Alternator Facts (Failing Alternator)November 29, 2020

If you notice that your headlights are flickering at night, that’s something to pay attention to. While there could be many different things that could cause that problem, one possibility is your vehicle’s alternator.

The alternator takes mechanical energy from the engine and turns it into electricity, in essence a generator.  The current it makes charges the battery and supplies power to the vehicle’s electrical systems.  An alternator is made up of several different parts: a pulley, magnets, coil wires, brushes and a voltage regulator.  While your vehicle is running, these parts get a good workout and, after time, they begin to wear out.

Other symptoms of a failing alternator include your vehicle’s lights dimming, the power windows going up and down more slowly than they used to, your power seats not moving quite as fast as before. 

Another sign of a worn out alternator is engine stalling.  Vehicles with fuel injection require a certain amount of power, and when an alternator is going bad, your engine could stall because the alternator isn’t cranking out enough of it.

An alternator on its last legs can also fail to charge your battery properly.  Sometimes your battery isn’t getting enough charge from the alternator and will go dead.  It also can be the opposite problem. The battery is getting too much power and will cause the battery to get hot.  Your vehicle may give you a clue on the instrument panel.  If you see any of these warning lights, take note: Check Engine, ALT, CHARGE or one that looks like a picture of a battery.  If that light is on, it’s time to have your service facility give it a look.

As mentioned earlier, there are other components of your vehicle’s electrical system that can fail, such as a worn out serpentine belt or a malfunctioning voltage regulator.  A reputable service facility has diagnostic tools to pinpoint the causes of your problems. And when your issues are fixed, your electrical system will be back to its hard-working self.  You’ll get a real charge out of it!

Lewis Complete Auto Repair
5110 Grisham Dr.
Rowlett, TX 75088
972.475.4800

Wash Me, Wash Me Right (How to Wash a Vehicle)November 22, 2020

Most would agree they’d rather drive around in a clean, shiny vehicle than one coated with a layer of dirt.  When warmer weather comes around, some of us are bound and determined to wash our own vehicles.  And to protect the paint and its luster, there are a few things to keep in mind when you get out the bucket and soap.

  • Cool body.  It’s not a good idea to wash a vehicle when the body is hot.  If it’s been sitting out in the sun or you’ve been riding around on a sunny day, make sure you cool your vehicle off by either moving it to the shade or wetting it down with cool water. The problem with washing a hot vehicle is that it’s going to dry so fast, minerals in the water can form hard-to-remove spots on the paint.  And some of those can be really difficult to get out.  Best to avoid it.
  • Slippery when wet.  Make sure you wet your vehicle down thoroughly before you get the washing mitt out.  Experts keep a couple of buckets of soapy water on hand, and they use soap especially engineered to remove dirt from a vehicle without stripping off the wax that might be on it. 
  • The washing mitt.  Experts say to use a mitt with hundreds of moisture-absorbing strands on it.  Start washing at the top and move down.  If you keep dipping the mitt in the buckets frequently, a minimal amount of dirt will stick to it and that will prevent scratching the paint. 
  • Wheels last.  Wait until you’ve finished washing the body before washing the wheels.  Some detailers prefer special wheel-washing tools or brushes. 
  • Rinse it well.  Hose the vehicle off thoroughly to get all the soap off, then dry immediately.  Some people swear by a chamois, others like cloth better.  Cotton or microfiber towels will do.  

The next time you have your vehicle in for maintenance, you might ask your service advisor for recommendations on vehicle washing accessories.  They are usually up on the brands that produce the best results.  You may not be a detailing pro, but there’s no reason your vehicle can’t look like you are.

Lewis Complete Auto Repair
5110 Grisham Dr.
Rowlett, TX 75088
972.475.4800

What is a TPS? (Throttle Position Sensor)November 15, 2020

You know you have an accelerator pedal; step on it and your vehicle is supposed to go.  But did you know there is a part in your vehicle that keeps track of where the throttle is? It’s called the Throttle Position Sensor, or TPS.

The TPS is a sensor that helps your vehicle figure out the right mix of air and fuel is reaching your engine.  It does that by keeping track of the throttle and sending that information to your vehicle’s computer.  Other factors play a role in how well your engine is performing, including air temperature, how fast the engine is turning over and air flow. 

When the TPS isn’t working right, you may find your vehicle won’t accelerate or doesn’t have the power you’re expecting when you press on the accelerator.  In some cases, it may accelerate on its own.  Sometimes your vehicle won’t go over a certain speed.  Your Check Engine light may go on.

Any of these symptoms should be checked out soon.  If your TPS stops working right, your vehicle may not be safe to drive.  Fortunately, most vehicles have a “limp home” mode that will allow you to get off a busy road to a safe spot. 

Your service advisor can let you know which TPS is the correct replacement for your vehicle.  Your shop may have to re-program the new TPS so it works correctly with other software in your vehicle.

It’s a fact of life these days that computers control many of a vehicle’s functions. The sensors that feed information to those computers help make your vehicle work the way it was engineered to and keep you motoring down the road safely and efficiently.

Lewis Complete Auto Repair
5110 Grisham Dr.
Rowlett, TX 75088
972.475.4800

A Honking Big Jam (Stuck Horn)November 8, 2020

At one time or another, most drivers honk their horn at someone who might be texting at a stoplight or not paying attention when they’re driving.  But what happens when you tap on your horn and all of a sudden it won’t quit? Everyone’s looking at you like you’re an angry jerk and all you want to do is turn it off!

It helps to know the basics of what’s happening when you honk your horn.  There’s a switch in the steering wheel, of course, and when you press on it, it sends power to a relay which then energizes the horn.  Bingo.  Sound.  When the horn sticks on, one of these parts or the wiring has developed a problem. 

With the ear-splitting noise inside your cabin, it may be hard to keep your cool, but do your best to stay calm.  Try pushing the horn several times; it may un-stick the switch if you’re lucky.  If not, there are a couple of things you can try.

First, if you can, pull your vehicle off the road and into a spot where you’re not disrupting traffic.  If you feel comfortable rummaging around in your vehicle’s fuse box, you might be able to pull the fuse that manages the circuit for your horn system.  A hint: the fuse boxes sometimes have a label inside showing which fuse goes to which part of the vehicle. Find the fuse that goes to the horn and pull it out (sometimes there’s a fuse-pulling tool inside the fuse box).

But many people don’t feel like tackling that.  Yes, you can drive over to a service facility with the horn blaring (not the best idea).  Or call your service facility and see if they might be able to send someone over to where you are so they can shut off the horn.

At the shop, a technician can check wiring, switches, relays and other components to find out what’s wrong.  This is something that should be left to a professional for a couple of reasons.  First, repairs around the steering wheel can involve airbags.  Second, some horn components may be part of a vehicle’s alarm system. 

The bad news is that your horn may not give you any warning before it starts blaring uncontrollably.  But the good news is that a horn doesn’t malfunction all that often, and now you have a plan if it does.    

Lewis Complete Auto Repair
5110 Grisham Dr.
Rowlett, TX 75088
972.475.4800

Something to Latch On To (Hood Latch Safety)November 1, 2020

The other day, a driver was trying to open his vehicle’s hood so he could add some windshield washer fluid.  But when he pulled the hood release inside the car, nothing happened. 

Usually, opening any hood is a 2-step process.  You pull the hood release (which is usually a handle under the dashboard to the left of the steering column) and listen for the hood to pop up slightly. (It doesn’t open all the way because it has a safety latch to prevent you from accidentally opening it up while you’re driving.) Then, you get out and find the latch, usually through the grille near the hood.  There’s a little handle on it which you push, slide or pull (there are a few different types) at which point the hood can be opened up all the way. 

But in this driver’s case, the hood would not release at all when he pulled the handle inside.  Not knowing what to do, he called his service advisor, who told him to bring it over.  The reason? A hood with a broken latch could be a safety hazard since it is possible it’s not securely closed. And in this condition, it’s possible for the hood to suddenly release while you are driving, obscuring your view of the road. 

Latch issues can be caused by many things, perhaps a broken cable between the hood release and the latch.  It’s possible that cable just detached or frayed after being opened so many times.  If a hood release cable isn’t kept lubricated, it can corrode and just lock up.

In this driver’s case, the cable had corroded and broken, so it had to be replaced.  Unfortunately, many times you won’t know you have a problem with your hood latch until one time you pull it and it breaks without warning.  When your vehicle is in for routine maintenance like an oil change, a technician will often keep an eye out for signs that your hood latch needs attention so you don’t get “locked” out of your engine compartment.

Lewis Complete Auto Repair
5110 Grisham Dr.
Rowlett, TX 75088
972.475.4800