Archive for June, 2013

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Cracked Head


What Are You Trying To Say?

The first picture is from a 2004 GMC Sierra with a 5.3L engine that had developed a crack in the cylinder head that GM TSB #06-06-01-019B addresses. This usually results in a slow, unexplained/unseen coolant loss. GM states that some engines that were manufactured with “Castech” cylinder heads may develop a porosity crack in a very specific area. To verify this condition the valve covers are removed and the cooling system is pressurized. This customer came in right away at the first sign of trouble, which was a message on the Driver Information Center (DIC) that said “LOW COOLANT LEVEL.” Cylinder heads were replaced, which wasn’t inexpensive, but certainly much cheaper than replacing an engine. This customer should get many more miles of reliable service from this truck.

The next picture was from a 2000 Cadillac Escalade with a 5.7 engine. This vehicle came in on a tow truck due to severely overheating the engine. There were many warning signs way before it got to this point. This customer ignored the warning Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MIL’s), gauges, and sounds of impending disaster. The final nail in the coffin was a water pump that eventually quit working and leaked so profusely you would have had to have a garden hose hooked to the engine to keep the cooling system filled. This was in addition to the radiator that leaked and leaking intake manifold gaskets. What could have been a relatively inexpensive repair(s) turned into needing a replacement engine due to ignoring warning signs.

Finally, I had a customer that recently brought in his 2001 Cadillac Deville for a similar warning message as the ’04 truck-CHECK COOLANT LEVEL. What was unique on this vehicle was it was in the shop last year for HVAC repairs. At that time the CHECK COOLANT LEVEL message was being displayed on the DIC, even though the cooling system was filled. I had to talk the customer into fixing this. My thinking was it’s never a good idea to ignore warning MIL’s, gauges, and messages. If there were a problem, how would you know? At this time, the message being displayed was correct-the cooling system was low. A replacement radiator took care of the leak and this was done before any serious engine damage had occurred.

My advice- heed the warning signs before it costs you a lot more money.

Buying A Used Car

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Follow up to the Should I Just Buy A New Car Post?

You’ve decided to replace your old vehicle and after pricing new cars, you’ve decided a used vehicle might be a better fit for your budget. What’s the next step? Generally speaking, if you buy a new enough used vehicle, it comes with a warranty. For example-You’ve seen a 2011 Buick LaCrosse that has 24,000 on the odometer sitting on the dealer’s lot. This vehicle originally came with a 3 year/36,000 mile, bumper to bumper warranty and a 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. This means that no matter what is wrong presently with this car, the manufacturer will fix it under warranty. There are some exceptions- cosmetic damage and maintenance, or wear and tear items.

If this is sitting on a car dealer’s lot, the State of California also gets involved with some of the wear and tear items as well. They can’t sell you a car with bald tires, no brakes, and cracked windshields. All safety devices, air bags, brakes, and other items have to be in working order, or they need to fix it up to certain standards before they can sell you this car. One caveat to be aware of, factory warranties do not cover vehicles that have a branded title or is a salvaged vehicle. Another generalization, but new car dealers usually don’t play games with selling vehicles like this. Sometimes mistakes happen and once that is brought to their attention they will usually refund your money, or get you another vehicle. You pay a premium for this type of vehicle, but this is because this is last risky way to buy a used vehicle – at a new car dealer.

Buying a used vehicle from a standalone “Used Car Dealer.”
Carmax is a reputable place to buy a used vehicle, almost all other types of standalone used car dealers, I’d be very careful about dealing with them. New car dealers get the cream of the crop on trade ins. Vehicles that they take in on trade are evaluated for needed repairs. The ones that don’t meet their standards, either due to age, mileage, or needed work to get it sellable are wholesaled. This brings up auctions, where you can buy a vehicle or car dealers can purchase them as well. Some auctions are just for licensed dealers and some; anyone can purchase a used vehicle. This is an area that unless you are a mechanic, or bring one with you I would pass on, and even if you are, there are some very real dangers present. Sure, you could save a lot of money, but at what cost? The auctions usually will not let you test drive a vehicle. You might be able to start it, but past that you will not be able to take it on a test drive to see if the transmission even shifts or if there is anything else that is wrong that won’t be seen until you drive it.

Private party sales.

This can range all the way from a great deal to the worst mistake you’ve ever made. Unfortunately there are some dishonest people in the world. The pictures below show a vehicle that was purchased private party. If you kept a scorecard this person made almost every mistake you could have made. Vehicle was a 2006 Chevrolet Equinox that had a little less than 66,000 miles on the odometer. Bluebook value ranged $8,000 in Fair Condition up to $9,500 in Excellent Condition.
•Vehicle was purchased from Craigslist, which in itself is not any worse than any other location, but…
•Drove 50 miles to inspect this vehicle at night.
•Met the seller at a location other than their home
•Price paid was $5,000 which is way under the bluebook value
•Relied on the seller for the CarFax report.
•And the biggest mistake made was not paying for a professional inspection!

Essentially what happened was the buyer of the vehicle parted with $5,000 cash. He was heading home when he realized there were some problems with the purchase. He tried to contact the seller and the number he had used was no longer in service. It could have been a disposable cell phone that was used just for this transaction, I don’t know. Either way, the fact remains he spent 5k with no way to contact the seller, or hope to get any money back. The vehicle was brought here because the brakes ‘applied’ by themselves and the further it was driven the worse the problem became until the vehicle just stopped and wouldn’t move. The vehicle would have to sit for a period of time until the brakes released enough to drive again.

With the vehicle on a rack there were some very serious issues that were noted. The most important being that this vehicle had been in a serious accident and on the face of it the insurance company had totaled the vehicle. Whomever had bought this from the insurance company just did cosmetic repairs on the sheet metal and the vehicle was never put back to safe condition. Multiple Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MIL’s) were on for various electrical systems, which is probably the least of his concerns.

To sum this up-the value of this vehicle was not $9,500, or the $5,000 he had paid, but it was the scrap value a wrecking yard would pay for this. This all could have been avoided if he would have paid to have the vehicle inspected prior to giving any money to the seller. Once the money changes hands, it’s too late. The only time I would not pay to have an inspection done would be in the case of the first scenario and the vehicle is still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Before you buy, schedule an appointment for a pre-purchase inspection.