No, it does not do that, or at least not yet!

I am frequently asked if the fact that a car has been fueled with a certain brand of gas, or a certain type of oil has been used — perhaps synthetic — means that now the car needs to continue with the same diet. Not really, as long as the fuel is legitimate and meets the vehicle manufacturer’s octane requirements and as long as the motor oil meets the vehicle manufacturer’s specs, you will be fine. If a long term vegetarian tells me that they decided to go wild and gorge on roast beef and that caused a severe gastric or other reaction, I would believe that their body could not handle what it become unaccustomed to. The automotive engine does not yet have such sophisticated adaptive mechanisms to become dependent on a certain brand of motor oil. Maybe in a few years! In fact I will qualify my statements above to point out that “flex fuel” vehicles measure the percentage of alcohol in the fuel line electrically and signal the computer to adjust engine parameters accordingly. But short of a software or mechanical problem these cars can go back and forth with no problem.

Yes, it really does that……

Today a lady called me about her Camry. She suspected the battery was failing so went to Autozone to have it tested. They said it was bad and we will give them the benefit of the doubt that their store clerk was correct. But as she drove away her car stalled every time she let off the gas. It was better by the time she got home. What did they do to her car? Not exactly anything, but it is what Autozone did not know that caused her worry. Most modern cars are “drive by wire” which is to say between the gas pedal and the throttle on the engine there is no longer a simple mechanical connection like a cable or a rod with swivels. Instead the gas pedal sends an electronic signal to the engine/powertrain computer and the computer sends appropriate commands to a special motor on the throttle which opens the throttle as required. Over time perhaps the throttle body wears and doesn’t close the same, or perhaps deposits build up on the throttle blade causing it to flow less air into the engine when at a certain angle. So the car could idle too fast or too slow. But as was unimaginable in the 60s or even the 70s, the computer keeps track of the idle speed and learns to correct for wear or sludge so that the throttle is always cracked just the right amount for the idle speed built into the computer’s software. This learning was lost when the battery was disconnected for replacement so for a mile or two or three the car kept stalling. By the time this lady got home the computer had largely relearned and things were getting under control again. The Autozone clerk who installed the battery simply wasn’t aware of how this works, but I reassured the Camry owner that she didn’t need to bring her car.

All’s well that end’s well.

When we replace a battery in such a car we clean the throttle body to help the car idle initially and we test drive the car afterwards to avoid the customer experience their car stalling repeatedly.

Groupons, loss-leaders, etc. = BAD NEWS!

Recently a friend of mine who is not at all impoverished was seduced by a Groupon deal for a silly cheap oil change.  He was 50 miles out of town going to a hiking trip when the oil pan drain plug fell out and he had to have the car towed back to Austin.  He was at highway speed so by the time he pulled over the perfectly good engine in his Toyota Matrix was destroyed by running with no oil.  For reasons that I will never understand, he agreed to pay $750 for the junkyard motor the shop installed at no labor charge.  I later informed him that any legitimate shop carries a “garageman’s liability” insurance policy that should have provided him with a replacement engine of equal or better value installed at no cost to him whatsoever and the use of a rental car until repairs were complete.

Several years ago, being an avid cyclist, I foolishly used a Groupon deal for a cycling fitness evaluation.  The means of evaluating VO2 Max, overall fitness etc., were obviously based on very unsound methods and of no scientific credibility at all.  At least no harm was done and when I raised objections the two “Bike gurus” gave me a full refund cheerfully.

My wife and I would like to forget a gruesome meal we had at a new restaurant with the Groupon deal she found.

I am far more comfortable paying a fair, not exorbitant, of course, price for all goods and services I receive.

A viable business will not be so desperate as to offer services way below cost just to get bodies in the door.

In the automotive field there is a far too prevalent practice of pricing oil and filter changes at far less than they can be carefully and ethically performed for.  Of course, this means they will be performed by a person of minimal skill and ethics and accompanied with high pressure attempts to “upsell” totally unneeded services.

“Free towing when we do the work,” “free diagnosis” in this age of electronic controls where proper diagnosis can require considerable skill, equipment and time typically end up being quite costly.

Don’s Automotive and Don personally want no part of this.

 

 

 

Let us talk about “tune-ups.”

“I am taking a road trip in my 2008 Honda Fit and I wanted it checked out and, I guess a “tune-up.” “Don’s Automotive no longer performs “tune-ups.”

This is not my being difficult, but, rather we need to look at a fundamental change in automotive technology.

Here is an analogy for all you musicians: A Steinway grand piano has over 200 strings each of which has a tuning peg. It has 88 hammers each of which is propelled by a mechanism that has multiple adjustments. To be worthy of a concert performance this piano requires a few hours of tuning quite frequently.

Now let us consider a modern Yamaha electronic piano. You can make a selection to emulate all sorts of instruments perhaps including the Steinway grand. It does this through the software written to it. Can it be “tuned” in the traditional sense? Not at all!

Ok, a 1965 Ford pickup has adjustable points which slowly wear and go out of adjustment from the day they are replaced, adjustable timing, adjustable idle speed, adjustable accelerator pump to give a little gas when the pedal is depressed suddenly, adjustable to choke to give extra gas for cold starts and cold running. So, there are lots of things to “tune” and the skilled tuner will even make allowance for what octane fuel is usually purchased, altitude, driver taste and etc. etc.

The modern car has none of these adjustments and everything is written into a computer program. It is not “tunable.” At somewhere around 100k miles a spark plug replacement is called for. This does not change the “tune” of the car but merely prevents a malfunction should the spark plugs become too worn to operate reliably — triggering a misfire and a “check engine’ light. Likewise the air filter should occasionally be checked and replaced before it can become so grossly dirty as to impede airflow into the engine. If something in the emissions/powertrain control system should fail it will usually trigger a “check engine” light and perhaps poorer performance and a specific targeted repair is needed.

Better Late Than Never

Such a long time with no update!

I offer the excuse that, after all, I did suffer sudden cardiac arrest on Oct. 23, 2014. Happy to report that not only was I one of the 6% or less who survives this — sudden cardiac arrest is MUCH WORSE than a “heart attack” — but I am back to almost pre-event strength thanks to those present at the time and excellent Travis County/Austin EMS. Back on the bike rides and doing my best to stay fit. Tony took over the shop for a month and did an excellent job. We are now partners in the no longer a sole-proprietorship Don’s Automotive which became Don’s Automotive LLC. I am now “semi-retired,” meaning I am normally only at the shop Mon-Wed, although those are long days. Thursday and Friday the shop is in excellent hands with Tony at the desk and Brandon and James in the shop. We are all flexible and capable of multiple hats with the exception that I leave the hands-on to the young folks these days .

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.

“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.

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 .