Auto Maintenance and Repair

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Guide to Auto Maintenance and Repair

We rely on our cars for commuting to work, going to school, running errands and getting us away when we need a vacation. That’s why it’s essential to keep your car in good repair. Find expert advice on everything from tires to transmissions so you can be confident your car will take you to your next destination.

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Auto Repair Essentials

  • Often-Overlooked Aspects of Auto Maintenance

    Complete Maintenance

    Auto repair professionals often see drivers forget these aspects of car maintenance.

  • Auto Body

    Expert Advice

    Auto body experts share their tips for helping your car look its best.

  • Under the Hood

    Advice From Auto Experts

    Auto industry professionals share their tips for properly maintaining your car.




Eduardo Porta

Fremont Foreign Auto

Ryan Cordes

European Sales & Service

Nana Sarkisian

Cal Auto Body

Gurjit Singh

Reliant Auto Repair

Paul Jancis

Driven Auto Care

Joel Ramos Diaz

American Canyon Collision Center

Gabriel Manzo

Gabe’s Auto Care Center

Alex Nunez

B & J Transmissions

Yann d’Argence

All Autos, Inc.

Chester Kniss

Delta Transmission

Manuel Garcia

George McGill’s Body Shop, Inc.

Mike Schwarzbart

Berkeley Motor Works

Josh Cherry

Big O Tires – Pleasanton

Richard Cordes

European Sales & Service

Ron McLeod

ASAP Automotive, Inc.

Wayne Pentecost

Wayne & Son’s Automotive Repair, Inc.

John Vanek

Orinda Motors, Inc.

Dave Proffer

Empire Auto Repair & Smog

Thuan Le

T & T Auto Repair

Ralph Kirberg

Kirberg Motors, Inc.

Bill Faulconer

Renson Automotive, Inc.

Cliff Do

A1 Performance Auto Repair

Will Trbovich

Acurit Auto Repair

Walee Gon

Faxon Garage

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Auto Collision

Dave Erickson

Automotive Excellence

Kacey Copeland

autoTech Blackhawk

Savi Singh

Auto Collision Experts

Tommy Ngai

Exclusive Auto Care and Auto Body

Why You Shouldn’t Resurface Your Brake Rotors

Why You Shouldn’t Resurface Your Brake Rotors

FREMONT — Whether you drive an older or newer car, whether it’s a foreign or domestic model, there’s one thing you shouldn’t waste your money on: resurfacing your brake rotors. Resurfacing is a method for restoring and extending the operating lifespan of rotors that are still in reasonably good condition at the time of brake pad replacement. While this may sound like a good idea, it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s not uncommon for problems to arise with resurfaced rotors. For example, within six months of having your brake pads replaced and the rotors resurfaced, you may start to have pulsation issues when coming to a stop. You shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of issue so soon after having your brake pads replaced.

Additionally, when it comes to car models from 2004 and earlier, new rotors are so inexpensive that it’s not worth the money to machine the old ones. That’s why, whether you drive a newer or older vehicle, it’s typically worthwhile to replace the rotors along with the pads—you’ll avoid headaches, stay safe on the road and maximize the lifespan of your brakes.

Caution for Buying a Used Mercedes-Benz

Caution for Buying a Used Mercedes-Benz

SANTA ROSA — If you’re interested in buying a used Mercedes-Benz, there’s something you should be aware of. Certain models from 2004 to 2008 are known to have a problem with their timing chains, caused by a defective balance shaft. Essentially, the balance shaft’s gears tend to wear out prematurely, which causes the timing chain to slip. Besides leading to engine problems, this defect can cause your car’s “check engine” light to come on, which is a problem if you need it to pass a smog check.

The cost to repair this issue can easily exceed $4,000—a substantial addition to any car’s price tag, much less a used one. So, when shopping for a used Mercedes-Benz, consider your options. One is to avoid models from the 2004 to 2008 range altogether. However, if you do find a car from this period that you like, you should ask the owner if they’ve addressed the balance shaft issue. If they say they have, ask for paperwork to verify the proper repairs were done.

What to do in the Event of an Auto Collision

What to do in the Event of an Auto Collision

COLMA — A car accident can be a jolting experience, even if it’s just a minor collision, which is why drivers sometimes forget what to do next. Besides confirming the safety of all passengers involved, there are a couple crucial steps to take following an accident.

After making sure all passengers are safe, the first thing you should do is obtain the other driver’s information. While writing down contact and insurance information is standard protocol, the prevalence of smartphones often makes it more efficient to simply take a picture of the other driver’s insurance card and license. Also, be sure to take a few photos of the damage sustained by each vehicle—these pictures can serve as documented evidence for any legal issues that come up in the future.

While photos can protect you legally, you also want to protect yourself physically. After taking photos and swapping information with the other driver, you need to determine if your own car is in operable condition before driving it. While a flat tire is an obvious indication that you need a tow truck, it’s also important to look underneath your vehicle to see if any liquid is leaking from the engine. If you see any leaking fluids, your car needs to be towed, not driven, to a repair shop.

Maintaining Your Car’s Water Pump

Maintaining Your Car’s Water Pump

SAN JOSE — A crucial yet often-overlooked vehicle component is the water pump. As the heart of the engine’s cooling system, the water pump continually delivers coolant (antifreeze) to the engine and radiator to prevent them from overheating. Not surprisingly, when a vehicle’s water pump fails, it leads to dire consequences for the engine.

While water pump failure isn’t always preventable, you can reduce the chances of it happening with proactive maintenance. The first step is to flush your engine’s coolant at manufacturer-recommended intervals. As coolant ages, it starts to break down and ceases to provide the protection it once did, leaving your engine more vulnerable to corrosion and overheating. To avoid this, open your coolant reservoir and inspect the coolant on a regular basis. If you notice that it’s discolored or seems to have a thicker consistency, you’re likely past due for a flush.

Even with proactive maintenance, no vehicle component lasts forever, and water pumps are no exception. That’s why it’s good to replace your water pump preventatively rather than wait for it to fail. A good milestone for doing this is when you replace your timing belt—usually at the 90,000-mile mark. Since the timing belt is already being replaced, it won’t cost much more to replace the water pump as well, and it’ll extend the long-term integrity of your engine’s cooling system.

The Importance of Manufacturer-Recommended Maintenance

The Importance of Manufacturer-Recommended Maintenance

MOUNTAIN VIEW — As vehicles get more expensive, it’s becoming more common for owners to keep their cars for longer periods of time. However, if you want your car to be reliable for the long term, you’ll need to be proactive about regular maintenance. As automotive technology continues to advance, today’s vehicles don’t just consist of mechanical parts—they also incorporate a lot of sophisticated computer technology. For this reason, it takes more than mere oil changes to address the full spectrum of your car’s maintenance needs.

The best way to ensure your car is being comprehensively maintained is to follow its manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule. This schedule (which can be found in your owner’s manual) outlines a sequence of service appointments to be performed at specific mileage markers. For example, the 90,000-mile service typically includes replacement of the engine’s timing belt, spark plugs and vital fluids. These regularly scheduled appointments are designed to keep your vehicle running optimally for the long haul.

While these maintenance intervals are important, you should avoid add-on items and services that your vehicle’s manufacturer hasn’t recommended. In many cases, these will interfere with your car’s operation and end up costing you money. That’s why it’s crucial to take your car to a quality repair shop that’s familiar with your car’s maintenance needs.

Maintaining Your Car’s Headlights

Maintaining Your Car’s Headlights

AMERICAN CANYON — As the winter brings shorter days, it’s important to make sure your car’s headlights are in good operating condition. Over time, headlights can become foggy, which obscures the shine of the bulbs and reduces visibility while driving at night. This fogginess occurs as the plastic comprising the headlights becomes oxidized due to continued sunlight exposure. You might think of it as cataracts developing on your car’s “eyes.”

To prevent the safety risk posed by reduced visibility, look at your car’s headlights and see if they appear foggy. If they do, bring your car to a local automotive shop to have them repaired. After sanding off the oxidized layer, a technician will apply a UV clear coat protectant to shield your headlights from the effects of sunlight. Keep in mind that you’ll need to have your headlights recoated every few years, as sunlight will gradually erode this clear coat.

Timing Belt Replacement

Timing Belt Replacement

SONOMA — The timing belt is one of an engine’s most critical components, responsible for synchronizing many of its moving parts. Unlike an engine’s metallic components, however, a timing belt is made of rubber, which makes it prone to deterioration over time. If not preventatively replaced, the belt will eventually break, resulting in serious engine damage. That’s why it’s important to have your timing belt changed at the manufacturer-recommended interval (usually the 90,000-mile mark).

In addition to the belt itself, there are several components that make up an engine’s “timing system,” including an idler pulley that spins, a water pump that rides with the timing belt and cam seals behind the gears. All of these components should be changed out along with your timing belt at the time of replacement.

The timing belt is sometimes confused with the serpentine belt, which drives a completely different set of engine components. One easy way to tell the two apart is the fact that the serpentine belt is on the outside of the engine, whereas the timing belt is situated inside of it. Being able to distinguish between these two belts can help you avoid a potentially expensive mistake.

How to Check Your Transmission Fluid

How to Check Your Transmission Fluid

SAN JOSE — Most drivers know to keep an eye on their engine oil, but not everyone is so diligent about checking their transmission fluid. However, due to the important role a transmission plays in vehicle operation (as well as the substantial expense of repairing it), you should make a point of checking yours regularly.

Checking your transmission fluid involves the same steps as checking your engine oil: Just pull out the red dipstick (as opposed to the yellow one for engine oil) and inspect it. Most importantly, check the fluid’s integrity. Transmission fluid should have a clean, pink color and a semi-sweet aroma. If it looks dirty or smells burnt, you’re past due for a change, in which case you should schedule a service appointment with your auto technician as soon as possible.

In addition to independently checking your transmission fluid, have your transmission professionally serviced at regular intervals. Ideally, you should get a complete fluid and filter change every 40,000 miles. This simple step will add years to your transmission’s life and prevent costly damage.

Demystifying the “Check Engine” Light

Demystifying the “Check Engine” Light

The “check engine” light may be the most commonly known dashboard warning light, but it’s also the most misunderstood, and for good reason: Not only can any number of issues cause it to come on, it can also signify anything from a minor issue to a major emergency.

The most important thing to know about your “check engine” light is how to tell the difference between a minor concern and a major one. Fortunately, this is easy to do. If the light stays on steady, the issue isn’t an emergency; you can continue to drive your vehicle until you get a chance to bring it to a repair shop. If, on the other hand, the light is blinking, this indicates an immediate concern, whether a threat to safety or imminent engine damage. In this case, you need to pull over right away, turn off your vehicle and call for a tow to an auto repair facility.

Another aspect of the “check engine” light that confuses vehicle owners is the fact that a multitude of factors can cause it to come on—in some cases, several at once. That’s why it’s important to work with a professional auto technician who has the tools and problem-solving skills to get to the bottom of things. When multiple codes have been triggered, the instigating issue can be masked by others, which is why technicians often have to rely on instinct to uncover it. However, even after your technician returns your car, there’s always a chance the light may come on again. This is a common byproduct of the computer age of automotive, so don’t be discouraged or upset—just work with your technician to solve the issue as efficiently as possible.

Transmissions: To Flush or Not to Flush?

Transmissions: To Flush or Not to Flush?

ANTIOCH — Much like a “quick stop” oil change, a transmission flush provides a fast and affordable means of maintaining a vital vehicle component. However, upon closer inspection, this convenient service may not be as good an idea as it appears.

The problem with a transmission flush is it only addresses the fluid itself, which means components like the filter and gasket are ignored. While the fluid gets changed, any debris buildup inside the transmission case gets left behind, most of which becomes trapped in the filter. Over time, if the filter becomes plugged up with debris, it can result in a worse issue with the transmission than existed previously.

For this reason, instead of having your transmission flushed, take your vehicle to an auto technician for regular transmission service—preferably every 30,000 miles. The technician will remove and replace the pan gasket, filter, and fluid, which will keep your transmission running cleanly and smoothly.

What to Do After an Auto Collision

What to Do After an Auto Collision

SAN LORENZO — Following a minor collision, there are four steps you should take to ensure both physical safety and legal protection:

1. Remove any traffic obstructions. After safely pulling to the side of the road, turn off the ignition and turn on your hazard lights. If you have cones or flares, use them to warn oncoming traffic of the accident.

2. Confirm the safety of other drivers. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. Do not give emergency medical assistance unless you’re trained to do so. Never move an injured person unless they’re in danger.

3. Gather pertinent information. Get the names and phone numbers of drivers, witnesses, and injured persons. Also, secure the make, model and license plate number of every car involved. If possible, take a photo of the accident scene.

4. Remain calm and courteous. Remember, it’s never a good idea to accept a claim settlement at the scene of an accident; rather, you should contact your insurance agent and report the incident.

An Easy Way to Protect Your Fuel Pump

An Easy Way to Protect Your Fuel Pump

ALBANY — If you’re like most vehicle owners, you want to get the maximum longevity out of your car or truck. One of the best ways to promote your vehicle’s long-term health is to properly maintain its fuel pump. If you’re worried this will require some type of hands-on maintenance, relax: it requires far less effort than you’d expect.

Most vehicle owners have a tendency to wait until the last minute to refill their gas tanks, which means they regularly run their vehicles on low fuel, even to the point of being nearly empty. What few people realize, however, is that the fuel pump is lubricated and cooled by the fuel in the tank. That means continually running a vehicle while it’s low on fuel can lead to premature wear and even pump failure, which is a costly repair.

Luckily, you can avoid this problem by adopting a simple habit: keep at least a quarter tank of gas in your car at all times. This will ensure the fuel pump stays lubricated and help extend your car’s lifespan.

Maximizing Vehicle Performance with Proper Tire Pressure

Maximizing Vehicle Performance with Proper Tire Pressure

PLEASANTON — One of the simplest ways to maximize your vehicle’s performance is to check and maintain the air pressure in your tires. In addition to improving fuel economy, keeping your tires correctly inflated helps ensure even tread wear and better road safety. Checking your tire pressure is easy—all you have to do is unscrew the valve stem cap and use a tire pressure gauge to get a reading. Compare your gauge’s reading to the one recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer, which can be found on the driver’s side door jamb of your car or in your owner’s manual.

When inflating your tires at a gas station, be sure to use your own gauge for checking tire pressure, as gas station gauges aren’t always accurate. You can purchase a gauge at any auto parts supply store. Also, consider filling your tires with nitrogen rather than regular air. Since it’s a denser molecule that doesn’t contain or support moisture, nitrogen doesn’t fluctuate as much as air, which makes it better for gas mileage and tire lifespan.

The Benefits of Specialized Auto Care

The Benefits of Specialized Auto Care

SANTA ROSA — If you own a high-end imported car like a Porsche, Mercedes-Benz or BMW, you’ll want to make sure it gets the best care possible. A good way to do so is to take your car to a shop that specializes in servicing its particular make.

Since every vehicle make has its own unique idiosyncrasies, the in-depth knowledge of a specialist can prove invaluable when it comes to diagnosing problems and anticipating future needs. In addition to having the right training and certifications, a specialist possesses all the pertinent tools and technology, including manufacturer-specific diagnostic equipment that a general repair shop might not have.

The Other Reason Oil Changes Are Important

The Other Reason Oil Changes Are Important

FREMONT — Most vehicle owners know (or are at least somewhat aware) that engine oil changes are important, but few understand the actual extent of their importance. Many people think it’s just something you’re supposed to do, but they don’t really know why—which might explain why they don’t take it seriously. The reality is that oil change appointments are important, but their importance goes beyond the basics of the job.

First of all, oil changes are crucial for the healthy functioning of a vehicle’s engine. That’s because engines depend on oil to lubricate their many moving parts. Over time, engine oil gets dirty, which makes it less effective at its job. Furthermore, oil can start to run low if it’s not changed and refilled. Either of these scenarios can lead to severe engine damage.

Oil changes are also important because they double as safety check-ups for your vehicle. In addition to changing the oil, an oil change technician checks several aspects of the vehicle, including tire pressure, fluid levels, the functionality of the lights and the condition of the wiper blades.

At ASAP Automotive, we know firsthand the value of these safety inspections. Over the years, we’ve seen everything from broken axle boots to completely bald tires to near-empty brake fluid reservoirs, all of which represent major road safety hazards. That’s why engine performance isn’t the only reason you should stay on top of oil changes­­—they also help ensure the rest of your vehicle is in safe driving condition.

Little-Known Factors that Affect Fuel Economy

Little-Known Factors that Affect Fuel Economy

SANTA ROSA — Most people know tire pressure can affect fuel economy, but there are several lesser-known factors that can have an equally significant impact. One of these is the condition of your engine air filter. When an air filter isn’t regularly replaced, the excessive dirt buildup can cause it to become clogged, which restricts engine ventilation. When an engine isn’t able to “breathe” properly, it’s more likely to run rich—in other words, to use more gasoline than it’s supposed to.

Another factor that can affect fuel economy is the regularity with which you change your engine oil. As engine oil becomes dirty over time, it can clog up the engine’s rings and get into the cylinders, which can hinder proper combustion.

In addition to routine oil changes and air filter replacement, another way to boost your vehicle’s gas mileage is to keep its engine well-tuned. Having important functional components like the crankcase ventilation system serviced on a regular basis will help the engine perform optimally, which will maximize fuel economy.

The Importance of Properly Functioning Shocks

The Importance of Properly Functioning Shocks

ORINDA — Shocks are an important yet often overlooked aspect of a vehicle’s operation. The basic function of shocks is to absorb the turbulence (bumps and jolts) of driving on the road—not only to provide a more comfortable ride, but also to reduce stress on other components of your car. However, when shocks become worn out over time, they can compromise vehicle performance.

One of the first things to fail in a shock is the dampening, which, in addition to rebounding bumps while driving, keeps the tire firmly mounted on the pavement, creating what’s known as a “contact patch.” When dampening becomes diminished, this contact patch becomes diminished as well. Not only does this lead to uneven tire wear, it also requires components such as the brakes and suspension to work harder, resulting in premature wear.

An easy way to assess the functionality of your shocks is to check the ride control: if your vehicle rides rough, with a lot of body roll, sway and bouncing, it’s probably time to replace your shocks. Additionally, the shocks in modern cars tend to lose their dampening after 50,000 miles, so if your car has anywhere near 100,000 miles and you’ve never replaced the shocks, it’s a good idea to get them checked by a car care professional.

Check Engine Light Tips

Check Engine Light Tips

SANTA ROSA — Most drivers know to be concerned when their vehicle’s “check engine” light comes on, but few are aware of the potential complexity of the situation. Here are a few tips to help you better understand your “check engine” light:

1) While the purpose of a “check engine” light is to alert the driver of a problem sensed by the vehicle’s onboard computer system, there are several things that can cause it to come on, from an issue with the emissions system to something as simple as a loose gas cap. Though it’s a good idea to get an illuminated “check engine” light diagnosed, you may save yourself a trip to the mechanic by checking to see if your gas cap is screwed on tightly.

2) There’s a significant difference between when a “check engine” light is illuminated and when it’s flashing. When flashing, the light is warning of an imminent crisis that usually involves the catalytic converter, which is why it’s crucial to pull over and turn off the vehicle as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may end up with severe catalytic converter damage that requires expensive repairs.

3) Most people know an illuminated “check engine” light will cause a vehicle to fail a smog inspection, but many don’t realize that with modern vehicles, even past incidents can be an issue. Even if it’s off during the inspection, if your “check engine” light has been on recently, your vehicle’s computer memory will have stored the code, which will show up during the test. So, if you’re aware that your light was previously on, let the technician know about it upfront to avoid an unnecessary inspection fee.

Under the Hood: Getting to Know Your Vehicle

Under the Hood: Getting to Know Your Vehicle

MONTEREY — Even if you have no prior knowledge of auto maintenance, the first step to becoming acquainted with the inner workings of your vehicle is to simply lift the hood. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by taking some time to examine the various fluids and filters found inside.

To maintain ongoing functionality, your vehicle requires several different kinds of fluids. Some of the most important fluids include coolant (also known as antifreeze), which helps maintain the temperature of the water in the radiator and engine; transmission fluid, which lubricates the transmission’s moving parts; and engine oil, which lubricates the engine’s moving parts. Other important fluids to know are brake, power steering and windshield washer fluid. While all fluids should be replenished at regular service intervals, it’s also a good idea to routinely observe fluid levels on your own. While most fluids can be monitored by simply looking at the reservoir, engine oil and transmission fluid levels can be checked with yellow and red dipsticks, respectively.

Air filters
Your vehicle has a couple different air filters, including the engine air filter, which stops abrasive particles from entering the engine’s cylinders, and the cabin air filter, which helps ensure clean cabin air for the driver and passengers. Replacing either of these air filters is easy: Once you’ve located it and removed the protective casing, simply pull out the old filter and put a new one in its place. By replacing your vehicle’s air filters on a regular basis, you’ll be able to optimize air quality for both your engine and yourself.

To learn more about maintaining your vehicle’s fluids and filters, take a look at your vehicle owner’s manual.

Understanding Dashboard Warning Lights

Understanding Dashboard Warning Lights

BELMONT — There are a lot of warning lights on a vehicle’s dashboard, all of which help ensure safety on the road. While some are self-explanatory, others aren’t as obvious, so it’s important for drivers to acquaint themselves with the various warning lights and their functions. Here are some important ones to know:

Battery warning light
This light is in the shape of a car battery and usually indicates a problem with the alternator. Since the alternator recharges the battery, it’s important to directly address any issues because its failure can render your vehicle inoperable. If the battery light comes on and stays on while you’re driving, the most common cause is a broken alternator belt.

Oil pressure warning light
This light is in the shape of an old-fashioned oil can and indicates low engine oil pressure. When this light comes on, it’s crucial to immediately pull over and turn off your vehicle—if the engine runs out of oil, it can seize up and grind to a halt, resulting in extensive and costly repairs.

“Check engine” light
Also known as the “service engine soon” light, this warning light indicates a problem with the vehicle’s emission system. Numerous components can cause this light to turn on, so it’s important to have it checked out as soon as possible.

Brake warning light
In most cases, the purpose of this light is straightforward: to let you know your parking brake is on. However, if the light stays on after you’ve released the parking brake, it may indicate a low level of brake fluid in the master cylinder. This can compromise brake safety, so be sure to check your brake fluid level.

Airbag warning light
Often referred to as SRS, which stands for “supplemental restraint system,” this warning light usually indicates an issue with the vehicle’s airbags, whether a faulty deploy mechanism or a past-due expiration date (most airbags expire 10 to 15 years after the initial purchase).

To better acquaint yourself with your vehicle’s dashboard warning lights, it’s a good idea to study your owner’s manual, which outlines each light and its purpose in detail.

Do-It-Yourself Vehicle Maintenance

Do-It-Yourself Vehicle Maintenance

CAMPBELL — Many aspects of auto maintenance are best left to a professional, but there are some things you can easily do yourself. Here are two do-it-yourself measures you can take to improve your driving experience:

Tire pressure maintenance
While regulating tire pressure is important for safety, performance and tire longevity, many drivers don’t know that it can also affect fuel economy. While vehicle manufacturers set recommended tire pressure at a minimum specification, raising the pressure slightly above this number can actually improve your car’s gas mileage.

To maintain the air pressure in your tires, you’ll need a tire pressure gauge. Pocket gauges are simple and inexpensive, but a digital gauge offers improved reading accuracy. After removing the valve cap, use the gauge to check the air pressure and make sure it’s at or slightly above the manufacturer recommendation (this can be found in your owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver’s side door).

Air filter replacement
An engine air filter helps keep the engine running clean by stopping abrasive airborne particles from entering the cylinders. In most cases, replacing an air filter is simply a matter of popping off the adhesive clips, pulling out the old filter and putting a new one in its place. Before replacing an air filter, determine whether replacement is necessary—even if the filter isn’t completely clean, it may still be functional for a while longer.

How to Tell if You Need New Brakes

How to Tell if You Need New Brakes

SUNNYVALE — Brakes are one of the most important components of any vehicle, which is why it’s vital to proactively maintain them. A crucial part of brake maintenance is being able to tell when they need to be replaced altogether.

To take the guesswork out of brake replacement, some modern cars are equipped with brake pad wear sensors. Mounted on the brake pad and routed through the caliper, this sensor warns drivers if the pad is becoming excessively worn and needs to be replaced, usually by triggering a warning light on the vehicle’s dash. However, not all vehicles are equipped with such warning devices, which is why you should have your brakes inspected on a routine basis.

If you notice your vehicle’s stopping time seems to be increasing or you have to press harder on the brake to come to a stop, these are good indicators that it’s time to get your brake pads changed. Ignoring these warning signs can result in potentially dangerous consequences, whereas promptly addressing brake issues will ensure better safety for yourself and others on the road.

Understanding Your Vehicle’s Air Filters

Understanding Your Vehicle’s Air Filters

ROHNERT PARK — You’re probably aware that your home’s furnace has a filter that keeps your indoor air relatively clean. But did you know there’s a similar situation in your car? In fact, your vehicle likely has not one but two types of air filters.

First, there’s the cabin filter. Just as a furnace filter provides clean air for the home’s inhabitants, a cabin filter provides clean air for the vehicle’s driver and passengers to breathe. Since the air on the roads and freeways can be saturated with smog and other noxious elements, a cabin filter is a valuable asset for driver and passenger health.

Cabin filters are typically located at the front of the vehicle interior (below the dashboard or behind the glove compartment) and can be removed and replaced as needed. However, cabin filters are often overlooked, even by auto repair shops, so when you bring your car in for service, make sure your technician takes the time to check out yours.

More well-known than the cabin filter is the engine air filter. Whereas a cabin filter provides clean air for the driver and passengers, the engine air filter ensures the engine is receiving clean air. Engines need air for combustion, but when an engine’s air filter is dirty, it can’t breathe properly, which causes it to burn more fuel. That’s why any engine maintenance service should always include an inspection of its air filter.

Fortunately, both of these vehicle air filters are fairly easy to check yourself—just consult your owner’s manual to find out how.

Maintaining Your Shocks

Maintaining Your Shocks

SAN FRANCISCO — A car’s tires may be “where the rubber meets the road,” but another important aspect of a vehicle’s traction is its shocks. Unfortunately, unlike tires, shocks tend to be overlooked, which is why the first time you typically hear about them is when they’re leaking, at which point they’re already well beyond their useful lifespan. However, due to the critical part they play in vehicle operation, it’s important to be proactive about inspection and replacement.

Most people think shocks are primarily there to make driving more comfortable, but in reality, they have a far more versatile function. For example, shocks’ role in controlling vehicle body movement also translates to safety and stability while driving, which is why worn-out shocks are actually a safety concern. Also, when shocks are no longer functioning properly, it often results in premature wear of other vehicle components and ultimately leads to expensive repair bills. So, to ensure comfort, safety and optimum performance, ask your mechanic to inspect your shocks on a recurrent basis.

How to Assess a Scratch on Your Vehicle

How to Assess a Scratch on Your Vehicle

SAN JOSE — If there’s a scratch on your vehicle’s body, you may assume the area will need to be repainted. However, this may not be the case. Vehicle body scratches often look similar, but their impact can vary substantially depending on how deep they are.

So, how can you tell whether a scratch requires repainting? It’s simple: run your fingernail over it. If you can feel a groove as your nail runs over the scratch, this means it has penetrated the paint and needs to be repainted. However, if you don’t feel any change in texture as your nail runs over the scratch, it likely hasn’t penetrated the paint. In this case, all you need to do is buff it out. You can do this yourself or take it to your local auto body shop. Within minutes, the scratch should be gone.

Regenerative Braking: A Beneficial Prius Feature

Regenerative Braking: A Beneficial Prius Feature

ROHNERT PARK  — If you own a Toyota Prius, make sure you’re taking advantage of all the features it provides. One beneficial feature is regenerative braking, an automotive innovation found in most modern hybrid and electric vehicles. To utilize this feature in your Prius, simply put your gear shifter into “B” mode.

When in “B” mode, you’ll notice that you don’t have to apply the brake pedal as much. That’s because your car is now set to automatically slow down each time you let off the gas. This reduces the amount of wear and tear on your brake pads, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

The other benefit of regenerative braking is that each time you let off the gas, it actually charges your Prius’ battery. How? As a car slows down, kinetic energy is created. Regenerative braking captures this energy and repurposes it to charge or “regenerate” the battery. Interestingly enough, this energy-efficient process has little to do with the brakes themselves—it actually takes place within the car’s transmission.

As previously mentioned, “B” mode is the most beneficial in situations like stop-and-go traffic, but another good time to use this feature is when driving downhill. When you take your foot off the gas, you’ll feel the vehicle start to slow. Depending on the steepness of the hill, you may still have to apply the brake, but not nearly as much as you would otherwise. Plus, you’ll get the benefit of charging your battery.

Rethinking DIY A/C Maintenance

Rethinking DIY A/C Maintenance

DANVILLE — If your car’s air conditioning system has stopped working, you may have considered fixing it yourself. All you need to do is add some more refrigerant, right? The truth is, A/C system maintenance is more complex than you might realize, and by attempting it on your own, you could create bigger problems.

First of all, most people don’t realize that refrigerant essentially lasts forever—it doesn’t go bad and it doesn’t dissipate over time. The only reason refrigerant would need to be recharged is if the A/C system has a leak that caused it to evaporate. Furthermore, a lack of refrigerant isn’t the only thing that can cause an A/C system to stop working. For example, the blower mechanism can fail, in which case recharging the refrigerant won’t solve the issue.

Another often-overlooked fact is that refrigerant isn’t the only thing a car’s A/C system needs to function properly—it also needs oil to lubricate the compressor. Do-it-yourselfers who attempt to recharge their refrigerant often forget this crucial ingredient, which can result in a compressor failure and a costly repair bill. This is just one example of how a cheap DIY fix can get expensive fast. So, unless you have prior experience, it’s best to leave A/C maintenance to a professional who’s properly equipped to perform the job.

Reviewing Your Auto Insurance Coverage Options

Reviewing Your Auto Insurance Coverage Options

SUNNYVALE — One mistake many vehicle owners make is overlooking their auto insurance coverage options. A lot of people just go with the most basic coverage, but there are several additional options that can benefit policy holders.

One worthwhile option is getting an OEM endorsement: a clause on your policy that ensures aftermarket parts won’t be used to repair your vehicle. This policy clause is key for newer and leased vehicles. For newer cars, OEM parts are recommended to maintain the vehicles’ long-term integrity, and leased vehicles are required to have OEM parts when they’re returned to the dealership.

It’s also wise to look at your policy’s deductible and make sure it’s an appropriate amount. In the event of a collision, a higher deductible will lead to higher out-of-pocket costs, whereas a lower deductible will lead to lower out-of-pocket costs. By considering the age and value of your vehicle, you can choose a deductible that makes sense and will minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.

Other auto insurance coverage options to consider are rental and towing coverage—two affordable add-ons that can benefit you in the event of a collision. Overall, by taking the time to review your options, you can make sure your policy is giving you the most value and benefit for your money.

The Importance of a Pre-Purchase Auto Body Inspection

The Importance of a Pre-Purchase Auto Body Inspection

REDWOOD CITY — You probably know that before buying a used vehicle, you should take it to a professional mechanic to have it checked out. However, an additional step you might not be aware of is having your potential purchase inspected by an auto body professional as well.

While a mechanic can assess the condition of a vehicle’s engine and important safety components, they won’t be looking for issues related to the body. Used vehicles frequently have hidden body issues, and it often takes the trained eye of an auto body professional to spot them. In some cases, a technician will pull back a suspicious-looking body panel to find hidden damage that wasn’t properly repaired. For example, it’s not unusual to find damaged panels that were “repaired” using Bondo®, which is essentially like putting a bandage on the problem.

While resources like CARFAX can be helpful for learning about a used vehicle’s history, the reality is that important details can (and often do) get missed. That’s why, if you want to ensure a wise purchase, you should bring the vehicle to a body shop as well as a mechanic for inspection.


Snehal Shah, owner of Auto Techies, demonstrates how to safely jumpstart a car.

Video: How to Jumpstart Your Car

If you own a car, chances are you’ll need to jumpstart its engine at some point. Drivers need to understand that jumpstarting requires an enormous transfer of energy from the running vehicle to the inoperative one. That's why it's important to respect safety protocol.

Watch this video to learn how to safely jumpstart a car.