British American Auto Care Blog

Smoking Car? 6 Types of Auto Related Vapor / Smoke to Be Aware Of

Posted by Brian England on Thu, Nov 20, 2014

Don't let smoke get in your eyes!


Smoking car - know what is causing the problem


Every third Thursday in November is the American Cancer Society's designated day for the Great American Smokeout. Today, people all over the country are taking steps to quit smoking. Just like it's a good idea for people not to smoke, it's definitely something you don't want to see your car doing.  There is one thing the internal combustion engines (ICE) should not do, and that's smoke.  

The smoke coming from your tailpipe should, for the most part, be invisible except on very cold days when the water in the exhaust shows up as water vapor. In fact, for every gallon of gas you use, your car produces one gallon of water. Excessive smoke is one of the things they check for in emissions inspections. So aside from those "very chilly days", it's important to know when a smoking car could be a signal of trouble. Here is a list of 6 different types of automobile related smoke or vapor that you should be aware of.

  1. Icy cold vapor from heating and air conditioning ducts. - This is caused by a change in temperature of the AC evaporator core. This mainly happens on very humid days and clears in a few seconds so it nothing to worry about.
  2. A damp chemically smoke/steam/smell from vents. - This is not good news. It could be the heater core. This small radiator device is buried in the dash, and hot coolant from the engine flows through it. With age or neglect it can start to deteriorate and leak into the vent system. If this happens, you should limit your use of the car, and have it repaired as soon as possible.
  3. An electrical burning smell with or without smoke. - This is a major problem and should be tended to right away. It is best not to drive the car when this happens. The good news is electrical issues of this type are rare in newer vehicles. Be aware that if you have experienced a musty smell and water leaks into the car this can short circuit the parts of the electrical system. Cars have many computers and those located near the floor can be prone to getting wet and shorting out.
  4. Steam rising from front of car or from under the hood. This can be as innocent as a rain soaked radiator drying out to a major coolant leak. The later has the same chemical smell as the leaking heater core. It is also associated with colored fluid on the ground.
  5. A bluish smoke coming from your car that smells like cooking oil burning. This signals that there is an oil leak that is running or seeping on to a hot part of the engine. This should be attended to ASAP. You might also smell this inside the car.
  6. A white smoke/vapor with a strong smell of gasoline. - This is the scariest of all.  If this happens do not open the hood. Evacuate the car, and get as far away from the car as you can.  Then call 911.

These tips should help you guide your way through any auto related smoke.  Whether it's your car smoking or the smoke of someone's cigarette, don't let smoke cloud your vision. And, on this day, the Great American Smokeout of 2014, help a friend stop smoking by giving them the support they need to quit!

Is smoke coming from your car?  Call us at 410-381-2700 to schedule an appointment to have your car checked out, or use the button below to schedule an appointment online.  

Tags: smoking car

How Can I Keep My Car's Cabin Air Filter Clean?

Posted by Brian England on Mon, Nov 17, 2014


What is the cabin air filter?  It is the pleated, fibrous filter that cleans air that comes into the interior of the car via the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. It keeps the air inside your car free of contaminants.  Some cabin air filters even trap odors.  When this filter gets clogged, your car's HVAC system may not work as efficiently as it should.  That's why it's an important filter to monitor.

You should note, there are other filters in your car, specifically, the air filter that keeps contaminants from entering your car's engine and the fuel filter that keeps contaminants from clogging your car's fuel system. These are three different filters. The photo above is of a cabin air filter that needs changing.  This one is clogged with debris and has served as a supply source for a rodent's nest. (This is not as unusual as you may think).  

Typically, auto manufacturers recommend a replacement annually or every 15,000 miles, but this can vary depending on the environment you drive in and the level of dust and debris in the air.  Air goes through these filters whether you car's HVAC system is on recirculate or it's pulling in air from outside.

What causes the filters to get clogged? In this area of the country, the biggest contributors to dirty air filters are dog hair and trees, though in other parts of the country where there are desert environments, dust can be a big contributor.  Air from the interior circulates through the filter and dog hair can get matted across the filter element. Similarly, debris from outside like seeds, acorns, pollen and leaves migrate through the fresh air intake and clog the filter. One of the ways to tell that your car's air filter is clogged is if you notice a decrease in air quality or a decrease in air flow through the vents.  

How do I keep the cabin air filter clean? Like many things related to keeping your automobile in peak condition, following a regular preventive maintenance schedule is probably the best thing you can do to keep the filter clean.  Cleaning this filter after spring and fall can prolong the filter element's life, so now (or certainly a few weeks from now) is a good time for having it checked as in some areas, many of the trees are already bare. In our auto shop we clean this filter as part of all our preventive maintenance services, so if you are getting you vehicle serviced regularly, you're probably okay.

If you're handy with do-it-yourself tasks, you can vacuum out the air filter yourself. Check your vehicle manual to find the location of the cabin air filter. In some cars it's fairly easy to access -- for example, right behind the glove compartment, but in others you may need tools in order to access the filter.

Happy filtering!

Are you behind on your auto maintenance?  Schedule an appointment today.

Want to know more about auto service at British American Auto. Download our Services Booklet.




Tags: cabin air filters

Yes, Some Auto Services Can Wait

Posted by Brian England on Mon, Nov 10, 2014

Not long ago I was on the front line, servicing cars for our "while you wait" customers. I was performing a 5000 mile service on a Honda Fit. The car is getting up in miles, but it is in perfect condition. My report to our customer, Robin, is a good one -- just a tire rotation and an alignment that can wait until next year. This is fantastic news for Robin because she is finishing her degree so she can become a librarian, and for now, she needs to spend as little as possible on things like auto maintenance.

Our chat gets round to smelly cars. Robin tells me that occasionally there is this smell that she can’t seem to find the cause of.

“It's sort of a musty odor or an old food smell". Robin shared.

I ask about the heating and ventilating system settings and Robin mentions that her daughter goes to school near a turkey farm so she keeps the system on recirculate so the horrible Turkey Farm smell stays out of the car. This might seem like a harmless thing to do, but in the winter it can cause all sorts of problems.  The windows can mist up, and the heating system might stay damp and start to smell very musty.  Robin is thrilled with the answer.  She’s happy that it's not a big issue and the next thing is a Tweet to her friends!  

Robin is the daughter of a long time customer. Her parents own a game store in Savage Mill.  Also her mom is a great architect who did a wonderful job of designing the deck at our home in Columbia, MD. 

The next thing I hear is my phone. Ding! I have a new Twitter follower!  It’s Robin.


We are so fortunate to provide service to so many Columbia area families.  We take care of your family just like we would take care of ours. 

You'll find other causes of odors mentioned in this blog.


Tags: some auto services can wait

10 Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving

Posted by Brian England on Wed, Nov 05, 2014


I don’t know about you, but I glimpsed a lot of people sporting their winter coats this past weekend.  Snow has already hit Maine (no surprise there), but it’s hit Tennessee and South Carolina too! Yes, the winter weather is already here in some parts of the country. It’s best to be prepared for it.  

When it comes to auto safety, there are quite a few things you can check on yourself to prepare your car for winter.  Many of these are general car safety tips, but they become particularly important in the winter when visibility can decrease significantly and stopping distances, chances of stalling, and chances of getting stranded increase.

  1. Check Your Tires – Your tires should be checked every six months.  We did a blog a while back on tire safety and maintenance.  You’ll need to check the thickness of the tread, the condition of the rims, check for dry rot and more.  Ideally these checks should be done on a lift, so if it has been over six months since your last preventive maintenance service, go ahead and schedule a service.
  2. Brakes – Make sure your brakes are working well.  They should be responsive, not too soft or too difficult to press.  Additionally, you shouldn’t hear any squealing.  Check out this brake article about other things to look out for.
  3. Antifreeze – Check your engine antifreeze level.  If it is below the recommended fill level, add more.
  4. Battery – Your car should start without any hesitation.  The battery terminals should be free of corrosion.  If you notice a problem, it might be time to get your battery serviced or replaced.
  5. Heater & Defroster/Defogger – Make sure your heat is working before freezing temperatures come & check to make sure the defroster is working.  You can check out if the defroster/defogger is working the next time those windows fog up.  Don’t wait for the ice!
  6. Snow & Ice Removal Equipment – Do you have a windshield scraper, brush, and shovel in your car?  If not, get one now, you never know when we will get an early snow.
  7. Safety Equipment – Be sure to have flares, flashlights, blankets, salt, sand or kitty litter and other safety equipment in your car in case of a storm or emergency.
  8. Windshield Wiper Fluid Jets & Wipers Working – Check your windshield wipers and the washer jets.  If they don’t seem to be working properly, try cleaning them.  Also be sure the washer jets are working.
  9. Exterior Lights and Warning Lights – An emergency is a terrible time to find out your car’s emergency flashers aren’t working.  Take a walk around your car; make sure all the lights, including parking and warning lights are working.  Take a look at the manual; make sure you know how to turn the emergency lights on.  If your headlamps appear foggy, they can be restored.  If bulbs are out, get them replaced.
  10. Snacks & Water – Just in case you get caught in a storm.  Have some non-perishable food items and drinking water in your car.

These ten winter auto safety tips should help you be prepared for the change in seasons.  Do you have other preparations that help you to get your car ready for winter driving? If so, share them in our comments section.

Of course, if you live in the Columbia, MD area, and would rather have us check your car out for you, just make an appointment online or call us at 410-381-2700.


Tags: winter auto safety tips, prepare your car for winter, winter safety, winter driving

My Car's Windshield Washer Fluid Won't Spray. What Should I Do?

Posted by Brian England on Mon, Oct 27, 2014

Yes, I know it's just the end of October, but before you know it winter will be here.  In fact, the Farmer's Almanac says we should expect about three inches more snow than normal this December!  

When was the last time you tested or used your car's windshield wiper fluid?

Give it a try before you need it. If you find your car's windshield washer fluid won't spray, then follow this three step process to troubleshoot the problem.

Step 1: Check the windshield washer fluid reservoir.

If your washer fluid won't spray, it may be because your washer fluid reservoir is empty. I know it seems obvious, but how many times do we overlook the obvious in our everyday lives. The windshield washer fluid reservoir is easy to locate.  Most of the time it has a picture of the washers on the reservoir cap. Go ahead and open the cap.  Then check the dipstick to see the fill level.  If you need to refill, use a premixed fluid so that you will know that you have the correct solution.  The last thing you want to happen is for the fluid to freeze-up in the winter.



If you have to refill your reservoir, once you've completed the job, be sure to check under the car, on the ground, for fluid. Make sure that a leak in your reservoir tank wasn't the cause of the problem.

Step 2: Listen to see if you can hear the washer pump running.

The best way to do this is with the ignition on but the engine not running.  That way it will be easier to hear.  Get a helper.  You'll need someone to push or turn the knob while you listen.  If you can hear the motor running, that's great. If the windshield washer fluid still won't spray go on to Step 3...

Step 3: Make sure the washer nozzle jets are free.

The problem could be that your windshield wiper nozzles are clogged. Polish can easily block these nozzles. The location of the nozzle jets varies from car to car. Look around the base of your front windshield for yours.  If it's the rear wiper jets that won't work, then check near the topside of the rear window for the wiper jets. Once you've located them, use a straight pen to clear out the jets. 

Hopefully that gave you some insight into the cause of the problem.  If so, congratulations!  Job well done.

If you gotten them started and they are smearing, check out this blog post on stopping windshield wipers from smearing.

And finally, if you can't identify what's causing your windshield wiper fluid not to spray, contact your local repair shop to have them check it out. Remember, if you are in the Columbia, MD area, you can always bring your car by British American Auto Care!


Tags: wiper fluid, wiper fluid won't spray, windshield wiper, windshield wiper fluid pump, adding windshield wiper fluid, clearing wiper fluid nozzels

From the Morris Minor-Mini to the new 2015's - Mini Continues to Evolve

Posted by Brian England on Fri, Oct 17, 2014

When it comes to Mini's, my family has a longgggggggggggggggg history.  

Back in 1955 my Uncle Bob bought a new Morris Minor that was made in Oxford England.  My other uncle, Uncle Sid, worked in the drawing office at the factory that produced Morris Minors and secured him a good deal. The photo below shows a 1955 Morris Minor.  Not a very different look from many of the cars at that time.


Before the launch of the Mini, in 1959, they, Morris Motors, produced a car called the Morris Mini-Minor, shown below.  It had a much different look than the Morris Minor, with lots of similarities to what would one day be the Mini.


Then, a few years later, when I started work as an automotive mechanic, I worked on the first Mini. At that time it was marketed under the brand, the Austin Mini.  As you can see from the photo below, the evolution from the Mini-Minor to the Austin Mini was, shall we say, "minor".


Now almost 60 years later, my family still has a close relationship with Minis. Our company, British American Auto Care, works on many of the new Minis that are produced at that same factory in Oxford.

The Mini is one car that has retained much of its historical, award-winning design. Originally, this 2-door car was intended to offer an economical, space saving alternative and was developed in response to a fuel shortage in the UK back in 1959.  MINIs still get great gas mileage. The 2014 MINIs get anywhere from 30 to 42 miles per gallon (highway) depending on the model.

Despite the consistency in look, the Mini has undergone many changes since back in the 1960's - from its highly efficient 1.5 liter, 3 cylinder engine, to the cool lighted circles on the dashboard display that make you feel like you're driving into the future.  But, some of the other changes seem more like "Back to the Future". For example, check out this commercial “MINI Van”. It seems that some of the newer models are headed in the direction of the “MINI Van” at least as far as space is concerned. 


The fact is, MINI continues to offer roomier models each year.  MINIs five door model addresses one of its potential buyers biggest concerns - not enough cargo space.  Have you ever looked into the trunk of an older Mini? Not much will fit in there!  There is no doubt that the newer models will attract some new customers, maybe even a few golfers, with almost 9 cubic feet of cargo space, more legroom and more boot room. 


We're sure the Mini will continue to evolve, and right now we agree with many of the reviewers – that the new Mini’s are evolving in the right direction.

For more info, here is USA Today’s take on the new Mini’s.

Mini photos are sourced from Wiki,; and New Old Car UK.  Each photo links to attribution and/or licensing information.

Tags: Mini Cooper, Minis, Mini history,, New minis

My Car Runs Hot. Do I Need a Coolant Flush?

Posted by Brian England on Wed, Oct 08, 2014


So, you’re driving along, and suddenly you notice the temperature gauge registers “hot”.  What do you do?


Car Runs Hot - Do I Need a Coolant Flush


Well, one of our customers experienced this.  This particular customer owned a 2001 Audi. The car had been running fine and then it overheated. The temperature gauge went up very high. The good thing is that he stopped as soon as could and had the car towed to our shop. This avoided thousands of dollars in potential damage! 

Was a coolant flush the fix? No, it is rare that flushing the cooling system will cure overheating, especially in this case as there was no history of the vehicle running on the hot side. 

If a customer neglects the cooling system for a long time and then reports that the engine is running progressively hotter a flush may fix the problem or at least make it run a little cooler.  What’s important to know is that a neglected cooling system can cause a lot of damage so it is best to have your cooling system flushed every three years or 50,000 miles if you are using long life antifreeze or every two years or 25,000 miles if you are using regular antifreeze.

Some of the other things that can cause an engine to run hot include:

  • cooling fan that’s not operating properly broken/bad thermostat
  • low coolant level
  • clogged or leaking radiator 
  • broken water pump
  • broken head gasket
  • split hose

So, if you find yourself in a situation where your car runs hot pull over and have your car towed to your local auto repair shop.  You can check the coolant level to make sure that’s not what’s causing the problem, but don’t run the engine while it’s hot or you’ll risk damaging the head gasket or the head itself.


Do you live or work in the Columbia, MD area and are overdue for regular preventive maintenance service on your automobile?  Make an appointment and let us help you protect your engine and maximize the life of your car.


Tags: coolant flush, Car Runs Hot

Drive a Mini Cooper, Audi or BMW? Beware of Low Engine Oil Levels.

Posted by Brian England on Tue, Aug 26, 2014


Mini Cooper running low on oil

"Every time I bring my Mini Cooper in you say it is low on oil, why?"

Well this is a good question, we have been asking the question the other way around: 

"Why are so many Minis coming in very low on oil or even dry?"

Time after time we have seen Minis come in with dangerously low oil levels. What is going on? We have also seen Audis and BMWs with very low oil levels!

Well, purely by chance, I have at last found out.

A customer asked to meet with me to go over this issue and other Mini problems. I arranged to stay late so that I could meet with the customer and his father.

We went over item after item, and then, while showing them how to check the oil level the son shared with me,"The salesman said I can go 15,000 miles between oil changes. He said don't worry, the computer system will tell you when to have the oil changed."

At that moment it hit me.  Most people have been indoctrinated by the quick lube places to have oil changes every 3000 miles. Most cars go 2000 to 3000 miles before using one quart of oil. You never see people putting oil in their cars. In general they don't know how to check the oil level. There has been no need.

Now, along come vehicles like Mini, BMW and Audi that have extended oil change periods. These vehicles are owned by people that have never learned how to check the oil level of their vehicles. Put these two things together and you have a major problem. 

Lets do the math. A normal European engine uses oil at the rate of 1 quart per 3000 miles. The engine oil capacity is 5 quarts. The salesman said change the oil every 15,000 miles. Well by the time you get to 15,000 miles the engine damage has already been done! The engine has run out of oil. Bearings are worn out. Rings are damaged. Minute passages are blocked. Valve train guides are worn.

So how do you prevent this from happening?  Just check the engine oil level.

And...what is the correct oil change schedule?

Well, check out the video below.  It will show you how to check you oil between preventive maintenance services.


If you would like to find out the right oil change schedule for your car. Schedule a free oil change consultation. We'll help make sure you avoid running low on oil.

Tags: Mini, Audi, BMW, low oil level, check the oil, how to

Columbia Auto Shop Starts Fixing Old Jaguars, MGBs, Minis &Triumphs

Posted by Brian England on Thu, Aug 14, 2014

One of the most exciting things about owning a business is being able to make rapid decisions and changing things quickly and efficiently. It's like having your own world. You can innovate and try things without too much fuss.

You never know what the next challenge or opportunity is going to be, but you know it is going to be interesting.

Here is an example.........

1963 Jaguar XKE


About ten years ago we moved away from working on old British cars. We kept some of the basic parts and sold the rest. We were busy with the day-to-day jobs, and we concentrated on the rapid changes in technology.

Then along came the Mini, and with it a renewed interest in British cars.  Coupled with that, as customers got older, their children, now in their 30s, started getting nostalgic. They wanted to get the old family fun car out of mothballs. Also, unfortunately, some customers had lost loved ones and had inherited an old British classic.

We started receiving calls that went something like this...

"My Dad's car has been sitting for five years. Can you get it started? Will you work on a 1970 MGB?"

"I have a 1969 Jaguar XKE. It won't start or go into gear. Is this something you can fix?"

The problem we faced was... who was going to work on these old British cars?

I talked over the problem with one of our technicians who had shown some interest, and he told me, "Brian, if you say yes to these customers I will commit to working on these old British cars".

The problem was, to make the situation work, we really needed two people committed to working on the old MGBs, Minis, Triumphs and Jaguars.   Well, I thought to myself, I love these cars, why not me? So, I agreed to start working on them!

We have not looked back since, and now we have a new technician who shares our love for these old cars. Now he wants some of the action too.

As a result, we have gone in one year from working on a dozen or so Minis to over 100.  We have also repaired about a dozen classic Jaguars, MGBs and Triumphs.

Going forward we are going to actively seek out these cars. We have technicians that like old cars, the institutional knowledge, and great parts resources.  There is nothing to stop us from embracing this change!

Do you have an old British classic that's stuck in park? Our Columbia, MD auto shop is now geared up and ready to help you get your old classic back on the road.  Give us a call at 410-381-2700 or click the button below to make an appointment.





Photo of '63 Jaguar XK-E by Dan Smith via Creative Commons License

Tags: auto, Columbia, British classic cars, Jaguars, MGBs, Minis, Triumphs, repair

The Myth of the $19.99 Oil Change

Posted by Brian England on Wed, Aug 06, 2014

Have you ever gotten an oil change for $19.99 or less?  How much do you think the value of that oil service really was?  

We did an infographic on the value of an oil change.  The bottom line is, when you receive any product or service for less than its value, someone is paying for it.  It can be that the business is covering the cost and using the product or service as a loss leader to get you into their establishment --hoping they can get you to purchase more goods or services.  It can also be that the workers there are paying the price through low wages.

Take a look at our infographic.  Let us know what you think.

The Myth of the $19.99 Oil Change (2)

Tags: oil change, cheap oil change, $19.99 oil change, cost of oil service, fair wage, living wage

Connect With Us

Search Our Site

Custom Search

Subscribe to Our Blog

Browse by Tag