Category Archives: Shop Talk

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!

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 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.

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.

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.

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 .

“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!

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.”  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.

Click and Clack, this is pitiful!

3-09-2013 —

(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 un-driveable 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.