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Car Tune Up: An Investment that Pays Dividends!

Posted on 02, October, 2013

Most vehicle owners are aware that a car tune-up and preventative maintenance services are small investments in their vehicle that will repay them with dividends in improved fuel economy, longer engine life and cleaner air. You can protect that investment by establishing and following a maintenance plan. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.

Is a Tune Up Still Necessary Today?

Even today’s modern vehicle should have a tune up to ensure you get the maximum reliability and safety from the vehicle you depend upon daily. A car tune up is an orderly process of inspection, diagnosis, testing, and adjustment that is necessary periodically to maintain peak engine performance or restore the engine to original operating efficiency.

Over the years, ignition systems have become much more dependable. Many engines don’t even have distributors anymore, but use a DIS or Direct Ignition System instead. These systems either mount one ignition coil on each spark plug, or they share one coil for two, thus eliminating the need of a distributor. A maintenance schedule is still important for these types of engines.

However, for engines that still use distributors, a car tune up will replace the distributor cap, distributor rotor, and ignition wires in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. The spark plugs may be replaced as needed. Ask your local mechanic for professional advice in establishing and following a maintenance schedule for your specific vehicle and type of driving.

Remember: To restore the performance of your truck or car, have a quality tune up performed by a certified auto service center.

Tips to Keep Your Car on the Road For a Long Time! Part 1.

Posted on 12, August, 2013

What you can do yourself to keep your car on the road?
If everything on TV were true, then keeping a vehicle running great, looking good, and lasting a long time would be the easiest thing ever. Advertising will tell us over and over that all we really need to do to keep that car or truck running forever and looking brand new for years is to pour some bottles of miracle liquid into the crankcase, sprinkle magic dust on the paint, or spray some sort of ionized wonder water on the interior. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Following the old adage that “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” comes the news that regular, proper care and maintenance are what really keep vehicles going into the high six-figure mileage ranges. Miracle cures, magic fairy dust, mystery polymers and the like are all fine and good for infomercials, but most likely won’t do much good for your vehicle.

Regularly scheduled maintenance and lubrication using the manufacturers recommended type and formulation of oil, grease and liquids is what will do the trick. Replacing normal wear-and-tear parts such as timing belts before they break is also a good path to follow on the road to long vehicle life. Taking good care of your vehicle can make the difference between being the proud owner of a good looking, long lasting, reliable machine, and saying goodbye to a rusty, faded-paint jalopy that fell apart or broke down long before it was designed to.

The Maintenance Difference
We all know somebody with an older, high-mileage vehicle that just keeps on running year after year—that crazy uncle in the high-mileage ride that keeps on going strong. “What’s Uncle Fred’s secret?” you may wonder, scratching your head with one hand while holding a repair bill in the other? At its core, Uncle Fred’s 500,000-mile 1972 Datsun 610 is no different a vehicle than a two-year-old hulk that barely cleared 65,000 miles before it got hooked up to the wrecker truck, never to be seen again. While the short-lived heap has since been crushed, melted down, and built into another car, Uncle Fred keeps on trucking.

The secret is that there is no real secret to getting a vehicle to last a long time. The difference is maintenance. Regular fluid checks and an almost pious dedication to scheduled lubrication will keep the powertrain going strong. What kind of oil, brake fluid, and grease used is just as important as when it is changed. The best oil in the world will do your engine no good if you never change it. Cleaning and protecting the finishes of the vehicle inside and out will keep things looking good. Paint, plastic, leather, and fabric need help to survive the constant assault of sun and elements. Utilize both of these plans together and you, like Uncle Fred, will enjoy happy motoring for a good, long time. Follow the accompanying 10 handy tips for keeping your vehicle in top shape.

Tip 1
Check and change the oil. No single step will help an engine last more than regular oil and filter changes will. Conversely, nothing will destroy an engine faster than neglecting oil-level checks or fresh-oil changes.

Tip 2
Flush the cooling system and change coolant once a year. A 50/50 mix of coolant and distilled water will keep the cooling system in good shape and prevent corrosion and deposits from building up inside the cooling system.

Tip 3
Change out transmission and differential oils. While not requiring frequent service, these fluids must be changed according to service intervals. Always use transmission fluid or gear oil of the recommended type and viscosity.

Tip 4
Keep it clean. While washing the outside of the vehicle is obvious, most everything the vehicle ran over can also get stuck to the underside. Hosing off winter salt and road grime is a good idea.

Tip 5
Everything with moving parts needs grease to survive. This ball joint went into early retirement due to poor lubrication.

Check in next week for Part 2!

5 Tips for Checking Tire Pressure

Posted on 22, July, 2013

There is a lot of data supporting how important it is to keep your tires inflated to an optimal pressure. Tires that are not properly inflated reduce gas mileage while shortening tread life. By checking tire pressure periodically, you can make sure you get the most wear out of your tires and every dollar that goes into your gas tank. Here are a few helpful hints:

  1. Know the ideal tire pressure for your car. Find out what pressure your tires are supposed to be inflated to before starting. The best tire pressure for your car should be indicat ed on the door jamb of the driver’s side door or in the owner’s manual.
  2. Check the pressure when the car is “cold.” Cold in this case means the car has been sitting for at least an hour, or has only been driven a few miles. The manufacturer’s suggested pressure is based on this type of reading, before the air inside the tire expands due to heat.
  3. Use an accurate tire pressure gauge. Toss out the $2 pencil-like gauges and use a digital or dial-type gauge available at all automotive stores for a few bucks more.
  4. Check all four tires. Don’t stop at one or two tires - you might miss a slow leak that could lead to a flat, or other potential problems. Even one under-inflated tire can hurt your mileage and the driving characteristics of your car.
  5. Don’t trust your eyes. Instead, put your trust in a gauge that gives you a precise reading. A tire that is 5 pounds under inflated looks very similar to one that is 5 pounds over inflated. Your eyes can be fooled, but the tire pressure gauge won’t.

It’s true you don’t have to wake up every morning and check your tire pressure, but periodically doing so between services, like regular oil changes, can save you money. If you bring your car in to Palo Alto Shell for any service or repair, we will make sure your tires are inflated properly.

Checking Wheel Alignment Specifications

Posted on 04, June, 2013

There are a few key signs to let you know that you may need a 4 wheel alignment without even getting out of the car. The easiest way to determine if you need a wheel alignment is to relax your grip on the steering wheel while driving straight on smooth pavement and see where the car drives. Does it pull to the left or right or does it continue to go straight? If the vehicle does anything other than drive straight, you should get your wheel alignment specifications checked. Visible uneven tire wear is also an indication that you might need a 4 wheel alignment.

alignment Checking Wheel Alignment Specifications
The three measurements that manufactures use to set alignment are: caster, camber, and toe.


  • Caster refers to the contact patch (where the tire touches the ground) of the tire in relation to the axis of rotation. Positive caster helps re-center the wheels after they have been turned but makes turning efforts higher because the tires will want to stay straight. Matching the caster to the manufacturer’s wheel alignment specifications can make the car easier and safer to drive.
  • Camber is the angle of the tire in relation to the road. Zero camber is when the tire is straight up and down. Positive camber is when the top of the tires lean to the outside of the car, while negative camber is when the top of the tires lean into the car. This effects handling greatly and is commonly used for autocross and other driving competitions to increase grip while turning. Too much camber, however, can drastically reduce tire life.
  • Toe refers to where the front of the tires point. If they point in towards one another, that is called toe in. Toe out is when the tires are pointing away from each other. Common toe in and toe out settings are measured in 1/16th of an inch increments.

At Palo Alto Shell, we use high-tech computerized alignment equipment to guarantee quality results, with a printout of your caster, camber and toe readings after each 4 wheel alignment. We can return your car to the manufacturer’s wheel alignment specifications or perform a custom setup. Stop bytoday and avoid wasting money on prematurely worn tires.

Is Your Car Giving You Smoke Signals?: The Causes of Tailpipe Smoke

Posted on 26, May, 2013

Tailpipe smoke is something you’re more likely notice coming from other drivers on the road. However, you should take the time to see what kind of emissions your car is putting out every now and then. Some of the smoke you see is normal or harmless. But, it is sometimes a signal that your car needs a serious repair. The following guide of “smoke types” can help you troubleshoot some potential issues with your vehicle.

Black Smoke: This can be either harmless or problematic, depending on a few other factors. In all cases though, black smoke is a dirty problem. If the smoke persists as you drive, chances are that your air filter is too dirty and needs to be changed. However, the smoke may also be caused by a clogged fuel injector, or other component. In any case, something about the engine or fuel injection system is too dirty and should be inspected by a mechanic.

That said, if the black smoke goes away after the engine has gotten warmed up, you probably have nothing to worry about. Engines do not work efficiently when they are cold, so they burn extra fuel when started to run smoothly. This can cause black smoke to come from the tailpipe, which will go away when the engine returns to burning normal amounts of fuel.

Gray Smoke: This is caused when your engine is burning oil, which will cause a number of performance issues over time. The causes from gray smoke can be numerous, but they all have one thing in common - oil is getting into the combustion chamber. You’ll want a mechanic to pinpoint and repair the problem.

Thick White Smoke: This is likely a sign of a serious problem. We hate to tell you this, but when you see thick white smoke, your engine is already damaged and you really shouldn’t be driving the vehicle. Thick white smoke occurs when the engine is burning coolant - which usually only happens when there is a serious problem. Although thick white smoke is dangerous, it should never be confused with its opposite counterpart…

Thin White Smoke: This is completely harmless and part of a normal functioning vehicle. You’ve probably only seen this come from your tail during the early morning. That’s because there has been a buildup of condensation in the exhaust system - the same reason why your windows are foggy. This will burn off quickly before your exhaust returns to normal and is nothing to worry about.

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