From Headlights to Taillights: Bells and Whistles

By Mark Kozemko ’79, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the April 30, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

Did you ever get into a vehicle to test drive it and wonder, “Why does this vehicle have so many gadgets? What do they all do? Will I ever use them all?”

I know it sounds funny, but many new car buyers don’t even use some of the standard options, never mind all the extra “bells and whistles.” This month I’m fielding questions about what some of these extra options — or gadgets as I call them — are and how they work.

Before I get into the questions, I want to point out that the reason new vehicles come with an abundance of these options is mainly due to consumer demand. When manufacturers receive a high number of requests from their modern, tech-savvy customers for a specific option, they respond, as long as the request is within reason.

Our first question is, “What is adaptive cruise control and how does it work?”

Adaptive cruise control allows a driver to not only set a speed to travel but also set a specific distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. This option doesn’t come in all vehicles yet, but as we all know, when it works in certain vehicles, it won’t be long until most manufactures will offer it as standard equipment.

Once the driver inputs the cruise control settings mentioned above, other than steering, the vehicle is basically in control. When cruising, if the vehicle in front of you slows, your vehicle will reduce speed to maintain a safe distance. When the vehicle in front either moves out of the way or speeds up, your vehicle will accelerate to return to your preset speed. This is accomplished by a combination of sensors and cameras. This option is often paired up with additional options like lane-keeping assistance, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.

I can tell you from experience, driving a vehicle equipped with adaptive cruise control is awesome. If you have an extended commute, you may want to check out vehicles with this option.

The second question is, “What are active headlamps?”

This active headlamp option, which was designed to give the driver better visibility when traveling on winding roads, gives your headlights the ability to move to the right or left from the straight-ahead position. The headlight movement is accomplished using motors controlled by sensors in the steering system. The sensors send a signal to a control unit telling it what direction the driver is steering, and, in turn, activates the motors to move the light assemblies in that direction.

At this time, this option is only available on select models and is not very useful unless your commute involves very winding roads.

The third and final question this month is, “Is the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ option worth getting for my Ford truck?”

Per, a driver enters a few measurements into the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ system, then a camera tracks the trailer position while you’re backing up your truck and guiding the trailer. You rotate the knob left or right in the direction you want the trailer to go while the system controls the steering wheel.

It all depends on your comfort level when backing up your trailer. If you are new at trailer backing, then this option is definitely for you. If you’ve had your trailer for a while and used it several times, I don’t believe an option like this is worth it.

I have a great deal of experience towing. I’ve towed everything from a 53-foot trailer to a short 15-foot water buffalo when I was in the Navy. It was always more difficult for me to back up the shorter pieces of equipment than the larger ones. I still do my fair share of towing cars, boats and Jet Ski trailers. I think I would find myself fighting with a truck that is trying to do something for me that I am very comfortable doing myself.

Keep in mind that all of these options or gadgets, as I call them, come with a price tag. Always weigh the pros and cons of any option to determine if it is worth it to you when buying a vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the “What is this? What does it do? Will I use it?” questions you have. Make sure you get the answers and try out every option and gadget before you take any money out of your pocket.

From Headlights to Taillights: Are hybrids worth the hype?

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director. Originally published in the March 26, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

One of the most pressing issues in our society and the world is finding ways to save the environment. One way the automotive industry is helping is by producing more fuel-efficient and alternate fuel vehicles. For our conversation today, we’re going to focus on one type of fuel-efficient vehicle, the hybrid.

Before we get to the questions, let’s define the word hybrid. It means something that is made by combining two or more different things to make one thing. Since I’m a dog lover, please allow me to use this analogy. Golden doodles are considered a hybrid dog breed because a breeder had a golden retriever mate with a poodle. Thus, the extremely popular golden doodle breed was born.

When we say a vehicle is a hybrid, we’re referring to a vehicle that has an internal combustion engine/gasoline engine and an electric motor working together. This allows the vehicle to run economically and helps lower the vehicle’s emissions, which is better for the environment

Now that we know what a hybrid vehicle is, let’s get to some of the questions that were sent in on the subject.

Our first question is, “Will I see a substantial saving on fuel if I drive a hybrid?”

Yes, you will save money because the hybrid engine has an increased fuel mileage compared to a gasoline engine vehicle. It also releases less emissions. According to the estimated miles per gallon on a 2017 Toyota Prius 1.8L 4 cylinder was 52mpg highway and 50mpg city and the estimated miles per gallon of a 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid 2.5L 4 cylinder was the same at 52mgp highway and 50mpg city. In this technician’s opinion, that’s pretty good fuel mileage. A standard 2018 gasoline only 2.5L 4 cylinder Camry fuel mileage compares at 32mpg highway and 28mpg city.

Our second question is, “Does a hybrid vehicle have to be plugged in to charge the battery?”

Even though the electric motor in a hybrid vehicle runs on electricity stored in the vehicle’s battery, it does not get plugged in for recharging. Hybrid vehicles have what is called a regenerative braking system, which means when brakes are applied, the kinetic energy created from braking is used to recharge the battery. Also, whenever the gasoline engine is running, the battery is being recharged. If necessary, you can bring the 12-volt system battery back to a fully charged state by using a typical automobile battery charger.

Our third question is, “Do hybrid vehicles cost more to maintain?”

The cost to maintain a hybrid is roughly the same or slightly lower than repairing or maintaining a regular vehicle. However, there was a time when technicians thought hybrid vehicles were very “scary” to be around, which caused service costs to be much higher. They thought this because when hybrids were new, technicians who weren’t working for the manufacturer producing them had little to no training about the technology. Now, with more manufacturers producing hybrids, they’re producing more well-trained technicians who follow proper procedures. All of this allows technicians to safely and properly perform routine maintenance and repairs without being afraid of the technology.

Our fourth question is, “I hear about the Toyota Prius all the time, but what other hybrid vehicles are available?”

While the Prius was one of the first hybrids introduced and continues to be on top of the best hybrids lists, other manufacturers have and continue to produce hybrids. There are now over 20 different models. Hyundai has the Ioniq. Kia has the Niro. In addition to the Prius, Toyota has three other models: the Prius Prime, Corolla and Camry. There are also hybrid SUVs available from Mitsubishi, Lexus, BMW, Acura and Volvo.

Our last question is, “Is it worth it to purchase a hybrid vehicle?”

For many people in our area, the answer is, probably not. In most cases, hybrids end up costing you more money than buying a gas-powered car. The purchase price of a hybrid is higher because of the technology used to build the vehicle. Yes, you may receive a tax break when you purchase a hybrid but then you have higher insurance rates because of the cost of the vehicle. There is also a performance issue. Hybrids are usually quite slow and may create dangerous situations, especially during highway driving. They also have diminished fuel efficiency in the cold weather and we all know how cold winters can be in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Deciding to purchase a hybrid vehicle should be done the same way you decide on which gasoline vehicle to buy. You have to research all the pros and cons, not just the amount of money you might be able to save at the pump if you buy a hybrid.

At the end of the day, you have to like what you’re buying and feel safe when you and your golden doodle head out on the open road.

From Headlights To Taillights: Springing Ahead With Vehicle Maintenance

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director. Originally published in the February 26, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

It’s been a snowy February, but per Punxsutawney Phil, spring is on its way. It’s just going to take a little while longer to get here. As we’re preparing to say goodbye to snow and hello to warmer weather, we’re receiving questions about car maintenance that may be required after the long, cold winter. Let’s get to them so you can plan ahead.

Our first question is, “Should my car battery be replaced after the long winter we’re experiencing this year?”

Before you go and replace your battery, I recommend having it inspected and tested first. As I said in a previous column, your vehicle battery is one of — if not the most — important component to get your vehicle through a rough winter. If you had your battery inspected and tested in the fall, you should have it re-tested. Even though it had enough life to get you through the winter, that doesn’t mean its power is stable enough to keep you going throughout the spring and into summer. Extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, which we’ve experienced this year, weaken and take a lot out of a battery. Take the time now to get a new inspection and test to determine if your battery requires replacement.

“Does my engine oil need to be changed after the cold winter months?” is our second question.

When we discussed oil change intervals in a previous column, I recommended that you keep your maintenance schedule on track throughout the year and I’m sticking with that recommendation. Oil changes are the most economical maintenance you can do to drastically extend the life of your vehicle’s engine. Don’t go beyond the recommended time or mileage between oil changes, but you can change your vehicle’s oil sooner or more often than recommended. As the vehicle owner, it’s your call on whether you think the mileage or time is close enough to put fresh oil in your engine.

“Is there such a thing as summer and winter air that I should put in my tires?” is our third question.

There is no such thing as summer or winter air. It’s just compressed air.

You can, however, have your tires inflated with nitrogen, which helps eliminate oxidation and corrosion. Nitrogen pressure in a tire will bleed off or dissipate much slower than compressed air and you’ll see slightly higher fuel mileage with it. If you’re thinking about using nitrogen, it is considered a green alternative, which means it’s better for the environment. One thing to keep in mind, with compressed air, you can check and adjust your own tire pressure. If you use nitrogen, you’ll have to find a repair shop equipped with it to adjust your pressure. It will cost you to have your tires inflated with nitrogen more than you pay for compressed air.

Our final question is actually two questions, “How do I clean the buildup of salt and chemicals that accumulated under my car over the winter?” and “Can I do it myself?”

The best way to clean the underbody of your vehicle is by using a pressure washer. Most repair shops have pressure washers that are used for a variety of jobs, including cleaning customer vehicle undercarriages. These pressure washers come in many different pressures and gallons per minute. They also have several different spray tips, from wide-angle to a pencil spray, and include attachments that connect to the hose and slide under the vehicle, making it easier for technicians to get the undercarriage clean. Prices range for this service at repair shops or body shops.

Can you do it yourself? Yes, but you’ll have to purchase a pressure washer and attachments. The consumer versions come in a variety of pressures and usually two power options, gasoline or electric. The good news is, you have choices for your individual needs and situations. Keep in mind, to make any of these pressure washers work as designed, you will need a water supply. Lastly, you have to be ready to get wet!

With these steps and, of course, guidance from your automotive technician, your vehicle will be back in shape after enduring a cold and snowy northeastern Pennsylvania winter. I’m not sure about you, but I’m hoping next year Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow and we’ll get an early spring.

From Headlights To Taillights: Hitting the Gas

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director. Original published in the January 22, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

Over the past eight months, we’ve covered a lot of topics that deal with vehicle systems.

We talked about how these systems work and what you as an owner can do to keep them working efficiently. We also cautioned you about repairs and services you shouldn’t tackle on your own. Now, let’s talk about the one thing that helps your entire vehicle run smoothly: fuel. Specifically, gasoline.

Is there a difference between summer gasoline and winter gasoline?

First of all, I want everyone to know that I am not a scientist — I am a car doctor. I will attempt to answer questions regarding gasoline in a way that everyone, including myself, can understand.

The simple answer is, yes. There is a difference between summer and winter gasoline. As vehicle owners, we have no control over the gasoline we pump except for the grade, or octane content, we choose at the pump.

The octane rating does not change from summer to winter; what does change are the additives in the gasoline blend. These additives change the fuel’s volatility, or its liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse. Volatility is also the tendency of a substance to evaporate at normal temperatures. All of this means that gasoline evaporation or vaporization is a bad thing.

The vapors created by vaporization cause and contribute to ground-level ozone, which contributes to smog and a variety of health issues, including respiratory problems. The volatility of gasoline is greater at higher temperatures, so summer months are more of an issue than winter months. To tame the volatility of gas in the hottest months, additives are introduced to the fuel to lower the volatility. These additives are on the costly side, so you may notice an increase in price per gallon during the summer months.

When does summer gas become winter gas and vice versa?

Per federal deadlines, winter blend fuels are to be dispensed by Sept. 15 of each year. During the colder months, the volatility of the gas may drop and cause a no-start condition in your vehicle. Depending on location, the blend is adjusted throughout the winter. Most locations switch back to summer blended gasoline around April 1. Just remember, the colder the location, the longer the winter blend will be available.

Will I notice a difference in the performance when the blends are changed?

You shouldn’t, because as we’ve said in previous columns, your vehicle is smart. It knows how to adjust to the different blends. For quite some time, vehicles have been equipped with evaporative emission control systems. This type of system stores and reuses the fuel vapors created by the evaporation process of the fuel.

By doing this, the fuel system problems of the past are virtually eliminated. Through this technology built by manufacturers, oil companies, and their refineries, the transition from summer to winter gas and winter to summer gas are ultimately unnoticeable.

I’ve seen E85 and E88 octanes at some filling stations. Are either of those blends better for my vehicle than the regular E87 octane fuel?

The E88 octane contains 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline.

If your vehicle owner’s manual doesn’t state that your vehicle can handle 15% ethanol, do NOT use it. Using this blend can cause severe damage to your vehicle’s engine. The E88 octane is approved for use in 2001 and newer vehicles. Remember, even if your vehicle is 2001 or newer, if the manufacturer does not approve E88 octane fuel, DO NOT use it.

The E85 octane has a large amount of ethanol. Anywhere from 51% to 83%. Vehicles approved to use this blend are referred to as Flex-Fuel vehicles. Normally, you will find E85 significantly cheaper at the pump. The pump price will lead you to believe that you will save money using this fuel. Nothing can be further from the truth. Using E85 in your flex-fuel vehicle will undoubtedly increase torque and horsepower, but these increases create lower miles per gallon. This means that in the long run, it is more expensive to run E85 fuel instead of regular E87.

If it were back in the day when gas was less than $.50/gal, I would run E85 in my Flex-Fuel Avalanche because I liked high horsepower and torque — two characteristics of a good hot rod. With current day prices, however, I’ll be sticking to regular E87 octane gasoline.

Now, before you head to the gas station to pump your gas, check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re buying the right type of fuel. You want your vehicle to run as efficiently as possible.

From Headlights to Taillights: The Dreaded Check Engine Light

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the November 27, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

We’ve all been there.

The check engine light illuminates on the dash and suddenly you panic a little and ask yourself, “What’s happened and how do I make it go out?” No one likes it when this warning light comes on.

Today, I’ll address some of the common questions concerning the dreaded check engine light. Hopefully, this will help you put your mind at ease and help decrease the amount of anxiety that may arise the next time it comes on.

Remember, your vehicle is very complicated — and smart. The engine and drivetrain management systems are constantly monitoring driver inputs and outputs from various sensors in the engine, transmission and drive line.

Our first question is, “What issues cause the check engine light to come on?”

The most common issue is a challenge with your fuel cap. The fuel systems on modern vehicles are sealed systems. This means the systems are not supposed to allow fuel vapors into the atmosphere. If the seal on the fuel cap is damaged or even just dirty, it may cause a leak in the fuel system pressure. A loose or missing cap will do the same.

A second issue can be a faulty or dirty Mass Air Flow sensor, or MAF. This sensor monitors the amount of air entering the intake system of the engine. All the other components react to this amount of air being sent to the Powertrain Control Module.

Your vehicle’s oxygen sensors that monitor the oxygen in the exhaust system can also cause the check engine light to pop on. If the sensors are not sending the correct information, or not sending any information at all, the control unit will attempt to compensate for the information received. Sometimes the control unit can make those compensations. Other times, it will turn on the check engine light.

The last common issue is old and worn out spark plugs. When spark plugs wear, the gap that the spark has to jump across becomes larger and makes it more difficult for it to make its jump. This creates a misfire in the cylinder and reduces engine performance.

“What do I do when the check engine light comes on?” is our second question.

The first thing to do is check if your gas cap is there. I know, it sounds funny, but how many times have you seen vehicles traveling down the road with their fuel door open and the cap blowing in the wind? Or, maybe you’ve done it yourself!

If the cap is there, remove it to check the seal. When you put it back on, make sure it’s tight. If the seal is dirty, clean it and then tighten it correctly when you put it back on. If this was the issue, the check engine light will go out after a few cold starts or key cycles. If the light stays on, it’s time to visit a repair shop.

This leads us to our third question, “If the check engine light is on, is it safe to drive my vehicle to a repair shop?”

Usually, when the check engine light comes on, it will stay on steady, and you may not notice a difference in your vehicle’s performance. However, when you fill up at the pump, you may notice you’re taking on more fuel than usual. If this is the case, you should be able to drive the vehicle to your repair shop to be diagnosed.

If your vehicle experiences major misfire conditions, the check engine light will flash. This indicates the problem is current and you should not drive it to the shop. In extreme cases, most vehicle systems are designed to either shut down or go into a limp mode. This is when it’s time to call a tow truck.

Our fourth and final question is, “Is there a tool I can buy that tells me why the check engine light came on?”

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can purchase an inexpensive code reader from your local parts store or online. These code readers will not repair your vehicle, but they can steer you in the right direction as to what caused the check engine light to come on. They can also ease your mind as to the seriousness of the problem.

When your check engine light comes on, please, don’t delay having it diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible. If you wait and continue to drive it, additional damage may cause repair costs to be a lot higher than if you had it diagnosed in a timely manner.

The check engine light is very helpful. Listen to it. Don’t fear it.

Headlights to Taillights: Winter is coming, is your vehicle ready?

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the October 23, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

You know winter is fast approaching when leaves start hitting the ground and temperatures drop, like they are now.

Most households have a winterization processes in place. They can include rearranging the closet, so winter clothes are out front, removing air conditioners from windows and preparing the furnace for winter operation.

While you’re working on winterizing your home, you also need to have a plan for your vehicles. This brings us to a few questions I received about how to winterize a vehicle to ensure it runs smoothly through the coldest months of the year.

The first question is, “What steps in the winterization process are priorities and which aren’t?”

All the steps below in your vehicle winterization process are priorities, but they don’t have to be completed in the specific order they’re listed.

Priority No. 1 is your battery. There’s nothing worse than getting in your cold vehicle, turning the key and hearing a clicking noise — or maybe nothing at all.

A battery will not always give you a warning before it fails. They can fail at any time, but cold weather really affects a weak battery. Have your battery tested to determine the current condition, so you know if your battery needs to be replaced so you don’t experience that no-start moment.

Priority No. 2 is the depth of your tires’ treads. There needs to be enough tread to keep the tire safe through the season. The more tread, the better. If you’re someone who uses winter tires, now is the time to swap out the summer tires for winter ones. Remember, if you install studded winter tires, they cannot be installed on your vehicle until Nov. 1, and must be removed by April 15.

With all or most vehicles being equipped with tire pressure monitor systems, it is very important to check and adjust the tire pressure. In cold weather, tire pressure is lower than it would be in warmer weather. This lower pressure, if not corrected, may trigger the tire pressure warning light to illuminate on your dashboard. If it does, check your pressure immediately and add air where needed.

Something very few people think of is the spare tire. If your vehicle comes with a spare, make sure it’s inflated to the proper air pressure.

Priority No. 3 is a coolant freeze protection check. During the check, a sample of your vehicle’s coolant is tested for the concentration of ethylene-glycol in the coolant mixture. This means the percentage of water compared to the percentage of anti-freeze in the mixture. An acceptable mixture for our northeast region is 50/50. This mixture gives the coolant a freeze protection of approximately -34⁰F. If your coolant isn’t protected correctly, it can ice up and cause catastrophic damage to your engine.

Priority No. 4 is checking and monitoring your vehicle’s other fluids through the winter months. The windshield washer reservoir should be filled with a solvent specially made with a lower freeze point than plain water, much like coolant.

Priority No. 5 is the condition of your wiper blades. If your blades aren’t in good condition, they will not be able to properly clear ice and snow from your windshield. As you know, if your windshield isn’t cleared, your vision will be obstructed and the possibility of an accident increases.

Priority No. 6 is preparing a small survival kit to put in your trunk just in case you break down. This kit should include items such as gloves, socks, a blanket or another winter coat, and anything else you might need while you wait for assistance to arrive. No matter when you use your car, always make sure your cell phone is fully charged or close to it. You don’t want to break down in the dead of winter with a cell phone that doesn’t work.

“What steps in the winterization process can be done by an owner and which ones must be completed by a technician?” is our second question.

The battery and coolant freeze point checks should be performed by a qualified technician. The other checks and inspections in our winterization process above can also be completed by a technician, but you can easily do them over a weekend. Equipment, tools and, of course, replacement parts needed for your vehicle winterization project are more than likely available at your local parts store.

However you decide to winterize your vehicle, make sure you do it. This process will help you avoid any major automotive issues during the long, cold winter months.

The next Headlights to Taillights column will be published in the November 27, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage. 

From Headlights to Taillights: Getting an Annual Checkup

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the September 25, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

As we’ve discussed in previous columns, your vehicles rely on repair shops and technicians to keep them operating and safe, the same way you rely on hospitals and doctors to keep you safe and healthy.

Normally, your health care provider suggests you visit your doctor once a year for an annual check-up. The same can be said about your vehicle needing yearly inspections by a licensed technician. Except completing vehicle inspections annually aren’t recommendations like a medical check-up, it’s the law in Pennsylvania.

This brings us to a few questions I received about vehicle inspections.

The first question is, “Why do vehicle inspections have to be done each year?”

The two annual inspections are required to ensure your vehicle conforms to Pennsylvania transportation regulations governing safety and emissions. As you might have guessed, the vehicle safety inspection is designed to keep your vehicle operating safely so you, your passengers and any pedestrians are as safe as possible.

The vehicle emissions inspection is designed to check emission components to make sure they are in place as designed. This inspection protects the environment by restricting the amount of pollutants your vehicle is allowed to produce when in use.

“What do technicians review during the inspections?” is our second question.

During a vehicle safety inspection, a technician will thoroughly inspect components from headlights to taillights and everything in between. Glass is checked for damage or chips. Lights and lenses are checked.

Components under your vehicle, like front and rear suspension parts, exhaust systems, shocks/struts, axles and drive shafts are also checked, as well as frame condition. Wheels and tires are also checked at this time for excessive wear or damage. They will also remove the wheels to check brake components.

Several things inside your vehicle are also inspected. These include windshield wiper/washer operation, dashboard indicator lights, windshield defrosters, seats, seat belts, mirrors and door latches. The body and undercarriage are also checked for rust.

During the vehicle emission inspection, the emission components are inspected to make sure they are installed as designed. In certain counties in Pennsylvania, emission inspections must be performed through a special machine. This machine also checks the fuel filler cap to make sure it holds a specific amount of pressure.

In other counties in Pennsylvania, vehicles have to pass what we call, a full On-Board Diagnostics emission inspection. This inspection includes all the above, plus, a vehicle readiness scan and an exhaust sniff test.

Our third question is, “What causes a vehicle to fail either inspection?”

Overall, your vehicle will fail a safety inspection if any of the components inspected are worn, broken or missing.

For instance, if your steering wheel is loose enough that you don’t know the position of the front wheels, your vehicle will fail because the steering system is compromised. Once a part is worn and has excessive play, it can’t fix itself. It will only get worse and ultimately need to be replaced.

Your vehicle can also fail because friction material on brake pads fall below a thickness of 2/32; broken, cracked or missing rearview mirrors; fuel or brake system fluid leaks; exhaust systems not being secured properly or experiencing leakage; non-working lights; a broken or cracked lens; exterior or floorboard rust and many another reasons.

Your vehicle can also fail the safety inspection if your tires fall below the required tire depth. Keep in mind, tire depth changes based on the type of vehicle you own. Minimum tread depth in Pennsylvania is 2/32, but if you drive a SUV or truck that has a gross weight over 10,000 pounds, the minimum tread depth on the steer tires is 4/32.

Your vehicle will fail an emission inspection if required components are missing or disconnected. In certain Pennsylvania counties, your vehicle must not fail the fuel filler cap test and/or the full OBD inspection.

“What can owners do to reduce the risk of failure?” is our fourth and last question.

You should have confidence in your repair shop and technician. Trust them when they tell you throughout the year that your vehicle needs repairs. The needed repairs may be the difference of your vehicle passing or failing its annual inspections.

You’re required by Pennsylvania law to have a licensed technician inspect your vehicle annually. This shouldn’t be the only time you look over your vehicle. Anything can happen throughout the year and you need to be aware when your vehicle is running well and when it needs to visit its doctor … I mean repair shop.

The next Headlights to Taillights column will be published in the October 23, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage. 

From Headlights to Taillights: Clearing the Air

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the September 4, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

We all try to breathe the cleanest air possible. Our body’s natural air filter located in our breathing system usually does a fine job. Unless, of course, we have a cold or allergy which results in a stuffy nose. When this happens we can’t breathe properly. The condition makes us feel tired and sluggish. We’ve all been there, right?

If your vehicle’s engine or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) breathing systems can’t breathe correctly, your vehicle gets tired and sluggish, too. This is caused by your vehicle’s air filters not performing properly due to being dirty, or simple wear and tear.

Today, we’re talking about air filters that help your vehicle breathe. Below are a few questions I received about vehicle air filters. So let’s get started.

The first question is, “Are there different types of air filters in a car, and what do they do?”

Yes, each vehicle has different types of air filters. Late model vehicles have at least two different air filters as standard equipment. The first filter is the engine intake air filter and the second is the heating/cooling system intake air filter, or cabin filter. If you have a vehicle equipped with air brakes, normally a heavy duty truck, it will also have an intake air filter for the air compressor, which is the heart of the air brakes.

Now let’s talk about what each one does for your vehicle.

The engine intake air filter is designed to filter the air that the engine uses for combustion in the cylinders. Not only does it filter the air going into an engine, it allows the proper amount of air in to produce optimum combustion. When an engine intake air filter is dirty, the air flow becomes restricted and combustion may not be complete. The restricted air flow causes an engine to run poorly and use more fuel because the cylinders are not getting the correct amount of air. This condition will decrease fuel mileage and may also cause black smoke from the exhaust.

The cabin air filter filters air coming into the passenger compartment/cabin. Modern vehicles have systems constantly circulating air through the cabin using outside air. The filter catches pollutants, debris and allergens that can get into your vehicle. This filter can get clogged and pretty nasty. If you ever see a dirty cabin filter, it will make you wonder about the air we breathe on a regular basis.

The intake air filter inside air brakes filters air taken into the compressor used to operate the air brake system. Needless to say, if this filter blocks up and restricts air flow to the compressor, the results can be devastating because the brakes will not work.

You vehicle’s air filters should be checked often. If the filters are left unchecked, engines may run poorly, cabin air quality and air flow may diminish, or brake systems will not function properly.

“How often do they need to be changed?” is our second question.

Manufacturers suggest service intervals for each of the air filters in your vehicle. These service intervals are for vehicles driven in what manufactures call normal conditions. Driving on dirt or dusty roads, through construction areas — we know there are plenty of those in northeastern Pennsylvania — and poor air quality are contributors to decreasing the lifespan of your air filters. At the very least, you should always follow the service and replacement intervals noted in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. As with any service, it doesn’t hurt to do it more often but I recommend that you don’t extend the time between air filter services.

Our final question is, “Can the filters be changed by owners or must they be changed by technicians?”

If you’re an owner who is comfortable performing some of your own maintenance, you shouldn’t have any challenges replacing the engine intake or cabin filters. Keep in mind some cabin filters are very hard to find because they’re tucked under the dashboard. If you’re not comfortable, by all means, have your repair shop do the service.

You may not see your vehicle’s air filters or even think about them often, but they do need your, or a service technician’s, attention from time to time. They’re vital to keeping your vehicle performing efficiently and making sure you and your passengers breathe the cleanest air possible.

The next Headlights to Taillights column will be published in the September 25, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.  

Headlights to Taillights: When The Rubber Hits The Road

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology program director
Original published in the July 24, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

Most vehicle owners rely on some sort of repair shop or repair technician to take care of their vehicle, much like we all rely on our doctors to take care of our bodies. So today, we’re talking about how to take care of your vehicle’s feet, the tires. Several questions have been brought to my attention regarding tires. So let’s get started.

The first question is: “How important are good tires?”

This is a loaded question because the definition of a “good” tire may differ from one person to the next. First off, let’s change good to safe. Safety is the top priority. Several conditions will deem a tire unsafe. This includes low tread depth, uneven wear, low tire pressure and rubber deterioration, also known as dry rot.

If all of the vehicle suspension components and steering geometry, or alignment, are in good condition, tires will wear evenly and you will get the most out of them as possible. If there are worn suspension parts or the alignment is off, then tires will wear unevenly and require replacement more often. When tires are replaced because of uneven wear, it may indicate a problem other than tires. If this is the case, have your suspension parts and the alignment checked.

“What effect do tires have on the overall wear and tear of my vehicle?” is our second question.

Let’s start with an easy analogy. It’s summer time, so we’ll use a beach ball as an example. Picture a flat level surface and a beach ball. With the correct amount of air pressure the ball will roll smoothly over the surface and reach the finish line. Now take air pressure away and try to roll the ball. The ball will not roll as smoothly and will have to be pushed more often to get it to the finish line. On the other extreme, you now have a ball with too much air pressure. This ball rolls OK but every imperfection in the surface causes the ball to bounce, which may throw the ball off course.

What does this all mean? Simply, correct tire pressure is critical to obtaining optimum performance from your tires and from all of your vehicle systems. Too little pressure causes tires to wear on both inner and outer shoulders and, like the ball needing more power to get across the finish line, your engine will work harder than it should to get you moving. Too much air in the tire causes it to bounce excessively, causing premature wear on suspension parts. A wear pattern on the tires will resemble cups in the tread called cupping. If the pressure is too high but not high enough to cause bouncing, the tire will wear in the center all the way around, requiring replacement.

Most, if not all vehicles produced since 2010 are equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. This system monitors the air pressure in your tires. If your vehicle isn’t equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, it’s important for you to check your tire pressure regularly, usually every other stop at the gas station.

Now to our last question. “Are snow tires really necessary?”

Well, yes and no. it all depends on your comfort zone on driving without them. Winter tires, formally known as snow tires, provide increased driver confidence along with added traction to get you to your destination. If you use winter tires on all-wheel drive vehicles and SUVs, make sure you use four of them. I also recommend running winter tires on all four wheels on a rear-wheel or front-wheel drive vehicles.

To conclude, as with everything, tire technology has greatly advanced. If you’re comfortable enough to determine the condition of your tires and you believe they need to be replaced, by all means, do it.

If you aren’t sure, like most vehicle owners, build a relationship with a repair shop or dealer. Trusting your body or vehicle to others are big steps. When you find the right doctor or repair shop it gives you the best opportunity to keep you or your vehicle running efficiently and safely.

The next Headlights to Taillights column will be published in the August 28, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.