Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

What Type of Oil and Fluids Are Required For My Car?

Friday, February 8th, 2013

I had a customer that had his Cadillac CTS in the shop and noticed there was a sticker in the window from a quick lube service facility and they put 10W/40 in his engine. Is this a problem? Aren’t all oils the same? When questioned, the customer didn’t know the reason why they used 10W/40 in place of 5W/30. It’s his car and he should expect that no matter where he brings it to he will get the correct fluids for his vehicle. Unfortunately that’s not what happens everywhere.

To get back to, Is this a problem?…This used to be a simple answer, but today with the advent of Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and tighter engine tolerances not all oils are the same and could actually cause damage, or problems with your engine. Gone are the days that 1 or 2 different viscosity oils could be used on all the vehicles on the road. New GM vehicles specify Dexos1™ oil. GM has approved quite a few oil manufacturers’ oils that meet the new specifications. Here’s a chart with the companies currently licensed that meet the new standards.
Licensed Brands

It is important to make sure you get not only the correct viscosity of oil, but oil that meets the manufacturer’s specifications. This is true as well for all the other fluids on your vehicle- transmission, differential(s), and power steering… A good source is your owner’s manual on what fluids your vehicle takes. How long your car lasts could depend on it.

How Often Do I Need To Change My Oil?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Many people are confused when it comes to servicing their vehicles and for good reasons. If you were to poll many professionals in this industry you might be surprised to find that quite a few are not in agreement with when you need to service your vehicle. There are quite a few shops that still stick with the 3 month, or 3,000 mile interval of when you need to change your oil. There are other shops say that you use ‘synthetic’ oil you can go 5,000 miles, and others that say you can rely on ‘vehicle’ for when you need to change it. Who is right?

Let’s look at a couple of facts. General Motors (GM) developed their first Oil Life Monitoring (OLM) System for use back in 1988. Using software algorithms they monitored various operating conditions of the engine to determine when the oil needed to be changed. The algorithm was developed over the course of many years by several lubrication experts at GM Fuels and Lubes, spearheaded by Doctor Shirley Schwartz who holds the patents (with GM) for the algorithm and the oil life monitor.

SAE Technical Paper

Oil quality and the additive packages that are in today’s oil have greatly increased in quality over the years. The oil used when I first started working on cars, bears little resemblance to what is in use today. You could stick with the old 3 month or 3,000 mile change recommendation and while you won’t harm your engine, (if you’re using the correct oil) you will be spending money unnecessarily and possibly impacting the environment with the waste oil and filters.

GM’s official stance on when you need to change the oil is as follows:
• When the system has calculated that oil life has been diminished, it indicates that an oil change is necessary. A CHANGE ENGINE OIL SOON message comes on. Change the oil as soon as possible within the next 600 miles
• It is possible that, if driving under the best conditions, the oil life system might not indicate that an oil change is necessary for over a year. However, the engine oil and filter must be changed at least once a year
• If the system is ever reset accidentally, the oil must be changed at 3,000 miles since the last oil change.
• Remember to reset the oil life system whenever the oil is changed.

You can rely on the software built into your vehicle of when to change the oil and make sure that the correct grade and viscosity are used as well.

Should I Just Buy A New Car Instead Of Fixing My Old One?

Friday, January 25th, 2013

You’ve possibly heard that purchasing a vehicle is the second biggest expense that you’ll have in your lifetime right behind purchasing a home. Considering an average sticker price in 2013 of $30,748, that’s probably a true statement. Here are a couple of points to consider with that purchase besides the monthly payment.

That $30,748 is before taxes, license, delivery, and some other items.

Tax @8% $2459.84
Destination Charge $825
Registration $301
Total $34,333.84
Let’s say you’ve got excellent credit and the manufacturer is offering 0% financing and you’re not trading in anything. Your monthly payment would be $572.23 for 60 months. Possibly you don’t qualify for 0%, or it’s not offered for the model you are looking at- good news, interest rates are low and you might get an auto loan for 3.5%. That would mean your monthly payment is $624.60. Not too bad as it’s only costing you $52.37 to use the banks money per month, or $3,142.20 for the duration of the loan. Is that it? Unfortunately no, there’s a little thing called depreciation.

You’ve probably heard that as soon as that new vehicle leaves the dealer you’ve lost money on it. The depreciation schedule starts as soon as you drive the car off the lot. One nice thing is depreciation happens quicker in the first few years and then tapers off. This is good if you’re planning on keeping a vehicle for a while, and not so good if you like to trade in vehicles. Let’s look at what that $34,334 vehicle costs in depreciation for the first 5 years, or after you’re done paying for it. Depreciation roughly would be $23,410, leaving you with $10,924 for a trade in if you decide to go that direction. Looked at another way, you’re losing $390.16 every month you drive that new vehicle. Your monthly cost would be $624.60+$390.16=$1,014.76.

The monthly expense of $1,015, excludes gasoline, insurance, yearly registration, and maintenance costs. Yes, you’ll still have maintenance. Most new vehicles come with a bumper to bumper warranty of 3 years, or 36,000 miles and a powertrain warranty for 5 years, or 100,000 miles and excludes wear items such as tires, brakes, oil changes, wipers…Figuring gas costs and driving 12,000 miles a year, using an average of 25 MPG, using regular gas currently at $3.70 a gallon, costs $1,776 yearly, or $148 a month. Full coverage on your insurance, yes-you’ll need full coverage if you’re making payments, will be at least $150 a month if you are a good driver. So you are now looking at $1,313 a month, excluding registration and maintenance costs.
Some other factors to also consider would be that every year newer a vehicle is, there are also additional systems that have been added that increase the complexity, which translates into increased repair costs. Some of these items have been mandated by the government for safety reasons such as Tire Pressure Monitoring, Air Bags, Anti-Lock Brakes, and Stability Control. Others are due to more stringent emission controls and others would be due to consumer demand. All and all, owning a new vehicle is a major purchase and one that should not be taken lightly as it will cost you a great deal of your hard earned cash.

The Phone…

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I’ll admit, the first few times a customer had called and wanted to know what was wrong with his/her car over the phone based on a description of the problem, I got some amusement from the ensuing conversation, but…

C’mon now, here it is some 20 years later, and I still get these calls, it’s really gotten pretty old. I guess the calls fall into two camps. The first group wants to know who sounds the most intelligent to entrust their vehicle to. The second group is a DIY’er (Do It Yourself) wanting to know what to fix, so they can save some money. Typically the second group lacks even the most rudimentary tools or skills to correctly diagnose their problem, but expects an answer to their dilemma, and actually more often than not, gets offended when you are unable to help. Here are some examples from last week. Let me know if you’d be able to help them.

Brnng, brnng.

Me: Good Afternoon, thanks for calling GM’s Only, how can I help you?

Caller: I’ve got a 2003 Chevrolet truck that the engine light has come on, so I went and bought a “scan tool” and pulled the code. It’s got a PXXXX code stored. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I bought a book and it says there is a problem with the air injection. What do I replace?

Me: If you bought a book, what did it tell you to replace?

Caller: It didn’t, that’s why I’m calling you. I didn’t understand it. Can you tell me what to fix?

Me: If you have a scan tool and a book, and some other tools, such as a DMM(Digital Multi Meter) you should be able to fix this yourself. Each code has a minimum of three possible causes. You need to follow the flowchart for the code to determine what needs to be repaired/replaced. Did you want to bring this in for testing to actually determine what needs to be repaired?

Caller: I already know what’s wrong with this, why do I need to bring it in and pay you?

Me: If you know what is wrong, why are you calling me?

Caller: Um, thank you. The caller hangs up, sounding miffed that I didn’t tell him what to repair when he knew what was wrong with the car.

Maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else see a problem here? Forget the fact that I stay in business by providing a service of fixing your vehicle. Let’s overlook that I spend thousands of dollars every year for the proper tooling, equipment, and software to provide that service. How can someone that spent less than a hundred dollars to troubleshoot his problem on his own, expect that to replace years of experience and tens of thousands of diagnostic equipment?

The real problem in my opinion is a good portion of the American driving public has no idea what it takes to fix their car. For all the years I’ve been doing this, the idea has been, this business is simple, so simple in fact, that anyone can do it. You might disagree with me, but this is reinforced with all the loss leaders that are advertised for your dollars. Call around to some service departments, including dealerships. Ask them about diagnosis. I’ve done it and it is amazing what some people will say just to get the car in the shop. “We’ll hook your car up to the machine we have, and it tells you what to fix. Bring it in and we’ll check it out for you, it only runs $XX.” If only it were that simple. I’d like to dispel the notion of the ‘Magic Box’, but after years of trying, I’ve come to the realization it’s a losing battle.

DIY’er Caller 2(Which called directly after caller 1): I’ve got a 1999 Suburban. The truck quit running on me and I towed it home. The gas gauge wasn’t working before this and the engine wasn’t getting gas, so I dropped the gas tank and replaced the fuel pump. (The fuel pump on this vehicle is a modular fuel pump assembly, which includes the tank unit/sending unit for the gauge) The gas gauge still isn’t reading correctly and it sill won’t start. What’s wrong?

I won’t go into the details of my conversation with him, but for the last part of his question I’m looking for an answer to that one myself. What’s wrong? Got any ideas?

When Is A Deal Not A Deal?

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Unless you’re Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or like them, most of us are feeling the pinch from the higher costs of almost everything we use from day to day. Everyday I pick up the paper and watch the news, the overall theme of our economy is not good. Record foreclosures, the slipping dollar, record highs for a barrel of oil, the list goes on and on. There hasn’t been a better time to tighten our collective ‘bootstraps’ for awhile now.

Lets face it, most of us love getting a good deal, and in todays economy it makes good sense to shop for a bargain. Or does it? I’m a firm believer that certain things should not be shopped the way we would by looking for who has the best deal on a box of Cornflakes. You might not be like me, but if I were to have a heart attack, I’m not picking up the phone book and doing a google search on who has the cheapest by-pass operation listed. I want the best doctor and hospital my money can buy. The IRS is looking into my tax returns, I’m sorry I’m not looking at a PennySaver for a low cost CPA. This may, or may not be, a foreign concept to you, but services can not be shopped the way you would for commodities. At least it shouldn’t be in my opinion. Which brings me to the point of his blog.

If you’re reading this, you might put two and two together and figure somehow this is automotive related. Big surprise, it is. I’m amazed at the deals circulating in various publications trying to get a share of your dollar for automotive repair. I’m equally amazed at the volume of consumers that think this is a good way to shop for who is going to take care of your second most valuable possession. The vast majority of my phone calls from prospective new customers focus on cost, instead of why I should trust you to take care of my vehicle. I’m going to explain why this is not a good idea, or at least try to.

First off let me talk about some of the facts about this business that you may or may not be aware of, at least in the state of California. This also holds true, with a few exceptions in the other 49 states.

Other than smog, and brake and lamp inspectors, mechanics are not licensed in the State of California.
What this means, is exactly what it sounds like. There are no minimum requirements to start working at a shop and subsequently, on your car. Better repair shops would not employ someone with little or no experience, but it happens all the time at some of the so-called competition. I wouldn’t be comfortable trusting the kid who was last in his medical school practice medicine on me, but at least they have passed a competency test.

I once worked at a GM dealer, that when I had come back from lunch there was a new mechanic working next to me. It turns out that he had just gotten out of the Air Force and was now looking for a job. He had his fishing tackle box ‘o’ tools, so he was ‘qualified.’ There was one small problem, the truck he was assigned to fix was not racked correctly and was ready to fall off the rack. I went to the service manager to find out what the heck was going on. He kindly asked if I would help the guy out, as he was new. On the job training was not part of my job description, so I politely declined and found employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was not the last shop I worked at that this happened. You might be wondering what this has to do with me and getting my car repaired. This was almost 30 years ago when this first happened and it still happens today. When I started in this business, points and condensers and once a year tune-ups were the norm. Today there are networks in your vehicle, with multiple computers, yet the process of shopping for car repairs remain almost the same as they were thirty years ago.

Opening a Shop

Here again, with the exception of smog testing, air conditioning repairs, and Brake and Lamp stations, the state of California is remarkably quiet on what is required to open an auto repair shop. As long as I don’t have a criminal record, I send off my $200 to the state for a license and basically I’m in the auto repair business. Many, if not most of the shops that are opened are started by ex mechanics that got tired of their job situation and decided they could do better and hung a shingle on the window. To be honest this was me 17 years ago. I’ll try not to toot my own horn, but when I opened, I decided what services I was going to offer and actually tooled up based on that. It seemed like a simple concept, but if I was going to be taking customers money for a service, I should at the very least be properly equipped for what I might encounter. I decided I was going to start with tune-ups/driveability and electrical repairs. I bought/leased/used credit cards for my new business. I purchased a scope, scan tool, books, VAT 40, and some other specialty tools to add to what I owned already. Once I had officially opened, I found I was better equipped than quite a few other established shops. Not all, but quite a few. Here we are competing for the same dollars, yet they are not capable of doing the job correctly either due to not having the proper equipment or experience. See licensing of mechanics above. In the 17 years since I’ve started my own business I’ve seen quite a few auto shops open and close. It’s truly an eye opening experience to see shops open without so much as even books, or a computer information system that think they are qualified to accept payment for fixing your car. Which brings me to some final thoughts on this…

The State Of California, Bureau of Automotive Repair Mission Statement :”To protect and serve California consumers by ensuring a fair and competitive automotive repair marketplace and administering a model motor vehicle emissions reduction program.” From the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau Of Automotive Repair

If this were true, the state of car repair in California would not be in the condition it is in. Competition, in my mind, at least means we are all bound by the same rules. I guess to back up, since the state has not spelled who can call themselves a mechanic, and shops the minimum tooling required to perform certain services, I guess we are all ‘playing by the rules.’ Which would then leave the “fair and competitive” statement as a contradiction. You can not have fair competition without rules. Which might explain why consumer complaints for auto repair rank near the top. Comments?