What’s the deal with motor oil? [VIDEO]

Whether you've been driving for years or just bought your first used car, it's always good to know a bit about what's going on under the hood. Having an idea of how things work and what happens when they don't can save you a lot of headaches and trips to the mechanic. Today, we're going to talk a bit about motor oil: what it is, what it does and what happens when it leaks or needs to be changed.

"Motor oil keeps engines well-lubricated."

Why do cars need oil?
Engines are made of hundreds of metal parts that bump, grind and rub up against one another. Motor oil provides lubrication to prevent excess wear and tear, allowing each part to function as expected as long as possible. Without oil, the engine will not run as smoothly due to all the friction of the hard surfaces colliding without protective barriers. Cars.com pointed out that oil can actually help keep the engine cool as well.

What do all those numbers mean?
If you have had to buy a bottle of oil for your car, you may have been confused by all the numbers and letters defining the different options. So what is the difference between 5W-30 and 10W-40? The specifics behind these numbers have to do with the testing process, but what you really need to know is that the different codes represent different viscosity, or thickness, levels.  Some oils are designed specifically for higher-mileage vehicles and others are made to be used in commercial vehicles with larger engines.

How do you know which to choose?
The type of oil you'll want to use will depend on the kind of used car you drive. Everything from the size of the vehicle to its age and even the time of year can influence which type of oil you'll need. For example, it is better to use a thicker oil in the winter and a thinner one in warmer months. Thankfully, you only need to check the owner's manual to find out what the automaker recommends for your make and model. You can also seek out the advice of an expert when you take your car in for a tune-up or an oil change. 

What should you look for when checking the oil?
The primary reason to check your oil is to ensure there is enough to keep the engine lubricated. Doing so is a simple process that should take more than a few minutes and should be done every month or two. Ideally, you will want to find a decent fluid level and liquid that is golden brown, dark brown or black in color, and free of debris.

Checking the oil is easier than you think.

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Checking the oil also gives you an opportunity to spot potential problems like leaks. If you notice that the level is particularly low, add a quart or two to the tank and check the level again in a few days. You might have a leak if the level has dropped significantly in a short time, and you should see out a mechanic's help. The same advice goes for if you can see flecks of metal or debris in the fluid, as this may mean it's time to replace your oil filter. It could also point to another leak somewhere in the engine.

How often should you change the oil?
Much like the oil type, the frequency of changing it relies on numerous factors. The age and condition of the car will dictate this maintenance schedule. Older cars can often go longer between changes, since their parts tend to be a bit more worn and smoother and they won't require as much lubrication. However, newer models are made with more advanced parts and can last longer than traditional recommendations. The old rule of thumb was to change the oil every 3,000 miles, but more recently, automotive experts have stated that drivers can wait anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500 miles. A professional can provide a more specific range depending on the type of car and its condition.

Google’s autonomous cars may soon be driving to a street near you

Google has been working on its self-driving cars for years now, and the project has just taken a very prominent step forward. The Internet giant's own autonomous vehicles are currently roaming the streets of California. Google is testing its prototypes in Mountain View to see how they will handle in real-world situations, and how other drivers will adapt to their new road companions. So far, the results have been fairly promising, potentially even revealing the possibility that these vehicles could be safer than those driven by people.

"The prototype cars can only reach 25 mph."

Are the cars completely driverless?
While the goal of Google's efforts is to develop a car that does not even need a person present to operate, the developers are not yet ready to let their cars roam free without a little manpower. Each car is equipped with its own "safety driver" who can take over in a moment's notice. Since the autonomous cars are intended to operate without having any of the traditional controls – steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal – Google installed removable equipment for the safety drivers. The cars are also designed to have a maximum speed of 25 mph, ensuring they will be able to navigate suburban streets as safely as possible.

Is Google really building its own cars?
In initial tests, Google has used Lexus models adapted with the technology, but now it is using its own prototype vehicles, which look at once futuristic and retro, that have been full integrated to support the hardware and tech required for them to operate themselves. The Associated Press reported that while Google unveiled the design of the vehicles last year, the company has not set them loose in public roads until now. These small cars, which have a body similar to that of the Fiat 500 but with far more space-age styling, were designed with the technology in mind. They are small and rounded in shape so the sensors are best able to analyze the environment. The cars, which are entirely electric, seat two passengers and have beacon-like protrusions on the front and top of the body where the lasers, cameras and radars have been placed to best sense the surroundings. 

Google is even getting people involved in the testing phase. California residents are able to submit their artwork to be incorporated on the doors of the prototypes. Google wants to focus on the theme of "my community, my neighbors," and will choose the 10 best submissions to feature on the prototypes. The winners will all get to ride in the vehicles as well.

"Onboard sensors can detect and predict what is going on outside the car."

How do the cars know how to drive? 
Google has not created a sentient machine, but rather used a variety of technology to gather and analyze data in real time. Using satellite maps, GPS and a number of on-board sensors, the Google driverless cars are able to navigate roads and find their way from point A to point B without any human assistance. The cars are even able to tell which lane they are in and how far they are from other objects like vehicles, pedestrians and road signs. Not only can the processors determine a vehicle's surroundings, but they are able to predict possible changes, such as other vehicles changing lanes or stopping short, pedestrians crossing the street or cyclists passing by. If necessary, the cars will make adjustments to avoid incidents, whether they have to change lanes, slow down or swerve.

How have Google's cars been performing so far?
While it's still too early to know how the Google cars are doing, Google has had its Lexus test fleet driving the roads for a few years already. The AP stated that these earlier iterations of driverless vehicles have only had 13 minor accidents in the few years they've been on the open road. Most importantly, the cause of these crashes was never found to be a result of Google's technology. Only one of the incidents was found to be caused by a driverless car, and even in that one instance, the safety driver had taken over and was behind the wheel when the incident occurred. With such positive results so far, it's a good sign that Google is on the right track to bringing autonomous cars to the general public.

"Driverless cars could reach showrooms by 2020."

When will self-driving cars be available to buy?
Unfortunately, it's impossible to know exactly how soon automakers will start selling self-driving cars. However, CNET reported that this dream may be a reality in the near future, as Ford and Nissan have claimed this technology could reach showrooms as early as 2020. However, at the rate Google is expanding its testing, the possibility of seeing one of its vehicles on East Coast roads is not that far-fetched.

Drivers who want to be the first to relinquish the title of "driver" in one of these cars can start saving now by finding a used car to get around in the meantime. New Jersey State Auto Auction carries plenty of affordable makes and models to choose from. While older models may not be able to drive themselves, newer used cars may have ultra-modern features like parking assist, lane departure warnings and rearview cameras that can let drivers feel like they're driving into the future.

How to keep your car in top shape all summer [VIDEO]

The maintenance your car needs changes with the seasons, and as things heat up it's good to make sure your ride is ready for the summer months. All sorts of things, from longer days to hotter roads, can affect your vehicle this summer. It's good to keep up with maintenance to not only ensure your vehicle will be able to get you to the beach all summer but to prevent major problems that will come with hefty repair bills. Let's take a look at some of the maintenance you can do at home to keep your car running smoothly and safely all summer long and well into fall.

Follow some of these car care tips to have a safe, happy summer.

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Fluids, fluids, fluids
You already know it's important to drink lots of water and stay hydrated under the summer sun, but you might not give the same consideration to your car. It's important to check levels of your windshield washer fluid, oil, transmission fluid, coolant and brake fluid regularly. If the levels are low or if the fluids appear discolored or grainy, it's probably a good idea to schedule a routine check-up with your mechanic. Low levels and particles in fluids could indicate leaks.

What color should my fluids be?
It's good to familiarize yourself with the different types of fluids under the hood of your used car. This way, you'll be able to identify the problem faster if you spot a leak.

  • Windshield washer fluid: Typically bright blue
  • Transmission fluid: Bright red to darker, rusty red
  • Coolant (Antifreeze): Most often bright green, but can also be pink or orange
  • Brake fluid: Pale yellow or clear
  • Oil: Anywhere from golden brown to black, depending on its age

Popular Mechanics also indicated that it's better to use thicker oil, like 10W-30, during the warmer months, as thinner oil like the standard 5W-20 may not provide enough lubrication in the summer heat. Getting an oil change is something you should be doing every few thousand miles anyway, so what better time than in the summer?

"Low tire pressure can increase mileage."

While typical summer heat won't melt the rubber in your car tires while you're lounging on the beach, that doesn't mean you can ignore your tires until winter. Check the air pressure regularly, adding air when necessary. You can look in your car's user manual to find the correct PSI range you should aim for. Having too little air can decrease your fuel efficiency, and too much air increases the risk of popping a tire and getting into an accident.

It's also good to visually inspect the tires. You will want to take a look at each one. If you notice cracks, tears or uneven wear, you may need to replace or at least rotate your tires. Check the tread to determine the level of wear. You can do this easily with a penny. Simply slip it into one of the treads with Abraham Lincoln's head facing you. If you're able to see more than half of his head, your tires may be a bit too worn down. Worn tires have a harder time gripping the road's surface, especially in inclement weather, so speak to an expert if you're worried about your tires.

Car wash
Washing your car will provide a few benefits, the most prominent of which is that your ride will look great when you cruise along the ocean. A good wax can also help protect your car's exterior from things like UV rays, bugs, sand and debris that can chip and scratch the finish. In addition to cleaning the exterior, you should take the time to clear out any trash or accumulated items from the interior. Use a vacuum to suck up all the sand, and tackle the seats with a shop vac to get the smell of salt water out of your car.

"Wash the windows for better visibility."

You should also clean the surfaces, such as the dashboard, center console and control display. A car that looks and feels clean will be much nicer to drive and make the trip more enjoyable for you and your passengers. Don't forget to give the windows a good wipe-down as well. This final step will make it easier for you to see the road, as there will hopefully be fewer streaks that can crate glares and reduce visibility.

If your car needs a lot of work beyond basic maintenance and minor repairs, however, it could be a good time to head to New Jersey State Auto Auction and start shopping for your next used car. The public auto auction has loads of pre-owned makes and models. Whether you're in the market for a sensible sedan like a Ford Focus or a Toyota Camry, or you'd rather find a luxury car in your budget, NJ Auto Auction is sure to have what you need. The best part is that there are new cars every week, so you're bound to find the model of your dreams.

3 used cars to avoid when shopping for your next ride

No matter how stylish, sporty or expensive a car looks on the outside, if it's not safe, reliable or a quality ride, it's not worth any amount of money. A car, new or used, is a significant investment, so you don't want to dedicate a big chunk of change to a vehicle that's going to need loads of maintenance and repairs or one that can't protect you in a crash. If you're going to spend the money, it's essential that you find a vehicle that meets certain industry standards as well as your own requirements.

"Safety isn't the only factor in choosing a reliable ride."

All makes and models are rigorously tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but a car's worth goes beyond safety. When you're shopping for a used car, you have an advantage over new-car buyers, because the models you're considering have been tested in the real world and you can glean a lot more information about their long-term quality.

In addition to finding a safe used car, you'll also want one that is comfortable to sit in and operate. Something that's too cramped or offers low visibility will drive you crazy by the time you can afford to trade it in for a better model. 

To begin filtering the weak links from your options, avoid these three models:

2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV 
Electric cars hold a lot of promise and many are doing rather well in the market, but this Mitsubishi fell rather short of that mark. Consumer Reports ranked it among the worst cars of 2014 due to its seven-hour recharge time, shorter-than-average range of 62 miles and unimpressive handling. Despite the automaker touting the i-MiEV's interior features that include a leather steering wheel and heated front seats, the reviewer indicated the design fell far short of impressive and even threw around the words "cheap" and "antiquated" to describe the interior. The model also came in at the bottom of National Auto Dealer's Association's list for value retention, with an average trade-in value of just over $8,000, nearly $6,000 lower than the second worst model, according to Green Car Reports.

The unique design may be the only appealing thing about the i-MiEV.The unique design may be the only appealing thing about the i-MiEV.

2011 Nissan Versa
Among 2011 model year vehicles, the Versa was at the bottom of the list in terms of safety. Forbes reported that this compact car had the worst scores in the NHTSA's tests that year, with an overall score of two out of a possible five stars. It is possible that, due to changes in the testing qualifications that took effect in 2010, the Versa's score may not accurately depict its safety in the real world, but why take chances if there are countless other, much higher-rated options out there? It's also a good model to avoid if you want to carry more than two passengers. Kelley Blue Book pointed out that the interior is anything but roomy, something to be expected of smaller car styles, but certainly worth noting if cabin size is important to you.

2011 Cadillac STS
Cadillac is often thought to be synonymous with quality and luxury, but the STS doesn't fit this mold. This is the final model year for the discontinued vehicle, and though it sold well when it was released, a few details may make you want to think twice about test driving a pre-owned model. The IIHS tests resulted in the lowest rating for head restraint and seat safety. In fact, the model has gotten a "poor" score consistently since 2005 in this category. The side impact score was only moderately better with an "acceptable rating." According to Forbes, the price tag of the car when it was new was much higher than the quality it offered drivers.

While these cars, among others, may not be the most ideal choices for your next ride, there are still hundreds of models on the used car market that will meet and exceed your expectations. So long as you know what qualifications you want a vehicle to meet and you research your options carefully, you'll be prepared to step onto the lot and find the perfect car. New Jersey State Auto Auction has plenty of different pre-owned models to choose from, and the selection changes weekly.