Author Archives: Don Lewis

Which sequence makes sense?

1. Prepare an estimate first, diagnose later.
2. Diagnose first and then estimate.

The answer to this seems so obvious as to not be worthy of discussion but there are many who want the first option!

“Car won’t run so how much is a fuel pump replacement?” This question does NOT include a useful diagnosis.

For more on this topic see “What if?” post.

Don

“What if?” estimates.

We get a lot of requests to prepare estimates for two scenarios where, IMHO, preparing an estimate is a poor use of our time.

For a fairly complex repair a proper estimate takes considerable time in that we have to search for the best quality parts and search multiple sources for price and timely availability. No Autozone or similar starters or alternators! BEST QUALITY ONLY! You don’t want to bring back a vehicle for a warranty repair that could have been prevented with quality parts. We don’t want to do the job twice and get paid only once. The labor operations have to be looked up. If we have seen the vehicle and it has been diagnosed by us we are more than happy to go to this trouble. When the diagnosis sounds extremely improbable and comes from a less than impeccable source, then preparing an estimate based on “But what if?” is a waste of time.

The second category is all too common. Somebody brings a relatively low mileage and reliable vehicle such as a Honda or Toyota to the dealer for an air bag recall or maybe a discounted oil change, and is presented with a laundry list of recommended services totaling hundreds or event thousands of dollars. They would like us to go through the list and hope we can quote it for less. There is a problem with this way of thinking. Either you trust the service writer at the dealership — who is paid 100% on commission, by the way — to be on your side or you don’t. If you don’t have that trust and feel the dealership wants to charge you more than a fair rate for the services, how can you trust that the services are important or even serve any purpose whatsoever? In fact a simple check of the factory maintenance schedule will usually confirm that the great bulk of these are NOT recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. This applies to just about anything defined as a “flush,” or “fuel injection service.” If you pay too much to have your car serviced at the dealership, a less than ethical independent shop or a franchise, 90% of the time the reason is NOT that the parts or labor operations are too expensive but that they are not necessary.

Why not this? Just let us check out the vehicle and we will commit to preparing an estimate that will generate us a fair profit so we can stay in business and at the same time contain no labor operations or parts that do not serve a legitimate purpose in keeping your vehicle running well for as long as possible.

Thanks for reading and considering this! Don

Don’s Automotive HATES doing warranty work, but PLEASE READ what this means.

It does not mean we will evade a warranty rework of something we did. If there is even a grey area that something needs to be covered under our warranty we will cheerfully take care of it even if it might fall into a grey area.

What the title of this post means is we do not want a warranty situation to occur in the first place, most of all when we should have known better. That means we do a job twice and only get paid once, the vehicle owner is inconvenienced and there could even be tow service expense incurred. For these reasons, we install only the most reliable parts available. We just say no to cheap starters, alternators, etc. with a known poor track record regardless of the fact that they might cost considerably less than parts with a good track record.

Our #1 wholesale parts supplier will look up the parts return % of any part # on request. I check this frequently. When the part # is priced to low to be true, but the statistics on it are not so good, that part # is not an option for us or an option of last resort if there is simply nothing else available. (Rare circumstance.)

Thank you for reading this and your understanding, Don

Fast and cheap oil change places:

Jiffy Lube.

Jiffy Lube reviews.

Maybe this does not happen at every Jiffy Lube. But this link is far from the only expose’ of cheap “while-you-wait” oil change services. Wal-Mart I could fill the next 10 pages with similar links. If such places work for you I am happy for your good fortune. if they don’t, Don’s Automotive is happy to provide the service, but NOT while-you-wait and not at a loss leader price.

MOTOR OIL CHOICES

A while back a customer was concerned because she had always used Mobil 1 in her car and we did not put in Mobil 1. In fairness to us, she had not asked for Mobil 1, I think because she simply forgot. I was able to reassure her that the oil we put in her car was far superior to what was specified in her 2002 Nissan when it was manufactured. With certain exceptions, which I will get to down the page, what you are looking for in motor oil is not that complicated. You should not second-guess the vehicle manufacturer’s viscosity recommendations. These may or may not vary according to the anticipated temperatures at which the vehicle is going to be operated. A straight weight oil changes absolute viscosity greatly with temperature — example simple 30 weight will be much thicker at 0* F. than at 200* F. Not good, thick and slow to flow when the car is started in cold weather, thin at operating high operating temperatures. 10w30 motor oil means at a lower temperature — typically but not always 0* F., the motor oil has only thickened as much as a straight 30 weight, at 200* F. it has only thinned as much as a straight 30 weight oil. This is done with additives and/or synthetic base stocks. Since my customer’s Nissan was built in 2002, oil standards have become much more stringent. Besides the American Petroleum Institute we have ILSAC whose recommended oil quality classifications have become much more stringent. Look for these on a bottle of oil and it will meet the latest most stringent specs (except keep reading and see below!) GM is an exception and formulated its own standard “Dexos.”

To meet these newer highest standards, API “SN”, ILSAC “GF-5” or General Motors “Dexos,” the oil will be a synthetic blend if not a full synthetic. For today’s passenger cars the most common oil is 5w-20 or 0-w20 viscosity. To my knowledge these are sold as full synthetic only.

Diesels and certain extreme high performance engines, often European, sometimes have their own proprietary standards but essentially if the oil is API “SN” and ILSAC “GF-5” licensed and of the manufacturer’s recommend viscosity it is the best available at this time and that is what is used at Don’s Automotive for your Asian model car or your non-GM domestic model. ILSAC is working on a yet more stringent “GF-6” standard and the American Petroleum Institute will sure be replacing “Service-SN.” When oils meetings these standards are available that is what Don’s Automotive will keep. We keep diesel spec oil and we keep Dexos for GM products.

Mobil 1 and Castrol brands are examples of powerful name brand recognition marketing that got a jump on the competition but that does not mean other oils are not every bit as good.

Modern cars can go a long time between oil changes, but PLEASE don’t forget to pull the dipstick occasionally between changes!

What to do? Don’s is not convenient for fast oil change type service and Don’s does not do state inspection!

We have a small but usually very busy shop that focuses on AC diagnosis and repair, brakes, electrical diagnosis and repair, engine computer control diagnosis and repair, clutch replacement, suspension and steering. This focus is not at all compatible with performing state safety inspections. Oil changes can be done, but our work flow does not permit them to be done on a “while you wait” basis. They will be done carefully and the car will be test driven afterwards and we will review your vehicle’s additional service needs and check whatever records we have in the computer. If “while you wait” is important for your oil change, state inspection and similar services, we understand fully and we highly recommend Lube Pit Stop on South Lamar, an established locally owned business.

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 experiencing 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.