The engine in your car can seem downright mysterious at times. Most of us are content to let a professional mechanic take care of any of the engine issues that might crop up from time to time during the course of normal driving, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a number of questions we want to ask about our motors and why they do the things they do.
We’ve scoured the internet to come up with a list of five of the most often asked questions about automobile motors and put together some helpful information that should answer each of these issues in a clear and concise manner. Let’s take a look at five things you’ve always wanted to know about engines but were afraid to ask.
01. Why does my engine overheat?
It’s happened to almost everyone at one stage in their driving life or another – the engine temperature gauge on the dashboard has cranked itself slowly over to the right and buried the needle in the red zone that indicates it is overheating.
Engine overheating is almost always related to a problem with the motor’s cooling system. Sometimes, there is a leak somewhere in the system that has caused a gradual coolant loss to the point where there isn’t enough water / antifreeze mix to keep things at standard operating temperature. This leak is typically found in either the radiator fins themselves (cracked by impact from rocks or other debris), in cracks in the radiator’s plastic connectors or rubber hoses that attach the radiator to the motor (which can dry out due to exposure to the heat of the engine bay), or as a result of loose hose clamps. On occasion these components can fail suddenly, which usually results in a rather spectacular gush of steam rising from under your hood.
It’s a good idea to have your cooling system inspected every few years to make sure that all of its components are in great shape. It’s also important to verify the condition of the engine’s fan, belts and water pump, as these are also crucial to keeping your engine from overheating.
02. Do I need to pay more for premium gas?
The answer to this question is very simple: unless your car’s owner’s manual specifically states that premium gasoline is required, then no, you don’t need it. Premium or high octane gas – typically with a rating of 91 octane or more – is only necessary for engines which have been tuned to run on this type of fuel. Octane is a measurement of the fuel’s resistance to “knock” under pressure, which is a term that describes gasoline igniting before the spark plug fires.
Turbocharged cars and those which make use of a high compression design typically need premium gas, but cars that are tuned to run on regular fuel see no benefit from high octane. Ignore well-meaning friends or gas station attendants trying to up-sell you – if it’s not in the manual, you don’t need it and there’s no need to put a bigger dent in your wallet.
03. How often do I need to change my oil?
Again, the answer to this question is fairly straightforward – you should change your engine oil as often as the manufacturer recommends. Oil change intervals are typically specified by the automaker, and your local dealership service advisor can fill you in on the details. However, some people who live in areas where dirt roads or other dust and debris are a fact of daily driving might need to adopt a more aggressive oil change schedule in order to keep their oil clean. The same goes for off-road enthusiasts or drivers who have high-performance vehicles (like you have a big bad TRD supercharger). In these cases, oil change intervals in the 3,000 to 5,000 mile range are not uncommon.
04. Do I need to let my engine warm up in the winter before driving it?
Unless you live in a very, very cold area – think -30 degrees below zero – then no, there’s no real need to let a cold engine sit and warm up in a modern car. Engine electronics and advanced computer controls can keep an engine operating safely at almost any temperature. The main point of concern during winter startup has to do with oil. Simply put, oil is a liquid with definite physical properties, and it won’t instantly make its way through your engine and coat all of the moving parts immediately upon startup in extreme cold weather. Letting the engine run for 30 seconds or so after starting gives the oil a chance to start protecting the motor before it gets put through its paces.
One word of warning, however – avoid high RPM driving until your engine has warmed up to the point where the temperature gauge is no longer cranked all the way over to the left. Running a cold engine hard can sometimes damage internal components, especially if the oil is also quite cold.
05. My Check Engine Light / Service Engine Soon Light is On – Help!
The Check Engine / Service Engine Soon light is designed to tell you that you your car’s computer has detected something unusual from one of its sensors. The important thing to do when you see this light is not to panic – the light can result from something as innocuous as a temporary misfire or a worn out oxygen sensor. However, it can also indicate a much more serious problem. If your car starts to exhibit unusual behavior after the light appears, then you should park in a safe place and call a tow truck as soon as possible.
You won’t know how worried you need to be until you take your car in to have the code that is associated with the light read from the computer’s memory banks. You can have this done at your mechanic’s shop, at a dealership or even for free at many auto parts supply stores. Once you have the code downloaded and the issue explained to you, you can take the next step in determining what the best course of action will be in terms of repairing the problem.
About the Author: Jason Lancaster writes for ToyotaPartsCenter.net, a great website where you can find discount OEM Toyota parts.