Engine Maintenance

Generally, most of engine breakages happen as the result of the owner’s mistakes. If your car has run well for many years, you might find yourself skipping a fluid check or putting longer periods of time between the engine servicings. Today, with self-service gas stations everywhere, often the only way you will insure your car’s fluids are at proper levels is to do it yourself. If you don’t, you may miss a minor defect, for example, a coolant leakage. A few weeks later, lack of the coolant causes your engine to overheat and eventually you are faced with engine damage. And then even after that repair, other small problems surface and you find that your car breaks down more often. It’s important for you to safeguard your vehicle investment by checking your engine condition on a regular basis.

What’s Needed to Keep the Engine in Good Condition?
Actually, only few basic conditions are needed for long engine life:

Good engine lubrication
- Perform timely oil and oil filter changes and use only high quality oil and oil filters
- Check your garage floor or parking space for visible signs of fluid leakage
Prevent the engine from overheating
- Periodically check the cooling system, the coolant level, and radiator
Perform engine maintenance and tune up according to the owners’ manual schedule
- Provide necessary cleanings and adjustments (drive belt tension, valve cleaning, etc)
- Provide necessary replacements (timing belts, air filters, spark plugs, etc)
Immediately eliminate any minor engine defects 

Start by Checking the Engine Condition.Routinely listen for noises when your engine is running. The engine should run evenly and you should not hear any strong noises, knocking, pinging, or whistling while the engine is idling or during acceleration.   After it’s warmed up, try to press accelerator harshly for a second. The engine should accelerate quickly, without delays or hesitation. There should be no loud noises while accelerating. The idle should be stable during a stop. There should be no smoke coming out from the tail pipe (only steam during warming up or in cold weather is permissible). 

Look at the instrument panel. All the warning lights on the instrument panel for low oil pressure, check engine, overheating, etc should go off after the engine is started and should not come on while the engine is running.

Open the hood and look at the engine. A good engine should be dry. It may be dusty, but it should not be oily, and it should not have any leaks. Check the engine thoroughly for oil leaks. The more leaks, the more damage your engine may have.

clean 1995 toyota engineA clean and
well-maintained engine.

dirty 1988 toyota engine

An engine requiring
cleaning and maintenance.

When performing routine engine maintenance and tune ups, cleanings, adjustments, and necessary replacements, check for the following:

Fuel Filter: A dirty fuel filter may cause unexpected engine stalling and loss of engine  power.
Air Filter: A dirty air filter dirty air filter causes loss of engine power, increased fuel consumption, etc
Spark Plugs: replacement can give significant enhancement of engine performance.
Timing Belt: Timing Belt damage can cause serious engine damage, especially if it’s a diesel engine.
Engine Coolant: Old coolant lose its anticorrosive and other characteristics.

Check the Oil Pressure.

Low oil pressure in your car’s engine can become a major repair nightmare. All engines lose a certain amount of oil pressure over time as normal wear increases bearing clearances. But unusually low oil pressure in an engine is a clear indication that your car requires immediate repair. Always check the oil pressure on a cold engine (at least an hour after the engine has been turned off). Start the engine, and look at the low oil pressure warning lamp or oil pressure gauge on the instrument panel. The time between the engine start and the time you note oil pressure at the instrument panel should be no more than one to two seconds. If this time is longer than two seconds, it means that either the oil filter is bad or the engine is too worn. If the low oil pressure warning light goes on while engine is running or idle, you can be sure that the engine is has some defect. Stop your vehicle immediately if the oil pressure warning lamp goes on while driving to avoid further damage to the engine.

Check the Engine Oil Level.Checking your engine oil level is the most important check you can do.  Driving with the oil level too low can damage the engine. An engine cannot run without oil, even for a minute, without serious engine damage. 

If the engine is leaking oil, try new gaskets or seals to fix the leak. If the engine is burning oil, the valve guides and seals are most likely worn out, but the rings and cylinders could require replacement, too.

Check the engine oil on the dipstick periodically, especially if your car isn’t brand new. Driving even 20 – 30 miles with extremely low oil level may result in expensive engine repair. It is also important to change to oil every 3,000 miles. And every time you change the oil, change the oil filter too. Immediately after performing an oil and filter change, check for oil leaks to be sure that the oil filter has been installed properly.

When checking the oil, wait until the engine has been off at least 15 minutes so that the oil has drained to the oil pan. This will guarantee and accurate reading. Checking the oil immediately after driving may give a false low reading because much of the oil is still in its components.  

If you not sure how to check your oil, here is a step-by-step explanation:

read the dipstick accurately
Place your car in a level place. Make sure that the engine has been off for at least 15 minutes to allow the the engine oil to drain back into the crankcase oil pan. Open the hood, find the engine oil dipstick and remove it. Dry it with a clean rag or paper towel and notice the markings on it. you will see a mark for “FULL” and another mark for “ADD” or “LOW”. Push the stick back into the tube and immediately pull it out to see the oil level. Normally it should be at “FULL” mark. You should not add oil unless the level is below the “ADD” or “LOW” mark and NEVER add oil to bring the level above the “FULL” mark since too much oil may damage the spark plugs. By checking your oil on a regular basis , you will become familiar with the  rate of oil consumption by your car and you’ll know  when the consumption is rapidly increasing.

oil color can signify problems
The oil condition is very important and the color signifies potential problems. The oil should appear clean and translucent. If the oil is slightly-brown, it’s O.K. If it’s dark-brown, but still transparent, it’s admissible but it would be better to change it. If it’s too black, it’s time to change it.  If the engine oil on the dipstick is white (or the color of coffee- with- milk) or foamy, it it means the engine coolant mixes with the engine oil, which is evidence of an internal engine defect (such as a blown head gasket or cracked block). Such defect is common for some V6 and V8 engines. Also, the oil should never have a gasoline smell.

Change the Engine Oil Level and Adjust the Viscosity Grade.

If you are adding a small amount of oil, it would be better to add the same type of the engine oil as you already have in the engine. For example, if you have Pennzoil SAE 10W – 30 in your engine, add the same. Wait for a couple of minutes to let the oil flow down. Check the oil level again with the dipstick. If it’s still low, add some more. But don’t overfill it. Don’t forget to return dipstick back into the tube and close the oil filler cap when you finished.  If you are doing a complete oil change, you should consider adjusting the viscosity grade. This is not a difficult task to figure out. Keep in mind that engine oils are solid with with different levels of viscosity, and many of them are multi-viscous, which means the oil’s thickness can change depending upon the temperature. Generally speaking, the warmer the oil is, the thinner it will be. If the oil is too thin, the engine might not get the proper lubrication. In the summertime you should change the engine oil to one that is a little thicker. Even when the thicker oil is cold, it is still not too thick for proper engine lubrication. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s oil recommendations for different climates. Multi-viscous grades can be found in 5w-30, 10w-30, and 10w-40 oil grades. 

Should you Use Engine Flush?

Engine flush is special solution that helps to remove deposits and coating from internal engine parts right before an oil change. It’s useful if your engine is slightly dirtycarbon buildup inside. But, if there is too much carbon buildup (indicated by the arrow in the photo) inside the engine, flushing may have bad effect, because washed off carbon particles may clog the oil screen in the crankcase oil pan, which may cause a lack of oil pressure.

So, how do you decide if you should use an engine flush solution? If you notice, that the engine oil becomes too dirty (dark – brown color) even in few days since you’ve changed it, it means your engine is too polluted inside, like the one in the image. In such case you’d better avoid engine washing off. But if you notice, that even after 2000 – 3000 miles since last oil change the engine oil remains translucent or slightly brown, it means your engine is clean inside. So, you may apply the engine flush facilities successfully.

Check the Coolant Level and Leaks.Check the coolant (antifreeze) level and investigate the system for leaks periodically. NEVER open the radiator of a car that has just been running. Wait at least 15-20 minutes after the engine has been turned off for the engine temperature to drop before adding any fluid into the system. The cooling system of a car is under high pressure and the fluid is usually hotter than boiling water. 

Begin your check of the cooling system by viewing the front side of the radiator and the space between the engine radiator and air conditioner radiator; it should not be clogged with debris, such as leaves or heavy pollen. One of the most common reasons for overheating is debris buildup in this area. Also, be sure that electric fan operates, and water pump drive belt has proper tension. Also check the water pump; it should not have coolant seepage. Check the radiator for any trace of damage and all water hoses for leaks. If you find any coolant leak, try to stop it up as soon as possible to avoid engine overheating and have a mechanic inspect the damaged area immediately.

checking coolant levelNext, look for the cooling system expansion tank; it is usually translucent white so you can see the fluid level without opening it. The expansion tank has two level marks on the side of it: “FULL” and “LOW”. Check the coolant level in the expansion tank. The coolant level should be between “LOW” and “FULL” marks in the coolant expansion tank as in the picture. If it’s lower, you should add it, because a low coolant level may cause the engine to overheat and therefore result in engine damage. When engine temperature is reduced (in 15-20 minutes after the engine has been turned off) , simply add a coolant into the expansion tank till its level be at “FULL” mark and into the radiator if necessary.  If the level frequently falls below “LOW” after adding fluid, you probably have a leak and must have it checked as soon as possible. If there is no coolant in the expansion tank at all, you should add the coolant directly into the radiator. 

The ideal mixture of coolant and water inside inside your vehicle’s radiator is 50:50. If the mixture deviates from this, then hot-weather (and cold weather) performance can be compromised. you can check the composition of a radiator’s mixture by using an antifreeze tester. You can find this item in any auto parts store. They are inexpensive and easy to use. If the mixture’s balance is off, adjust it by adding coolant or water.

Take note of the coolant’s color. It should be clean and transparent, it also may be of green, red, blue or yellow color (depending on the maker). If it’s brown or rust-colored, the car may need a radiator flush. The coolant should not have any engine oil in it. If you see oil in the radiator or expansion tank,  it may be evidence of an internal engine defect, such as a blown head gasket. Antifreeze is toxic, so be sure to capture and recycle the drained fluid. Keep it off your skin and away from your eyes. It can also damage painted surfaces, so avoid spilling it on your car.

Check the Automatic Transmission Fluid.

Automatic transmission is a very complicated device and it’s repair is costly.  Most automatic transmissions must be checked with the engine running and warmed up. Also, make sure the car is on a level surface and fully warmed up. 

If you not sure how to check the automatic transmission fluid, here is a step-by-step explanation:

Begin by letting the engine idle with the parking brake engaged and your foot on the brake. Move the gear selector through each gear. This ensures that the fluid is circulating through the pumps, thereby providing you with an accurate reading. Once you have done this, put the vehicle in park, but leave the brake engaged and the engine running. The transmission dipstick is located near the rear of the engine. Pull the transmission dipstick out, wipe it clean with a rag, and note the markings on the end of the stick. The usual markings are “FULL” and “ADD 1 PINT”. Inset the dipstick fully and remove it again to take a reading. 

checking transmission fluid level If the engine is cool, it should be at the upper end of the “COLD” mark. If the engine is hot, the level should be at the upper end of the “HOT” mark. When the transmission is warm, the level should be in the safe zone between the hash marks. If it’s lower, you should add some amount of automatic transmission fluid. Check the fluid condition also: If it’s too black and has a burnt smell – your transmission is going to break. Normally it should be clean and transparent, as in the image. Its color may be different, from red to brown. Wipe the dipstick with clean white paper and look at the paper. Normally there should be no black deposits, no metal particles, no dirt left on the paper.

How to add the transmission fluid:

Never add fluid unless it is below the “ADD” mark and never bring it above the “FULL” mark. Make sure you check the transmission fluid type in the owners manual and use the correct transmission fluid for your vehicle. Do  not substitute anything else. For example some Chrysler transmissions need only Chrysler specific type of fluid and usual fluid like Dexron II can destroy the transmission. The transmission fluid usually comes in quarts, you may not need to add a full quart so add a little amount of the fluid at a time. Also, you will need a special funnel to get the fluid into the small tube that the dipstick came out of. Wait for a couple of minutes for the fluid to flow down. Start the engine and check the level again before adding more fluids.

From: virginiaengines.com

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