Automobiles become increasingly complicated with every generation. Yet, the primary systems auto technicians must understand for proper Auto Service and diagnosis remain mostly the same. Some new implementations and upgrades come into play every few years. Many foreign vehicles offer their own unique riddles- but nonetheless, it’s still these same core systems. These are necessary to make a complete, functioning, and reliable vehicle. If you understand these systems, you can get your start in understanding auto tech and repair.
Today let’s talk about the primary systems that not only drive your vehicle, but that which you should also learn to keep an eye on.
When you turn the key in your car or truck, it triggers the ignition system to produce a spark from the spark plugs. This spark ignites a mixture of fuel and air inside the engine. The mixture burns, or essentially explodes. It then pushes the engine pistons within their cylinders, creating mechanical power in the engine to move the vehicle.
To get the most power to the cylinders and also reduce emissions, the timing and sequencing must be perfect. That sequencing is also controlled by the ignition system. The ignition module, distributor housing, distributor cap, and ignition coil all play a critical role in powering the vehicle. They also control the timing and regulation of the ignition system. Without these, your engine would be malfunctioning.
For an excellent diagram and guide on ignition systems, check out this post “How Ignition Systems Work” by Champion Auto Parts.
Some key warning signs the ignition system is failing include, difficulty starting the vehicle or odd noises coming from the engine. Changing your spark plugs is a common solution for ignition problems. It is easy to do at home too, but if you’d rather have that done by a professional, Tedious Repairs is available at your earliest convenience.
Everyone knows what a car battery is, but do you know how it works?
First of all, the battery itself stores a good amount of energy in order to power the parts which activate the engine. The starter is what actually begins the ignition process, as described above, which draws power from the battery to do it’s job. The alternator produces current to replace what the starter used, it charges the vehicle battery while the engine is in operation, and it also powers the electrical system while your vehicle is running, allowing you to listen to the radio or watch Real Housewives of Atlanta on your console display or whatever.
Note that increased wear and tear on the battery is possible if you cycle the engine on and off frequently; put on a lot of mileage especially going uphill; have too many power drawing peripherals in your vehicle; or if the electrical system is just a bit old and already worn out (rusted, cable sheathing is worn off, wires are gnawed, etc). Some of the tell-tale symptoms of a faulty electrical system include:
- Dimming lights
- Accessories act weird or completely fail (flickering LED status lights is a strong sign)
- Check engine light comes on.
Vehicle elect. system
The check engine light is certainly related to the electrical system, but is more of a signal that reflects a wide variety of engine or vehicle issues that may not actually be related to the electrical system. For example, buildup of contaminants in the engine can set off sensors that will initiate the check engine light, reflecting an issue aside from the electrical system. Worse, since it’s only a binary signal (on or off), if one thing triggers it, this blocks your ability to see if another issue has arisen that would also have triggered the check-light. You can’t see if there’s more than 1 problem, only that there is at least 1 problem. So be sure to get the check engine light checked and serviced ASAP, especially if you actually suspect any real issues.
Why An Engine
The engine is the most well-known part of any automobile. It is how we convert chemical energy from fuel, into mechanical energy that moves the parts of the car. This is done by internal combustion, which essentially means burning small amounts of air and fuel in order to create energy. As it is very complex, caring for your engine is very important. Failing to care for it is very expensive. So you may want to know the fundamental engine parts that you could have engine service on.
The mechanical parts that convert chemical to mechanical motion are pistons fitted carefully inside cylinders. This is to prevent fuel or fire from escaping when it’s ignited. The pistons are connected to rods which are in turn connected to a crankshaft. Moving the rods or their connected pistons, in turn, moves the crankshaft. This gives your vehicle’s wheels rotational energy motion. Thus, ignition of fuel inside the cylinder moves the piston. Which, then, moves the rod and gives energy to the crankshaft. Wich pushes everything else forward and allows your car to move. Timing belts are used to keep the moving parts of the engine in sync, as well as provide functional power to other parts of the vehicle. A cylinder head is a strong metal cap fitted above the cylinders to further ensure containment. Camshafts are rotating elements with pointed edges called “cams”. These are used to control the timing and release of the fuel intake and exhaust valves.
The engine is fundamentally connected to every other part of your vehicle’s system. It produces the heat that gets passed on to the air conditioner and in the cabin, the motion that turns the axles and wheels, and the power needed for the electrical system. Never fail to get the engine serviced if it at all seems necessary. Otherwise, it may become a costly mistake. Signs your engine may need Auto Service include:
- Rattling or shaking
- Loss of power/acceleration/speed
- Odds smells, especially like burning
- Odd noises
- Fluid leaks below the engine compartment.
Cooling the engine is absolutely essential to keep it from “blowing up” (that is, breaking down, not exploding). This is primarily done by transferring heat away from the engine via fluids traveling through hoses that are cooled by fans. The radiator, for example, uses an engine fan to blow off and exhaust heat from engine coolant before it is pumped back through the system to cool the engine again. This is essential for maintaining functional engine temperatures. Your water pump is what moves coolant around the system, and a common thermostat is used to maintain a consistent, operable fluid temperature throughout.
Most vehicle fluids need to be filtered too, in order to keep the fluids clean and to prevent grime and dirt buildup in their system. Unfiltered buildup can block carburetors, gunk up fuel injectors, or damage your engine in other ways. Changing filters thus is an essential aspect of maintenance. Important filters include the engine oil filter, the fuel filter, the engine air filter, and the cabin air filter. We feel it’s important to highlight the fact that filters become clogged much faster when driven under harsh conditions including dusty or smokey weather. This is relevant to anyone in Chico or the surrounding area of course, although we hope that won’t be the case for long.
Another core fluid for cooling is engine oil. Although, it may not be immediately obvious how. Oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine. Otherwise, they would wear quickly from metal on metal friction. Without engine oil, the engine will overheat from normal operation. This can cause the engine to quickly burn off all the antifreeze coolant too. This makes the risk of engine overheating exponentially worse. Regardless of which comes first, loss of oil or loss of coolant. Because lubrication is key in all mechanical systems, don’t fail to get oil changes regularly. If you ever run out of oil, make sure your coolant and other fluids get topped off too!
Some signs that it’s time to check fluids include:
- Odd smells
- Your check engine light becomes active
- You need to replenish car fluids every few days/weeks instead of every few months.