Veterinary Mechanics For Beater Companion Organisms

While I normally write about keeping vehicles on the road for longer than expected I’m dealing with a different situation in my personal life. My dog, Retro, is a pretty beat up and old at this point. I adopted him from a shelter with a strange name (Denver Dumb Friends League) about 12 years ago. He was young at the time- not quite a puppy but not quite an adult so at this point he must be almost 13 years old. Which, for a dog of his size, is quite a long life.

It’s hard to know your friend isn’t going to be around much longer. Retro and I have been through a lot. And as cheesy as it sounds he has always been there. I mean he didn’t have much of choice but it never felt that way. Now, as we get closer to the last day I find myself trying to keep myself together with jokes. That’s a lot of what this post is going to be about. This is my attempt to laugh at the mortality of my best friend Retro and think of him like an old beater that I’m trying to keep on the road for as long as possible.

Just like when you try to keep an 89′ Buick on the road year after year you’re forced to learn some things about car maintenance that you just otherwise would have never known, it’s no different from keeping a ’04 Retro dog feeling happy. Here’s what I learned:

Find a Good Mechanic

Mechanics are well known for coming up with less than critical fixes for your vehicle. Veterinarians are no different. So what makes a good veterinary mechanic? You need someone who will simplify their expert opinion and give you the information you need to make your decision. You may have a different tolerance for different problems. No A/C? That’s a deal breaker for some but no big deal for others.

You need a veterinarian who can do the same for you. You need someone who can reduce the jargon and the detail into something you can understand and decide on. Because you are responsible for your pet and any surgical or major treatment decision should be made together.

Retro has a long list of problems. He has several fatty masses (called lipomas) all across his body. For the most part, unless these lipomas get bigger, they aren’t much of a big deal. They aren’t always noticeable and they don’t seem to bother Retro. However, he does have a mass on his front right limb that could be a little more concerning. We don’t exactly know what it is without sending out a biopsy but because of where it’s located (right at the joint) and Retro’s age it doesn’t make sense to put him through surgery to remove it.

That’s a decision my veterinarian and I came to together. If the mass gets bigger or seems to bother Retro then we reevaluate. But for now, we don’t mess with it. If you need a good veterinary mechanic for your pet, I highly recommend Dr. E if you need a vet in the 80015 area code or anywhere in Aurora for that matter- the Parkside team is well worth the drive. Anyone at her clinic does a good job but for most of Retro’s exams, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. E.

Again, just like a mechanic, having a certification is important. And while not everyone buys into certifications I wanted to find an animal clinic in my area that was above and beyond the others. Dr. E’s animal clinic has that with their AAHA accreditation. AAHA stands for American Animal Hospital Association and only a handful of clinics in the Aurora area even attempt to get this. To be accredited, an animal clinic has to pass a 900 point inspection that covers just about every aspect of what they do.

Preventative Maintenance is Important

Just like in your vehicle, if you can get ahead of the problem and at least be aware of it before it becomes a major issue, everything will be easier. The same goes for our pets. … Want to read the rest?

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Part Profile: Alternator

diagram of an alternator

This is the second in our series covering basic vehicle components. The more you know about your ride the easier the conversation with the mechanic and the more likely you are to not need to see your mechanic! Let me know what you’d like to see next! Sorry for the long delay since the CV joint article! As we are about to get into, the alternator is responsible for the electrical function of the vehicle and a big rig has big electrical needs.

water cooled alternator at colorado auto parts storeThe alternator is responsible for charging the battery and power the electrical systems of your vehicle. Your car uses quite a lot of electricity to start an engine and run all the electrical components. Without the alternator, your car’s battery simply won’t charge and nothing in your vehicle receives any power. Therefore, the alternator is a pivotal but often overlooked part of a vehicle. 

The alternator is most often found near the front of an engine and is driven by the crankshaft which converts up and down motion of pistons into circular motion. It’s mounted on the engine using brackets and bolts. Some cars use a separate belt to drive the alternator through crankshaft pulley while others have a serpentine belt which gets power from the crankshaft pulley and drive all the components that need power.

The alternator simply converts the mechanical energy of an engine into electrical energy to power electrical accessories of the car. It does so through its three major components: rotor, stator and diode. Electricity is basically produced through the stator-rotor relation. When the crankshaft pulley turns the alternator pulley, the rotor which is essentially a magnet spins inside the winding of copper wires (stator). This spinning magnet inside the stator coils generates electricity. Then comes a diode in the play whose job is to convert the AC electricity into DC which your car can use.

Signs of Alternator Problems

While an alternator is a relatively simple component, it has a critical role in any car’s operation. When your car’s alternator is going bad, you’ll notice few warning signs.

Warning Light

Many cars display a warning light on the instrument panel when the alternator is struggling. It is usually shaped like a battery. This alerts you that an alternator is not generating enough charge to keep the system up and needs attention.

Reduced Electrical Capacity

Because the alternator is a crucial component of vehicle’s electrical system, any issue with it will have an effect on the functioning of electronic accessories. A dying alternator can often cause your car’s headlights or dashboard lights to dim or it may cause other accessories such as power windows, seats or sound system to operate slower than usual. Any warning like this is a clear indication of malfunctioning alternator.

Odd Smells and Sounds

As the alternator pulley is driven by a crankshaft pulley and spins about two to three times faster, any misalignment in the pulley will cause strange smells or noises. A grinding or whining noise is also produced if the supporting bearings or bushings are worn out. A belt that is not turning freely will generate more friction and heat and then create the smell of burning rubber. Or if you notice a smell similar to that of electrical fire, this could be an indication of loose belt slipping on the pulley, thereby overheating the alternator and causing poor output. Tightening the belt might solve the issue.

Keep doing a visual inspection of the engine compartment on a regular basis so that you can detect a loose, tight, cracked or worn out belts and avoid any major problems.

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Part Profile: CV Joint

cv joint sketch

This is the first of our part profile series. The idea is to give everyday drivers more information on important parts of their vehicles. You can understand your entire vehicle, one part at a time.

The constant velocity joint or CV joint provides a form of mechanical coupling in which the rotational speed of input and output shaft remains the same no matter what the operating angle of the joint.

The CV joint is located at the axel and allows the job shafit to accomplish it’s two most important jobs. That is, transmit power to the wheels and adjust to the suspension. As the suspension of the vehicle changes due to road conditions, the CV joint allows continued transfer of power. This gets even more complicated in the case of front wheel drive vehicles where articulation angles are higher because of steerable wheels. With the wide range of variable angles by suspension travel and wheel steering, the axle has to act flexibly. Thus, the vehicle employs inboard and outboard CV joints to permit the torque through a wide array of angles.

In rear-wheel drive applications, operating angles are much lower and less stress is placed on the CV joint as a result.


A dusty dirty CV joint.

CV Joint Problems

A CV joint is a collection of many components (bearings, race, cage, housing and balls) connected together in a precisely fitted assembly. All the parts spin around in a protective layer of special grease which is held inside the joint assembly. The assembly is packed and sealed tight with flexible rubber boot held in place by clamps and prevents the grease coming out of the CV joint. The boot also keeps the joint safe from outside contamination and keeps dirt and grime out. A CV joint doesn’t require any kind of regular maintenance and can perform very long if the rubber boot is not damaged. Over time, rubber boots fail from age or can become cracked, torn by road debris.
The most common problem with the CV joint is damaged boots. Once the boots get damaged, grease makes its way out and moisture and dirt get into the CV joint assembly. This will ruin the CV joint by causing it to wear out faster and fail eventually. Outer CV joints boots fail earlier than inner ones as they have to endure more strains due to more angles.

Signs of a failing CV Joint

CV joints may fail as a result of a lack of lubrication or the introduction of contamination. In extreme cases, a badly worn CV joint can disintegrate while driving leaving a vehicle undrivable. Most often, a failing CV joint will cause a loud clicking noise while turning. To confirm, crank the steering wheel to one side and drive around in circles either backwards or frontwards. If the noise gets louder  then you can feel pretty confident that you’re dealing with a CV joint issue.

Don’t waste time putting off repair of this one. You will either end up with an undrivable vehicle or as if often the case, a much higher repair bill when you have to fix the vehicle axels.

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Easy Ways To Prepare Your Car For Summer

winterColorado weather can be brutal on your vehicle. Scorching heat can make your cooling system work harder and increase the wear on your belts and hoses. With proper precautions and periodic maintenance, you can lessen the odds of any failure in your car. Here are a few tips to keep your car up and running during hot weather:

Inspect belts, hoses and fluids  

Before the weather changes, perform a regular maintenance on your car. Start with the basics- change your engine oil and top off all the other fluids. Look for any sign of damage on the engine belts and hoses (such as cracks, leakage or swelling). Spot the problem areas and replace bad hoses and belts as soon as possible. 

Remove winter tires and check air pressure

Summer tires give you more speed, better fuel efficiency and better handling. If you use a dedicated set of winter and summer tires, now is the time to swap winter ones out for the summer tires. Your winter tires will wear out quickly on the hot asphalt. 

You should also take this chance to check overall tire pressure which is of critical importance. Tire pressure changes with temperature. Make sure your tires are inflated properly. Not only will it help tires last longer but it will also improve fuel economy. An improperly inflated tire is more prone to excessive wear and blowout.

Check the Air Conditioning system

While even during a Colorado winter there are usually a few opportunities to use your air conditioning, you will still want to make sure you perform a thorough check-up to assess the performance of your A/C system. If it doesn’t seem as cool as it normally does, low level of refrigerant might be the cause. Low refrigerant is the most common cause of a malfunctioning A/C system. If that isn’t the cause, have your mechanic take a look. When it comes to A/C’s loose belts, leaks, seals, bad compressors or a clogged condenser could all be at fault. The system may just needs cleaning if all components are good, which you mechanic can also handle. 

Make sure cooling system is cool enough

Summer is the prime time for engine overheating, so check your vehicle’s cooling system before summer time. Look at the quality and quantity of the coolant and make sure its clean. If not, consider flushing the system and refilling it.

Test your Car’s Battery

If your car has a traditional battery, it’s important to check it periodically to ensure fluid level is up and there is no leakage or visible discharge. Check if there is corrosion on the terminals. The corrosion can be cleaned off with hot water or baking soda. Inspect few weeks later to see if the corrosion has made its way back. This could be the sign of more serious issue. Many modern cars have sealed dry batteries which are largely free of maintenance. 

Lastly, don’t ignore the check engine light. Especially as seasons change. If you do find yourself stranded with a summer related issue, or any vehicle issue, make sure you call a reputable towing company. Many of these issues fall under roadside assistance (rather than truly needing a tow) but many tow companies default to simply hauling your ride off to the mechanic.

Have a great summer!


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Synthetic vs Conventional Motor Oil

When you change the engine oil of your vehicle, you have many choices- most significantly is the choice between synthetic or conventional motor oil.  Well here it is, the pros and cons of each:

types of oilConventional oil is derived directly from crude oil after going through some refining processes for the removal of impurities. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is manufactured molecule by molecule to achieve an optimized profile. This way synthetic oil can be tuned to the demands of any engine. In general, synthetic oil performs better than the conventional counterpart. It has improved lubricant and protective properties. Some of the common benefits synthetic offers over conventional are:




  • Cleaner Engine- Conventional oil contains a certain level of natural contaminants. As conventional oil circulates through the engine, it breaks down and often leaves deposits on the engine components. These deposits are referred as ‘sludge’ or ‘scaling’ which can reduce the efficiency of an engine and eventually, lead to shorter engine life.
  • Better Wear Protection- Engine components are in constant contact with each other. Motor oil serves as a protective barrier between these components to prevent engine wear. Conventional oil breaks down and loses its ability to prevent engine wear. Synthetic, being resistant to breakdown, is much more durable than the conventional lubricant. The robustness of synthetic oil means that the engine has better wear protection and will last longer. It also means that synthetic oil offers an extended service interval and doesn’t need to be changed as often as conventional oil.
  • Better Stability- Synthetic oil is made up of uniform sized molecules as opposed to the different length molecules in conventional oil. Under extreme temperatures, non-uniform molecular structure tends to burn off causing the oil to lose its viscosity (thickness). Synthetic oil is better at handling higher temperatures. It also flows better through critical engine parts in low temperature environments and hence, protects the engine from dry start. A dry start occurs when the vehicle sits for a longer period of time, oil settles and it takes a while to flow smoothly through an engine. Starting the car under these conditions can cause damage to engine and other components. 
  • Improved Fuel Economy- Since synthetic oil flows better and produces less resistance, it can help the engine achieve greater fuel efficiency. It may not cause a huge increase in fuel economy, but can boost the efficiency by around 2-3 percent.

The superior properties of synthetic oil over conventional do come at a price. A synthetic oil can cost twice as much or even more than the conventional oil. But considering the advantages it offers, it may justify the expense of synthetic oil. These type of oils are however in no way absolutely necessary. Conventional oils will work just fine in your vehicle as long as they meet the API (American Petroleum Institute) certification. The most important thing you can do is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation on motor oil grade and service intervals. Want to read the rest?

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Three Smart Strategies To Help Keep Your Old Car Running

Keep an old car runningPaying attention to the details with an older vehicle can make a huge difference. Over time, little issues with cars can turn into the big problems that demand costly repairs. With proper maintenance and care, almost any car can be kept running as long as the owner wants it. By taking a number of little maintenance steps and fixing the problems as they arise you can extend the life of your vehicle and keep it running on the road. Investing in small repairs and replacements will save you the major investment of buying a new car. These are the three most cost effective basic maintenance steps you can take. 

Change the engine oil regularly

Simple, but one of the most crucial maintenance jobs you can do to ensure the longer life of your vehicle is providing regular oil changes. For older cars, always change your oil filter along with an oil change. Make sure to pick the right engine oil for your older car. As the vehicle ages, engine components wear down and oil needs extra attention. You might have to alter the grade and increase the frequency of oil changes. There are a variety of oils available on the market tailored to increasing the life of older engines. Consult your owner’s manual or your mechanic on this to ensure you pick the right viscosity index for your engine.

Complete regular tire maintenance

Keeping your tires balanced and rotating them at prescribed intervals will ensure the smooth running of your car. It will not only extend the life of your tires but also affect your car’s suspension in a favorable way. With all the potholes and bumps on the road, tires get more and more unbalanced which may result in uneven wear of tires and increased stresses on the suspension. Front tires usually experience the most wear, but rotating the tires in a specific pattern to compensate for this will cause them to wear evenly. Keeping your wheels aligned is another key in regular tire maintenance which pays off in a long run.

Keep The Brakes In Good Condition

This is another critical job for safe driving. A vehicle that cannot stop at a driver’s will is useless. All the brakes, whether discs or drum, rely on friction to stop the car. With time, brake pads, shoes, rotors and drums may wear out. Following a proper maintenance schedule for your brakes is a good measure to avoid catastrophic failure and expensive repairs. Also, check the brake fluid level and replace it every two years to keep your brakes fresh. Adjusting your brakes is not too challenging and requires intermediate skills for DIY mechanics. But ignoring your brakes can eventually cause serious damage to other key component of your ride. 

Here is a quick run down of how to change the brake pads:


Finally, driving style does make a major difference too in keeping your ride rolling. So, drive gently. If you take care of your car and perform regular maintenance, it will not only keep running on the road but will also be pleasant to drive.

Remember, it’s cheaper to keep her. Want to read the rest?

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