Address: 2171 Piedmont Way Suite B Pittsburg, CA 94565

Jessica’s Corner

Clear Automotive Language – Automotive terms broken down into easy to understand ideas

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Hi, I’m Jessica. I am a REAL service writer here at Pittsburg Automotive. My coworker, Nancy, and I answer your calls daily and smile when you walk into the shop.

Here in Jessica’s Corner, we’d like to help you understand how your car works, but we’ll try to untangle the mess of intimidating terms. Feel free to ask us ladies a question at any time, but we’re going to do our best to help you understand the ins and outs of your car without the complicated “mumbo-jumbo”.

If you’re looking for services offered at Pittsburg Automotive, head over to our automotive services page to learn more about what we do.



Alignment

Description

Simply put, your alignment is a measure of how straight your wheels are. Over time your wheels can become out of alignment, especially with all the potholes we have on our roads and freeways. Getting your car aligned helps to make your wheels aim perfectly straight again.

How would I know if I need this?

Usually you can feel your car pulling to one side or another while you’re driving. Another common symptom is a vibration in the steering wheel when you press on the brakes. Both of these examples could be more noticeable at higher speeds. Additionally, a car out of alignment can wear down your tires in abnormal ways. Sometimes the part of your tire that is toward the outside of the car will wear down earlier than the rest, or sometimes that wear can happen on the inside, it just depends on how the wheel moved out of alignment.



Air Conditioning

Description

While most of us know what air conditioning is, few know how it works. Basically an air conditioner uses the Freon to attract heat away from the air circulating inside your car’s cabin. This means that the air conditioner is kind of stripping the heat out of the air and returning only the cooled off part. Due to the way an air conditioner works, the parts are usually hot and need to have good ventilation to cool off. Also the Freon being used by the air conditioner is being changed from a liquid to a gas in this process, which is why air conditioners need to be “recharged” sometimes. Careful: Always be careful of friends saying they can recharge your air conditioning for you, Freon is kept under pressure in your air conditioner, so it should only be emptied and refilled by a professional.

How would I know if I need this?

Simple, if you turn on the air conditioning in your car and the air blowing out doesn’t get cold then it’s time to come see us. Also if your air conditioning takes a few minutes to “warm up” it probably means that it is time to get an AC service.



Brakes

Description

The brakes in your car can seem like a very simple system; however, there are a number of components that make up the system. We will only stick to the main components for this description, but feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the different parts. The main components of your brakes are made up of three pieces: rotors, calipers, and brake pads. You could imagine the rotors like a Frisbee or a plate that is attached to your vehicle. They rotate around as your wheels do, hovering inside the wheels you see. Calipers are like a metal hand that is holding still and waiting to squeeze the rotors in order to stop your vehicle. Finally, the brake pads are small flat pieces of material that help to provide a cushion between the calipers and the rotors. All of these parts work together as you apply the brakes: the rotor spins, the calipers apply pressure to the rotors to stop the spinning and use the brake pads to prevent metal on metal contact.

How would I know if I need this?

You probably hear cars every day that screech as they come to a stop. The sharp squeaking sound that happens when you press on the brakes is almost always the sound of your brake pads getting very low. With or without the squeak, you may also notice that you are having to press your brakes harder than normal in order to stop. By the time your brakes are squeaking, it usually means that your brake pads are too low and so the rotor is in direct contact with the metal caliper. This can create “hot spots” on your rotors, which can damage them prematurely.

Special Note: We check your brakes for free every time we see your car because your brakes are so important. Therefore, we recommend getting your brakes checked every few months even if you’re not noticing any of the symptoms described.



Diagnostics / Diagnosis

Description

Diagnostics is the term commonly used to describe a series of tests run on your car to figure out a specific problem. For example, if you describe a weird symptom to your mechanic, such as “it’s hard to start my car” or “my car is making a weird noise when I’m driving,” your technician will run different tests to figure out which part may need to be replaced. Sometimes this diagnosis may take a short time because it’s relatively easy to figure out which part of the car the problem is coming from, but often it is difficult to figure out how long a diagnosis will take. For example, if you describe a squeaking sound when braking, your technician will probably assume that something is wrong with your brake system and the problem should be relatively easy to find. However, if your car is difficult to start, then it could be any number of problems, from the electrical system and battery to a failure in the engine itself.

How would I know if I need this?

You will generally need a diagnosis if you notice anything weird with your car. If your car is making a weird noise, any new lights turn on in your dashboard, or if your car is driving “funny.” You are the person who most often drives your car, so only you will be able to notice if your car is doing something different. Sometimes a technician will notice an issue while performing routine maintenance on your car. If so, they will let you know the problem and recommend a diagnosis. If you’re unsure, your questions can often be answered with a quick phone call or email to your technician.



Electrical

Description

Your electrical system is composed of many different parts. Your battery powers everything in your car, but there are many other parts that work with your battery, such as individual fuses that turn your lights and radio on and off, motors in your windows to make them roll up and down, and your alternator, which helps to re-charge your battery so that it will last longer. As cars have become more tech-friendly, this system is composed of more and more parts. Technically everything from your bluetooth and navigation to your windows and locks are all considered part of your electrical system.

How would I know if I need this?

If your car cranks, but does not turn over, you might have a problem with your battery or charging system. If any of the other components in your car, from your radio to your windows have stopped working, you might also have a problem with your electrical system. Because this system is so large, it will typically require some diagnosis time to get to the root of the problem.



Exhaust and Smog

Description

Your exhaust system is the way your car gets rid of waste. These fumes are measured during a smog test when a technician hooks up a machine to your exhaust pipes to figure out how much waste your car is producing.

How would I know if I need this?

The State of California requires that you get a smog test every two years. A certified smog facility conducts these tests and can tell you if your car is up to state standards.



Heating

Description

Your heating system uses the heat produced by the engine to warm up the surrounding air. This system does not require recharging like your Air Conditioning system does, but it might still need replacement parts if it fails.

How would I know if I need this?

If your heater does not blow hot or takes longer than normal to heat up, you probably need to get it checked out.



Inspections

Description

Like a check-up from your doctor, inspections help you check individual parts on your car to make sure that they’re working properly. For example, a basic inspection will check your oil and transmission fluid levels to make sure they’re not too low, your tire pressure to make sure they have enough air, your air filter to make sure it’s not dirty, and other components depending on the repair shop.

How would I know if I need this?

You usually need an inspection every few months to make sure that everything is working as it should. You might also want to get an inspection done if you think something might be wrong with your car. If you’re thinking about buying a used car, you should definitely get an inspection before purchasing to make sure that all the parts seem to be working properly.

Special Note: We inspect your car for free every time we do any type of maintenance on your car because it’s so important. Therefore, we recommend getting your car checked every few months even if you’re not noticing anything weird.



Maintenance

Description

Just like taking your vitamins to keep your body healthy, maintenance services help keep your car healthy. Regular maintenance services will be different for different types of cars, but usually they include regular oil and other fluid changes, such as your transmission and brake fluid. They might also include replacement of several key components of your car like your air filter and spark plugs.

How would I know if I need this?

Your car manual will usually have a recommended maintenance schedule that you can follow every few months depending on mileage. Your car may also let you know if you need an oil change by turning on your maintenance light. You might also want to check with your technician to come up with a maintenance schedule that works for your car and fits your budget.



Major Engine Components

Description

Your car’s engine converts gasoline by mixing air and gas in parts called cylinders, which then transmit energy to other parts to make your car move. This power is sent to your transmission to make your wheels move. Like the rest of your car, your engine needs to be maintained. The easiest way to do this is by getting your engine oil replaced every few months. You should also monitor how hot your engine gets on your dashboard and by replacing your coolant during a regular tune up.

How would I know if I need this?

The best way to know if your car needs maintenance is to find out the recommended maintenance schedule of your car in your owner’s manual or by consulting your auto technician. If your car’s temperature gets too high, you should also get it inspected. Overall, your car’s engine should be checked every time you bring your car in for maintenance.



Suspension

Description

Like your body’s joints, your suspension system helps your car turn and to absorb the impact from bumps in the road. Your suspension system includes your axle shafts and boots, which lubricate the joints of your car during turns and springs, which absorb bumps in the road.

How would I know if I need this?

The most common problem for the suspension system happens around your axles and boots. The rubber boots may crack or tear after heavy use and if the grease leaks out, your axles can get damaged from metal on metal contact. You might be able to detect a problem in your axles if you hear a clicking sound during turns.



Transmission

Description

Like the gears on your bicycle, your transmission controls how fast your wheels turn. A manual transmission is controlled by you to figure out which gear your car should be in. The driver uses the clutch to disengage the car from one gear and move it towards the next. An automatic transmission does the work for you, using a transmission sensor to determine the best gear for you based on your speed and the incline of the road.

How would I know if I need this?

Like your engine, your transmission also uses fluid to lubricate the different parts and so your transmission fluid needs to be changed at certain mileage intervals. Your technician or car’s manual can tell you the mileage at which this needs to be done. On a manual transmission, the most common issues come from the clutch. You might be able to tell if there’s something wrong with your transmission, sensors, or clutch if it’s tough for the car to shift gears.



Tires

Description

Your tires are like your shoes, they protect your car from different types of terrain. Your tires are so important that they affect your car in ways you never even thought of. If your tires are under inflated, they can affect your gas mileage. If your tires are excessively worn, they won’t have enough traction. If roads are slippery, you could lose control of the car. If your tires are flat, you could damage your wheels. Depending on your car, you will want to have your newest tires on the dominant side. For example, if your car is front wheel drive, you will want to have your newest tires in the front, which can be done by rotating your tires. In short, your tires are an incredibly important part of your car and should be maintained. And remember, just like shoes, you should always replace your tires in pairs.

How would I know if I need this?

Newer cars have a tire pressure sensor that notifies you on your dashboard if there’s something wrong with your tires. For older cars or if you have a faulty sensor, you can easily spot a flat if one of your tires is lower than the other ones. You can check the pressure on your tires with a tire gauge sold at auto repair shops or convenience stores and refill your tires yourself at a gas station. You can find out the appropriate tire pressure in your car’s manual. You should also check the wear on your tires occasionally. Most repair shops will do this when you bring your car in for maintenance and will rotate them as needed.