Category Archives: Shop Talk

PLEASE. your engine oil dipstick is not obsolete…(well with a few exceptions.)

“I have a check engine light on and my car is jerking when I try to accelerate.”

“Have you checked your dipstick to be sure your car is not running out of oil?”

“Oh, I had it changed just two months ago.”

Here at Don’s Automotive we certainly do not advocate ignoring this periodic maintenance item. .  However, far more critical than changing oil is making sure that the oil level is within safe limits.  If you own a Tesla there is no conventional engine and no engine oil level dipstick.  If you own certain luxury European vehicles oil level is monitored electronically.  Most everything else has a dipstick.   Engines develop oil leaks that can be small or large.  Engine burn some amount of oil with no external drips.  It is entirely possible and not that abnormal for an engine to need oil level topped off when only halfway or less to the time for an oil change.  Engines are destroyed if driven a mile or two with zero oil pressure due to lack of oil.  Modern engines have variable valve timing systems to optimize power and fuel efficiency.  The hydraulic engine controls for this system receive computer commands to operate valves and servos that are dependent on engine oil pressure. Hence as oil level drops and oil pressure drops out a check engine light and poor running is often the first sign of low oil.  Please do not wait that long.  Every year we inform more than one client that their engine suffered major damage from lack of oil and given the cost of engine replacement the car should go to a salvage yard.   Don’t let this be you!  Thanks from Don!

Extended Warranty Programs — NO!!!

These are additional profit for a dealer who sells them, pushed heavily because the profit involved in selling the warranty often exceeds the profit margin on the car.  Not surprising that they try to scare you with the possibility of expensive repairs.  They are pure profit for the those sold outside of a dealership, that is to say the those sold by sleazy companies that harass you on your smartphone.

Although it happens once in a blue moon, it is very rare that an extended warranty pays the car owner more in benefits than what the warranty costs over the years.  These companies exist for one reason and one reason only.  That is to take in as much as the market will bear and pay out little or nothing.  They are very skilled at finding ways to avoid paying anything.

A few months ago a customer was all set to get her alternator replaced on a Honda and then she mentioned she had an extended warranty.  She insisted that this company was different and paid with no hassle.  NOT QUITE!  Against my better judgement and against our long term policy of having nothing to do with these, I agreed to work with the warranty .  As was 100% predictable, the time spent dealing with getting the customer only a partial payment for her repair expense exceeded the time with hands on the car to repair it.  So the majority of the time spent on this repair ticket we never got paid for.

I am sorry if this causes disappointment, but I will not make that mistake again!

Thank you for your understanding, Don


I, (Don) have been away from the shop for quite some time.  The reason why is I had a left total knee replacement that was going great guns until I made an accidental bad move that opened the incision leading to infection.  That put me back way behind even where I started at.   The “revision” procedure involved removing the replacement knee because the metal harbors staph.  Then a temporary non-metallic spacer was installed which is minimally flexible and not intended for weight-bearing.  Next antibiotic IV drips three times a day for 6 weeks.  Yesterday I finished that regimen and left the skilled nursing facility where this was administered after I got out of St. David’s.    In about two weeks I will get the knee replacement all over again.  My stepson and partner, Tony, was able to recruit Jimmy Preston for the front desk and you would think he has been doing this all his life!  We have received glowing positive feedback on his ability and, to my knowledge, not one complaint.  Tony and James are absolutely kicking ass with a very busy summer schedule.  Nice to have the shop in such good hands when I am limited to checking voicemail and social media marketing and such remotely!  When I am back mobile I am seriously considering ramping up the level of my retirement to a few hours at the shop hours per week.  At age 73 I don’t do hands-on, I am sometimes a little absent-minded.  Please be assured you have a superb team with Tony, James and Jimmy.  I WILL be going back to the bike rides i have enjoyed so much and can find worthwhile things to occupy my time without three 10-12 hour days/week.  STAY TUNED and thank you for your loyalty and support!




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