Category Archives: Maintenance and Service

Towing 101 | Everything you need to know to tow

The summer traveling season is nearly here, and many of us are itching to get out of town and enjoy the outdoors. If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve traded your sedan for a crossover or SUV because they’re more versatile. Light towing is one of the things that many compact and midsize crossover SUVs can do, and in the face of this shift in vehicle preference, a whole slew of suitable lightweight trailers are popping up.

But what if you’ve never towed a trailer? How do you get started if you’ve never towed at all? Perhaps you rented a U-Haul once and the attendant hooked everything up for you. Maybe your dad let you drive his rig for an hour or so on a family vacation a few times, but he drove the trailer in tight places and did all the hookups.

Towing is not overly difficult, and it takes no special license. But it’s not a trivial pursuit, either, and there several things you need to know to tow safely and confidently. Towing is a wide-ranging topic with many permutations, but for now we’re focusing on the lighter end of the spectrum where compact and midsize SUVs reside.

Here’s our comprehensive guide covering what you need to know before you tow.

1. Know your tow rating

The first step is to see if your vehicle is rated to tow at all and, if so, how much. The Trailering or Trailer Towing section in your owner’s manual is the best place to start. You might have to adjust to your carmaker’s specific terminology, though. On its own, the Towing section might refer to emergency towing behind a tow truck, while Dinghy Towing has to do with towing your vehicle behind a motorhome.

Once you find the right section, you may need to know your vehicle’s engine size, transmission type, drive type and even its trim level in the event your model has more than one possible tow rating. Sometimes certain options are called out, too. Full-size truck tow ratings can be quite difficult to pin down, but compact and midsize SUVs are much more straightforward.

2. Your practical tow limit is lower than your tow rating

Once you know your tow rating, you must consider your particular situation to determine your practical tow limit. That’s because published tow ratings are best-case maximums that are arrived at by assuming an unmodified, lightly-optioned tow vehicle piloted by a 150-pound driver traveling alone without luggage or cargo.

Your practical tow limit is therefore situational and will be lower than the tow rating to the extent that you weigh more than 150 pounds, travel with others, haul cargo or tote baggage, and own a tow vehicle that’s loaded with every available option or equipped with weighty add-on accessories. Basically, all of that weight must be subtracted so that, all told, your vehicle’s actual tow rating is in fact hundreds of pounds lighter than what is published.

3. Hitch considerations

Suitable trailer hitches may or may not come standard on vehicles that are rated to tow a load. In cases where there is a tow rating but the hitch is absent, the manufacturer will almost always offer a factory-developed accessory that can be bought from the dealer. Such hitches are made to fit the vehicle precisely, and they often include a trailer wiring adapter that’s easy to install.

You can certainly buy your hitch from a third-party hitch maker, but they may or may not be as well-contoured to the vehicle and as unobtrusive to look at as the factory-engineered unit. What’s more, third-party hitch sellers offer hitches for vehicles that have no tow rating, on the basis that receiver hitches make good mounting points for bike racks and other accessories. This distinction isn’t always obvious, but in no case should the availability of a hitch override the automaker’s towing recommendations.

4. Hitch components and their ratings

Hitches are composed of three parts. The receiver is a structure with a square receptacle that is always affixed to the vehicle. A ball mount is meant to be plugged into and securely pinned to the receiver when it’s time to tow and removed and set aside when it’s not. The trailer ball will effectively remain permanently bolted to the ball mount after being selected to match the trailer’s specific requirements (there are three available diameters).

All three of these components will be stamped or labeled with weight ratings of their own, and all three ratings must meet or exceed the vehicle’s tow rating. It’s important to note that overrated components do not increase a vehicle’s tow rating, but undersized ones represent the weakest link and must therefore lower it.

5. Know the trailer weight

It’s often impossible to weigh a trailer before you buy or rent. The most conservative approach is to go by the trailer’s GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). This can often be found on the specifications sheet but is always stamped into a plate affixed to the trailer body. The trailer’s GVWR (not to be confused with your tow vehicle’s GVWR) represents the maximum amount the trailer should ever weigh.

But that figure might discourage you from trailers your vehicle can actually tow because trailer GVWRs sometimes greatly exceed their actual towed weight. I once rented a 1,000-pound trailer that had a 3,500-pound GVWR, but it only weighed some 1,700 pounds after I loaded it. Use care because loading considerations vary by trailer type – not to mention individual habit.

My tip here: You should inquire about the trailer’s empty weight, then compare that to the GVWR and consider what you will actually carry within the trailer.

5. The importance of hitching up before you load up

In short, the trailer should be coupled to the tow vehicle before you begin loading it.

Why? Trailers need to be properly balanced so they are stable when towed, and that comes about when the trailer tongue presses down on the trailer’s hitch point. But the balance is in flux as you load a trailer, and it’s possible that the Tongue Weight could go momentarily negative and the tongue could suddenly tip up as you load a heavy object in from the back.

6. Making the connections

Backup cameras help a lot here, but nothing beats a helpful friend spotting for you as you gain experience. Make sure the trailer wheels are chocked, the trailer tongue is raised high enough and the trailer receptacle is unlatched. Back carefully under the trailer ball until it is centered, then set the parking brake and shift into Park. Use the trailer’s jack to lower the tongue receptacle onto the ball until it fully engages, then snap the latch closed.

Remember to insert a pin, bolt or specially-made lock to prevent the latch from bouncing open while driving.

Now connect the safety chain hooks to the ready-made holes or loops in the receiver, taking care to cross-cross left-to-right and vice versa to create a cradle underneath the coupling that could keep the trailer neck from hitting and potentially digging into the ground. Care must be taken so there is sufficient slack to prevent the chains from going taut when turning a corner, but there mustn’t be so much that they drag on the ground when driving straight. Next you’ll plug in the trailer light harness, taking the same issues into account with its slack. Finally, if the trailer has electric brakes and a breakaway switch, you’ll do the same when attaching that.

7. Tongue weight and loading your trailer

As mentioned before, a certain amount of downward pressure on the hitch ball, called tongue weight, is necessary to ensure that the trailer will tow straight and remain stable. That amount is almost always 10% of the trailer’s overall weight, though some heavier trailers require more. The tow vehicle’s rear suspension will compress a bit as it shoulders this load, but that’s expected and is accounted for in the rating. In all cases it’s not the weight itself that matters, it’s what it represents: that the trailer’s center of mass is situated ahead of its axle.

We rarely have access to scales when loading, but a few rules apply. Put heavier items ahead of the trailer axle, but not all the way towards the extreme forward edge. Center heavy items left-to-right and position them as low as practical. Secure loose items — particularly the heavier ones — so they can’t move and alter the trailer’s tongue weight underway. The goal is to have 60% of your cargo’s mass ahead of the trailer axle and 40% behind.

8. Trailer brakes

Trailers don’t always have brakes of their own. Brakes are more likely on heavier trailers, and at some point they are required by law. The carmaker may also have a tow rating cutoff point, above which they recommend trailer brakes. Check your owner’s manual for the vehicle recommendation, but also check your state’s requirement by using the AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws.

Of trailers that have brakes, there are two kinds. Hydraulic surge brakes are self-contained within the trailer’s tongue and use the natural hitch compression that occurs when the vehicle is slowed to apply a proportional amount of trailer braking. These are found mostly on boat trailers that are submerged in water and rental trailers hired out by move-it-yourself companies.

Electric brakes require a signal from the tow vehicle, and are therefore more complicated. These are most common in larger camping trailers towed by full-size pickups, which is why electronic trailer brake controllers are often optional in such vehicles (pictured above right). But some midsize pickups and crossovers are pre-wired to interface with an aftermarket trailer brake controller that may need to be added later. The weight threshold at which such brakes come into play does overlap with the high end of some crossover SUV tow ratings, so it is possible that you’ll need to buy and install a third-party trailer brake controller to make electric trailer brakes function.

9. Electrical connections

Numerous trailer lighting plugs existed in the past, but today we seem to have settled on just two: the four-pin flat connector and the seven-pin round connector. Vehicles with factory hitches may be pre-wired for both, but many add-on wiring kits are of the flat-four variety. You’ll need to know what the trailer has to understand which one you’ll need.

The flat-four connector is solely concerned with basic trailer lighting: running lights, brake lights and turn signals. These are common on trailers that either lack brakes or employ surge brakes. The seven-pin connector adds three possible functions to the list, the main one being a signal for electric trailer brakes. If your trailer has electric brakes, it most likely will have a seven-pin round connector at the end of its umbilical.

10. How to drive when towing

Check your vehicle carefully. Make sure your tires are fully aired-up on your tow vehicle and your trailer. Check the oft-neglected trailer spare tire’s pressure, too. Take care of any fluid top-ups and fill your tank just before you perform the initial trailer hookup at the start of your trip.

Once on the road, pull over and stop within the first 10 or 15 minutes to make sure the trailer connections are intact and the load remains secure.

Drive slower than normal. Many states have lower speed limits when towing, but others do not. Check the AAA Digest of Motor Laws for the states you will visit. Whatever you find, know that you should drive slower than usual for a variety of reasons. Your steering will react slower, and stopping distances will be much longer. You’ll be less able to respond quickly to unexpected situations, so the only way to gain extra response time is to proceed at a slower pace. Also, towing greatly reduces fuel economy and range. The aerodynamic drag of a trailer is a huge part of this, and speed makes a massive difference. Similarly, the extra drag represents extra strain on the engine and its cooling system.

Look far ahead. Looking as far down the road as possible is always recommended, but it’s even more critical when towing. For one, it helps you anticipate avoidance and braking maneuvers before they become critical. But looking far ahead also helps you stay centered in your lane. The temptation to stare at the lane markings close at hand is high, but invariably that tactic makes it harder to stay centered than looking well down your lane toward its horizon.

Accelerate and brake gradually. Acceleration usually takes care of itself because the extra weight will slow your rig naturally, but don’t overcompensate by flooring it right off the line. You’ll need to up the pace steadily once you get rolling, however, especially if there’s a freeway merge ahead. Braking needs to be gentle at first, too. Expect your stops to take much longer than usual, and begin slowing well before you normally would.

Swing wide. As the name implies, your trailer is trailing behind you, and its arc through corners will be much tighter than your own. You must delay your turn and swing wide so the trailer won’t ride up onto a curb at an intersection or clobber a bollard at a gas station. On winding mountain roads, it’s helpful to do the opposite of what you’d do in a sports car and allow your gaze to follow a turn’s outside lane line and imagine your outside front tire is tracking just inside it. You’ll need to use extra caution if you encounter cyclists, though.

Use the right lane. Some states restrict towing to the rightmost lanes, but it’s generally a good idea even when such rules do not exist. You’ll be going slower, so the bulk of the traffic in faster, and smaller vehicles will have a hard time seeing past you. Don’t be a physical or visual obstruction; stay to the right.

And please, on single-lane roads, be aware of cars stacked up behind you and get out of their way when safe by using provided turnouts.

Plan your exit when parking. Parking a tow rig is easiest if you can use curbside parking or pull-through spots. You may find that parking with the truckers works best. But you will find yourself in a supermarket lot at some point. Use larger retailers that are most likely to have a huge lot, and park in the back where it is emptiest. You’re going to need to take up multiple spots, but others will understand if you use the unpopular fringes. As ever, take care around curbs and planters, and stop where you can guarantee you can pull forward and away without obstructions.

Tips for backing up. This is a subtle art, but there are a few ground rules. Use a spotter. You won’t be able to see hanging tree limbs and roof eaves that could be a threat. Look over your shoulder, if you can, and place your hand at the bottom of the rim. This offsets the fact that the trailer will go the opposite way that you think — at least at first. Go slow, and use small initial movements. If you get crossed up, pull forward to realign and try again. If you are trying to turn a trailer into a spot, know that you may have to switch the direction of your steering mid-stream to prevent the trailer’s new arc from tightening overmuch. This reversal can put your tow vehicle’s forgotten front corners at risk, so make sure you are looking everywhere all the time.

Trailer towing is an acquired skill that will greatly expand the ways you can use your vehicle. It’s absolutely worth learning how to tow a trailer, and it will become second nature as you gain experience. Like anything else, start small, take your time and don’t take shortcuts. Done right, towing in of itself is neither pure fun nor a dreary chore, but is instead a satisfying challenge with a payoff at the end in the form of outdoor fun at a far-off location.

Related Video:

Wash me now: What’s the best type of car wash?

Touch car washNeed to give the car a wash? Deliberating between doing it yourself or going to a professional car wash? If you don’t have the time, desire, or supplies to clean your car at home, then it’s time to hit the pros. There are three types of places you can go to get your car washed, all with differing degrees of effectiveness. Options include a quick…

Is Filling Your Tires With Nitrogen Better Than Oxygen

Is filling your tires with nitrogen better than filling them with oxygen? The short answer is: “Yes”.

Here’s the science to support that fact. You may be surprised to learn that the air we breathe is roughly 78% nitrogen and 22% oxygen. That same air mixture gets pumped into your tires every time you fill up. You may be thinking, “Well, if it’s 78% already, shouldn’t that be enough? I mean, does 22% oxygen really make that much of a difference?” Again, the short answer is: “Yes”.

The key is how much oxygen gets displaced by that extra nitrogen. When the nitrogen content is increased from 78% to 99%, the oxygen content drops from 21% to less than 1%. The reason that this is good is that oxygen really isn’t that great for your tires to begin with. The problem with oxygen is that it expands when the tires get hot, this causes over-inflation and actually leaks out of the tires’ sidewalls at a much faster rate than nitrogen which is a much larger molecule. Ironically, this naturally occurring “over-inflation” directly causes “underinflation” which contributes to the degradation of the rubber. As if that isn’t enough, plain air contains water vapor which is corrosive to the metal rims as well as the tire pressure sensors.

Nitrogen has been used for many years in aircraft tires, racing cars and military vehicles, but how does it affect the average passenger car? Well, that really depends on the type and the amount of driving you do, as well as how faithfully you check your tire pressure. Not everyone has tire pressure monitors, though they are becoming standards on most new vehicles.

Your best bet is to give our service department a call and we can evaluate and advise you on whether or not nitrogen filled tires are right for you and your driving habits and circumstances.

Vent Windows Can Be A Costly Window Repair

One would think that some of the smaller components, such as those little vent windows wouldn’t cost too much to replace…that is until you’ve actually broken one. Of course, everyone knows that there are many components of automotive glass on the car that will largely differ in cost. Lots of individuals don’t understand how much the tiny vent window on a new or used car in Dallas may cost to fix.

Here’s a scenario you may have experienced:

You’re running behind for the most important meeting of your life and after switching off your car, you grab the keys and put them on the passenger seat while you collect your notes. After this you hop out of the vehicle and click the lock button on the door prior to shutting it. As you are actually letting go of the door, you remember your keys sitting in the front…but it’s too late. The door slams and is now locked…with your keys inside. Now what? Call a locksmith? Nope, there’s no time. So you choose to break the small vent glass and take care of the cost later…after all, how much can that actually cost?

So your meeting is over and you now need to contact and arrange an autoglass replacement for that small vent window you decided was your key back into your car. Of course, after talking with the autoglass center, you find out that the little vent window you broke is one of the priciest parts of glass on your automobile. D’OH!

What people don’t understand is that the vent window might be small compared to the other glass on the car but it is not often mass produced like the windshield or door window. Quite often, the vent window will need to be special ordered which means the manufacturer will likely need to commit additional time to custom cut this piece of glass. The vent window normally consist of lots of curves which will also increase the time it will take to custom cut the window.

Therefore should you find yourself in a bind and feel you must break a window on your automobile then you should bust the door window rather than that small vent window. The vent window can ultimately cost you 2 or 3 times what it would cost to replace the door window. Sad but true.

Finding it tough to search for a windshield repair service center nearby? Hope is not dimmed yet, whether you are in Fort Worth or Dallas come to your Texas GMC dealer with all your new and used car needs and let us help you today….and that includes choosing another way to retrieve your keys without breaking the bank.

More Front End Clicking Noise

 

The other day I wrote about bearing noise coming from your front wheel drive car. It usually sounds like a constant “hum”. Today I want to cover a different noise: Clunking or clicking when you take a turn. Let’s say that you’ve already determined that something is wrong with your wheels. But, what exactly is it? Do you hear a clicking noise when you make a turn? Do you see grease around the tires? If you do, these are symptoms of a problem with your car’s axle system. The axle system is simply what enables you to turn and move the wheels. When the axle goes bad, you may also feel extra tension when turning the steering wheel.

If this sounds like it could be your auto repair issue, watch  the video below with Mechanic’s Master Mechanic, Michael Renteria for a more detailed explanation. Michael, an ASE certified technician, explains why your car’s axle system is throwing grease (cracks in CV boot) and why you’re hearing clunking or knocking.

Now if you’ve found that you believe that you are having an axle problem like described in the video above, you are going to want to bring in your vehicle as soon as possible as to avoid causing any further damage to your front axle. Bring your GM vehicle by Freeman Grapevine and we’ll check it out for you.

Save

What Is Inspected At The 75,000 Mile Maintenance Check

Everybody wants to have a vehicle that lasts forever, or at least long enough to give the vehicle to your oldest child when they go off to college. One thing to remember is that the moment you drive the new vehicle off the lot is when your car’s factory scheduled maintenance begins.

Having regular factory maintenance inspections ensures that your vehicle will be working at its best as any issues can be addressed before they become serious issues. Your vehicle maintenance will consist of basic scheduled service and intermediate scheduled service.

75,000 Mile Service Check

The 75,000 mile service check is an intermediate scheduled inspection that isn’t as intensive as a major service check but the inspection involves more than just checking and changing your vehicle’s oil. Most mechanics and dealerships will perform many of the same services, with added tweaks to stay competitive against other service centers. Here are some of the basic things that are done during the 75,000 mile service check.

Visual Inspection: A good mechanic will visually inspect areas of the vehicle that experience the most wear-and-tear. They should inspect all belts, hoses, suspension bushings, brakes, and motor mounts. The vehicle will also be inspected for leaks, unusual noises when in operation and strange noises that may indicate a problem.

Filter Replacements: You’ll have the oil and filter replaced, the engine air filter checked and perhaps the cabin air filter changed.

Recall Issues: Freeman Grapevinewill also check if your vehicle falls into the manufacturer’s recall list for any significant problems that need to be fixed so the driver won’t be put at risk while out on the road.

Some other maintenance your service technician may perform include tire replacement, shock/strut replacement, and replacing the drive belt. In addition, a safety inspection will also be performed so that you are rest assured you will be driving a tip-tip vehicle out on the road. If any leaks are noticed, the service technician will be able to find out where it is coming from and fix the problem.

So keep an eye on your odometer and make sure to schedule your 75,000 mile factory maintenance inspection so that your vehicle can be checked for any potential problems. With this inspection, your vehicle will last for a very long time without needing extensive major repairs due to negligence.

How Often Do You Rotate Your Tires?

I would say that the majority of people know that regular scheduled maintenance is a necessity when it comes to owning a car to keep it running properly. One of the most common maintenance produces is getting oil changed. A no -brainer, right?! Well, you’d think so, but there are a handful out there that just don’t get their oil changed. And then they end up with some major, and sometimes even irreversible damage to their vehicles engine.

But enough about the importance of oil changes. Another important maintenance procedure you need to have done is getting your tires rotated. Now this one I can understand being overlooked….sometimes!  For some reason, people seem to always forget about the tires, which is crazy to me because they are the ones doing the ground work…no pun intended!

Keeping your tires properly maintained not only keeps you safe…very important, but also helps you to get the most wear out them as well.  And if that’s not enough, rotating your tires also helps you get better gas mileage as well  which all adds up to saving money, and, in this economy is a very important thing.

If you find that you have trouble remembering to rotate your tires, I suggest you add it in when you get your oil changed. To get the most of your tires, you want to keep them on a regular rotation so that they wear evenly. But even more frequently, you should at least check the tire pressure. Driving with low tire pressure is unsafe and can make your tires more susceptible to flats and punctures and can even make driving your vehicle challenging.

If you need a service shop, then of course I recommend giving Freeman Grapevine a try and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  And of course you’re always welcome to come check out our great selection of new and use vehicles too!

Save

Clean Fuel Injectors Means More Miles Per Gallon

It doesn’t take your car repairman to tell you that, if you’ve hit your 60,000 mile mark and haven’t had your fuel injectors cleaned, it’s probably time to do so. I don’t need to tell you that the cleaner your fuel injectors are, the more efficient your engine will be, whereby resulting in better gas mileage. With fuel prices seemingly stuck at well over $3 a gallon, this just means more money in your pocket. What happens when fuel injectors are dirty or clogged is that they don’t spray in an even pattern. This will produce poor fuel ignition and is a huge waste of fuel. Check out the video below. This is a great report on fuel injectors.

Replacing fuel injectors can cost several hundred dollars so you don’t want to neglect them, as they are the feeding tube for your engine and you are going to want as much efficiency as possible. It’s a good idea to get them serviced at least once a year. Remember, following your regular maintenance schedule will prove to greatly benefit the life of your car’s engine.

5 Things That Cause Your Front End To Clunk

front end clunk, car clunking, cluking under hood, sway bar, shocks, ball joints, tie rods, loose suspension

It can be one of the most annoying noises your car, or truck can produce. That CLUNK when you turn the wheel of your vehicle. The issue here could actually be a number of things. There can be 5 things that can cause a front end clunk.

  • ball joints
  • tie rod
  • sway-bar links
  • shocks
  • shock mounts

Take a look at the video below for a quick explanation how each of these components can be the culprit of causing that front end clunk.

If you’ve exhausted the entire list of potential problems above, remember it could be your control arm bushings. As was said in the video, these are pretty heavy duty bushings, so you probably have put a LOT of miles on your vehicles.

If you aren’t really sure how to check your GM vehicle’s suspension system for the noise that you know is coming from “somewhere up there”, go ahead and bring in your car at anytime. We’ll be able to diagnose and fix your front end clunking quickly and efficiently. Front end suspension is always taking some extreme abuse from pot holes and poorly maintained road, so it will probably require some adjustment at times. Letting it go may only create problems in the future.

Save

When Do You Know It’s Time For New Shocks

Ok, how do you know when  you may require replacement shocks and why are shocks so essential? These are excellent questions.   This is certainly an frequently overlooked but crucial piece to your automobile in regards to safety. make no mistake, recognizing when it is time to switch your shocks is extremely important.

First, let’s evaluate the shocks as well as the suspension system:

Examining your shocks is often a very simple thing to perform. The truth is, it is something you can do yourself  fairly easily.

The very first thing that can be done is pay attention if you are driving. For example, upon hitting the bump does your car or truck continue to bounce up and down? If the answer is yes then you definitely will almost undoubtedly require fresh shocks. Start taking note now, as this will likely start slowly and get worse over time until they are really bad. In reality, if you delay too long you may break other components and parts of of you vehicle.

Another approach to test your shock’s life  would be to physically peek underneath your car or truck. For a truck or van you might not be able to see them. In this instance you need to push on the bumper and follow the measures the same as you are physically taking a look at them. They may bounce. Two or three bounces they are fine. If they continue to oscillate, then they need replacing.

As stated before, the main reason it is so important to change worn out shocks is because they’re critical to keeping your tires connected with the highway. If you are driving down a bumpy road and the wheels are bouncing up and down, worn shocks will in fact permit the wheels to entirely lose contact with the highway. Considering your tires are the only thing separating you from the highway, this can be particularly unsafe when you run into a dip or a bump during a high speed curve. Superior shocks will help to minimize body roll, also essential during cornering.

IF you think that your shock may be worn and really can’t figure it out by yourself, swing by and we’ll take a look at them. Then we can recommend the right types for your Buick or GMC.

Save