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Should you DIY automotive repairs?
The term do-it-yourself (DIY) has been used for many activities you and I do instead of paying others to do it for us: decorating, making things, repairing things and even cooking/baking—because I surely do those myself! I would even go out on a limb and say that I am a professional DIYer! I love everything about it—the challenge, the creativity, the satisfaction of a job well done and happy people who get to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I garden, paint, tile, paint, cook/bake and alter recipes to be gluten free, paint, decorate (automotive shops, homes and cakes), paint, repurpose furniture, paint, and design fun projects. Oh, did I mention paint? I paint everything: walls, furniture, floors, stairs, art, frames, drawer pulls … you name it, I paint it. I suppose you could call me a paint-aholic!
My stepfather, Mike, always jokes that my painting is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: as soon as it’s finished, it starts all over again. I guess you could say it’s never really done. It’s the same with me. I basically paint every room in my house and then start over! It’s amazing how you can change an entire room with a new paint color and it gives me great joy to do it!
Not only do I do many DIY projects myself, but I am often a cheerleader for others. I’ve encouraged novice cooks to grow in their skills, hesitant painters to try a new color, and newbie cake decorators to give it a shot. I want you to explore new things, be creative, do so many different things yourself and maybe even save some money.
How about you? What sorts of DIY projects have you done? What sorts of things are on your list in the future? Do you research before you begin something for the first time? How daring are you? Perhaps most importantly, do you know your limitations?
With all that I enjoy doing and have tried, I definitely know when something is beyond my skill level. Case in point: two months ago when I had a “simple” idea to make the exterior wall behind my fireplace in the garage pretty. In order to do this, I needed to make the wall flat, which meant removing what looked like the fireplace access panel. Thankfully, my husband was by my side during my “simple” project because my friends, it wasn’t an access panel at all. It was an ugly board holding in rotted drywall and when we removed it, vermiculate started pouring out! My husband and I just looked at each other wondering about the can of worms we just opened! Long story short … we had to call in the professionals!
One of the biggest steps to any DIY project is to know when not to do it yourself. Painting a wretched color on a wall is not the end of the world—you just paint it a different color. Planting a perennial in a spot that’s too shady is not a big deal—you just move it to a place with more sun. Trying a new recipe that turns out disastrous isn’t life threatening—you just learn from your mistake and make it better next time (and apologize to you family for the terrible taste in their mouths). Doing a bad tile job—well, this one could get expensive if you need to redo it, but I sure bet you’ll learn to either do it better or know that it’s just not in your wheelhouse to do it yourself and call a professional.
This brings me to the whole point of this article: DIY automotive repairs. Let’s face it, today’s automobiles are much more complex than they used to be. Performing “simple” repairs and maintenance are not so simple any more. There are so many things to consider and so many things that can go wrong. Before performing any service under the hood or under the car here are some things to consider:
Do you have mechanical knowledge and knowhow?
A basic knowledge of how things work is needed before performing any automotive job. But there is so much more. A professional has a trained eye and will look for things you may not. They will assess entire systems, not
just the part of the system you are repairing or replacing. They know the right quality parts to use for your particular vehicle and how to disassemble and reassemble it properly. Failing to understand these things and possibly making a mistake can not only affect the outcome of the job and cost more to correct, but can also have serious safety consequences for you or others on the roadway. If you are not completely confident in what you are doing mechanically, I urge you to err on the side of caution and call in the professionals!
Do you have the proper equipment and tools to perform the service? Are they in good working condition?
Elevating a vehicle and then getting under it can be a risky thing if your equipment is not safe, and if the wrong tools are used or the parts are not secured correctly after installation of a new or repaired part, it could have
Do you know where all of the fluids are located and what kinds of fluids to use to replace old ones?
It may make some of you car repair veterans giggle a bit, but my mechanics have seen people both drain the wrong fluids and add the wrong fluids. This could cause considerable damage to your vehicle and may cost a whole lot more to fix than the money you saved trying to do it yourself.
There are so many things to consider before taking on any DIY project. But because automobiles have become so complex and making a mistake could have detrimental consequences, I urge you to consider all of this before doing any automotive DIY repairs or maintenance services.
A Holiday Poem
Tis the season of joy, so I’m bringing to you
A little tune to remember what you should do.
Preparing for winter is not always fun
Days are much shorter with few hours of sun.
Pay attention to things that help you to see
While you’re driving around in this season of glee.
Replace burnt out bulbs and faulty wiper blades
So you can see best when the sunshine fades.
Headlight lenses get hazy and dull with time
It’s hard to see through all of that grime.
Headlight restoration can make them like new
Schedule an appointment and you’ll see that it’s true!
Does your car heat blow all nice and warm
To keep you cozy during a winter storm?
Your warmth is important but that is not all
Defrosting is needed when you get past the fall.
Fresh fluids are key to keep your car running best
Many get oil changes but forget all the rest:
Power steering, transmission, brake and coolant too
These fluids need replacement so gunk doesn’t accrue.
A maintenance program of flushing is really quite smart
It keeps systems clean and extends life of the parts.
Many shops have a fluid warranty plan
That gives peace of mind for quite a long span.
What about noises or cars running rough?
With winter approaching, enough is enough.
The cold weather may make problems much worse
It can cost much more and lighten your purse!
Address concerns now and don’t procrastinate
You might just be sorry if you continue to wait.
There’s only so long you can lean on your luck
It’s time to service your car, SUV or your truck.
Perhaps you have waited for months to get tires
Though they are bald and show a few wires.
Tires like this are dangerous indeed
For you and for others, replace them I plead!
With cold days a coming it’s important to know
If your battery is new or replaced years ago.
Four years is the average when replacement is due
Perhaps now is the time to purchase one new.
What about corrosion and battery connections,
Have you checked these for best winter protection?
You can attempt to service it on your own
Or leave it to professionals and pick up the phone.
No matter the model, no matter the make
It’s important to remember to service your brakes.
With slippery roads and motorists a many
You’ll be relying on your braking system for plenty.
Then there is advice that I shared last year —
Pumping Anti-lock brakes will likely cause fear.
You’ll be slipping and sliding all over the place
Frantically pumping as your heart starts to race.
Instead what you do when you have ABS
Is apply steady pressure and don’t get all stressed.
There are no guarantees when there’s snow and some ice
But you’ll be better off if you take my advice.
Now your brakes may be safe but there’s so much more
Do you shake, bounce or shimmy—is your suspension worn?
The parts of this system can get rusty and break
Terrible things can then happen, a bad day will it make.
Not only that, these parts are safety concerns
They could cause many troubles, especially on turns.
So don’t let this happen now or any time
Your life is important and so is mine.
Therefore remember when you are driving about
There are so many others that are also en route.
Your decisions of timely repairs affect you
But have you considered how they affect others too?
As we approach Christmas, a great gift to bestow
Is to keep everyone safe as you drive in the snow.
This can happen better with timely repairs
It will let everyone know that you really do care.
But wait, there is just a little bit more
Perhaps you’ll remember what I’ve mentioned before—
It’s not just about what you’re driving around
It’s how you adhere to the road rules of the town.
You must limit distractions and put your cell phone away.
Whoever is texting won’t mind your delay.
And as you are celebrating this great time of year
Make sure you don’t drive if you drink any beer.
Since others may not drive as safely as you
It’s good to drive cautious and scan your full view,
Buckle your seat belt no matter how far you go
And make sure you drive with more care in the snow.
Be kind to others—you know, the Golden Rule
And make sure your car has always got fuel.
An emergency kit is a good rule of thumb
This is for all, not just for some!
These are the tips I’ve prepared just for you
I realize that there are more than a few!
As you ponder them now and in the coming days
There are a few things more I would like to say.
I wish you a glorious Christmas and New Year!
I pray that hope reigns and you’ll be full of good cheer.
May you count all your blessings and praise the Great One
Who gives life to us all through His Holy Spirit and Son.
Jesus was born for a really great reason
I hope that you’ll focus on Him this glorious season.
For He is the One that carries me through
And I really quite hope He carries you too!
But if you don’t believe in the birth of God’s son
Or if you think it’s just a tale that’s been spun,
Just call me right up, that’s what you should do
So that I can share the Good News with you!
Bald is not beautiful
How many times in the last six months have you heard or said the names “Hillary Clinton” and/or “Donald Trump”? In five short days, one of these candidates will be one of the most popular names said in the four years to come. Have you made a final decision of who you will vote for? Are you casting your ballot because of the morals and values of the person you want or are you voting because you want to hinder a candidate with questionable character from taking the Presidential office? No matter your intent, it is very important that your voice is heard and you exercise your right to vote next week.
Enough talk of those potential presidents for now. Let’s talk about two historical Presidents that made their way onto our currency—Lincoln and Washington. Can you take a guess of how these two fellas and their corresponding coins have anything to do with the automotive industry in our day and age? It’s simple … they can help determine when to replace your tires!
With a warmer than normal autumn season, it’s hard to get into the mindset of the slippery wintry roads ahead. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting an above normal snow fall in the months to come. And after the extremely rainy summer we had, I am apt to believe this prediction. Are your tires ready for what’s to come? How often do you assess their condition? Do you just look at them or do you take measurements of the tread depth to determine their state of safety?
What is tread depth?
Tread depth is the vertical measurement between the tip of the tread rubber to the bottom of the tire’s deepest groves. This is measured in 32nds of an inch. Average new tires typically start with 10/32” to 11/32”. Dedicated winter/snow tires and truck tires are deeper.
How to measure tread depth
Because it is difficult to measure the depth with a ruler, it is best measured with a tread depth gauge. You can purchase these at your local parts store such as Napa. However, this is a tool most of us don’t have on hand and really don’t plan to buy. Your auto repair shop will likely measure this for you when you take your vehicle in for service. But since they can’t measure it in between services, this is when Lincoln or Washington can come in handy.
When to replace tires
According to most states’ laws, tires are legally worn out when they have 2/32” remaining. It is against the law to drive on a tire in this condition, as it is very dangerous for you and others on the roadway—and the danger level multiplies when you have precipitation of any form. In wet conditions, 4/32” or less tread means a significant loss of traction and stopping is severely compromised at this depth due to the shallower groove and sipes (channels to improve grip). In snowy conditions, traction noticeably diminishes at 6/32”. The shallow grooves at this point limit the tire’s ability to grip and clean out snow compressed into what tread is there.
With the upcoming election, there are many concerned about the outcome based on who is chosen. This is something we cannot control! But we can, to some degree, control the safety of the passengers in our vehicle and others on the roadways by monitoring the condition of our tires frequently. Our tires are the only components of our vehicles that make contact with the road, which makes them one of the most important components for safety. As Minnesotans, no matter what the Farmer’s Almanac says, we know inclement weather is sure to come. So let’s be proactive, pull Lincoln and Washington out of your pocket or purse and assess the condition of your tires now, before the snow starts to fly.
Benefits of new tires
Having a new set of tires will provide a cushion of safety for the next 65K-100K miles (depending on the tires you purchase). At the same time, they increase the ability to stop, go and turn safely.
- Increased Performance & Traction The distance it takes for your vehicle to stop or the speed at which you can turn all depends on the quality of your tires. The way they perform in different road conditions (snow, rain, mud) depends on their compound and tread life. Most tires are performance-oriented and are made from sticky compounds with incredible tread designs, but they can vary greatly depending on brand, levels of performance, and all-season or winter tires. Make sure you choose the tire best suited for your vehicle, weather conditions, and the way you drive. Being in a state with harsh winters, you may even consider having two sets of tires and changing them out seasonally. This option will give you the best traction and performance for all conditions.
- Better Gas Mileage
The condition of your tires can drastically affect the miles you get per gallon. Worn tires with an uneven wear pattern makes your vehicle work harder to perform, which increases the use of gas. If, however, your tires have good tread depth, are mounted and balanced properly and are inflated to proper specs, you are well on your way to gas savings. Tires are an investment, so it’s best to ensure they will last as long as possible. Having new tires aligned properly and having your alignment checked every 6 months as part of your maintenance program, you’ll likely save more at the pump and get a longer life from your tires.
As we roll on into winter, despite the milder than normal fall, it’s time to start thinking about the components of our vehicles that we depend on and sometimes expect to work without maintenance … the battery. When is the last time yours was replaced? How do the connections and cables look? Are there areas of corrosion that need to be cleaned? These are questions you must ask yourself before the Minnesota winter hits Rochester!
Car batteries serve a major purpose. And, regardless of cold or heat, we demand much of them. We just expect that they will serve us well, not matter the climate and sometimes we don’t even rejoice each time we turn our key over and our car, truck or suvs come to life. But I can assure you, there will be the opposite of joy the moment you try to turn your car on only to be left with the silence of your engine! Car batteries don’t last forever!
In fact, the condition of your charging system will be altered depending on where you live, how often you drive and other factors. Most of the time, it will not give you any sign of trouble either. So if you forget about this important component of your vehicle, you may get stranded or have an unplanned late start to wherever you are going for the day.
So before we roll into winter in Rochester, MN this year, be sure to think about your battery. When is the last time yours was replaced? Battery replacement should take place on average of about every four years. If yours is reaching this milestone, have it tested to see how it’s fairing. Babcock Auto Care can take care of this for you in our Express Lane. Our auto technicians will also assess your battery for corrosion and check the connections. We offer a cleaning service as well as removal and replacement.
Don’t get left in the cold … be proactive and take care of your battery so it can take care of you!
Maintenance required for cars and relationships
Back in the early spring I shared with you the importance of maintenance, both with marriages and vehicles. In the months following that, I did not heed my own advice. My husband and I had a full day of marriage coaching in March and learned so much. But then life happened. Busyness crept in. Old habits resurfaced. Selfishness reigned. And I basically ignored all I was taught. I was not doing my part to maintain our marriage.
But then, my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, suggested a book (“Fierce Woman” by Kimberly Wagner). I ordered it and put it on my nightstand. When I finally opened it and began to read, I stopped in my tracks. What on earth was my MIL suggesting—that I was an obnoxious wife that needed taming? Those are the first thoughts that rolled in my head.
But then I remembered, she loves me, she loves her son, she prays for us constantly, she wants the best for us. When I was honest with the situation and began to humbly read the words within, my heart changed. Not just about my MIL’s reason for sending such a book to me but about the kind of wife that I am and want to be. It is my responsibility to do my part in making repairs to my heart and then, sometimes with friendly reminders, do things and take time to ensure I am keeping up on maintenance items too…even if it is just reading a book and honestly looking at myself.
Just like reminders for marriage maintenance when I forgot all I learned, these very same things happen with our vehicles. We know that they must be maintained, but busyness creeps in. Other things require our attention and our money. And sometimes we just ignore it until it becomes a repair that could have been prevented had we done the maintenance needed.
Maintenance is not fun! If we take time and spend money to do prescribed maintenance on our vehicles, likely we won’t even notice a difference after it’s completed. Even if we do the items recommended and in a timely fashion, we certainly don’t have any guarantees that nothing will go wrong—especially past the warranty period, right? Well perhaps, but maybe not. Let’s dig into this a bit.
Do you have a choice?
No matter if your vehicle if fresh from the dealership or well used, it will always need routine maintenance (just like fresh marriages or couples that have been married for many years). If your vehicle is under the manufacturer warranty, dealerships lead you to believe you must return to them to ensure the warranty remains in effect, but this is not the case–you have a choice where you take it. An independent automotive shop can perform the maintenance needed on your vehicle without voiding the warranty, and there may be other benefits in choosing them.
Did you know that some independent shops have a relationship with reputable companies who provide high quality fluids for your vehicle and offer a free lifetime protection plan if their recommended maintenance schedule is followed? They are so confident in the performance of their fluids that they back their products for a lifetime. These warranties vary depending on when you started servicing your vehicle with their fluids. This protection plan will oftentimes cover thousands of dollars in repair bills if something happens to your vehicle while it’s being properly serviced using their fluids. Auto shops with this program would be happy to explain the details to you.
What’s your part?
There are some things to keep in mind to ensure you do not void any warranty you have on your vehicle.
- Be sure to read your warranty, know what it covers and understand the timeline of it.
- Take your vehicle in for service at the recommended intervals and keep records and receipts. Keeping records allows you to prove proper maintenance was performed if a warranty claim comes up. Most repair shops are able to provide you with an emailed receipt too. Furthermore, if you sell your vehicle, you are able to offer these great records as a selling point showing that your vehicle has been properly maintained.
- If you don’t have an auto home, consider finding one. Not only will you have a copy of all of your records, but your trusted auto home will as well. These professionals can also keep you up-to-date on needed maintenance and even send you friendly reminders.
In relationships and in vehicle ownership, there are no guarantees. However, we are able to control, to some degree, the health of our vehicles and the health of our relationships with regular maintenance (and some repairs).
Make sure you do your part. With your car, educate yourself about warranties you have, service your vehicle regularly and trust the professionals. With your relationships, the best advice is something I learned recently. God did not create us to be loved by others. God created us to learn how to love like He does. Forgivingly, unselfishly, not expecting anything in return. This is how my MIL loves and because of this and her faithfulness, she just celebrated fifty years of marriage. Now that is a professional I trust!
The value of vehicle system inspections
Are you a healthy person? Or have you had many or even a few medical issues? What do you do when you experience a new worrisome symptom? Many people, including myself, do the same thing—they Google it!
This is what happened to me last fall. I had myself diagnosed with all sorts of other things. By the time I was able to see my doctor, I wondered how much time I had left to live. My doctor notated symptoms and ran tests, finding two problems, requiring a major surgery in January and subsequent medication—but neither problem was life threatening.
Women tend to exaggerate and mentally imagine the worst-case scenario. Sometimes Google is more of a hindrance than a help because we get ourselves all worked up without really knowing how serious something is. And men, what do you do with a new symptom? Tell your wife? Ignore it for a while? Google it and choose the least possible problem? Or are you like us and anticipate the worse until you finally go to the doctor? I am sure the diagnosis we’ve given ourselves is occasionally correct. But I’ll bet if you ask many in the healthcare industry, you’ll find that in most cases, we are not.
And what about symptoms your vehicle is having? Do you Google those too? Do you know what’s wrong with your vehicle before you even get it to the shop?
A couple months ago, we had a call from a customer asking how much it would cost for new rear struts. As with most calls for repair estimates, knowing that vehicles need assessment in order to accurately diagnose them, we recommended bringing the vehicle in to ensure his Googled diagnosis was correct.
Upon inspection by one of our ASE Master Certified technicians, the customer’s vehicle was found to have worn sway bar bushings—a repair that cost significantly less than the struts the customer wanted a quote for. That was a jackpot moment for the customer who was thrilled to have an accurate diagnosis and less expensive repair.
We often get calls from customers requesting an estimate for brakes. I have written about the complexity of the braking system in previous articles. If you’ve read them or know about your braking system, you know that there are several components that may be affected—pads, rotors, brake lines, calipers, fluid, etc. Without having your vehicle present for a brake inspection, it is difficult to give an estimate. A technician must assess the vehicle on a test drive and determine if the vehicle is safe to drive. After the test drive the technician will remove the wheels and assess all of the components. You could have one component that is faulty/worn or several.
Can you see the value of the inspection process? Depending on the issue, the solution may cost less. Of course, it could cost more as well. But the important thing is, with accurate diagnosis, you will understand the health of whatever system is being inspected and what it will take to fix it.
The same is true for the diagnosis of any system of your vehicle. What is it worth to you to have your vehicle assessed properly and fixed based on experience and hands-on knowledge? In-depth inspections take time by the professionals you build a relationship with and trust. Depending on which symptom(s) you are looking to have diagnosed, the cost of the inspection will vary based on which system will be inspected, how many tests need to be done and much time it will all take to perform.
There have been occasions when a customer feels the inspection or diagnosis should be free of charge. What in your profession are you willing to do for free? The technician takes time to test drive a vehicle, perform many tests based on symptoms, often using many of his own diagnostic tools, and puts together a list of parts needed in order to repair the problem. His/her time is valuable and revealing this value to the customer then charging for it allows shops to pay the technician and treat their time with the respect it deserves.
There are some shops that offer coupons for “free brake inspections” or “free check engine light analysis.” Why do you think they do this? How are they able to offer it for free? Do they pay the technician for his time with the diagnosis or inspection? Or does the technician do it for free with hopes the service advisor will sell the job that the inspection reveals? Each shop is different in how they work this, but the bottom line is, in order to be in business and employ good technicians, they must charge for the inspection somehow. Likely the time is rolled into the job that is sold. Will the customer know the difference? Likely not. They perceived they were getting something for free and can then decide whether or not to proceed with the repair. Their intent of having it diagnosed in the first place was to fix it. After receiving their “free” inspection, they will likely authorize the repair with that shop.
If a free inspection is offered, the shop’s intent is not to deceive you; it’s used as a marketing tool to get you to come to their shop where you perceive you are receiving something for free. In the end, your vehicle is likely repaired at the same price as another shop that charges for the diagnosis plus repair.
The bottom line here is this: Inspections take time. Technicians are highly trained in order to inspect any system of your vehicle and their time is valuable. Different symptoms require a specific series of tests and knowledge to pinpoint. Your desire is to have your vehicle repaired correctly. Every reputable repair shop wants this same thing. If you trust your repair shop and value the services they offer, you will be well cared for and their technicians will be well cared for so that you will always have a trusted business to take your car to.
Have you taught your kids about cars?
This summer a momma robin laid her pretty blue eggs in a nest she built on top of the downspout next to our garage. Three sweet babies hatched at the beginning of June and by the end of the month they were all teenagers and ready to be on their own. Wow that was fast! Aren’t you glad our children don’t grow that quickly? Can you imagine teaching them all they need to know in one short month? I suppose birds have it easy with two things on their list: learn to fly and find food.
When I think of all that we need to teach our youngsters before they leave our nests, it’s sometimes overwhelming. You almost need a checklist to make sure all of the categories of training are complete. What important things do you want to be sure to teach before your children fly out of your nest? Grammar, manners, kindness? How about practical training like finances, culinary skills or even how to separate laundry? Do you also show them hard work ethic, how to treat others by using the Golden Rule, how to be a good spouse, good employee or good friend by the things you say and do?
We are given this extremely important task to not only keep our children safe and keep their tummies full, but we are called to train them—in practical matters as well as in morals and values—to live life well, serve others and work hard. Are you succeeding in accomplishing these things?
It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s just easier to do things ourselves than to train our children. Case in point: Years ago my husband and I were having a discussion about hard work ethic and how we want to instill that in our children. Ironically, we were doing the dishing during our conversation while our pre-teen children were sitting on the couch enjoying a TV program. That was an ah-hah moment for us. As children, my husband and I were the ones that washed the dishes … this is how our parents helped to teach us to be the hard workers we are today. Needless to say, things changed in our home from that moment on! Preparing our children for all areas of life is what we are called to do—not do life for them and watch them crash and burn once they leave.
One of the things my parents forgot to teach me is how to take care of a vehicle with maintenance and timely repairs. We never talked about it. I never saw them do anything with theirs. How was I to know that cars needed to have the oil changed? My ignorance led to a blown up motor of my first car.
On your long list of practical things to teach, is vehicle repair and maintenance one of them? Have you looked under the hood together? Gone through how important fluids are? Talked about safety issues and what components to have assessed periodically? Looked through the owners manual and talked about scheduled maintenance? Taken them with you to have your car serviced? Or with all of the other things you are teaching, have you forgotten to add these things to your list as my parents did?
With the busyness of our world today, car care may not have been on your radar. Maybe you are exhausted from visiting colleges with your graduates and preparing for their future with the right schools. Maybe they won’t have a car because they will live on campus. But what happens when they do get one? Are you confident you have taught them what they need to know to take care of one of the biggest investments they will ever make?
We depend on our vehicles to get us from school to work to home and to so many other places. We likely have taught our children how to drive safely. But what if they have bald tires and are driving on a slushy road? What if the oil has turned to sludge, causes irreparable damage to the engine and leaves them stranded on the side of the road? How do they find the right repair shop if they don’t live near the one you use?
If you haven’t thought about these things and your peep is getting ready to leave for college in a few short weeks, it’s not too late! If your child has already been in college for a few years, it’s not too late! If your child is a pre-teen, it’s not too early! No matter how old your children are, start now in training them how to best take care of their vehicle.
There are many videos that can assist you. Ask questions to see what they already know. Expand on that. What sorts of fluids make up the car? Why is it important that the fluids are changed regularly? What does the engine and transmission do? What does the braking and suspension systems consist of? How long has it been since the battery has been replaced? What about tires? What does the tread look like? Is it minimal and time for new ones? Shop for them together.
These are just a few suggestions and questions to ask to get your started. No matter if your child has left your nest or hasn’t even started driving, it’s never too late or early to train them in these practical matters. The important part is, start the conversation and lead by example. No matter the age of your children, they are watching you and learning from you … no matter what you are doing. Drive safe, take good care of your car and train your kids!
Article originally published in the Post-Bulletin.
When forgetting can have tragic consequences
Is your life so busy that you become forgetful at times? I know mine is! My schedule is so full that I would truly be lost without my calendar and reminders. Even with the help, I am still quite forgetful at times.
Like when I forgot to be the Tooth Fairy back when my children believed. Forgetful as I may be, I am still quick on my feet. So when my teary eyed daughter said, “The tooth fairy forgot about me,” I didn’t miss a beat as I replied “Oh no, she didn’t forget. It’s Sunday. The Tooth Fairy doesn’t work on Sundays!” That excuse worked the first time. But when it happened again, it was not a Sunday. I quickly thought of something just as clever that time … and the time after.
Oh how my brain is mush sometimes with so much going on, places to be, things to do, people to take care of, etc. On one occasion I even forgot to pick my daughter up from an after school activity. I figured it out when I got home and my boys were there but my daughter was not. In that moment, my heart stopped and the blood drained from my face as I frantically drove to the school hoping my daughter would forgive me and not remember this moment for the rest of her life. When I rolled up, the devastated look on her face nearly broke my heart in two. There were no excuses. With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I profusely apologized to my sweet girl and asked for forgiveness. Oh what a terrible moment and epic “mom fail” that was. I hope that my heroic mom moments always over shadow that awful one!
What about you? What sorts of things do you forget? Have you ever had a parent fail moment like mine? How do you keep track of everything? And what if there was a moment in your life that was so bad that you couldn’t even ask for forgiveness of your forgetfulness?
I recently came upon an article that revealed such a time. A father had much on his mind as he headed out for the day. He was following a different routine as he was supposed to take his child to daycare on his way to work. Instead, perhaps on auto-pilot on that warm summer day, he headed straight to the office, forgetting to drop his baby off along the way. At the end of the workday he returned to his car to find his child in the back seat, deceased due to heatstroke. Can you imagine the horror of such a moment? And what if I told you that there are so many more stories like his?
After reading that father’s story, I did a bit of research and was surprised by my findings. Since 1998, an average of thirty-seven children die every year from hyperthermia related to being left in a hot car for one reason or another. What a staggering figure! I’ve heard of this happening with pets in hot cars but not often of children. So far this year, sixteen children have died and we aren’t even half way through the summer. My heart breaks for the sweet ones who have died as well as the parents who forgot. There are also cases of children being left in hot cars due to a choice a parent or caregiver has made to leave them there for a short period and also from children climbing into hot cars and not being able to get back out. But most cases are from forgetfulness.
An otherwise loving parent gets busy, distracted or forgetful in his or her daily routine. The wealthy, the poor and the middle class do it. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Fathers are just as likely as a mother to do it. Grandparents do it. It happens to absent-minded and organized parents alike. It’s happened to a dentist, police officer, accountant and an electrician. It’s happened to a hospital CEO, college professor, and pediatrician.
With such a list and frequency—one child every nine days —how might this number be reduced?
- Being educated about the subject is important—which is why I chose to share this story and statics with you today.
- Share this with others! Perhaps, like me, people you know don’t have a clue about how many people this has happened to and sharing this may just be enough to save a child’s life.
- Have routines that lessen the chances of this happening to you or loved ones. The acronym KARS helps you remember
Keep something you need in the backseat like a cell phone—even when you run an errand on your own. This will get you in a habit of always looking in the backseat before you leave your vehicle. Plus, it may remove the temptation of using your cell phone while you drive.
Always lock the doors and put your keys or fobs away—even if you park in the garage. This will prevent children from playing in hot cars without your knowledge.
Review your schedule with childcare providers. Ask them to always call you if your child is supposed to be there but does not show up.
See something, do something. If ever you see a child alone in a car, no matter the temperature outside, do not hesitate to call 911.
KARS 4 Kids is also an app you can get for your cell phone, specifically designed to alert you to take your child out of the car. Check it out: KARS4Kids.org
We’d all like to think this would never happen to us or people we love. I’ll bet the parents it’s happened to would have believed the same thing before it did. Let us learn from the moments of the thirty-seven families affected each year by such horrible “parent fail” moments. Share this with others, remember K.A.R.S. and check out the app.
By Jeana Babcock
Car maintenance do’s and don’ts
I visited my sister in Las Vegas last fall after her sweet son was born. During one of our outings, we stopped by a gas station to air up her leaky tire. I watched in astonishment as her husband and firefighter husband, Cody, simply filled the tire with air, not using any kind of gauge. I hopped out of the car and asked about this. He told me he knew how much to put in by the look of it. This shocked me! How could he know by the look of the tire? Did he take into consideration that there is more weight on the front of the SUV so the tires look less full? Did he know the problems that can arise from over-inflated tires?
This situation made me wonder how many other people might do this same thing? And are there other things people who are not auto-savvy do or don’t do that they may need advice with?
In an effort to help those of you who may make some common mistakes, not knowing the negative affect they may have, I’ve put together some Do’s and Don’ts that may benefit you and your car.
DO check your tire pressure routinely and fill them to the specified amount.
DON’T add air based on appearance. Tires lose pressure even when there is not a hole or other known issue. Checking the pressure with a tire pressure gauge regularly and adding the correct amount of air for your specific vehicle is a good idea. With the right amount of air pressure your tires wear longer, save fuel, enhance handling and prevent accidents. The correct air pressure may be found in your owner’s manual or on the tire placard (which is usually on the vehicle’s door edge, door post, glove box or fuel door). Failure to maintain the correct air pressure can potentially cause safety hazards.
DO come to a stop before shifting from reverse to drive.
DON’T switch gears without stopping, even if you are in a rush. When you do this, you add months of wear and tear to your transmission in seconds. You are asking the complex set of gears inside your transmission to act as brakes, putting an incredible amount of stress on these gears. Besides the stress it puts on your transmission, you can also damage the drive shafts—the components that send power to your wheels. After doing this over and over, the damage it causes can lead to bad suspension handling as well as a worn out transmission.
DO alternate between braking and letting off the brake as you go down a long hill. DON’T ride your brakes all the way down. Doesn’t it seem like continually pressing the brake is the safest and best way to stop your vehicle? When you do this, your brake pads will heat up and they will wear faster. Worn brakes are a safety issue and a significant cost to replace.
DO change your oil on time. DON’T put it off or forget to change it all together. The purpose of an oil change is to lubricate and condition your engine components and absorb heat. This allows your engine to work effectively without overheating. Over time, oil breaks down and loses its ability to do its job properly. You’ll want to change it before it no longer has the capacity to do its job well. Additionally, when oil is changed, so is the filter—which removes harmful contaminates. By the time you “remember” or “have time” to get your oil changed and realize it’s 3000 mile or 3 months or longer past due, it may be a sludgy mess in there. Replacing your oil at that point has several issues you may not have considered. It drains the old oil from your vehicle—the system is not cleaned completely. So if you have some sludge and you add fresh oil, the thick oil that is not flushed out of the system will mix with the new oil and contaminate it. It’s kind of like having a glass of milk, leaving it out for a day, then dumping it out (without washing it) and adding fresh milk. There will be spoiled milk in the new. Would you want to drink it? Change your oil, on time, every time.
Do properly diagnose any leak your vehicle may have. DON’T add stop leak or leak sealant! Adding these to any system of your vehicle that transports fluids may temporarily seem to fix the problem but have you considered what else it may do to your vehicle? This stuff is designed to quickly and cheaply fix leaks by forming a coating or “plug” to block a hole from the inside. Think about what this does to the rest of the system and what else it might “plug” up. Or what happens if the temporary “plug” comes loose? Where does it go? Any mechanic would be able to tell you horror stories on what this substance does and the extensive and more expensive problems it can cause. If there is a leak or leaks, whether big or small, there is a reason for the leak. The diagnosis and repairs may range from simple and inexpensive to complex and expensive, but the key is to find the reason for the leak and fix it right. Adding sealants may be easier on your pocketbook for the short term but have long-lasting damaging effects. Once you put it in, you cannot get it out completely.
I hope you’ll follow the Dos I’ve shared here—your car will be healthier and you will likely have a fuller wallet if you do. And I certainly hope my superhero brother-in-law knows that my intentions were pure when I shared my advice with him last fall!
By Jeana Babcock
What does a lifetime really mean?
How long do you want to live? I hope the Lord takes me home before I become a burden to anyone. Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over the number of days we live on earth—we must simply make the best of the ones we have. This is what my husband’s precious “Grandma B” did, living 102 years until her recent passing a couple weeks ago.
Grandma B had good genes, lived a healthy lifestyle and sought medical attention when needed. All of these played a role in her longevity, and this is the same for the vehicles we drive. Do you have a well-made vehicle? Do you maintain it regularly? And do you seek repairs in a timely fashion? If so, you are on your way to great car longevity!
I’ve done research and written automotive articles for over four years now. Everything I have learned about these machines indicates that they require regular maintenance and timely repairs in order to be healthy, reliable, keep you safe and last a long time. Recently, I heard that many new car manufacturers are promoting some fluids last a lifetime, and I was taken aback.
If we are being persuaded that our vehicles no longer require regular fluid changes and they will perform wonderfully for a lifetime, I wonder what is in these “super fluids” and how they have changed so drastically that replacement is not necessary. Furthermore, if the manufacturers are so confident in the longevity of the fluid to promote as “lifetime” then why wouldn’t they also warranty the components the fluid is protecting for the same period of time?
You see, fluids in your vehicle have many jobs. To perform these jobs well, they must maintain certain qualities in order to take care of major components of your vehicle. Over time they break down, lose their viscosity, become dirty, become acidic, etc. They cannot perform optimally if they are not replaced regularly.
If we are now being told that fluids are “lifetime,” my question is: what lifetime are we talking about—your lifetime, your vehicle’s lifetime or the lifetime of your engine or transmission? While fluids and lubricants have improved over time, it seems far-fetched to say they will last a lifetime. That’s a big promise, it’s confusing and likely it comes with a disclaimer.
The truth is, all vehicles need to be maintained on a regular basis in order to perform properly, including fluid replacement. Period. How long the fluids lasts is dependent upon several things:
- Make and model
- Distance of commuting
- Driving style (defensive or aggressive)
When the fluid is dirty and the quality is subpar because it has spent time cleaning everything well, the only way to revive it is to change it. If you don’t change these fluids preemptively, then the fluid’s lifetime will certainly dictate the lifetime of your vehicle—or at least the life of expensive parts.
So why have manufacturers begun this trend of telling consumers that some fluids last a lifetime? They are the makers—don’t they know the importance of having clean fluid? Sure they do. But their desire is not to help you increase the longevity of your vehicle. Their hope is to get your vehicle to what they consider a lifetime so you will buy a new one. They are basing their lifetime claims on 100K miles while the average life expectancy of a vehicle is 200K. That’s a lot of Ks in between!
Additionally, when selling you a new vehicle, they are trying to lower the initial cost of ownership. Often times the manufacturer will offer “free” service for the first 60,000 miles or so (the amount of time your vehicle is generally in good health). Not replacing the fluids during this “free” time decreases their costs. This all sounds wonderful and you may even rave about low car maintenance.
But what about the next 60,000 miles? If you keep your car, reality will set in pretty quickly. If you sell your car, the new owner gets the raw end of the deal, as the initial lack of fluid change may have damaged engine parts.
Are you willing to roll the dice by not changing your fluids? Many repair shops have quality fluids that meet or surpass manufacturer specifications—often times they will be accompanied by a warranty as well. The best thing you can do for your car to help it run for 100K, 200K or even 300K miles is by maintaining regular fluid services. Most vehicles will last a long time if you start fluid exchanges early and have them serviced at recommended times:
- Transmission—every 30,000 miles/2 years
- Engine oil— between 3,000 and 5,000 miles
- Engine coolant—every 30,000 miles/2 years
- Brake fluid— every 30,000 miles/2 years
- Power steering fluid— every 30,000 miles/2 years
- Differential fluids— every 30,000 miles/2 years
- Fuel injection flush—every 30,000 miles/2 years
There are some vehicles that require fluid service at different intervals in order to maintain the warranty. Some dealerships will tell you that you must return to them for this service but in reality, many repair shops offer the equivalent or even better fluids that will maintain your warranty as long as you keep a record that you had the service completed.
Remember, vehicles today are made better with incredible automotive technology and advancements! If you put your vehicle on a healthy fluid plan, it may not last the same kind of lifetime our beloved Grandma B had, but it will surely last a lifetime longer than not changing the fluids.
By Jeana Babcock
Tips for common driving maneuvers
Do you have a teachable spirit? When I was younger, I was open to learning new things. However, if I had a strong opinion about something or did something a certain way, even if it was the wrong way, my mind was closed to others giving me direction, advice or opinions. As I have grown, this has changed and though there are still some things I am bull-headed about, my spirit is mostly teachable.
Recently I had the honor of putting this to the test in my marriage. Though it’s pretty good, like with most things, there’s always room for improvement—and repairs and maintenance are just as important in marriages as they are in vehicles. So together, my husband and I slipped away for a day for an intensive session with marriage coach Dan Farm.
He educated and coached us on an array of things: discovering what needs we each have, communication tools, and opening our minds to things we never would have thought of had we not been open and teachable. We have also been able to apply what we’ve learned to other relationships in our lives—with our children, parents, friends and business team!
Because Dan is well-trained, experienced, and practices what he preaches, we were more receptive to his guidance. Keeping with this same thought, I’ve enlisted the help of an expert in driving laws/behaviors.
Adam Newbloom, owner and director of the Enhanced Driving Institute, has a passion for driving education and has shared top driving maneuvers or laws motorists are confused about or fail to follow.
Perhaps your spirit will be more teachable as you read his advice and strive to follow it because of the extensive experience he has.
- Right turn on red is required if there are no pedestrians or traffic threats. You must signal to the right, come to a complete stop behind the limit line, move forward when the crosswalk is clear and then make your turn when it is safe. Watch for pedestrians or threats to your right, as many drivers get too focused on traffic to the left.
- Turn into the closest lane. This is the law and provides a smoother flow of traffic during turns. For one, oncoming traffic
can turn at the same time as you, as they take their closest lane and you take yours. You also become predictable to pedestrians and other motorists. We have seen many close calls from drivers who are not paying attention and just take the lane they want instead of the lane they should be taking.
- Enter the highway at the speed of traffic. Highway traffic has the right of way to those entering the highway. When entering the highway, find your gap in traffic and adjust your speed appropriately. Activate your turn signal and merge into that gap. Traffic does not have to move over or adjust their speed for the person entering ; it is the person entering the highway that must do their best to minimize the disruption to the flow of traffic.
- When you exit the highway, do not slow down until you are on the exit ramp or in the lane that merges off the highway. Many people slow down as they approach the exit lane, which can disrupt the flow of traffic behind them.
- Stop for school bus stop signs. The only time you do not have to stop for a school bus stop sign is if you are separated from the bus by a divider, such as a grass median or physical divider. A center turn lane is not a divider so you are still required to stop. They have started putting cameras on school buses to cite people who violate the stop sign rule.
- On a highway with three lanes, the left lane is the passing lane, the center lane is the through traffic lane and the right lane is for entering and exiting. If your exit is more then 1 mile away, you should be driving in the center lane. Once you are within 1 mile of your exit, it is appropriate to do a lane change into the right lane. Driving in the enter/exit lane “just because” disrupts the flow of those getting on and off.
- Using the center turn lane. About half to a full block before your left turn, activate your turn signal, check mirrors and look over your left shoulder to make sure the lane is clear. Move into the center turn lane then start slowing down. Do not slow down before entering the center turn lane. You do not need to stop in the turn lane unless there is oncoming traffic or if pedestrians are in the intersection. If you have to stop in the turn lane, make sure you keep your wheels straight. Do this because if you are rear-ended you will go straight ahead instead of being pushed into oncoming traffic.
- Roundabouts provide a more balanced traffic flow along with minimizing the costs incurred from a traffic light controlled intersection. In the US, roundabouts can lead to confusion, as we are not used to merging with moving traffic in residential areas. As you approach a roundabout, plan ahead. Watch traffic within and approaching the roundabout from all sides. Remember, the idea is to not stop unless the roundabout is congested.
You should approach and plan your speed to blend in with the flow. You do not have to signal when entering the roundabout. Legally, you do not have to signal when you exit the roundabout; however it is helpful to other driver’s who are trying to enter.
I think advice from others is better taken if it comes from an expert or someone you trust. Advice is best received by someone with a teachable spirit. I am amazed at how much I have learned over the past weeks—not only in relationships from Dan but how to be a better driver from Adam. Perhaps you have a teachable spirit as well and will glean much from Adam’s driving reminders as well!
By Jeana Babcock
Driving safety starts with you
Soccer season is just around the corner and to get prepared, my daughter and her teammates signed up for a preseason futsal tournament a couple weeks ago. Apparently this indoor soccer requires special shoes in order to play at your best. However, being the frugal mom that I am, I decided a new pair of lightweight tennis shoes (ones without holes that her current ones were sporting) should work just fine.
While heading to the shoe store, she asked “why do you push that button?” She was referring to the cruise control. I told her that it’s one of the best inventions … it keeps the car going at the speed you set which helps people like me with a lead foot. Maintaining a proper speed with cruise control is one more way vehicle manufacturers have equipped modern vehicles to assist in our safety. I revealed other ways in my article last month but now let’s explore adhering to some key driving decisions that can help you and others be safer on the roads as well.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “you can’t change anyone but yourself.” Oh so true—I know because I have tried to change others and failed. Since you cannot control the actions of other motorists, you must rely on your own experience and skills. Are you an excellent driver? Great! Then this article might just allow you to pat yourself on the back a few times for doing things right! Are you an okay driver with a few bad habits? Read on! Even though your driving habits may not have ended in something bad thus far, this could help you get back on track with better skills that will benefit you and others.
Illuminate, illuminate, illuminate
It is imperative that your vehicle is equipped to see others and enable others to see you. Before you step into your vehicle, are you aware of possible problems that may hinder your driving? In the winter, do you ensure the vehicle is clear of snow before you get behind the wheel? Do you clear off not only all of the windows, but the lenses of your lights as well? Do your lenses look foggy? Perhaps it’s time to get them buffed for better illumination. Are your wipers effective? Do you have adequate washer fluid to eliminate the dirt and debris that spray onto your vehicle—especially in the snow melting periods when dirt and grime seem to be ever present? Do all of your lights work? One burnt out bulb is a big deal. What if the other goes out while driving at a time when they should be illuminating?
Plan your way
I’m a planner. What about you? Do you always know where you’re heading? Do you know what the weather and road conditions are before you enter your vehicle? No matter your destination, it’s important to plan ahead so you are not tempted to become irresponsible on the way there—speeding, texting to alert tardiness, etc. And if you don’t know where you are going and require the assistance of GPS, be sure you have the information entered into your device before you set out.
Be clearly attentive
Are you physically and mentally prepared to drive? Are you well rested and alert so you can respond to possible problems on the roads? Have you taken any drugs or consumed any alcohol that may limit your abilities? Perhaps you’ve only had one drink and “feel fine.” But have you considered other factors that may increase how it may alter your clarity of mind? The best decision is to not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle if you are under the influence of any mind-altering substance. Be honest with yourself and think past yourself—ask is what I am about to do safe and would I want someone else to be doing it if I were in their car or a fellow motorist in their path?
There is so much to distract our attention these days. Taking your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road or mind off the driving task at hand can be a recipe for disaster. What do you need to do to minimize distractions? Turn your phone off? Advise your children of appropriate vehicle behavior before you are en route? Think about possible distractions that you’ve experienced before and do your best to reduce or eliminate them before you operate your vehicle.
Scan and be kind
It is important to prepare as much as possible for signs of problems. Scan the roadway continually for hazards, know what is happening from side to side, ahead of you and behind you. Watch for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and animals. Understand that others make mistakes or may not be as aware as you are. Being courteous on the roadways and offering grace in stressful situations may prevent possible problems related to reckless driving and road rage.
Watch your speed
Posted speed limits are determined for your safety and are set based on ideal conditions. Do you sometimes push the posted limits? By doing so, not only are you in jeopardy of earning an expensive ticket, but you are making the roadways more dangerous for yourself and others. Higher speeds magnify your errors and provide less time to identify and react to a hazard, stopping distances are longer and crashes are more severe. Pay attention to posted limits and adjust your speed for traffic and hazardous road conditions.
Are you a tailgater? Are you always in a hurry? If you are, you may have been the one riding my rear last week and almost hitting me when I needed to stop quickly. We must maintain a safe distance when driving and anticipate the actions of others. We must also be predictable as much as possible. Working taillights and signaling appropriately will help other become aware of our intentions.
Seat belts are priceless in a crash or even a possible crash. Being properly secured helps to keep you in control of your vehicle and ready to react to any potential problems. Make sure all of your passengers are securely buckled up too!
We all have the ability to make a difference on the roadway with the decisions we make and the rules we follow. I hope you’ll do your part in being a responsible driver.
By Jeana Babcock
Understanding your car components
Winter took a bit longer to get here than most years. It was in the warmer temps and dry roads of December that my son scheduled his driving test for the morning of his sixteenth birthday in January. He did not foresee what the road conditions would be like upon awakening that day—frozen and slushy roads topped with fresh snow. The snow plows were doing their best to keep up, but with an 8am testing time, I was nervous for my son. As I cautiously drove into work over the slick roadways, I prayed that he would do well—for what a disappointment it would be to fail your test on your birthday! At 8:34am my husband sent me a picture of a certain young man with a confident smirk of success on his face. Great news! But was it?
I had mixed emotions, as passing in such conditions may give him a false sense of confidence and with the ability to drive without his father and I, we may not be present to encourage and correct driving behaviors. Later that morning a customer shared with me how minor accidents for all of his teens helped to make them more cautious. This is not something a mother of a new driver wants to hear, but it’s something I needed to hear. The passing of a basic driving test is not a guarantee that someone will be a cautious, active, safe driver.
Is it only teens that need practice and education? Of course not. Driving is a skill we will use for most of our lives. We must continually hone this skill to become responsible motorists and role models to others.
Even if you have done all you can do to become an active and safe driver, certain weather conditions or other variables could alter your skills. Furthermore, when there are drivers who are not obeying laws, do not know the capabilities of their vehicles or preparing them properly, are not performing repairs and maintenance in a timely fashion, or are driving recklessly, unsafe or aggressively, even the best drivers can be affected. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of specific laws and driving skills, we need to start at the beginning.
Being a responsible driver begins with the vehicle you are driving. What are the capabilities of your vehicle and what functions does it have that might help or hinder your driving? What can you do to help it perform at it’s best? Do you know the components that can wear out and potentially cause a safety hazard? Do you perform repairs and maintenance in a timely fashion?
Is your vehicle Front Wheel Drive (FWD), Rear Wheel Drive (RWD), Four Wheel Drive (4WD) or All Wheel Drive (AWD)? The type of drive train your vehicle has will affect how your vehicle handles in slippery conditions. Understanding the different systems will allow you to make an educated decision on what is right for you when purchasing a new or used vehicle but also help you understand if you need to alter the way you drive in order to maneuver your vehicle effectively, especially during inclement weather.
One of the most significant yet neglected parts of every vehicle are the tires. Generally their condition is not addressed or replaced until significant wear is present. Legally speaking, there is a certain tread depth that must be maintained on vehicles. Did you know that? Buses or trucks must have at least a 4/32 tread depth and all other vehicles must have at least a 2/32 tread depth—a very minimal requirement. Even at this depth, safety can be an issue. Tire companies perform simulation testing to demonstrate how tire depth can impede braking and be a major safety concern—especially in emergency braking situations.
Did you know there are laws that address the requirements of tire conditions including leaks, separations, tread depth and inflation? Do you monitor the air pressure in your tires and address it on a regular basis to ensure they are properly inflated? Proper inflation will ensure your tires are effective in most driving conditions. And do you have your tires rotated regularly so they wear evenly, provide better traction and last longer?
Do you have all-season tires on your vehicle? As a resident of a cold-weather state, have you ever researched the benefits of winter tires? Incredible technology has been developed to increase traction considerably using winter tires—from the material used to the tread patterns. If your vehicle has a drive train that does not perform ideally on wintry roads, purchasing winter tires will likely increase traction and performance significantly.
Is your braking system healthy and performing well? When is the last time it was inspected? A safe braking system is crucial to responsible driving and consists of many components—pads, shoes, drums, rotors, lines, fluid, etc. It is important to have your braking system inspected periodically, and immediately if you notice an issue or if there are any brake warning lights illuminating on your dash.
Does your vehicle have anti-lock brakes (ABS)? Back when I took driver’s ed, we were always encouraged to “pump the brakes” when it’s slippery. This is not the case if your vehicle is equipped with ABS. They should never lock in the first place, so pumping them will just make you take longer to stop. You should apply the brake firmly and hold it while the ABS does all of the work. You may feel a pulsation during this, but that is normal. Just hold firm, pay attention to your steering and do not let off the brake.
The job of your vehicle’s suspension is to maximize friction between the tires and the road surface. There are many components to this system—control arms, tie rods, ball joints, shocks/struts, sway bars/links and bushings. Your suspension system works with the steering system to control your vehicle and keep it aligned. It is important that both of these systems are in good working order to best keep you safe when performing driving maneuvers. These components wear depending on a number of factors or could become damaged or rusted. Having them serviced as part of your maintenance program and/or when recommended by your mechanic is essential to maintain your safety as well as others.
Every component of your vehicle has a purpose. Knowing their purpose and how you can better control and maintain your vehicle is important. Delaying repairs of worn components may be detrimental to you or others—especially in slippery road conditions. Being a responsible motorist starts with knowing your vehicle and repairing safety items in a timely fashion.
This article was originally published in the Post-Bulletin.
Take safety into your own hands
Tomorrow is my second son, Jayden’s, 16th birthday. Where has the time gone? It seems parents with grown children warn you that the time goes quickly but you really don’t believe it until it happens to you. Then with big milestones such as this, it hits you like a ton of bricks! My baby is 16 (insert a gasp and a few tears)!
Sixteen is a big one my friends. Not because he’s now taller than me or because he’s sharp as a whip—but because this young man is about ready to obtain his driver’s license. Over the past year he’s been driving with his father or I in the passenger seat and we have seen him improve. My question is, is he ready to be on his own behind the wheel? And is he ready to do this in the midst of winter?
But there are more questions whirling around in my mind—all having to do with the safety of my son. Is he going to be a responsible driver in the absence of parental presence? Who ultimately decides if he is ready to be on his own? Is it the DMV who is about ready to administer the basic road test for competency? Is it so thorough that they can test him in hazardous conditions to ensure he will respond properly to all of the possibilities that may arise in day-to-day driving—inclement weather, slippery roadways, emergency situations, decisions other drivers might make, etc?
The more I contemplate these questions the more concerned I become. There is a reason vehicle insurance is the very highest for a sixteen year old young man. I’ll let you think about what all of those reasons might be.
But the bottom line is, as responsible parents attempting to raise a responsible driver, it is our job to decide when our children are ready to be on their own. It is our job to put rules in place once they are allowed to drive alone. It is our jobs to hold them accountable to the rules—no matter what backlash we might receive. Ultimately, we are not only responsible for training our children but we are responsible to other motorists in ensuring, to the best of our ability, that our teens are prepared to drive safely and make the right decisions.
Where must we begin? If you read the article I wrote a year and a half ago about training our children, you know what I am about to say. We must begin with ourselves. We are role models and must model the behavior we want to see with our teens. If we are texting while driving, speeding, being aggressive drivers, yelling at other motorists, etc, then guess what—likely our children will take up these behaviors.
How do I know? Because even though I wrote about this before, I didn’t fully listen to my own advice and have experienced my son taking on some of the habits I exhibited and wasn’t even paying attention to myself. How hypocritical of me! I’ve since “pulled the plank out of my eye” and fully realized the gravity of the phrase “do as I say and not as I do.” It does not work. Period. As childish as it sounds, the phrase that will ring true is this: “monkey see, monkey do.”
Once you have bought into this, it’s time to be an aware monkey; whether you are a parent, grandparent or any driver, you can be sure there is someone watching your skills and likely a teen is among them. Before we move forward into discussions about proper driving, when is the last time you evaluated your driving skills? The majority of us have not taken a course on driving since we first sat behind a wheel when we were fifteen. Because formal continued education is lacking, when new laws develop or new roadways emerge, how have we learned about them? Trial and error? Word of mouth? Newspaper or internet articles?
Take, for example, the new roundabouts popping up. Now there’s a learning curve! A few weeks ago, while traveling on County Road 4, I witnessed a motorist in a small pickup truck towing a trailer who was taking his turn on the new roundabout. He was so confused with the new roadway that instead of driving on either of the two lanes designed for travel, he drove right up on the raised circular island with the pretty pavers—his trailer was bouncing all over and everyone was confused as to what he was doing or what he might do when he decided to get off. Looking back, it seemed a bit comical as I relayed the story to others. But how very dangerous it could have been—especially if there had been inclement weather.
Have you ever considered that every time you drive a motor vehicle, it is likely the riskiest thing you will do in any given day? Do you know how many traffic related motorist fatalities there were YTD as of December 2, 2015, in Minnesota alone? 365. That is at least one death per day! Maybe this doesn’t seem very high to you but what if that one death was your spouse or your child or your friend? And if motorist education was increased, how might it have saved the life of someone you love?
With such a fatality rate, do you wonder why continued education is not mandatory? Sure there are many contributing factors to each accident—some beyond our control. But imagine the benefit of continually being educated on the factors that are within our control. And as you become more equipped to be a responsible driver and exhibit superb driving skills to our youth, imagine how these numbers could plummet!
Let’s begin a responsible driving series together. Join with me in the upcoming months as we explore how to become better drivers. Get ready to learn new things … or if you already know what I am presenting, share them with others so that we can together make the roadways safer. As we embrace the importance of excellent driving behaviors, we will be better equipped to lead our teens into being safe and educated drivers, now and for years to come.
By Jeana Babcock
A winter refresher on car care
My baby sister, Jordan, had her first baby this fall, Calum Michael. I had the privilege of spending five glorious days with them a few weeks ago. In doing so, a flood of memories came back to me … little clothes, pacifiers, diapers. The first day I spent in their home, I witnessed everyone trying to adapt to sweet Calum’s schedule and his demands.
As an experienced mother of four, I remembered how beneficial it was to have my children adapt to the schedule I set forth instead of going by theirs. I lovingly shared my thoughts and concerns and together we began a new schedule. By the time I left, Calum was more alert during his awake periods and was sleeping better during the nights. It was wonderful to wrap a new baby in my arms, spend time with loved ones and share my knowledge with them.
The older I get, the more I forget. So it was amazing to me how quickly all things baby seemed to come flooding back to me. Likely, it was because I have had first-hand knowledge of these things … times four! Experience of certain things does leave a mark on our minds and how we remember them, don’t you think? In light of the forgetful moments, and since I’ve been writing auto articles for nearly four years, I figured it might be time for a refresher course and highlight past information I’ve shared.
- Choose your “auto-home” wisely. Check out their website and reviews. Do they have a good reputation? Do they use quality parts? Do they offer a warranty? Are they friendly and helpful? Are their location and service hours convenient? Is there a shuttle service or comfortable waiting area? Do they offer financing? Finding an auto-home and staying put will allow you to build a relationship with people who are taking care of your second most expensive investment. They have your vehicle records at their fingertips to best care for your vehicle and address new concerns as well as old.
- Communication is always key in any relationship and especially between you and your auto-home. Make sure you are paying attention to what your vehicle is telling you. When you have your car serviced, are there any other issues you have noticed that you would like to have addressed? Engage your senses—what do you see, feel, hear? Relay all of this information to the service advisor assisting you so they can ensure the mechanic is privy to everything happening with your vehicle.
Most auto shops want nothing more than to fix your vehicle and make sure you are well cared for. Help them do this with good communication at the beginning, middle and end. If you are pleased with the service you receive, let the world know by word of mouth and public reviews. If you are dissatisfied with the service, give them an opportunity to take care of you with good communication and grace. Remember that human beings are fixing machines—things go wrong sometimes. And just like you make mistakes, others occasionally do as well. Be aware and be patient, as your mechanics are doing their best.
- Maintenance is essential to ensure your vehicle is rolling healthy. I’ve written countless articles on this subject, including the importance of flushing fluids and changing filters to keep your vehicle’s systems clean, alignments to keep you rolling straight and save the life of your tires. You’ll likely find a maintenance schedule with your owner’s manual or your auto-home can assist you with that. When is the last time yours was in for service?
- Timely repairs don’t just keep you safe, they keep other motorists safe as well. When you know there is a problem with your vehicle, it is paramount that you have it addressed as soon as possible. Delaying repairs such as brakes, suspension components, tires, burnt out bulbs or faulty wipers can put your life and the lives of others at risk—especially as we move into the slippery roads of winter.
- Be a good role model in obeying traffic laws and caring for your vehicle. If you have other people in your life, especially children of any age, you are leaving an impression on them in being a responsible motorist. Talk to them about the importance in following laws set forth for safety and teach them how to care for a vehicle so they will have the proper knowledge.
- Don’t forget about your warranty! Often we purchase extended warranties to give us peace of mind for a longer period of time. Read it, know when it ends—put a reminder on your calendar, consider having a vehicle inspection before it expires so issues can be addressed. And remember that extended warranties are valid at most repair shops—not just the dealerships.
Caring for your vehicle and being a responsible motorist can be likened to caring for your infant and being a responsible parent. A parent must choose a reliable and trustworthy physician, they must communicate issues well, adhere to a schedule, address problems when they arise and be a good role model. Tip 6 does not apply as babies don’t come with warranties—you get what you get. And like a vehicle, some are more difficult than others, some have unique problems and some make you a bit crazy—especially as they hit their teen years. But the better you care for them, the more blessed you will be.
A salty tale of winter roads and rust
I used to be a soda-holic … Diet Pepsi was my preferred indulgence. Like any bad habit, I tried to break it several times but it seemed the more I tried, the harder it was … until last January when a stomach ulcer made eliminating my habit easier. You see, when you guzzle down a frosty can of Diet Pepsi and it makes contact with an ulcer, the subsequent pain that follows feels something like pouring salt into a wound (perhaps because you are—soda is full of sodium!). It had me doubled over in pain.
So I did what any smart person would do, I gave up the beverage … for a while. Then in a moment of weakness and fond remembrance of the taste alongside a slice of pizza, I would reunite with my lost friend and pay the consequences. After naively thinking I might be able to resume my habit, I did this quite a few more times—more than I would like to admit and with the same result. Alas, 10 months later, I can finally say I am soda-free! It’s water for me from here on out, such a refreshing, healthy, alternative!
Perhaps my victory over soda is of little interest to you. But what might be intriguing is how salt affects your vehicle. That’s right, my friends, we are approaching salt season! I drove past MN DOT the other day and saw the mounds and mounds of salt ready for our wintry roads that lie ahead. As you know, after snow or ice storms, our faithful salt trucks hit the pavement and spread a salt/sand mixture after plowing. Salt lowers the water’s freezing point, thereby melting ice already formed while the sand helps to keep the salt in place and adds traction to the wet and slushy roadways.
Though the obvious benefits of salt on our streets are great, there are drawbacks. Namely the havoc it wreaks on our vehicles. Have you ever considered the problems it causes? What complications it might pose to your mechanic? How much extra time and money due to extra vehicle service it might cost you? And how might you prevent its effects on your vehicle—to a degree at least?
Certainly, if you have a brand new vehicle with a lovely paint finish and pristine metal parts under your vehicle, this article isn’t for you, right? Wrong. The effects take time to see but you can be sure that the moment “salt season” arrives the process will begin. If you want your pretty finish to stay that way, you must take steps to protect it.
And what of the parts of your vehicle that you can’t see? The undercarriage, which is full of metal components, is exposed to the elements. As you drive over the wet, salty roadways, that mixture is sprayed up onto your vehicle’s pristine parts and slowly, over time, begins to corrode any metal it can get its salty hands on … exhaust and muffler systems, coil springs, nuts/bolts, the frame of the vehicle, etc. If left unattended, rust can lead to safety issues as it eats through metal components of your vehicle. So it’s crucial to get timely checkups of the underside of your vehicle and do maintenance on schedule.
Besides premature repairs that may be needed on your vehicle, can you imagine the difficulties this might pose to the mechanic servicing it? If your vehicle is being serviced in the winter months, your mechanic will lift it on a hoist above his head. As he is inspecting or performing service on it, he will likely be dripped on by the nasty salt/sand water solution if there is a recent snow. If there hasn’t been and the underside is dry, there may be caked on salt. In either case, or if the vehicle has had salty exposure in the past, likely there will be varying degrees of rust. There are times rust can cause more expensive repairs because of the time it may add—bolts are more difficult to remove, replacing fuel and brake lines and seized up brake parts is tricky, performing alignment adjustments can be extra complex, etc.
I suppose this is like when a doctor performs a surgery but when he/she opens the patient up, other problems are found that could not be forecasted before the procedure. The situation needs to be assessed and likely, the cost will increase. Similarly, based on extra time and parts needed, the cost may increase on the repair of your vehicle. Often times, an experienced mechanic will account for this possibility when giving you a job estimate if the vehicle has been assessed but problems rust creates cannot always be predicted. This is one of the reasons certain repairs cost more in the “Salt Belt” of our country (the Northeast and Midwest states) compared to the states that don’t experience the winters and salty roadways that we do. Additionally, there are times, during manufacturer recall situations when the recall will only be for states within the Salt Belt.
Besides moving south, what might you be able to do to limit the effects of salt on your vehicle?
*If you want to maintain the integrity of the lovely finish your vehicle has, protect it with wax and sealant products before the first snowflakes begin to fall. Your vehicle is a big investment, protection of the exterior will help it look better longer and may even help in resale when you get to that point.
*Wash your vehicle every 10 days or less. Find a car wash that will wash the underside of your vehicle and that does not use recycled water; recycled water will not eliminate all the salt it’s washing off other cars from being sprayed onto yours. Dry it thoroughly, ensuring that you get all of the crevices—open doors and trunks and dry all edges.
*Avoid driving through deep snow as it can become packed into the undercarriage components of your vehicle and contribute to corrosion and even cause drivability problems.
*Once rust visually appears, it will only get worse. If you have it addressed at a body shop at the first sign, you’ll hinder its ability to get out of control and affect more areas of your vehicle.
*And of course, be understanding with your mechanic. They are great people who devote their lives to keeping you safe on the roads, they work in the cold, get dripped on by all sorts of nasty gunk and sometimes it takes them more time to take care of your vehicle when rust is present.
As you prepare to endure the inclement weather to come, may you take care of your vehicle and strive to be rust-free.
Celebrate National Car Care Month
What’s your favorite season? I ask people this all of the time and more often than not, they say fall with reasons like cooler days, the changing leaves, thoughts of pumpkin or apple filled desserts, slowing down from the busyness of summer and so on. Though I immensely enjoy the beauty fall brings, this season is not my favorite because in my mind, it is a precursor of the dreaded cold, long winter to come. I think about the preparations that need to take place so I am ready for it—wardrobe change, addition of blankets or my beloved heated mattress pad to my bed, buying new winter outerwear for my kids, packing my car with warm blankets for fall sports, etc. Most of us prepare in these ways for what’s to come with the cooler weather but often times we miss vehicle preparations.
We are a people who live in the moment. Though we know what winter will bring, we procrastinate in preparing our vehicles. Then when it hits in full force, we become a bit frantic and try to have our vehicles serviced at the same time as everyone else after problems arise related to the snow or cold temps. Perhaps this year we should turn over a new leaf (pun intended!). Let’s not be like most and wait until winter arrives to winterize our vehicles. Let’s embrace National Car Care Month and prepare early for what we know is yet to come in southeast Minnesota. Here are some things to consider and have serviced as you beat the rush to your favorite car-care facility.
Get the right kind of oil change
Which brand, viscosity (thickness) and grade do you use? Do you alter any of these for the winter months? Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder and if it’s too thick, it can’t do a proper job keeping your engine lubricated and performing at its optimum. If you’ve never explored the benefits of full-synthetic oil, this may be the time to do so and consider switching for best engine protection and cold weather starts. Of course you can always consult your owner’s manual or your trusted car-care facility for guidance in choosing the right oil for your driving habits and the frigid winter months to come.
Assess your antifreeze
Ensuring the quality and quantity of antifreeze in your vehicle is a must as we approach the coldest time of year. The proper ratio of coolant to water must be considered to prevent freezing and the amount of antifreeze should be checked on a regular basis. If you are not a DIYer, your local car-care facility can assist you in this pre-winter check. Do you know when your last coolant flush was? This is a service that should be performed at regular intervals. It helps to remove contaminants, rust and scale deposit while the additives lubricate your water pump and prevent future rust build up.
A word to those who are new to our frigid climate: Never fill your antifreeze reservoir with water. It will freeze and may be the cause of breakdown and very expensive repairs.
Baby your battery
Cold temps mean your engine needs more current from the battery in order to start. Battery failure is the most common cause of winter breakdowns, so make sure you give yours some extra TLC. Take a look at your battery. Are the posts and connections free from corrosion? If you don’t want to clean them yourself, most car-care facilities offer this service for a reasonable price. They also offer a free battery test to assess its condition. Take advantage of this before we hit winter.
And of course, whether you are a planner or a procrastinator, it’s always a wise move to keep a set of jumper cables in your vehicle—this may aid you or give you the opportunity to help someone else who didn’t give their battery pre-winter TLC.
Does your vehicle have any burnt out bulbs? Replace them. No matter what time of year, never delay in replacing one bulb that is out because another may quickly follow and be a safety hazard for you or other motorists. Do you even know if any bulbs need replacement? Likely, your car-care facility will check these as part of the courtesy inspection.
When did you last replace your windshield wiper blades? They generally work effectively for about a year. Assess their condition and invest in new ones if it’s time. Also check your washer fluid. Snowy roads equals plow trucks and sand. This can be a streaky mess when you are trying to see clearly. Make sure your washer fluid is full and sprays correctly.
Another caution to those who are not cold-weather natives: Washer fluid used in vehicles in warmer climates can freeze. So you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right kind of fluid for our weather and never add or replace with water.
For warmth and clear-vision, now is also the time to make sure your heater and defroster are working properly.
Do you have your hoses and belts evaluated on a regular bases? Do you have them replaced as part of your maintenance program? The cold temps can cause these components (especially if they are worn and old) to become even more brittle. Be sure yours are up to snuff before winter ensues.
When is the last time you bought tires? What does your tire tread look like? Is there uneven wear? Have you ever considered having two sets of tires—one for winter and one for the rest of the year? This is a great option as snow tires can make a world of difference on the snowy roads—especially if you don’t have AWD (all-wheel drive). No matter the tires you choose, if it’s time to replace them, you’ll want to make this decision before the snow flies as your selection may be better and it may take less time to get the tires of your choosing.
If your tires are in good shape, make sure they are inflated according to recommended specs. And for longer wear and best fuel economy, make sure you are rotating your tires at regular intervals (every 5,000-10,000 miles) and ensure they are properly aligned—there are some car-care facilities that will check your alignment at no charge.
As you enjoy all the beauty fall has to offer, take a “leaf” from my book and prepare for what’s ahead now. This will save time by beating the crowds and give you peace of mind knowing your vehicle will be healthy for the brutal cold to come.
Live in the high-tech here and now
My kids and I recently took my mom to a clinic appointment. While she was being seen by the doctor, we broke out our trusty Uno game I keep stashed in my car for emergency boring situations. We were getting all kinds of crazy looks from passersby as we reversed and skipped and +4’d each other.
Then, in the middle of our heated game, the receptionist came up to us and said “I’ve never seen anyone do this before, it’s really great.” I suppose, in this day and age, it seemed a bit unorthodox to be playing a card game in public with my kids when most people are usually playing on their “devices”. But it takes a whole lot more to embarrass me than playing with my kids, laughing and occasionally shouting out “uno!” for all to hear. Card games are my jam. I’ve certainly got my nose in my iPhone or computer more often than not, so I take every opportunity I can to take a break and engage with my kids.
What about you? How much time are you involved with a computer, phone or other device on any given day? More than you want to be? I know I am and sometimes it sure is challenging to find a balance. But I am grateful for what computers offer and quite relieved that I am not hand writing this or punching it out on a typewriter!
As an automotive business owner, I am in awe of what computer systems are capable of. The days of hand-written estimates and invoices are gone. They are replaced with complex operating systems that have the ability to save customer/vehicle information and repair/maintenance history, order parts, generate repair estimates, check maintenance needed, inquire about recall status, finalize and apply payments to a bill and so much more.
The automotive industry becomes even more technology-reliant than other industries because of the sheer number of computers inside any given vehicle. Look at the incredible features vehicles offer these days—they are souped up with incredible power, performance, advancements and gadgets. Repair shops must be equipped with advanced technology capable of diagnosing and fixing any problem that may come about on hundreds of different kinds of vehicles. They must also work hard to continually upgrade their devices as technology is ever-changing.
Technology is also used to optimize websites, offer motorist educational tools, schedule appointments online, email/text service reminders and build relationships with social media. And what about new technology that is developed specifically for the automotive industry? What benefits does it offer to the owners of the vehicles, mechanics and automotive businesses?
I am sure there are many programs that I am not aware of. But I am privy to a new and exciting system that has been recently developed and has the potential to move from the “old school” way of doing things with paper and handwritten notes to the “new school” high-tech way with digital inspections and communication.
Here is how it has the potential to work: You bring your vehicle to the shop and explain the reason for your visit to the Service Advisor (SA). The SA creates a repair order and assigns your vehicle to a technician. Each technician is equipped with an iPad. Depending on the service needed, an inspection form will be chosen—courtesy inspection, brake inspection, etc. The technician performs a “wellness exam” based on a digital systematic approach in which he is able to choose from custom drop-down boxes, type or talk-to-text notes and take pictures of any concern found.
When the technician is finished with the exam and has addressed all concerns or maintenance items needed, his findings are immediately uploaded and accessible to the SA. The SA is then able to see repairs needed to fix any symptoms the vehicle has and look at the overall health of the vehicle and maintenance needed. At this point, he or she can generate an estimate based on the technician’s findings. Depending on where you are (in the lobby or at a different location), the results, estimate, photos and even educational videos can be shown to you in person or via email as the SA reviews what was found. He or she can advise you of what is needed and prioritize services based on the level of importance concerning safety and general vehicle health.
This system greatly improves communication between all parties, allows for professional documentation without handwritten notes while also improving technician efficiency in the inspection process and easily provides the service advisors with visual information that can be translated to the vehicle owner.
How do you feel about new technology? Does the learning process make you shy away from new things? Do you ever wish things could be simpler with hand written receipts, finding a business in the yellow pages or buying a more basic vehicle without so many bells and whistles that might break? I sure do! But we cannot live in the past. We can either embrace the changes by jumping on the technology train or chase the train and lag behind. Of course, it is always wise to find a balance. We must decipher the good from the bad, determine the time savers vs. the time wasters, be a good example of our technology choices and never, ever pass up the opportunity to play a card game with our loved ones.
Our actions leave a mark upon others
Regret–the should’ve, would’ve and could’ves of life. Do you ever think about the “what ifs”? What if I would have done “this.” Or what if I wouldn’t have done “that.” I do. As a mom it seems many of my regrets concern the mistakes and choices I’ve made with my children. I can justify my actions until the cows come home but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what I could’ve done better—no, what I should’ve done better and what would’ve been the outcome if I had. Unfortunately, we don’t get “do-overs.” But, if we are wise, we learn from our mistakes and we get “do-betters.”
My children range from 22 years old to 11. Over the years, I have learned to not always have to be right, laugh more than yell, not take everything personally and to train and lead my children rather than demand and dictate. Oh what a difference this can make and what blessings it can unfold if you are aware of how a cruel tongue or unkind heart might affect someone you love—not just in the moment it happens, but forever.
What do my parenting confessions have to do with automotive you might be wondering? Simple. When you aim to be a better parent, practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control … each of these areas become tested when you have a teenage driver! Yes, my second son, Jayden, is fifteen and I am being tested. I’ve written before that since I put my life at risk once by giving birth to my children, I feel it only right that I shouldn’t have to do it again by training them to drive. Mostly, I got away with this with my first son. And I thought I would dodge the responsibility again with number two since Jayden told me, just before he got his permit “Mom, I am never going to drive Big Bertha” (Big Bertha is the endearing name he gave my mini-van.).
So it came as quite a shock to me, as the doors of the license bureau barely closed behind us, when I heard “Mom, can I drive home?” Say what? I nearly choked on my saliva. I thought I’d be getting off scott-free and then that sentence came out of his mouth. In that moment, I did what any mother who has learned what I have would do. I said “sure.” And I am quite positive, my response shocked the pants off my teenager—neither of us will ever forget the next half hour as I trained him to drive. A non-regrettable moment for sure.
Our journey did not end there. Jayden and Big Bertha are now well acquainted. He’s even programmed the #2 seat setting to fit him! I positively relish the time we spend together in the van—though the relishing comes in between moments of an increased heart rate and practicing patience and self-control. I’ve gone from dreading the thought of putting my life at risk to embracing the responsibility and using that precious time far more than I ever thought I would.
There are occasions where I still have the luxury of being the driver. Usually on days when I know my patience is running thin or I’m in a hurry. Those times have now changed as well. I feel my teenager boldly critiquing my skills or habits. But what’s worse, I see him mimicking them in his driving! The phrase “do as I say, not as I do” has almost slipped out of my mouth a time or two. But that can’t be right. I should be rigidly abiding by all of the traffic laws because I am training a future driver. Wait, is that the only reason? Isn’t there safety involved? Aren’t the rules of the road given to us for a reason?
In changing my habits and becoming a better mom, I often reflect upon this scripture: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” But something occurred to me recently. It does not say “Train up ‘your’ child.” It says “a child.” Oh how this suddenly broadens our scope of training. You see my friends, our children do not only learn from our driving behaviors, they learn from their friend’s parents, grandparents, whoever they are in the car with and whoever else is on the road. We are all training up these children! Have you ever considered this?
Perhaps, each time we get behind the wheel we ought to imagine a child in the back seat boldly asking us questions about our vehicles or driving faux pas:
Why are your speeding?
Why are you looking at your cell phone?
Is now the time to post my cute picture on FB?
Shouldn’t you put your turning signal on?
Whoa, your brakes don’t work … or did you mean to run that red light?
Should you be driving after you drank all that beer?
Did you know that light on your dash means something is wrong with your car?
Do you even know how to drive in a round-about?
Perhaps the roads seem more slippery because your tires are bald!
Would these questions/statements coming out of a child’s mouth change the things you do?
Having a driver’s license and operating a motor vehicle is a privilege. We are to do what is right at all times because we are responsible for the way we drive and how our actions may affect others. We must make good decisions because we are training others in this world—even when we don’t think others are watching. We must abide by the rules and laws and service our vehicles in a timely fashion for our safety and the safety of others.
Of course, ignoring the rules or justifying why you do or don’t do certain things may never end in any regrets for you. But the funny thing about regret is, you don’t feel it until it’s too late. Remember, there are no “do-overs” there are only “do-betters.” So I’ll be waving joyfully to y’all from the passenger seat of Big Bertha as I train my teen to be a great driver. I sure hope you’ll join me by training him too.
Serving a great purpose in Rochester
There are many things I enjoy doing … sometimes I’ve even been called “Jeana of all trades.” No matter what I do, I give it 100% because anything worth doing is worth doing right. There are so many blessings that come with giving it your all—satisfaction, pride, fulfillment, joy, etc. Why do you do what you do? Do you give it your all, every time? And whom do you do it for?
Before our shop opened four years ago, I remember all there was to do in preparation. Not only were we remodeling the physical building but we were also preparing the business side of things—I even remember doing a few interviews in my paint clothes! My husband and I were working almost 18 hours per day for the two months prior to opening. There was so much to do and so little time to do it—and of course there were problems along the way. However, it seemed every single obstacle we ran into, a creative solution came about to get over it, under it or around it.
When it comes to independent businesses, businesses that aren’t large companies, dealerships or franchises and that don’t have any base processes or guidance to start, how does one begin to learn the ropes? Where can one find help and mentors to do things best? These past four years have gone so very fast and we grew so quickly that it would sometimes make our heads spin. But in the midst of the spinning, we found an automotive training company, ATI, specifically developed to help auto repair shop owners across the country. They provide classes and coaching for all areas of business.
Once we had the basics down with their general classes, we got more involved and became part of a 20-group. These groups consist of approximately 20 shops from all over the United States who meet quarterly to share ideas, brainstorm solutions to problems, discuss best practices, hold each other accountable and so much more. Sometimes we meet in a classroom setting in Baltimore where ATI is based. Other times we choose a shop to visit within the group and fly to their location to critique their facility and business as a whole as well as provide helpful feedback and advice.
Last month, we had the privilege of hosting our 20-group right here at our shop. Not everyone made it but we had 15 incredible shop owners in attendance. After a tour of our facility, they were split into groups and given specific tasks to perform. One group interviewed our business family, another critiqued our facility and the last reviewed our processes and procedures. We then met off-site to hear their thoughts and feedback. What did their fifteen “fresh sets of eyes” see that we could improve upon? What might we change to make our shop better for our customers or our business family? What do we do well and what did they learn from our business?
These are men and women who “get” our industry, who struggle with the same things we do, who have hundreds of years of combined experience, who are from all over the country and whose main goals are to succeed and help us succeed. Can you imagine the value of a team such as this, swooping in to help us tweak this, modify that, refine this, alter that … and so on? It was almost like a having a whole group of personal trainers focused on different areas of the body to make the whole body be the best it can be.
A word of caution—20 groups are not for the faint of heart. It’s not like plastic surgery. They don’t come in and do the work for you with some nips and tucks in all the right places. They are personal trainers. They tell you what work needs to be done then they call you to make sure you are doing all of your crunches, pushups, squats and any other exercise they’ve recommended.
Did you know groups like this exist? And not just in the automotive world, there are groups like this all over the place and for so many different things. Have you ever wanted to better yourself? Have you ever wanted to be a part of a dynamic group of people that are encouraging and who want to be encouraged? Most people who are in these groups are passionate about their business and motivated to make it the best it can be.
Why would we care to spend our time doing things like this? Why not just go to work every day, do what you can, fix cars and go home? Why do we do the things we do and give it 100%? Because we were created to. We were created to passionately serve others no matter the business we are in. The best way to do this is to draw alongside other people with the same goals and passion and to help each other live out this great purpose.
I hear a lot of people talking about purpose. I’ve always been in awe of missionaries who go to third world countries and serve. What a great purpose! But we can’t all do that. We have to succeed where we are lead and where we are planted. If we are planted in Rochester, MN in an auto-repair shop, then we have the unique opportunity to embrace our industry and serve people while servicing their cars. We keep people’s vehicles safe and reliable so they can get to work, transport their families, take groceries home, take vacations and serve others too. Isn’t that a great purpose?
What’s your purpose? Do you give everything you do your all? Do you have people who give you ideas, help you set goals and keep you accountable? I recently had a keychain made with one of my favorite verses on it to remind me who I am working for and to give everything my all (Col 3:23-24). With that daily reminder, with my business partner (my incredible husband), with ATI and with our great 20-group, I am fully equipped to serve a great purpose, even in Rochester, MN.
Make the most of your auto experience
I got an email from Mayo a month ago basically saying “you’re turning 40 (as if I needed a reminder!), you need preventative maintenance.” I dutifully picked up the phone and scheduled a physical a few weeks out. I then began paying extra close attention to my body and wrote down questions or concerns as they came so I wouldn’t forget to mention them during the visit.
At my appointment, my doctor assessed all of my systems, addressed my concerns, prescribed a medication, ordered tests and gave me advice. Within a couple days of my visit, I received more emails—a message from my doctor, test results and future test appointment reminders. I was so grateful for the correspondence and my forgetful 40-year-old brain was pleased with the reminders. With something so dreaded, like a doctor visit and potential cost of that visit, I started to wonder why the experience felt satisfying.
What makes you satisfied with any given experience? Did someone do or say something that made it even better than you anticipated? Or if an experience was disappointing, why was it? How might it have been better? Was it poor because of something you or someone else did? What does this look like in the automotive industry? And how can we strive to make the best out of the experiences we have when we take our vehicles in for needed repairs and maintenance?
Good communication is vital to your auto-shop experience and it starts with you. You are the one to first make an appointment. Once you do, pay attention to your vehicle more than usual and note the details of your concern. You know how it feels when everything is healthy and right, just like with your body. So make sure you are prepared when you take your vehicle in by using all of your senses to describe your vehicle’s ailments:
– Unusual sounds, odors, drips, leaks, smoke, warning lights, gauge readings
– Changes in acceleration, engine performance, gas mileage, fluid levels
– Problems in handling, braking, steering, vibrations
Ask yourself under what circumstances does the problem occur:
– When? Weather conditions (hot or cold)?
– Is it constant or periodic?
– At all speeds, with acceleration, during braking, when shifting?
Once you arrive for your scheduled appointment, pull out the list you’ve made and communicate your findings in as great of detail as possible. I do, however, urge you to resist the temptation to suggest a specific course of repair. Just as you would with your doctor, tell where it hurts, how long it’s been there, give as many other specifics as you can and answer any questions that are asked. But let the technician diagnose and recommend a remedy.
If you are anything like me, with the world wide web at my fingertips, the first thing I do when I notice a symptom is Google it. Golly, I’ve had myself diagnosed with MS and other diseases. My MS ended up being Celiac Disease and my other diseases … well, I am too embarrassed to admit what the true diagnoses were. The bottom line is, your technician is educated and equipped with knowledge and the proper diagnostic tools to make a better diagnosis than you.
Diagnosing, repairing and maintaining vehicles take time. Do you understand the process of how your vehicle is cared for? The repair shop has a set number of technicians. They must schedule a certain amount of work to ensure each technician’s day is adequately filled. Vehicles come in for all sorts of reasons and display all sorts of symptoms. The repair shop has no way of knowing ahead of time what the diagnosis will be or if the customer will authorize the repair once it is diagnosed. Do your best to assist them in providing timely service. Give them the best contact number for you so you may be reached in a timely fashion. Or if there is an alternate way of communication that is preferable like texting or email, let them know, as most shops would be happy to contact you in that way.
If you cannot be reached, it puts a wrench in the process. Let’s say your mechanic had to take off parts of your vehicle in order to assess it. He finds what is needed to repair the specific problem and notifies the service advisor of his findings. The service advisor generates an estimate according to the recommendations and calls you. But you are not available. What should be the next step? Your car is lifted on a hoist assigned to a technician and is disassembled. Since you are not available, he cannot move forth in the repair. He must then wait for you to call back or reassemble your vehicle and move onto the next so that he can continue to be productive. It is an intricate process and can be so much more satisfying for everyone if you and your repair shop have great communication.
Let’s face it my friends, the single most important key to any satisfying experience is attitude. When I was having a test performed during my recent physical, my doctor had a concern and needed another doctor to perform the test again to confirm her diagnosis. I could have approached this with two different attitudes—irritation and annoyance with the situation or understanding and acceptance. I said, with a perky tone “Absolutely, I understand! I am happy to have a second opinion.” Why would I want to make her feel bad for wanting a second opinion? Why would I want to make her feel bad for the extra time it would take? Shouldn’t we all be kind, considerate and understanding in all circumstances?
Is this how you are? Do you make the best of any situation? Do you make lemonade out of lemons? Or do you do your best to squeeze the lemon in someone else’s eyeballs? Why don’t we strive to be the best we can be, allowing others to be their best … and in the end, we can all enjoy lemonade!
Having your vehicle serviced is a necessary part of life just like going to the doctor. It can be satisfying if you communicate well, understand the repair process and have a good attitude.
Going nuts with auto maintenance
My father-in-law, Ron, had herpes encephalitis in January and nearly died. Miraculously, he has recovered physically but his short-term memory is lacking. My mother-in-law, Snooks, has endured so much over the last few months and needed some help. So I, being her favorite daughter-in-law (okay, only DIL), made flight arrangements to be with her for a week in April. Little did we know that my trip would wind up much different than we anticipated.
Shortly before my visit, she went to the doctor with symptoms of a kidney stone. Tests revealed a mass surrounding her kidneys and ureters. I arrived just in time to take her to her biopsy procedure, doctor appointments and subsequent ureteral stent placement surgery. What impeccable timing for my trip! On my return flight home, I sat next to a “nutty” old man, Dave, who must be a morning person because at 5am he was as chipper as a bird and louder than a goose. Between his world-traveling stories and frequent hyena-like laughter, I told him why I was in Casper and how, as my in-laws age, they are considering what they will do with their large house and acreage that is now difficult to care for.
Dave said something that resonated with me and applies to so much in life: “We have two choices in life, we can act or react.” Isn’t that the truth? Doesn’t it apply to so many aspects of life? It even rings true with our vehicles. I know many people who do not act by having maintenance performed on their vehicles and later they have to react by having expensive repairs done. Let’s talk about how owners of direct injection vehicles might live by my new friend Dave’s advice.
Injection systems have come a long way over the years. In the days of old, carburetors and single point fuel injection systems were used—they got the job done but were imprecise when measuring the amount of fuel needed at any given time.
Today, the vast majority of modern cars use port injection (a multi-point fuel injection—MPFI) that is able to adjust the amount of fuel sprayed into to the intake for each individual cylinder in a more precise fashion. This has improved engine power and wasted less fuel.
Direct injection (DI) is the latest technology designed to squeeze more MPG out of cars. By injecting gasoline at a higher pressure and finer spray pattern directly into the engine’s combustion chamber, it mixes the air and fuel better, creating a more efficient combustion. DI results in more complete combustion and cooler cylinder temps, which allows for greater efficiency (with up to 15 percent in fuel savings) and greater power.
Diesel engines have been utilizing DI for years but the technology has now been adopted into luxury vehicles and some mainstream cars with high trim options. As the prices of this technology come down, it may be an option on more vehicles.
As a normal process in any running vehicle, the fuel it is burning to make power leaves behind carbon deposits. If these deposits are not properly controlled, they will cause a decrease in power, fuel economy and drivability. The gasoline you put in your vehicle has cleaners or detergents in it to help prevent and reduce the build-up of deposits.
MPFI allows for spraying of fuel over the intake valves, thereby washing burn off of carbon deposits away. With DI, the fuel is injected directly into the cylinder so the gasoline and detergents can’t clean the valves or ports. This is not immediately bad for your engine but over time, it can have a detrimental effect on its efficiency. As the carbon deposits build up, passage of air is restricted, making the vehicle less efficient. Symptoms of vibrations, unstable/rough idle and diminished power can be observed—and it may also contribute to increased oil consumption. If the carbon deposits become too much, the valves may not close properly and repairs can become extremely expensive.
As with any maintenance, the purpose is to have a service performed on a scheduled basis to prevent unwanted symptoms and other subsequent problems. What sorts of cleaning methods are available to remove the carbon deposits? And how often should they be performed?
As you can imagine, carbon deposits become very hard and difficult to remove. The longer you wait, the worse the build-up will be. Cleaning is recommended every 30,000 miles. This service may or may not be in your scheduled maintenance log—you may need to add it.
In the past, cleaning solutions have been used but the process is very elaborate and expensive. Now, there is another option. A few months ago, after one of my technicians found the carbon build-up problem in a BMW, we decided to purchase a tool that can remove the carbon deposits at a fraction of the cost to the owner of the vehicle. The method is so clever that I’ve been chomping at the bit to write about it!
CARBON BLAST SERVICE
This service is referred to as Walnut Blasting—the name is suggestive of what the tool does. After the proper steps have been taken to expose the intake valves, the technician connects the blasting tool to pressured air, fills it with walnut shell granules (about 5 liters), connects the adapter to the intake tract and starts the vacuum. He can literally go “nuts” blasting each valve!
Once complete, the area gets cleaned and the unit is reassembled. This new method of using nut shells to blast away the build-up is more efficient and costs hundreds less than the previous solution methods and thousands less than total replacement. Cost of the service varies depending on make and model and because it is a specialized tool, not every shop can provide this service.
Do you own a DI vehicle? If you do, take my “nutty” pal Dave’s advice: act now by going “nuts” with DI valve maintenance so your vehicle will continue to perform in optimal health. Certainly this service can be performed as a reaction after you notice the symptoms but it’s always best to make sure you have it performed regularly to prevent further problems and so you can enjoy the power and fuel savings your vehicle is designed to deliver.
As for my in-laws, they have a Prius. No need for walnut-blasting. But hopefully now that we have found my MIL’s disease is rare but benign and curable, they can take Dave’s advice too by acting now before declining health forces them to react in the future.
Take time for auto maintenance
When my children were younger, they were dependent on me to care for their basic needs. I assumed as they became more independent, I would have more free time. What made me think that? I am busier than I’ve ever been! Besides the normal “mom stuff” of cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc., my time is eaten up chauffeuring my kids everywhere—sporting practices/games, fishing holes, malls, work … and on and on. I sometimes wonder how moms kept track of things before smartphones were invented. My phone is where my lists, calendars and alarms direct every one of my days. Have you jumped on the smartphone train? Are your days guided and organized with your handy device? What kinds of apps do you have to aid in your efforts to keep everything straight? With all that you need to keep sorted, do you take time to add reminders to care for one of your most important investments—your vehicle? Or do you rely on your memory and the little oil change sticker in your window? When was the last time you looked at your maintenance log?
As I have pointed out in the past, April is National Car Care month. This is a season to take time to make sure we are giving our vehicles the TLC they deserve so they will perform to the best of their abilities and provide us and our families with safe transportation. Proper car upkeep takes more than keeping gas in the tank and changing the oil regularly. Maintenance schedules are extensive as there are so many systems to consider. Are you following yours? There’s not enough room in one article to touch on every system, so let’s just look at some that are often forgotten or skipped. I’ll give you general guidelines for replacement but it’s always best to consult your owner’s manual for specifics for your vehicle.
Do you like grounds in your coffee? Of course not! Likewise, your vehicle’s injectors don’t like impurities to get through this important filter and clog them. Eventually it’s so full of gunk that it needs to be replaced. Replace every two years or 24,000 miles.
Close your mouth and breath out of your nose. Doable, right? Now, what if it’s allergy season or you have a cold and your nose is all stuffed up—isn’t this a lot harder? It’s the same for your vehicle. The air your engine needs come through this important filter. It gets “stuffed up” with contaminates from the air and requires replacement yearly. Also be aware of other maintenance for this system including the PCV valve and oxygen sensor.
Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) and filter
ATF is to the transmission what oil is to the engine in terms of function and importance. It keep safe operating temps and fights friction. Getting an ATF flush and filter change every two years or 24,000 miles will help keep your transmission in optimal health.
Many people ignore the battery until they notice an issue—either the battery light will come on or your car won’t start. I don’t know about you but I stress out if my car won’t start—especially if there is somewhere I need to be—and according to my smartphone, unless I am sleeping at night there is always somewhere I need to be! Replacement is recommended every 48-60 months but your battery should also be tested and the terminals cleaned on a regular basis.
Are you a multi-tasker? Most of the time, I am doing several things at one time. About a year ago, my husband convinced me how much I would like two screens for my computer. I was always hopping between tabs and programs. That second screen increased my productivity and my ability to multi-task. The coolant in your vehicle is a multi-tasker like me! It serves as antifreeze and coolant and guards against corrosion in the cooling system. It’s great to have one fluid perform so many functions so it is critical that you ensure its integrity and replacement on a regular basis—as it works, its potency diminishes and it becomes dirty. When replaced every two years or 24,000 miles or topped off in between flushes, it’s important to make sure the replacement fluids meets the requirement your vehicle needs.
I am sure the amount I write about this topic is enough to drive my readers crazy. But repetition may just keep you or others aware of this important safety issue—and prevent your car or others on the road from failing to stop because your brakes are overlooked or not replaced when recommended. Your brake fluid needs to be assessed periodically and flushed every two years or 24,000 miles. Your brakes need to be inspected on a regular basis and when you notice a problem. There are many components that need to be assessed and replaced before they become a safety hazard. Take a break for your brakes this month to make sure they will keep you safe.
There are so many other areas of maintenance I have not touched on here—tires, oil, power steering, alignments, etc. Your car manufacturer has developed a “cheat sheet” of sorts by providing you with a schedule for your maintenance. But they can’t pull it out of your glove box and make you do everything that is recommended. The excuses I hear to not keep up on vehicle maintenance are many—time, money and forgetting are at the top of the list. Perhaps now that I’ve given you a friendly reminder, you can grab your calendar—in whatever form you prefer (written or digital)—to remind yourself to take care of your vehicle. There are also apps you can install on your smartphone that can remind you or your auto-repair shop may send reminders via email or text. Reminders of any kind are easy to ignore—but when you know the importance of the service, you are more likely to schedule it and follow through.
The talent and training of your car doctor
Have you ever tried to get grease out of a shirt? It’s quite a challenging chore, to say the least. Because technicians get incredibly dirty and greasy working on cars, I am grateful there are uniform companies that launder the shirts for the guys. We recently had to trade in some old shirts for our Shop-Foreman since his shirts are almost four years old. The new shirts have come but it’s been like pulling teeth to get the new insignia patches sewn on. Instead of continuing to pull my hair out trying to get them to comply, I decided to take on the task myself.
Do you sew? Have you ever sewn anything onto a sleeve of a shirt? Of course, that is where the patches were to be sewn—taking much longer than I anticipated because I kept sewing the darn sleeve together! My husband entered the room and asked, “Are you done yet?” I replied, “This is not as easy as it looks!” Perhaps by my tone or body language, he knew just how to reply to make me laugh instead of strangle him: “It doesn’t look easy to me!”
Why would I go through the trouble of completing this task? It’s quite simple. Technicians who have incredible credentials, automotive knowledge and years of experience are quite valuable. I want the ones working at our shop to know how important they are. Perhaps it’s a bit like a doctor who has earned “MD” or “PhD” but you won’t let him have the privilege of putting it on his nametag. Of course, a mechanic does not denote the prestige a doctor does. But have you ever considered the similarities of the two professions? Perhaps a mechanic is really like a car doctor.
A physician’s education is far more intense, much longer and more expensive than an automotive technician’s. It includes an undergraduate degree, medical school, residency program and for some, a fellowship(s). Their years of hard work, incredible knowledge and effort are usually rewarded by a position where they get to practice what they love doing, a generous salary and the respect of many.
In contrast, a mechanic will attend a technical college for training of the basic systems, procure a job at a repair shop and begin on-the-job training. In addition, he will have the ability to attend more in-depth classes and obtain certifications. Have you heard a shop advertise that they have ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified technicians? These are perhaps the most well-known certification(s) technicians can strive to pass—showing their commitment and expertise to the industry and advancing their knowledge and skill. It is these patches, along with the advanced patches, that I have been sewing on shirtsleeves.
Though the initial education time varies greatly, both human doctors and “car doctors” need to stay current on the latest advances so continuing education is a must. New drugs, research and methods are constantly introduced in the medical field and physicians must be able to apply this to their patients.
Likewise, new model vehicles are released every single year and the engineering progress leads to some very complicated technology. Most cars have 30+ computers on board and up to 100 for luxury model vehicles. Your mechanic is no longer diagnosing and repairing a simple machine. He is expected to know so much more than mechanics of the past.
Physicians have all sorts of diagnostic tools at their fingertips—blood work, MRIs, x-rays, etc. They order medical tests for their patients based on their expertise. More often than not, other healthcare workers perform the testing ordered. You are charged for each individual test performed, no matter if it yields any helpful results. And who reads those results? The doctors do—because they are formally trained to do so.
In the same manner, your mechanic will rely on his experience and knowledge to decide which tests to perform based on the symptoms your vehicle has. Unlike the physician, they must perform these tests themselves. Many people think that the mechanic hooks up a “magic scan tool” and it tells him the problem. There is more to it than this—he must read those codes, understand what they mean, run more tests to pinpoint the problem and decipher if there is just one problem or many.
And what about the tools and diagnostic equipment? The auto repair shop, of course, purchases some of it. However, did you know that mechanics are expected to purchase many of their own tools? Many experienced technicians have made a personal investment of tens of thousands of dollars to buy tools that will serve them to more quickly diagnose or perform repairs. Wouldn’t you think that the cost of your repair should be increased in order to cover this expense? It is not. A diagnostic rate will be charged based on the system affected. Technicians do their best to find the problem within the allotted time—this is where a more seasoned technician has much more value than a less experienced one. However, if the problem is more complicated and takes more time to pinpoint, it may cost more. The good news for you—you are not charged for the individual tests performed.
Doctors save lives in so many ways. But have you ever thought about how many car accidents have been prevented by the know-how of a mechanic? Vehicles can be dangerous weapons—if they are not properly maintained and repaired, they can kill the operator as well as many others on the roads. This is why it is crucial to find a mechanic you can trust. He can tell you, based on expertise, what is needed for your safety. But he can’t make you fix it. I suppose it may be like a doctor who has diagnosed your problem and told you how to fix it with treatments or medication. If you choose not to follow his/her advice, you will have to suffer the repercussions. However, if you choose not to follow the advice of your mechanic, you may put other’s lives in jeopardy on the roads.
It is my joy and honor to work with these educated, life-saving, diagnostic professionals. Their value is more than meets the eye … perhaps the patches on their sleeves will help remind you of how incredible they are.
An auto fund may help with future costs
Do you enjoy getting your mail? My box is filled with junk and bills so I kind of dread getting it—except during the holidays. I just love the delightful cards, pictures and letters I discover among the piles of junk. Usually the cards cease after the New Year, but to my utter delight, they have continued this year … I received another one just last week! I hang each one lovingly on my entry wall for an entire year so I can look at them often and pray for the people in them.
Do you enjoy holiday cards as much as me? Do you smile, squeal and hurry to open the envelope because you can’t wait to see what lies inside? For sure, it’s a better feeling than you get when bills are staring you in the face or when you see the postcard reminding you that you are past due to see the dentist.
What other contents make you squeal when you discover them? Do you remember when the tax return checks came by mail? I’d do a little jig and think of all the things I might be able to spend the extra money on.
What do you spend your tax refund on? Fun stuff? Practical stuff? Paying credit cards or bills? Do you save the money or does it burn a hole in your pocket?
I’m a practical gal and I like to squirrel away money for a rainy day. So often I hear people talk about how they don’t have money to fix their car or do maintenance. But I wonder, if they started thinking about their vehicle as one of their biggest investments—one that gets them to their job, the job that helps them to afford to live—would they then take better care of that important investment? And what if, instead of spending tax refunds on fun stuff, they take care of the things they’ve been putting off on their vehicle or start an “auto fund” so when there is a problem or when it’s time to do maintenance, the money is there waiting. Wouldn’t that be less stressful?
Perhaps your tax return is already “spoken for” or you are not getting one but you think this auto fund sounds like a good idea. That’s easy—you can start a fund now and contribute to it each month. Oh sure, that’s a hard thing to budget for when it’s not a fun way to spend your money but think of the stress it will save you. Think of how you may have scrambled in the past to come up with money for unexpected repairs. Or how you refused to have your mechanic perform recommended services because you couldn’t afford it. Wouldn’t it be great to have a separate account specifically to care for your vehicle? Let me share examples from two customers we’ve had in the last year. Their stories differ drastically and so did their attitudes.
A man was traveling through Rochester on a Saturday. He was stopped at the side of highway 52 with car trouble. He called a local dealership that could care for his Audi, but they could not service his car until Monday. They recommended that he call us. I picked him up in our shuttle since the tow truck was going to take a while. When we discussed the problem with his car, he cheerfully said “It doesn’t matter how much it costs, I have a Audi savings account! I just hope it can get done today.” This is the man I got my “auto fund” idea from. He was so joyful about his account and seemed so cheerful that I wanted to go shout to the world what a great idea it was.
We had another customer come to our shop for a repair on her BMW. She advised us that she purchased it because she got a “deal” but she didn’t realize the cost of repairs. High-end vehicles require high-end parts. High-end parts are more expensive than parts needed for a less luxurious vehicle. When you take good care of a BMW, it will last a long time and purr like a kitten. But when you don’t, there are consequences—and often costly ones.
In her particular case, she did not have an “auto fund” and needed to open a credit card with 0% financing for 6 months in order to cover the repair. It was a stressful time for her. She would be paying for that repair over time in the future instead of having saved and planned for it in the past. And she had even more anxiety because she knew our recommendation of an oil change was needed, so she agreed to allow us to perform the service. Upon servicing the vehicle, what we found was shocking. The oil filter had literally disintegrated. We had to remove the filter piece by piece. It has been over 15,000 miles since her last oil change. Because of her neglect, the filter was not doing its job and the old oil had become sludge. Can you imagine what a disintegrated filter and sludge oil do to an engine? Because of the lack of TLC given to her vehicle due to lack of money, I fear what expensive repairs are in her future.
Which scenario describes you? Which customer would you rather be? Do you understand the importance of maintenance? Do you know how crucial it is to service your car in a timely fashion? When is the last time you unearthed your maintenance log to be sure everything is up-to-date? When there is a safety issue with your vehicle, are you prompt to have it serviced? Do you authorize the recommendations of your mechanic? Do you understand the importance of clean fluids and how they protect the different components of your vehicle?
No matter which kind of owner you are, it’s not too late to be the cheerful guy that had the money to fix his vehicle. Now that tax refund season is here, you might consider spending some of that to pamper your vehicle and even start an “auto fund” to protect one of your biggest investments.
Are you feeling (good) vibrations?
Christmas songs are no longer playing on every radio station and in every store, so what kind of music are you humming now? I recently heard an oldie but goodie and found myself singing along with the chorus: “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations.” Thanks to The Beach Boys’ catchy tune, I found the song popping into my head at odd times throughout the day. It got me thinking about the good feelings and excitement I had over the holidays.
After being stationed in Japan and California for the last two and a half years, our son Jake was finally able to come home for a visit. And the feeling I had to finally envelop him in a long overdue hug certainly gave me “good vibrations” … or maybe it was just me vibrating because I was sobbing so hard with joy!
Well, those are the great, warm fuzzy and welcome vibrations. But what about other vibrations, namely vehicle ones: do you start singing or have special feelings about those? Have you noticed a vibration sneak up on you over time? Have you addressed it? Do you know what is wrong and how important it might be to have it looked at? Vibrations have many causes—some require easy and inexpensive fixes, while others are more costly and may even be a safety issue that needs attention.
First, if you are not mechanically inclined, the type of vibration or shake you are experiencing needs to be explained to your mechanic. Notate the details of when your car vibrates. Do you feel it in your steering wheel? When accelerating? When braking? At what speed or is it when you are idle? Are there any other conditions of note? The answers to these questions will help your mechanic better pinpoint the cause of your vibration.
The most common reason for your vehicle to shake is related to the tires. There are many tire issues that can contribute to your vehicle’s vibrations but here are the major ones:
Balance—An off-balanced wheel can cause significant shake. This is perhaps one of the most inexpensive fixes to have performed. If you don’t have a tire balancer in your garage, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of the professionals to get your tires properly balanced so you can roll smoothly and safely.
Separation or warp—If any of your tires have separated tread or are warped, it’s time to invest in some new ones. There is not cheap fix for this problem—and it’s important to remember that when replacing tires, you must replace, at the minimum, two tires. Even if only one has separated or is warped, replacing both is recommended to best maintain a safe vehicle. In some cases, depending on the integrity of all of your tires, it may be recommended to replace all four.
Uneven wear—A tire rotation is recommended as a first step if you notice uneven tire wear. If the vibration persists, the wear may be too great to fix with a rotation alone. Remember that alignment checks twice yearly are a good idea to help prevent uneven wear and also will allow your mechanic to advise you of any suspension issues.
The purpose of the suspension is to maximize the friction between the tires and road surface, to provide stability with good handling and to ensure the comfort of all passengers. When there is a problem with the suspension, vibration most likely will be a symptom. There are several components that can wear over time and when they do, if not addressed in a timely fashion, they can cause unsafe handling and maneuvering of your vehicle.
Included in possible vibration culprits are: shocks/struts, upper strut bearings, ball joints and tie rods. The cost of the repair will vary depending on the part(s) involved. If the affected parts have never been replaced on your vehicle, it is a good idea to consider replacing both sides, even if only one is affected. Just like with tires, this will allow for better performance and safety.
Does your vehicle shake when you apply the brakes? This can be related to a caliper that sticks or your rotor could be bent out of shape (warped) due to heavy wear and tear. When you have a warped rotor, the pads which squeeze them can’t get an even grip and it will vibrate.
Do you understand the importance of brakes? Does it seem like I am always talking about brakes in my articles? I don’t think the importance of them is stressed enough. They are a safety issue—to you and to others on the road. When one of my technicians performs a brake evaluation and the brakes are deemed unsafe, it boggles my mind that a customer would ever say “I can’t afford to fix them right now.” I want to jump right over the desk and hug them and say “You can’t afford NOT to fix them!” If you notice any sign of brake problems from noise to vibration to a spongy pedal and so on, it’s important you have them assessed and fixed as soon as possible.
Your engine is designed to get a specific amount of air, fuel and spark to run smoothly. Sometimes a vibration, shake or shudder may be from the engine compartment and may be due to bad spark plugs, wires, filters (air or fuel) or fuel system issues.
Upon acceleration you may notice a vibration. In this case, it could be related to low transmission fluid, a clogged transmission filter or even a worn universal or CV joint.
Certainly there are other possible vibration issues I did not cover here. This is why it’s important to notate the specifics of your vibrations so that an experienced mechanic can best find the cause and fix it. Many vibrations can be kept to a minimum with regular maintenance and periodic inspections. But if you start vibrating—and it’s not from the sobbing of squeezing your son—it’s important to find out why as soon as possible in case there is a safety concern. This may also save you money in the long run or at least help you keep a smooth ride.
Think before you drink and drive
Now that we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, the holidays are in full swing. As you begin decking your halls with boughs of holly are you singing “Tis’ The Season To Be Jolly” or is this a time of stress or sadness for you? Every year is different for me. There are times I put pressure on myself and become stressed about all there is to do in so little time—baking, party planning, shopping in crowds, cleaning, entertaining, etc. Or sometimes I stress about what to buy, how much to spend and if my purchases were “fair” amongst my kids. I’ve even experienced the loss of dear loved ones. Many times, I have to refocus and fix my eyes on what is most important during this season.
What are your blessings? Where is your focus? Are you preparing to travel? Is your schedule full of holiday parties and gatherings? Is your shopping list taking you all over town? Is your vehicle prepared to get you safely to and fro this season? Are your tires, brakes and other safety features in good form to combat our wintry roads as we discussed in last month’s article?
Besides having a safe vehicle to drive, have you considered another part of the holidays that might affect your driving or other motorists? For many reasons, alcohol consumption significantly increases this time of year. In fact, according to some reports, the $49 billion distilled-spirits industry makes more than 25% of it’s profits between Thanksgiving and New Years. Wow! With such an increase in a six-week period, can you imagine how this directly impacts the amount of people who drive after drinking? What are the repercussions? How might this affect you or your loved ones? What can you do?
How much is too much alcohol?
That depends—there are many factors to consider. Alcohol affects everyone differently. What are you drinking—eggnog, wine, hard liquor? The potency needs to be considered. Are you taking medications? The interactions can significantly alter how alcohol affects your physical and mental state. Also, you need to factor in your height, weight, amount of food you have consumed, earlier drinks, stress level and so on. Because everyone is different and our bodies are so complicated, there is no equation that can accurately tell you if you are safe to drive after alcohol consumption. Unless you carry a breathalyzer with you, perhaps the best decision is to not drive if you’ve consumed any amount of alcohol. Does this sound a little extreme? Let’s consider the repercussion of making a decision to drive while under the influence.
Have you ever heard someone say “Don’t drink and drive, you might get a ticket”? I have. But I’ve never heard someone say “Don’t drink and drive, you could kill someone.” That is the reality. Let’s just put it out there. Perhaps if we shock someone with the worst thing that could happen, it would greatly influence the decision they make.
Receiving a DUI and killing someone are opposite extremes; both have consequences. The most extreme would be the guilt you would feel from causing injury or death to another person. Or perhaps you will no longer be living yourself—and how would that devastate your family?
What about the consequences of receiving a DUI citation? I have to check driving records before I hire someone. You see, my employees must be able to drive in order to properly care for a vehicle and a customer. Did you know that commercial insurance will not insure a driver if he or she has had a DUI in five years? Maybe this doesn’t affect you because you don’t drive for your job. Consider these other possible consequences: (1) Suspended license; (2) You could lose your job. A DUI is a legitimate reason for your employer to terminate employment; (3) Insurance revocation or at the very least, significantly increased rates; (4) Loss of professional licenses (nurses, doctors, plumbers, etc); (5) You could miss a lot of work—court appearances, mandatory treatment, etc. Do any of these repercussions deter you from getting behind the wheel after drinking? Do they make you want to educate your loved ones?
It is your responsibility as an adult to commit to not operating a motor vehicle after drinking. Be proactive by taking a cab to your festivities or at least putting the taxi number in your cell phone so you are prepared. Commit to not drinking and driving before you even go to your events.
If you are celebrating the season with non-alcoholic beverages, offer to be a designated driver. Watch out for others and be as assertive as you need to be by helping others make responsible decisions.
Educate your children. Have you ever discussed this subject with them? Have you considered showing them pictures of what vehicles look like after a drunk driving accident? The impression it makes may just encourage them to make a responsible decision in the future or help them assist their friends in doing so. Let them read this article and have a discussion about the consequences. You should also help them recognize the signs of another motorist who may be under the influence: swerving, driving too slow or fast, no illuminated headlights, erratic braking, straddling the center line, etc. By having these conversations with your kids, it may even help keep you accountable in practicing what you preach.
Accidents related to drinking and driving are 100% preventable. I am sure your family and friends are just as important to you as mine are to me. If you are a responsible adult and choose to drink alcoholic beverages this holiday season, on behalf of my loved ones and yours, I implore you to make the responsible decision to plan ahead of time for a sober ride safely home. Tis the season to be jolly! As we celebrate this glorious season, let us keep our eyes focused on our blessings … and let us be safe as we do so.
Preparing your vehicle for winter
Winter is coming! I’ve heard from many people that this winter is predicted to be worse than last winter. How could it possibly be worse? Last winter was enough to make me wonder why I live in Minnesota. But then again, I asked this question to many last spring and most answers were a combination of ‘because we are hearty’ and ‘our weather keeps the riff-raff out.’ I don’t know if I’d rather be hearty without riff-raff or warm with riff-raff but we live here now so lets be ready and embrace what’s to come.
If you haven’t read yours, it’s time to unearth it and blow the dust off. Discover the things you don’t already know. Maybe there’s an exciting feature you’ve been missing out on! But more importantly, find your maintenance guide. Be sure all of the recommendations are taken care of so you can sail smoothly through winter this year … let’s face it, it’s the only sailing us Minnesotans will be doing!
Is your check engine light on? What do you do about it? Last week a customer of mine told me that her daughter’s CEL came on. She advised her to take it into the shop and have it diagnosed, but her father told her to just wait until it made noise. A while later, the engine blew up … maybe mom did know best.
Are there any engine performance symptoms you notice besides the light? Hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc? Cold weather can make all of these worse. Most people wait until the really cold weather hits before addressing these symptoms. Why wait? Addressing early symptoms of a possible bigger problem can save you time and money!
Dirty filters – air and fuel – can make your engine less efficient and burn more fuel. If you haven’t changed yours recently, perhaps now’s the time to at least inspect their condition.
When was your last oil change? Make sure you are not going over the recommended time/mileage before your next one. Your engine does not appreciate dirty oil. A full synthetic oil can increase gas mileage, protect your engine better during the extreme winter temps and give you the opportunity to go more time before your next oil change. Your vehicle will appreciate the extra pampering and so will your wallet and schedule.
We can be certain that we will all be cool this winter— freezing cold actually. But what about your engine? Just because it’s cold outside does not mean your engine stays that way. The level, condition and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. I’m told that some DIYers in the south simply add water if the coolant is low. Do you know what adding water does here? It freezes! Frozen coolant is a tragedy for your vehicle.
Besides the coolant, don’t forget to have your drive belts, clamps and hoses checked regularly.
Transmissions are often neglected until a major failure. Be sure to have yours checked and get a transmission flush at prescribed intervals to prevent a costly repair.
Isn’t it nice to get into a toasty warm car in the winter? How is your heater working? And what about your defrost? Having these components serviced before the really cold temps hit will ensure your comfort and increased visibility and safety.
Speaking of visibility, are your windshield wipers ready for the falling snow? Remember that using them to remove ice buildup will shorten the life of your wipers. Be sure you have a scraper in your vehicle to take care of the ice before you drive. And how is your washer fluid? The roads get nasty with salt and sand – washer fluid is a must in Minnesota.
Do you have any burnt-out bulbs, brake lights included? Remember, all of your lights exist to keep you and other drivers safe. And how are the lenses of your headlights? Hazy or dull? This can decrease visibility considerably so you may want to get a professional headlight cleaning.
When is the last time your battery was replaced? Are the connections clean and free of corrosion? Checking your battery’s health before winter months is a good idea. And for emergency situations, it’s also a good idea to keep a set of jumper cables and/or a battery charger in your vehicle.
A must-have for our wintry roads is a good set of winter or all-season tires. What do your tires look like? Examine the tread depth, uneven wearing and cupping. Check the sidewalls for cuts or nicks. Rotate them as recommended—a good rule of thumb is to have them rotated at every other oil change. Remember that tire rotations and alignments are a maintenance item. Don’t do them when you notice a problem. Do them to prevent a problem from occurring.
Are all of your all of your suspension components in good condition? Adequate suspension is important to be sure your vehicle is handling well on the road. And what is the condition of your brakes? Brake repairs are not an option—they must be completed in a timely fashion for your safety and for other drivers. If it’s been a while since you’ve replaced your brakes, getting them inspected can prevent more costly repairs due to neglect as well as protect you and your family on the roads.
Perhaps it’s a bit unorthodox to mention rodents in an article about vehicle maintenance, but I just want to remind you of this possibility. During last year’s cold winter, there were a lot of mice looking for nice, warm homes. They were grateful to find them in many of our customer’s cars! And when they found their nice, new, warm home, they went about redecorating—chewing all sorts of wires, moving insulation, etc. Be aware that this is a possibility and keep your eyes open for unwelcome vehicle guests.
Is the Farmer’s Almanac always correct in what’s been predicted for the winter? Does it matter? We live in Minnesota. We know it will be cold. Let’s hope for a short winter but prepare for a long one by preparing your vehicle for what’s to come.
Shocks and struts keep your car rolling
Do you exercise? Do you do it consistently? I used to make time for it but my days have been so crammed with work and family these past couple of years that exercise has been last on my list (and I never get to the last thing on my list). I changed that this summer and decided to take up running. Well, jogging at least. The first few days were great and I felt fabulous. But then, my knees (a problem from my past) started hurting—so bad that I had to stop running and start researching.
I think my problem is three-fold: To put it in automotive terms, my tires were bad, my alignment was off and my shocks and struts were not in good shape—meaning my shoes were worn out, I had the wrong shoes and the muscles in my legs were not absorbing the shock of running as they should. In order to fix the problem, I had to purchase new shoes, ones that were right for my feet and the way I run and I’ve had to start stretching and strengthening my legs and hips. Though all three parts are important, the least thought about was the latter and it’s taken the most time to fix.
Just like shocks and struts are extremely important for your body to run healthy, they are also important in your car to keep it rolling smooth and safe by keeping your tires connected to the road and allowing you to safely handle your vehicle over bumps, through turns and helping you stop effectively. Let’s explore their function and replacement so you’ll better understand their importance in your vehicle.
WHAT THEY DO
Do you know what shocks and struts are and the difference between them? Do you understand the function of springs within the suspension system? Often, shocks and struts are used interchangeably. But there is a significant difference between the two.
Shocks resist the bouncing of your vehicle by using hydraulics. They work in conjunction with springs to make your ride smooth and help keep your tires on the road.
Springs support the weight of the vehicle, which keep it suspended off the axles. There are various types of springs but all are heavy duty as their job is important.
Struts combine the shock and spring in one unit. But they are even more complex since they are a structural part of the suspension system and a crucial part of the steering system which can greatly affect the alignment of your vehicle. When your vehicle’s alignment is off, camber and caster are usually adjusted right on the strut itself.
WHAT YOU HAVE
Do you know if your vehicle has shocks or struts? Because shocks and struts are used interchangeably people get confused. To add to the confusion, some vehicles have both—struts on the front axle and shocks on the rear. Struts are more expensive because they are more complex. But your vehicle has what it has and you cannot switch from shocks to struts.
When shocks and struts are worn out, your tires bounce excessively over bumps and you may feel less vehicle control around corners. Or you may notice front end diving when you brake or rear end squatting when you accelerate. Do you notice any of these symptoms when you drive? Perhaps a little bounce doesn’t bother you, but have you considered the safety involved? Worn shocks or struts can greatly affect the handling of your vehicle, especially with the wintry road conditions approaching. They can also put stress on other suspension components causing them to wear prematurely and become a possible safety hazard to you and other motorists. Worn shocks or struts can also cause uneven tire wear, which means your tires will have to be replaced more often.
WHEN TO REPLACE
Your manufacturer recommends the interval for shock or strut replacement for your vehicle, generally around 50,000 miles. At the very least, you should have your shocks or struts inspected at this point and on a regular basis thereafter. Inspection will include physical testing of the vehicle shock/strut performance as well as inspection of the shock or strut itself. If oil is leaking from the component, this denotes significant wear and replacement is recommended.
WHAT TO REPLACE
When it’s time to replace your shocks or struts, it’s usually a good idea to replace all four. Doing so will give you even, safer handling. At the very least, just like with tires, you should replace in pairs—meaning if your front right strut is bad, you should replace the front left strut as well.
Does your vehicle have shocks only? Then there is no question that just the shocks need to be replaced. But if your vehicle has struts, you will need to decide if you will replace the entire assembly, which includes the spring or if you will only have just the strut replaced. You can make this decision based on the condition of the spring and cost.
There are also different grades of shocks and struts. Be sure you have yours replaced with ones equivalent to the original ones. These were originally installed based on a broad range of needs by drivers of your type vehicle. If you have more specialized needs based on your driving habits or hauling or towing, there are other, upgraded premium options available to best complement your needs. So be sure to keep this in mind when considering replacement.
If your vehicle is equipped with struts, it’s recommended that an alignment is performed at the same time. This will ensure the camber and caster are accurate for best performance. Many repair shops will check the alignment at no charge. This way, if there are no adjustments to be made after the replacement, there is no additional cost.
As I am working hard to prepare my shocks/struts for running, be sure you don’t forget about the shocks and/or struts on your vehicle as part of your maintenance program. Not only will you be rolling smooth, but you will be safer and it will help keep the rest of your suspension healthy.
Hesitation on fixing your vehicle
I used to kill plants. Not on purpose; they would just die—from drowning, neglect and even bugs. I’ve always been envious of people who seemed to know how to make foliage thrive. I wondered: Do they have a secret? Or is it a gift and they just know how to make things grow? My grandma had the greenest thumb ever. She passed it to my mom, and for a while I thought it was going to skip me.
To my delight, I do believe my thumb is slowing turning green! Why? Is it heredity? Is it because I now secretly sing praise songs as I water or meander through my plants and flowers? Or is it education and pure determination? When I set my mind to something, I am persistent until I succeed.
The secret, I have discovered is caring and maintenance. I want to drive up to my home and see blooming flowers. I want to walk into my shop and see lovely plants. And because I care about this, I have decided to learn what to do to make them grow. I’ve stumbled along the way but my persistence has yielded amazing results that my grandma would be proud of.
Just like having plants that thrive, I want a vehicle that thrives. What about you? Do you look at your vehicle as one of your biggest investments or do you consider it a pain and put off maintenance until something breaks? Where does the importance lie in your budget? Do you plan for maintenance costs or do you just try to figure out how you’ll pay for a repair if/when it breaks?
I recently read an article reporting that over 80 percent of vehicles have one or more service or repairs that are needed but haven’t been taken care of. Some of the neglected services are minor while others are serious safety concerns. Perhaps it’s like my situation with plants: I really wanted great plants but I was not educated in their needs nor did I take the time or spend the money needed (bug sprays, plant food, etc). Your car is a heck of a lot more important than a bunch of plants. It is one of your biggest investments which other investments rely on. You need your vehicle to get you to and from work so you are able to afford your home and lifestyle. Your vehicle also transports your family safe and sound to all sorts of destinations. Do you understand the importance of maintenance and timely repairs or is it one of the last things on your list to care for because it’s not fun, takes time and sometimes costs more than you anticipate? Let’s explore possible reasons for procrastination and how to overcome them.
Do you trust what you are being told by your auto shop? Do they explain the repair to you, help you understand the importance of the service or maintenance item(s)? Offer to show you the problem? Answer your questions?
Trust is of the utmost importance in the automotive industry. Reputable shops are eager to help you understand. They base their recommendations for maintenance from manufacturer standards. They want your questions. They want your confidence, because if you are confident in your auto-home, you will be back, you will tell others and you will appreciate the relationship you have with them.
Getting your vehicle repaired is not nearly as fun as shopping at the mall for a new pair of shoes or getting your hair done, but both of those are maintenance items, right? You spend time browsing for just the right pair or sit in the chair with anticipation of looking good at the end of your time investment. What do you get at the end of your time at your auto-home? The same exact car that you started with.
But let’s remember what that car does for you. It gets you to work so you can pay for your new shoes and your fancy new haircut. It keeps you and your kids safe. It is a great big piece of equipment that needs attention on a regular basis so you can rely on it during your busy days.
The best part is, it can be a great experience! Find yourself an auto-home that’s comfy to wait in. Make a morning or even a day of it (depending on the services you need). Take a book or your laptop. Work from the lobby. If you don’t have time to wait, most shops offer a shuttle service for your convenience.
Auto repair and maintenance is not inexpensive. This is another reason to find an auto shop you can trust. They are there to educate you on the health of your vehicle and give you their professional opinion in how to proceed. They work hard to keep your vehicle healthy with the services they recommend based on their expertise.
Put vehicle maintenance and repairs in your budget—setting a certain amount aside each month to take care of this needed expense so when your vehicle needs some TLC, it won’t be a financial hardship. When there is a real budget concern, let them know. Perhaps there are different options for the repair. They can also prioritize the work that needs to be done and work with you with a plan that is more feasible for your budget without compromising safety.
The secret to having a vehicle that thrives is the same as I discovered with my plants: caring and maintenance. Spending time and money on your vehicle is not fun but if you find an auto shop you trust, plan for the time services take and allocate part of your budget to your vehicle, your experience can be a good one.
DIY Spark Plugs: What to Know
Have you attempted any DIY projects since my last article? I’m always on the lookout for a way to save money. For little projects, I figure, if I screw up, I’ll just try again or have it professionally fixed. I gave one such project a shot this summer as I tried my hand at doing my own French Pedicure. Not perfect, but I’ll keep practicing and perhaps get it “nailed” in a few tries.
Do you ever attempt small projects or tasks to save money? Things that aren’t a big deal if you screw them up? Have you ever attempted to replace small parts in your vehicle? And what if you screw that up? In my line of business, I’ve seen some pretty botched-up DIY attempts. But I also know that there are people out there who are quite capable to do small things on vehicles with success. Perhaps you know you can probably do it but you just don’t have the time. Or with some things you are not sure the skill level involved and you’d rather pay to have it done right the first time. Where do you fall in this continuum? Do you perform your own oil changes? Fluid flushes? Do you dispose of your fluids properly? And what about spark plugs? Have you ever changed those or had them changed? Do you know what they are and how they function? Do you know why they need to be replaced, what kind to use and where they are located?
What is a spark plug?
Spark plugs are aptly named. They are insulated plugs, screwed into the cylinder head that take in high voltage (40,000-100,000 volts) electricity at one end and create spark at the other end. The spark ignites the gas and air mixture and the resulting combustion is what powers the vehicle. Then the process starts all over again. The number of spark plugs in your vehicle depend on how many cylinders your vehicle has. If your vehicle has four cylinders, it will have four spark plugs, though some engines have two plugs per cylinder.
At the sparking end of the plug is a built-in gap between two or more little pieces of metal, called electrodes. When the plug fires, the spark jumps the gap and a tiny bit of metal is burned off. This happens hundreds of times every minute. Over time the gap between the metal tips gets too big. If you do not replace the spark plugs according to manufacturer recommendations, your engine will start to misfire and run poorly, performance will suffer, efficiency will decrease and emissions will dramatically increase. Your vehicle may also be difficult to start.
Spark plugs can also get fouled up with carbon deposits. The deposits build up when fuel isn’t burned completely. When plugs get fouled, it would indicate that you have a problem within the system that needs attention.
Are all plugs created equal?
Besides creating spark, the spark plug has a secondary role of transferring heat to the vehicle’s cooling system. Its ability to do so is based on the length of the insulator nose and the materials used for the center electrode and the insulator.
Standard spark plugs have a copper center electrode core surrounded by a nickel alloy. Inside the plug, the center electrode is encased in porcelain. This helps transfer heat from the engine to the cooling system.
Premium spark plugs are comprised of precious metals, like platinum or iridium, in place of the nickel alloy. These metals have higher melting points which make them more durable, perform better and last longer. They are more expensive up front but due to their superior quality, your vehicle will appreciate the benefits they offer.
Did you know that there are different grades of platinum? Even if a low quality platinum is used, a company is able to market their product as a platinum spark plug, inferring superior quality. However, testing has shown that high quality platinum is essential to the superior performance of the plug. Therefore, it is important to be aware of such false advertising and do research before purchasing the spark plugs for your vehicle.
Manufacturers select the correct plug for each vehicle. In most cases, using the same brand and type is the best. But if you chose to veer from this recommendation, it’s important to keep all of this in mind.
Hot or cold?
Not only do you need to choose the quality plug that you and your pocketbook prefer, but it’s crucial that you buy the right kind of plug that your vehicle needs. Spark plugs come in two basic varieties: cold and hot. Cold plugs work best in high-horsepower, high-compression engines. They have less insulation so more heat can be transferred away from the combustion chamber to the outside of the engine. Hot plugs have more insulation and are found in most standard engines. The extra insulation keeps the plug’s temperature high enough to burn off carbon deposits, which allows for more time between spark plug changes.
How often should you unplug?
Years ago, spark plugs wore out more often. Today they have a better design and are made of better materials so they last longer. The intervals in which you should have your spark plugs replaced depends on the type and quality of the plug in your vehicle. What do you know about yours? When were they last replaced? When you replaced them, did you replace them all or just one giving you trouble? Replacing spark plugs can be a repair item but if one needs to be replaced, you should replace them all. Replacing just the problem plug is like replacing one shoe—both of your shoes are the same age and should be replaced at the same time. Replacing all plugs simultaneously will ensure you are getting the best performance as well as keep you on the right future spark plug maintenance program.
If you think spark plug replacement is your area of DIY expertise, I encourage you to go for it. Just be sure you are buying the right kind and know how to do it properly. But if it’s beyond your know-how, seek professional help. That way you’ll know they are replaced properly and you are getting quality plugs, backed by a warranty.
Cooling off: When to seek expert advice
Are you a DIYer? Do you love doing home improvement projects? I adore them — tiling, painting, gardening, really, just about anything! I figure if I watch a video on it, I can do it and then I can teach others how. Last summer at this time, I was knee-deep in our master bath remodel. I handled the painting and tiling (floor, bath and walls), but I left the more complicated stuff — countertop installation, electrical and plumbing — to the professionals. Sure, I probably could have done some of these extra things but because of time, desire or possible complications, I left them to the experts.
How about you? Do you know your limits and admit it when you need to leave it to the experts? What about work done on your vehicle? Do you dabble in your own car repairs and maintenance? Does the mechanic part of your brain just naturally know how to fix things like that? I know there are some great DIYers out there! But I also know there are some who have the desire to give it a shot, but they don’t have the know-how. Parts get installed upside down or backwards, the wrong fluids get added to important systems, wires get crossed, etc. Some repairs are cut and dry, while others are complicated and exacting.
One area that is very tough for an amateur, or even for someone more experienced is the air conditioning system of a vehicle. You see, if you don’t have the equipment to properly service the a/c system, you can do more harm than good. And since the equipment is expensive, this is one service that is best to get done professionally. You can, however, take part in a faster diagnosis if you go to your auto-home equipped with the answers to questions they may ask.
Just like going to the doctor, the more information you can give your auto-home about your vehicle’s problem, the better it is for everyone. Is the problem you are having constant or intermittent? Are the vents blowing air at all? What is the temperature of the air coming out — hot, warm, cool or cold? Do you notice any unusual noises coming from the a/c system? How about unusual odors? Do the dash controls work properly? Have you noticed any leaks? Did your a/c work last summer? When was it last serviced? What services were performed?
Depending on the answer to these questions, the technician caring for your vehicle will go through the a/c from a systematic checklist so that the problem can be identified as efficiently as possible. The compressor and belts will be inspected. All components will be inspected for leaks or damage. Pressures and temperatures will be measured. The condenser and cabin air filter will be examined. Operation of the controls, fan, recirculation button and heater door will be assessed. There are an array of reasons your air conditioning system may not be working properly, and there are specific fixes depending on the problem. But for the sake of educating you on the most complicated of these, we are going to focus specifically on the problems associated with the refrigerant.
Refrigerant is the fluid that makes the air cold by absorbing heat from the vehicle. It also contains a special oil that lubricates and cools the a/c components. When refrigerant leaks out, depending on the amount, you may still have cold air but you may not have enough oil to protect the components which may cause premature wear and expensive future repairs. A decreased amount of refrigerant (even a little) will also reduce the efficiency of the system, making it work harder to try to cool the air.
Besides lack of oil, another issue can be water or air in the system. Air will change the pressures and hinder the system from working effectively. Refrigerant tends to gather moisture and become corrosive, causing leaks and other damage which subsequently may lead to expensive repairs of other a/c components.
Keep it fresh
Periodically evacuating the old refrigerant from the a/c system and recharging it with the proper amount of clean, fresh refrigerant will help maintain efficiency, while decreasing the chances of rust and corrosion. This is a maintenance service and should be performed according to your maintenance schedule, whether or not you notice a problem with your a/c. What does this entail? Why can’t you just drain the old fluid and add new? What if there is a leak? Is it possible to have more than one leak? All of those are good questions!
Your a/c system is pressurized and delicate. Refrigerant should not be added without gauging the pressure and adding the exact amount needed. Remember the expensive equipment I mentioned? This is where it comes into play. It measures the pressures perfectly and allows your mechanic to add the appropriate amount of refrigerant for your specific vehicle. Over the years, the capacity of refrigerant a vehicle needs to run efficiently has changed and even an ounce too little or too much can dramatically alter its function.
All systems will eventually lose refrigerant, but if you need a recharge every year it’s likely there is a leak. The technician will perform a system evacuation. It uses suction to remove all of the refrigerant from the system. This action creates a vacuum, and depending on how long the vacuum holds, it can tell how big or small the leak is (but not where the leak is). Dye is then added to the new refrigerant that is added to your system. This dye will help detect where the leak is. Sometimes it can be found immediately, other times it can take time and there can be multiple leaks. The first or bigger leak may need repairing before others can be found. Based on the importance of the oil and the problems air or water can cause, it is important to follow through to keep your vehicle’s a/c system healthy and working at peak performance.
Many times we don’t think about our a/c until there is a problem, but because of the delicacy of the system, it’s important to take care of it when there is a problem and as a part of your regular maintenance. Of course, refrigerant is only a part of the a/c system. I’ve touched on other components including DIY fixes to leaks (downfalls of stop leak) and the benefit of the recirculation button in a previous article, titled “Beat the Heat,” from May 2012. So keep those in mind too as you consider which DIY projects you want to take on and which are past your area of expertise.
Is your teen prepared to drive?
My only daughter (and youngest child) turned 10 last Sunday. How did time go by so fast? It seems like just yesterday I was holding her in my arms for the very first time. I get all choked up just thinking about it. And then I wonder, have I used the last 10 years wisely? Am I training her in the way she should go? Am I doing all the things I’m supposed to do?
Last weekend, she and I went away on our very first girl’s weekend. We took in a show, shopped, ate at great restaurants, got her ears pierced, and talked about things moms and daughters should talk about. It was a glorious weekend and a blessing to us both. What a privilege and honor all parents have to guide and train the children we’ve been entrusted with. How are you measuring up? Wouldn’t it be great if each child came with a book and you could just go through and check the boxes when you’ve completed certain training and tasks. Since that’s not the case, we can either fumble through and hope they turn out great, or we can make a concerted effort to train in the matter of all sorts of things, whenever there is an opportunity.
Teaching our teens to drive is a must on the list. Have you gotten there? My philosophy is: I gave birth, my husband can teach them to drive! He did a good job with our first son and number two is less than a year away. I’ll say “good luck, honey” as I pray and watch from the sidelines. Oh, but that’s not all.
Our children learn more from what we do than what we say. So every single time you or I get behind the wheel with our children in the car, they are learning. What kind of role model are you? Speeding? Talking on the phone? Or are you obeying all of the traffic laws and using that valuable time to talk to your kids? Beyond training them to drive, have you considered educating them on the other responsibilities of car-ownership? Here’s a mini-manual to guide you in your efforts.
Give them basics
Do you know your way around a vehicle? Give your son or daughter a tour under the hood. Show them where the engine is, the alternator, battery, transmission and radiator. Did your parents neglect to show all of this to you and you’ve just relied on mechanics to take care of business? That’s okay. It’s never too late to learn. Do it together. Google it. Watch Youtube videos with your teen. Make it an unforgettable experience and it will speak volumes for years to come.
While you are under the hood, give the battery some extra attention. When was it last changed? How do the connections look? Corrosion can lead to bad connections, so teaching your teens how to clean the connections is important. What about jumper cables? Is there a set in the vehicle and where are they located? Demonstrate how to use them.
Focus on fluids
Proper fluid maintenance is essential for a healthy vehicle. Don’t rely on illuminating lights on the dash to realize there is a problem. Show your teens where to check fluid levels, how often to change them and, if you are a DIYer, how to change them.
Oil: Make sure your teen knows how to read the dipstick, that the engine needs to be off and that the car should be parked on level ground. Talk about what type of oil the vehicle requires and when, if and how to add oil.
Coolant: Explain the importance of the cooling system, how to check it and what can happen if it’s not properly maintained.
Washer fluid: Show them how to add washer fluid and educate them on the importance of not just adding water to the tank (it freezes and is not ideal to clean the windshield properly). This is a good time to segue into the importance of visibility while driving.
Visibility is key to safe driving. Make sure the wipers are working properly. If they are not, show your teen how to put on a new set. Check all the lights and encourage your teen to make sure they are changed immediately if one goes out. If a light goes out on your vehicle use this as an opportunity to train your teen on what to do.
As you are teaching your teen to drive, teach them also to use their senses.
Look: How do you react when a warning light illuminates on the dash? Do you become frantic? Maybe not if you know what to do about them. But does your teen? Explain what they are and what they should do if they come on.
Listen: Don’t allow loud music. Teens need to be aware of their surroundings (emergency vehicles, other vehicles, etc) and they need to be in tune to their own vehicle. What does it “normally” sound like? This will help them be aware if there are abnormal sounds (squeaking belts, squealing brakes, etc) which could be signs of trouble.
Smell: I suppose not all vehicles that teens drive smell the best. But help them to understand the importance of reporting abnormal car smells like burning oil, gasoline, etc.
Check the spare
Teens tend to drive older vehicles in general. The condition of the spare is important. Where is it? Does it have air in it? Is there a jack in the car? This is a great time to show your teen how to change a flat tire. While you are doing this together, talk about the four tires currently on the vehicle. Inspect the tread for wear, look for embedded objects and cracking. Check the tire pressure and be sure it’s within the normal range listed on the driver’s doorsill. Talk about the importance of tire rotations and alignments.
Training our children is a privilege. As you go forth with yours, be sure you touch on the deep subjects as well as the practical ones. And in everything, be sure you are practicing what you preach! Your car will be healthier, your pocketbook will be fuller (a well maintained car is cheaper than one that needs expensive repairs due to neglect) and your teen will be educated!
Taking a break for your brakes
Do you enjoy yard work and spring cleanup? This is one of my favorite times of year when I uncase my chainsaw, don my protective gear and head to the trees to cut up the fallen ones from the previous year. A couple weeks ago, as I was sawing away, my chainsaw slipped and came in contact with my chaps. Instantly, it stopped due to the seizing material inside of the chaps — and boy, was I grateful! My chaps served as my chainsaw brakes — without them, my safety would be greatly diminished. My chaps to my legs are similar to what brakes are to your car. Some people ignore the signs of problems until it’s too late, putting the safety of themselves and others at risk.
I have addressed brakes before — at least partially, but based on safety, repetition is sometimes key to driving an important topic home. Do you look at brakes as a safety issue? Or do you think brakes are just another expense that can be ignored, until they get so bad that they feel unsafe? Not having your brakes checked as part of routine maintenance, or at the very least, when the first problem signs appear, cannot only lead to a more expensive repair, but also very unsafe driving, especially during inclement weather.
Brakes have several components that work together to produce one result — stopping your vehicle. To bring your heavy vehicle to a halt, three things are needed: leverage, hydraulic force and friction.
Leverage: When you depress the brake pedal with your foot, leverage results. Since we are not the Flintstones, so much more is needed to stop the vehicle.
Hydraulic force: The pedal is connected by levers and rods to the back of the power booster. The power booster uses the engine vacuum or a hydraulic pump to multiply the force of leverage and transfer it to the master cylinder.
Friction: The master cylinder is to the brake system as the heart is to your body. Its job is to use applied leverage to force brake fluid through valves, steel lines and rubber hoses into hydraulic calipers and wheel cylinders. The hydraulic pressure is then used to create the friction needed to stop your vehicle.
Disc vs Drum
I have spoken of the difference between disc and drum brakes, their components and what can go wrong with them in a previous article. But in this application, consider these differences: Disc brakes use a hydraulic caliper fitted with brake pads to grab a spinning disc (or rotor). Drum brakes, in comparison, have a hydraulic wheel cylinder that pushes a brake shoe against the inside of a spinning drum. Do you know which of these or combination of these your vehicle has? Do you have your brakes inspected at regular intervals? Do you understand the importance of making sure the components of both of these types of brakes are working properly?
Most vehicles made today have an electronic Anti-lock Brake System. Under certain conditions, your ABS system can measure speed, wheel slip and brake force. It does this by using electronic sensors and high pressure pumps. The system is so high-tech that it can actually “pumps the brakes” for you during an emergency stop. Have you ever had problems with your ABS? Did you know that if your ABS light is illuminated on your dash, your ABS system is disabled? Things might feel fine, but there is a problem and you need to have it addressed.
Brake fluid is one of the most neglected fluids, yet it’s extremely important. Brake fluid attracts and absorbs moisture. This causes corrosion and deterioration of vital components within the system. How often do you have yours checked and/or flushed?
I’ve never seriously considered the importance of brake lights until a recent business trip to Puerto Rico. On our last day there, we rented a car and relied on GPS to get us to Old San Juan, which was 45 minutes from our hotel.
Our day of leisure became a nail-biting adventure. As we were traveling at highway speeds, out of nowhere a vehicle would swerve in front of us without using a signal. Then, because they were going faster than the traffic in front of them, they would slam on their brakes. All of this was happening without warning lights. Can you see the problem? And the safety issue? Are your brake lights functioning properly?
The length of time it takes for your braking components to wear out depends on many factors, including driving habits. Therefore, it’s important to get quality brake inspections as part of your regular maintenance and have your lights and fluid checked regularly. Even if you do these things, it’s a good idea to engage your senses for signs of problems.
*Do you hear a squeal? Brake pad manufacturers put a little piece of metal called and “indicator” on the pad so that when it wears down to a quarter of an inch or less it squeals.
*Do you hear a grinding noise? It could mean the metal on the pad base is exposed and is grinding against the rotor.
*Do you feel a shaking or vibration in the steering wheel when you apply the brakes? It could be caused by misalignment between the pad and rotor. Or it could mean the rotor is damaged in some way.
*Does the pedal go all the way to the floor when you apply the brakes? If so, your braking system needs to be inspected immediately!
*Do you feel a “brake pull,” meaning the car is actually pulling to the left or right when braking? It could be a misaligned caliper or collapsed brake hose and it needs to be inspected.
*Do you smell a bad metallic-like smell when braking? You’ll want to have it inspected.
If I had decided not to wear protective gear when my chainsaw needed help stopping, it would have affected me in a big way. But maintaining and repairing your braking system is even more serious as it can affect many others besides just yourself. So be sure you take a break for brakes this spring!
Peace of mind with your vehicle
Is your glass half full or half empty? I recently heard a motivational speaker who encouraged the audience to choose the half-full glass, in doing so you can change your perception and attitude. That being said, one area that it’s difficult to have a half-full glass is auto repair. Getting your vehicle serviced is generally not a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to be that way and will certainly be better if you have a plan. What is your financial plan for servicing your vehicle? Do you have a separate savings account that you contribute money to each month so you can be sure to take care of regular maintenance and when more expensive “surprise repairs” pop up? Or do you rely on extended warranties for peace of mind? Let’s explore these options so you can best make an informed decision with your vehicle’s financial plan.
An extended warranty is the repair coverage that kicks in after the manufacturer’s warranty that we discussed in last month’s article. Do you already have an EW? If so, do you understand what it covers, when it expires, who stands behind it and where you can get your vehicle serviced? These are all important questions to ask yourself — especially if it’s about to expire so you can get possible work needed done before it’s out of warranty. If you don’t have an EW but will consider it in the future, the previous questions are all good ones to ask yourself. Additionally, you may also want to consider if the warranty you are considering will be worth the price you are paying for it, if that price is negotiable, what your reasons are for considering it, what your car ownership habits are, and if the warranty is transferrable.
Peace of mind
There are some people who just like the peace of mind that an extended warranty offers. Are you one of these people? If this is the case, be sure you fully understand the EW and the fine print within. Similar to the article I wrote last month about manufacturer warranties, you need to be privy to the things the warranty may not cover and the length of coverage. Remember, the length of the warranty is given in miles and years/months. The coverage ends with whichever comes first. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask questions to be sure you fully comprehend all that you need to before signing the contract.
Might I offer one more piece of advice you may not have considered? If you put the same amount of money into a savings account to be used for auto repairs (and maintenance in this case), might you have the same peace of mind? Many statistics show that much more money (up to 65%) is spent on the actual warranty that is used during the timeframe of the EW. Certainly this is not always the case, but it’s something to consider.
Not all EW companies are created equal. Research them. Do they have a good reputation? Google them to read about their online reputation. Visit their website. Call them. Check into their claims service — this is one thing that can set a company apart from their competition. Consider how they treat you and ask these questions. Do they offer 24/7 service? Is the warranty transferrable? Is a payment plan offered? Must you purchase the plan through the dealership and must you have it serviced at the dealership? Many people think that if you purchase the EW at a dealership, you must return to that dealership for service during the EW period. This is generally false. The best warranties allow you to choose your own repair shop. This is a huge benefit not only because you are most likely comfortable having your vehicle serviced at your preferred local shop, but also because you may have problems with your vehicle while traveling.
If you purchase an extended warranty at a dealership, are you getting the most bang for your buck? Are they priced fairly? Are they negotiable? The only way to find out is to ask questions and do research. Generally you do not have to purchase the EW at the same time that you purchase your vehicle, so you can take a bit of time to consider your options and not feel pressured into something when you are not 100% certain.
Do you tend to purchase luxury model vehicles? If you do, it’s important to consider the cost of repairs on these vehicles. They are luxury for a reason — they have superior parts, often with price tags to match. So if a repair is needed and you have an EW, sometimes just one repair can more than account for the price of the EW. But along those same lines, the EW may cost significantly more upfront than a warranty on a non-luxury vehicle. And due to the quality of parts within your vehicle, there may be a lesser chance of a repair needed within the timeframe of the contract.
Do you plan to keep your vehicle for a long time? How much do you drive in a given year? These are both questions to take into consideration as you are contemplating an extended warranty. Also, if you decide to purchase an EW and you get a different car before the EW is up, this can either be a selling point or a downfall, depending on whether or not the warranty is transferrable.
Do you have a glass that is half full? But are you also realistic in knowing things happen that are not always planned for? There are no guarantees — with or without an EW. It’s best to make a decision that is right for you, your vehicle type, buying habits and pocketbook.
Decoding manufacturer warranties
Have you ever heard the saying, “The son of the shoemaker has no shoes?” Does the phrase hit home for you? Are you a plumber with a clogged toilet that you never have time to fix? Or perhaps something similar? I can relate, and so can a wife of a technician I know — our cars are always the last to be fixed.
Because I needed a more reliable ride and a sometimes second shuttle, we decided to retire our 1999 minivan in the summer of 2012 and update it to a more modern version. The features minivans have these days blow my mind. Though some of the bells and whistles are a welcome luxury, there are some like the automatic doors that are slower than molasses to open and close that drive me nuts. I’m the type of gal that’s often in a hurry and would just prefer to manually open and close doors myself. Plus, I fear the extra cost if it breaks. Of course, one of the main reasons we decided to buy new was the peace of mind that comes with the manufacturer’s warranty.
Are you like me and you chose to buy a brand new vehicle because of the same reason? Did you think it would guarantee that nothing could go wrong with your vehicle for a certain amount of time? I suppose, in the back of my mind, I expected my new van to be perfect, for a while — boy, was I in for a surprise.
Within the first few months I had to have the window motor and the motor mount replaced, plus a piece of exterior moulding fell right off. But perhaps the worst news was I did not get the transmission I was told that I had. I learned, like many other owners of this vehicle, that my 6-speed transmission has an internal shifting problem and I must wait for a computer program to be developed to fix the problem. How can this be on a brand new vehicle? Needless to say, I’ve learned my lesson and will surely do much more research before purchasing my next vehicle. My only choice at this point is to embrace the good characteristics of my van and be grateful for the warranty and what it does offer.
Do you understand everything a manufacturer’s warranty covers? Do you read the fine print? Last month we learned that repairs won’t be covered if mice chew the wires. Are there other things that aren’t covered? What should you look for? A basic bumper-to-bumper warranty covers almost all of the vehicle in some way, but not normal wear items like tires, oil, filters, brakes, etc. How basic is basic though? Be sure to ask questions and so you’ll know what it covers, for how long, possible exceptions and what you must do to be sure your warranty is not voided.
Certainly, you should know the length of your warranty — both time and miles. The manufacturer will go by whichever comes first. I recommend that you take your vehicle to an independent repair shop for a health exam before the warranty expires. This will be a cost to you, but what it may reveal could save you a lot. The new set of eyes could find problems or potential problems that you can alert your dealership to before your warranty expires.
You’ll also want to understand if there are any conditions or limitations with the warranty and what may possibly void the warranty. Thoroughly read the warranty prior to purchase and then again after purchase, making sure you see the “fine print.” Often times there is a section labeled, “What is not covered.” Some things that may be included in that section are:
Misuse: This includes if there are signs of abuse, such as if your vehicle was used for racing or “off-roading.”
Damage: This includes if your vehicle has been in a severe accident and declared “totaled,” or if your vehicle was damaged by an act of nature, like a fire, flood, earthquake or other disaster.
Bad fluids: This includes if improper fluids have been used or not flushed within the recommended time frame. Or if you have added things that should not be added to the fluids.
Poor aftermarket part installation or modification: This is a bit of a gray area which I will explain in the next section.
Neglect: This includes if you fail to take your vehicle in for service for the regular maintenance schedule outlined in your owner’s manual.
Many people are under the impression that they can only have their vehicles serviced at the dealership in order to be compliant with the warranty conditions. This is simply not true. You can have your vehicle serviced at any trusted independent repair shop without affecting your warranty. A federal law, called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, prohibits a manufacturer from voiding your warranty just because you have parts or services from a non-dealer. In fact, a manufacturer can’t require you to use their brand of oil filters, lubricant, or any other part in order to maintain your warranty protection. This applies to extended warranties (which I’ll cover next month) and leased vehicles as well. Having these services performed at a reputable independent repair shop can still give you peace of mind, and may also let you keep a piece of your pocketbook.
If there is a warranty issue and a manufacturer can prove that the replacement parts or service lead to a vehicle failure, they can void a portion of the warranty. However, many reputable independent repair shops use quality products that meet or exceed manufacturer specifications, and they subscribe to services that give them specifics for each manufacturer.
It is important that you do your part in order to be warranty-compliant. You must be vigilant in making sure your maintenance is done on a regular basis. And perhaps just as crucial, you must keep a copy of the receipts that prove this maintenance was done using the proper parts and fluids. Remember there are never any guarantees when it comes to new vehicles, but you can do your best to get the most out of your warranty.
No more free rides for rodents
When we moved to the country six years ago, I never considered the possibility of having mice as houseguests. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally one will move in for the winter … or even summer. Of course the ones that have moved in are smart mice — they don’t eat the poisonous pellets, they store them for later. We’ve also discovered that they love chocolate — see I told you, smart! Skip the cheese for bait and go right for the chocolate chips. These wise chocolate-loving rodents are not my idea of welcome houseguests. I’ve always maintained that the first time I see a live one running across my floor is the day I will move. But where will I go? Back to the city? Let me tell you, I have friends that have these furry houseguests in the city — and they’ve even taken up residence in one friend’s kitchen. No matter where you live, there is always the possibility of finding these critters in unwelcome places.
What about you? Have you ever had a mouse in your house? Now, how about in your car? Ahhh, there it is, you knew I’d eventually veer you in the auto direction, right? Over the years I have heard a lot of stories about mice getting into vehicles and causing all sorts of trouble. This is something people don’t generally think about. And I don’t know if I would have thought to write an article about this if it wasn’t for my friend Ted, who emailed me about his recent experience — a situation that may leave his wallet $1500 lighter. Of course, if it can save one person from the trouble he has experienced, I am ready to write. Ted, this is for you!
Mice can build nests in all sorts of places in your vehicle. Their nests can clog air ducts, hoses or hinder the function of your vehicle in other ways. Mice may also get in your vehicle and find things (that your vehicle needs) to build nests elsewhere. The most disturbing nest I’ve seen was in the cabin filter of a PT Cruiser. You see, the owner of the vehicle had never had that particular filter replaced. As you know, the cabin filter filters all of the air that comes through your vents — the air you breathe. Yes, she was breathing all sorts of things that the nest was created with. It makes me cough and gag a little just envisioning it.
Mice store things. It’s what they do. What if you had a sporty 1962 MG sitting in your garage and those little gray furballs decided to store acorns in your tailpipe, unbeknownst to you. Imagine your surprise when your mechanic gives you the diagnosis and informs you that the little buggers just cost you $400 because they had to cut the exhaust to remove the acorns and replace the muffler. This happened to our customer’s vehicle last year.
Vents within your vehicle are open and waiting for small critters to make their way to the craziest places. Imagine one makes his way to a dead end, gets stuck and dies. Have you ever smelled a dead mouse? I have. And the awful smell lingers and lingers and lingers. I can’t imagine this happening in my car! And what if you don’t know what is causing the odor so you end up having it looked into — there’s sometimes no telling how long a mechanic might need to take part of your car apart searching for it. You think it’s an unsavory odor — imagine how you would feel about the unsavory cost!
The damage mice can do to other parts of your vehicle like hoses, insulation or wiring can be extreme, as it was in my friend Ted’s case. Mice had gotten into an area near his gas tank and chewed wires in his 2013 vehicle. The dealership assumed the problem was a computer and therefore covered under warranty. When the computer was replaced and the vehicle was started, the new computer got “fried.” His car was inoperable for over a month until a field engineer with more advanced diagnostic tools was able to come look at it. Yes, those cute little gray furballs wreaked havoc on Ted’s car! How unfortunate.
What are they thinking?
You like getting into a warm car in the winter, right? So do mice! The warmth of an engine can lure them just like the warmth and coziness of a fireplace might lure us. They like to chew. They like to store. And they like to build nests. They can have all sorts of fun in your warm vehicle!
Of course chewing may be the most enjoyable of all pastimes for rodents. Mice have 16 teeth. Their front incisors never stop growing. Do you suppose they chew because it soothes as their teeth are growing, just as a baby is soothed by chewing toys when they are teething? Or do you suppose they chew to sharpen their teeth? Or is it simply a natural instinct to keep them at a manageable length since they are always growing? Does it really matter? The fact is, they do it, they cause trouble and we need to be aware.
What should you do?
Perhaps the best way to avoid the cost of the damage mice can cause is to prepare and be rodent aware:
-Don’t invite them in by leaving tasty morsels in your car — especially chocolate chips! They will attract mice and let them know where to check in the future.
-Seal entry points — roll up your windows. And if you are storing your car for any length of time, cover the tailpipe and air intake with tape. Just don’t forget to remove it when you are ready to drive it again!
-Give traps a try. You can put sticky traps next to walls or behind objects in your garage.
-Try placing mothballs or dryer sheets around. There are some nasty chemicals in these products. Mice don’t like them.
-Do regular maintenance on your vehicle. It will allow technicians to open areas that aren’t often opened to be sure they are rodent and nest free.
Certainly you can’t always stop a problem before it happens. But you can be aware of potential rodent problems and do your best to protect against them.
Tips on winterizing your vehicle
Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays has passed are you ready to settle into winter? If you live in Minnesota, you have no choice! Winter is here — there’s no denying it now. Have you prepared for the winter months to come? Do you know how to do so and what this can mean for your vehicle? I am sure by now you are tired of lists of things you must buy and do. But the things I am about to tell you can keep you safer and actually save you time and money in the future … now there’s good news for the New Year!
Certainly on the list of winterizing your vehicle is caring for your battery. Since I’ve already covered that topic in a previous article, let’s move on to other important items.
Let’s talk oil!
Did you know that the oil in your engine changes depending on how hot or cold your engine is running? What type of oil are you using? Does your vehicle require a lower viscosity oil in the winter?
What is viscosity and how might it affect your engine? Viscosity refers to how thick or thin a fluid is. The colder the oil is, the thicker, or higher viscosity it will be. A thicker oil doesn’t circulate as well in an engine during start-up as a thinner oil does. And if the oil is too thick, your engine doesn’t get the lubrication it needs to function properly and at peak performance.
Be sure to check your owner’s manual to see a recommendation of the oil that should be used in your vehicle and what’s best for different climates. Another option to consider is a high grade fully synthetic oil. After the first article I wrote on the subject, I researched synthetic oils. Afterwards, I approached my husband and said, “Hey honey, I’ve decided that I need you to use Mobil-1 in Betty White (my ’99 Town & Country).” His response “I already do.” Having researched the benefits, I was tickled pink to know I was already signed up! You see, fully synthetic motor oils contain non-conventional, high-performance fluids and additives to help prevent wear, keep your engine clean, flow easily, maintain viscosity, prevent rust and reduce friction. It takes the guess work out of what oil to use because it’s already the best and it maintains it’s viscosity under the widest possible range of temperatures and engine conditions. What’s more? You don’t have to change it as often. So even though it costs a bit more at the time, you can wait longer for your next oil change and it’s best for your engine … saving time and money!
Is your coolant cool?
You know all about coolant as I’ve written about it before, right? What? You don’t read every one of my articles? Well, let me give you a little recap so you understand the importance of coolant in the winter. It does just what its name infers; it cools your engine. But it also prevents freezing and corrosion. Every vehicle requires a certain coolant to water ratio. Does your coolant test within the parameters recommended? Your vehicle manufacturer also recommends flushes of the coolant on a regular basis. The frequency depends on many factors including type of vehicle, age, use and climate. When was your last flush? Is it on the bottom of your to-do list? Not caring for this important fluid can lead to expensive repairs in the future.
How do your tires look? Are they sufficient for winter weather — snow, sleet and ice? You have places to go, people to see, things to do. Are you doing it safely with good traction? Considering the condition of your tires, would you want your family driving that vehicle or riding in it? If your answer is yes, congratulations! I wish you well on your paths through Rochester. If you hesitated, even a little, perhaps it’s time to consider the benefits of snow tires that can be changed seasonally, or even a new set of all-season tires. Yes, new tires are an investment and may affect your pocketbook more than you would like, especially after the holidays. But consider the alternative — an accident with injuries to loved ones, a busted up vehicle and the time and money it takes you to have your vehicle fixed after an accident.
If all is well with the tread and performance of your tires this winter, be sure your tire pressure is accurate. Properly inflated tires will help with your traction and gas mileage. Keep in mind that as temperatures plummet the air in your tires will be altered. Be sure to keep this in mind and check your pressure at regular intervals for best performance.
Do you have a four-wheel drive? If so, be sure to check the four-wheel drive system to be sure it’s working correctly — especially since you don’t usually use it in the months without snow. Does the system engage and disengage easily? Do all of the drivers in your home know how to operate the system?
If you have regular maintenance performed on your vehicle, chances are your belts are looking good. But if it’s been a while since inspection, it’s important to have them checked. Cold temperatures can weaken belts and hoses. If one snaps or breaks, the only way you are going to be moving is via a tow truck!
Visibility is key in winter. It’s often compromised by precipitation, salty build up on your windshield and reduced sunlight. Be sure you are taking care of all the areas of your vehicle that aid in your visibility. Wiper blades life expectancy is one year. Be sure yours are up to snuff and replaced if needed. How’s your washer fluid? Keep it filled so you don’t run out this winter. There is never a convenient time to run out of that! Lastly, be sure you can see and others can see you with timely replacement of burnt out light bulbs. If this is something you’ve been putting off, don’t delay … consider what would happen if the other one burns out while you are driving!
Baby it’s cold outside! And there is plenty of snow to come. Be sure you are prepared in every way to stay safe and have the best vehicle performance.
Having trouble starting your car?
Ironically, after the article I wrote about batteries last month, I was faced with a shuttle van that would not start. After a bit of embarrassment and a jump-start, I was on my way straight to our Express Lane. It was there that the battery tested good and more diagnostics needed to be performed to pin down the reason for the no-start. What else could be wrong? How do technicians figure these things out? Do they just hook up their magical scan tools and — voliá! — the problem is revealed? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?
Every engine requires four basic ingredients to start: sufficient cranking speed, good compression, adequate ignition voltage and fuel. Any time your engine fails to start, you can assume it lacks one of these essential components. But which one? The answer is not always clear-cut, especially if the problem is intermittent, so it can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Your no-start situation needs to be analyzed. What happens when you turn the key? Does the engine crank? No? Then you are probably dealing with an issue related to the starter or battery. If it does crank but refuses to start it lacks ignition, fuel or compression. The most prevalent cause in this case is a failed fuel pump. Generally speaking, these are the two separate tracks your technician will take when diagnosing your no-start problem. Let’s explore each separately.
NO CRANK, NO START
Certainly a battery inspection is the first step, as we discussed last month. But if your battery is fine, there are more questions to ask. Has your starter been acting up, as evidenced by unusual noises or slow cranking? Is this the first time your car has failed to crank, or has it happened prior to this episode? Have you had the starter, battery or battery cables replaced recently? It could be a defective part or loose connection. If you’ve not had any parts replaced recently, there are other areas to look into.
Bad ignition switch The ignition switch is seldom the problem, but your mechanic will rule it out as part as the diagnosis.
Bad starter or connections Just as the corrosion of your battery connections can lead to no-start problems the same is true with corrosion of the starter. It can affect any electrical component, especially parts that are exposed to the elements. Your mechanic will test this with a circuit tester. If the starter spins freely when the key is turned, the problem lies elsewhere. If it does not, and all connections look good, the problem lies within the starter. To verify this, tests will be performed by your mechanic.
Alternator The alternator keeps the battery fully charged, providing the power needed to start your car. If there is a problem with it or the alternator belt, this could be the cause of your no-start so testing must be done.
Electrical problems There are many electrical components that may need to be checked if all other areas are exhausted in the no crank, no-start diagnosis. This intricate process can take more time for you and your mechanic.
CRANK BUT NO START
In this case, the ignition, fuel and compression components need to be examined.
Spark If the engine can’t spark, there will be no fire. Spark is created by your vehicle’s ignition system. If there is no spark, the condition of the spark plugs is considered. If they are all good, this is perhaps the most difficult no-start diagnosis. It can take a lot of time and experience and it’s best left to a seasoned mechanic to narrow down the problem.
Fuel If you see a good spark when you crank the engine but it won’t start, check the fuel system. As previously indicated, a fuel pump failure is the most common cause of a no-start problem with a crank. But there are other components to consider as well. There are many electrical connections within the fuel system that need to be checked to be sure they are tight. If all connections are tight and the fuel pump is working properly, the problem could be a clogged filter. How often do you replace your fuel filter? You should have it replaced every 12,000 miles. Replacing it in a timely fashion can help you avoid this problem.
Compression If your engine has spark and fuel, the problem is compression. If the charge of air and fuel cannot be compressed properly, the combustion process will not work like it should and your car will not start. There are several reasons for a lack of compression — all of which are more complicated than we have time or room for in this article.
The bottom line is, there is so much to consider when diagnosing a no-start problem. Be sure you relay as many details as you can to your mechanic to better enable him to narrow down the problem as quickly as possible, which will benefit both of you. Don’t you love it when a solution to a problem is found quickly and when it’s an inexpensive fix? I sure do! But sometimes this is not the case.
This summer I remodeled our bathroom. I hired out the plumbing and electrical, but I laid all of the tiles on the walls, floor and tub surround myself. As the colder weather has snuck up on us, I turned on my new heated floors only to discover an error message on the thermostat. Certainly it couldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong. I called the electrician and he went through a series of tests, discovering that a sensor was faulty. Guess where the sensor was? Yes, under the tile. It was such a bummer! But what could I do but accept the diagnosis? So I busted out some perfectly laid tiles, put in a new sensor and I am preparing to re-lay the new tiles.
We always want a simple, inexpensive solution that will make our lives easier, but it’s not always possible. Life isn’t simple and neither are vehicles. Problems arise when it’s least convenient, that’s why it great to be prepared with a mechanic you can trust to look into your problem when it’s too difficult for you to do yourself.
Don’t get left in the cold this winter
Are you full of energy this time of year? Is autumn your favorite season and you come alive as the colors change and the cold hits? Not me! I am usually an energizer bunny — so my husband says. But for some reason, the recent wet spell, followed by a cold snap and fewer daylight hours, has drained my normal energy. I feel like I need to be recharged and I have been dreaming of a vacation in the tropics. Doesn’t that sound glorious? But since that’s not in my future, I need to embrace the season and find ways to rejuvenate. What about you? Do you always have an abundance of energy? Or do you sometimes need a recharge?
Recharge … what does that remind me of? Batteries of course! Do you know what factors shorten the life of your car battery? Do you know what test can be done to determine the health of your battery and when you should replace it? Let’s explore the answers to these questions together.
Let’s face it, the older we get, the less energy we have. Sure we can do things to combat this by eating right and exercising, but it doesn’t change the fact that we get tired more quickly than even a few years ago. The same can be said for a battery.
Batteries are the “strong, silent” member of the automotive team under the hood of your vehicle. A new battery will do its job regardless of the weather extremes and the driver’s demands. But where you live, how you drive, the condition of your charging system and other factors play a role in how long your battery will last. A good battery can last over five years with proper care. However, battery failure can occur in as little as three years depending on usage, maintenance and seasonal temperatures.
Batteries do not do their jobs well when they are old. They become the “weak, silent” member. The lack of noise is caused when your car won’t start due to a dead battery. You can recharge your battery with a jump-start as a temporary solution, but ultimately an old battery, by its nature, will lose strength as it ages and will need to be replaced.
As we approach the cold winter months ahead with hopes that we won’t hit negative temps, the reality is that we live in Minnesota. Negative temperatures are a part of the climate. Our extreme cold temperatures, just like the extreme heat in Texas, affect car batteries. A chemical reaction serves as the source of a battery’s internal cranking power. Extreme cold can prevent the chemical reaction from proceeding properly and less energy may be generated. A battery with a very low charge (old battery) can even freeze in temperatures below zero. This is another reason to keep track of the age of your battery.
Does your average drive last less than 20 minutes? Your vehicle’s alternator may not have enough time to fully recharge your battery with shorter trips. Over time, repeated short-distance driving can shorten the life of the battery.
Where is your car battery located? Have you ever looked at the condition of the terminals? Is there any corrosion present? Have you ever cleaned, or had someone else clean, the terminals? This may be something you want to consider because the corrosion can interfere with your battery’s ability to function properly.
What kinds of gadgets do you have plugged into your vehicle? Cellphone? MP3 player? Portable DVD players? With the right kinds of adapters, you can plug all sorts of gadgets into your vehicle. All of these devices use battery power, on top of the normal drain of headlights, dome lights, radio, etc. The drain on the battery is even greater if you shut the car off and forget to unplug all of these gadgets, or forget to turn off headlights or dome lights. Another drain can take place if you keep your key in the accessory position to listen to the radio. Doing these things — especially in an older vehicle, or with an older battery — may hinder it’s ability to start your vehicle the next time you turn your key.
The most obvious sign of a battery problem is a dead battery. However, since the battery is part of a larger system, sometimes a dead battery will indicate a deeper problem. For instance, if your vehicle’s alternator is weak, a working battery may be providing less electricity than it should. In this case, replacing a battery will not fix the alternator.
The best way to test a battery is with the electronic testers available at most automotive shops. A technician will attach the tester to the battery in your vehicle. This reveals a snapshot of your battery’s condition and will indicate whether or not it needs to be replaced. This check should be done regularly as part of routine maintenance, preferably with every oil change so that it is not forgotten.
We’ve explored several factors that may affect the life of your battery and things to keep in mind to possibly extend and maintain it. But it is important to remember that no matter how you care for it, it will eventually need to be replaced due to age.
Do you know the age of your battery? Has it been replaced within the last four years? Or did you buy your vehicle used and don’t know if it’s ever been replaced?
Are you the type of person that prefers to have confidence in your battery with upkeep, regular testing and replacement? Or would you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and only replace it when it’s dead?
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be safe rather than sorry. I would hate for my battery to go dead at an inopportune time — a situation that may cost more than if I am proactive now. So as we dream about tropical islands in the midst of the harsh winter to come, let’s be sure we don’t get stuck in the cold with a dead battery!
Considering a new used vehicle?
Sadly, Ron is gone. Yes, our beloved rooster — that I wrote about in previous articles — simply caused too much of a ruckus so we found a new home for him. Don’t get your feathers ruffled, he did not become dinner, he became a distant neighbor. A neighboring farm kindly took our beautiful, but obnoxious, loud rooster in — and they actually offered a trade for a young chick. Pearl, our new gray orpington, has a crooked beak but she is a little sweetie. We are all hoping she is a she and not a he like Ron turned out to be!
Speaking of trades, have you ever traded your older model vehicle for a newer used one? Are you currently in the market for a new used vehicle? Recently, a few people have sought out my advice in this area and I thought it would make a great topic for today’s article. Perhaps a few of my tips may help you in your search for the right used vehicle.
Certainly the first order of business in buying a used vehicle is to decide what you are looking for and your budget. Does your budget match your expectations of a vehicle? Yes? Well then, it’s time to start shopping!
Have a seat
After you’ve circled the car and checked the exterior, get behind the wheel. If you are at a dealership, ask if you can take the car for a spin without a salesperson. There’s always a little extra pressure when you have a stranger talking to you when you are trying to get a feel for a new set of wheels.
Now that you are behind the wheel, how does it feel? Adjust your seat and mirrors to prepare for a drive. Does the vehicle have enough legroom? Headroom? Are the gauges and controls positioned well? How does the interior look? Are their stains, rips or cigarette burns in the upholstery? Does it bother you if there are? If not, it certainly could be a great negotiating point if you decide to purchase the vehicle. Check out the “bells and whistles.” Do they all work? If not, what would be the cost to repair them? Again, another possible negotiation point. What about the backseat? Sit in it to get a feel for comfort. Check out the trunk or cargo area. Is it spacious? Will it suit your needs?
Take a drive
One of the most important elements in a used car purchase is the test drive. Try to arrange your test drive so that you start the engine when it’s completely cold. Some vehicles are harder to start when they are cold. If the one you are testing starts hard, it might be a sign of problems.
Turn off the radio. A test drive is not the time to jam out with your windows down. Of course if it’s a sports car it might be fun to jam out for a few minutes, but then get serious — concentrate and “tune in” to the driving experience. How does it accelerate from a stop? What is the visibility like? Check for blind spots. How does the engine sound? Does the transmission shift smoothly? What’s the power like when climbing a hill? Does it brake well? How does the suspension feel? Does it ride nice? Does it shake or rattle when you roll? Are there any unusual noises? Take a peek in the glove compartment — not while driving of course. Is the owner’s manual intact? Is there a maintenance record included? If so, this could very well be a wealth of information. If it’s been well maintained, with the records at your fingertips, the car will be in better shape than if it’s never had maintenance performed.
If there was no maintenance record found when you were rummaging around, do they have one elsewhere? Do they know anything about the previous owner of the vehicle? Do they have any history of damage or accidents the vehicle may have been in? Do they have a car fax report? If you are buying the used vehicle from a dealership, do you trust them? Do you know other people who have bought from them? Do they appear honest in answering the questions you have? Are there warranties included in the purchase? Is the warranty a manufacturer warranty or extended?
Get a professional inspection
When you become serious about purchasing a specific vehicle, it’s always a good idea to have it inspected by a reputable shop that is not associated with the place you are buying from. A used car inspection will cost you a bit of money, but it can save you a whole lot in the long run. During the inspection the technician will also test drive the vehicle and be in tune to things you may not have heard or felt on your test drive. He will then do a thorough inspection, visually and systematically. His findings will be documented and you will be advised on the overall health of the vehicle. Sometimes this can be disappointing and other times it can be great news. But either way, it will be a relief to know that you are making an educated
decision that you will feel confident about.
Sometimes only time will tell if you made the right decision, like us having to wait to know if Pearl is a he or she, but it doesn’t have to be this way with a new used vehicle. Have fun, use your intuition, ask questions, get expert advice and enjoy your vehicle for years to come.
Understanding the cost of repair
For those of you following our chicken saga, here is the update since my last article: The hens are laying beautiful brown eggs! The chicken coop is just about complete. And, Ronald the rooster has started crowing. Did you know that some roosters crow all day long? By happenstance, we got one of those roosters — even though we ordered all hens — and he is loud! My husband, Jeremy says “Ronald has found his voice and he’s not afraid to use it.”
Are you like Ronald? Have you found your voice and are not afraid to use it? In today’s culture more people than ever are voicing their opinions for good and bad whether it be for restaurants, movies or vacation destinations. The auto repair industry also experiences it’s share of voiced opinions. Sometimes these opinions are positive and refer to a job well done. While others voice their opinions for negative reasons. Let’s explore a few reasons why costs may occasionally be higher than anticipated and why it may take longer for the repair to be completed.
Generally speaking, if you take your vehicle to a reputable independent auto repair shop, the cost of different services will most likely be comparable to other shops of the same quality. In many cases dealerships are on the higher end of the price continuum, while your neighbor who may fix vehicles out of his garage will most likely be the least expensive option.
If you are comparing prices, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Are the shops of the same caliber? Do they employ knowledgeable technicians, offer great service, follow-up and shuttle services? Do they use the same quality parts and/or fluids? Do they have up-to-date equipment and scan tools? Is the warranty the same? These are all issues regarding the cost of quality service and things to keep in mind if you are ever dissatisfied with your auto bill.
What does “upselling” mean to you? Have you ever told others that your auto shop was upselling you? I suppose some shops do. But most trustworthy repair shops have your best interest in mind. Have you ever stopped to consider the auto-shop’s perspective? If you bring your vehicle to a reputable auto repair facility and they do any form of vehicle inspection — even if it is conjunction with another service or repair — it is their responsibility to inform you of what your vehicle needs based on the manufacturer’s recommendation and/or the state of your vehicle. When you live in extreme temperatures there are additional factors to consider. But the bottom line is, you are being educated based on the advice of experts who deal with vehicles on a daily basis. If you choose not to have a service performed after being educated on a problem that is certainly up to you.
Let’s look at “upselling” a different way. If you went to the doctor to follow up with a health issue, or even if you are going in for a routine physical, wouldn’t you expect that your doctor would tell you if they find something else wrong? How would you feel if they didn’t inform you of an easily solvable problem? And how would you feel if they didn’t tell you about the bigger problem because it’s terrible news and costly to treat? The doctor is the messenger and the educator. Just like the service advisor is the messenger who was educated by the technician.
In this day and age many of us run around trying to get as much as possible packed into a busy day. Your time is valuable. Sometimes time is a tricky thing. Have you ever started a project that you thought would take you three hours and it ended up taking you 13 hours? It sure is frustrating, but it’s a fact of life. Surprises pop up that delay us. The same can be true for an auto shop. They can give you an estimate on the time it should take, but there may be surprises along the way … rusty old parts, receiving the wrong part, technician becomes ill or even a power outage. We all hope for the best-case scenario. But when there are delays, think about how you’ve been off on your time estimates in the past and extend a little grace. It is certainly your auto shop’s desire to get your vehicle done on time.
Leaving a positive review for any business is great as it encourages the owners and the entire team. But if you are tempted to leave a review that is unfavorable, I encourage you to heed the advice my pastor recently gave our congregation: T.H.I.N.K. before you speak. If your going to be like Ronald and be vocal about your auto shop, you should first ask yourself: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Important? Is it Necessary? And is it Kind? If your answer is “no” to any of these, hold off on leaving the review and contact your auto-home to let them know of your dissatisfaction and give them an opportunity to take care of your concerns. Communication is key to building lasting, satisfying relationships.
Alignment check on your to-do list?
Do you fly by the seat of your pants? Or are you a planner and list maker? How far in advance do you plan your vacations? We have been hoping to take a vacation to Wyoming — where my husband’s family lives — for quite some time. We haven’t been there in three years. But we are determined to visit this summer, especially since Jeremy’s amazing Grandma B is approaching her 100th birthday. When talking about our upcoming vacation, my 13-year-old son informed me that visiting grandparents in Wyoming is not a vacation. But since I will be visiting one of my very favorite people (my mother-in-law) and getting away from the responsibilities of home, I’m definitely considering it a vacation.
Of course with any vacation there is the usual list of things to do. And it seems most of us wait until the last minute to squeeze in the important things, like being sure our vehicles are ready. Repairs that take a lot of time should be considered long before a planned trip. But there is something commonly forgotten about that won’t take a terribly long time and can keep you safer and less aggravated on the highway. Any guesses as to what I am talking about?
As we were driving last weekend, my husband asked, “Have you noticed your van pulling to the left?” Why yes I had. But I hadn’t been bothered enough to do anything about it. However, since he mentioned it, it’s amazing how much I think of it now. Ugh. Another thing to add to my to-do list. Certainly most people would put that at the bottom of the list since it’s really not that big of a deal, right? Besides a little aggravation, what does a little pull to the left matter? I’m about to tell you what it matters, what it entails and what it might save your pocketbook
Is an alignment check needed?
Does your vehicle pull or drift to one side? Is your steering wheel off-center? Have you ever noticed uneven tire wear? Have you run into potholes, smacked into a curb or experienced any other jolt that may have knocked your vehicle out of alignment? It doesn’t even have to be a big shock that you specifically notice it can just be the regular bumps and bangs of daily driving that add up and eventually take your vehicle out of alignment. Also, as your vehicle ages the springs will start to sag (just like our bodies) and this can cause it to become misaligned. So even if you don’t remember something happening and it just doesn’t feel like you are rolling straight, an alignment check may be in order.
Why not just live with the crooked steering wheel or any other effects of being out of alignment? Well, driving for extended periods that way can cause your tires to wear unevenly or excessively. This means you’ll have to replace your tires sooner and it may even cause unsafe driving conditions depending on how far out of alignment it is and for what reason. It may even cause premature wear to your suspension system — a costly side effect of being out of alignment.
There are a few things involved in an alignment check. The order of inspection depends on individual circumstances. But generally speaking, the technician will inspect the steering and suspension parts to see if anything is broken, bent or worn. They will also inspect the condition of your tires. Your vehicle will then be driven onto a large computerized piece of equipment known as an alignment rack. It is here that the technician will measure each wheel’s alignment to see where it is relative to factory specifications. If the technician has not previously inspected the steering, suspension and the tires, they will do so while the car is on the alignment rack. If any of these parts are not in good working condition, you will be notified. Sometimes an alignment cannot be completed until any damaged parts are replaced.
What is alignment?
Wheel alignments ensure that all four wheels are consistent with each other and are optimized for maximum contact with the surface of the road. The manufacturer of your vehicle designed it with adjustable settings that will give you the best handling and safety. The front wheel alignment is adjustable on all vehicles and the back wheels are adjustable on some. There are three parts to the adjustment — the toe, camber and caster.
The easiest of these to explain is the toe. If you look down at your own toes and they are pointed either inward or outward, this would be the same as your tires pointing inward or outward. The other two adjustments are more difficult to conceptualize. Both have to do with angular displacement and how far out of spec they are compared to manufacturer specifications. Your technician will use the computer program associated with the alignment rack to align your vehicle within the proper specifications.
The amount of time it takes to align a vehicle can vary depending on the make and possible unforeseen problems. On most vehicles an alignment will take 50 to 60 minutes. Though you may not always need an appointment for this service, it is recommended. Sometimes you will get lucky and the alignment rack and technician will be available on the spur of the moment. Other times it may be tied up for hours. It’s best to at least call before you stop by.
The price of an alignment can vary from shop to shop and may depend on the type of vehicle you own and if it’s a two or four wheel alignment. Most auto repair shops charge $70 to $100 for this service. If a shop is significantly less, you may question the age and accuracy of the alignment rack. If coupons are offered, you might find out the typical starting alignment price. If a shop is inclined to always offer coupons, chances are their prices may be higher to begin with.
Whether your are preparing for a vacation this summer or even just driving around town, it’s important to keep in mind that maintaining proper wheel alignment is key to preserving tire tread life and in some cases, safety and your pocketbook.
Is it time to change your timing belt?
Are all your summer plans running smoothly? Or have there been little hiccups along the way (ummm, rain)? In continuing the “chicken talk” from my previous two articles, many of you know my son got chickens this spring — before the coop was built and with a spring consisting of late snow and a lot of rain. Bad timing. Our chickens are “free-range” in our yard — they poop everywhere and eat everything (including my lovely plants). But they have become our little pets and are really great to have around, even our dog loves them! While we were away from our house last week, the neighbor’s dogs came by for a visit. We don’t know the details but we do know that one of our chickens was killed by the dogs. Our whole family, even our dog, is sad because they have become our sweet pets. If we had been home, could we have prevented the tragedy? Or if they were in the backyard, would the same thing have happened? If it was nighttime and they were in their coop (yes, it’s finally built!) the dogs would not have gotten one. Certainly it was bad timing and we are hoping it doesn’t happen again.
Timing is a funny thing. Along with it comes the shoulda, woulda, couldas in life. But there isn’t anything we can do about past problems or mistakes except learn from them and take precautions so they don’t happen again. Is your timing ever off? Today we are going to dig deeper into timing — as in timing belts. Perhaps if you can understand their job and importance you will be encouraged to be sure they are well maintained.
What do they do?
All the parts of your engine work together so your vehicle runs properly. Your engine has cylinders. Each cylinder contains a piston which travels up and down. Intake valves at the top of the cylinders open at a precise time to let in air and fuel. They then close at the right time to allow the combustion cycle. Finally, they open again to let out exhaust after that fuel has been burned. This cycle happens thousands of times per minute. The timing belt is responsible for rotating the shafts that control the valves. In doing so at precisely the right time, it choreographs the entire process.
What can go wrong?
There are several things that can go wrong with a timing belt. If the timing is off, you won’t have a dead chicken … but you will have a dead engine. This would be a bummer if you want to go anywhere this summer.
Timing belts are made of very tough and flexible rubber material. They are made to last a long time. But they eventually wear out and can break. The consequences of this happening can be disastrous. In some engines, the valves protrude far enough into the cylinders that they could come in contact with the pistons. So if your timing belt breaks in this case, the pistons will smash into the valves. Valves can bend or break. And if the engine is spinning fast enough, the broken parts will shred the cylinder head as well. If all of this happens, you can expect to see dollar signs add up because it is a very expensive repair.
On some engines, the water pump is driven by the timing belt. If you have a leaky water pump, the coolant inside will contaminate the timing belt and could make it fail more quickly. Timing belts are hidden under a protective cover; some are easy to inspect while others are not. This is why it is so important to be sure they are replaced on schedule as part of your maintenance program.
When should you replace them?
In an ideal world you would want to get the most life out of your timing belt before replacement since it is an expensive maintenance service. But we don’t live in an ideal world. If we did, we would certainly have had the chicken coop before we got chickens … or at the very least, had a “normal” spring so we could build the coop in a timely fashion. In an ideal world, we would still have ten chickens instead of the nine we have after the recent tragedy.
Since we are in the real world you must take precautions with your vehicle and make sure it is properly maintained. Manufacturers give you recommendations on how often the timing belt should be replaced. For some engines it’s at 60,000 miles. For others it’s at 90,000 miles or more. You’ll want to consult your owner’s manual for specifics on your vehicle and perhaps start saving money for this service if you are approaching recommended replacement time. The cost of replacing the timing belt varies for each vehicle depending on where it’s located and the make/model of the vehicle that you have. Generally speaking, it is a labor intensive service and one of the most expensive maintenance items you’ll need. But the alternative of having it break and leaving you stranded or with really costly repairs is much more expensive.
Where do you get them replaced?
Do you normally have all of your maintenance done at the dealership? Do you do this because you know they will use factory parts and they are confident with your make/model vehicle? Just because it is a maintenance issue does not mean you must have the service performed at a dealership. Most independent repair shops employ quality technicians with the ability to work on all makes and model vehicles. Many of them also use quality parts and direct from factory parts. And perhaps even a greater benefit is that they may even offer better warranties and more competitive prices. So if you are in the market for a new timing belt or if that maintenance service is on your radar in the future, consider alternatives to the dealership.
Your timing may not always be spot on — but when it comes to timing belts, you can do your part in preventing future problems and expensive repairs.
Don’t ignore your car’s chirping brakes
Have you noticed squeaking coming from your brakes after my last article? Or do you get used to the sound after awhile and it’s no longer irritating? That’s how I am with our new chickens. At first when the sound was new, I heard them all of the time and even seemed to hear chickens wherever I went. But now it’s “normal.” Now then, Ronald the rooster has not started cock-a-doodle-dooing yet … we shall see if that becomes “normal”!
If you are used to the sound of your squeaking or grinding brakes, I implore you to start “hearing” them again. Sometimes squeaking is related to the quality of brake pads or shoes chosen. In that case, unless you are willing to have them upgraded, getting used to them is all you can do. But if you are experiencing the sound for any other reason, it’s important to have them addressed for safety reasons.
Where do you go for your auto repairs? Does your auto-home offer a free brake inspection? What does a free inspection consist of? Just looking through the wheels? Or do they take your vehicle for a test drive and remove your tires for a thorough inspection? Doing the latter will cost money. The technician is paid for his/her time and ability to figure out the true reason for your problem. A thorough break evaluation often reveals surprising problems and may save you money in the long run.
Generally, a brake inspection will cost around $20. If the problem is more involved, it might be more expensive as the technician must then dig deeper to be sure the root of the problem is identified correctly so it can be fixed properly.
Because technicians are trained to recognize problems when they are performing other work on your vehicle, you may be alerted that your brakes need attention before you notice problems. It’s similar to when you go in for a doctor’s appointment for a specific reason and while you are there the doctor happens to notice something out of the ordinary — like a questionable mole. You’d surely want that doctor to bring it to your attention, right? It’s the same thing your auto-technician will do. Whether you choose to do something about it is your decision.
Let’s talk brakes. Since you have a general idea of the braking system from my last article, let’s focus on specific kinds of brakes and braking components. There are two kinds — disc and drum. What kind do you have? Do you know the difference?
When you are riding your bike, have you ever watched the little pads squeeze the tire when you squeeze the brake lever? Well, my friends, that is similar to disc brakes on a vehicle. The brake pads are attached to a caliper that squeezes the pads against the disc, or rotor, when you step on the brake pedal.
Potential problems with disc brakes
Brake pads wear out over time. Some people ignore signs of this or choose not to fix it. When it is ignored, further damage can occur. Metal brake components will grind on the rotor, damaging it enough that it needs to be resurfaced or replaced. Rotors can also warp or crack. They need to be replaced as well. Brake calipers also wear out over time, developing leaks, or the caliper pistons can seize — either way, they will need replacement. A thorough brake inspection will reveal worn wheel bearings or seals as well.
In vehicles equipped with drum brakes, the brake components are housed inside a drum that rotates with the wheel. When you step on the brake pedal, the wheel cylinder is activated and it pushes the brake shoes against the inside of the drum to slow or stop your car.
Potential problems with drum brakes
Brake shoes can wear away with use from rubbing on the drum as you brake. When it’s time to replace shoes, it’s a straight forward repair … though not as much fun as buying a new pair of summer wedge sandals! If you ignore brake problems with drum brakes, for whatever reason, metal brake components will grind against the drum — damaging it enough that it has to be resurfaced or replaced as well. The wheel cylinder with various springs within the brake can wear out and cause braking problems, too. Again, replacement is necessary.
Don’t ignore brake noises. Don’t assume it’s just the pads or shoes that need replacement. Understand the importance of an inspection so that a qualified technician can advise you of the real origin of the problem and what steps need to be taken to fix it. Also, brake inspections are part of your preventative maintenance program so be sure to have them done at least every 20,000 miles.
Fancy or cheap?
When it comes to brake components, you have a choice to make — do you opt for quality or cost? Certainly you must make that decision based on your pocketbook, but remember that it may cost more up front and less in the future (with longer shoe or pad wear time) if you choose the higher quality parts initially. If you choose the less expensive route, it may cost less now but you may need to get your brakes replaced more often.
Look at it this way: Have you ever noticed the difference between a quality razor (to shave your face or legs)? If you choose the higher quality, often more expensive kind, you get a better shave (without painful bumps) and the blade lasts longer. If you choose a lesser quality razor, you have to replace it more often and your skin may suffer in the process. This is similar to picking quality parts for brakes. So be sure to talk to your auto-home about what’s best for you and your vehicle so you can make an educated decision.
Brakes that work properly are essential to your safety. Don’t mess around when there is a problem and be sure to have them inspected regularly with your other preventative maintenance services.
Put the brakes on skipping maintenance
Is spring finally here? Have you rolled your windows down yet? As you do, pay attention to the sounds your vehicle makes that you may not have heard during the winter months. It is common for people with any brake issues to realize it in the spring when the sound of squeaking or even grinding comes through open windows.
Certainly none of us want the annoyance of hearing that after waiting so long for spring to get here this year. It reminds me of the squeaking that is coming from my basement these days. You see, my thirteen year old is a little entrepreneur and has decided to raise chickens and sell their eggs. It just so happens the year he picked to do this is the year spring is taking its sweet time to get here … if there is snow on the ground we cannot build a coop. If we can’t build a coop, the chicks will remain in our basement (growing at record speed). If they are full grown, they will certainly get out of their enclosure and that means chicken chaos and poop in our basement! If I have chickens running wild in my basement because it’s been too snowy to build a coop, there is only one solution—Fried Chicken & we’ll try this again next year!
All kidding aside, the constant reminder of squeaking from my basement reminds me of the urgency to build our coop! Likewise, the squeaking of your brakes should be annoying at the very least but should also alert you to other possible issues. Most likely, issues related to squeaking or grinding brakes are due to the actual brakes and not the fluid associated in the brake system. As we are on the tail-end of my articles on the importance of fluids and flushes plus we are finally able to roll our windows down, it’s the perfect time to talk about brakes and the importance of brake flushes. Though I am including a coupon for replacement of brakes below, I am going to devote this article to the fluid portion of the brakes—but feel free to use the other coupon if is suits your needs!
The brakes themselves are applied at the wheel using hydraulic pressure. When you step on the brake pedal, you create pressure in the power booster. This pressure is multiplied by a vacuum from the engine. All of this pressure pushes brake fluid through the master cylinder into tubes, hoses, and in most cases, the ABS pump assembly. These run to the brake at each wheel.
Are you the type of person that does regular brake maintenance? Or do you just fix things when they are broke? What kinds of things can go wrong within the brake system? Leaks are a common problem. You could have a leak at a fitting or a hose or even a leak in the master cylinder. A leak gives the pressurized fluid somewhere to go other than to the brakes, so your stopping power is decreased. If you lose enough fluid, you won’t be able to stop at all. Imagine the danger … probably worse than driving on bald tires in a snow storm! You may get a warning sign to this decreased fluid by a decrease in stopping power or if your pedal seems “mushy” or noticing brake fluid on your garage floor. You’ll want to visit your auto-home as soon as possible if either of these things happen.
Brake fluid has additives that protect against corrosion that can damage brake components. Parts, like rubber in the valves of the master cylinder, calipers and wheel cylinders deteriorate over time. All of the little bits that flake off end up on your brake fluid—this contaminated brake fluid can lead to costly repairs, especially if it affects the ABS pump assembly. Additionally, the fluid gets old and the protective additives break down over time.
If all of this is not enough, moisture can get into the brake system. Brake fluid is hygroscopic (water absorbing). So the water absorbs into the fluid through brake hoses and rubber seals. The water can lead to rust which leads to more unwanted debris in your brake system. If significant amounts of water get into the brake fluid, it can affect your stopping power because water has a much lower boiling pint than brake fluid. In the high temperature environment of the brake system, the water can vaporize –and steam doesn’t do a very good job of providing the hydraulic pressure.
What color is your brake fluid? New, fresh fluid is generally clear golden yellow like vegetable oil. Older fluid darkens over time and may look like olive oil—or even darker. If it’s black, it may indicate parts of the system are wearing out and you should visit your auto-home for further diagnosis.
FLUSHES ARE FABULOUS!
Knowing what you know now, are you ready to flush? When most of us think of brakes or hear squeaking or grinding we think of the rotors and pads. I hope now you’ll consider the rest of the brake system. Many auto shops test your brake fluid during courtesy inspections so you’ll know if it’s past due for a flush. But flushing on a regular schedule, generally, it is recommended every 30,000 miles, is best. It will help keep your brake system healthy, decrease chances of brake failure, or the need for costly repairs.
Are you beginning to climb aboard my flushing maintenance train? Or are you stuck in a rut of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”? Are you a forward thinker or prefer to stay in the here and now? Would you get chickens before you have a coop? Or would you first build the coop in preparation for the chickens? Learn from me and build the coop first … or in this case, flush regularly and make your life easier and safer and your car healthier in the long run.
Your transmission needs clean fluid
Are you all flushed out? Or, are you ready to take in a couple more of my articles on the important fluids and flushes your vehicle needs to stay healthy? I am excited to teach you about another important system in your vehicle — the transmission — and how to keep it healthy and happy.
THE BASICS OF THE TRANNY
The transmission of your vehicle contains a giant gear system that allows power to be sent from the engine to the drive axles. It uses gears and a clutch to convert the speed of the power source into torque. There are two types of automobile transmissions: manual (or stick shift) and automatic. Which kind do you own?
Do you know how to drive a manual? As a teenager, I was “forced” to learn how. I remember being irritated at the time but now I am so glad I learned! It’s so much fun to feel the power of manually changing the gears of the transmission. If you see me zipping around in my red Jeep Wrangler, I’ll have a smile on my face with excitement of the pleasure of driving such a fun ride — and doing it manually! If you haven’t yet learned, you are missing out. I encourage you to give it a whirl!
No matter which vehicle you drive, manual or automatic, they both accomplish the same function in turning the engine speed, or revolutions per minute, into torque. This power is then transferred to the drive axles of your vehicle. Manual transmissions use manually operated clutches, gear shifts and linkages. Transmission fluid certainly has an important job in a manual tranny as it keeps everything throughout the entire system lubricated and functioning well. But the tranny fluid in an automatic transmission has many jobs.
Fluid in an automatic transmission provides hydraulic power to perform basic functions such as gear changing and transmission engagement/disengagement. This was a bit confusing to me so I went to the master of vehicles at our shop, Cas, and asked him to explain it to me.
He illustrates this power like this: Picture two fans — if one is on and is pointed at one that is off, the air from fan number one will turn the blades in fan number two. Likewise, in a vehicle, inside the torque converter, there are two “fans.” The first “fan” is on and is simply powered by the engine. The second “fan” needs to be on in order to turn the internal gears of the transmission. These two “fans” do not touch at all — it is the fluid between them, using hydraulic power, that turns the second “fan” on which then automatically powers the rest of the system.
LUBRICATES AND COOLS
Transmission fluid is a highly specialized oil, optimized for the special requirements of the transmission. Typically, the fluid is red in color. Most contain some combination of additives that improve lubrication, such as anti-wear additives, rust and corrosion inhibitors, detergents and more. As transmission fluid flows throughout the transmission, it lubricates the gears and bands to keep everything functioning smoothly. Heat and friction are produced within the transmission and torque converter as your vehicle is running. The transmission fluid maintains healthy temperatures within the system, thereby increasing the life of your transmission.
Just like many other fluid systems in your vehicle, the transmission also has a fluid filter. In most vehicles, this filter is located outside of the transmission which makes it more easily accessible if replacement is needed/recommended. It is important that you check your owner’s manual to know if/when your manufacturer recommends this maintenance service. Typically, the need to change this filter is greatly reduced if you are maintaining your vehicle with regular transmission flushes.
FILL and FLUSH
Transmissions are designed to last a long time. But like any other machine, they will eventually wear out and need repair. What can you do to keep it as healthy as possible? You can make sure the proper amount of fluid is in your transmission and you can get regular flushes.
When there is not enough fluid, the transmission will run hotter and wear out more quickly. Also, your transmission will be unable to shift properly. How do you know if the level is low? Be observant. If you notice transmission fluid on your garage floor or driveway, take your vehicle to your auto-home for inspection. A gasket, hose or seal could be leaking and may need to be repaired. Additionally, if you take your vehicle to a quality auto shop for regular oil changes, the transmission fluid level is checked with the courtesy inspection.
What about a flush? Do you wait until your auto-home tells you that you need a transmission flush? Or, do you do it regularly on your maintenance schedule? It is certainly recommended that this service be performed at regular intervals based on manufacturer recommendations. In fact, if your vehicle is still in a warranty period and you are not getting transmission flushes based on that schedule, they may deny future warranty claims.
Clean fluid with the proper additives is crucial to the health of your transmission — now and for years to come. Why is this so important? As you can imagine, all those gears grinding on each other results in lots of little bits of metal in the fluid. The more there is, the faster the transmission parts wear out. Also, the additives that protect your transmission are depleted over time or break down due to the heat created by the process within the torque converter. The transmission fluid needs to be replaced or flushed on a regular basis.
Must you get the fluid flushed at the dealership? No. Most independent repair shops offer this service. They are privy to what your particular vehicle needs. Going to them will not void warranties … but may save you money.
April is National Car Care Month! Celebrate with vehicle maintenance! The better you maintain your vehicle, the healthier and more efficient it will be. It will also last longer. All of that saves you money. It’s as simple as that.
Keep your cool with a coolant flush
Do you know the leading cause of death in America? If you answer diseases of the heart, you’re right. Are there things you can do to prevent heart disease? Sure. Are you doing them? Well, I’m not here to give you a lecture in keeping your heart healthy. But I am here to give you advice on keeping your vehicle healthy.
So, next question … what’s the leading cause of vehicle breakdown and mechanical failures? The correct answer is cooling system failure. Even though it is common, it is easy to prevent — and a whole lot easier to prevent than heart disease!
Do you keep that part of your car healthy with regular maintenance? Few people take the time to maintain their car’s cooling system. Join me as we dive into article number three about the importance of fluids in your vehicle and together we will uncover the reasons why cooling system maintenance is so important.
TALK ABOUT HEAT
A cooling system is needed because while you are driving, your vehicle undergoes a combustion process necessary to run it. This process creates heat — a lot of heat — typically between 200 to 230 degrees F. That’s one hot tamale! Ever eat a hot tamale? You need a big glass of water or some kind of liquid to cool your mouth down! So does your engine. Without something to cool it, your engine would be destroyed. This is where the cooling system comes in. Special fluid circulates through several components under the hood, absorbing the heat generated by the engine.
What are the components and how do they work together? Usually powered by the serpentine belt or timing belt, the water pump shoots the fluid (coolant) through the engine. While the fluid is in the engine, it’s soaking up that heat. The heated fluid makes its way to the radiator where it is cooled by air. The air comes through the front of the vehicle (the grill) and blows across the surface of the radiator. Even in summer, this air is much cooler than the heated fluid and this process, if maintained, is quite efficient. Certainly, there are many things that can go wrong with each of the components involved here. But for today, let’s focus on the coolant.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Coolant is commonly called antifreeze because the fluid needs to stay cool but prevent freezing. Water alone cannot be used because it boils at a temperature that is easily reached in the engine and it can freeze in cold temps. The fluid has to be able to cool the engine appropriately in summer, winter and all of the temps in between. This is why the proper mixture of coolant — a mixture of ethylene or propylene glycol and water, usually in a 50/50 ratio — is needed.
DON’T BE COLORBLIND
Auto manufacturers use different materials to make the cooling system — from steel and aluminum to plastics and rubber. The coolant has to be formulated to protect against corrosion for all of the different materials used. Though there are specific formulas for different makes/models, often different color formulas, there is also a universal formula that can be used. Your auto home will know what to use. But if you are a do-it-yourselfer, I urge you to know the difference and be sure you use the right kind if you add or change coolant yourself.
SODA VS. WATER
Do you choose to drink soda in place of water? I used to. Despite knowing how the bad things in it affected my body, I still chose to drink it. It took me 20 years but I finally see and feel the value of good, old-fashioned water. It’s clean, it’s fresh and it has everything your body needs for perfect rehydration.
Dirty, old coolant is kind of like soda. As coolant operates in a hot, hostile environment, it breaks down over time and the coolant can clump up, injuring the components of the cooling system. More importantly, the coolant’s protective additives and rust inhibitors get used up. This leaves the small cooling passages in your engine and radiator vulnerable to corrosion. When these inhibitors stop working, the cooling system will rust from the inside out. Bits of rust will also clog the tiny passages of the system and potentially cause your vehicle to overheat and possibly lead to a very expensive repair.
Even with fresh, clean fluid, some corrosion will naturally take place within your cooling system and will contaminate the coolant some. This is why it’s critical to stay on top of keeping your fluid fresh. You want those inhibitors to be in top-form so the fluid can live up to its potential and keep the insides looking good and functioning well. It’s just like replenishing your body with clean water as opposed to soda.
TIME TO FRESHEN UP
A cooling system service or flush is a low-cost way to protect against major engine repairs down the road. The frequency required for a coolant flush depends on many factors. What kind of vehicle do you own? How old is it? What kind of climate do you live in? The harsh winters and sizzling summers in southeast Minnesota affect the coolant. So does the age and make/model of your vehicle. Look in your owner’s manual or consult your auto home for the accurate coolant maintenance schedule for your specific vehicle.
If you didn’t even know you were supposed to have coolant changed on a regular basis, you are not alone. The good news is you know now and you can begin to get it done on a healthy cleaning schedule.
The truth of the matter is a little soda here and there to cool off the taste of the hot tamale isn’t going to hurt. But what your body needs on a regular basis is water to be healthy and live longer. Likewise, a little contaminant in your coolant is unavoidable but as long as you flush it with fresh coolant on a regular basis, your vehicle will run better and last longer.
Fuel system pampering saves money
Have you been flushing since I gave you an overview of all of the fluids in your vehicle last month? Do you understand just how important it is to do regular maintenance? Do you realize how much money it can save you in the long run?
Join me as we dig a little deeper into one of the topics I briefly covered last month — fuel. How does the fuel system work? Do you do regular fuel system maintenance cleanings? Do you replace the fuel filter regularly? And do you keep your tank more than a quarter full?
Your fuel system is made up of several key components. It starts with the tank. Located inside the tank is the fuel pump which pumps gas into the fuel line, through a filter, into pipes or rails. The fuel is distributed to the injectors (the number of injectors vary depending on the vehicle). These injectors then spray fuel into the engine at precise times, amounts and patterns. The fuel is mixed with air and ignites. This produces the energy needed to run your engine.
Fuel system cleaning
As you can imagine, there are any number of things that can go wrong that would hinder the fuel system process. One of the problems rarely considered is how the contaminants and deposits in the fuel can “gum up” the entire system. It is similar to how plaque can clog arteries in your body based on diet and other factors. You can certainly do your best to eat healthy and exercise to keep your arteries as healthy as possible. Likewise, you can choose top fuels and/or fuel additives to decrease the chances of clogging. There will, however, still be deposits and contaminants that are left behind which may restrict the flow of air and fuel to your engine. This can cause hard starting, stalling, rough idling, hesitations, knocking, loss of power and poor fuel economy.
Allowing fuel injectors to get gummed up will not only hurt your performance and fuel economy, it will cause the injectors to wear out prematurely. As you may guess, fuel injectors cost a lot. This is why regular preventative maintenance is key to a healthy vehicle.
A professional fuel system cleaning will keep your injectors clean and working properly. It will also clean deposits from inside the combustion chamber and from the intake valves, giving you optimum performance and gas mileage.
Can only professionals do this cleaning? How much does it cost? Where should you take it? How often should this service be performed? I am sure these are all questions on your mind and I am here to answer them.
Due to the nature of the cleaning, machines must be used. So unless you want to spend a bunch of money buying one of these machines and figuring out how to use it properly, your best course of action is to take it to your auto-home for this service. The professionals there have the equipment to clean your fuel system and can advise you about which level of cleaning is best for your vehicle based on the amount of deposit buildup there is.
Depending on which you choose (the less invasive or the more thorough) and where you go for your cleaning (independent shop or dealership), your cost will vary. Generally speaking, cleaning of this sort should range from $90-$120. Considering the alternative of failing injectors or a rough running vehicle, this is very little compared to the cost of repair within the fuel system — the fuel line, rails, injectors or valves. Cleaning should be done yearly or every 15,000 miles.
Would you drink coffee grounds? Even if you just get a few grounds in every cup, would you enjoy your coffee? I’ve had that happen before and it tastes awful. That’s why I put in a fresh coffee filter every time I make a new pot of coffee. Likewise, unfiltered fuel “tastes awful” to your engine and can cause buildup of contaminants, leading to damage and expensive repairs.
This is why your vehicle is equipped with a fuel filter in the fuel line between the tank and the engine — catching dirt and contaminants before they enter the injectors. When the filter is clogged, your engine may not be able to get enough fuel and can sputter. If the fuel filter is moderately to heavily clogged, the pressure in the fuel line increases significantly and can cause fuel pump failure.
This is why replacing the fuel filter is crucial to the health of your fuel system. Manufacturers vary in their recommendations of replacement. But this is based on the type of fuel used as well as other factors. Your best bet is to replace it on the lower end of the recommendation, every 15,000 miles.
Because the fuel pump lives inside your tank, it’s pretty expensive to replace. That is why you want to help it last as long as possible. Using good gas or adding a fuel system cleaner to your tank can prolong the life of your pump.
But did you know that keeping at least a quarter tank of gas in your vehicle can also help? Why? Because the fuel keeps the pump cool (especially in the summer months). The fuel pump is a motor and it gets hot when it’s running. Keeping it submerged in gas benefits the pump greatly — and may increase the life of your pump. Keeping your fuel at a quarter of a tank will also decrease the chance of condensation in your fuel lines. The more condensation, the more chance of your fuel lines freezing — and expensive repairs.
So as you motor along this winter, think about pampering your fuel system. Keeping your tank above a quarter-full is “free” maintenance (except for the cost of fuel that you need anyhow). Fuel filters and fuel system cleaning services vary in price, but they are certainly a lot less than a repair if components are ruined and need replacement.
The importance of fluids and flushing
Do you ever get so busy in your day that you forget to drink water? And then, when you consider why you are so thirsty you realize the only thing you drank all morning was a cup of coffee? That’s how I am. In fact, after the big ol’ kidney stone I had a year ago, I’ve made a concerted effort to increase my water consumption significantly.
Water for your body is like the different fluids for your vehicle! Yes, one of the most forgotten elements of your vehicle is also one of the things many of us forget most with our bodies — the importance of fluids. Every cell in your body needs water from head to toe — two-thirds of your body is made up of water!
Similar to your body, fluids also play a major role in the proper function of your vehicle. Keeping them clean and fresh enables your vehicle to last longer, perform better and helps to decrease chances of costly repairs.
So let’s move forward and talk about the exciting topic of fluids: fuel, oils, coolant, transmission, power steering and brake. Gee whiz, did you know there are that many? Do you check them and change them regularly? There are so many things to discuss here that this article is shaping up to be multi-faceted and may take a couple months to cover everything. Let’s start with an overview and get more in-depth in the months to come since winter is here and all fluids need to be considered as soon as possible.
We’ve seen gas prices under three bucks in the last month! Can I hear a “hoot-hoot”? Surely this gives us a bit of reason to celebrate and remember to fill up. When do you fill up? When your tank is empty? When it’s convenient? Don’t let your tank go empty — fill up at one-fourth of a tank. It’s better for your vehicle in so many ways — it prevents moisture from potentially freezing the gas line, decreases the chances of running out of gas due to unexpected traffic or weather related issues and it’s better for the health of your fuel pump. Have you ever considered a fuel system cleaning? There are several components of the fuel system — having them professionally cleaned on a regular basis will keep your vehicle in optimal health.
What kind or oil are you using? Have you considered switching to synthetic for the winter months? Though it’s more expensive, the benefits and long-term savings far outweigh the up front cost. Check out my article titled “The Dreaded Oil Change” on our website for more details on how synthetic oil can benefit your vehicle in the winter months!
And what about differential oil? Have you ever changed that? It is perhaps one of the most forgotten fluids in a vehicle. The differential is the part of the vehicle that transfers power from the front of the vehicle to the rear wheels. The high stress gears inside the differential are lubricated with oil and no filtering system. Flushing this oil on a regular basis is extremely important to the health of your rear end!
Before I knew anything about cars, I thought coolant is what keeps you cool and had everything to do with air-conditioning in the summer months. This is FAR from the truth. The cooling system of your vehicle has nothing to do with how cool you are and everything to do with the temperature of your engine. Coolant, or antifreeze, is the critical fluid that protects an engine from overheating, freezing, rust and corrosion. It also lubricates the water pump. Over time, antifreeze will break down and lose its ability to provide proper engine protection. A cooling system flush is designed to clean out corrosion and contaminants while replacing the antifreeze. This helps your vehicle run cooler, restores freeze protection, prolongs the life of the water pump and protects the radiator, heater core and other internal engine components from corrosion.
What is transmission fluid? How does it work? Transmission fluid lubricates, cools and cleans components of your vehicle’s transmission. When your vehicle is operating, the fluid is circulated through the transmission. Over time, this fluid breaks down due to use and heat, thereby reducing its effectiveness and placing your transmission at risk of failure. A transmission flush removes virtually 100 percent of the old fluid and replaces it with fresh, new fluid. Have you ever had a transmission flush? Keeping this on your maintenance schedule will lengthen the health of your vehicle’s transmission.
power steering fluid
Compared to other parts of the vehicle, the power steering system uses a relatively small quantity of fluid to perform a large amount of work. The power steering fluid deteriorates and becomes contaminated over time. A power steering flush will clean the power steering system, removing sludge and contaminates while replacing the old fluid with new. Proper protection and lubrication will be restored with this flush.
Brake fluid is one of the most neglected fluid, yet is vitally important for safe driving. Brake fluid attracts moisture and starts to absorb it from the moment it is put in the system. This will cause corrosion in the system over time and deterioration in the hydraulic parts. Changing the brake fluid at regular intervals will reduce the risk associated with this corrosion. Again, a brake fluid flush is recommended at regular intervals.
when to flush
As with any maintenance service, it is important to consult your owner’s manual or talk with the experts at your auto-home to understand when to perform these flushes. In general, the flushes mentioned here should be performed every 30,000 miles at minimum. However some vehicles may require this sooner and some can go a little longer. The important thing is that they are getting done at regular intervals.
My advice: Drink water and flush regularly!
How do your car’s “accessories” look?
Have you outfitted your vehicle with the right “boots” for the upcoming winter? If not, read my article from last month on winter tires and/or give your auto-home a call so they can assist you with finding the right ones. If your “boots” are ready to go, let’s press on and talk about accessorizing! Many times people think about the big, important things on a vehicle and don’t consider the little things. That’s like putting on a plain, black dress and then realizing when you see pictures that you forgot to accessorize! Just like the right accessories “make the outfit,” thinking about the smaller things or things “unseen” will keep your vehicle in optimal health for the winter months to come.
Check your glasses!
Whether you are getting a cute pair of sunglasses or a fashionable pair of prescription lenses, it’s key to find a pair that are functional and look good, right? Likewise, it’s important that you consider the things that affect the “glasses” of your vehicle. Your wipers, your washer fluid and your headlights all fall under this category.
A good set of wiper blades last about a year. When was the last time yours were replaced? Do you tend to buy the cheaper ones just to get by? That could save you money up front, but they wear out much faster and they may not “hug” the glass and do the best job while you do have them. Consider a nice pair to get your winter started.
How about your washer fluid? Does your auto-home fill it for you when you go for regular oil changes? Or do you add it yourself? What kind are you adding? Do you know there are different kinds — even though they may be the same color? Are you using the fluid that will not freeze? This is important to check before the cold weather hits because even if your washer fluid is full, if it’s going to freeze, you’ll still be out of luck.
Are any bulbs in your headlights or rear lights burnt out? Does your auto-home check this for you as a courtesy? Headlights are one of those things that you need to keep up on. Perhaps one of your lights is out and you think “oh well, I still have the other one. Besides getting a ticket, what’s the worst that can happen?” Hmmm, well, have you considered what will happen if your other headlight goes out? You won’t be able to see and others won’t see you coming! When you know you have a light out, replace it as soon as possible.
What about foggy glasses? It would be a shame if you were looking darn cute in your black dress but you were stumbling over yourself because you couldn’t see out of your glasses! Think of the mess you could get yourself in with a foggy windshield. Fully defrost it before you begin every journey. Do you notice your defrost is not working well? Why is that? Could it be that your cabin air filter is dirty and it is hindering the defrost rate? My experienced tech, Dave, says overlooking the cabin air filter is a common mistake that can lead to increased defrost time. Or could it be your recirculate button is still on from the summer? Most vehicles automatically turn off the recirculate button when the heat or defrost system is activated. However, Cas, my lead master technician, pointed out that some foreign cars do not offer this feature so you must manually turn it off. Both Dave and Cas stress the importance of this because keeping this button on keeps moisture in the vehicle and this greatly hinders defrosting.
Fancy, sparkly belts!
Belts are in! Meaning, they are fashionable. You can wear one at any height of your waist — they can be thin, thick, colorful or really sparkly. Belts are great accessories. Thankfully, you don’t have to decide on a color or shape/size for belts on your car because you don’t see them on a regular basis. But belts and hoses are of great importance. Even if your vehicle is newer, cold weather can wreak havoc on them! During an inspection, your auto-home will tell you the condition of your belts and hoses and notate wear and tear, if any. But it’s also important to have regularly scheduled maintenance done. Your owner’s manual or auto-home will tell you when your belts and hoses should be replaced as a precaution. Even if it doesn’t look visibly worn externally, the internal condition cannot be seen. So it’s quite important that you take the maintenance schedule seriously. If one of them breaks, you will be way more disappointed than if you forget about your sparkly belt with an outfit.
Earrings and necklaces and bracelets, oh my!
Jewelry is key to a great outfit! I shop at Savers a lot for great deals on clothing. And then I take my cute finds to the next level with jewelry! You can transform a plain, boring outfit magnificently with the right bling! What can transform your vehicle in much the same way? The battery! Let’s face it, it’s not pretty, there is no bling. But your vehicle, no matter what it looks like, cannot serve you well unless your battery is in good shape — and that includes the look and age of it. Be sure you look at the connections. Are they corrosion-free? Or do they need a little TLC? When was the last time it was tested? Having a battery in good working order will “make the outfit” this coming winter, getting you well on your way from one place to another.
These are just a few key things to check to be sure your vehicle is “looking good” for the upcoming winter. Next month we will have a chat about one of the most forgotten parts of a car … join me again to find out what it is!
Prep for winter with the right “boots”
Would you shovel your driveway in your dress shoes? Have you tried shoveling in inappropriate shoes before? I have. I actually thought to myself a few winters ago: “Self, it’s not going to take you very long, just slip on some Crocs over your thick socks and go shovel.” That was a mistake! I took a tumble at one point and the whole adventure took twice as long as it should have. But I was too stubborn to take time to go back in to put boots on.
If it’s not a good idea to shovel with shoes meant for summertime, doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to drive your vehicle with bald tires? In fact, that would almost be like driving over snow on roller skates! Sure, it sounds like fun for entertainment in an empty parking lot, but it’s totally unsafe for normal driving. Don’t delay — being sure you have good tires is the first step to getting your vehicle ready for winter.
Do you really want to start thinking about winter in November? Probably not. But I think since local stores started putting Christmas decorations out a couple weeks ago, it’s time to start thinking about what is ahead.
What do your tires look like? When is the last time you had them evaluated for tread depth, wear and proper air pressure? When did you last buy a set? Have you ever considered buying winter tires? When’s the last time you had them rotated? And how is your alignment? Thinking about these questions before winter hits will perhaps be the best insurance you have for avoiding unsafe driving and getting better gas mileage.
WINTER OR ALL SEASON TIRES?
Would you wear your sandals in the winter? Why not? They don’t provide warmth and they don’t have good traction, right? Shoes help you get from one place to another and you tend to change them depending on the weather. Likewise, it is smart to do the same with tires. Winter tires are designed to deliver safety and control in snow, ice and cold weather conditions.
It is a common myth that all-season tires can deliver this same performance. Certainly, good all-season tires can get you through the winter just like a good pair of tennis shoes can be used in all conditions. But isn’t it always best to have a pair of boots with good traction if you are outside in the winter? Think of winter tires as a pair of snow boots — it’s the best case scenario.
WHY ARE WINTER TIRES BETTER?
Winter tires have special rubber compounds designed to improve traction, handling and braking in all cold weather conditions, not just snow and ice. These special compounds allow the tires to retain flexibility in even the coldest conditions. The rubber composition is also softer which increases traction without increasing noise.
Winter tires also have tread designs dedicated to improving snow and ice traction while maintaining a comfortable ride and excellent dry traction. This is attributed to the wider circumferential grooves, which expel snow and slush and drain water efficiently, and the smaller shoulder grooves that increase snow and ice traction without sacrificing dry handling. Additionally, winter tires have special lug and groove shapes that allow more snow to be packed into the tread and then expelled better as the tire rotates. They have multifaceted sipe designs (the little slits in the tread surface) that help cut through water and slush so the tread can make better contact with the road.
All-season tires are “averaged” to deliver good wear and traction in all conditions. Because the make-up of the rubber is not like that of winter tires, the rubber begins to harden and lose traction in temperatures below 45 degrees F. Less aggressive and flatter tread is designed to deliver more highway comfort but tends to pack and not expel snow as effectively as winter tires. Additionally, less siping is used. If you choose this option over winter tires, it’s a good idea to have them evaluated for tread depth and wear before winter hits.
It’s a good idea to do this because the winter tire is designed for winter. You don’t want to wear these out during the summer months when a more cost-effective, suitable tire is available. Saving the winter tires for Minnesota winters and using all-season tires during the rest of the season is best.
ARE FOUR TIRES NEEDED?
When you get a new pair of shoes, do you typically get a new one for each foot or just replace the one that is most worn out? You may assume that the two drive wheels are most important and the other two tires just go along for the ride. This is untrue. Today’s winter tires have different compounds and designs, as I just mentioned. They deliver 25 to 50 percent more traction in snow and ice and stay pliable in cold weather, allowing for more control even on dry roads in the winter. Using just two new tires on a vehicle creates a traction mismatch that can have serious handling consequences. Using all four will ensure optimum traction and control.
WINTER TIRES NOT IN THE BUDGET?
If winter tires are not an option for you, here are some tips to keep you rolling the best you can while saving gas money. Be sure your tires are rotated regularly — at the same time as every other oil change. Doing this will equalize tread wear and maximize the life of your tires.
Check your tire pressure often. Maintaining proper tire pressure yearlong will produce better gas mileage and the best traction for your tires in any given season. Alignment is also key to the health of your tires. Improper alignment will prematurely wear your tires and/or produce uneven wear.
Good tires are just the beginning of what you should consider as winter is approaching. Don’t miss my article next month for more winterizing tips!
Discover the value of courtesy checks
Do you remember my words of advice regarding an oil change in March’s article? Have you heeded that advice? Are you making sure you are going in for this important service at proper intervals? Not only is an oil change essential to the health of your vehicle, but many places offer another important service with your oil change — a courtesy check. Do you understand the great value of this service? Read on and discover how beneficial this is to you.
A courtesy check for your vehicle is much like a dental cleaning for your teeth. When you visit your dentist twice yearly for your cleaning, what is it that you hope for? Most of us want to have that nice bubble gum-flavored cleaning without the mention of any problems, right? As your dental hygienist is buzzing around in there, she is doing more than cleaning. She may be seeing a little tartar here, a little plaque there and, oh yes, a cavity.
Then she whispers her findings to the dentist and he shares this disturbing news to you. Ugh! Certainly that was not what you expected to hear. Or was it? Has it been a while since you were in and maybe you knew something like this might be discovered? Maybe that’s why you have been putting it off — even for years. Now, instead of catching it at an early stage, you have a big ol’ cavity that has made it to the root and you need more than just a cavity fill. Bad news indeed.
But what would have happened if you got in sooner? Perhaps a better outcome? This is one of the reasons why dentists recommend twice yearly cleanings.
Likewise, auto-homes recommend an inspection of your vehicle with oil changes. This courtesy check is like a mouth cleaning, but for your vehicle. Quality auto shops want to keep you apprised of what your vehicle needs to keep it running at optimal health. Doing this at regular intervals (with oil changes) helps ensure you will be aware of any problems now or in the future. Plus, many auto-homes do this as a “courtesy,” meaning they do not charge extra for it. That is like going to the dentist and hearing that you have to pay for the bubble gum paste, but the cleaning is free! Bonus!
What they cover
The inspection performed is an overall evaluation of a vehicle’s most common wear, maintenance and safety items. This includes all exterior lighting, tire condition and pressures, belts and hoses, fluids and filters and a visual inspection of other areas. Some auto-homes will even top off fluids while they are looking things over — another bonus!
Your auto-home has an inspection form they use to assist them in being sure the inspection is done the same with each vehicle every time. The technician will mark each item as good, not so good or bad. He will also notate any specifics of a certain problem area. Doing a thorough job of documentation allows for good communication between the entire team, thereby ensuring the customer is appropriately advised.
A good auto-home’s main desire is to educate you of any problem areas so you can make an informed decision you are comfortable with based on your circumstances. If money is tight, a good auto-home will help you by sharing which needs are immediate and which ones can wait a while for repair or they may even have a financing plan if you’d like to go that route. If time is an issue, a future appointment can be scheduled or they may even have a courtesy shuttle to take you to your home or work.
Just like a dentist, your auto-home wants to tell you what you want to hear, but that’s not always possible. Dentists recommend “maintenance” services (cleanings) to help prevent bigger issues or halt them before they get too big. Auto-homes recommend the same because they want to help you save money in the long run. Maintenance is extremely important with a vehicle. Check out my article on maintenance if you haven’t already.
Responding to recommendations
Have you ever questioned the validity of a recommended service? I know I have. I wonder, how did a cavity appear when I was just in six months ago? They never mentioned it before! Then the dentist drags out that new X-ray and voila, he shows me evidence that a cavity is lurking. He isn’t just making it up to make extra money.
It is the same with your auto-home. Just because the last time you visited they recommended an air filter and this time they are recommending a belt does not mean they are ripping you off. If you have a question about a recommended service, simply ask to see it. They will be happy to show you. If they aren’t, you should consider finding a shop that is. Trusting your auto-home is important. Good auto-homes are honest and they strive to exceed customer expectations in order to earn repeat business.
What are your expectations? Do you prefer not to have a courtesy check? Tell them, but keep in mind something important could be discovered during that check that is cheaper to fix now rather than later. Is there something you would like checked besides the “normal” items? Tell them. Brakes are sometimes not included as a “normal” part of the courtesy check. So if you have concerns, be sure to bring them up. Are you in a time crunch? Tell them. Or look for an auto-home that offers an express lane to get you in and out faster. We all know time is money … how long are you willing to wait for your oil change/courtesy check?
Being sure your expectations are clear and reasonable will enable your auto-home to better suit your needs. This is their biggest desire. Auto shops know that many people are not on top of maintenance needs, this is why they offer the courtesy check for free. Not many other industries offer this kind of value!
How to be a good auto shop customer
“Are you pickles or peaches?” This is the question I asked my daughter, Briella, every morning when she was little. Most often she would say “peaches” with a smile. But one morning she said (in a very nasty tone) “pickles,” meaning she was in a sour mood.
What kind of mood are you most often in? And does this affect how you treat others or what kind of customer you are? Have you ever noticed that if you have an issue with someone you get further if your approach is pleasant rather than accusatory or demanding?
There are three important characteristics of a good customer. If you learn these, you will be a more satisfied customer and happier person, even if you are having a “pickles” sort of day.
Would you say you are a good communicator? When something is unclear to you, do you ask questions? Or do you tend to keep quiet at the risk of sounding ignorant? Asking questions is an essential part of being a good communicator.
A good auto shop welcomes your questions. They would like nothing more than to help you understand something you know nothing about. On the flip side, auto shops want to know what you know. Why have you brought your vehicle to them? What are your expectations? What symptoms is your vehicle having? Effective communication leads to a good relationship, good relationships build trust and trust is key for both you and your auto-home.
Have you ever been in a situation when you know you are late in getting something done and you feel the pressure because someone is depending on you? It is in moments like that when things always seem to go wrong. We are all human beings. Therefore, we are naturally impatient with other people, yet we want others to be patient with us. Am I right? This is how I am. But I have found that the more grace I extend toward others in their moments of human error or mistakes that are out of their control, the more grace is offered to me in my difficult moments.
Auto shops make mistakes. It’s as simple as that. There are things that need to come together right for your vehicle to be taken care of. First, the problem must be communicated clearly. If there is any miscommunication in this first step, something may go wrong. If the vehicle needs to be repaired, a part must be ordered. Think of all of the errors that can be made during this process — the wrong part can be ordered, the vendor could deliver a different part than what was ordered, the part could be damaged, etc. Then, the part may fix only half of the problem. The vehicle could be misdiagnosed. The technician could make a mistake in replacing the part. There are any number of mistakes that can occur in the process of your vehicle being repaired. And many times it is just as frustrating for the whole team working on your vehicle as it is for you. Your auto-home wants your vehicle repair to go smoothly from beginning to the end — but things may not go as planned. Your patience will be a blessing for all involved.
What is integrity? It is a high standard of decency, honesty and truthfulness. It is doing to others as you would want done to you. I believe integrity encompasses not only what it means to be a good person, but also what it means to be a good customer. How would you feel if someone left a negative review about you without telling you that you did something wrong? Or what if someone posted a review about you that contained false information? And because that person does not want to take ownership of his/her words, they posted the review anonymously. How would that make you feel? Don’t you think that if a person is going to post a review, they should have to use their full name? If it’s truth and you are proud about what you are writing, then you should stand behind it with your name. If you are embarrassed to tell the whole world it is you that is writing it, should you really be writing it in the first place?
If you owned a business, wouldn’t you want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Because the auto-repair industry has a “bad-rap” for dishonesty it seems they are “guilty until proven innocent.” If a mistake is made, some people jump to conclusions, assume the worst and publicly bash auto shops for ripping them off or sabotaging their vehicle … before even calling or visiting the shop. If you made a mistake, wouldn’t you want the opportunity to fix it? Or if your employees messed up, wouldn’t you want good feedback so your business can learn and improve?
I know many people who possess all the characteristics of a good customer. They have integrity, patience and good communication. If there is a problem, they call or visit their auto-home with good feedback. They give them the benefit of the doubt, make room for human error and enjoy the relationship they have with their auto-home because of how well they are taken care of when mistakes happen and when they don’t. They treat their auto-home the same way they want to be treated and in return a great relationship develops.
The goal of a good auto shop is the same as yours — to fix your vehicle and to have a good relationship. A good auto shop will welcome feedback as it can be used to better serve customers in the future. A good auto shop has integrity, patience and good communication. They have excellent customer service and go above and beyond to take care of their customers with a desire to surpass expectations. If you are dissatisfied with your current auto-home, tell them and give them a chance to take care of you. If you are still dissatisfied, search for a new one.
You don’t have to be “peaches” to be a good customer, but treating a business the way you want to be treated will be beneficial to all.
The skinny on the “check engine” light
How would you react if your malfunction indicator lamp (the MIL, also known as the “check engine” light) was on? Do you know what it means or how serious it is? Is it on now? How long has it been on? Is the issue more serious if it’s blinking? Is it always an expensive fix? I am here to answers these questions and more!
The very first thing you ought to do when your MIL comes on is get in tune with your vehicle. Are there any other lights on? Is it making any noises? Where are the noises coming from? When do they occur? What do they sound like? What other abnormalities do you notice? The answers to these questions will assist your auto-home immensely.
What to do
When does it need to be seen? Well, the first you need to know is that if your MIL is flashing, don’t panic, but don’t delay! A flashing MIL is like a child with 105-degree fever — you know it’s not good and you know you need to get that child to the hospital ASAP! If your child had a seizure with that high fever, you would most certainly call 911 before driving the child yourself in case an ambulance is needed.
If your vehicle’s MIL is flashing AND making bad noises or having any other symptoms, the best course of action is to pull over to the side of the road and call your auto-home. A tow truck may be in order and it’s best to be safe than sorry. If you choose to drive your vehicle to your auto-home while it’s in ill health like this, you could cause further damage and increase your repair bill significantly.
If you’ve just noticed that your MIL is on and glowing steadily, you should keep an eye on it for a day or two. Occasionally, the light may come on for a simple reason like failing to tighten your gas cap or not putting your engine oil dipstick back in properly. Check if they are securely fastened. If the MIL does not go off after a couple days, you should schedule an appointment with your auto-home. Surely, the MIL is nicknamed the “check engine” light for a reason — you are supposed to get your engine checked!
Why it’s on
Now then, I am about ready to get just a bit technical. But don’t go grab a pillow, I’ll try to make it informative without being boring!
Over the years, vehicles have been made quite fancy and complex. Today, a variety of sensors feed your vehicle’s computers information on everything from ambient air temperature to the amount of oxygen in the car’s exhaust gasses. As the computers look at all of that info, they make adjustments to ensure that the engine is running efficiently and as cleanly as possible.
When one of those sensors fail, or gets a strange reading, that dreaded MIL pops on. It’s normal to be irritated, but in reality, it’s a good thing. Your vehicle is so smart, it is usually telling you to fix it before something gets worse, causes more damage and costs you more money.
What should you expect when you take it to your auto-home? How much might it cost? How long will it take? The only true answer I can give you is to the first question. You should expect your auto-home to ask questions that will assist the technician in finding the problem. The next step is for your auto-home to bring your vehicle in and hook it up to a “code reader.”
Where to go
You may wonder if you need to take your vehicle to the dealership for this to be done properly. Unless your vehicle is still under a factory warranty, the answer is “no.” Most independent auto repair shops have the most up-to-date scan tools for a variety of makes and models as well as the know-how to fix them — and their prices may be less expensive. I’ll let you in on another little secret — independent shops are able to service vehicles with extended warranties. These are warranties no longer under the factory time/miles limits (usually 3 years/36,000 miles).
Other benefits of an independent shop may include a locally owned/family-friendly atmosphere, weekend hours/longer weekday hours and technicians who are qualified to work on all of the vehicles your family has (no matter the make/model) so you can have just one auto-home.
After the “code reader” is hooked up, a trouble code or codes will be revealed. This will usually point the technician in a direction of where to look for the problem. Many times, these readers can save the technician time and save you money since it may not take as long for the tech to diagnose the problem.
Remember, reaching a diagnosis is just the first step and the length of time it takes to diagnose a problem varies depending on a variety of factors. When the problem has been discovered, you will be notified of what it is and how much it will cost to fix.
Since there are a variety of reasons your MIL may be on, the repair cost will vary. Causes can include a blown gasket head, faulty O2 sensors, worn out spark plugs, loose or cracked hoses/manifolds, deteriorated fuel injector O-rings, or even a broken catalytic converter. While some of these are more expensive than others, it’s still important to get them repaired. Even though your vehicle could be driving fine and the only change you notice is the light staring at you in the face, you may be wasting fuel, putting out lots of pollution and damaging the engine more and more each day.
My advice in a nutshell: If your MIL has never come on, count your blessings! If it is on right now, don’t ignore it. If it comes on in the future, don’t panic. Your auto-home will take care of you!
Diagnostics 101: Why you’re charged
Are you in the habit of using abbreviations these days? LOL? IDK? Perhaps our youth today are more savvy than most of us — I know my kids can show me up in this category (and they don’t even have phones)!
One abbreviation I do use in e-mails and texts is MIL — for my “mother-in-law,” whom I love and adore! Often times, I’ll be excited for weeks if I know my MIL is coming for a visit! But in the “auto world,” MIL stands for “Malfunction Indicator Lamp” … more commonly known to you as the “check-engine light.” When we talk about that MIL, I don’t know anyone who is excited about seeing it!
Before we go into specifics with the MIL, fasten your seat belt and get ready for a brief class: Diagnostics 101.
Perhaps the best way to explain warning lights or strange noises that pop up in a vehicle is to relate it to something a little less foreign — your body. What do you do if you have a headache? See a chiropractor? Take a nap? Take medication? No matter your fix, usually you know what to do when one occurs. Okay, now say that headache doesn’t go away no matter what you try. What do you do then? Attribute it to stress? The way you are eating (too much processed food)? What you are drinking (caffeine overload)?
Perhaps you try fixing that recurring headache by fixing the origin of the symptom. So now, after changing your diet, exercise schedule, cutting caffeine, de-stressing, seeing a chiropractor and even taking a vacation, what would you do if you still have that headache? You would probably admit that the problem seems to be far beyond your expertise. You may have even gone to the Internet to look for possible causes and if you are anything like me, you may even diagnose yourself with some sort of horrible disease. By that time, you know you have no other option but to call the expert — the doctor.
What happens when you are sitting in front of the doctor? Does she hook you up to a machine that immediately tells her what is wrong with you? Surely that would be nice, but it’s impossible. First, the doctor asks you an array of questions: How long have you had the headaches, does anything relieve them, etc? Then, she will most likely run tests from blood work to MRIs. And after all of this is complete, hopefully a possible cause will be evident.
Now, I am not saying that a vehicle is quite as complicated as the human body. But I am saying that the diagnosis happens in the same fashion. No matter the “symptom,” whether it be that pesky “MIL” or a weird noise, the cause must be discovered to fix it.
Let me ask you this: When you are sitting in front of the doctor, just talking about your headaches, is it free? She hasn’t done anything besides listen at that point, so shouldn’t it be free? No, you are paying for her expertise. You are hoping that with her knowledge and know-how, your terrible, recurring headache will go away or at least you will have answers to why it’s there and you can make a plan with her for treatment. On top of that “not free” chat with the doctor, she will most likely run a gamut of tests. Are those free? No. The machines cost money and so do the technicians hired to run them.
Just as hospitals invest in expensive machines to provide care for their patients, auto-homes invest in expensive equipment to care for their customers’ vehicles. The equipment can range from a scan tool to an alignment rack. However, one difference is that the equipment a hospital purchases is universal, meaning it can be used on all humans! Because all vehicles are different — from age to make/model — different equipment must be purchased to use on that specific vehicle. Additionally, different computer programs must be purchased that cover different makes/models.
Furthermore, just as medical professionals are highly trained, so are auto technicians. Sure, you have some techs that are less experienced and do simpler tasks like change your oil. But they are being trained for more, the next generation of invaluable technicians. And as you climb the skill-ladder, you’ll find techs all along that scale — and paid accordingly. One thing that is priceless is a master-level tech that understands theory and has diverse knowledge and know-how. These techs are extremely intelligent in the way a car works and knows how to find the origin of problems.
Finding problems takes time, talent and patience. Just like a headache may not be diagnosed from blood work alone, many times a funny noise or MIL cannot be narrowed down that quickly. Time is money. Auto-homes pay their technicians to find problems. If it takes them an hour to find that problem, he is compensated for it. This is why they charge the customer. Many times they will try to give you an idea of how much time it will take, but it can take much longer.
Are you thinking: What about that magic scan tool? Well, have you heard the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Apply that here. A scan tool is a bit like blood work. It helps the doctor see possible problems so that further testing can be done. The scan tool gives the technician a place to start. A problem code may show up and that code will then give the technician possible places to look for problems. The technician will then perform different tests to further isolate the problem to be sure the cause is found.
If your “check engine light” is on and you have a free “check engine light” coupon, congratulations! You really do have value there! That’s kind of like going to the doctor and the doctor saying “let’s start with blood work — it’s free!” And when you get to your auto-home, be sure to tell the service advisors all of the symptoms your vehicle is having … that’s free too!
As I began this article, my intent was to teach you all about the MIL. But then I realized that this must be a two part article because I needed to preface it with “Diagnostics 101.” Therefore, I hope you’ll join me next month as we dive even further into that pesky MIL!
Fuel-saving tips to help every driver
How are your summer plans shaping up? Whatever they may be, I am sure gas mileage will be on your mind as the prices continue to climb.
Are you thinking about how you might save on gas this summer? My best advice: Ride your bike. Think of the exercise you will get as you haul your groceries home and run other errands! Is this advice very practical? Probably not if you have a bunch of kids (like me), live far from the store (like me) or don’t have the time (like me).
There are several things you can do to help with your fuel usage this summer. Doing them all will reduce your fuel consumption, which is better for your pocketbook and the environment!
#1 Don’t keep junk in your trunk
What’s in your trunk or even the cabin of your vehicle? Weight is an important factor effecting fuel consumption and also one of the easiest and cheapest to address. You certainly can’t leave a child or two behind to decrease weight. But you can empty your vehicle regularly of things not needed in the immediate future such as gulf clubs, bowling balls or strollers. You may not consider it junk in your trunk, but only carrying these items when you need them will lighten your regular load and help save money.
#2 Dot your “i’s” & cross your “t’s”
Tune-up: When was your last tune-up? Have you read my articles on regular maintenance and oil changes and how important they are? Keeping your vehicle properly maintained with healthy hoses, belts, filters, fluids and opting for synthetic oil will help it perform at its optimum while saving fuel!
Tires: Are your tires as bald as my handsome husband? The only place bald belongs is on a man or an eagle — bald tires are not good. Besides posing a possible safety issue, they decrease fuel efficiency.
Have you ever heard of rolling resistance? Rolling resistance is the amount of force needed to keep the tires moving at a constant speed. The greater the force needed, the higher your gas consumption. Some kinds of fuel-efficient tires are engineered to utilize lower rolling resistance and reduce the strain on the engine. So, have a look at your tires. If it’s time to replace them, consider the amount of money you may save in the long run as you see the gas prices rising.
Inflation: Are your tires inflated properly? Under-inflated tires are one of the biggest causes of using excess fuel. According to the American Automobile Agency, operating a vehicle with under-inflated tires can result in a 25% reduction in fuel economy. This is a significant percentage and it might just encourage you to check your tire’s air pressure regularly.
You can’t tell whether a tire has the correct pressure just by looking at it; you must use a tire pressure gauge. You can buy a good-quality gauge at a local auto parts store.
When you have that gauge, do you know what the pressure should be? You must find the air pressure specification for your car’s tires, usually on a sticker on the driver’s side door jam or in the glove box.
Adjust the tire(s) accordingly, but do not go over the max inflation printed on the side of the tire. For many people, this can be confusing, so if you need help, visit or call your auto-home. They will be happy to assist you.
Alignment: How is your vehicle’s alignment? Improper wheel alignment can come from a variety of factors — running over a big pothole, uneven tire wear and many others. Whatever the cause, improper alignment will reduce your car’s gas mileage because it uses extra energy to help keep the car straight. How can you tell if you need an alignment? There are several ways: a crooked steering wheel, uneven wear on your tires, etc. The best way is for your auto-home to perform an alignment check if you think you may need one.
#3 Slow down and smell the hydrangeas
Oh, how I love hydrangeas! But how can I enjoy them if I am running all over, 100 miles an hour, and never slowing my life or my car down? Are you ever sitting at a traffic light, anxious to get to your next destination? When the light turns green, do you gun it, secretly thrilled how you left the car next to you in the dust?
Did you know that when you do this, you use about twice as much gas as the “loser” who was slowly accelerating? Secretly, that “loser” is snickering because he just watched you lose money with your jack rabbit start.
Do you drive a nice, even pace after your fast start? Or are you like someone I know in California, who once told me that there are two speeds there — stop and go. Not only are you giving your passengers whiplash, but you are tossing more money out the window. Speeding, accelerating and braking hard can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 33%!
You may wonder why this is. The answer is simple. All of this crazy, obnoxious driving is hard on your vehicle. The increased demands on the engine increase fuel consumption, thereby eating away at your wallet.
Let me pose this question: If your vehicle had your full name and your contact information written on it, would you drive the same way? I think if we all drive as if anyone could critique us at any point in time, we might just drive a little different and we would be safer, nicer and richer!
Pace yourself, keep a reasonable, safe distance from the car ahead of you and anticipate traffic conditions. We are not in California, we only have a few months to enjoy the hydrangeas, so slow down, enjoy the scenery and save money along the way.
Beat the Heat
Considering our mild winter, what you do you think this summer will bring? Is your vehicle ready to beat the heat?
When do you think about your vehicle’s air conditioning system … when it starts to blow warm air?
I want to help you understand why it’s important to maintain your air conditioning system now — before temperatures get uncomfortable. This will save you a sweaty ride to work and perhaps a bad hair day due to the heat and humidity.
Do you notice that your air conditioning seems to be working just fine in summer until humidity descends upon Minnesota? My master technician, Cas, says “many people don’t realize what humidity does to their a/c system.”
You see, on a hot, humid day the evaporator has a more difficult time pulling the heat and humidity out of the outside air. Cas says that by recirculating the air in the cabin of the vehicle, your air conditioning system can then use that air, which is already partially cooled, and more efficiently pump out cooler air. It sure was an “ah-ha moment” for me! So, before you start to be concerned about possible a/c trouble, Cas suggests that you first try this “easy fix” — push that recirculate air button to see if you notice a difference. If you are cooler than before, you’ll be smiling and thanking Cas and I for this little unknown secret!
If you aren’t, your next step is to take it to your auto-home for further diagnosis.
Your vehicle’s a/c system is very complex and expensive. There are many parts involved and an array of problems that can occur.
A leak in any part of the system is perhaps one of the most common problems. These can “spring up” for a variety of reasons … and in all seasons. Even though you don’t use your a/c in the winter months, the system is under pressure. This, combined with cold weather can be a recipe for leaks. Other possible problems that can occur with your vehicle’s a/c system include a failing compressor, holes in the condenser due to its location, bad a/c clutch and even too much refrigerant.
Refrigerant, or R134a, is perhaps the most important component of your vehicle’s a/c system. This refrigerant moves throughout the a/c system, changing from liquid to gas in order to cool the cabin of your vehicle. It also contains special oil that lubricates and cools the a/c parts.
When refrigerant leaks out, you may still have cool air, but the parts do not have enough oil to protect them. This can cause them to wear out faster than they should. Additionally, refrigerant tends to gather moisture and become corrosive, possibly causing leaks.
Leaks are a bummer for you and your auto-home. They can be difficult to detect, but most leaks can eventually be found through a variety of tests and tools.
Is there an “easy fix”?
Wouldn’t it be great if someone invented a product that you could add to your vehicle’s a/c system that just patched those leaks like magic? Well, someone has! Ready to stop reading and go get yourself some of this “stop leak”? Don’t do it. Remember the old saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Well, apply that saying here. Let me reiterate what I said before: Your vehicle’s a/c system is very complex and expensive. There are different types of leaks. Can you be sure as a DIY-er that you know where the leak is and what it is that you are adding to your expensive system? Will you be saving money by trying this yourself? Or, will you be giving yourself a few weeks of reprieve before the leak returns and you need to go in to your auto-home anyhow?
You might be thinking “what’s the harm?” Right? Wrong! When you decided to purchase that “stop leak” and added it to your vehicle’s a/c system, it’s almost like you took a bottle of glue and poured it in. Liquid products that you add to stop leaks also stop other things. It gets in that complex and expensive system and can clog up all of the parts and interfere with how everything works. That cheap bottle of “fix all” has the potential to cause so many problems that you will end up “fixing it all!”
Furthermore, auto shops are very cautious when it comes to a/c repairs. If they learn that you have added this to your vehicle’s system, they may not be able to service your vehicle. That “glue” you just added has the ability to ruin their expensive a/c equipment. And though some shops try to protect their machines against it by using expensive filters, the glue still may ruin their machines.
If you have added this product and aren’t sure what to do, call your auto-home, notify them of the problem and they can work with you to figure out a solution. It is crucial you give them this important information before they work on your vehicle.
Another possible DIY mistake is thinking “My a/c doesn’t work, maybe the refrigerant is low, I think I’ll add some R134a.” Certainly, it makes sense to add more and it will work, right? Wrong. It’s like deciding that your plant looks like it’s dying so you decide to keep adding water until it comes back to life. What will that extra water do? It will drown your plant and certainly kill it the rest of the way.
Your vehicle’s a/c system is delicate. The amount of R134a needs to be precisely measured. If there is not enough or too much, it will not work properly. In fact, if there is too much it can cause extra work for the system and decrease gas mileage because it is working harder than it should be. Your auto-home invests in expensive equipment so the exact amount of R134a can be added and technicians are privy to the intricacies of the system. If you are not auto-savvy nor have the equipment necessary to appropriately add refrigerant, leave it to your auto-home.
Contact your auto-home today to be sure your a/c is in tip-top shape for a hot summer.
Stay cool and I’ll see you here next month.
April Is National Car Care Month
When I think of spring, I think of flip-flops, flowers, neighbors that I haven’t seen in six months and of course, being in the business I am in, I think of National Car Care month. If April was “car repair” month, I’d be talking to you about nagging noises, clunking sounds or warning lights. But since it’s “car care” month, I want to chat with you about doing scheduled maintenance to avoid expensive and untimely car repairs. Your vehicle may cause you additional grief if you neglect or put off the maintenance required to keep it healthy.
When do you take your vehicle to your auto home? When something breaks? The day before you go on vacation? When you hear weird noises? Or when a warning light comes on? Do you know the importance of regular maintenance? Do you know what it consists of?
Where shall we begin? Complex or easy? Well, certainly we discussed the “easy” last month with “The Dreaded Oil Change.” So now that you know the great importance of that service, we can move on to the more complicated parts of your car.
Just like human beings, your vehicle needs fluids to survive. Without proper levels and clean fluids, your car cannot perform properly. There are several different fluids under the hood of your vehicle. Over time the fluids get dirty and the components in it break down and aren’t as effective as they were when they were new. For this reason, it is very important that these fluid levels are not only checked on a regular basis, but also that the old fluid is flushed out and new fluid is put in (A.K.A. fluid flush) according to your maintenance schedule.
Just like fluids, there are several types of filters in your vehicle and each has a different job. Eventually they get dirty and need to be replaced. If some filters are not replaced they will hinder other parts of your engine from performing properly. While other filters, like cabin air filters, impact the quality of air you are breathing. If you do not change these on a regular basis, as part of your maintenance, you never know what you might be breathing in. A recent customer of ours found herself in need of a new cabin air filter … it had never been replaced and was going on 80,000 miles … not only was it dirty, but it had a mouse nest in it. Imagine what she must have been breathing!
Belts & Hoses
These suckers wear out over time. Rubber hoses can become hard and brittle, deteriorating with age and exposure to heat, causing the hose to split, blister or leak. Belts also break down with heat, mileage and age. Every time a belt passes around a pulley, it bends. Flexing produces heat that causes the rubber to harden over time. In addition, if the belt is loose or slips, the wear process can be accelerated. Sometimes you can visually tell if they are cracking or wearing out. But since they may wear from the inside out, you may not be able to tell. This is why it’s so important to follow your maintenance schedule. If they are not changed on the recommendations given, a broken belt/hose can lead to more expensive repairs and/or could leave you stranded.
I’ve mentioned just a few important services here. There are other areas of maintenance your vehicle may need now or in the future, including battery, spark plugs, coolant, tires and brakes. You don’t necessarily need to know what maintenance needs to be performed at different mileage intervals … that is the job of the technicians at your auto home. But you do need to know when to have your vehicle serviced. Do you know what these intervals are? Start by looking in your glove box. Every car is supplied with a maintenance schedule — in the owner’s manual or in a separate maintenance log book. Follow this schedule to be sure your vehicle is well maintained and will perform at its best for you. Is your car missing this important book? Or has your preschooler written on the pages or smudged each page with sticky fingers? No problem! Your auto home knows your vehicle and what maintenance should be done. Call them for more information and write reminders on your calendar. Another tip … each time your oil change sticker reminds you to take your vehicle in for an oil change, be sure to see if it’s in need of any maintenance. This is especially true if you don’t go to the same auto-repair shop each time as your complete vehicle record may not be under one roof.
Speaking of one roof, you might wonder “Must I take my vehicle to the dealership I purchased it from for maintenance to ensure the warranty?” The answer is, quite simply, no. Certainly dealerships prefer you take it to them, but this is not necessary. You can take it to any auto-repair shop! This may entice you even more to have the maintenance done because independent shops can save you time and money and may even be open Saturdays to better suit your needs. The important thing is to get maintenance done in a timely fashion … this also allows you to be prepared for your upcoming spring/summer trips without having the time-crunch of a last-minute visit right before vacation. Additionally, if your vehicle is under warranty, having the maintenance done on schedule will ensure the warranty will not be voided.
There is hope … even if you are past your warranty and you’ve not maintained your vehicle thus far, you can start today and avoid possible problems. You may have gotten this far without much vehicle maintenance, but that doesn’t mean that trouble isn’t right around the corner … don’t delay in your vehicle maintenance.
April is National Car Care Month … a reminder to care for your vehicle properly now to save you time and money in the future.
The Dreaded Oil Change
I’m curious … have you found your “auto home?” Did you ponder my advice from last month? Let’s be honest, going into your “auto home” certainly won’t be the feeling you get when you hug your Marine son after being separated from him for 13-long weeks of boot camp (as I recently did). But it should give you “warm fuzzies” as you walk in the front door. Not because you are excited to spend money on your car but because you know that your shop is honest and will take care of it while you relax comfortably. I hope you have found this or that you have a place in mind to try … if not, give me a shout and I can hook you up.
Now then, fasten your seat belt and let’s get started on the basics … the dreaded oil change. When was your last one? Is that little oil change sticker looking at you as a reminder that you are long overdue? Are you putting it off for some reason? Not enough time? Inconvenience? You might figure, “It’s already 3 months past-due, what’s another week, right?” Wrong!
Ladies, let me ask you this … would you put off your hair appointment one extra day if it was due or even overdue? And gentlemen, would you mow the lawn two weeks after it’s due? Really, if you did delay either of these, the only repercussions you might have are some straggly hairs or lawn. Now then, if you wouldn’t put off your hair or lawn maintenance, why would you put off more important maintenance that could possibly result in expensive repairs?
Remember how I mentioned blowing up the engine of my first car? This is the reason: I did not have my oil changed. In my particular case, I believe my car was burning oil for some reason and because of that it ran low and eventually ran out. An engine cannot run without oil, just like your body cannot run without water. Additionally, your vehicle does not like dirty oil, and eventually that dirty oil will turn into sludge; a petroleum jelly. This jelly can clog passages and prevent oil from reaching certain areas of your engine. This causes premature damage to parts of the engine and will lead to expensive engine repairs. Either of these situations (lack of oil or the jelly) can be avoided if you get regular oil and filter changes. Even waiting an additional week past when you notice it’s overdue can make a difference.
How often do you change your oil? Your manufacturer will have recommendations on how many miles you can go between changes so your oil can be changed according to how much the engine is used. They will also recommend the number of months between oil changes. This is because the additives in your oil will break down over time and not be as effective. This time/mileage schedule is based on the type of oil recommended. If you are using synthetic oil, generally you can go longer between oil changes. Keep this in mind: If your manufacturer recommendations are based on the use of synthetic oil, and you’re using conventional oil, you will need more frequent oil changes.
Do you even know what type of oil you are using? Or should be using? This can seem more complicated than it really is. Most of you probably use good old-fashioned crude oil with the proper viscosity and grade recommended by your manufacturer. Certainly there is nothing wrong with this option and, of course, it’s the cheapest. But have you ever considered other options? Based on where you live (cold climates?) and how you drive (stop-and-go traffic?), synthetic oil can benefit you greatly. Synthetic oil keeps the engine cleaner, reduces engine wear at high temperatures, provides better cold-temperature starts and improves fuel efficiency. That’s great news considering how expensive gas is these days! Though it’s more expensive at the time of the oil change, in the long run it can lead to a healthier vehicle, fewer future repairs and even more time between oil changes (5,000 miles vs. 3,000 miles). Let me put it this way: If you buy a better quality pair of jeans, that may cost a little more in the beginning, but you know they will look better, fit better and last longer, do you choose those? Or do you buy the cheaper pair of jeans that may not wear as well, look as good and need to be replaced sooner? Which is the better option? As you ponder this, think about this in relation to oil. Did you know there are other oil options, such as the high-mileage and semi-synthetic, as well? I recommend you ask which oil is best for you the next time you visit your “auto home.”
Do you know the brand of oil your “auto home” uses? Reputable oil brands can make a difference. Some oil companies will add just a bit of synthetic and call it a partial or semi-synthetic. Does this really make much difference? The best way an auto repair shop can be sure they’re using quality oil is to buy it from a company with a good reputation. Thereby, selling it to you will leave you and your “auto home” with peace of mind.
You don’t have to be oil-savvy, that is your “auto home’s” job. Ask questions at your next oil change, be open-minded and trust that your “auto home” will not lead you astray. You don’t have to be oil-savvy, that is your “auto home’s” job. Ask questions at your next oil change, be open-minded and trust that your “auto home” will not lead you astray. But most importantly, get in for that oil change on time, every time … and hug your children every chance you get.
Jeana’s advice: Find the right repair shop
Me, a woman, writing auto articles? I never thought I would see the day. My first real experience on this topic was blowing up the engine in my first car, a white Pontiac Sunbird in 1992. I was a 17-year-old senior at Mayo High School. I needed wheels to get to school/work and just figured if I put gas in it and it ran, I was golden, right? Wrong. Nobody told me I needed to change the oil, much less what kind I should use and how often I should do it. There was so much I didn’t know back then.
Over the years, I have learned much about the auto industry from my husband, Jeremy, and from observations of my own. Today I work full time at Jeremy’s independently owned repair shop as his “right-hand woman.” Perhaps my thoughts and opinions over the upcoming months (look for me the first Thursday of each month) will be helpful to you as you consider the options available to you to have a healthy vehicle.
Our first order of business it seems is to find an auto repair shop right for you. Have you considered how you make this decision? Do you ponder convenience or comfort? Do you shop around for best prices or make your decision based on coupons? Or are you simply smitten with the cute service advisor at the front desk? Whatever your current motivation for this decision, I hope you’ll consider my thoughts on this subject.
If you are all about coupons and the best prices, I caution you to really do your homework. Even if a shop is offering coupons, how do their other prices relate to others in town? Are they comparable or do they increase other services to offer you a discounted oil change? Jumping from repair shop to repair shop is not recommended because the biggest part of making this decision is this: Do you trust the people who are working on your vehicle? Does the shop have open communication between their service advisors and their technicians? Are you able to see your car or technician if you want to? Are they using quality parts? What kind of oil are they putting in your vehicle? What kind of warranty do they offer? These are all questions you want to ask yourself if your major concern is price. Price and quality are different.
Word of mouth is perhaps one of the best ways to find a repair shop. If you get the “thumbs up” from a family member or friend, do a little homework. Visit the website of the repair shop and get to know them. Check out their reviews and Facebook page. Some repair shops will have reviews on their website from past customers and have links to their Facebook or other social media pages for your ease. How does the website make you feel? Give them a call. What’s your first impression of the person on the other end of the phone? Visit the repair shop. Are the service advisors and/or owners friendly and knowledgeable? What are the other conveniences the shop has to offer? Do you get warm fuzzies or heebie-jeebies when you walk in? You moms of preschoolers … do they have a play areas for your children while you await vehicle repairs? Or if you want to get away from your little ones for the day, do they have a comfortable waiting area for you to relax in? Do they offer free Wi-fi and coffee? For longer repairs or for your general convenience, do they offer free shuttle service? Is your shuttle driver friendly or are there long awkward silences? Do they call you by name or perhaps know your name when you come in? Why not search for an auto repair shop with it all? Different things are important to different people. But in general, the look and feel of a shop can say a lot about the place you choose to call your “auto-home.”
I’ve only just begun … I have so much more to share with you. I look forward to next month. Same time, same place.
Articles Written by Jeana Babcock
14512 Lee Rd
Rochester, MN 20151