As soon as the hot days arrive so do the calls related to air conditioning service and repair. Auto air conditioning systems are complex; they include the control system, vacuum lines and the refrigerant system. These components are tucked under the dash panel and connected through high and low pressure lines to the engine compartment, the compressor, the condenser and the drier.
The system can fail in many ways, but the result is normally the same; the car interior will not cool to a comfortable temperature.
Diagnosing the problem with the refrigerant part of the air conditioning system can take from one to two hours depending on the complexity of the problem. Here are some of the checks that we perform.
- Road test the vehicle to check controls.
- Visual check of hoses for leaks
- Check that the condenser and cabin filter are free of obstructions.
- Check the condenser fan and air conditioning compressor (compressor is shown at right).
- Connect a refrigerant recovery machine and check the pressure readings.
- Evacuate, recycle and clean/dry refrigerant, fill to correct level and add dye.
- Electronic and black light checks for leaks.
- Report any leaks and repairs needed.
Air conditioning leaks can be very hard to find because we are looking for an invisible gas, so the dye helps us to see the leak. Sometimes leaks are so tiny we have to let the customer drive the car for a few days then have them come back to recheck for leaks.
Leaks in the engine compartment are easier to find, but leaks from the evaporator are much more difficult because the evaporator is tucked away behind the dash panel.
If the air conditioning fails because of an electrical or electronic failure then this is the same as other types of automotive electrical or electronic issues. We perform various tests to pin point the problem.
A common failing of auto air conditioning systems can be leaks from the service caps that we connect our gauges to. We can install a new quick seal service valve cap that can protect against these types of leaks. This is a good preventive maintenance item to install.
So...be sure you're ready for the summer. Check out your car's air conditioning before you need it!
…the AAA can’t get it right. You would think if you called the AAA for service and you needed a new car battery they would be able to do this job correctly and install the right battery for your car! Recently one of our customers called AAA, and they came out and installed a “fits all battery”. The only thing right about the battery was the cold cranking amps.
The “fits all battery” is made with the terminals in the middle of the battery instead of on one side, and they have double the terminals needed. It is also small in physical size, so small in fact that our customer's support bracket would not fit or hold the battery tight. On top of this the two battery cables were pulled tight across the top of the battery to reach the battery terminals. The cables were like a bow string! What made this worse was that the battery cables were so tight, instead of going around the transmission fluid level dip stick, they came right across the top making it impossible to check the transmission fluid level!
When we called the customer to see what he wanted to do he asked us to please install the correct battery. When we asked what to do with the AAA battery he had just purchased..., he said to put it on display in our office to warn people not to buy a AAA battery.
Well, we took our customers advice to put the battery on display so if you would like to see the battery in question, just stop by.
And by the way, that same customer told me he had joined the Better World Auto Club.
photo courtesy of rumpleteaser
The Maryland "Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program" VEIP requires that our vehicles be checked every two years. A notice is mailed about a month in advance so there is plenty of time to have your vehicle checked. If you wait past your notice time then the cost doubles from $14 to $29. (Plus, a new $15 penalty fee is assessed every four weeks.) The emissions test takes only take a few minutes. You are likely to spend more time waiting for the test. Try going mid-month and in the middle of the morning or afternoon to cut down your wait time. Another option is to check out the lines before you go. The Maryland VEIP website has a page that feeds in a picture of the lines, so that you can avoid going if there is a long wait. The photo below is from the Columbia, MD vehicle inspection station.
You should be aware that there are several parts to an emissions test; the inspector checks for: leaking fluids, excessive smoke, any sign that there has been tampering with the exhaust system, a properly fitting gas cap, badly worn tires, and any dashboard warning lights. So if your car's “check engine light” is on, do not take your car to be emissions tested because it will fail! Instead, visit an authorized emissions repair facility, and have them check out why your car’s check engine is on.
The check engine light is a visual signal from your car's computer testing system or On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system. If there is a problem in the operation of your car’s emissions control system then the “check engine light” will come on. A certified emissions repair shop can hook up a computer and download the emissions data. The data will contain one or several trouble codes depending on the extent of the problem. The codes can tell a skilled auto mechanic the area of the problem(s).
If your check engine light is on, you can stop by British American Auto Care for a free scan, but this is only the first step in properly diagnosing the problem.
After downloading the codes, the next step is to look at the data related to the code or codes. This can be in the form of a data snap shot or it can involve watching various information streams related to input and output sensors. This can take anywhere from half and hour to, in some cases, up to three hours! There is a charge to complete the diagnosis. It depends on the complexity of the program causing the “check engine light” to come on.
After this diagnosis has been performed the service writer can then provide the cost of the repair(s).
Once the repairs have been performed and the system has been retested the “Check Engine Light” will be off and should remain off if all of the systems are working correctly. The computer runs many monitors, and these have to pass a number of tests before the vehicle is ready to be taken in for an emissions test. With some cars we can reset the monitors so that you can take your car back right away for the emissions test. In other cases we will ask you to wait a couple of weeks, and then, if the “Check Engine Light” stays off, you can return for the test.
Checking the emissions computer system should be a part of the regular maintenance on your vehicle. When performing scheduled maintenance, your auto technician will connect a computer to your OBD system to see if there are any pending codes. These codes show the technician where a problem is likely going to happen so corrective action can be taken.
The VEIP is only one of the inspections Maryland requires. The other is the Vehicle Safety Inspection which is performed when you are just moving into the state or when you are selling a car. If you are in need of a safety inspection versus an emissions inspection, you can find information about that here.
As the owner of an auto repair business in Howard County, I feel it’s important to take an active role in the community. One of the ways I accomplish this is by working with the Howard County Citizen’s Association, Inc. (HCCA). The HCCA was founded in 1961. It is a non-partisan organization of concerned Howard County residents and local leaders unified behind the principle that local government works best when its citizens have a strong voice.
In recent years the HCCA has been involved with zoning issues in Howard County. This can be very a complex, and to some, a very boring subject, but the reality is that zoning regulations can impact our lives in many ways. Often times, we don’t get interested in zoning issues until something is happening right in our back yard or neighborhood. Unfortunately, by the time this happens, it’s usually too late to have a meaningful impact on the project. When local citizen's input comes after the project has advanced to later stages, chances are, the project will go forward with only limited changes reflecting citizen's concerns. That’s why organizations like the HCCA are important; they provide an opportunity for citizens to find out about and act on issues while they can still have a meaningful impact on the outcome.
Importantly, the HCCA’s work isn’t limited to zoning issues. We deal with other issues that impact our community.
Recently the HCCA has become involved with health care issues, primarily related to the long waits in the Emergency Room at Howard County General Hospital. Over the past several months, the hospital met with the HCCA many times resulting in some changes that have improved ER service and cut down the wait time. The person that spearheaded this effort was Stu Kohn, an HCCA board member. Stu and the rest of the emergency room committee also worked on understanding the role of the new urgent care facilities that have popped up around the county.
Now, Stu is on a new mission to reach out to the whole community. The subject has expanded from knowing when to use the emergency room to knowing who to call when you get sick. Most of us know to call 911 for an ambulance when faced with a life or death emergency. But what about those times when you’re not sure?
Well, in a few weeks the HCCA and the Howard County Health Department are teaming up for an event that will give you the information you need to answer that question and others like:
- Should I call my doctor?
- Should I call an urgent care facility? Which one?
- What about that 800 number on my insurance card is it worth calling?
- What about Target, I saw they have a clinic? Do they all?
- Other than a life threatening issue, is there I time when I should go the Emergency Room?
This event will answer these questions and many more. The Urgent/Emergency Health Care Choices Forum will be held on Monday, May 23rd, 7:00 p.m. at The Hawthorn Center in Hickory Ridge, 6175 Sunny Spring, Columbia.
If you are interested in finding out more about the HCCA check out the website at www.howard-citizen.org. The board meetings are held the 1st Wednesday of every month right here in the conference room at British American Auto Care, just one block from Snowden River Parkway.
photo from www.hcghcares.org
It is hard to think it has been 35 years since I started my Rover apprenticeship in a small town northwest of London. Now there are still Land Rovers but no more Rovers.
I got my start in the U.S. as a skilled automotive technician in a town northwest of Washington, DC back in 1972. The Land Rover and Rover dealer in Rockville, MD sponsored my application to come to the United States.
Over the years the Land Rover vehicle has improved dramatically from being a basic jeep type vehicle with a terrible bumpy ride and a top speed of 65 mph to a luxury vehicle. They have been refined over the years and a computer component has been added to each system, but underneath this complex vehicle are the same systems that I worked on 35 years ago.
The basic Land Rover vehicles stayed the same for so many years it was easy for a people to learn how to work on them if they were mechanically inclined. Now it is a different story, these vehicles are very complex and without advanced software to interface with the many computer systems you would be lost. The Range Rover costs over $80,000 new so there are not many on the road. They also loose their value fairly quickly. A three year old Range Rover sells for around $40,000.
Maintenance on Land Rovers is straight forward for the first 60,000 miles. They do not exhibit many service issues, but the next 60,000 miles can be a totally different story if the maintenance has not been kept up. With the drop in value, we find that used Land Rovers are much more affordable for many people, but often they are not prepared for the additional cost of servicing and repairing them. Tires can be very costly and brakes repairs can easily exceed $1500. If you are thinking of owning a Land Rover be prepared for more maintenance and repair cost than the average vehicle. Also spend a couple of hundred dollars to have a pre-purchase inspection performed, and have a Maryland State Inspection performed by someone independent of the dealer you are buying the car from. Once you have done this enjoy this fun vehicle that has a lot of character.
photo courtesy of Zsolt Berky