Troubleshooting: What’s That Rattle?

Cars and trucks contains thousands of individual parts, all designed to move in harmony with one another to propel you down the road. Naturally, noises will occur on a vehicle, but you will generally know when something doesn’t sound right. The following list is by no means definitive, nor is it intended to be a substitute for an actual mechanical inspection. When your vehicle is making a new noise or one that doesn’t sound right, it is best get it to a mechanic as soon as possible to avoid further damage or problems.

High-pitched Whine or Squeal when Accelerating

If you hear a high-pitched whine or squeal coming from the front of the engine (or side of the engine on vehicles equipped with front-wheel drive) when you accelerate, the most likely culprit is a failing drive belt, fan belt, or serpentine belt. These rubber belts, powered by the crankshaft pulley at the bottom of the engine, spin other pulleys on the various engine accessories (like the alternator, power steering pump, etc.). When the rubber teeth on a belt starts to go bad, the belt will start to slip as the crankshaft pulley tries to turn it. This slipping can create a high-pitched whine or squeal as you accelerate. This sound often signals that a new belt is needed or there is a problem with one of the engine accessories.

Clicking Noise or Rattle when Turning a Corner

On front-wheel drive vehicles, a clicking noise or rattle when turning a corner is usually caused by bad CV joints (joints that help the driveshaft turn your vehicle’s wheels).

Light Tapping Sound Coming from the Top of the Motor

A faint tapping sound coming from the engine could indicate serious problems related to engine oil pressure. The problem could be as simple as the engine needing a quart of oil. But if the oil level is sufficient, the trouble could be a failing oil pump or a bad lifter. Either way, you’ll need to consult a mechanic immediately.

Knocking Sound Inside the Engine

A pronounced knocking sound usually means that you’re about to spend a whole bunch of money repairing your engine. This noise often means that your engine has “thrown a rod” (piston rod), meaning one of the rod bearings has failed, allowing the piston rod to jump around inside the cylinder.

If you hear this type of noise, shut the engine off immediately. A good mechanic can usually save the engine, provided the damage isn’t too severe. However, if you try to drive the vehicle with a rod knocking, the pressure that builds inside the cylinder can actually force the piston through the side of the engine block. Should this happen, you’ll have to buy another motor.

No matter what type of knock or rattle you hear, it’s always best to avoid driving the vehicle until you drive it or tow it to a mechanic to determine what the problem is.

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SUV Buyers Guide

Sport Utility Vehicles, commonly known as SUVs, are a fantastic way to travel. They combine the cargo room and seating capacity of a station wagon or MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) with the ground clearance and towing ability of a pickup truck. Sport Utility Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s lots to consider when buying one.

What Is an SUV?

An SUV is essentially a wagon that can go off road and tow heavy loads. They’re often based on the underpinnings from a truck, which means you can get either rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD). Most use body-on-frame construction (the body is bolted to a full-length ladder frame). By contrast, a crossover vehicle (CUV) is usually based on a front-wheel drive (FWD) car chassis. Thus SUVs give up some off-road and towing capabilities to receive a more car-like ride and handling.

How Big?

These days, you can find everything from a mammoth 9-seat Chevrolet Suburban to the (considerably smaller) Jeep Wrangler. Full-size SUVs offer loads of room for people and stuff, but they’re not very easy to park or maneuver through traffic. Most of them can be ordered with driver aides like blind spot warning systems and cameras to help when backing up. You’ll definitely want to get those features if you plan to drive around in something that’s bigger than your first apartment.

Smaller SUVs also can be challenging to drive, thanks to their tiny windows and huge pillars (the body parts on the corners of the interior that hold up the roof and surround the windows). Nonetheless, they still are easier to thread through traffic than a ‘BargeUV’. The smaller footprint of the smaller SUVs also makes them easier to place off road and control in the snow. Better fuel economy is another advantage of their reduced mass, but you’ll need to make sure that a small-midsize SUV will be able to meet your needs.

2-Wheel Drive or 4-Wheel Drive?

The advantage of driving a truck-based SUV is its off road capability. Thanks to their stiffened platform (the aforementioned truck-like ladder frame), the wheels and axles are able to maneuver over serious obstacles. Real transfer cases (basically the part that transfers power from the engine to the wheels) can also be used to deliver low range, crawl-through-anything torque. The ground clearance typically is much better than that of smaller SUV or car-based CUV.

Depending on where you live, the number of driven axles can be very important. By dividing the engine’s torque between both front and rear axles, a 4WD system can keep your SUV moving forward in deep snow or on muddy tracks. A true 4-wheel drive system uses a transfer case to provide maximum torque in low-speed crawling situations. This allows your SUV to claw its way through deep muck or up steep inclines. On the other hand, an all-wheel drive (AWD) system can only engage the front axle when slippage at the drive axle is detected. This isn’t ideal for serious off-roading, but AWD will certainly help you get the kids to school on a snowy day.

With 2WD or RWD, only one axle receives power from the engine. When wheel slippage occurs, the traction control (or stability control) system will attempt to intervene. However, those systems can only help you to maintain the amount of traction that’s currently available. Whether you choose 4WD, AWD, 2WD or RWD will depend on your needs. If you routinely encounter situations or weather that requires additional traction, you may want to consider an SUV equipped with either AWD or 4WD.

Conclusion

With such a vast array of options available, it’s important to decide what you actually need your SUV to do. Whether you need a truck that can carry you deep into the Yukon, or just a family truckster that can pull a boat and get the kids to school on time, there’s an SUV out there for you. If before you buy you decide on the features that are most important to you, you’ll know what kind of SUV to look for.

How to Jumpstart a Car

If you drive a car with any regularity, chances are that eventually you will have to jumpstart a dead battery. You might have left your headlights on, or an interior light, or maybe somebody else did and they need a jump. In any case, it’s good car knowledge and safety to learn how to safely jumpstart a car. That way you can get back on the road with both your car and person intact.

From zero to hero: how to jump start a car

Step 1: Determine if a Dead Battery Is Actually the Problem

Important note: You cannot jumpstart a hybrid. Hybrid vehicles use a different type of battery, and only a dealer or repair center with the proper equipment can restart a dead hybrid.

On a petrol vehicle, if the motor easily turns over without starting, turn on the headlights and see if they dim when you try to start the vehicle. If they don’t dim, it’s likely that the battery is not dead and something else is preventing the engine from starting.

On the other hand, if you try to start the car and hear only a soft clicking noise, or even no sound at all, it is possible that your battery is dead.

Step 2 – Park the Two Cars in Front of or Beside Each Other

Most vehicle’s batteries are located in the engine compartment under the hood, but even if the vehicle’s battery is located elsewhere there will be battery terminals in the engine compartment (refer to the owner’s manual if you are unsure). The battery terminals are the clamps that connect to the battery’s connection points (also known as poles) on the top of the battery.

The jumper cables need to reach the batteries in both vehicles, so park them accordingly. You will find it best to park the car with the working battery in front or beside the car with the dead battery, depending on where under the hood the battery terminals of each vehicle are located.

Step 3 – Inspect the Battery Terminals

A bad connection not only can drain a battery’s charge, it also can prevent a car from starting. If there appears to be corrosion on the dead vehicle’s battery, remove the terminals and clean them and the connection points with a wire brush or a knife. Battery corrosion looks like a white or gray ash-like substance. You can also use baking soda mixed with a bit of water to clean the terminals and connection points. If the terminals are loose, tighten the bolts. In the event that the terminal bolts are stripped, you can secure (tighten) the connection by wedging a metal screw, washer or nail between the battery terminal and its connection point on the battery. This however, is only a temporary fix, and the battery terminal should be replaced as soon as possible.

Step 4 – Connect the Jumper Cables (Leads)

Red goes on the positive (“+”) battery terminal and black goes on the negative (“-”). If the battery connections aren’t color coated, then look for a ‘+’ and ‘-’ stamped into the battery casing. Connect the leads to the dead battery first. Connect the positive cable first, then the negative cable second. Keep the opposite ends of the jumper cables from touching by clamping one of the clamps to the cable itself, clearly away from the other clamp. If they touch, sparks will fly, and the vehicle’s electrical system could get shorted out.

When connecting to the good battery, again connect the red (positive) lead to the positive terminal on the battery first, then connect the black lead to an unpainted metal surface under the hood (NOT the negative battery terminal of the good battery). The negative battery terminal is connected directly to the alternator, and when the dead vehicle starts a small amount of current will be sent back through the negative wire. If there’s a short in the dead vehicle’s electrical system, a large amount of current could be sent back through the jumper cable that can short out the entire electrical system on the vehicle that has the good battery.

Step 5 – Attempt to Start the Dead Vehicle

With the vehicle with the good battery shut off, attempt to start the dead vehicle (this will protect the electrical system on the good vehicle). If the dead car fails to start, turn on the good vehicle, then hold its gas pedal at ¼ throttle for 3-5 minutes. This will send a charging current from the running vehicle’s alternator directly to the dead vehicle’s battery. Once you’ve done that, try starting the dead car again.

Once the dead vehicle starts, remove the jumper cables in the opposite order you attached them. Again, be sure to prevent the clamps from touching. Let both vehicles run to recharge both their batteries.

If the dead vehicle fails to start after following these steps, have the vehicle towed and diagnosed by a mechanic.

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How to Increase Fuel Economy

Every vehicle has a posted fuel economy – the number of kilometers per litre that it is supposed to get. However, actually achieving that number depends on how you drive and how you treat your vehicle. If you want to improve your fuel efficiency, there are a number of steps you can take.

Keep Your Vehicle Maintained

Did you know that putting off a tune-up can cost you three to five kilometres-per-litre of fuel economy? Dirty, thin oil allows friction to build up between the moving parts, causing your engine to work harder to overcome the excess heat that results. Changing your oil at the proper intervals not only will extend the life of your engine, it also will extend the distance that you can travel on a litre of fuel.

Spark plugs and wires also contribute to your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. A spark plug that isn’t firing at full capacity won’t allow the engine to properly combust all of the fuel being injected into the engine cylinders. That unburned fuel will be exhausted through the tailpipe, and the engine will have to use more fuel to compensate for the reduced energy that’s being produced.

Air filters are also important because they regulate the amount of air flowing into the engine for the combustion cycle. If the air filter is dirty or clogged less air will get through. This also will cause the engine to work harder in order to compensate for the reduced energy being produced, resulting in more fuel being used to make power.

Check the Air Pressure in Your Tires

If your tires are underinflated, the loose rubber causes extra resistance against the road, making the engine work harder to turn the tires. The engine has to burn extra fuel to fight against the resistance and turn the tires.

To prevent this, simply pick up a tire gauge at your local auto parts store and check the tire pressure once a month. The correct tire pressure is stamped into the sidewall of the tire, and keeping them properly inflated can give you several extra kilometers from every litre of fuel.

Adjust Your Driving

How you use the gas pedal is the biggest factor in how much fuel your vehicle consumes. When you constantly speed-up and slow-down, the engine has to burn more gas to get the vehicle back up to speed. Driving at a constant speed uses less fuel because the engine stays at a steady RPM. Using the cruise control also helps to keep the engine turning at a consistent speed, saving you money on long distance journeys.

Using common sense behind the wheel is definitely the best way to save money at the pump. If you drive carefully and maintain your vehicle, and your wallet will thank you.

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What to Look for When Buying Used Cars

Buying a used car can be a great way to save money, as long as you know what to look for. By following a few simple steps, you will be sure to find not just a great car, but a great value.

How to Buy a Used Car

Perform a Title Search

There are many companies from which you can obtain a vehicle’s title history, and it’s worth the small fee that they charge. Using the vehicle’s VIN number, you can see the full ownership history and find out whether or not it’s been involved in a serious accident. If the vehicle has ever had a ‘Salvage’ title, that means it was written-off by an insurance company as a complete loss, but then repaired. Naturally, it’s a good idea to avoid cars like these!

Perform a Vehicle Inspection
Exterior Inspection

  • Look for body panels that are shinier than others, as this may indicate a repair of previous body damage.
  • Look for rust beneath the doors, around the wheel wells (the body part around each tire), under the vehicle, in the floor, and around the suspension (the pistons or springs under the car on the inside side of the wheel, as well as the plates and bars that may be attached to them).
  • Look under the vehicle for leaks of oil or other fluids. Besides looking on the ground under the car, look around the bottom of the engine, the transmission (the large, long, triangular-shaped part shaped like a small, chubby rocket), rear axle, front axle, and transfer case (the large, bulbous part shaped like a round pyramid that’s attached to the front or rear axle on vehicles equipped with rear-wheel drive [RWD] or 4-wheel drive [4WD]).
  • Look at the tread wear on all four tires. Uneven tread wear can indicate suspension problems or alignment issues.

Inspect Under the Hood

Using a flashlight, look for oil leaks around the engine, frayed wires, and cracked / worn belts and hoses. Oil leaks sometimes look like wet or sticky accumulations of dirt.

  • Check the oil. If you notice a burnt smell, or see water, metal slivers, or chunky matter in the oil, don’t buy the vehicle.
  • Check the radiator when the engine is cold. Don’t buy the car if you see oil in the antifreeze or big chunks of rust.
  • With the engine running, check the automatic transmission fluid. Walk away from the sale if you notice a burnt smell or metal fragments.
  • Look for parts that have numbers or letters written with a paint pen, as this is how salvage yards mark their parts.

Interior Inspection

  • Look for water or flood damage by pulling back the carpet in the trunk and/or cargo area.
  • Test the operation of ALL the vehicle’s accessories.

Test Drive
Start the vehicle and let it idle up to operating temperature. If the engine is cold, it should ‘idle down’ (lower engine revolutions [RPMs]) after a few minutes. If it stumbles, skips, surges, or continues to idle at unusually high RPM’s, the vehicle could have engine problems.

Manual Transmission Check

  • Put the vehicle in gear and listen for a pronounced ‘clunk’ or ‘bang’, as this could indicate worn CV/universal joints.
  • Manual transmission vehicles should engage a gear fairly low in the clutch pedal travel. If it doesn’t engage until you’ve nearly released the clutch pedal, then it may need a new clutch.
  • Clutch engagement (when the clutch catches the gear) and shifter action should be smooth, and the vehicle should never ‘jump’ out of gear on its own.

Automatic Transmission check

  • The vehicle should upshift and downshift smoothly. If it seems to get stuck in a gear, stumble when automatically changing gears, or slip out of gear unexpectedly, there may be serious problems with the transmission.

Other Important Checks

  • Test the performance of the brakes.
  • Look for unusual noises, vibrations, and unusual engine behavior.
  • After the test drive, look for leaks and the smell of burning fluids.

If the vehicle passes all of these tests, then negotiate a deal and drive away in your new car!