FAQ's on Auto Repair

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What Is The Pennsylvania State Safety Inspection?

Pennsylvania requires annual vehicle safety inspections to ensure that vehicles are maintained for safe operation. Safety Inspections can prevent vehicle failure on the highways and crashes that may result in injuries or death.

Vehicle safety inspections are performed at official PennDOT Inspection Stations (usually a repair garage or a service station with a repair shop). If the vehicle passes the safety inspection the vehicle is issued an inspection sticker which is displayed in the lower left corner of the windshield. The sticker is valid for 12 months and indicates in which month the current inspection will expire. If the vehicle does not pass the inspection you will be provided with a list of the needed repairs.

Our fee for State Inspection is $27.56 which includes the inspection, sticker (if the vehicle passes) and sales tax. This fee does not include repairs, if necessary, to correct any vehicle defects.

What are the inspection criteria for passenger cars and light-duty trucks?

Safety inspections for passenger cars and light-duty trucks require that the following items be checked: suspension components, steering, braking systems, tires and wheels, lighting, and electrical systems, glazing (glass), mirrors, windshield washer, defroster, wipers, fuel systems, the speedometer, the odometer, the exhaust systems, horns, and warning devices, the body, and chassis.

For most vehicles in a non-emissions county, the safety inspection will also include a Visual Anti-Tampering Check. The Visual Anti-Tampering Check is an examination of the vehicle to see if the required emissions components have been tampered with or removed.

When should my vehicle's safety inspection sticker expire?

Upon passing a safety inspection most passenger cars and light trucks will receive an inspection sticker valid for one year from the month of inspection or one year from the expiration of the current inspection sticker on the vehicle. Since 2013 Pennsylvania no longer requires that the inspection sticker expiration and vehicle registration expiration coincide for annually inspected vehicles. Vehicle owners can request that their inspection and registration expirations match, but this may result initially in a shortened inspection cycle.

What do I need to bring for State Inspection?

Besides the vehicle, we will need the current registration and valid insurance cards.

What does it mean when the check engine light is on?

While the engine is running, the malfunction indicator light (MIL) or Check Engine Light will light only if there is an emissions-related concern.

The on-board diagnostic (OBD) generation two (II)system, which is standard on all 1995 and later model year vehicles, continuously monitors all engine and transmission sensors and actuators looking for electrical faults, as well as values that do not logically (rationally) fit with other powertrain data. When certain operating/driving conditions are met and a comprehensive monitor detects a failure that will result in emissions exceeding a pre-determined level, the computer stores a diagnostic trouble code, and illuminates the MIL.

The OBD II system also actively tests some systems for proper operation while the vehicle is being driven. Fuel control and engine misfire are checked continuously, catalyst efficiency, exhaust gas recirculation operation, evaporative system integrity, oxygen sensor response, and the oxygen sensor heaters are tested once per trip when prerequisite operating conditions are met. The computer will illuminate the MIL if during these prerequisite operating conditions, the system detects a failure that will cause a performance failure or result in emissions exceeding a predetermined level.

Whenever an engine misfire severe enough to damage the catalytic converter is detected, the MIL will blink on and off rapidly. If this occurs, you should get off the road as quickly and safely as possible and shut the engine off. The vehicle should not be driven.

Once lit, the MIL will remain on until the vehicle has been properly diagnosed and repaired. In the case of an intermittent/one-time failure, the light may turn off on its own once the diagnostic system has completed three consecutive "good trips" (three "trips" in which the fault is not detected). If the light has been on for more than a couple of days, you should have the system checked to prevent a potential breakdown. We have all the equipment necessary to reset the light and clear the diagnostic trouble code(s) from the system once repairs have been made.

What type of motor oil should I use in my vehicle?

The best advice is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for both type and weight of motor oil. Most manufacturers will list several weight or viscosity options for your engine depending on the average temperature of your driving environment. Typically, in our area of the country, we fall into 32 degrees Fahrenheit and above operating range for all but a few days of the year.

Most modern engines will run 5W-30 or 5W-20 motor oil. Lower viscosity oils are used as the factory fill oil on most new cars because it pump through the engine more quickly after start-up (important for keeping overhead cams properly lubed), flow through the smaller passages and tighter clearances of today’s engines, make cold weather starting easier and reduces fuel consumption. There are some European manufacturers that use a 5W-40 and most Diesel engine applications use a heavier 15W-40 specialty blend.

Using heavier weight oil than is specified can cause reduced performance and lead to premature engine wear and even failure. The quality of the oil is equally as important as the viscosity. Most applications can use conventional motor oil which means it is refined from crude oil. Not all motor oils are created equal though. The quality of the oil depends on how well the base stock is refined (cleaned) and what is the quality and levels of the additive package that the manufacturer mixes with the base stock.

Repairing Intermittent Problems

When a vehicle has a problem that occurs unpredictably it is called an intermittent problem. An intermittent problem may not occur while operating the system or even during a test drive. This presents a diagnostic problem of a very difficult nature.

Fortunately, you have chosen a repair shop equipped with the latest repair information, technical service bulletins, and recall information. If your vehicle has a system or component with an inherent safety, emissions, or reliability problem and there is a factory fix available for it, we will be able to make you aware of it and repair the problem for you.

Regardless of the type of problem or the system at fault, certain aspects of diagnosis remain the same. You see, to accurately diagnose the cause of any problem the technician needs the problem to (predictably) occur twice. This is because a first observation provides the technician with some insight needed to plan a focused testing strategy. A focused testing strategy saves diagnostic time and dollars. The problem must occur a second time, while the technician has his test equipment hooked up monitoring the system or components that may be involved. Although the technician is prepared to attempt to recreate whatever operating conditions are necessary to make the problem occur, if the problem does not surface, a focused strategy cannot be planned.

This means testing all systems with the ability to cause the symptom until a defect is found. This all-inclusive systematic method takes more time and dollars, and there is no guarantee that the correction of a defect discovered this way will resolve the problem. This is because there is no proof a defect discovered during this systematic testing is the real cause of the problem. Another strategy to fix an intermittent problem is to perform a repair based on an educated guess of what is causing the problem. This can be risky because, in most cases, the part cannot be returned and the labor for the installation is non-refundable. However, when the symptom cannot be observed or testing does not disclose the defect, it can be the only choice left.

Diagnosing intermittent problems can be very time-consuming and requires your patience and cooperation for us to be successful fixing the problem. It may require more diagnostic time than originally estimated to recreate or find the cause of the symptom. It may be necessary to leave the vehicle for several days, or return several times, so we may observe the symptom or judge the results of diagnosis and/or repair to insure the problem is corrected.

The service writer will give you an initial estimate for diagnosis. This estimate is an educated guess of how long it may take to discover the cause of your problem. This initial estimate does not guarantee a discovery of the cause of the symptom or include the cost of repair. The repair cannot be estimated until after the diagnosis is completed. During the course of the diagnosis we will keep you informed of our progress. If additional diagnostic time is required to discover the cause of the problem, we will ask for your authorization of the cost before proceeding. After diagnosis we will ask for your authorization of the repair cost before proceeding.

How often should I change my oil?

Engine oil and filter should be changed often enough to protect the engine from premature wear and viscosity breakdown. For most cars and light trucks, the standard recommendation is still to change the oil and filter every three months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Most late model owner’s manuals state that except for “Severe Service” applications, oil change intervals can be safely stretched to once a year or every 7,500 miles. When auto makers make such recommendations, one assumes they are based on extensive durability testing. After all, auto makers themselves would have to bear the costs should their maintenance recommendations prove inadequate, right?

However, many motorists are not aware that they should follow the “Severe Service” maintenance schedule in their owner’s manual, calling for oil and filter change intervals of three to six months or 3,000 miles. “Severe Service” as defined by auto makers themselves is:

• Making frequent short trips (less than five miles)
• Making frequent short trips (less than 10 miles) when temperatures are below freezing
• Driving in hot weather stop-and-go traffic
• Extensive idling and/or low speed driving for long periods of time, eg. taxi, police, door-to-door delivery, etc.
• Driving at sustained high speeds during hot weather
• Towing a trailer
• Driving in areas with heavy dust (gravel roads, construction zones, etc.)

In other words normal everyday driving would, for the most part, fall under the manufacturer’s definition of “Severe Service”.
Oil manufacturers freely admit that protective additives in motor oil do not hold up as well under such driving conditions for several reasons. If the engine is not running long enough to get the oil hot, condensation and fuel vapors will not boil off and contaminants will accumulate in the crankcase leading to formation of corrosive acids and sludge. Excessive idling and high operating temperatures from heavy loads, towing and high speed driving during hot weather accelerate viscosity breakdown. Dusty road conditions can put dirt particles in the crankcase causing significant contamination and premature wear.

The filter also needs to be changed regularly for two reasons. Today’s pint-sized filters do not contain as much filter material as their quart-sized counterparts once did. Therefore, they can’t last as long and still maintain proper filtration. Once the filter begins to restrict oil flow it can, by design, direct the oil to the engine without ever filtering it at all.

It is true that today’s engines do run cleaner than engine designs from the 1990’s and prior. If your driving habits do NOT fall into the manufacturer’s criteria of “severe”, then oil and filter change intervals can safely be stretched, but we would, based on our experience, recommend no more than 5000 miles. Synthetic oils can also extend oil change intervals even under “severe conditions” because of its ability to resist thermal breakdown, but again we would recommend no more than 5000 miles.

With proper maintenance, there is no reason an engine shouldn’t go 200,000 miles or more without developing a thirst for oil or having an oil related failure. That is why most oil companies, as well as aftermarket service professionals, recommend changing oil and filter every three months or 3,000 miles. It is in everyone’s interest to help you keep your vehicle on the road as long as possible. Considering what 4 to 5 quarts of oil and a filter cost, versus the cost of replacing an engine or a vehicle, it makes good sense to change oil and filter regularly rather than risk not changing it often enough resulting in an untimely failure.