Sunday, January 23, 2011

Does my car really need all these repairs?

Does my car really need all this work?

You take your car in for an oil change and all of a sudden, here comes the service adviser or quick lube tech, waving the repair order with the most worried look on his face; “Mr/Mrs Jones, we found some things wrong with your car…” and you think to yourself “here we go again!” They proceed to tell you about all the things they found wrong, maybe show you some fluid samples or tell you how unsafe your car is to drive. Now you’re faced with a decision. Do I trust this person? Is all this work really needed? Do I need to do all of this now?

It’s a scenario I’ve seen and heard of many times, and unfortunately, many people are pressured into doing something they just don’t understand. Maybe they needed the work, maybe not. The good news is you don't have to know a lot about cars to make these decisions. Let me give you some practical advice on how to make an educated choice.

There are basically two different kinds of repairs; maintenance and mechanical failures. Maintenance is preformed to prevent mechanical failures and prolong the life of your vehicle. Mechanical failures are just that, a part that is worn out or broken that needs to be replaced or repaired. Let’s start with maintenance.

Maintenance would cover things like changing your air filter, transmission fluid, engine coolant, doing tire rotations, tune-up's and of course, oil changes. All car manufactures have maintenance schedules listed in the owner’s manual. This is what the people who made your car recommend having done to get the best life out of your vehicle, and in many instances, need to do to maintain your warranty! If you believe in, and follow these schedules 90% of your questions would disappear. Let me give you an example; you’re having your oil changed at a quick lube place and the adviser says you need your transmission fluid changed because it’s “burnt” and your air filter should be replaced because it's dirty, you have 67,000 miles on your car. In reply, you whip out your owner’s manual and tell him that at 60,000 miles you had your scheduled maintenance done which included a new air filter and transmission fluid change, AND it says it’s not due again until 90,000 miles. It’s hard to argue with that. By simply keeping track of what's been done you can avoid doing unnecessary repairs.

Now maintenance schedules are not bullet proof, that's were the other 10% comes in. There are special considerations for, let’s say, driving in a real dusty environments ( like dirt roads), or extreme temperature changes (like Wisconsin). Most maintenance schedules will have two options, normal and severe service,  I think Wisconsin falls somewhere in the middle. Newer cars can be simpler by having an indicator on your dash that will tell you what service needs to be done, like A1 service is due or B3. Just index it with the chart in your owners manual and it will tell you what’s needed. Don't worry about the schedules asking you to do maintenance that's not needed, they are actually very conservative. Car manufactures want to keep the annual maintenance costs low on there vehicles to appeal to buyers. (it's actually posted on the window stickers of new vehicles). So take a look at those schedules and see where you're at.

Next time I'll talk about mechanical failures, to be continued...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting the best gas mileage

How do I get the best gas mileage?

This is a question I’ve had quite a few people ask me over the years, and more so when the gas prices start to escalate. The first thing I’ll say is your car or truck will not vary much from the original mpg (miles per gallon) that it was originally rated for when new. If your SUV is rated for 17mpg hwy, don’t expect you can get 23 if you drive nice. So before you assume your vehicle gets horrible gas mileage, check the ratings and see how it compares, it still may be horrible, but normal! I would also suggest you calculate your own figures by dividing the miles driven by how many gallons you used. This will give you the most accurate figure instead of going off your cars computer display; you might be surprised at the difference. One more thing I’ll mention is; gas mileage drops on all cars during Wisconsin winters, this is normal. It takes a lot more fuel to start and run a cold engine; they really don’t become efficient until it comes up to operating temperatures. 

So here is a short list of things you can do to make sure your optimizing your vehicles mpg potential.

1.       Be smooth! When you’re driving try to keep a steady speed and minimize gas pedal movement. Keep a good distance from the vehicle in front of you so you can anticipate changes in speed. Don’t come screaming up to stop lights and jamb on the brakes at the last second. Coast as soon as possible. The sooner you take your foot off the gas the more you will save.

2.       Try to maintain your momentum. Most of the gas you burn is just getting your vehicle off a dead stop or accelerating; once you’re rolling it doesn’t take much to keep it going. So anticipate stop lights and people slowing down in front of you. Also avoid fast starts, accelerate smoothly.

3.       Slow down. I know this is a tough one but study after study shows doing the speed limit does save gas. I guess you have to weigh the cost of saving a couple minutes by speeding and aggressive driving, or saving gas. You can’t have it both ways.

4.       Tire pressures. Your tires are all that connects your car to the road, and when they roll they create friction. Tires low on air will create more friction and in turn it takes more energy (gas) to overcome that friction. Some studies show that for every 1 psi your tire is down it will cost you .3% in gas mileage. So keep those tires inflated to their proper pressure. Most cars have the recommended pressure settings either on the driver’s door jamb or in the glove box. Also look for energy efficient tires when replacing them, they have lower rolling resistance and are usually lighter in weight.

5.       Air filter. The engine in your vehicle, in the simplest sense, is a big air pump. Air goes in, mixes with fuel, gets burned and goes out the exhaust. If your air filter is dirty the engine has to work harder to get the air it needs, is less efficient and, you guessed it, burns more fuel.

6.       Idling. For every minute your car idles you could have driven a mile (give or take), and as long as your engine is running it is burning fuel. Keep the idling to a minimum or shut your car off when you can. 

7.       Clean engine oil. Your engine as hundreds of moving parts, and anything that moves creates friction. Clean engine oil will reduce that friction and make your engine more efficient. Synthetic oil will reduce that friction even more, but I am not convinced the extra cost of synthetic oil is worth it. So keep your engine oil changed at regular intervals.

8.       Lighten up. How much extra stuff do you carry in your car? Open your trunk and take a look, every extra pound takes more energy to move.

9.       Tune-ups and regular maintenance. Follow your vehicles schedule for tune-ups and fluid changes. This all keeps your vehicle in perfect running order and will give you the best shot at top efficiency.

Now there are quite a few products out there you can buy that boast an increase in fuel economy. Anything from pills you put in your gas tank to magnetic products you wrap around your fuel lines. Don’t waste your money, they don’t work. The mileage your engine gets is due mostly because of the physical design, working in conjunction with the engines computer management system and the friction you car creates going down the road. The technologies involved are too numerous to list and beyond the scope of this discussion, but believe me when I say that car manufactures  have pretty much optimized all the mpg their going to get out of modern engines, and there is no “hidden” secret that will override all that technology, if anything it will probably screw it up.

Well, I’ve hope I’ve given you some practical ideas you can use to increase your gas mileage. It takes a little discipline but over a year’s time it could add up to some significant savings. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to my new blog! I guess the first thing I want to do is introduce myself and give you an idea of what this blog is all about. 

Automotive repair and maintenance is a necessary evil for most people. Just mentioning automotive repair to some people will bring up a series of emotions, including anger, despair, confusion, anxiety and a lot of mistrust. I haven’t met a lot of people who enjoy taking their car in for service. The industry is plagued with a bad reputation for misdiagnosis, dishonesty, overselling, overcharging and the big one, taking advantage of women! People are confused about maintenance, what “schedule” should they use, when should I change my oil, does this work really need to be done, what do all these warning lights mean on my dashboard?

How do I know all this? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve been in the automotive industry for the last 25 years. 13 of those years I have worked as an automotive technician for somebody else, (ok, mechanic for the older folks), and I have owned and operated my own shop for the last 12 years. I see it every day with my new customers. They ask questions (which they should!) and tell war stories of past experiences. They come in skittish, or defensive because of what the last shop did to them. They try to be proactive and bring in information they got off the internet, or have their computer scanned at a parts store and ask me to just “fix this code”. 

So this brings me to why I want to write this blog. The biggest problem I see is a lack of education. Not personal education as what grade did you complete or what college you went to, but the information you receive about your car and your cars needs. People spend a lot of money to have their car serviced or repaired, but if they don’t understand what is being done and why, it leads to a poor experience. On the other hand when people are educated about a service, that is, they understand what is being done and why, and most important, it makes sense to them, then they will have a more positive experience.

So my goal is to pick a subject and give you an insider’s view and perspective. Not only to cover the facts and figures, but also to give you the practical side of the story, what I see in the trenches. I would like this to be an interactive blog so feel free to comment, and I look forward to a healthy discussion.