Don's Journal -- Random thoughts, automotive & other

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3-12-2014 -- Banked track rollerderby -- hell yes!  A week from this Saturday.  7:00 PM at Palmer Auditorium.  Lonestar Rollergirls  Hint:  park at the city office towers parking lot on South First and Barton Springs.  No need to pay to use the parking garage and you can get out much faster.  Will be interesting to see how the Putas del Fuego are doing this season.  They have had a lot of problems the last few years so I hope they are renewed and competitive.

3-12-2014 -- Senseless slaughter at Mohawk  I am not a gun nut, stand-your-ground advocate, nor do I always think LEO firearm discharges have been justified.   But regards this horrific event, I wish the cop who was manning the barricade and almost got run over by this monster had had the inclination and safe opportunity to shoot to kill. 

2-22-2014  Gay marriage -- why the hell is this an issue?  If the idea of gay marriage bothers you then don't marry someone of the same gender.  Problem solved!  The end! 

2-22-2014 -- "It's that damn Obamacare!!"  Don's Automotive has provided its employees with 100% paid health insurance for years.  (I hope that makes you feel a LITTLE better about the cost of getting your car fixed.)  :)  Anyway, we recently changed banks after years of suffering with Wells Fargo and had to transfer all the bank drafts for health insurance to the new and much nicer Prosperity Bank.  The Humana website took us around and around in circles and calling Humana resulted in 2 hour hold times so I enlisted the help of our insurance agent only to hear a rant that went something like this:  "Don, its not just Humana, its all the companies.  Ever since Obamacare......."  Give me a break!  What does that have to do with inept crappy service?  My reply to him: "Ever since that damn Obamacare my wife wants separate bedrooms.  I came out this morning and my left rear tire was flat on my Honda Fit.  I put on the spare and got 3 miles down the road and the spare went flat!  It's that damn Obamacare!"  Obamacare may have its problems, but the way it is the scapegoat for everything under the sun is ridiculous.  Every year health insurance and the cost of medical care gets more expensive at a rate far greater than the G.N.P. or inflation.  Before we blame it all on Obamacare perhaps it would be prudent to remember this has been going on for decades?   What is with this rant about "socialized medicine?"  What do you call it when a visit to the emergency room costs 10 times what it should because those that can pay or are insured subsidize masses of non-payers that the ER can not turn away?  And these non-insured and impoverished are coming to the ER for sore throats and headaches resulting in a gross inefficiency and waste of resources.  I call this the WORST kind of socialized medicine and it was entrenched when nobody had ever heard of Barack Obama.          

6-13-13 -- Auto Parts are NOT all created equal......"Why is your alternator so expensive?  I called Autozone and it is only $79.95 with a lifetime guarantee!"  Several years ago I bought a used 1996 Ford crew cab 3/4 ton diesel truck to tow my race car.  One of the selling points was the owner telling me he had just put in an Autozone "Duralast Gold" BRAND NEW, alternator with a lifetime warranty and the paperwork was in the glove box.  I can be as cheap as anyone else, so every time I saw the alternator warning light illuminated with the engine running I used that warranty to get another "premium" alternator from Autozone.  They exchanged it every time with no hassle.  Having used the warranty 6 times in about three years, I started thinking about how lucky I had been never to have had my battery power running out 100 miles from home at 2:00 AM with a race car trailer behind my truck.  One of these days I was going to be royally screwed and the warranty would not really help the situation.  So I bit the bullet and bought a Motorcraft rebuilt from A-Line Auto Parts and installed it at my expense.  It only  had a one year warranty, but is working fine 6 years later.  How extravagant the warranty is has nothing to do with the quality of the part.  Alternator and starter "remanufacturers" seem to be engaged in an ongoing price war to see who can build units cheaper to win contracts with Autozone, O'Reilly, Advance, Pep Boys, etc.  These corporations don't worry about the failure rate too much.  They are going to have a high percentage of returns anyway because of misdiagnosis when their units are installed in the parking lot by weekend mechanics.  Don's Automotive has an account with the wholesale arm of Autozone, but they receive a very small percentage of our parts business because of quality problems and catalog errors.  Contrary to what much of the public assumes, many of their parts are actually grossly overpriced.  Well known fast moving items are cheap, but something like a motor mount for a Toyota is typically a really crappy China sourced piece that costs more than the retail price of a quality unit from the Toyota dealer. 

Buying automotive repair parts is a never-ending research project for best reliability, availability and price.  The order in which I placed these three factors is intentional.  Availability and price are of no benefit if the part is defective out of the box or defective a week after installed.  One of our wholesale suppliers tracks warranty return rates on all of their part numbers.  I call and ask them for statistics on a Nippendenso rebuilt starter for a Camry:  "Last year sold 431, 2 came back."  I ask them about the Bosch part number, (Bosch being a less expensive brand which is also very easy to find in lots of local parts stores):  "Last year we sold 547 and 73 came back."  Doesn't bode so well.  

Are dealer parts always better?  Short answer:  "Depends."  Sometimes the aftermarket part comes from the same original manufacturer and the difference is 100% in the box, the part number and the price.  

It is a constant battle to keep up with parts issues.  We do our best and make no apology for being paid for our time and knowledge by marking up the price of the parts we sell . 

5-4-2013 -- "They take advantage of me because I am a woman...."  I hear this regularly and I don't believe a word of it.  Yes, there are unscrupulous service writers, particularly those paid 100% on commission, who are happy to take advantage of the motoring public.  They have no more qualms about taking advantage of a man than of a woman -- its all $$$ to them.  The typical male who worked on his Mustang in high school is totally unequipped to know if the recommendations to fix an electronics problem in a modern engine are overpriced and overkill or legitimate.  The unscrupulous service writer can actually take advantage of the male ego and what the male THINKS he knows to feed him a line of crap more easily than he could feed the same line of crap to a female in many cases.  Outright gullibility and naivete know no gender lines.  Several years ago I saw a repair order for "recommended maintenance" on a Toyota Camry, 20k miles and 2 years old and still under warranty, that came to $2000!  Adjusting for inflation this would be now more like $3000.  Apparently the dealership service writer decided to just keep making suggestions and see how far they could go with this guy.  I discussed this egregious ripoff with his girlfriend and she told me when she found out what he had done she totally flipped and told him never to go back there -- take the car to Don's from now on.

If a Lexus has a problem with the extraordinarily complex computerized traction control system the average male's knowledge of car mechanics isn't even going to get to first base as far as determining if a diagnosis offered by a shop is correct or not.  In fact, the man could be a competent diesel mechanic and still be just as lost as a woman who works in an office regards how the system works and whether the recommended repair procedures are valid or not.

Male or female, there are rather  generic ways to keep from being taken advantage of when getting your car serviced.  These principals can be applied to getting your roof repaired or your plumbing fixed or most anything.

--Is the business trying to lure you in with coupons,  unrealistic low prices for oil changes, etc?  RED FLAG

--Is the business proud to detail on a legible, preferably computer generated, repair order exactly what parts were replaced, or recommended to be replaced, and what labor operations were performed or recommended to performed and why?  GOOD  

--You get a hand written piece of paper that says "replaced clutch, $800."  RED FLAG

--Does the repair facility want to perform all kinds of maintenance services that are not in your owner's manual schedule?  RED FLAG

--Does the repair facility tell you, "You don't need spark plugs at 65k miles, see here, the factory schedule doesn't call for them until 120k miles?"  GOOD

--Does the repair facility appear to have a large advertising budget?  RED FLAG

--Does the repair facility appear to have a minimal advertising budget but is proud to talk about its latest investment in high-tech diagnostic equipment? GOOD

--If you suggest your car might need new struts or shocks is the repair facility eager to go full steam ahead without looking into whether or not strut replacement would serve any purpose on your vehicle?  RED FLAG 

--Does the repair facility point out that struts are not necessarily worn out at any specific mileage and poor ride quality can be caused by many things, including over or under-inflated tires?  GOOD

--Do the employees seem to like working at the repair facility?  GOOD

--Does the repair facility claim to be able to perform any kind of service or repair on any make or age of vehicle?  RED FLAG 

--Is a representative of the repair facility willing to tell you "We are not the best choice for this type of repair or to service this type of vehicle?"  GOOD 

--Is the repair facility hurting for business on a regular basis?  RED FLAG       

--Are prices for services negotiable like prices at a flea market?  RED FLAG

--Are there referrals to the business from long-term customers?  GOOD

Common sense and not being blinded by trying to get an impossibly good "deal" will keep women and men alike from being taken advantage of.  

Last of all, for some of you ladies out there:  Give yourselves the credit you deserve! 


         3-23-2013 -- "Wallet Flushes"  This a well-known term in our trade.  It is used for services such as fuel injector cleaning, crankcase flushes, etc. etc.  These are services of little or no value and services you will not find recommended in the maintenance schedule that your vehicle manufacturer provides.  There is nothing to stop a dealership from writing its own maintenance schedule that looks very official and which is loaded with "wallet flushes."   When an oil and filter change is promoted for $19 - $39, the facility that offers it loses money unless they can use the cheap oil and filter changes to sell other services which are, all too often, "wallet flushes."  The bureaucracy that regulates automotive repair in California has taken aim at wallet flushes.   Don's Automotive does not condone "wallet flushing," and does not give away oil and filter changes as a marketing strategy.  We price our oil and filter changes at a realistic level for professional service and ethical advice about your car's service needs.  Some people like this, some people don't.  If you choose to take advantage of loss-leader pricing for an oil and filter change, please consult your owner's manual service schedule when additional services are recommended.  

3-09-2013 -- Took me long enough, but this web site WILL be brought up to date.

I am reorganizing the front end with links away from Don's Automotive to stock car racing (don't look for much new in that -- I am retired),  cycling, and my passion for playing or refurbishing 100 year old full size upright pianos.  I just had a huge block on getting started maintaining it again, but here we go.  

3-09-2013 -- You are in good hands.

I will soon post bios and pix of my three young guys that comprise by far the best team Don's Automotive has ever had.  Trust me!  Anyway, you will have to do so more and more.  I now come in only three days a week, and one of these days that will become two and etc.  Tony, Brandon and Nick are human and have been known to make a mistake, but so have I!  They are not half as grumpy as I am.  You ARE in good hands.       

3-09-2013 -- "All you cyclists....."

I have become an avid cyclist in the last 4 years.  I ride city streets despite the risk of being killed by an inattentive, inconsiderate or even homicidal motorist.  Life has risks.  I have studied bicycle safety extensively and ride defensively to minimize risk.  So often, when cyclist rights issues come up one hears "until cyclists follow the rules of the road like everyone else..." as if that justifies the vehicular homicide of cyclists.  But everyone else does NOT follow the rules of the road.  Often when I am waiting on my bike in the right hand lane of an intersection I look behind to see if I should scoot over a little bit to let someone turning right on red go around me.  Over 50% of those that eventually do so do not signal.  All motorists speed.  Far more motorists text while driving than cyclists text while riding.  When I used to go stock car racing in Killeen I would come back from my Saturday night program about 1-2:00 AM Sunday morning and I swear I was the only sober driver on Mopac.  "All you pedestrians..." ignore "Don't Walk" signs, and cross in between intersections often snaking around stopped traffic.  The list could go on and on, but to what purpose?  Pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, ALL break the law on a regular basis, but cyclist slaughter is all too often excused because of cyclist red light and stop sign running.  Of course it is really stupid and suicidal for a cyclist to run a red light playing chicken with traffic which is proceeding through with the right of way.  Stopping at a red light, looking around, and proceeding through an intersection with no cross traffic or traffic that can turn in front of you is illegal but not particularly unsafe to the rider or anyone else.  Traffic law violations by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike range from dangerous and incredibly stupid to illegal, but "no harm, no foul."  

Even with an element of suicidal cyclists that don't use lights at night, blow red lights in a kamikaze fashion, etc., all, if not most, of the cyclist fatalities of 2012 were negligent homicide on the part of motorists.

And to set the record straight, cyclists pay for their share of the streets like everyone else -- and more.  License plate fees and gasoline tax do NOT go to city streets, but support a small percentage of the interstate highway system.  In fact, given that they wear the road surfaces to a negligible extent, use none of our finite fossil fuel resources to travel, take up far less parking space, produce negligible exhaust, (there was a actually a politician  who recently complained about cyclists' CO2 foot print because they "breath harder") it would be appropriate to agressively subsidize cyclist travel as opposed to motorist travel.  


3-09-2013 -- Segways on park sidewalks

I have an issue with people in their teens and 20s touring Austin sidewalks on motorized transportation.  They are too weak to walk?  I have a REAL issue with the fact that I and my 78 year old buddy, who has two artificial hips, were on a park sidewalk headed to rollerderby at the Palmer Even Center, and a Segway tour came at us with the attitude, "Excuse us, move over, coming through!"  It really didn't kill us to step aside into the grass while they didn't even slow down, but if I had any iota of respect for them their actions pretty much killed it.  

The Segway is brilliant technology serving an almost nonexistent need.  I wrote a letter to the Statesman about this once and it was the last letter to the Statesman I will ever write.  In my letter expressing contempt for Segway users, I expressly excluded from my contempt Segway users who, because of disability, would otherwise be less mobile.  The Statesman edited that out making me look like an insensitive jerk and I got a bunch of letters from irate people who had an uncle or whatever who was disabled and relied on a Segway to get around.             


3-09-2013 -- Click and Clack, this is pitiful!  

(Don't know how long this link will be good.)  On one of my professional forums everybody got a good laugh out of the brothers' pitiful answer.  Any shop owner who does any volume of repair work at all will sooner or later put a vehicle on the lift and when the suspension hangs all the way down a failing strut will seize up.  When lowered, the vehicle will be essentially undriveable with no suspension compliance whatsoever on the bad corner.  It has happened in our shop three times and, I am happy to say, in every case we had such good mutual trust and rapport with our customers that we were not blamed despite the timing of the problem.  The story speaks very poorly of both the shop that blamed the problem on "air" and the brothers Click and Clack.

3-09-2013 -- An oil and filter change every 3000 miles = money own the toilet.

This says it pretty well.  An elevator arrives no sooner because you push the button repeatedly with all the strength in your body.  Add 2000 miles to that "next service due" on your lube sticker, or much better yet, used the computerized reminder indicator on your dash if so equipped.  Be advised, these reminders frequently fail to get reset at your drive-through lube facility so will often come up prematurely.  

Remind me to address "tune-ups" before too long -- a term that should be considered obsolete for the modern automobile. 


3-09-2013 --  The engine oil dipstick is NOT obsolete!

Please!  Every year Don's Automotive sends a few cars off to the salvage yard that could have been saved by pulling a quart of oil out of the trunk.  These days, you ask somebody when they last checked their oil and most people will tell you when they last changed it -- probably way more often than serves a purpose.  See above.  Even if never a drop of oil leaks to the ground, some oil is burnt and goes out the tailpipe, rendered invisible if the catalytic converter can keep up with its task of afterburning.  Oil should be checked on a brand new car, but put 100,000 miles on the engine and it becomes that much more critical.  If there was no such thing as routine oil consumption the dipstick could be eliminated and a service technician would simply consult a sticker or manual for a refill specification when performing an oil change.  

How often should engine oil be checked?  Brand new car, maybe every 2000 miles.  High mileage or any suspicion of a leak, maybe every other tank of fuel.  Please remember, a glowing red "oil" light means "rapid engine destruction in progress."  Tires and radiator also, please.


3-09-2013 --  Gabrielle Nestande

I feel too strongly about this to say nothing.  Ms. Nestande thought someone through a rock at her windshield, she thought she hit a deer, she was scared because the BMW daddy bought her got a booboo, she "knew what happened," but didn't see the blood, flesh and clothing on the windshield, she will never drink again, but drinking apparently had nothing to do with the "accident" because she was "ok to drive"....and etc.  It makes me physically ill to think about it.  Had I been on the jury I would have held out for guilty on all three counts come hell or high water. 


9-25-2011 -- Click and Clack "Autofact" check....

Nothing too egregious lately that I can recall.  I still don't find them very amusing, but no accounting for tastes.

9-25-2011 -- Rollerderby Saturday @ Palmer Auditorium

Not the championship, but ALL TXRD banked track rollerderby is good rollerderby.  Cherry Bombs are 99% certain to win this and hence qualify for the championship.  The championship is Oct. 15th at the Convention Center.  That will be ONE HELL of a fight!

9-25-2011 -- Biking in Baltimore, Maryland.

Recently my wife and I visited for several days.  She spent most of her time in art museums -- which are all excellent and all free!  We arrived at midnight Wednesday, and the next morning I was waiting at the door of a family-operated bike shop for them to open so I could pick up my rental bike.  The owner of the bike shop, Penny at Light Street Cycles, was one of two people who comprise 95% of cycling advocacy in Baltimore.  Sunday, I went on a 40 mile ride with the other, Bob Wagner.  Both were very warm, hospitable and delightful people.  The city was fascinating to ride in, with lots of history and much older buildings and homes than what you see in Austin.  "Bike-friendly" like Austin?  Not quite....maybe 2 miles of trails total, few and random bike lanes, far fewer people on bikes, and sewer grates everywhere with the bars running parallel to the curb!  Drop a front wheel in one of those and you can expect to break the fork off our bike and do yourself some major hurt!

So, fascinating as Baltimore was, as much as I wish Austin could get it together and repair its broken down and disconnected trails, as annoyed as I am at so many of Austin's bike lanes rendered unsafe due to parked cars, I returned home with appreciation of what we are doing well re' cycling here in Lance's home town.

Penny and Bob have a standing invitation for a guided Austin "urban century" courtesy of Don.          

9-25-2011 -- Telemarketers & statements about them I don't agree with

"One shouldn't be rude to a telemarketer, after all, he/she's just trying to earn a living."  

You can say the same of a crack dealer, a prostitute, or someone who rifles your car looking for money or credit cards.  The telemarketer is taking something of value from you --  your time -- without your consent or invitation in the hopes of financial gain.  This is a form of petty thievery.   I guess if you feel you should be polite and turn the other cheek to thieves, then it follows you should be courteous to a telemarketer.  In any case, when the phone rings and a telemarketer is on the other end rudeness has already been initiated by the caller.  

"You can take care of telemarketers by putting your phone number on the "Do Not Call" registry."

This is of some use for a residential phone number, but of  no use at all for a business.  The telemarketers that harass businesses are an almost entirely different group than the ones that call your home.  They mostly push credit card processing services, group health plans, questionable loan programs and internet marketing schemes.  The "Do Not Call" registry has no legal application to a business phone.  In any case, even at your home, telemarketers trying to sell political candidates, a telemarketer calling from an entity you have transacted business with, and telemarketers trying to stick a hand in your wallet on behalf of alleged charities are all exempt from being required to follow the registry.  An ethical law-abiding telemarketer will honor the registry and not call your home.  Wait a minute!  "Ethical, law-abiding telemarketer?"  Isn't that an oxymoron?

"You invite telemarketing calls by owning and answering your telephone."; 

In one sense true, in another sense not even worthy of rebuttal, but I have heard it said.

"You should put your cell phone on a "Do Not Call" registry because publication of a directory of all cell phone numbers is imminent."  

This is a persistent urban myth. See this Snopes report.  I suspect it's probably a bad idea to put your cell phone on any list which could be used to verify its a working number. 

"I am NOT a telemarketer......."

"I am simply trying to help your business get to the top of the Google listings, I am trying to help you save money on your credit card fees, I have a college degree and am trying to help you manage investments....."  Etc., etc., etc.....  Barf!  OK, you are not only a telemarketer, but you are trying to insult my intelligence with an obvious lie, or perhaps you need a dictionary.    

"Telemarketers raise money for causes such as fighting drugs, aiding the family of fallen law enforcement officers, etc. etc."

They raise money for those that own the boiler room operations.  The state troopers associations or whatever get only the most token percentage.  Its despicable and wrong that they let their name be used by disreputable businesses on the theory that any pittance they might receive is that much more than nothing.  Perhaps even worse, is that public school athletic booster clubs do the same.  

There's nothing you can do except hang up on them.

I use this program which I cannot recommend too highly.  You will also need a voice modem in your PC (cost approx. $19), caller ID service from your phone company, and to plug a phone line into your PC.  The program is highly configurable and you can rest assured that any telemarketer who transmits caller ID will only cause you to answer a call from them phone the one first time.  You can block anonymous calls also if you wish, and you can play any message to them that suits your taste.  It can be loud painful screeching noises or a polite "Not interested. Please don't call again."  


9-3-11 -- It's hot, its tempting, but PLEASE don't do this!

I refer to trying to recharge your AC yourself without having adequate equipment to analyze the system's condition.  The gauge on the kit from Autozone or Pep Boys does not measure both sides of the system.  It is very easy to overcharge the system with potential damage.  Also, even the low side gauge readings are variable for a given level of charge depending on the condition of the compressor and the expansion valve.  The proper way is to pull the refrigerant into a recycling machine where it is weighed and the service technician knows how much -- if at all -- it fell short and how much to add to bring the level to factory specs.  This service should include adding a leak detection dye if none is already present and examining  the system under ultraviolet light for the presence of leaks.  At Don's the price of $107.50 plus refrigerant and dye includes a free follow-up inspection, while you wait, in a week or two.   

Much worse is using refrigerant with "sealer" added.  This substance destroys AC systems and destroys  professional service equipment

3-11 --  Rollerderby WAS serious!

Several last jams had major penalties and so were skated over.  Then it became a tie and went into another three minutes of play time.  Talk about hard-fought.  The Cherry Bombs ended up losing by a couple of points.  Probably good for them as they won't be too complacent about training for the upcoming championship.  Don't miss the championship on October 15.  Its at the convention center to accommodate the anticipated attendance.  But get tickets ahead because it will likely sell out.   

8-21-11 -- Banked Track Rollerderby is fixing to get serious!

This morning I went to the veloway to start accruing the 100 miles I try to get in every week on the seat of a bicycle.  I ran into Dawna Destruction of the Cherry Bombs and had a nice chat.  About the time she left several members of the Rhinestone Cowgirls showed up to skate a few laps and we had a nice visit.  So, that reminds me to remind you.....Saturday 7:00 PM at the Palmer Events Center we have the Cherry Bombs vs. the Rhinestone Cowgirls.  These are currently the two top teams in the league -- both undefeated so far this season, the Cherry Bombs undefeated last season as well.  The winner of this upcoming bout goes straight to the championship bout, the loser has to play the #3 team -- the Putas del Fuego -- to go to the championship.  Having sponsored the Cherry Bombs for the last few years I have my bias, but really this one is too close to call.  If you go and find the bout boring, I will personally reimburse you for your ticket!  I have made this offer before -- no takers yet! If you can't make this one, the playoff and championship bouts are in October.         

8-13-11 -- More misinformation from Click & Clack

I don't listen to their radio show because it annoys me how much they laugh at their own tired jokes.  But today I read their column in the Statesman.  The first topic they answered well, the second, not too well at all.  It concerned someone who drove a '98 Toyota Corolla on bad roads and experienced steering wheel shimmy at 60-70 mph despite having had the car's wheels "balanced and aligned."  Click and Clack offered two possible explanations: 

1. Tread separation on a front tire.

2. A loose tie rod end or ball joint in the front suspension.

Tread separation would have been caught by a proper wheel balance job.  A loose tie rod end or ball joint has the following symptoms:  Clunking and knocking at low speeds when turning or going over bumps.  If a tie rod end or ball joint is catastrophically loose, a wicked "death wobble" vibration will be triggered when you go over a bump at about 30 mph or less.    This vibration is such that you will pull over to the side of the road wishing you had a change of underwear with you..  High speed shimmy is not generally a symptom of a loose tie rod end or ball joint.  

The following are common explanations for high speed steering wheel shimmy:  

1. A wheel balance operation was not successful due to poor equipment, poorly maintained equipment or operator error -- happens all the time.  My 3/4 ton crew cab diesel truck has wheels too big to fit our shop's balancer.  NTB flat out cannot balance my truck's wheels -- after they tried several times I got disgusted and tore off all the weights they had put on and it shimmied far less!  Recently, Discount Tire was finally successful on about the sixth try.  This was with new Michelins and me standing over them telling them how to do it and insisting they use different equipment than what they had tried without success on two sets of new tires.  And, that said, Discount Tire is one of the best of the "big box" tire chains.

2. Front tire out of round or rim grossly bent so the wheel/tire assembly is technically balanced but does not roll true.  

3. Shimmies when brakes are applied at highway speed because of brake rotors that are not flat and of uniform thickness due to warpage from the repeated heat generated by braking.  Probably 50% of vehicles on the highway have this syndrome to a greater or lesser degree.

4. Inner CV (constant velocity) joints on the front wheel drive axles can cause a wicked vibration up the steering wheel any time the gas pedal is applied at high speed and they are under torque.  This is, in fact, particularly common with the drive axles used on certain Toyota Corollas and Geo Prisms.   

All four of the above are commonplace, but Click and Clack only mentioned #2, (sort of). 

If you think they are entertaining, that is a matter of personal taste.  If you think their information is to be trusted, I regret to inform you it is not.

 8-12-11 -- Trendy restaurants in Austin:  This one really IS good says Mr. "Hard-To-Please."

Talking about barbeque.  No, not Franklin's, which may or may not be good for all I know -- see below, 7-24-11 -- but Live Oak Barbecue on East 2nd.  Top notch meats, friendly immediate service, superb sides, and a menu that is far more creative and varied than most BBQ joints.   

8-12-11 -- What have things come to?  Bottled water---rant! 

Yes I know its hot, and as someone who bicycles 100+ miles/week I know the importance of drinking plenty of water in August in central Texas.  But what seems insane to me is Nestle' or some other mega-food corporation takes municipal water somewhere, possibly performs minimal filtration on it, puts it in a plastic bottle, ships it a few hundred or a few thousand miles and marks it up like 10,000%!! This is madness!  Its only water!  When I was a kid, bottled water was unheard of, but we were not dying of thirst right and left.  We drank out of water fountains and water was free and available at most any public place.  If you want your water filtered -- not that Austin tap water is  at all bad -- its child's play for a handyman to plumb a filter under your kitchen sink, that is if your refrigerator doesn't already have a filter in it.  There all all manner of insulated stainless steel canteens  for sale allowing you to drink water that has not absorbed carcinogenic plastics.  In our current Texas climate, it won't take any time at all for these to pay for themselves, to say nothing of the huge environmental benefits.  I am not a hard-core tree-hugging, recycling freak, eco-nazi -- unlike my stepson Tony :) :) -- but bottled water strikes me as an abomination!  Happy to report that Tony comes to the shop and fills his one gallon canteen from the water cooler/filtration unit in the office.  Apparently bottled water does somehow appeal to many "tree-hugging, re-cycling, green" folks, because it occupies considerable shelf space at Whole Foods Market and other such stores.            

I'm listening if anyone can explain this to me!

7-29-11-- Heat wave brings out unscrupulous opportunists

Seasonal snake oil....  If this product actually kept refrigerant oil from clinging to the walls of the components in the AC system, the compressor would promptly seize up causing repairs in the $1000 + range.  Most likely, it simply does nothing.  When it gets hot the snake oil salesmen hawk magic AC system additives, when gas prices surge they hawk all manner of gadgets and substances claiming to improve mileage, reduce emissions and increase horsepower all at once.  Of course, health issues are such an intrinsic part of our existence that they are responsible for the lion's share of snake oil marketing.  My personal trainer has heard it all regards ways to drop 100 pounds of fat and gain 50 pounds of muscle in no time and with minimal work.  None of it works, but wishful thinking and gullibility are universal human traits.  I know better re' automotive products with extravagant and implausible claims, but I am sure I have been duped in other areas at various times in my life.  It is pretty pathetic how often advertisements for a scam product are presented as news.    

7-24-2011 -- Trendy restaurants in Austin: buzz is usually total BS...

I don't know if Franklin's Barbecue is pretty good. It may well be, but I am not going to wait in line three hours to find out with the risk that they will be sold out just before I get to the counter.  I am 65 years old and gradually retiring, so I have some time on my hands -- but not that much time to waste!  One of the reasons for the long lines at Franklin's is a recent article in the well-known gourmet magazine, Bon Appetit.  The author heaping lavish praise on Franklin's knows nothing about barbecue brisket, absolutely nothing!  The following quote makes this painfully obvious: "Whereas most places smoke brisket for seven hours at a blazing 500°, Franklin cooks his for about 18 hours at 250° to 270°."  Nobody in Texas smokes brisket at 500°, not even Bill Miller!  18 hours might be a little longer time in the smoker than some establishments allow, but it is hardly unusual. 

All over town there are recent popular burger places that boast "organic, grass fed, locally sourced Black Angus beef."  OK, nothing wrong with that, but the burger costs 2-4 times as much as one from McDonald's or any other equally wretched fast food purveyor and the beef consists of a generic, thin, machine-made patty that could not be distinguished from one from McDonald's or Wendy's in a blindfold test.

Thanks to my wife, I dine so well at home I rarely eat out except for a convenient lunch.  When I do, I avoid the new places everybody is talking about this month as I find them inevitably over-priced and over-rated.                   

7-14-2011 -- "Don, what do you think about this F1 racing?"

Many people know that while now unofficially retired, I was involved in 1/4 mile dirt-track stock car racing since the early '90s and drove my own car since 1996 -- with some occasional success, including a track championship in my class in 2008.  Its an understandable assumption that I would follow NASCAR and eagerly anticipate the F1 track coming to Austin.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  I find the worship of billionaire sports superstars very distasteful.  F1 racing epitomizes that.  If you attend an F1 event, you get to pay some huge amount for the privilege of seeing some aristocrat zoom down a track at 200 mph+.  NASCAR -- ditto.  And, unless you are also an aristocrat, you don't even get to see it up close.  The experience is 100% vicarious -- totally lacking in any participation or community with the racers and the racing effort.  Sad that sports to so much of the public means watching from a distance --  TV being the ultimate distance -- and NO participation.  Here's a contrasting example:  I am racing at a dirt track south of San Antonio and there is a wreck resulting in a flat tire and possible other damage.  I pull into the pits where I am greeted by three generations of the Mares family.  My buddy and fellow racer Abraham Jr., is a warehouse manager at Acme Brick -- hardly an aristocrat.  Father, son, grandson, cousins -- you name it -- swarm my car.  They change the tire, quickly pry out a fender, do a quick inspection and gesture to me to get the hell back out before the track goes green.  Later Abe Sr. gets a feature win in the Super Stock class and I would like to think it is in part because I helped tweak his carburetor earlier.  THIS is what I call exciting and real!  You can be directly involved with grass roots sports regardless of physical condition.  I am far too clumsy to attempt roller-skating, but I sure get a kick out of sponsoring two TXRD rollerderby teams.  School teachers, nurses, barmaids, state workers, students, they get to be local heroes on a banked track every 2nd or 3rd Saturday night, while we go wild for the jammer who just took the lead.  Many league members have become my personal friends,  many are customers at my shop.  Seeing these ladies kick ass is a thrill.

Everyone has choices in their involvement with sports.  You can sit in some seats that cost you hundreds of dollars, drinking too much beer and eating junk food, while the wealthy do their thing in the far distance and laugh all the way to the bank.  You can get a similar totally vicarious experience much cheaper through television.  But you can also get involved with you child's, or your grandchild's, or your godchild's little league team.  You can become a roller derby sponsor, you can help set up the roller derby track, as my stepson and one of my other employees do.  You can go bowling with your co-workers.  You can participate in the Capitol 10,000 -- it doesn't matter at all if, like me, you are not a front-runner but walking is your speed.  You can get together with a bunch of bubbas who race riding lawnmowers!  Instead of passively expecting to be fed entertainment, invest something besides the cost of tickets and beer and get a real payback.  

Speaking of which, since I recently started taking Thursdays off, I really need to ride my bike over to The Driveway and check out some local bicycle racing!  I have a friend who sometimes bike rides with us in the evening and is also a Don's Automotive customer who races there.   

7-12-2011 -- Holy crap!! Time flies, I guess!!

Its been almost 5 months since my last update, despite Andy nagging me.  He updates his journal one to three times per week.  Can't blame you if you gave up checking this page out.  I'll try to do better -- maybe once a week. 

7-12-2011 -- "I already had it checked out, but they want way too much.  How much would you charge?"

If I never hear this again it will be to soon for me.  With rare exceptions, the premise this question is based on is intrinsically flawed.  Is the other shop trustworthy or not?  If the other shop is trustworthy then just let them fix what they have already inspected, diagnosed, confirmed by testing etc.  An old cliche' about switching horses in mid-stream comes to mind.  If they are NOT trustworthy, then their repair recommendations beg a second opinion far more than their prices.  In fact, when money is spent on car repair with poor or no value received, an excessively high price for a well-advised choice of repair procedure is almost never what happened.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, poor value is received because A:  The suggested remedy did not address the problem, or B: Unnecessary repairs were sold.          

This question is also highly insulting to the repair facility who essentially is told, "I went to the high-dollar experts to find out what needs to be done, now can you do it cheap?"  When dealing with independent business people, I find I receive the best value in the long term by being respectful. 

7-12-2011 -- Rollerderby

YEAH!!!  Its been a good season so far despite the fact that the two TXRD teams that Don's Automotive sponsors don't look good for the championship this year.  The Rhinestone Cowgirls have a captain that goes by the track name of  "Kategory 5."  She is a former speed skater from Norway and lightning fast and nimble.  But a superstar skater can't score her team points without the team being there to help her through the pack and block the opposing jammer.  The word is she has had her team on an extreme training regimen with no down-time since last season.  It sure looks like it.  They beat the Putas Del Fuego by 16 points Saturday night and are probably on a fast track to the season championship.

On July 23rd the Cherry Bombs -- proudly sponsored by Don's Automotive for the last few years --  play the Hellcats at Palmer Events Center.  The two teams should be about evenly matched, so expect a real nail-biter.  Starts at 7:00, over before 10:00.  If you find it boring just let me know and I will reimburse your price of admission!        

7-12-2011 -- Segways, why??

Recently a customer commented to me that he works downtown where he frequently has to dodge Segway tours that seem intent on running him over.  He identified with sentiments I expressed in a letter to the Statesman a couple of years ago where I described the Segway device as brilliant technology serving little or no purpose.  I should have known the Statesman would edit out my disclaimer regarding those with certain specific disabilities for whom it could possibly be a godsend.  Such cases are probably uncommon because if you can't walk you probably can't stand for a long time and likely have balance problems, but is my understanding they do exist.  So I received indignant e-mails accusing me of insensitivity towards disabled people.  Well, nobody can edit this rant but me, so here we go..... My disdain for Segway tour members is strictly for those able-bodied individuals, and teenagers of most of all, who choose this mode of transportation over walking or bicycling.  What in the hell can you see piloting a Segway that you can't see walking?  In this era of rampant obesity and type 2 diabetes -- 10% heredity and 90% lifestyle induced -- choosing not to walk when it is so obviously appropriate is downright pathetic.      

2-25-2011  -- Gas prices going up, why should you pay even more for higher octane?

Let's start by understanding what octane means, and what it doesn't mean.  It is not a rating of fuel system cleaning ability.  Gasoline has detergents.  This renders fuel injector "flushing" as a maintenance item almost always pointless, but that will be another topic.  Octane ratings do not define the quality or amount of detergent additives.  Most everyone has heard of the practice of occasionally running a tank of premium in a car to "clean it out."  This serves no purpose.  Octane ratings do not define the energy load in a gallon of gasoline.  There is no automatic correlation between increased octane and increased power.  So what does octane mean?  It has been taught that the gasoline engine produces power by gasoline/air mixture explosions.  This is not strictly correct.  The burning should not be a violent explosion, but instead a very rapid flame front should travel across the combustion chamber.  But under certain conditions, before the flame front has completed, all of the remaining fuel/air mixture will spontaneously explode.  This hammers the piston top and the phenomenon is known as "pinging" due to the noise it makes.  Pinging reduces efficiency, and, in excess, is damaging to a gasoline engine.  This is more or less how a diesel engine always burns, and why diesel engines are so noisy.  It is also why they are built with much more massive and rugged pistons, rods, crankshaft, block etc. than used in gasoline engines. 

 Whether or not an engine pings depends on: 

A:  Combustion chamber temperature.  Higher temperature means more tendency to ping.        

B: Incoming air temperature.  Higher temperature means more tendency to ping.  Hence pinging is more prevalent in hot weather. 

C: Ignition timing.  The earlier in the cycle the fuel is ignited, the greater the peak pressure developed and the more tendency to ping.

D: Density of the air/fuel mixture.  The greater the throttle application, the more tendency to ping.  You might hear your engine rattle and ping going up a hill, but not idling or coasting downhill. 

E: Compression ratio.  The higher the compression ratio, the greater the mixture density and hence tendency for the engine to ping.   

F: And...OCTANE RATING OF THE FUEL.  The higher the octane, the more the molecular structure of the fuel is RESISTANT to pinging.  That is what octane means and all that it means -- the fuel's resistance to burning in a violently explosive mode. 

So, traditional informed wisdom has been that one should use the lowest octane where little or no pinging is heard.  Possibly lower in the winter than in the summer, possibly lower for getting groceries than for towing your boat.  Modern computerized engine controls make this not so simple.  For the sake of maximum efficiency -- that is to say maximum fuel mileage and horsepower, minimum emissions -- the compression ratio and ignition timing of a modern engine are pushed close to the point of producing ping.  The modern engine has a "knock sensor."  This is a microphone on the engine tuned to "hear" pinging.  If pinging occurs, it sends a signal to the engine computer that says "Whoa Nellie....back of the ignition timing!"  Pinging is controlled, but fuel mileage and power suffer with the less efficient timing setting.

So my advice is consult the owner's manual.  You rarely need more than the recommended minimum octane rating.   If the owner's manual for your car calls for higher than 87 octane, but the weather is cool or  you drive gently, try using a fuel with less than the recommended octane.  If fuel mileage doesn't suffer and it doesn't rattle and ping going up a hill, save  yourself some money.  Buy the octane rating you need and no more.  Gasoline is expensive enough without spending extra to no purpose.      

2-12-2011 -- Rollerderby one week from today

We have the Holy Rollers (sponsored by Don's Automotive) vs. the Rhinestone Cowgirls.  These are teams in TXRD, which is the banked track league in Austin.  We also have a fine flat track league -- Texas Rollergirls.  As their sponsor, I wish the Holy Rollers the best, but don't have high hopes for them at this bout.  A lot of their players retired recently.  They placed well enough last season that they didn't get first choice drafting new girls.  The word is Kategory 5, captain and easily one of the league's top 5 jammers, has been seriously cracking the whip training the Rhinestone Cowgirls and they will be very hard to beat this year.  Sunday, Feb 20th @ Palmer Auditorium.  Parking is easy, show starts at 7:00, out by about 10:00.  Be advised many TXRD bouts sell out these days, so you had best buy tickets ahead!  Come say hello to me, Tony, Brandon, Torf and whoever at VIP seating.  Tony and Brandon from Don's Automotive are valuable track setup and maintenance workers, as is our family friend Julio.  Hard core brutal competition with a healthy dose of Austin weirdness.            

2-11-2011 -- Ha!! I thought so -- NASA and NHTSA find NO evidence of electronically induced runaway acceleration in any Toyota

See this article.  Yes, Toyota had a problem with floor mats that were too thick and a dubious gas pedal in certain cars.  But what happened after that was media-induced hysteria with help from some obvious publicity hounds and people looking for a scapegoat for their own driving errors.  It became the Audi 5000 phenomenon all over again -- but even more out of control due to the power of the internet.  Brakes are stronger than engines and a car won't runaway if you take it out of gear or turn off the engine -- end of story.  

2-5-2011 -- Our cars and trucks are fixing to lose a little more gas mileage thanks to ethanol

Corn-based ethanol is a huge boondoggle.  It is hard to transport, needs lots of petrochemicals to make and is a net environmental loss.  Unfortunately, all of Washington is terrified of offending mid-west corn farmers who are accustomed to huge subsidies. There was a recent announcement that ethanol polluting your gasoline is going from 10% up to 15%.  A gallon of ethanol contains substantially less energy than a gallon of gasoline.  Expect slightly decreased mileage, possible increased hot weather vapor lock problems, more "check engine" lights, and absolutely NO benefit except for some a misguided perception that ethanol in your tank serves a  "save the planet" purpose.  

2-5-2011 (9:18 AM) -- Come on, warm up out there! 

Despite still being in final recovery from a cursed winter cold and sore throat, I am anxiously waiting for warm weather later today to ride the new custom bicycle I just finished.  It has a Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub which is difficult to obtain in the US -- marketed primarily in Europe and Great Britain.  Shifts like a dream, and can be shifted while motionless!  Joe Riley did some KICK ASS pin-striping work on it.

2-5-2011 -- Get with it, Click & Clack!

I am not a great fan of these guys because I find it annoying how much they laugh at their own "jokes."  But, apart from that, as much as they are rolling in the $$$, why can't they hire someone to check their facts?  In a recent column they discussed a car with a broken timing belt.  On many engines, if a timing belt breaks the pistons and valves crash because they are trying to occupy common space with things out of sync.  This bends valves at great expense.

Click & Clack stated that bent valves can only be verified by teardown or by replacing the belt and seeing what happens.  By merely removing the valve cover, we at Don's Automotive have many, many times verified bent valves.  It is easy to see if any valves are stuck down.  This requires minimal time and NO purchase of parts.  If this is what they mean by "taking it apart" they should have discussed this option.   

Click & Clack stated that if valves are bent a new engine is required!!  That's news to us here at Don's Automotive -- and many other shops I am sure -- who have removed the cylinder head from many a "crashed" engine, sent it to a good machine job to be repaired as needed, and reinstalled it with absolutely NO repercussions down the road.

Click & Clack alluded to a slim chance of extreme good fortune where the belt breaks with the camshaft in a position such that all the valves are half-way open.  No such position exists!  At any position of the camshaft(s) some valves are closed, some are open and some are in between.

If you enjoy hearing people laugh at their own jokes, listen to Car-Talk.  If you want accurate information about matters automotive, look elsewhere.

2-5-2011 -- Journal Launched

Everybody has a "blog."  The sound of that word is unpleasant to me, so I call this a "journal."  Check it out for totally random opinions on automotive and other matters.  I seem to be unofficially retired or semi-retired from stock car racing, so there won't be much about that in here.  I have lots of passion for the sport of rollerderby and bicycling, so expect entries related to both of those.

Website author--Donald E. Lewis
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