nicks in the blades, decreasing performance.
  • If planning a trip, take a blanket, extra warm clothing, a collapsible shovel, a bag of road salt and an extra bottle of windshield-washer fluid.
  • Put on snow tires if driving in major snow-belt areas.
Finding a Good Mechanic

A good mechanic is different things to different people. In order to find a mechanic and service facility that will make you happy, you need to decide what is most important to you.

Many people want a garage located near their homes or their places of business. Others don’t mind driving a bit farther if they know they will get quality service. Some folks just want speedy repairs while others find price to be the most important factor. Honesty seems to top everyone’s list.

How are you treated when you call or visit the facility? Are the people friendly? Helpful? Knowledgeable? Do they make an effort to accommodate your schedule? How does the facility look when you visit or drive by?

Be sure the mechanic you’ve chosen services your type of vehicle. Look around and see what kinds of vehicles are there. Find out what the shop’s hours are. Will they be open when you get off work? If not, do they make after-hours pick up arrangements? Is the shop near the bus or train?

Ask trusted friends for recommendations. Ask whether the shop’s mechanics are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Call the Better Business Bureau to determine if the shop has any complaints on file.

If you do your research, your vehicle repair experience will be a good one!

Alignment and Suspension
Alignment is recommended for today’s vehicles in at least four situations:

  1. When you buy new tires. If your old tires wore unevenly, bad alignment could be the reason they had to be replaced. If you do not correct the alignment problem, the same thing will happen quickly to your new tires.
  2. When steering parts are replaced, for instance, if you replace ball joints, control arms, tie rod ends or steering box.
  3. When certain warning signs appear, such as uneven tire wear, your vehicle pulling or wandering when you are driving, a front end shimmy, or your steering wheel failing to return to center position when released.
  4. About every 30,000 miles, whether warning signs appear or not.

Four-wheel alignment is our standard service at Sawchuk’s. Our technician will road test your car initially to assess its performance. He will then drive it onto the alignment rack and inspect the steering and suspension parts, as well as the vehicle’s frame and the wheels and tires. He is looking for any parts that may be loose, bent or near failure.

The alignment itself is done with our state-of-the-art Hunter equipment which utilizes digital cameras to read the current status of your vehicle and assist the alignment specialist in setting caster, camber and toe precisely. The result is a smooth ride for you and less wear on your vehicle’s tires and suspension parts.


  1. Caster – the degree to which the vehicle’s steering axis is tilted forward or backward from vertical as you look from the side of the vehicle.
  2. Camber – the inward or outward tilt of a wheel compared to a vertical line.
  3. Toe – the direction in which two wheels point relative to one another. “Toe-in” means the wheels point toward one another in a pigeon-toed stance. “Toe-out” means the wheels point away from one another.
Braking System

Brake work performed in time saves money as well as lives. Your brakes are inspected each year during your state-required safety inspection. However, you should be alert at all times to any change in brake performance, any unusual sounds when you are braking, or a chirping sound when you apply the brakes.

Some vehicles have “chirpers” built into their braking systems to warn you of worn brake pads. You may also hear a squealing or grinding noise. When you hear any of these noises, you should have your vehicle’s brakes examined.

Common brake failure symptoms include:

  1. Noises. Squeaks and grinding are two of the most common sounds you may hear. Friction from the brake lining causes heat which can damage your brake pads, linings, brake drums or rotors. A metallic grinding sound indicates that your brake pads are worn through. The resulting metal-to-metal contact will damage drums or rotors.
  2. Low or Fading Brake Pedal. If you need to pump your brakes to stop the vehicle, or if the pedal sinks to the floor when you are stopped, there may be a leak in the brake system, air in the brake lines, or your brakes may need to be adjusted.
  3. Brake Drag or Pulling. Worn or uneven brake linings or a damaged brake line can cause your vehicle to pull to one side. Brakes that are out of adjustment or have contaminated fluid can drag.


  1. Master Cylinder – The master cylinder contains a reservoir for brake fluid. It should be checked periodically to ensure proper fluid level.
  2. Brake Lines – Steel brake tubing runs to all four wheels. Brake lines should be inspected for rust, which can lead to leaks. If brake lines are damaged, they should be replaced.
  3. Brake Hoses – Rubber brake hoses run from the brake lines to the brake calipers and wheel cylinders. Constant exposure to road grime, dirt, salt and other elements can cause the rubber to become brittle and crack, leading to brake failure.
  4. Linings and Pads – Pads and brake shoe linings should be checked periodically for uneven or excess wear, glazing, or saturation from brake fluid or grease.
  5. Calipers and Wheel Cylinders – Brakes are activated by brake fluid pressure from the master cylinder pushing a piston Iocated in the caliper or wheel cylinder against the brake pad or shoe. Leaks can cause erratic braking or brake failure.
  6. Bearings and Seals – Wheel bearings should be inspected and lubricated periodically. If your wheel bearings are worn, they should be replaced to avoid erratic steering or faulty braking.
  7. Parking Brake –Your parking brake should be adjusted periodically as it may begin to lose grip as the brake cable stretches.
Cooling System

Your engine’s cooling system is designed to eliminate the heat produced by engine friction, thus preventing damage to your engine.

The basic components of your vehicle’s cooling system are the radiator, fan, water pump, thermostat, sensors, an overflow tank, water, coolant, and a series of belts, clamps and hoses to connect the system and make it run. The system works by directing fluid past the hottest parts of your engine and then redirecting that fluid out to the radiator, where the heat that is collected gets dissipated into the cooler atmosphere.

The fluid within your car’s cooling system contains both water and coolant/antifreeze. The coolant/antifreeze extends the freezing and boiling point of water and also inhibits rust.

Your radiator sits just behind the front grille of your car. It consists of a series of tubes which contain the coolant/water combination. Attached to these tubes are thousands of little metal fins. These fins increase the surface area of the radiator, exposing the heated fluid inside to the cooler surrounding air. The heat gets whisked away by the atmosphere.

Most vehicles have an electric fan attached to the radiator. This fan runs intermittently, coming on only when needed. A heat sensor determines when the fan should run. The fan increases the volume of air moving past the radiator fins. A vehicle traveling at 60 or 70 mph has its own built-in airflow system and doesn’t need a fan running continuously. When you go more slowly or stop, your fan will come on as the fluid temperature in your radiator rises.

Your water pump drives the coolant through the system. The water pump is driven by a pulley which is connected to the engine.

Your cooling system also includes a thermostat, which senses temperature and controls fluid flow within the system, a plastic overflow tank, which serves as a reservoir for excess coolant, and the various hoses, clamps and belts.

(An important note of caution: NEVER open your cooling system to add fluid when the system is still warm. The contents are scalding hot and are under extremely high pressure.)

Emissions/Emissions Inspection

In Pennsylvania, the emissions system on your passenger vehicle must be checked annually. This emissions test is usually done at the same time as your state inspection.

Since 1996, vehicles have been manufactured with on-board diagnostics systems (OBDII), which include sensors to monitor exhaust emissions and computers to diagnose potential problems. Your car’s computer will tell our technician which systems or systems aren’t working properly. Further testing may be required to determine precisely what is wrong with the affected system(s).

Your vehicle’s instrument panel may include a dash light meant to indicate problems with components of the engine control system. Typically, these lights are labeled “service engine soon” or “check engine.” If the light is glowing, it may indicate problems and you should have your vehicle checked. If your “check engine” or “service engine soon” light begins flashing, you must have your vehicle checked immediately to avoid catalytic converter damage! When these lights go on, the computer in your vehicle will store codes to tell the technician what problem was sensed. Vehicles with OBDII systems will not pass the emissions test with a check engine light on. The cause must be diagnosed and corrected so that an emissions sticker can be issued.

Periodic engine checkups, along with necessary maintenance, can make a big difference in exhaust emissions. Even something as simple as the replacement of a dirty air filter can reduce emissions and save gas.

In addition to state requirements and warning lights, you are an important part of the equation in keeping your vehicle running properly. If you notice smoke coming from your exhaust which has a different color or odor than usual, contact us to have your vehicle checked.

For most vehicles with their numerous sensors, computers and other electronic circuitry, accurate diagnosis is a “must.” In the long run, proper diagnosis along with needed service can save time, fuel and our environment

Fuel Mileage

One way to deal with increased gas prices is to drive less. Another is to improve your driving habits – easy on the gas pedal! For every five miles per hour you press beyond 55 mph, you’ll lose about one mile per gallon of fuel efficiency. A heavy foot when the light turns green also guzzles gas. Track your gas mileage to be sure your car is using no more fuel than it was designed to use.

There are several preventive measures you can take to keep your vehicle running efficiently:

  1. If the engine needs a tune-up it is wasting fuel, due to misfiring spark plugs, an inefficient fuel delivery system or malfunctioning emission controls.
  2. If tires are underinflated, not an uncommon condition, rolling resistance of the tires increases and wastes gas.
  3. If wheels are out of alignment, another factor that affects rolling resistance, this will waste fuel and accelerate tire wear.
  4. A cooling system thermostat stuck in the open position, causing the engine to run too coolly, can reduce engine efficiency.
Suspension System

Shock absorbers and struts are part of your suspension system. They do far more than give you a comfortable ride. They can affect your vehicle’s stopping distance and, ultimately, your safety. They also play a significant role in tire wear and steering control.

Shocks and struts will usually wear gradually rather than going bad all at once and you may not realize how your vehicle’s ride or handling have deteriorated until an emergency arises. For this reason, it is important to have them inspected periodically and replaced as needed.

If your shocks/struts are worn, you may notice:

  • Your vehicle will nose dive at stops.
  • On bumpy roads, you’ll have to fight the steering wheel to keep the vehicle in its own lane.
  • Your tires begin to show a “cupping” pattern, almost as if someone was “scooping” little pockets of rubber from your tire.
  • You will have a less comfortable ride. Dips in the road seem more noticeable. Bumps seem to “rattle” your car more.

There are also visible signs of shock/strut wear:

  • Oil leakage between the piston and the body of the shock/strut.
  • Cracked or disintegrated rubber bushings where the shock/strut attaches to the vehicle.
  • Advanced rusting on the shock/strut cylinder, or pitting on the chrome piston.

You should also check strut mounts, stabilizer links and alignment to be certain your car’s suspension is kept in good, safe condition.


Shock – A shock is a mechanical device designed to reduce the effects of traveling over rough road, leading to improved ride quality.

Strut – A strut is the structural part of the vehicle which combines the functions of shock absorbing and support and dampens road effects.

State Inspection

All vehicles registered in the state of Pennsylvania are required to undergo an annual safety inspection. Semi-annual inspection is required if the vehicle’s gross weight is 17,001 pounds or greater. In order to have your vehicle inspected, you must provide a current vehicle registration and proof of current insurance. By law, we cannot inspect your vehicle without these documents so please be certain they are current before leaving your vehicle with us.

The vehicle inspection and emissions stickers are located on the left side of your windshield and show the month your inspection is due. Sometimes this will be the same month that your registration expires and sometimes it will be different.

Pennsylvania allows us to inspect vehicles up to 2 months prior to their expiration month. For example, if your current inspection sticker expires in May, we can inspect your vehicle anytime from March 1st on and still give you a May sticker.

There is no grace period allowed after your inspection sticker expires and you are subject to a ticket and fines if you are stopped.

Emissions inspection is also required annually on vehicles weighing less than 9,000 pounds. This is customarily done at the same time as the safety inspection.


Different types of rubber are used in the manufacture of tires. Softer rubber is used for summer or when the tires need better traction, for example, in auto racing. Tires made out of harder rubbers are made for long lasting performance. Tires come in different sizes and have different tread patterns.

Each tire is marked with 3 numbers; for example, 225/60R16. The first number is the width in millimeters of the tire at the widest point when it is mounted and inflated. The second number is the sidewall (side of the tire) height as a ratio or percentage of the width. The last number is the wheel diameter in inches.


Tire size: 225/60R16

Tire width = 225mm

Sidewall height = 135mm (225 * .60 = 135)

Wheel diameter = 16 inches

Tire Maintenance

Make a habit of checking the air pressure in your tires when you stop for gas. You’ll need to know the proper air pressure required and have a tire gauge. You can find the tire pressure information in your owner’s manual or on the side edge of your car door.

Check the pressure several times to ensure you’re getting an accurate reading. Checking to be sure your tires are properly inflated can help to prolong their life, especially since they tend to gradually deflate over time. When your tires are properly inflated, tread wear will be minimized and tire life extended. Proper tire inflation can also help improve your gas mileage.

However, keeping your tires inflated correctly isn’t the only thing you need to do. You should also rotate your tires on a regular basis. Be sure to check the owner’s manual for proper rotation patterns as improperly rotating your tires can damage them. And, since potholes can do some serious damage to the alignment of your wheels, regular wheel alignments are recommended as well.

Tire Damage

Most tires today do not have a tube inside of them. There are grooves in the wheel that allow the tire to be mounted into place and hold air pressure. Getting a leak in a tire is a fairly common occurrence. The most common cause is a hole from a nail or screw. This can usually be fixed by patching the inside of the tire so that it can hold air again. However, if the hole is close to or in the side of tire, it cannot be patched. This is because the sides of the tire flex to support the weight of your vehicle as it moves. A patch would not be able to handle that stress.

Damaged wheels can also cause tire problems as a crack in your wheel will not allow the tire to hold air. If you suspect that your wheel may have sustained damage in an accident or from hitting or sliding into a curb, have it checked.

Tires need to be changed after the tread has worn away. Driving on worn tires is very dangerous. It can lead to loss of control or blowouts. Don’t risk your safety or that of others! When the time comes to replace your vehicle’s original tires, try to select replacement tires that are the same size.

Portions retrieved from http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tire.


Your transmission is the device that is connected to your vehicle’s engine and sends the power from the engine to the drive wheels. An engine runs best at a certain RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) range and it is the transmission’s job to make sure that the power is delivered to the wheels while keeping the engine within that range.

On a rear wheel drive car, the transmission is usually mounted to the back of the engine and is located under the hump in the center of the floorboard alongside the gas pedal position. A drive shaft connects the rear of the transmission to the final drive which is located in the rear axle and is used to send power to the rear wheels. Power flow on this system is simple and straight forward going from the engine, through the torque converter, then through the transmission and drive shaft until it reaches the final drive where it is split and sent to the two rear wheels.

On a front wheel drive car, the transmission is usually combined with the final drive to form what is called a transaxle. The engine on a front wheel drive car is usually mounted sideways in the car with the transaxle tucked under it on the side of the engine facing the rear of the car. Front axles are connected directly to the transaxle and provide power to the front wheels. In this example, power flows from the engine, through the torque converter to a large chain that sends the power through a 180 degree turn to the transmission that is along side the engine. From there, the power is routed through the transmission to the final drive where it is split and sent to the two front wheels through the drive axles.

The main components that make up an automatic transmission include:

  • Planetary Gear Sets which are the mechanical systems that provide the various forward gear ratios as well as reverse.
  • The Hydraulic System which uses a special transmission fluid sent under pressure by an Oil Pump through the Valve Body to control the Clutches and the Bands in order to control the planetary gear sets.
  • Seals and Gaskets are used to keep the oil where it is supposed to be and prevent it from leaking out.
  • The Torque Converter which acts like a clutch to allow the vehicle to come to a stop in gear while the engine is still running.
  • The Governor and the Modulator or Throttle Cable that monitor speed and throttle position in order to determine when to shift.
  • On newer vehicles, shift points are controlled by the computer which directs electrical solenoids to shift oil flow to the appropriate component at the right instant.

On newer vehicles, shift points are controlled by the computer which directs electrical solenoids to shift oil flow to the appropriate component at the right instant.

If you experience any problems with your transmission such as leaks, noises, problems with shifting, etc., don’t wait until the problem becomes worse and vehicle breaks down somewhere on a highway. Transmission problems never disappear by themselves. Call or visit us to describe the problem you experience, when it happens, what it sounds like. The more information you can give to us, the more quickly we can diagnose your problem, saving you time and money.

Remember that not all transmission problems require a complete rebuild. Today’s transmissions have many electronic components that can fail and may need to be replaced or reprogrammed.

Get the facts


Learn about how your vehicle runs, and how to keep it running for years to come.



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