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All Things Fluid: What It Does and Why It’s Important to Maintain

brake fluid

Your brake fluid is indispensable. Without it, your brakes wouldn’t function at all. Sadly, it often gets ignored. In this article, we’ll talk about what brake fluid does and why it’s so important. We’ll also discuss what steps you should take to properly maintain your vehicle’s brake fluid.

What is brake fluid, and why is it important?

Brake fluid is a hydraulic liquid that flows throughout your braking system and engine. Since
it’s incompressible, it can move force from the brake pedal to the calipers. This pressure causes
the calipers to clamp down onto the rotors, applying the brakes. Simply put, your brakes
wouldn’t function without the fluid.

Modern fluids for the brake system have many beneficial qualities. Since fluid circulates throughout the
engine, it can stand up to high temperatures. To prevent it from vaporizing, it has a very high
boiling point. This helps ensure your system has the proper amount of fluid in it. This fluid is
also designed to keep a constant viscosity, no matter what extreme temperature it’s exposed to.
Since engines have intricate passages and valving, the fluid needs to be able to flow
smoothly. Additionally, fluid contains anti-corrosive chemicals that help preserve the
metal components of the engine. All these features of fluid make it a vital part of the
engine and braking system.

There are several different types of fluid. Most of them are glycol-ether-based, a formula
that can absorb moisture from its atmosphere. The moisture absorbed by the fluid can
gradually reduce its boiling point, which can lead to decreased stopping ability. Too much
moisture in the fluid can also damage metal engine components, causing them to rust. To
avoid these issues, your fluid should be tested regularly and replaced periodically.

How often does brake fluid need to be changed?

Different types of fluids have different changing intervals. Your owner’s manual may
have information specific to your make and model regarding brake fluid and its maintenance. At
Carlson Automotive, we typically suggest brake fluid replacement at least every year or two.

To get more information on the status of your fluid, take a look at it. Your brake fluid’s
appearance changes as it gets older. Most fluid starts as clear or amber-colored. Over
time, it becomes contaminated with rust particles and debris from the engine. This changes the
appearance to a cloudy, brown fluid. This is a good indicator that your brake fluid needs
replacing. Additionally, pay attention to your fluid levels. An occasional decrease in brake fluid
is perfectly normal, as long as it’s a small quantity. If you always need to top off your brake
fluid, it could indicate an issue that needs repair.

We also suggest getting your fluid tested for its moisture content. This helps determine its
composition and quality. Most shops will do this on request when you get your oil changed.
This test can help you decide what steps you need to take for your brake fluid maintenance.

Do you need your fluid replaced or tested? Our experienced technicians at Carlson
Automotive are here for you. Give us a call today at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove
location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. You can also ​ request an appointment
online​ .




Transmission Fluid 101: Why It’s Important and How to Maintain It

You may or may not know this, but taking care of your transmission fluid is equally as important as routine oil changes. It keeps your transmission healthy, which saves you money on big repairs in the long run. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about your transmission fluid. We’ll also talk about how to check the status of your transmission fluid to ensure it’s in top condition. Let’s dive in.

What is transmission fluid, and why is it important?

Your vehicle’s transmission is responsible for shifting into different gears, such as reverse, park, or drive. All this shifting involves a lot of work in the transmission. That’s where transmission fluid comes in. The fluid’s job is to lubricate the metal transmission components. Its goal is to reduce damage and wear on these parts. Transmission fluid also functions as a coolant so the transmission stays at an optimal temperature.

Types of transmission fluid

There are several types of transmission fluids out there. The type needed for your vehicle depends on the make and model of your vehicle. Most transmission fluids are classified as either automatic or manual transmission fluid. There are also specialty fluids for specified transmissions.

Manual transmission fluid is the less common of the two main types of fluid. It’s typically only used in older models with manual transmissions. These days, most newly-manufactured manual transmission vehicles require automatic transmission fluid.

Automatic transmission fluid is thinner than its manual counterpart. This makes it easier to shift in and out of gear, especially in colder climates. Automatic transmission fluid helps with lots of engine functions, such as:

  1. Gear lubrication
  2. Transmission coolant
  3. Brake band friction
  4. Torque converter operation
  5. Valve body operation
  6. Clutch operation

Another consideration for transmission fluid is synthetic versus traditional transmission fluid. Synthetic fluid is prepared to stand up to the high temperatures inside the engine. On the other

hand, traditional transmission fluid is made of crude oil that can oxidize at high temperatures. The type of transmission fluid you need depends on the make and model of your vehicle. Consult a transmission expert or your owner’s manual to point you in the right direction.

How to check your transmission fluid

Transmission fluid needs to be replaced periodically. Regularly checking it will help you know whether maintenance is necessary. This can be done by locating the transmission dipstick. It’s important to note that some modern vehicles have sealed transmissions, which don’t require maintenance at all. If that’s the case, consult your manufacturer or owner’s manual for more information.

If the transmission isn’t sealed, you can find the dipstick in the engine compartment beneath the hood. To check your fluid level, take the dipstick out, and wipe it clean. Then, slowly put it backandremoveitagain. Once you’ve done this, you can read your current fluid level by using the markings on the dipstick. A frequent issue with low fluid indicates a leak somewhere in your engine. In this case, it’s a good idea to bring your car to a service provider for diagnostics.

After assessing the fluid level, examine its color. Healthy transmission fluid has a pinkish-red color. If it’s slightly darker and looks more brownish-red, it means it’s time to get your fluid replaced. If your fluid is dark brown or black, it suggests a more serious problem that requires prompt attention.

Regular maintenance of your transmission fluid helps ensure a healthy transmission. This helps you avoid major costs down the road. Do you have questions about your transmission fluid? Our certified technicians at Carlson Automotive ​can help. Give us a call today at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location.

The Coolant Flush: Everything You Need to Know and Why It’s So Important

Chances are you’ve seen a car stopped on the side of the road with smoke coming out of the hood. That’s what happens when your engine overheats. Your vehicle’s cooling system helps prevent this from happening. To make sure your cooling system stays healthy, it’s necessary to schedule a coolant flush. In this article, we’ll discuss what this entails and how often you need it done.

How does the cooling system work?

It’s no surprise that your engine produces lots of heat. If this heat isn’t kept under control, it could ruin the entire engine. That’s what the cooling system is for. Its job is to manage the heat and keep everything running smoothly.

The cooling system includes the following components:

  1. Head gaskets
  2. Intake manifold gaskets
  3. Pressure cap and reserve tank
  4. Water pump
  5. Temperature sensor
  6. Thermostat
  7. Radiator
  8. Radiator cooling fans
  9. Heater core
  10. Hoses
  11. Bypass system
  12. Freeze plugs

In addition to these parts, liquid coolant is circulated throughout the engine to ensure the engine stays cool.

What is a coolant flush?

Eventually, rust particles pollute your engine’s coolant. The purpose of a coolant flush is to replace the contaminated coolant with fresh fluids. A cleaning fluid is also added to help flush out excess debris.

A coolant flush is sometimes confused with topping off the coolant. Topping off your coolant means making sure there’s enough coolant in your engine. A coolant flush is done to clean out cooling fluid in your system.

Why is it important to get a coolant flush?

There are many benefits to routine coolant flushes. For one, they remove rust and other particles from the coolant. These deposits can cause your engine to overheat if they’re not dealt with.

Coolant flushes also protect your water pump by keeping it properly lubricated and preventing debris from clogging it up. Additionally, old coolant becomes acidic over time. This acidity can cause damage to your engine if it’s not replaced. Old antifreeze also loses its ability to prevent corrosion over time, making it less effective. Routine coolant flushes can prevent these problems and extend the lifespan of your engine.

How often does it need to be done?

As with other forms of car maintenance, your owner’s manual can point you in the right direction for service guidelines. Our licensed technicians at Carlson Automotive can also help you figure out a maintenance plan that’s best for you. Not all coolants are the same. Some long-lasting types will work well for up to 5 years, but others might need to be replaced every 2 years.

At a minimum, we advise a cooling system inspection every two years. This check-up should include:

  1. Visual inspection of all cooling system parts
  2. System power flush and coolant refill
  3. Internal leak check
  4. Pressure test
  5. System pressure level check
  6. Engine fan test
  7. Thermostat check

Is it time for your coolant flush? Give Carlson Automotive a call today at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

How Technology Revolutionized Automotive Comfort


Today’s cars can come equipped with any luxury and comfort feature imaginable. But, this wasn’t always the case. In this article, we’ll discuss how technology transformed automotive interiors. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for your car’s interior.

The early 1900s

In a lot of ways, the earliest automobiles were quite similar to carriages. Both were open-air vehicles, so drivers and passengers were exposed to the elements. Unless you had perfect weather, chances are you’d be too hot, too cold, or too wet. That all changed in 1910, when Cadillac came out with the first closed body car. With this invention, automakers started looking for ways to make interiors more comfortable.

This brought about a few important innovations. Cadillac released the Model Thirty in 1912, which came with an electronic self-starter, ignition, and lighting. In 1914, luxury Scripps-Booth cars were equipped with power door locks. 1929 saw the first interior heating system from Ford. These inventions were all significant because they paved the way for more advancements in auto interiors.

Music innovations

The focus on interiors brought advancements to car radios and sound systems. In the late 1920s, the first AM radios were installed. By the 1930s, these were standard in most cars. The first AM/FM radio didn’t appear until 1950. In 1966, the Ford Mustang came equipped with an 8-track player. These were ultimately phased out in favor of cassette players. The cutting-edge technology of the 1980s was the car CD player. These were popular through the 1990s and early 2000s. At this point, compact digital storage media took off. These days, it’s easy to stream music from your personal device to your vehicle. Automotive sound systems have certainly come a long way!

Climate control comfort

In 1940, Packard Motor Car Company had two huge breakthroughs. These were in-car air conditioners and power windows. Both made it possible to manage the interior temperature of the car. Building on these ideas, Cadillac developed an automatic climate control system in 1960. This let people set the temperature inside their cars. By 1980, Cadillac came out with an all-electronic version of this system. This is the basis for what automakers use today.

Seat improvements and comfort

The 1966 Cadillac DeVille was the first car to feature heated seats. Since then, manufacturers have created many other heated features, from steering wheels to side panels. Ventilated seats were invented in 1998 by Saab, creating a cooling experience for drivers. The ultimate luxury seat comes from Mercedes, who created a massaging car seat in the 2000s. I don’t know if anything can top that.

Modern technology and human machine interfaces

Modern cars have smart interfaces that allow for integration of your smartphone or personal device. This technology is called HMI, or “human machine interface”. With HMI technology, you can adjust lots of interior features, including:

  1. Touch interfaces
  2. Internet and cloud connectivity
  3. Wireless communication
  4. GPS
  5. Seat comfort and interior temperature
  6. Advanced lighting and sound systems

HMI technology gives drivers control of luxury interior features with the tap of a screen.

We’ve sure come a long way since the open-air autos of the early 1900s. Early automakers couldn’t have fathomed the features we have today, not to mention the ease with which we can control them. Do you have questions about the interior features in your vehicle? Our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive have answers. Give us a call today at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. You can also ​request an appointment online​. We look forward to hearing from you.

How to Prepare Your Car for a Thanksgiving Road Trip in 2020


Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. With COVID-19, chances are you’ve reconsidered travel options for yourself and your family. With many people avoiding airports, there’s an anticipated rise in car travel this year. Before you take off, there’s a few things you should do to prepare your vehicle for the journey. Getting your car ready will help make sure your Thanksgiving road trip goes according to plan.

1. Inspect the belts and hoses

Open the hood and inspect the hoses and belts. Your belts shouldn’t be slack, so if they seem loose, then they need maintenance. Examine your hoses and look for fraying or cracks. Additionally, keep an eye out for leaks. Any of these issues need to be repaired before you plan to travel.

2. Check the electrical before Thanksgiving traveling

Make sure all your lights are working, including the taillights, headlights, and blinkers. If you’re planning to travel in a motorhome or truck, double-check all the electrical here as well.

3. Fluids and filters

Before leaving, it’s smart to get your oil changed if you’re due. Additionally, top off any other fluids you’re low on. This includes windshield wiper fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, and transmission fluid. The air filters in your car’s engine and cabin affect fuel economy, engine performance, and air quality. You should replace the air filters each year, so it’s best to make sure this is done before your trip.

4. Inspect your tires

One of the most important things to check before a long trip is the tires. Air pressure is very important because it affects your gas mileage. Underinflated tires will cause you to waste gas. If your tires are overinflated, it’ll impact the quality of your ride. The wrong air pressure will shorten your tires’ lifespan, so check this before you leave. If you have a long trip ahead of you, check the air pressure every 1,000 miles as well. Tire rotation is important because it helps extend the lifespan of your tires. This needs to be done every 5,000 to 8,000 miles, so get this done before your trip if needed. In general, tires will last you anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 miles. If you know you’ve had your tires for some time, it’s a good idea to get them checked out before your road trip.

5. Listen to the brakes

Whenever your brakes make odd noises, it’s important to figure out what’s going on. A squealing noise usually indicates your brake pads are worn out and need to be replaced. Brakes are the most important safety feature of your car. It’s best practice to make sure they’re in top condition before hitting the road.

6. Check the battery

Examine your battery before leaving. It should be free of corrosion and securely connected. Car batteries typically last for 3 to 5 years. To help avoid a breakdown, get your battery inspected annually if it’s over 2 years old. Thanksgiving is notorious for hectic travel. Make sure your plans go off without a hitch by preparing your car before you leave. Take care of your car now, and it’ll take care of you on the road.

Does your vehicle need a pre-travel inspection? You’re in luck. Our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive can help you out. You can ​request an appointment online​, or reach us by phone. Give us a call at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location.

What’s the Master Cylinder, and Where Did it Come From?

master cylinder

A Brief History of Automotive Brakes

When I think about the most essential car components, I always think of the brakes. Over the years, cars have been equipped with lots of different braking systems. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the history of brakes and how they came to be. Stick around if you’re in the mood to learn something new.

Wooden block brakes

The first form of automotive brakes were wooden block brakes. As the name implies, the system was made up of wooden blocks and a lever. The lever pushed the wooden block against the steel-rimmed wheels. This produced friction, which ground the vehicle to a halt.

Wooden block brakes were originally used in horse-drawn carriages and steam cars. They worked as long as the vehicle was traveling at most 10 to 20 miles per hour. By the 1890s, wooden block brakes fell out of use. This is when rubber tires were introduced. ​Since wooden block brakes only worked with steel-rimmed wheels, they became obsolete.

Mechanical drum brakes

An engineer named Gottlieb Daimler conceptualized a new braking system in 1899. He thought that if he attached a drum wrapped in cable to the car’s base frame, it could stop a moving vehicle. In 1902, Louis Renault furthered this idea when he built the first mechanical drum brake. Renault’s brakes are considered the foundation for modern automotive brakes.

Expanding internal shoe brakes

Renault’s braking system was an improvement, but it still malfunctioned quite often. This was due to the system being external. This exposed the brakes to extreme temperatures, dust, and rainfall. As a result, an internal braking system was developed. This new system was stored inside of a metal drum, which was connected to the wheel. Inside the drum, brake shoes were expanded by pistons, which caused the brake shoes to graze against the inside of the drum. This friction made the wheels slow down, eventually stopping the vehicle.

Hydraulic brakes

The issue with expanding internal shoe brakes was that they required a significant amount of force to stop the vehicle. Malcolm Loughead solved this problem by inventing the first four-wheel hydraulic braking system. Hydraulic brakes use brake fluid to transport force from

the brake pedal to the brake shoe. This system required a lot less force to stop a moving car. Hydraulics became popular and were incorporated in many vehicles by the late 1920s.

Disc brakes

Eventually, as car sizes and speed capacities increased, hydraulic brakes became less effective. Automakers needed a new system. They began using disc brakes that had hydraulic functions. Disc brakes have been around since 1902, when they were invented by William Lanchester. They didn’t become widespread until the mid-20th century, when they were used in conjunction with hydraulics.

Anti-lock brakes

Anti-lock brakes have been around since the 1920s and ‘30s, but they were originally used in airplanes. By the 1950s and ‘60s, they automakers started offering them as a safety feature. Anti-lock brakes are a significant innovation because they give the driver more control. They stop brakes from locking up while in use. The hydraulic valves take brake pressure off one wheel, which prevents the car from spinning out of control. By the 1970s, anti-lock brakes were a popular auto feature.

Does your car need brake maintenance? Our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive can help. You can ​request an appointment online​, or by phone. Give us a call at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. We look forward to seeing you soon.


What’s a master cylinder?

The master cylinder is an essential part of your brake system, but it often goes unrecognized. Today we’re talking all about master cylinders, and how they’ve evolved over time. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. The master cylinder uses hydraulic force to move power from your brake pedal to your wheels. When you hit the brakes, the force from your foot travels through this cylinder to your brake calipers. The calipers then clamp down onto your rotors. This stops the rotation of your wheels, bringing your car to a stop.

A lot of gearheads will tell you that the master cylinder is the heart of your car. This is because it pumps brake fluid to the brake lines, similar to how your heart pumps blood to your arteries. Both the master cylinder and the heart facilitate movement of fluid to where it’s needed.

How does the master cylinder work?

Let’s dive into some of the specifics. When you hit your brake pedal, it pushes a rod called, simply enough, a pushrod. The pushrod enters the dual-chamber master cylinder. Inside this cylinder, there’s a spring and two pistons. These pistons operate like plungers to push brake fluid through the master cylinder’s chambers. When these pistons move forward, it causes a build-up of hydraulic pressure. This pressure makes the calipers clamp down on the rotors, stopping your wheels.

In order for your hydraulic system to operate, it needs to be airtight. To ensure no air enters the system, there’s a reservoir above the master cylinder. When you take your foot off the brake pedal, fluid travels back through the brake lines and into the reservoir.

Evolution of the master cylinder in cars

In 1918, a man named Malcolm Lougheed invented hydraulic brakes. He was the first person to send liquid pressure against brake shoes to push them against the drums. Chrysler took Lougheed’s hydraulic model and made some improvements. They re-branded these as Chrysler-Lockheed hydraulic brakes. They were in use from 1924 until 1962.

Although Lougheed’s system was an improvement from earlier brakes, it had a big problem. Because it only had one cylinder, a single leak or fault in the system meant that all of your brakes would stop working. Not only was this inconvenient, it was extremely dangerous.

Wagner Electric improved on this model in 1960 with their invention of a dual-cylinder brake system. Similarly, in 1962, Cadillac developed a brake system that separated rear and front hydraulic lines. American Motors also created a dual-cylinder system that separated the hydraulic lines diagonally. That way, you would have one front and one rear wheel with functioning brakes, even if one circuit malfunctioned. In 1967, the federal government mandated that all cars be built with dual-braking master cylinders. It’s reported that this prevents about 40,000 car accidents each year.

The next time you hit the brakes, think about what’s going on inside your car to get the wheels to stop. There are a lot of moving parts, and the master cylinder is the heart of it all. Does your master cylinder need some extra care? Our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive are here to help. You can ​request an appointment online​, or by phone. You can reach us at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location.


7 Warning Signs Your Car Needs Brake Repair

Putting off car maintenance is never a good idea, especially when it comes to your brakes. Fortunately, our cars are pretty good at letting us know when there’s an issue. Below are 7 common signs your brakes need maintenance.

1. Grinding sound from the brake pedal

If you hear something that sounds like grinding, it could point to a few different problems. There might be a loose pebble stuck in the caliper, which is a minor fix. Grinding could also mean that there’s rust in your braking system. It could also be the brake pad wear indicator scraping the rotor.

2. Wobbling or vibration

Do you notice a wobbling or vibrating sensation while driving? This could mean you have an uneven rotor. As time passes, all rotors develop slight variations on their surfaces. The differences in thickness can cause wobbling when you hit the brake pedal. Vibrations or wobbling may also point to a caliper problem. If its piston has rust or excess debris around it, then the caliper won’t retract all the way when you release your foot from the pedal.

3. Squealing noise when braking

If your car makes a horrendous, squealing noise, you’ll know you have a brake issue. This unmistakable sound is from the brake pad wear indicators. These let you know when the calipers or brake shoes are worn out. Since they’re made of metal, they make a high-pitched screech when they brush up against the rotor.

4. Pulling to one side while braking

Another sign of an unhealthy brake system is your vehicle pulling to one side while braking. This usually means you have an issue with your two front brakes. It could be a misaligned rotor, a worn out brake hose, or a caliper issue. Any of these issues will result in your car braking unevenly. This is because the fully functioning side tries to compensate for the damaged side.

5. Burning smell while driving

Smelling something burning while you’re driving is never a good sign. A burning, chemical odor could mean you have overheated brakes. If you suspect this, stop driving right away and give your brakes enough time to cool down. Overheated brakes mean your brake fluid has reached a boiling point, and your entire braking system could fail.

6. Brake light illuminated on the dashboard

An illuminated brake light is the most obvious sign of an issue with your brakes. Located on your dashboard, the brake light is activated by your car’s diagnostics system for several reasons. To understand exactly what’s going on, you’ll need to take your car in for an inspection.

7. Soft or spongy brake feel or leaking fluid

Excess moisture in your braking system will result in your brake pedal feeling oddly soft or spongy. It usually points to a leak in your hydraulic system. Your brakes use pressurized, hydraulic brake fluid. Without enough hydraulic force, your brake pads won’t be able to clamp down onto the rotors. If the brake fluid leaks, your brakes could stop working altogether.

To understand exactly what’s going on, it’s best to have your brakes checked out by a professional. Our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive can help. You can ​request an appointment online or by phone. Give us a call at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location.


What You Need to Know About Replacing Your Brakes

Replacing the brakes on your car isn’t an easy task. Unlike other car maintenance, brake work has the potential to uncover underlying problems. These issues will need troubleshooting because the brake system is interconnected and complex. Today we’re discussing some general steps for replacing your brake system. Knowing about the process can help you decide if this is a job you can take on, or if you need help from an experienced professional.

Steps to replacing the brake system

When replacing the brakes, there’s always potential for complications. Even so, auto mechanics will generally follow these steps:

  1. Loosen the lugs​: With the emergency brake engaged, use a lug wrench to loosen the lugs. Make sure not to unfasten them completely.
  2. Raise the vehicle​: Position the car jack beneath your vehicle’s frame rail. Ensure that the jack stands are underneath your car. Rest your vehicle on the jack stands, and be certain that it’s stable. Once you know the car’s weight can’t shift, take off the wheels.
  3. Slide out the caliper​: Disconnect the bolts and slide out the caliper. If it gets stuck, you can pry it out using a flat head screwdriver. Be sure there’s no strain placed on the brake line of the caliper.
  4. Remove the caliper carrier​: Disconnect the two bolts that secure the caliper carrier in place. Then, detach the caliper carrier.
  5. Remove the rotor: Before removing the rotor, look to see if yours has a locating screw. If it does, remove this screw first. Removing the rotor can be challenging if there’s an accumulation of rust or debris.
  6. Install new rotor​: Clean any rust from the surface of the hub using a wire brush. Then, install the new rotor. Remove excess oil from the new rotor with a degreaser or brake cleaner.
  7. Assemble caliper carrier​: Reattach the caliper carrier and fasten on new bolts.
  8. Compress the caliper​: Use a c-clamp and an old brake pad to align the caliper’s piston with the caliper housing. When doing this,make sure the cap is removed from the brake reservoir, or you could risk blowing a line.
  9. Install caliper and brake pads​: Insert the brake pads in the caliper carrier. Fasten the caliper bolts to hold it in place. Verify that the caliper can move without binding or seizing up. Then, secure the bolts.
  10. Re-attach the wheels​: Manually connect the lugs. When your wheels are on the ground, use a torque wrench on them.
  11. Repeat, pump, and break in: Repeat these steps for all 4 of your wheels. Then, step on the brakes until pressure is reached. This usually takes about 3 pedal pumps. Your last step is to break in your new system. Go through a few cycles of accelerating and allowing your car to gradually slow back down. You might hear odd noises at first, but these should eventually subside.

Should I replace my own brakes?

Brakes are complicated. Unless you really know what you’re doing, brake replacement is best left to the professionals. By trusting an expert, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing your brakes are getting proper care.

Do your brakes need to be replaced? Let our experienced technicians at Carlson Automotive lend you a hand. Give us a call at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. You can also ​request an appointment online​. We look forward to serving you.

A Complete History of the “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” Light


There is a lot of history when it comes to cars and the vehicles you drive. Have you ever stopped to think about your car’s check engine light? Where did it come from? Did all cars have them? You might be surprised to hear that it has a pretty fascinating backstory, dating to the 1930s. If you’re in the mood for a mini history lesson, stick around to learn something new.

How do check engine lights over History?

Before we travel back in time to the 1930s, let’s go over a few things. A check engine light is a computerized alert that activates when there’s an engine problem. It’s typically located on the dashboard and lights up in red or orange when it’s triggered. It’s usually shown as a picture of an engine, or as a phrase, such as “SERVICE ENGINE SOON”. If the light is visible but not blinking, it signifies a non-urgent issue. If the light is blinking, it means there’s an issue that needs immediate resolution. Once the check engine light goes off, your car’s computer saves a diagnostic trouble code, or DTC. This code helps our technicians at Carlson Auto get to the root of the problem.

Where did the idea of a check engine light come from in History?

In the days before the check engine light, there was a much simpler form called an idiot light (real name!), or warning light. The first manufacturer to use idiot lights was the Hudson Motor Company of Detroit, Michigan. After that, they started doing so in the early 1930s. This binary light only alerted drivers of major engine issues. They weren’t very helpful because they didn’t give much of a warning before the vehicle broke down. By the 1980s, most automakers phased out idiot lights in favor of more modern technology.

History of Manufacturer-specific check engine lights

By the early 1980s, auto manufacturers began producing vehicles with computerized engine controls. These cars had built-in diagnostic systems which triggered check engine lights when a problem was detected. As this new technology became more prevalent, idiot lights were discontinued to avoid confusion. The main problem with the check engine lights of the 1980s was that there were no standardization in place. Each manufacturer used their own system. That made it a lot harder for auto technicians to figure out what triggered the check engine light.

When was the check engine light standardized?

The check engine light as we know it didn’t come into existence in history until 1996. At that time, the federal government mandated an on-board vehicle diagnostics system called OBD2. This was a requirement for all new vehicles sold in the United States in an effort to reduce vehicle emissions. Since all new cars were now equipped with the same system, it allowed for the standardization of DTCs. These days, all vehicles, regardless of the make or model, can be diagnosed with a scan tool. This is a direct result of DTC standardization.

Luckily, our check engine lights have come a long way in history. Today’s diagnostics process is much more efficient, thanks to scan tool technology and a unified system of fault codes. In addition, modern check engine lights make us aware of minor vehicle issues before they get worse, saving both time and money on repairs.

That wraps up our brief history of the check engine light. The next time you notice it, be grateful it’s not an idiot light. Instead, think of it as your car’s way of telling you she needs some TLC, and give us a call.



8 Reasons Your Car’s Check Engine Light is On and What You Need to Do About It

Let’s be honest. No one likes seeing their check engine light. While it might be tempting to ignore, doing so will only lead to bigger problems down the road. Below are 8 of the most common reasons your check engine light (CEL) is on.

1. Loose or missing fuel cap

The purpose of your gas cap is to keep vapors from getting out of the gas tank. If the cap is loose, cracked, or missing, it’ll trigger the CEL. That’s because driving without a fuel cap can significantly increase emissions and reduce fuel efficiency. Luckily, replacing your fuel cap is super easy and cheap.

2. Spark plugs and spark plug wires

Spark plugs and spark plug wires light up the air and fuel mixture in your engine to create the combustion that produces power. If there’s an issue with this part, it can affect engine performance. Worst case scenario, it can cause your engine to stop running. Spark plugs are relatively inexpensive, and this is a minor issue as long as it’s addressed in a timely manner.

3. Battery

Your car’s battery provides the power needed to start your vehicle. In addition, it provides power for things like your lights and stereo when the engine is turned off. If the battery is faulty, it won’t send the right amount of energy to your car’s computer. This causes your CEL to turn on.

4. EGR valve

Your car’s EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system controls your vehicle emissions. It does this by rerouting some gases from the exhaust back to the intake manifold. The EGR valve doesn’t require regular maintenance, but it can get clogged up with carbon build-up. In addition, when this starts to happen, the CEL gets activated. If ignored, this can lead to serious engine damage.

5. Oxygen sensor

The oxygen sensor monitors the gases involved in the combustion process. However, this is done to ensure the correct amount of oxygen is present. If the sensor isn’t working, your engine will end up burning more fuel than needed. This leads to lower fuel economy, meaning you’ll get fewer miles per gallon. If an oxygen sensor repair is delayed, it could cause problems with your catalytic converter or spark plugs. This can result in thousands of dollars in damages.

6. Catalytic converter

The catalytic converter turns carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. However, an issue with spark plugs or the oxygen sensor can lead to a clog in the catalytic converter, preventing it from functioning properly. In addition, routine maintenance can prevent this, saving lots of time and money on repairs.

7. MAF failure

The mass air flow (MAF) sensor measures how much air enters the engine. This lets your car know how much fuel is needed to run efficiently. If this sensor is faulty, the CEL will turn on. Delaying replacement of this part can lead to reduced performance and fuel economy. It can also result in damage to other parts of your engine, like the catalytic converter, oxygen sensor, and spark plugs.

8. Vacuum leak

Cars have many vacuum lines. A vacuum line is a hose that carries a vacuum, which is a lack of air pressure. They’re made out of rubber, so they can stretch out or crack over time. However, when this happens, your car will detect a leak and activate your CEL.

As you can see, the check engine light can indicate a wide variety of issues. It’s in your best interest to get your car checked out as soon as a potential problem arises. Let our technicians at Carlson Auto help you figure out if it’s simple or serious. Give us a call at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. We’re always here to help.


How to Troubleshoot a Check Engine Light Issue

No one wants to see their check engine light, but when it comes on, you need to know what to do. As you probably know, the CEL can indicate a wide variety of issues, from minor repairs to a major overhaul. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it! Let’s discuss what you can do to troubleshoot an engine issue activating your car’s check engine light.

Do I need to stop driving?

Your check engine light will appear on your dashboard either as a blinking light, or as a solid, illuminated light. If it’s blinking, it signifies a major issue. You need to pull over right away if this happens. If the check engine light is not blinking, it indicates a less serious issue. Although you can’t ignore it forever, you probably don’t need to stop driving.

No matter what version of the check engine light you’re seeing, use common sense. Observe what’s happening with your car. Do you notice anything out of the ordinary? Some common signs of serious engine troubles are loss of power, strange noises, and engine smoke. If you experience any of these, stop what you’re doing and pull over. Avoid driving your vehicle if you can, and get your car towed to a nearby service provider.

How to troubleshoot a check engine light

If you don’t have a major crisis, there are some ways you can try to resolve the issue yourself. For instance, One thing you can do is check your car’s oil dipstick. Make sure it’s properly sealed and that the oil fuel cap is tightened. These simple fixes can deactivate your check engine light, sending you on your way. Another place to check is your gas tank. Believe it or not, a loose fuel cap can trigger the check engine light. Double-check to make sure your fuel cap is tightened, because the light may turn on as a result of this. This easy fix could be all you need to do to turn off the check engine light.


Another option to consider is buying an OBD2 scanner. This gadget reads DTCs (diagnostic trouble codes) that your car’s computer saves. These codes get saved by the diagnostics system when the check engine light turns on. In addition, connect the OBD2 scan tool to the data link connector, which is found beneath the dashboard on the driver’s side.

OBD2 Scanner

Good OBD2 scanners can cost anywhere from $50 to $100. Although OBD2 scanners can point you in the right direction, they won’t tell you everything you need to know. However, by reading the DTCs, you can get a pretty good idea of the severity of your problem. Knowing this can help you decide how to move forward with repairs. Seeing your check engine light can be worrisome, but don’t panic. Try to stay calm and observe your surroundings. Stay safe, and pull over right away if you think you have a big problem.


For all of your auto services, Carlson Auto is committed to you. You can ​request an appointment online​, or by phone. You can reach us at (651) 458-5158 for our Cottage Grove Location, or (651) 578-0885 for our Maplewood location. We look forward to seeing you soon.


Restoration for your Headlights and when it is Mandatory


Restoration of the lights is important. One of the most neglected components of your vehicle is its headlights. Given that, they are your primary catalyst for a safe drive during the night time or in extreme weather conditions. Another area of concern is that most drivers don’t know when and how do headlights become foggy over time.

Foggy or hazy headlights affect the driver’s ability to see; thus, making it a safety concern. They must also realize that they reduce the cost of changing the headlights, which is also an expensive solution. So, before you ignore a problem that could prove disastrous, restore your vehicle’s headlights asap.

After Traveling Certain Miles

As a car owner, you perform many regular checks, such as changing oils, replacing your engine’s air filters, etc. So, why not include headlight restoration in those maintenance tasks? Expert technicians believe that you must restore headlights after every 30,000 miles. A good practice is that you mark your calendar for headlight inspection; to avoid fogginess.

Flickered Headlights

Usually, when your headlights start to flicker, it’s a clear indication that it needs replacement. Of course, it can also mean that the wiring connection for your headlights is causing a problem. However, to be entirely sure, go to your car’s technician and get it fixed; before it becomes unbearable.

Nighttime Darkness

Are you having issues seeing the road clearly at night time? The odds are that your headlights are causing the lack of visibility. Whether your headlights are foggy or yellowish, they can have adverse effects on the safety of your drive. So, before the headlights lead to an accident, get them restored from a professional.

Cracked Headlights

Extreme weather conditions are like a nightmare for your vehicle. From engine concerns to non-functional HVAC tracks, weather conditions are quite impactful to your vehicle’s problems. Another underrated component is your headlights.

Extreme weather conditions may damage your headlight. From cracked headlights to scratches on them, each issue will worsen over time. So, before scratched headlights cause accidents, get them restored quickly! Remember, there should be zero compromises on your safety.

Doping Agent Starts to Lose its Effect

Most headlights aren’t UV resistant due to the material used in manufacturing. So, a doping agent is present within the lights. It provides resistance, and over time, the doping agent starts to lose its effect and deteriorates. This ends up making your headlights hazy.

As a car owner, you must observe the performance of your headlights consistently. The moment you see haziness appears in your headlights, that’s when you need to restore them.

In short, it’s up to you on how you should ensure that your vehicle is safe for a drive. However, if you see haziness or fogginess on your car’s headlamp, give us a call! We, at Carlson Autos, are the premier headlight restoration service provider in Cottage Grove and Maplewood, MN.


brake repairs


Brake repairs are always needed, but do you know how often? You may have an idea, but a lot happens when you press down on the brake pedal. When you hit the brake, the cylinder supplies with brake fluid to the calipers, that help power the brake pads.

Brakes are the most important safety feature of a vehicle. To know the types of brakes within vehicles and between, helps a person feel better informed when repairing the brake.

There are four types of brakes,

1. Disc Brake

It consists of a brake rotor that’s connected to the wheel. The master cylinder releases the Hydraulic pressure that causes a caliper to congest brake pads. The friction caused by the rotor and the pads causes a vehicle to slow down and stop.

2. Drum Brakes

Once the brake pedal contracts, the hydraulic pressure presses the two brakes against the brakes drum. This creates friction and causes a vehicle to stop.

3. Emergency Brakes

Also known as the parking brake is the secondary braking system and works independently.

4. Anti-Lock Brakes

These are found on newer vehicles mostly. This feature is useful, especially when driving on slippery or wet roads.


The entire brake system is checked during a brake inspection, which includes the brake fluid, brake pedal, brake hoses, and lines.

Behind each wheel is an intricate brake system that needs to work properly for you to stop your vehicle safely.

As part of every brake inspection, the following things are checked,

  • Calipers
  • Pads
  • Rotors
  • Hardware
  • Wheel cylinders
  • Parking brake cables
  • Hoses
  • Master cylinder fluid exchange.

Brake Repairs and when they need to be Inspected

Your brakes can last anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 miles based on the type of pads and how hard you drive your vehicle. To check the lifespan of your brakes, regular inspections are required since it is easy to forget the last time you got the pads replaced. To know the signs of braking issues or brake wear is equally important to know how many miles you have left on the current set.



Brake pads use a variety of materials and compounds that fall into three groups

  • Organic or semi-organic
  • Metallic or semi-metallic
  • Ceramic brake pads


Ceramic pads are designed to function with carbon discs. They are made of ceramic fibers, bonding agents, and copper. They cost a lot but are pretty long lasting and best when the operating temperature.



Now that you know what the brakes are made of, time for you to hire a professional to check your brake pads for you! Carlson Auto provides you with both experience and expertise to help you keep your vehicle’s brake functional. And, you can acquire these services right here in Cottage Grove and Maplewood, MN. Don’t keep your vehicle waiting!





Cabin Air Filter and the Function it Serves for my Car

cabin air filter

It is likely that many people are aware of the fact that they have an air filter in their car engine. However, they don’t often realize that their car’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system may likewise have one? Generally known as a cabin air filter, it plays out indistinguishable tasks for the HVAC system. The cabin air filter accomplishes for the engine of the car.

The cabin air filter is usually a little creased channel made of multi-fiber paper cotton or other designed material. Before entering the traveler compartment, outside air is guided through this channel to trap the contaminants inside the channel. It is done to keep them from entering the vehicle.

Can I drive without a cabin air filter?

Do not drive your car in the absence of a cabin air filter. It prevents each one of those particles from being taken in by you and your travelers. It also keeps particles from getting into and harming the fan and ducting instruments in the HVAC system. Driving the car without a cabin air filter can bring about expensive a/c condenser fixes not far off if debris or trash gets in there. The channel serves more than the mental peace of the travelers.

What happens if I don’t change it?

A cabin air filter’s main responsibility is to catch unwanted particles. Along these lines, if the channel isn’t changed frequently enough, those particles will begin to develop on the channel. It will have a couple of impacts. As the channel gets loaded with particles, it will be all the more trying for the channel to keep future particles from coming through. It will begin permitting more particles to move beyond the channel and into the pieces of the vehicle the channel ought to secure.

How do I know if the filter is bad?

An indication of a non-functioning or bad cabin air filter is an irregular smell originating from the vehicle’s inside vents. An unnecessarily tainted channel may create a dusty, grimy, or smelly smell. The smell may turn out to be more articulated when the air is turned on and may make the lodge awkward for the travelers.

A cabin air filter is a basic segment that ought to be supplanted when important to keep the AC functioning as proficiently as could be expected under the circumstances. It also will save the lodge as agreeable as feasible for the travelers. If the lodge channel might be messy, have the vehicle inspected by an expert professional, to decide whether your vehicle is expected for a lodge air channel substitution.

So, are you having air circulation problems in your car? Then, connect with Carlson Auto. Providing you well-constructed cabin air filters right here in Cottage Grove and Maplewood, MN. Keep your air clean and your ride cleaner! Contact us now!

Grinding From the Vehicle


The vehicle is full of moving parts and components. While it always will make a noise when traveling, sometimes it will make a strange noise. This will indicate problems that the vehicle may be starting to have. Odd noises should never be ignored, as they will only become worse. If the vehicle makes any noise like grinding, squealing, or anything odd, contact us for an appointment. We can inspect the vehicle for what the issue is, and have it repaired quickly.

Hearing Grinding Noises

Hearing a grinding noise means that rotating parts and systems have issues. When any part that rotates has an issue, it will cause the grinding noise you hear. The louder and more frequent this becomes, the worse it gets. Two of the most common reasons for grinding noise are worn brake linings or failing wheel bearings. As they start to wear down and fail, these parts will cause the system to be affected and need repairing.

If the brake pads start to wear, they will cause grinding noises when there is friction against the brake rotor. The metal to metal contact happens as the brakes are applied. The grinding will become loud when the brakes are applied, otherwise it may be a dull subtle noise. This can be from either the front brakes or the rear brakes. Contact us and we can schedule an appointment to inspect and replace the brake pads.


Wheel bearings are the buffer between the axle and wheel. They also eliminate friction between these parts. When the wheel bearings have worn out, the grinding noise occurs when the vehicle turns. A sign of a failed wheel bearing will show signs of poor steering and handling. There may also be signs of uneven tire wear when the wheel bearing start to fail. If you notice any of these signs, make sure to contact us.

Why choose

Carlson auto?

It is easy to schedule an appointment online. Choose a location below and complete the form. We will call you to confirm your appointment. Couldn’t be easier! See you soon.

Cottage Grove

8799 E Point Douglas Rd S
Monday-Thursday: 8AM-6PM
Friday: 8AM-5PM


275 Century Ave N
Monday-Friday: 8AM-6PM

“Great service and friendly staff. They fixed my car at a very reasonable cost. It was ready when they said it would be. I highly recommend this shop. -Susan B.”

“Honest guys and good price. Good prices for professional services. A rare find. -Diana T”

“They have always treated us well. Glad to have them in the neighborhood. Honest and do their best to fix it right the first time. Thanks. -Rachel P.”