Hillmuth Blog

How to Prepare Your Car for Winter

You probably seal your home’s windows and service your furnace before winter comes—but what about your car? It’s your home on wheels and it could also use some winterizing to improve its performance and safety during the cold months. And if this Maryland winter is going to be anything like the last one, you know you need your car to be in the top shape. Follow these steps to schedule all necessary Maryland auto services before the cold settles in and get your car prepared for winter.

Clean out Your Garage

This might not be your first thought on winterizing your car, but it’s definitely one worth considering. If you have a garage you use for storage instead of its original purpose, winter is the time you could really use it as intended. Think of all the ice-scraping (and damaged top coat) you could avoid by sheltering your car under a roof. That’s at least 10 extra minutes you can spend in a nice, warm bed in the morning. And if your garage is attached to a house, it might stay warm enough to prevent your car’s liquids and components from freezing, allowing for a smoother start and less wear.

Top Off the Fluids

  • Flush and refill the coolant if you haven’t done this in the past couple of years. Don’t forget that the proper ratio is 50/50 water and antifreeze.
  • Change the windshield wiper fluid with the one that doesn’t freeze.
  • Perform a scheduled oil change and go with a low- or multi-viscosity oil to better lubricate the engine in the cold weather.
  • Check transmission fluid and fill up if necessary.
  • Try to keep at least half a tank of gas to reduce condensation inside the tank and avoid running out when you are stuck in traffic for hours.

Repair and Replace

If your car has outstanding maintenance or ongoing issues you’ve been meaning to address, now is the time to do this. Get that check engine light looked at, replace the squeaky alternator belt and get your tires rotated. As far as you know, your car should be entering winter with no known problems. Otherwise, you risk getting stranded in the bitter cold.

A few other things to take care of:

  • replace worn windshield wipers
  • check the tire tread, pressure and replace or upgrade to winter tires if necessary
  • check the lights, including hazard lights, and replace the bulbs as needed
  • repair any windshield cracks to ensure maximum visibility
  • check the battery to ensure it’s performing well

Check the Brakes

Good brakes and grippy tires are probably the two most important features your car could use this winter. Get your brakes examined and brake pads replaced before the roads get icy. And if you hurry and do this during the month of October, you can get brake pads for free at Hillmuth Automotive. As a part of the Brakes for Breasts initiative, we are giving FREE brake pads (up to $79.95) to customers who come for brake service. You just need to pay for labor and we’ll donate 10% of this cost to The Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Vaccine Research Fund.

Have an Emergency Plan

We hope this won’t happen, but let’s say you do get stuck in a traffic jam caused by a heavy snowfall or your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. You could be forced to stay in your car for a while until the roads get better or someone can come get you. Here are some items you should keep in your car in case of an emergency:

  • a warm blanket and a pair of gloves
  • a flashlight, flares and a first aid kit
  • water and snacks such as energy bars
  • jumper cables and a spare tire
  • a small shovel and an ice scraper
  • a car charger for your cell phone

You might never need or use these items, but being prepared gives you that peace of mind. Simply knowing that no emergency can catch you off guard lets you be more relaxed and focused when driving.

Need help with these or any other Maryland auto services? You know we’ll take good care of your vehicle at Hillmuth Automotive. Just stop by one of our locations in Clarksville, Columbia, Gaithersburg or Glenwood, or contact us to schedule an appointment.

How to Prepare Your Car for a Long Trip

As the summer heat dies down, now is the perfect time to use those vacation days, roll your windows down and take a trip somewhere you’ve never been before. Flying is another option, but if you don’t want to deal with a rusty bucket of a rental car, start packing for a road trip! Besides, imagine all the beautiful places you will pass and exciting detours you could take to turn your trip into a true adventure. But before you put the keys into ignition, get your car in an optimal road trip shape to ensure safe travel.

Address ongoing issues

Did you have that check engine light cleared but not fixed? Have you known for a while that one of the parts has to be replaced but did nothing about it? Be sure to address any present issues before your trip. Even if it’s something that doesn’t directly impact your car’s performance (like an occasional hard start), you never know what kind of underlying problems could be causing it. The last thing you want is to get stranded in the middle of an unfamiliar highway on your way to the vacation spot.

Don’t put off the repairs until the last moment. Schedule several weeks ahead, so that you can make sure your car drives fine and the check engine light doesn’t come back. Some mechanics may misdiagnose a symptom and conduct a repair that won’t do any harm, but won’t fix the problem either. Don’t end up spending all your vacation days on car maintenance—do business with a reliable Maryland auto repair service.

Perform scheduled maintenance

If you’ve been diligent in maintaining your car, you probably already know what needs to be done—oil change, tire rotation, new break pads, etc. However, if oil change is the only kind of maintenance you do, dig out your owner’s manual to see what your car is overdue for. Did you know that regular led-acid car batteries only last 2 to 5 years, depending on the weather conditions? Ask your mechanic to perform a battery test to see if yours is on a verge of dying.

And don’t forget to check the tires, which includes tire tread, pressure, balance and alignment. Make sure to check your spare as well—you have one, right?

Pack the glove box

And by glove box we mean the random papers, pens and documents compartment. Make sure your glove box contains the following:

  • The owner’s manual
  • Your car’s registration
  • Auto insurance card
  • A copy of your driver’s license
  • In case of emergency card with your emergency contacts

If the space allows, you can also pack a flashlight, backup fuses and a first aid kit (and gloves?). But your car might have other storage compartments to accommodate these items. Throw in a paper map just in case your electronic devices fail. Don’t forget to check whether any of your policies, plates or registration are coming up for a renewal.

Consider a full inspection

When was the last time your car was inspected? Depending on your state of residence, it could be anywhere from a year ago to back when you first bought it. Even if you have a newer car, it doesn’t hurt to bring it to your trusted Maryland auto repair station and ask your mechanic to do a complete check-up. Just explain to them that you are going on a road trip and they will know what to do. Although you can always open the hood and look inside, a visual inspection is often not enough even if you know what you are looking for. An auto repair professional can perform tests and access parts of the car you can’t easily check. If you want a piece of mind, this is the way to go.

And if you ever need help with car maintenance or repair, Hillmuth Certified Automotive is just a phone call away. We have multiple locations in Maryland, including Clarksville, Columbia, Gaithersburg and Glenwood.


Consequences of Poor Alignment

Wobbly Wheel? Trouble Steering? Check the Alignment!

Anyone who’s ever run up on a curb or nailed a pothole has probably been told they needed a front end alignment as part of the repair. The question many people have when they discover their vehicle has an alignment problem is why does it matter? It’s a fair question, since wheel alignments can be expensive, but the cost of doing nothing is potentially much higher.

Proper alignment of your vehicle’s wheels—front and back—is critical for safety and a very important part of vehicle maintenance. Even if you haven’t crashed into anything lately (good work!), it’s still worth having your vehicle alignment checked regularly, since improper alignment can affect vehicle handling and tire wear.

What Exactly is Wheel Alignment?

Put simply, wheel alignment is making sure your wheels are properly parallel with each other and perpendicular to the road. When you have an alignment problem, your wheels have been knocked out of their proper positioning, which can hurt both handling and tire wear.

How Does It Happen?

In an ideal world, your car drives on well-maintained roads in good weather conditions. Yet we rarely get a consistently smooth ride. Potholes and other road damage are common problems, especially after a lot of extreme weather, and even a minor bump in the road can affect your car’s alignment. You may be guilty of bumping a curb or misjudging a turn from time to time as well—it happens to the best of us. But all of these impacts, great and small, take their toll on your vehicle and can cause problems with your car’s suspension and alignment.

Out of Alignment

You don’t need to be a mechanic to tell if your car has alignment problems. Take a look at your tires: are they showing signs of uneven wear? When you look at your tires they should show even wear across the tread. Does the inside of the tire look more worn than the outside, or vice versa? If your tires are wearing unevenly, it’s usually because of an alignment problem.

Another way to gauge alignment is to do a simple handing test. How does your car handle at city and highway speeds? When the car is going straight, is the steering wheel centered as well? If you have to hold the steering wheel off center to maintain a straight line, your car is definitely out of alignment. Improper alignment can cause your car to drift or pull when you hold the wheel straight.

A third way to tell if your car needs an alignment is how the steering wheel feels in your hands when you’re driving at highway speed. Improper alignment can cause the steering wheel to vibrate or shake when driving. As you bring your vehicle up to highway speed, pay close attention to the steering wheel; does the wheel shake or vibrate? While there can be other causes of steering wheel wobble, improper alignment is at the top of the list of things to consider.

Align Your Priorities

Why should you care about wheel alignment? First and foremost, proper wheel alignment is a safety concern. Poor handling and uneven tire wear resulting from improper alignment can conspire to cause a wreck and possibly a fatality. The cost of having a certified mechanic perform a wheel alignment pays you back a big dividend in peace of mind. If the spend still feels painful, remember: over time you’ll claw back the cost of the repair because alignment issues decrease your car’s fuel efficiency, which means fixing a misalignment keeps money in your pocket instead of putting it into the gas tank.

So What Do I Do?

Be proactive! Rather than waiting for a problem, you can always have your car checked at important milestones. Alignment problems can happen to good, accident-free drivers, but proper preventative maintenance, and being aware of the causes of alignment problems, can help save you the time and hassle of a more serious problem.

Why You Should Get Your Brake Fluid Checked

There are few things more important in your car than the brakes. Even the most beautiful car that purrs when it starts up and has a luxurious interior isn’t worth much if it won’t stop when necessary. It’s imperative to ensure brake pads are consistently in good condition, and have brake rotors inspected regularly to make sure your car is functioning and will stop immediately.

Along with brake pads and rotors, also check brake fluid. This is a very important component of the brake system, and without it, you could be in trouble. Concerns include:

  • Without the proper amount of fluid, your brake system could fail. This is easily the most important reason to have brake fluid checked regularly. Particularly if you suspect your car is leaking brake fluid, bring it in to a professional to be looked at right away.
  • Brake fluid is responsible for moving the parts in your car’s braking system. Brake fluid is called “hydraulic fluid,” and the brakes are a hydraulic system. This means the entire system is moved by liquid.
  • Brake fluid is under a lot of pressure. As one of the most important elements in your car, brake fluid has to work perfectly under a variety of different pressures and temperature points. If brake fluid fails, so do the brakes. Brakes are constantly under pressure, so fluid should be checked often to safeguard a car’s performance.
  • Most Americans don’t check their brake fluid enough. As the previous point mentioned, brake fluid should be checked about every 30,000 miles, on average. Most people don’t do this, despite the fact that brake fluid changes are as important as oil changes. If you’ve never checked your brake fluid and had the car for a few years, you should definitely get it looked at!
  • Many cars in the United States have never had the brake fluid replaced. Especially for used car owners, there’s no way to be 100% sure the brake fluid has been looked at since the car was made. Over time, brake fluid can absorb water, making it less effective. If your car is over 10 years old and you haven’t had the brake fluid checked, take it into the shop as soon as possible.

Make sure you keep your family safe with regular checks of your brake fluid! Contact us at Hillmuth to learn more about how we can help.

Importance of Spark Plug Maintenance

Most people don’t understand the ins and outs of how their engine works. In general, it’s understood that getting regular oil changes are important and that ‘dipsticks’ tell us something about fluids, which are also important. It isn’t a surprise that many of us know so little, given that the inside of an engine is a complex place!

There are a lot of components in your engine that are extremely important to maintain in order to keep the engine functioning properly. One of the most critical components of an engine is the spark plugs. Spark plugs are extremely important to maintain!

What Does a Spark Plug Do?

The main job of a spark plug is to produce lightning. We’re not kidding! It’s this spark that starts the combustion needed to get your engine going. This is why spark plugs are extremely important – without them, your car doesn’t start!

In fact, the first thing to do if you realize you can’t start the car is to check the spark plugs. The good news is that it’s usually easy to tell if a spark plug is the culprit. The electrodes of the spark plug are located at its bottom end, which inserts into the engine block. Check these for any sign of corrosion or heat damage.

In the event that you need to replace a spark plug, always replace all of them at the same time, because if one spark plug has worn out, it’s likely that the others are not far behind.

Maintaining Your Spark Plugs 

The good news is that spark plug maintenance is easy to do and can save you a morning of frustration! You can save a lot of time and money by keeping your spark plugs maintained, and you can even do it yourself!

Maintain spark plugs by disconnecting the spark plug from the spark lead. Make sure to remove any detritus from around the spark plug to prevent it from falling into the engine’s combustion chamber. Once the spark plug is removed (using a spark plug socket wrench), you can clean it of deposits with a wire brush and a strong knife, if necessary. Then you can replace your spark plug.

If you are experiencing trouble with your spark plugs and you go through the cleaning process but are still having difficulties, you may need to get them replaced.

However, if you’re not the kind of person to do DIY car maintenance or if you can’t figure out the problem on your own, feel free to contact us for expert advice on spark plugs and more!