Blog in Washington, D.C.

Ask the Experts – Do I need a power steering flush?

You dropped in for an oil change for your car, and you’re informed that you will need a power steering flush soon. Well, you’re not sure what that means, how much it will cost, or if its urgent. Read on to see if we can give you a better understanding of power steering and why it may need a flush.

I’ve heard of power steering, but how does it actually work?

Well, the short answer for power steering is that it alleviates physical strain of the driver from having to provide all of the power that allows them to physically turn the heavy wheels of a car. Especially as the evolution of the automobile has progressed, tires have become wider and heavier, with greater ability to grip the road, adding even extra effort in what would certainly be an arduous task for anyone.

The slightly longer answer would be that steering is normally controlled by a rack and pinion system. This is comprised of two general parts; the shaft which extends from the steering wheel in your car, down to the rack, which lays perpendicular to the shaft across the front wheels of the car. The rack has several other pieces attached at both ends to connect to each front tire. Ultimately, this system will turn the wheels at the correct angles (which are actually not angles of the same degree, for those of you who are not physics buffs) so that the back tires will follow the front tires in the direction they are turning. This allows the car to turn without skidding. The power steering system can come in 3 types; Hydraulic, Hybrid, and Electric. The hydraulic system operates entirely through hydraulics and, you guessed it, requires something hydrated, like fluid! The fluid is “pressured” through the hydraulic pump which sends it to the steering gearbox, where the pressure of the fluid is used to assist in turning the wheels of the car. The “power” in power steering for a hydraulic system comes from the engine and runs constantly as long as your car is turned on. This was considered not energy efficient, as it requires more space and effort from the engine at all times, even when you’re not actually trying to turn the car. The second system, to answer the aforementioned concern, is the Hybrid system. This operates essentially the same way as the hydraulic system, but uses electric power to keep the system running. The electric system operates without fluid, by using a computer to measure how fast you are turning, by what degree, and other factors to calculate how much power is necessary to help you turn the car. The electric system (although often more expensive to fix if it breaks down) was invented to save space and use power more efficiently.

Power steering flush?

The flush is only necessary for the hydraulic or hybrid systems, which use fluid. The idea is to drain the fluid and replace it with fresh power steering fluid. The reason that you would want to flush your power steering fluid is because although it is a fairly clean system with regards to dirt and grime getting into the fluid during function, eventually normal wear and tear on your car and its parts will cause the power steering fluid to become dirty. To flush the power steering fluid, a pipe can be disconnected and allowed to drain all the fluid out, then refilled through the reservoir after the pipe has been reconnected. The second way is more complicated, and involves running the car while allowing some of the fluid to drain as you replace it through the reservoir. This is certainly something that if you’re not car savvy, it is best to let your mechanic take care of. If you have any questions about power steering flushes or if your car might need one, don’t hesitate to give one of our technicians a call at 10 th Street Automotive! You can also schedule an appointment here:

Do I need a Differential Fluid change?

What is a differential?

First off, what is a differential? You may never have heard of or will ever hear about your differential in your lifespan of car ownership. What you may not realize is that it’s actually an incredibly important part of your car! It is a gear that sits in between the drive wheels of a car that controls the speeds at which they turn. Why would you need your drive wheels to have the speed controlled? Doesn’t that come from the gas pedal? Well, when your car handles a turn, the inside wheel needs to go slower than the outside wheel, because the outside wheel has more ground to cover. The wheels have to turn at different angles and speeds. Fun fact, the angle at which the front wheels need to turn is not the same angle, it is actually adjusted to the center point of a circle that sits on the radius of your back wheels! The differential is the instrument compensates for that “difference” in the physics of your drive wheels.

How does it work?

In most cars, the differential sits in between the drive wheels. If you have a 4-wheel drive, you may have 2 differentials. A differential made of a pinion, a ring gear, spider gears and side gears. The pinion is connected to the drive shaft, which runs down from your steering wheel. The pinion gear turns a ring gear, the ring gear houses the spider gear and two side gears (more side gears for heavier vehicles in some cases). When the vehicle makes a turn, the spider gear turns on an axis to cause one of the side gears to accelerate or decelerate the individual wheels of the car. This describes the basic system of an open differential. There are a few other types of differentials, but this one is inexpensive, lightweight, and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. The only downside to an open differential there is potential for slip. If your car passes over ice or water and this causes one wheel to slow down, your differential will “think” that because of the lower acceleration, you’re trying to turn! This can cause skidding. An answer to this problem can be found in a limited slip differential, which ensures that power will always be sent to both wheels and only limited power makes it to the wheel that is rotating more slowly, protecting your car from skidding. There is also a type of differential called a locking differential, which locks power to both wheels so that they both receive enough torque to keep rotating. The 4th common type of differential is a torque-vectoring differential, which essentially harnesses the power of sensors and computers to “know” exactly how much torque to give each wheel at all times.

Differential fluid?

As you might imagine, all the gears required to run smoothly against each other could easily be damaged without some kind of lubrication, thus differential fluid, or oil. In some manual transmission cars with front wheel drive, the transmission fluid and the differential fluid can be shared (automatic cars cannot share oil because the manual transmission fluid is a different viscosity, or thickness). If your car has a rear wheel drive, the differential will be housed behind the back wheels. If you have all wheel drive, it is likely that you will have two differentials! The rear differential has its own fluid. Its good to note that when it comes to cars, if there is some kind of fluid or oil, it is likely that there is a way to get it dirty, and it will more than likely need to be changed at some point in the life of the car. Most cars will have the mileage for when it’s time to change the differential fluid in the owner’s manual. You can always give us a call down at 10 th street automotive, and one of our technicians will be happy to answer any questions you might have! You can also schedule an appointment here:

Brake Noises

Brake Noises

Everyone knows brakes are important to your health and safety while driving, but when they start making sounds, it can be either be inconvenient, or just downright dangerous. At Ben Nielsen’s 10th street automotive, our technicians use digital inspections to share a comprehensive overview of your vehicle. This means that if you bring your car in for brake noise, you will see exactly what we see. Here are some common causes of noisy brakes, and how to deal with them.

Brakes work through friction

Brakes are meant to absorb energy from a system and convert it into heat through friction. Essentially, they provide resistance to rotors (attached to the wheels) on a moving vehicle, so they eventually slow down and come to a stop. There are 4 common types of brake systems; drum, anti-lock, emergency and disc brakes. Drum brakes and disc brakes are called service brakes. These make sure that your car stops while driving. anti-lock brakes systems ensure that while brake pressure is applied, your wheels don’t skid (very helpful in inclement weather). Emergency brakes (parking brakes) are a separate brake system that use cables to apply pressure to all four wheels to keep your car stationary.

And the common noises are…

These are the most common noises that cause concern about brakes; Grinding, thumping, squealing, or scraping. While its usually not good to hear sounds from your car that you don’t expect, some noises (like scraping or squealing) sound dramatic, but don’t indicate that your car is in dire shape.

Wear and tear
Reason 1: Extreme wear and tear; If you hear a grinding sound while you are driving. STOP DRIVING. This is usually a sign that your brake pads have worn down to the rotors and the only thing causing braking is metal to metal friction. That is not good. The cost is much higher to replace an entire brake system than simply brake pads, and believe me, you’ll replace the entire system if you allow the grinding to continue for any length of time.

Cheap Brake Pads
Reason 2: Cheap brake pads; if you’re car is making a squealing sound as you brake, there’s a good chance that the brake pads are cheap. Good quality brake pads are smooth. Cheap pads often have a slightly rougher surface with flakes of metal that touch the rotor and make noise as you brake. While this sound can be annoying for varying lengths of time, it doesn’t signify a large problem. All auto repairs at Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive use OEM or top-grade aftermarket parts to ensure durable, long-lasting results. On the other hand, if the cause is not cheap brakes, it could be from the brake indicator hitting the rotor and indicates that you need to have the brake pads replaced.

Reason 3: Rust or rocks. A third common reason for noises from brakes, such as thumping or squealing, is rust. If your car lives outside, the rotors can rust overnight, and cause a thumping sound in the morning. If you picked up a rock in your brake system, it will cause a very dramatic scraping sound, but doesn’t necessarily indicate that you will need to replace anything

The best way to prevent major problems are to make sure you always have your brakes checked by your mechanic. When you come to 10th Street Automotive with a brake concern, the first step we take is a complete and thorough inspection of your brake system along with a road test to duplicate the condition. If your brakes make any kind of noise, it is usually best to have them checked, even if you think it might not be a major problem. With cars, it is almost always better to be safe than sorry!

Ask the Experts – Why do I need to change my oil?

Ask the Experts – Why do I need to change my oil?

The most commonly performed routine maintenance on a car is the changing of the oil and the oil filter. We often find that there are many questions our customer’s have that may be left unanswered, due to the normalcy of a simple maintenance procedure, so that is what we will be covering in this week’s Ask the Experts!

Here are the top 3 reasons why you should get your vehicle’s oil changed regularly, based on your manufacturer’s guidelines.

1. Regular oil and filter changes lead to a longer vehicle life. This is pretty straightforward, when you keep up with the routine maintenance on your car, it can lead to you car having a much longer life. Dirty oil can negatively affect a vehicle’s power and fuel economy, not to mention it forces the engine to work harder than it has too. Over worked engines tend to not last as long and have more issues in the long haul.

2. Oil and filter changes remove dirt and particles. Over the course of an engines’ life, dirt and particles build up in the oil. When the oil breaks down, it turns to sludge. The goal of routine oil changes is to remove this sludge and keep the engine clean. This keeps the engine running smoothly.

3. Clean oil lubricates and keeps engine components cool. There are a lot of quickly moving parts in an engine. Oil keeps these parts lubricated and moving smoothly. If not properly lubricated these parts will rub against each other causing friction, which then leads to heat. Overheated parts are more likely to get damaged and lead to more costly repairs.

We hope this helps put your mind at ease, knowing that this regular oil change will overall lead to the longevity of your vehicle and keeps your costly repairs to a minimum! Contact us today at 202-544-1110 to setup an appointment with one of our friendly service writers to determine if your vehicle is in need of an oil change!

Ask the Experts – How Do I Know If I Need Brake Pads?

Your vehicle’s brakes are an imperative part of driving safely. There are several components of a brake system, including, discs (rotors), brake pads, and brake calipers. Most vehicles are equipped with these 3 parts, so let’s dive in and find out what your Automotive Experts at Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive say on this weeks Ask the Experts!

First, what exactly are brake pads? Most newer vehicles on the road today have a braking system that uses disc, aka rotors. On top of the rotors is a housing device called a caliper. When you engage your brakes using your brake pedal, the calipers squeeze the rotors from both sides, allowing the friction to cause the vehicle to come to a stop. Brake pads are the removable materials that the calipers use to make friction, and ultimately stop your car. Over time, the friction wears down the brake pads surface, resulting in the need to be replaced. Here are 5 signs that it is time to replace you brake pads:

1. You hear a squealing or screeching sound.

This is a very common sign that you need to get your brakes checked out. Some brake pads today are equipped with a metal wear indicator that, when exposed, creates an unpleasant sound. This is an alert for the driver to know to get their pads replaced.

2. You feel a vibration when braking.

Another clear indicator that you need to get your brakes checked is a vibration from the brake pedal when you apply pressure. This can be caused by the brake pads wearing and depositing an uneven amount of resin on the rotors. This issue is referred to as “glazing” and is an indication that you need to get your brakes serviced.

3. You notice a pull to the right or left when stopping.

If you are experiencing this happen, it can be caused by a couple of things, the most common being your brake pads wearing unevenly. Here in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, the driving conditions are more strenuous on a vehicle, and therefore can lead to uneven wear on the brake pads. This leads to “warping” of the rotors, which in turn cause this pulling sensation. It is best to have this issue inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible to prevent other components from becoming damaged.

4. Your vehicle takes long to come to a stop.

If you are pressing down on your brakes harder than usual, this could be caused by an issue know as brake fade or brake fading. This occurs when you have an air leak in the brake hose, or a brake fluid leak. This causes the need to press down harder or longer on your brake pedal in order to get your car to come to a full stop.

5. You are noticing a frequent “burning” smell.

Burning smells can be caused by numerous components of a vehicle, your brakes being one of them. If you are experiencing a burning smell consistently it could be due to a seized caliper or the emergency/hand brake being engaged. It is best to have a mechanic inspect this issue as quickly as possible to avoid further damage to your car.

If you have any concerns about your brakes, please feel free to call or visit our Automotive Experts here at Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive. Our friendly service advisors and technicians will be more than happy to help you determine if you need new brakes to keep you safely on the road!

Ask the Experts — Why does my A/C need to be recharged?

Every summer we look forward to vacations and holidays, the pools are opening, the days are long and the nights are short. Nothing could put a damper on summer…right? Unless you are stuck in a vehicle with no A/C of course! Every now and then a driver will experience their A/C blowing hot air, or not blowing any air at all, thus invoking a trip to an automotive service center. They will 9 times out of 10 be met with a response of “Well Mr. Customer, looks like you need an evac and re-charge.” and presented with a bill, on average, of $422! Consumers are often left with no explanation of how or what causes this, yet most are just happy to finally enjoy a cool breeze. So, let’s break this down!

Your vehicles A/C system is a “closed” system, meaning it is all contained within itself; therefore, there is no way for the Freon to just escape. Any time your vehicle needs an evac and recharge, it will be due to a leak somewhere in the A/C system. Unfortunately, these leaks are usually tiny and not easily seen by the untrained eye. It can also be an internal leak coming from places such as the condenser or the compressor.

Here at Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive, our trained technicians will perform an evac, short for evacuation, to determine how much Freon your vehicle has lost. From there our technicians will decide how much Freon your car needs according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. This is called the re- charging process. At Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive, our technicians recharge your car’s A/C with Freon that includes a specialty black light dye. After completing the recharging process, we take your vehicle on a short road test and bring it back into the bay for a visual inspection. With advanced technology and equipment, we will be able visually inspect you’re a/c system to determine where your Freon has leaked from, and what items will be necessary for repairs.

Contact us today at 703.845.8477 to setup an appointment with one of our friendly service writers to determine your A/C systems health, so you aren’t stuck in the summer heat!

Be Prepared: Winter Emergency Survival Car Kit

Any of us who have spent a winter or two in the Washington, D.C. or Washington D.C. area knows that weather conditions can be pretty unforgiving. Whether you are a daily commuter, or you’re planning for Holiday travel, one thing you shouldn’t leave home without is a Winter Survival Kit. The technicians at Ben Nielsen’s 10th Street Automotive can help you prepare your car for winter travel – insuring all of your fluids are topped off, your tires are in good condition, and your heater is blowing full-force – but in the event of a roadside emergency, you’ll want to be prepared. Read on for a list of items you should keep in your car during the cold winter months, as well as some tips for staying safe and warm in the event that you should get stranded alongside the road.

Emergency Survival Kit (cold weather):survival-kit

  • a shovel
  • windshield scraper and small broom
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • battery powered radio
  • water
  • snack food including energy bars
  • raisins and mini candy bars
  • matches and small candles
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • first aid kit with pocket knife
  • necessary medications
  • blankets or sleeping bag
  • tow chain or rope
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares and reflectors
  • road salt, sand, or cat litter for traction
  • fluorescent distress flag and whistle to attract attention
  • cell phone charger

Kit tips:

  • Store items in the passenger compartment in case the trunk is jammed or frozen shut.
  • Choose small packages of food that you can eat hot or cold.

Survival tips:

  • Prepare your vehicle: Make sure you keep your gas tank at least half full
  • Be easy to find: Tell someone where you are going and the route you will take
  • If stuck: Tie a florescent flag (from your kit) on your antenna or hang it out the window. At night, keep your dome light on. Rescue crews can see a small glow at a distance. To reduce battery drain, use emergency flashers only if you hear approaching vehicles. If you’re with someone else, make sure at least one person is awake and keeping watch for help at all times
  • Stay in your vehicle: Walking in a storm can be very dangerous. You might become lost or exhausted. Your vehicle is a good shelter
  • Avoid Overexertion: Shoveling snow or pushing your car takes a lot of effort in storm conditions. Don’t risk a heart attack or injury. That work can also make you hot and sweaty. Wet clothing loses insulation value, making you susceptible to hypothermia
  • Fresh Air: It’s better to be cold and awake than comfortably warm and sleepy. Snow can plug your vehicle’s exhaust system and cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter your car. Only run the engine for 10 minutes an hour and make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow. Keeping a window cracked while running the engine is also a good idea