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 .

“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.

Took me long enough …

… but this web site WILL be brought up to date.

I am reorganizing the front end with links away from Don’s Automotive to stock car racing (don’t look for much new in that — I am retired), cycling, and my passion for playing or refurbishing 100 year old full size upright pianos. I just had a huge block on getting started maintaining it again, but here we go.

You are in good hands

3-09-2013 —

I will soon post bios and pix of my three young guys that comprise by far the best team Don’s Automotive has ever had. Trust me! Anyway, you will have to do so more and more. I now come in only three days a week, and one of these days that will become two and etc. Tony, Brandon and Nick are human and have been known to make a mistake, but so have I! They are not half as grumpy as I am. You ARE in good hands.