Why outfit your foreign car with winter tires?

Installing snow tires on your import automobile is a hot idea for the cold weather. While you’re probably not going to drive your BMW on the Bavarian Alps any time soon, your vehicle equipped with snow tires will be able to easily handle any snow-covered roads in Wilmette.

We understand the appeal of “all-season tires”: No shelling out the bucks for four more tires, and no seasonal wheel changes each season year.**Buying new tires_ iStock_000044475538_Medium

But a number of foreign car makers recommend snow tires in their owner’s manuals, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Toyota and Volvo. And we’ve witnessed first-hand how our customers who drive European and Japanese cars can benefit from snow tires.

Here are two key reasons why:

  • Winter tire treads grip ice and snow better by using raised blocks of tread that are designed to channel snow, ice, slush or water away from the tire’s surface. This design also improves “bite” in situations in which traction has been compromised by snow or slush build-up on the road surface. Plus, snow tires also feature razor-thin grooves within the tread that permit improved contact between the tires and wet road surfaces.
  • Rubber compounds used for performance and all-season tires start to feel a chill at a mere 45°F by stiffening, which decreases a tire’s gripping ability. The softer compounds used in winter tires, however, allow them to remain flexible even in extremely low temperatures.

 Tire-buying tips
Convinced snow tires are the way to go? At Hong Kong Auto, we can help you select a quality set of winter tires for your vehicle and your driving needs. But if you want to get a jump start on the research, we recommend:

  • Buying four matching tires. Installing winter tires only on the drive wheels will result in unpredictable handling and might be dangerous.
  • Considering a second set of wheels. This will save remounting the tires each season. Instead, you simply swap out the wheel/tire sets. If you purchase a set of inexpensive steel wheels for permanent winter duty, it also protects your expensive alloy wheels from the harsh, salty winter.
  • Installing your snow tires around Thanksgiving and then back to all-season in late March or early April. You want to have your snow tires on the car before the first snowfall. That’s hard to predict! But as the temperature nears 45 degrees, the all-season tires grow stiffer. And in the spring, warmer temps compromise the softer rubber of the winter tires.
  • Store off-season tires in a cool, dry area out of sunlight. Consider wrapping them in black plastic bags to reduce oxidation.

Are you ready to invest in winter tires for your European or Asian car? Stop in today or make an appointment, and we can help you prepare for the first snowfall of the season.

** Keep in mind that having two sets of tires isn’t doubling the expense, it’s halving the wear. You’ll have twice the number of tires but buy new ones half as often.

 

 

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You can crack the dashboard lights code

Q. I am worried my college-age students might not recognize the warning lights on the dashboard or not pay attention to them at all. Can you provide me with a quick guide to dashboard lights?  

A. As your kids head off to college, it is important to “school” them on what all the dashboard lights mean so they don’t get stranded on the road. Tell them when a dashboard light is displayed it’s like an emoticon for the car. The light can signal that the car is in distress or needs preventive maintenance.

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Dashboard lights are like emoticons for the car. These lights can signal if your car needs preventive maintenance or auto repair.

When a dashboard light comes on, your young motorists need to know how critical a particular warning light is and whether they need to:

  • Pull over ASAP.
  • Keep driving but head directly to an auto repair shop.
  • Keep driving and schedule an appointment for service at their earliest opportunity.

All those green, orange, blue or red illuminated symbols might seem like ancient hieroglyphics to your college drivers, so we’ve prepared a mini guide to help prepare even the most disinterested driver with some behind-the-wheel know-how.

You’ve been warned
Be aware a light might function differently depending on the situation. For example, a flashing check engine light is a sure-fire signal to get that car into a service facility immediately. However, a constantly illuminated check engine light will buy you more time until you can make an appointment with Hong Kong Auto.

When these lights come on, you should pull over safely ASAP:

  • Engine Temperature/Coolant Light (A hot set of wheels is a cool thing; an overheated engine is not.)
  • Oil Pressure (This is a potentially engine-frying hazard.)
  • Powertrain Malfunction (Something might be amiss with your transmission. Indicates either a malfunction or a high transmission temperature.)

When these lights come on, you should head directly to an auto repair shop:

  • Battery or Alternator (A power outage can be enraging, and your car may not restart if you pull over and turn the engine off.)
  • Flashing Check Engine Light (This is more critical than the Check Engine Light staying on steady.)
  • If a combination of warning lights are displayed or if your dashboard lights up like a holiday tree.

 When these lights come on, you should schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience:

  • Brake Light (Stopping when you want to is such a great feeling.)
  • Tire Pressure Monitor (Underinflated tires not only compromise safety, they slurp gas.)
  • Parking Brake (A constantly illuminated one of these could mean more than just an engaged parking brake.)
  • Airbag (Only a crash test dummy would risk faulty airbags.)
  • Traction Control
  • Bulb Failure (There’s a reason the roads suddenly seem darker at night.)
  • Tire Rotation (Passed your 7,000-mile mark?)

It’s also a good idea for young drivers to review non-warning dashboard lights, such as those indicating whether high beams (often blue), fog lights (many times green) or blinking hazard lights are engaged or if the cruise control is on or if the doors, hood or trunk are open. Ditto for traction control and four-wheel drive indicators.

Study the owner’s manual
Don’t fret if you don’t know what every dashboard light symbol means. Today’s cars have so many different warning lights that it’s almost impossible to know what these all mean. Encourage your young drivers to know the important indicator lights, and for the rest, they should look them up. The best place to look for a symbol is the owner’s manual which always should be kept in the car, not at home.

Stop in for a complete auto repair checkup at Hong Kong Auto before your kids off to college.

 

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What are the real costs of buying a new car?

Should you repair your aging vehicle or bite the bullet and buy a new car? When weighing the options, it’s easy to get lost in a daydream about owning a brand new car.

What are the true costs of a new car vs. maintaining your current ride? You might be shocked and may not want to take on that monthly car payment again.

The average new car price has jumped in recent years. Kelly Blue Book analysts reported earlier this year the estimated average transaction price for U.S. light vehicles as $34,428 in December 2015. That’s a $297 (0.9%) jump vs. the same period the previous year.

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Even the most expensive repair bills for an old car can’t outweigh the cost of depreciation on a new one.

Could it be that new car smell is giving off a serious odor, after all?

At Hong Kong Auto, we want you fully informed as you weigh this important decision. We urge you to check out these resources for details on the trust cost of a new car:

We would like to help you make an informed decision by calculating the cost of gas for your current vehicle so that you can see if keeping it vs. the cost of a new or used car payment makes sense.  We’ll help you prioritize necessary repairs and offer expert advice including deciding whether to buy that new car or repair your current one.

Remember, when you choose Hong Kong Auto, we can help you determine if trading in that gas guzzler  or older car is worth it.

 

 

 

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Why does tire repair cost so much?

Question: I got a flat tire last weekend on Lake Shore Drive in the city and had to use a shop there to repair it. The cost was $40! Why was the repair so much? I remember paying $10 for a tire patch. Deflated in Wilmette

Answer: Well, years ago patching a tire was a 10-minute repair job. We plugged it from the outside, and it was a quick and easy repair.

But for safety reasons on today’s tires, the Rubber Manufacturers Association and tire manufacturers require a plug-patch repair. First, a rubber stem (a.k.a., a plug) must be applied to fill the puncture, and second, a patch must be applied to seal the inner liner. A plug by itself is not an acceptable nor safe repair.

Repairing tires this way properly and safely seals the puncture on both the inside and outside. But it also means we have to remove the tire from the rim to access the damaged area. As you can imagine, this involves a lot more steps—and time—than it used to. (If you like a good technical read before bedtime, you can check out the Rubber Manufacturers Association Puncture Repair Procedures here.)

To repair a tire today, we need to:

  1. Use a tire machine to remove the tire from the wheel.
  2. Clean and prep the area around the puncture.
  3. Apply the tire plug from the inside.
  4. Remount the tire on the wheel—just like you have done when you buy a new tire.
  5. Rebalance the tire & wheel—also, what you have done when you buy a new tire.

So what used to be a 10-minute tire patching job is now a multi-step process that takes at least 30 minutes. And if you have alloy wheels, the auto repair or tire shop needs to have special tire mounting and balancing equipment that doesn’t damage the wheels. These two pieces of equipment cost about $25,000.

While $40 may seem like a lot for a tire repair, it’s the result of all the above. I hope this helps you understand why it costs more today than it did previously. The good news is that you were able to save your tire. A client of ours recently had a nail in a tire and had to replace all four tires because she has an all-wheel drive vehicle. But that’s a blog post for another time.

Have questions about tires or tire repairs? Contact us today.

 

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5 worthy road trips within a day’s drive

If a flight to Disneyland or trek to Walley World is on your summer vacation agenda, a day-long road trip here and there can be just what your spouse or kids need to accelerate the fun this summer.

Car ready for summer

Even if a flight to Disneyland or trek to Walley World is on your agenda, a day-long road trip here and there sure can cut the monotony.

Illinois boasts plenty of road-trip-worthy destinations, so whether your starting point is Wilmette, the Land of Lincoln provides the ticket to cool times during the warm weather. We present our Top 5 picks:

  • Volo Auto Museum—Fanatic about all things four-wheeled? This is the place for you. The museum in Volo includes such iconic vehicles as Herbie, Fred Flintstone’s stone-age ride, the Batmobile, Speed Racer’s Mach 5 and much more. In addition, there’s an antique mall on the grounds and the site is host to many special events throughout the year.
  • Starved Rock State Park—Ready for the rugged outdoors? You won’t be starved for excitement at Starved Rock State Park with its waterfalls, bluffs and canyons. Located along the Illinois River, the park includes hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. If you want to stay overnight, you have a choice of cabins or historic Starved Rock Lodge.
  • Cantigny Park—Wheaton’s Cantigny Park features 500 acres of fun, including formal gardens, golf course, picnic grounds, the Robert R. McCormick Museum and First Division Museum. The park is host to many festivals, lectures, concerts and workshops throughout the year.
  • Donley’s Wild West Town—Tucked away in Union, Ill., you’ll think you’ve not only traveled back in time but across the great plains all on less than a tank of gas. Put on your cowboy hat and enjoy shoot-‘em-up wild west shows, archery range, tomahawk throw, canoe rides, cowboy roping lessons, vintage carousel, pyrite gold panning and more. There’s shopping and a museum that houses not only western and Civil War-themed items, but an antique phonograph and music box collection.
  • Metropolis—Home to the Man of Steel, Metropolis, Ill., boasts the Super Museum and its $2.5 billion worth of Superman collectibles. Plus, a statue of actress Noel Neill’s portrayal of Lois Lane adorns Metropolis’ streets. As if that’s not enough super-sized fun, Metropolis also is home to the Americana Hollywood Museum with its movie props, life-size figures, costumes, posters and more devoted to Tinseltown’s biggest stars, including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Angelina Jolie and Pam Anderson.

“What a difference a day makes.”

Before you hit the road, schedule a pre-road trip checkup at Hong Kong Auto. We recommend scheduling a week or two before you leave. Here’s why.

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6-point checklist to get your car ready for spring!  

The winter season is finally behind us! However, the harsh cold and wintry mix from “Old Man Winter” may have caused long-term effects on your car. Frigid temperatures, potholes, road salt and more can to do a number on your vehicle. Some of the casualties caused by wintry conditions are wheels knocked out of alignment or damaged shocks, struts and other suspension-system parts. And there’s more where that came from.

Many times, cold-season-created problems become apparent only after the mercury has risen. In other words: Just because spring has sprung doesn’t mean you’re immune from a sproing! HongKongAutoService_Alignment

Add to that the effect rising temperatures have on Chicago-area roads (warmer weather often opens up a lot of potholes) and you can see why now is the time to “spring clean” your car.

Here’s the Hong Kong Auto Spring Cleaning for Your Car checklist: 

  1. Wheel alignment/shocks/struts. The winter served up a whammy on our Chicago-area roads by creating potholes, humps and bumps. These also might have done a number on your vehicle’s suspension and wheel alignment. A strut’s or shock absorber’s primary purpose is keeping us safe by ensuring tires maintain road contact and don’t bounce up or leave the pavement. Worn shocks also make it harder for a car to stop. Likewise, a vehicle whose wheels are out of alignment can chew through tires at a rapid pace.
  2. Windshield chips and headlight/taillight surfaces. Lots of loose stuff kicked up on winter highways can strike windshields and headlight surfaces. Chips can rapidly spider web into major cracks requiring complete windshield replacement. Before that happens, we recommend repairing the chip to keep it from spreading. Need advice on whether you should repair the chip or replace the windshield? Call on your experts at Hong Kong Auto. We’d be happy to help advise you.
  3. Tire pressure. Let’s face it: Getting out of the car on blustery days to check the tire pressure probably isn’t tops on your fun list. If your car isn’t equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and you haven’t been keeping tabs on your psi readings, it’s time. Underinflated tires slurp excess fuel and wear the outer treads faster. Changing weather conditions and temperature fluctuations can impact tire pressure significantly. In fact, every 10-degree decrease prompts a 1 psi dip. Therefore, check tire pressure monthly. Don’t rely on your eyes to “gauge” whether a tire has enough air. That only works for severely deflated tires.
  4. Slop and salt. Slop and salt. So often, that’s the refrain of a Chicago winter. Combat the crud Old Man Winter left on your car with an inside-outside detailing service through Hong Kong Auto.
  5. Dents and dings. Sometimes, that December-through-March mayhem leaves more than just grime on your vehicle. Bring in spring by taking care of those dings. Repairing those minor blemishes is easy, thanks to a process called Paintless Dent Repair. Repairs are made without the use of paint or body fillers.
  6. Tip-top temp control. Chicagoans appreciate a well-functioning heating and air conditioning (A/C) system. If you feel your heating system wasn’t quite pushing out the warmth this year, why risk the A/C conking out when those outdoor temps start jumping? Let Hong Kong Auto’s technicians make sure your heating and A/C systems are working properly.

Need some help to get your car ready for spring? Schedule an appointment today at Hong Kong Auto in Wilmette.

 

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What it takes to diagnose that “Check Engine” light

Lights we like: strong high beams, assertive signals and gently illuminated speedometers and fuel gauges. The not-so-welcome list: amber, yellow or red lights announcing “Check Engine,” “Service Engine Soon,” “Check” or “SES”—often with a neon-like automobile-engine outline.

Don’t sweat it. The infamous and somewhat vague Check Engine light actually is relatively benign vs. other warning lights you might encounter, such as those alerting you to problems with engine-oil pressure, temperature levels or braking power.

A Check Engine light isn’t cause for panic. The not-too-great news is its presence can signal any number of under-the-hood snafus. Hard to believe, but that light can pop on for more than 1,400 different reasons–all related to your vehicle’s tailpipe emissions. Part of your vehicle’s on-board diagnostics system, the Check Engine light can indicate anything from a quick fix (such as a loose gas cap or faulty spark plug) to a mid-sized problem (mass air flow sensor or oxygen sensor) all the way up to a big-time repair (such as a catalytic converter that’s on the fritz).

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Don’t wait to make an appointment when you see the Check Engine light on your dashboard.

In some cases, you can avoid those larger repairs by responding immediately to an illuminated check engine light. For example, if your oxygen sensor is at the end of its lifespan, replacing it right away can spare the catalytic converter. But if the oxygen sensor is failing and allowing excess raw fuel to flow into the catalytic converter, it will shorten the lifespan dramatically.

One modern-day automotive myth is that isolating a Check Engine Light problem is as simple as attaching a diagnostic tool to the car’s computer and read a code. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Detective work by an automotive-service expert is required to properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Rather than reveal a single problem, the trouble code points to a system that’s triggering the problem. Compare it to someone suffering from a fever. Sure, a thermometer placed under the tongue shows a 100-degree reading. But does that number indicate whether that individual is suffering from the common cold, a flu, an infection or some other illness? No. That’s why a physician’s knowledge is needed.

Ditto for a Check Engine light. The code indicates an area in which a problem has occurred. Much like that 100-degree thermometer reading, a single code could be triggered by a number of causes. For example, a fault code in the EGR system (which recirculates some of the exhaust gases back into the engine cylinders) could signal a faulty and costly EGR valve or it could simply mean that the EGR passages need to be cleaned. It’s up to an automotive service expert to correctly identify the problem and advise you on the proper and most cost-effective cure.

Some are easy to peg. Others take time to diagnose. So, don’t ignore that Check Engine light. Make an appointment today at Hong Kong Auto and we’ll start working on tracing the root cause of the problem that’s making that Check Engine light illuminate…and get it fixed fast.

One added warning: a flashing (vs. constantly lighted) Check Engine light indicates a repair should be performed ASAP. Bring your vehicle in for service immediately to avoid serious damage or risk being stranded.

Questions on your vehicle’s Check Engine light? Don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to help.

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