What type of service does my car need before summer?
We get asked this question quite a bit when the sun is out and things start turning green, joggers and bikers are out in numbers. The answer has changed over the years but some of the basic auto service a mechanic performs hasn’t.
It’s always a good idea to make sure your car or truck’s oil change service is current, fluid levels are up and coolant strength is good for occasional hot days in heavy traffic but more importantly you should definitely make sure your owners manual’s rough service table mileage service requirements are up to date for your car or truck. You can find them in the back of your owner’s manual or we can pull your service requirements up for you on our shop software.
When you look over the table and you see any maintenance that have been missed at previous mileage intervals, now is the time to “catch up” and get them taken care of with your current auto service requirements. Taking care of things like rotating tires, brake inspections, checking belts and hoses, servicing the transmission and differentials, wiper blades, checking for any fluid leaks, spark plugs, fuel filters, air filter, cabin air filter, tire condition and others can help keep you from calling us with that panic car breakdown and tow truck story we mechanics hear so often once the high daytime temperatures take hold.
A mechanic likes to make sure the suspension is in good shape after you’ve hit some of the pot holes that developed over the winter so there is no unsafe loose front end part to cause premature tire ware on upcoming trips. Also a tight and steering system suspension will help to keep the car on the road in wet and stop and go driving conditions.
We always think it’s a good idea to make sure your battery as well as your alternator and starter are strong before the temperature climbs and pushes them over the edge in the hot weather.
To sum it up a little preventative maintenance by your auto mechanic for your car or truck can save you money and stress in the long run.
What should you do if my cars yellow check engine light comes on? First of all, don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about what actions took place the shortly before the little yellow light on your car’s dash came on.
Did you just stop for gas? Our mechanics have had customers come to our Saint Paul auto repair shop in a panic about their check engine light on just to find that they forgot to put the gas cap back on or they didn’t tighten it all the way.
The other day an auto mechanic friend told me he had a customer in his auto shop with a check engine light on after the customer washed his engine. Last month we had a Nissan come in after a heavy rain with a check engine light on that had just driven through a deep puddle.
Before you bring your car in to our mechanics check your gas cap and if the engine compartment got wet and your car appears to be running fine drive it or let it run until it dries out. You may save yourself a trip to our shop.
But if your check engine light comes on and stays on it’s a good idea to get it in and have our mechanics check the trouble codes in your cars main computer. It doesn’t take long to check your cars trouble codes but would like you to set up an appointment so you don’t have to wait for a free mechanic.
Some other reasons your check engine light could be on are a bad; oxygen sensor, mass air flow sensor, throttle position sensor, crank position sensor, knock sensor, catalytic converter, spark plugs or wires, fuel injectors and many more.
As you can see, there are a ton of reasons why this light could come on. There is no way for a mechanic or anyone else to know for sure what the problem is without checking your car’s stored codes and following proper diagnostic procedure for that code to find out if the check engine light is caused by a sensor, bad wiring or even a worn out engine.
If the light that came on is red and reads oil or temp pull over and stop as soon as possible or you will cause major engine damage! It may save you thousands of dollars if you stop immediately, call a tow truck and get a ride home.
A yellow check engine light may be a minor problem or a major one. If your car doesn’t seem to be running smooth or is hesitating it’s important to have it checked in a timely matter so other automotive systems are not damaged.
If you don’t remember which light is what you can always call us and ask. But remember red means stop! Yellow means proceed with caution.
Minnesota Repair Inc
Quick Oil Change
In my previous article I talked about the why and when of an oil change. Let’s look at how and what in this article. The obvious how part is draining dirty oil and putting in clean oil and a new filter. This is what most “do it yourself” people think an oil change is and they don’t see the value in spending $30 and going out of their way to spend a half an hour or more to wait while someone drains the oil and tries to sell them an air filter or some other service they don’t need or want. And you can’t blame them if they don’t trust the people servicing their vehicle.
What most DIY oil change people I’ve meet fail to realize is the importance of the inspection that is performed at the oil change interval. Checking air and breather filters, wiper blades, battery, coolant strength, transmission, power steering, coolant, brake and washer fluid level, leak and contamination checks, inspecting all belts and hoses, checking all lights, lubing doors and hood hinges, checking tire pressure, tread depth, brake pads and rotors, cv joints, suspension, exhaust, greasing steering components are a few examples of what is included on a normal oil change.
Your vehicles owners manual list many of these and also others depending on your current mileage. Rotate tires, change fuel filter, spark plugs, cabin air filter, differential and transmission service, flush cooling, brake and power steering system, change timing belt, checking the EVAP system are required at different mileage intervals along with your oil change.
It’s kind of an extensive list and it’s so important that most vehicle manufactures will not uphold your vehicles warranty unless you have receipts for the required mileage services performed according to your owner’s manual. You don’t have to go to the dealer to have the service items done but you do need to get them done on time to keep your warranty valid!
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that a quick oil change weather it’s performed by a DIY person or an inexperienced employee is not going to be good enough to keep your vehicle dependable and up to date with its required maintenance and may even invalidate your warranty.
When I talk to friends, relatives or new acquaintances in other areas of the state or country and they find out that I’m a mechanic or start talking about cars I’m often asked “how can I find a good mechanic?” My answer is ask neighbors’ and friends about local independent shops and bring your vehicle into one for an oil change a few times and get to know the owner and mechanic. Ask a lot of questions about what is done on an oil change and have them show you and explain any service needs they find in terms you can understand. Try to build trust and a relationship with them. Transportation is the second largest drain on a person or family’s budget after housing so it will be one of the most important relationships in your financial life.
Low Price Oil Change
As a follow up on my previous article about “why your vehicle breaks down,” I’ll start with the first and most important maintenance item a new car requires, an oil change.
Just remove the oil plug, change the filter, reinstall the plug and fill it with oil every five to fifteen thousand miles. Right?
Sure you can do that and it may be what a manufacture recommends. Of coarse they don’t mind selling you a new car when the engine fails. If you internet search “how often should I change my oil” you’ll find all kinds of different answers. The thing I would like you to consider is why change the oil at all?
The common answer is because it gets “dirty” and it looses its viscosity (not as slippery) and everyone including me agrees. The problem with dirt or contaminants is that they act like the sand on sandpaper and scratch up all the moving parts inside your engine. The other bad thing contaminants do is stick to metal and build up like plack on teeth when you don’t clean them. This build up insulates your engine parts and wont let heat escape exasperating the problem of engine ware.
How often do you need to change oil? When it’s dirty! If it’s black it’s dirty and if it’s thick when it’s drained during your oil change you’re really accelerating engine ware. Ask if you can see it when it’s drained on your next oil change and check your dipstick for color, thickness and level from time to time. Don’t be afraid to change it at 1,000 or 2,000 if you’ve been doing short trips, stop and go driving or towing.
Conventional oils now are partially synthetic and do a great job. The viscosity problem has been solved with expensive synthetic oil which keeps its viscosity forever but the dirty contaminants still accumulate in all oils. Full synthetic gets dirty way before recommend change mileage so I’m not a big fan unless you’re into competitive racing.
Some articles on oil change intervals say changing your oil at 3,000 miles is a way for repair shops to make more money and that wasting all that oil is bad for the environment. Oil changes are not a high profit item at shops. They take 30 minutes if done properly, the overhead of an employee, a hoist, air compressors and other equipment, heat, rent, insurance and work comp makes it the least profitable service in the shop. And the “bad for the environment” argument is false also. All oil is recycled by law and is rerefined or clean burned in high temperature oil furnaces that must meet EPA standards. Frequent oil changes are much better for the environment and your finances than frequent engine repair or car replacements! The next article will cover what an oil change involves. And no it’s not just draining and refilling your crankcase.
Why does my car break down?
Why does my car break down? Auto mechanics hear this from time to time and it seems to be difficult for people to understand why one car breaks down more than another so I thought I would blog about it so I could better understand how to explain it when asked.
There is defiantly a “chance” or “luck of the draw” factor involved. Sometimes things don’t go quite right in manufacturing and a defect or poor design can happen. If enough of these flaws happen on say a Toyota or Chev, a recall is issued by the manufacturer and you get a free fix for the problem.
More often your breakdown is caused by abuse, skipped maintenance or normal ware.
Examples of abuse are driving with one foot on the brake and one on the gas, forgetting to take the paring brake off, towing a load larger than the vehicle is designed for, driving off road, getting stuck and spinning the tires and hard braking, accelerating and turning. What only takes one time of a few minutes of this type of activity can cause hours of work for your mechanic.
Normal ware on a car or truck is accelerated by stop and go driving and short trips. A sales person driving for hours on the freeway every day is considered “normal” driving by car makers. The driving most people do is short trips and many start stop cycles and your oil changes and other maintenance need to be performed more often so they are listed under “severe service” in your vehicles owners’ manual.
Over the years we have had customers with 300 to 400 thousand miles on there car. My father put over 300,000 on his 1964 Buick without any major repairs. The thing they all had in common was an obsession with keeping ahead of maintenance items and driving with a light touch. They all did fluid changes, brakes, batteries, tires, shocks/struts and other normal ware items before they needed to be done. When you wait until a service item needs to be done according to schedule, it may already have caused a ware problem on another related component due to rough or severe driving. I don’t want to get to wordy here so let’s address how a skipped service item affects other components in my another article.
I’ve spent most of my free days this past spring and summer putting together a log cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. Now that fall is here I’m seeing more trucks on the dirt roads and off in the woods than usual. Being a mechanic I wonder how well these drivers keep up with their truck’s service needs. Driving on rough and pitted dirt roads is hard on a vehicle and a break down out in the woods would be costly if not dangerous. It’s mostly state park, state forest and wild life refuge land with few residents and few cars or trucks.
This time of year with the weather being cooler and leaves dropping off the trees I also see my coworkers and other Saint Paul customers doing some pretty heavy yard projects like hauling dirt, firewood, gravel and even pulling out tree stumps.
These types of activities are why people, including myself and everyone that works here, own trucks. Before winter and before any of these activities it’s a good idea to make sure your 4 wheel drive works by testing in the driveway at home so your don’t get stuck in the woods or in the back yard while hauling.
What we all have to keep in mind is that spinning tires when stuck, engines and vent systems clogging when tossing up dirt, pulling heavy loads, hitting bumps hard and other fun activities require that you give your truck a little extra care so you can keep your trucks active lifestyle going weather your out in the woods or in St Paul.
Suspension, brakes, steering, wheel bearings, u-joints and filters clogging are areas of special concern. After your truck or car is involved in any off roading the first thing to do is make sure you’ve switched out of four wheel drive. Then turn your radio and heater off and give a good long listen for and grinding, squeaks, thumps or other noises when braking or turning on smooth pavements. Next try to hit a few small to medium bumps or dips in the road. Do this with windows closed first and then window open, at low speeds and highway speeds. Any unusual noises should be looked at soon so as not to cause additional damage to any your vehicles systems. A low growling or humming noise can be caused by a wheel bearing and if it’s allowed to continue it can cause one of your wheels to come off of your car or truck. We’ve seen it happen a number of times but it’s easily avoided by listening on a test drive.
Also keep an eye on the surface under your car for oil and coolant leaks. It’s easy for a branch or rock to get tossed up into a fuel, brake, coolant or ATF line under your truck and cause a leak. But if you park in a garage you can just look at the floor for signs of leakage or if you park on the street, put a clean piece of cardboard under it at night it’s quick and easy to spot a leak.
A little investigating after rough fall activities will keep your truck dependable through the tough Saint Paul and rural winter driving. Remember fall is hard on trucks in Saint Paul.
Minnesota Repair Inc
A female customer with a 1996 Saturn was referred to us by another shop with an intermittent no start problem or as she put it “my car won’t start sometimes.” The starter always turned over fine so the starting and charging system were not the problem. The check engine light was on but none of the codes stored were the kind that would cause a no start. She had brought it into other shops for the same problem but it would not act up for the other shops auto mechanic so they had given up on the Saturn. When talking to her on the phone it was obvious she was upset about the normally dependable Saturn turning into a gamble every time she went somewhere. The tow truck driver told us when he picked the car up she was a little “hot under the collar.” To use her words “she was traumatized by the car.”
I’m sure all the other mechanics that had looked at the car had spent plenty of time with the check engine light assuming it had something to do with the no start condition and a couple of the trouble codes actually were related but only indirectly. Putting in new oxygen sensors was not going to clear the code for the oxygen sensor. Our mechanic didn’t bother looking to see how many auto parts other repair shops had sold her in an attempt to repair the problem but by her frustration I can only assume quite a few.
Rather than dive back into computer codes, like all the other shops, we have found that an old school attitude works better when we run into problems like this. Yes we checked and recorded the Saturn’s trouble codes but started by looking at the spark plugs, to give us a clue to what was going on inside the engine and checking the ignition system. We discovered the spark plugs where coated with carbon and wet, which means that the fuel system was feeding too much fuel to allow the car to start. After tracing down the fuel system operation our mechanic found a temperature sensor for the computer was defective. We replaced it, the Saturn started, we cleared all the trouble codes, rechecked the no start a number of times and the codes didn’t come back. The part that caused all the trauma cost less than $15.00.
How much does it cost for new struts?
Last week I received a phone call requesting an estimate on new front struts on a Honda Accord. While looking up the price I asked if the struts were making noise, were washed out or if he had a tire ware problem. He informed me that he was told he needed them during an oil change at a local shop but was never told why. I gave him an estimate range but told him I couldn’t be accurate without looking at the Accord first.
He came into our shop the next morning and I had a mechanic take a look at it. The mechanic found nothing wrong with the struts or any of the suspension parts. We went for a test drive with the customer listening for loose front end noises or noticing alignment problems but found nothing loose. But we did notice a wheel bearing noise on left turns and lane changes. After bringing it back into the shop and confirming the wheel bearing problem we gave him an estimate and did the repairs on his car.
I don’t know if the other shops mechanic told the service writer that there was a noise in the left front that could be a strut, if he thought some surface rust on the strut was reason enough to condemn it or if the customer heard wrong but in either case there was a communication failure that lost that auto repair shop a customer.
The point is car repair is not the same as shopping at Target, Wal-Mart or any other store. When price comparing for auto repair communication is critical. A strut is not always a strut. If you want to compare auto repair bring the car into the auto repair shops you want get estimates from, have them show you and explain the repairs needed and quality of the parts. Sometimes lifetime warranty parts are of poor quality and lesser costs in order to keep you coming back in for service leaving you with a bill on labor or related parts.
Getting estimates from different auto repair shops takes time but at times can save you money. When you don’t have a good understanding of the repair needed ask questions and look it up on line. If you don’t have the time for driving around getting different estimates I suggest you stick with an auto repair shop that will communicate repairs needed in an easy to understand manner. Build a relationship of trust by starting with small things like oil changes and other routine maintenance items. If you feel the cost of your auto repair is too high don’t be afraid to let them know. And if they can’t show you or explain to you why you need a repair go get another opinion.
I ran into an ex-customer at the grocery store the other day. After some pleasant small talk, he apologized for not bringing his Honda into our St Paul auto repair shop any longer. I remembered after the last repair on the older Honda Accord air conditioner that he talked about getting a new car. He said that he had traded the Honda in on a new Toyota and has been taking to the Toyota dealer for oil changes and basic service because “the discount coupons make it so inexpensive.” I’ve also run into ex-customers that have explained that they’ve been going to the Nissan dealer for repairs because of the great service contract that came with their new car.
What I say to customers in these situations is that “we’d love to have you back” and remind them that we can take care or repairs for almost all service contract companies and do, on a regular basis. I mention that service contracts are one of the highest profit areas for car dealers and they can be added into the cost of the vehicle and those so called discounted or ten free oil changes can also be added into the cost of your car. Service contracts and oil changes can cost you more than if you declined them, kept the difference and had the repairs done separately!
The dealer may be more convenient for auto repair if you live right next to them but it’s usually an out of the way long drive for people to run to the Toyota or Honda dealer for an oil change or a maintenance repair.
An independent service shop has a big advantage when it comes to cost on oil changes and all auto repair work for that matter. Think about the overhead expense of the real-estate, big building, property tax, insurance and the utilities to light and heat such a large area that the dealership must pay.
The independent auto repair shop’s overhead is much lower and its success depends on return customers and personal referrals not hidden costs or prepaid costs. We survive on the trust and loyalty of a relationship built with each customer over time using honest clear communication, reasonable prices, technical expertise and dependability.
Minnesota Repair Inc