Author Archives: Don Lewis

Mobil 1 motor oil, “Intel Inside,” “Die-Hard car batteries,” “The man from Orkin….” What do these have in common?

Triumph of prolonged consistent marketing has convinced the public these names signify top tier quality and value and products superior to others that are not as well known.  But do they?  The failure rate of Intel PC processors in miniscule.  The failure rate of PC processors made by AMD is equally miniscule and they cost less.  Is there any objective reason to trust the “Man from Orkin” more than any other exterminator?  A friend of mine was incredulous when I told him it sounded like the battery in his car had failed.  “It can’t be the battery!  It’s a Die-hard!  That’s supposed to be a good battery!”  There are only two automotive battery manufacturers of any significance in the United States.  Globe-Union and Johnson Controls make batteries for Sears, Interstate, and most everybody else.  Some batteries come from overseas.  Don’s Automotive buys batteries from a distributor who does not deal in sufficient volume to have a trade name like “Die-Hard” molded into the case.  You need the volume of somebody like Sears for that.  “Die-Hard” and Interstate “Mega-tron” batteries fail young in Texas heat just like any other.

Mobil 1 is a high quality motor oil that is 100% synthetic and is certified to meet the newest and most rigorous American Petroleum Institute standards and those of ILSAC: The International Lubricant Standardization and Advisory Committee.   So are many other brands of motor oil, many of which you have never heard of.

If you have a headache will it be reduced sooner with Bayer aspirin as opposed to HEB house brand aspirin at 25% the cost?

It pays to be cynical when it comes to massive advertising campaigns.

Don’s Automotive keeps Mobil 1 engine oil for those that request it.  We don’t consider it a great value and use full synthetic oil of other brands in our own cars.  I recently went online and verified that “Pureguard” motor oil is certified to meet the most rigorous API and ILSAC standards.

If the rack & pinion steering gear in your Camry starts to leak we could replace it with a genuine Toyota branded “remanufactured” part.  Or we could use a Maval “remanufactured” steering gear with a two year warranty — Toyota’s warranty is one year — for a lower cost.  Guess who supp[lies Toyota and Lexus with “remanufactured” steering gears?



KUT, The Battered Woman’s Center and many other organizations are very worthy causes.  So why not donate your tired car to one of these?  Well, because your car does not really go to one of these laudable organizations.  The car goes to a for-profit broker.  The broker auctions the car off to a salvage yard.  The worthy cause gets a small percentage of the proceeds.  For the worthy cause 5% of something is better than 0% of nothing and they need every dime they can get so they agree to let their name be used in the process.

You would come out ahead googling “Auto parts used” and getting bids from salvage yards for your tired vehicle.   By all means give half of what they pay you for it to KUT or the Battered Woman’s Center or your favorite cause.  Everybody comes out ahead except the for-profit junk vehicle broker.



Recalls, technical service bulletins, warranty extensions ARE ALL DIFFERENT,

  1.  Recall:  The vehicle is recalled to repair what has been determined, (usually by the federal government) to be a safety hazard or something causing emissions standards to be violated.  The manufacturer is obligated to pay 100% of the cost, but watch out for a dealer that uses the recall as an opportunity to recommend a huge list of services that will add up to considerable expense and all too often serve no purpose.  There is no time or mileage limitation on a safety recall.  “Salvage title” vehicles that should have gone to the scrapyard may not be covered.
  2. Technical Service Bulletin:  This is information published by the vehicle manufacturer as to what is a likely cause of a vehicle malfunction with recommendations on the course of repair.  The fact that a problem is described in a technical service bulletin does not obligate the vehicle manufacturer to cover the expense of the repair, although the manufacturer might volunteer to do so.  See below.
  3. Warranty Extension:  While this may have been negotiated as part of a recall — see #1 — it is typically an offer by the vehicle manufacturer to appease the public when there have been egregious failures in some part of the vehicle.  This could be something like covering the cost of an extremely expensive digital display screen for  a much longer period than it would be covered by the basic vehicle warranty.

When researching a vehicle problem on the internet, it frequently seems like “They all do that!” But the percentages are not what they seem.  Typically for everybody who posts a particular problem there are hundreds or thousands of owners of the same make and model who have not experienced the issue with their vehicle.


We try to maintain a schedule to minimize turnaround time to repair your vehicle.  If we put a repair on the schedule we have made a commitment to get it back to you ASAP, unless, of course, you specifically told us “no rush.”    Plans change so we ask you PLEASE to let us know if you will not be bringing in the vehicle as scheduled.  To facilitate communication voicemail switches on automatically when we are closed.and there is also  Thanks for your cooperation!  Don

I have been WAY behind the times — AMEX is now no problem.

For as long as I can remember AMEX fees to the merchant were exorbitant so I discouraged or outright refused to take the card.  Reviewing my CC processing fees  I find AMEX is now pretty much in line with all the others.  While it is inevitable that some car repairs will be expensive and we can only do so much about that, no need to be inflexible about method of payment!  Bring your AMEX card!

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.


“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

We HATE 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.


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!