Tech Tips

 Tip #119- April 2013

How Long Do Brakes Last?imagesbrake

One of the most common questions we get from customers is, “How long should my brakes last?”
The answer is… “It depends.” Most brake pads on the front of the car should last between 20,000 and 40,000 miles. We have known plenty of customers that have them last up to 70,000 miles. 30,000 is probably an average across all makes and models.

A number of factors can affect how long a set of brake pads can last- Are you hauling a lot of weight in your car? Do you do a lot of stop and go driving? Are you driving a lot of hills? Do you “ride” your brakes? What type of material composition are the brake pads- organic, ceramic, semi-metallic? All of these factors can make a difference in how long a set of brakes will last.

Walt’s recommends inspecting your brakes every year. The easiest time to do so is when you are having your tires rotated. Annual inspections of the brakes will allow you to address any issues before major damage can occur. If you wait too long to replace the brake pads, other more expensive parts- rotors, calipers, can become damaged and need replacement too.

Happy Motoring!


 Tip #118- December 2012

The Penny Test

Driving in this morning’s cold temperatures, in a rain/sleet mix, got me thinking about tires. There are three basic things you should know about tires. Walt’s is not in the tire business, so these are not a sales or marketing push, they are simply common sense stuff you should know.

1. Make sure you have enough tread on your tires. Without a proper amount of tread, you will not be safe driving in wet conditions (rain or snow). The easiest test you can do to check your tread is the Penny test. If you stick a penny with Abe Lincoln’s head pointed down in between your tires’ tread grooves and you are able to see the top of his hair, you do not have enough tread for safe driving. If part of Abe’s head is covered, you should be OK.

2. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Both under inflation and over inflation can lead to shortened tire life. There are 3 places where you can find out how much your tires proper inflation. The best spot is on the inside door jam of your driver’s side door. The sticker there will tell you the size tire that is recommended for your car and the proper tire inflation. You can find this information in your owner’s manual and lastly, you can find it on the side of your tire near the rim.

3. Rotate your tires every 6,000 miles or twice a year at a minimum. Walt’s recommends coordinating this with your oil changes. Always put the tires with the best tread on your rear wheels. If you only have two good tires, make sure they are in the rear. This helps maintain control in slippery conditions, even on front wheel drive vehicles.

By the way- Walt’s has FREE air. It drives us crazy to have to pay for air at a gas station. Stop by and get some free air if you need it.


TIP #117- NOVEMBER 2012

How often Should You Change Your Antifreeze?


Just because your antifreeze is still green, doesn’t mean it is still good. Like all fluids in your car, your cooling system’s antifreeze breaks down over time due to the temperatures in which today’s cars operate. Most cars in our climate should use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and de-ionized water. Each manufacturer seems to have a different color they use for their antifreeze. While green has long been the traditional color, today you can see a variety of colors- green, yellow, red, orange. Don’t let the dye color confuse you. There are basically two types of antifreeze- organic and inorganic. These terms refer to the type of additive packs and rust inhibitors that are used in the antifreeze. Traditional “green” antifreeze is an inorganic product. New extended life antifreezes, like Dex-Cool for example, are considered organic.


For traditional antifreezes, Walt’s recommends replacing them every 2 years or 30,000 miles. For long-life antifreezes, we recommend replacing them every 100,000 miles. While some manufacturers are recommending 150,000-mile intervals, given the cooling system failures we see every day, we recommend a shorter interval. You radiator, and cooling system, protect your vehicles two most expensive systems- your engine and transmission. With cooling systems, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Professional shops, like Walt’s Auto Care Centers, use test strips to help determine when your antifreeze is past its prime.



TIP #116- November 2012

Breathe Clean air this winter!


I just changed the filter in the furnace of my home, as I do every fall. About 80% of all new cars come with a similar filter called a cabin air filter. The cabin air filter serves a similar purpose to the filter for your furnace. It helps keep dust, allergens, and pollutants from coming into the car through the vent system. Cabin Air Filters first appeared in the 1980s but became more prominent starting in 1995. Many people don’t know their vehicles have these filters.

Cars over time can develop a musty smell inside the cabin. Changing the cabin air filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, like most manufacturers recommend, will help eliminate odors and promote fresh air. The picture shows a dirty cabin air filter we recently pulled from a car. They can be very dirty, especially when they have been in a vehicle for 60,000 miles.

Cabin air filters generally take only 15 to 20 minutes to replace. They are often located behind or under the dash. Costs vary by manufacturer, but are relatively inexpensive. Since most folks don’t know they have these filters, when they see the dirty one come out of their vehicle, they are excited to replace it. As we head further into fall, our windows are up and we are often using the heat or defrost in our cars. Make sure you are breathing clean air by having your cabin air filter checked at your next service appointment.




TIP #115- OCTOBER 2012

Getting Your Car Ready For Winter Travel


Falling leaves and cool morning temperatures should remind everyone that it is time to ensure their car or truck is ready for winter travel. Walt’s Auto Care Centers recommends all drivers have the following systems checked prior to the arrival of winter weather conditions.

  1. Starting/Charging system. You should have your battery, as well as your starter and alternator, checked to make sure they won’t leave you stranded on a cold rainy day. Cold temperatures place added stress on your vehicle’s battery. Testing it in the fall should help give you piece of mind to know that it will make it through the winter months. This test should only take a few minutes at a professional shop. Most batteries on average last only 48 months. At any one time 25 to 30% of the batteries in cars need to be replaced.
  2. Antifreeze. Most shops recommend having your antifreeze replaced every few years. Like all fluids in your car, antifreeze breaks down over time due to the heat at which today’s vehicles operate. As this process occurs, the antifreeze no longer offers the protection it is designed to offer. Because your radiator and cooling system protect your vehicle’s two most expensive components- your engine and transmission, it is critical to have your antifreeze checked every year.
  3. Heater– Along with the antifreeze, making sure you have heat is critical. Being able to warm your car and being able to defrost your windows is essential. Having your heating system checked by a shop will make sure you are comfortable on your winter drives.
  4. Visibility– Wiper blades need to be replaced at least once a year. If it has been a while, now is the time. Also, have a shop, or with the help of a friend, check your exterior lights to make sure you don’t have any bulbs out. Being able to clearly see the road and being clearly seen by other drivers is critical to safety.
  5. Tires– If you have poor tread on your tires, you will not be safe on wet slippery roads. Have your tires inspected before the rainy season starts.
  6. Exhaust– Often forgotten, it is important to have your exhaust system inspected by a professional shop to make sure there are no leaks. A leaking exhaust system can allow hazardous fumes to enter the passenger cabin. Because we drive with our windows up in the winter, these noxious fumes have no where to go.
  7. Oil– Fall is a great time to have your oil changed and make sure that the grade and viscosity of oil matches the manufacturer’s recommendation for your vehicle. As temperatures drop, the oil that sits in your engine thickens. Each manufacturer will recommend a specific weight of oil for your car to help during winter months. Oil changes also represent a great time to have all of the systems described above inspected by a professional shop.
  8. Safety Kit– Always travel with a safety kit in your trunk. This is never more important than in the winter months. Having a blanket, candle, matches, flashlight, water, snacks, first aid kit, etc. are essential to a safe driving experience.

Walt’s Auto Care Centers wants all drivers to have a safe travelling experience this winter and reminds drivers that this starts with a fall vehicle check-up.



TIP #114- SEPTEMBER 2012

Finding a Repair Shop You Can Trust


For many people, going to an automotive repair facility is worse than going to the Dentist.  It all boils down to communication and trust.  When looking for a good repair facility, there are a number of factors to consider including convenience, reputation, years in business, trained technicians, and warranties.  Once you have found a shop that meets most or all of these criteria, you need to make sure you can communicate with the shop.  It is important that you are comfortable talking with them.  They should be helpful, knowledgeable, sensible, and respectful.  They should be good listeners and mindful of your needs.  While you want the repair facility to have the technical experience to accurately fix your car, they should be able to communicate in a non-technical manner.


Once you take your car in for service, it is the repair facilities responsibility to inspect your car and present their findings. They should always present their findings in the following order. 1. Those items that affect vehicle safety. 2. Items that have failed mechanically or are nearing the end of their useful life. 3. Services that will help prevent future problems, such as preventative maintenance or more commonly referred to as mileage based services.  Within these guidelines, the shop should first address your primary concern or the reason you brought your car in for service before discussing other findings or recommendations.  However, safety issues override all other concerns. A good shop will help prioritize their findings to work within your budget as most technicians have families and understand what it is like to work within a budget.

The shop should be able to address any concerns in a straight forward, non-technical manner.  You should ask as many questions as you need to understand the recommendations.  If you feel it would be beneficial to be visually shown what the shop is recommending, ask to be shown on the car. (You can also request a written estimate before authorizing.) At this point, it is your responsibility to say yes or no.


Remember, with your car, you are in the driver’s seat.  Finding a trusted name in auto repair will only help you get the most out of your car and get more miles for your money!



TIP #113- August 2012

Load up the car. Let’s go for a ride… right?


With the holiday weekend approaching and people packing their vehicles to the limit for camping trips or going back to school, I wanted to give a brief primer on what your vehicle’s GVWR and Curb weight is and why they are important. Every vehicle on the road is rated for a maximum amount of weight it should carry. If you go above that, you will put stress on the brakes, suspension, and automatic transmissions. Your fuel economy will also be weakened.


The maximum allowable weight that a vehicle can carry icalled the GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This includes the vehicle itself, fluids, passengers and cargo. You can find this number (and a lot of other good information)on the sticker on the side of your front drivers door. For the 2011 Ford Focus that I drive, the GVWR is 3,715 pounds. For vehicles that are towing a trailer, the GVWR does not include the trailer, but does include the “tongue weight” of the trailer.


Another number to be aware of is a vehicle’s curb weight. The curb weight is the amount a vehicle weighs with fluids but without passengers and cargo. For the Focus, the curb weight is 2,888 pounds. The difference between the two weights, 827 pounds, is the amount in passengers and cargo the vehicle will safely carry. Back to towing, if the tongue weight of the trailer is 250 pounds, that would reduce the cargo/passenger amount to 577 pounds.


Will this car carry more than 827 pounds? Probably, but it will put extra stress on most components in the vehicle. As mechanics, it is important that we understand customer driving habits. We would recommend different maintenance practices to vehicles that are often at or near the GVWR- heavy duty brakes, more frequent transmission services, etc. Finally, when you see a vehicle floating down the road with so much weight in the rear that the front tires barely touch the ground, you might give them a little extra room to stop. There is an excellent chance they are above the GVWR for their vehicle.


TIP #112- JULY 2012

Hot Summer Days


Finally, after what feels like two or three cooler summers, it looks like we will get some warmer weather in the Northwest this summer. Hot weather means different things to different folks. While our friends in Boise are used to 90 plus degree heat, true Washingtonians start complaining when the temperature hits 75 degrees. Either way, everyone wants their cars A/C system to work when it gets “hot”. Here are some basics to think about with your cars A/C system.


Walt’s always recommends having an A/C performance test done every

2 to 3 years.In today’s cars, your air conditioning system is used throughout the year, not just in the summer. Most defrost modes involve using the air conditioner.


Today’s vehicle air conditioning systems come with a refrigerant known as R134A. In about 1995, this product started replacing the former coolant used in cars known as R12 and commonly called Freon (DuPont Chemical Company’s brand name for their product). R134A phased out R12 because it is better for the environment. While R134 does a decent job of cooling, it will gradually leak out. What this means is a system that should hold less than 2 pounds of refrigerant may only have 1 pound. The mechanical components (compressor) in the system work harder, as a result, and may breakdown. Up to 25% of an R134A system may leak out each year.


For this reason, we recommend having an A/C performance test done every 2 to 3 years. A technician will not only check the ambient temperature coming out of the vents, but will also hook a machine up to the system to determine if the refrigerant level is adequate. This test is fairly inexpensive and having it done every so often will help ensure your air conditioning system is there for you on hot days, as well as help prevent repairs that can occur through a lack of maintenance.


If you do have an older vehicle that still has R12 refrigerant it is probably a good time to retro-fit your system to R134A. Doing so is not only environmentally smart, but will save you money in the long run due to the high cost and limited availability of R12.


Tip #111- June 2012

Be Road Trip Ready


Whether you are headed to Forks for dinner or Utah for fun, summer time is traditionally road trip time. For peace of mind, Walt’s always recommends doing the following to your vehicle prior to hitting the road.

    1. Oil Change. Get an oil change done on your car a couple of weeks before leaving for your trip. This will be the perfect time to have a number of small things checked- lights, wipers, air filter, belts, fluids, tire pressure.
    2. Air Conditioning Performance Test. It is a statistical probability that if you are headed more than 100 miles from the Puget Sound, you will be headed some place with warmer temperatures than we have. You will want your air conditioning to work. Plan to have an A/C performance test to find out the condition of this system and address any needs.
    3. Cooling System Inspection. The number one cause of roadside breakdowns is cooling system failure. The number one cause of bummervacations is roadside breakdowns. Temperature extremes put extra pressure on the cooling system. If it has been over two years since you have had a cooling system flush, you should plan on doing on this and checking the thermostat, too.
    4. Starting/Charging System Test. A simple test by Walt’s will reveal the condition of your battery, starter, and alternator. Like the cooling system, this system is affected by higher temperatures.
    5. Brake Inspection. You should have your brakes professionally inspected once a year or every 15,000 miles. As a critical safety item, Walt’s always recommends having them inspected before long road trips.

Finally, you will want to check your emergency supplies- spare tire, jack, safety triangles, first aid kit, etc. These are critical when venturing far from home.

A safe and fun driving vacation starts with a good thorough vehicle inspection. Addressing maintenance concerns prior to departure will help your vehicle run better and give you the best chance of avoiding potential problems.





Tip #110- June 2012

Rising Gas prices- Ughh!

Gas prices haven’t dropped here in the Northwest where we seem to be leading the country in price per gallon.  I decided to take off my aluminum foil hat for a second and stop thinking about conspiracy theories long enough to give some practical tips on how you can get the most miles per gallon possible for your car.

  1. Make sure you have a clean air filter. Replacing a dirty or clogged filter can improve fuel efficiency by 10%. Your engine is basically a giant Air Pump and your air filter, if clogged, prevents the “pump” from working properly.
  2. Change your oil every 3 to 5,000 miles.  Dirty oil can cost you up to 1 mile per gallon. Make sure you also use the right grade of oil. If your car calls for 5W20, use it. Putting a different grade in can cost you 1 to 2 mpg.
  3. Perform a fuel system tune-up.  A TV station in Buffalo documented how a fuel system cleaning took an Explorer from 17.6 mpg to 19.6 mpg. Typically this involves replacing your fuel filter and cleaning your fuel system. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your fuel filter every 15 to 30,000 miles.
  4. Lighten your load.  Get rid of excess weight in your trunk or luggage racks on top of your vehicle.
  5. Performing a transmission flush can help, too. A slipping transmission can cost you 1-2 miles per gallon.
  6. Drive the speed limit. Especially on the highway, the faster you go, the less mpg you will get.
  7. Make sure your vehicle is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations based on miles. Pull out your owner’s manual for this information or swing by your local Walt’s Auto Care Center and they can print you a copy to review.

The best way to get the most out of your gas dollar is to ensure that your vehicle is in the best shape it can be.  A well-tuned engine is more efficient.


Tip #109- May 2012

The Timing Belt- Critical Maintenance!


Most vehicles these days come with a timing belt. Engines used to come with timing chains. The timing belt (or timing chain) keeps the engine “in time” by keeping the valves and pistons synchronized. Timing belts wear down over time and need to be replaced. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the timing belt between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. If your timing belt breaks, your car will stop on the spot. If your engine is an “interference” engine, as opposed to a “free-running” engine, you can severely damage your motor, when the timing belt breaks. The pictures show a worn out timing belt that was past its useful life and a bent valve that was damaged when the timing belt broke.


Walt’s encourages car owners to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the timing belt replacement interval. Professional auto mechanics will always recommend replacing the tensioners and idlers that work together with the timing belt at the same time you replace the belt. Following this maintenance schedule will help keep your car on the road and avoid costly repairs.





Tip #108- May 2012

Test your Car Battery every 3 months


Auto mechanics and car battery manufacturers will tell you that the average car battery lasts on average for only 48 months. Thus, one of every four cars on the road will need a new battery within the next 12 months. Walt’s recommends having your battery, starter, and alternator tested at least every quarter.
Auto repair shops also recommend having your battery terminals cleaned when necessary. Allowing the battery terminals to build up corrosion diminishes the battery’s ability to do its job. If an auto repair shop sees 15 cars a day, 1 to 2 of them will have corroded terminals like the one shown in the picture. By cleaning the terminals, you will make sure your battery can do its job and even extend its useful life.
Car Batteries tend to fail more during extreme temperatures- both very cold and very hot temperatures. As we head into summer, make sure you get your battery and starting/charging system tested. Walt’s tests every vehicle that comes into our shops as a service to our customers.

Tip #107- May 2012

When do you need to change your serpentine belt?


If you ask any auto repair and service shop, or automotive maintenance shop, they will tell you that vehicle owner’s often fail to replace their car’s serpentine belt in a timely manner. Years ago, auto mechanics had to replace multiple v-belts when they worked on a car. Today, one belt, called a serpentine belt, replaces these.


The old rule of thumb to determine when to replace a serpentine belt was when a belt had numerous cracks across the different “ribs” per inch of belt. The attached picture shows a belt with numerous cracks per inch. If you don’t address a belt that needs to be replaced, you risk the belt breaking and being stranded on the side of the road. Most serpentine belts will need replacing once every 5 years, depending on the number of miles you drive.


In recent years, this has changed. New technology in the rubber used to make serpentine belts keeps them from developing cracks. These belts do need to be replaced, however. The rubber on the belt wears much like a tire does. Over time, the belt will loose rubber and the gaps between the “ribs” will become deeper. Auto mechanics use a depth gauge to measure the wear of the belt. Trusted repair shops, like Walt’s, will inform customers when their belt has too much wear and needs to be replaced.


Make sure your automotive repair shop checks your belt(s) at each oil change and apprises you of the condition.


Tip #106, April 2012

Oil Changes- Quick Lube’s vs. Repair shops or Service Centers

Walt’s operates 3 Northwest automotive service centers. We are not a “Quick lube”, although we do a lot of oil changes each year. There are a number of benefits to using a repair shop, like Walt’s, for oil changes vs. using a quick lube.


      1. Save Money! The largest benefit these days to getting your oil changed by Walt’s vs. a quick lube is cost. You will save money at Walt’s. Our basic oil change, which includes up to 5 quarts of Kendall semi-synthetic motor oil, filter, and top off of fluids, costs $29.95. The same oil change at the leading quick lubes in our area is $62.
      2. Higher Quality- Quick lubes offer an entry-level oil change for $41.99, but that is for conventional oil, not semi-synthetic oil.  For years, newer cars have come with a higher-grade semi-synthetic oil and should always use this higher grade oil to ensure the engine runs at it’s best. Walt’s decided many years back to include the higher grade semi-synthetic oil in our basic oil change as a benefit to our customers.
      3. Experienced Technicians- Repair shops, like Walt’s, perform repairs and service on all areas of cars from brakes to mufflers to tune-ups. Having ASE certified technicians on staff, ensures your vehicle will be inspected and serviced by a professional. Walt’s average technician has worked in this trade for well over 10 years.

Walt’s are not the only repair facilities to do quality oil changes. A number of our competitors offer similar services. Always make sure when you are looking at oil change coupons or comparing different prices that you are comparing apples to apples. Walt’s is proud of the value we offer customers and hope you will give us a try.



Top 5 Costly Mistakes Car Owner’s Make when it comes to Vehicle Maintenance

1. Don’t Follow the Maintenance Schedule from the Manufacturer. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This applies to maintaining your car or truck. Following the recommendations for maintenance listed in your Owner’s Manual will help prevent costly repairs. If you don’t have your Owner’s Manual, don’t worry. Many shops, like Walt’s, can provide a computerized print out of the manufacturer’s recommendations for any given mileage interval.


2. Don’t change your Antifreeze often enough. Cooling system failure is the #1 cause of roadside breakdowns. Most cooling system repairs can be prevented by regularly flushing and refilling your vehicle’s cooling system. Walt’s recommends replacing traditional antifreeze every 2 years or 30,000 miles. Just because your antifreeze is still green doesn’t mean it is still good. Having your cooling system inspected once a year, including testing your antifreeze, will allow you to avoid costly cooling system repairs.


3. Don’t replace your vehicle’s Timing Belt when it is recommended. Most vehicles with timing belts recommend replacing the belt between 90 and 100,000 miles. Because the Timing belt is an integral engine component, failure to replace it can lead to extensive engine damage. What could have been a few hundred dollars in maintenance services can quickly become a major repair.


4. Don’t check your brakes once a year. Having your brake system inspected once a year will ensure that this key safety component is working as intended. Frequent inspections will allow you to perform maintenance services to your brake system that will prolong its useful life. Too many people wait until they have no brakes before visiting a repair facility costing higher repair bills and placing the vehicle’s passengers in potentially dangerous situations. Walt’s performs free brake checks.


5. Don’t replace filters often enough. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your fuel filter every 15,000 miles. Doing so can help improve fuel efficiency and help avoid costly fuel pump repairs. Changing your Air Filter when clogged or dirty can greatly impact your engine’s efficiency which will help stretch your gas dollar.


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