Monthly Archives: May 2017

Oil Life Monitoring Systems

Oil life monitor systems are changing the way vehicle owners decide when to take their car in for service, some of the changes are good, and some have the potential for serious trouble. The first thing that needs to be taken into consideration is whether the oil change service was performed with a fluid that meets the manufacturers specifications, and we are not just talking the SAE viscosity, there is a lot more to it than that. For the GM vehicles mentioned above, the bottle must display the dexos1 lable to be a licensed GM product and it doesn’t matter what else someone might write on the outside of the bottle. Some companies will write statements like “Meets the engine protection requirements of dexos” but the dexos label is missing from the front of the bottle, which means the oil does not meet all of the requirements and should not be used. Dexos also does not require a “full synthetic”, a group III base stock is capable of meeting the dexos requirements, however a group IV / groupV blend that meet dexos requirements would offer advantages and a greater margin of protection.

Nearly every manufacturer today has vehicles that require oils that meet their proprietary specifications, when you check your owner’s manual you will see the API and ILSAC ratings such as 5W20, 5W30, 0W30 etc. GM’s requirement normally looks like “Look for the API symbol and ILSAC starburst. Use an oil meeting SAE 5W30 and GM specification GM6094M”. Now that is paraphrased here, but when you look in your manual it is usually in bold print immediately below the API donut, and ILSAC starburst. Today if your manual shows GM6094M, or GM4718M, they are both obsolete specifications and are replaced by dexos. The one video linked here shows the manual in the background and the GM4718M specification is clearly visible, that car today to be serviced correctly should get a dexos licensed product.

Another common trap is the accidental resetting of the monitor system. GM publications specifically instruct owners to change their oil at 3000 miles if the system is accidently reset and no longer accurate. Some recommendations associated with this topic suggest sending an oil sample out for lab testing and yes you can definitely do that. Fleets do it all of the time in order to try and control expenses. But is that additional $25-$30 expense per test really justifiable for the average consumer? If you own and are maintaining one of the more expensive European models, and your oil changes cost around $100-$120 then maybe so. But if your vehicle can be serviced correctly for $29.00 you may not want to nearly double your expense.

One of the biggest issues with the extended service intervals has to do with getting a technician to take a look at all of the other things that also need checked periodically. Many issues develop slowly over a period of time so the normal driver simply doesn’t notice them until they finally create a situation that gets the drivers attention. The tendency for many owners to take their vehicles to quick lubes causes them to lose the chance for the kind of attention to detail and disciplined approach to properly inspecting their car that only a true master technician can deliver. Now with the fact that cars can go a year or more between even one of the most basic services has many vehicles being neglected. This is resulting in breakdowns, and greater failures than the owners would otherwise have had to deal with. It’s also contributing to a situation where there are fewer places that can handle the larger problems that can occur which means sudden breakdowns can lead to a longer period of time without your car.

Organize Your Car in Five Steps

Many Americans spend more time in their cars than in most rooms of their homes, yet they neglect their wheels when it comes to regular housekeeping. When it gets really messy, organizing your car can seem as daunting as keeping a closet in order. So we asked California Closet’s organizational expert Ginny Snook Scott how to sort out, size up, store and contain your car cargo in five easy steps. Then we added some ideas for finding the necessary gear to clear out the clutter.

Step one: Sort and clean up

Take everything out of the car, including car seats, music and miscellaneous items stored in the glovebox and door pockets. Don’t forget the trunk and cargo area! Chances are you’ll find all kinds of trash to toss. Organize the rest of the items into three piles: stuff you use all the time, things you use occasionally and items you might need in an emergency. Whatever doesn’t fall into these categories should be stored in your home or garage.

Step two: Analyze

Ask yourself, “How do I use my car?” Are you a salesperson who travels with a trunk load of samples, a parent with two toddlers in car seats or a realtor squiring prospective clients from property to property? Do you make a lot of short trips or are long journeys the norm? What are you always struggling to find? The answers to these questions should determine your priorities.

Step three: Prioritize

Depending upon your needs, go through your three piles and prioritize the most important items in each group. What do you need to keep close at hand and what can be relegated to the second row or back of the car? Pay attention to duplicates. For example, it’s a good idea to keep drinking water in the car, but not a bunch of half-empty bottles. When you bring three new CDs into the car, take three that you’re tired of back to your house. And just like seasonal clothes in a closet, many items such as ice scrapers and tire chains can be packed away in summer.

Step four: Contain your needs

Loose objects in the car lead to disorganization and mess. In the event of a sudden stop or a crash, they can also damage your car or, worse, injure your occupants. Automotive accessory shops offer a variety of cargo containers and organizers for every part of the car, from leakproof litter bags, CD storage and trunk organizers to drink coolers, folding hangers and kids’ entertainment centers. For the businessperson, the Lewis N Clark “Business Center” holds folders and has a writing surface and detachable portfolio. Talus makes a great line of car organizers, including the CarGanizer and the Kids Car Travel Organizer, which can make a world of difference. Sites for such storage products include AJ Prindle, The Busy Woman, Family on Board, The Container Store and Amazon.com.

Step five: Store

Store items you use regularly in places where you can reach them. Can’t find a place to store that big box of facial tissue? Try a “tissue cup,” a paper cup that fits into a cupholder and dispenses tissues one at a time. Of course, keep insurance information, maps, directions and other documents together in the glovebox. And be creative about storing lesser-used and seasonal items — there are often nooks and crannies around the spare tire or in the rear walls of the car that can hold a small first-aid kit, roadside flares or jumper cables. Your owner’s manual (now that you can find it) can be helpful in pointing out hooks and cubbies that might have been overlooked.

Finally, don’t put anything on the floor — even trash — unless it’s designed to sit there. Once you start messing up the floor, you’ll find it too easy to keep adding to it, and soon your car will be cluttered again!

Find a Good Car Mechanic

Crowdsourced review sites have greatly simplified the search. Here are a few tips on how to work these sites to find a good car mechanic in your area. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes a highly rated shop might disappoint, but at least you can tilt the odds in your favor.

Yelp
Yelp.com describes itself as a site that “connects people with great businesses,” whether that’s a hot new restaurant or a top-notch dentist. And, luckily for car owners, it also has auto repair reviews. The site is free and has a mobile version, plus apps for Android and Apple mobile devices. Here are a few tips to help you narrow down your mechanic search. Type “auto repair” into the search field and enter your ZIP code. You can filter the results based on distance, most reviewed and highest rated. The goal should be to find a place that strikes a balance between a good rating and a substantial number of reviews. For example, a place may have a glowing review, but if it’s the only review, that customer’s experience might not be the same as yours. Or worse, it could be a misleading review from an employee or business owner. Yelp has an algorithm that helps it spot misleading reviews, but sometimes they can slip by undetected. That’s why it is important not to put too much stock in one review. Instead, see what patterns emerge after you’ve read numerous reviews. Look for reviews that are specific and give plenty of details about the users’ experiences. Sometimes, the owner of an establishment will reply to a review. This response can either be a thank you to someone for a good review or a defense or apology if the review was a negative one. Either way, we consider a thoughtful reply a good sign — particularly in response to a negative review. It shows that the business cares about its reputation.

Angie’s List
Angie’s List prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for its reviews, which cover everything from automotive listings to home repair and even wedding planning. In a search we did for our area, Angie’s List provided a number of repair shops nearby, but we found the volume of reviews lacking when compared to Yelp. For example, one repair shop we used for the Lexus had just one review on Angie’s List, and it was from 2008. The same shop had 22 reviews on Yelp, with the most recent one being less than a month old. The small number of reviews on Angie’s List can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the chance of a falsified review drops considerably, since the site requires a paid membership to access the site and post a review. But at the same time, it is hard to get a feel for a shop that has very little feedback.

Google
Google’s enormous database will yield the greatest number of search results, but they may require some extra filtering to be useful. Type “auto repair near” into the search field. Ignore the sponsored ads at the top of the page. The repair shops will appear about halfway down the page, with their address to the right of their listing. Google has its own review and scoring system. Approach these as you would Yelp reviews.

Tips for Choosing the Right Auto Body Shop

It’s not uncommon for estimates from different body shops to vary wildly. One shop might give you an estimate for $500 while another wants $2,000 for the work. What’s the difference? And when is it OK to choose the cheaper shop? John Mallette, owner of Burke Auto Body & Paint, in Long Beach, California, knows better than most people how to choose a reliable shop. Mallette started working on cars when he was 12 years old and has been in the body shop business for 24 years. Here are some of his tips for choosing the right shop to work on your car — particularly when you’re the one paying the bills.

1) Pay Attention to Word-of-Mouth
Any business can advertise, but you’ll do better with a shop that friends, family or acquaintances recommend. It’s a business that has proven it can satisfy customers. And it might not be the biggest or best-known shop in your area. Mallette went to a shop years ago on such recommendations and found that the owner was a “real stand-up guy. He doesn’t advertise on the Internet; it’s a family-owned shop,” Mallette says. “But, golly, if you take your car there, you’ll get a fair price.” In some cases, you might get a recommendation for a small shop where the owner works on the cars himself. “That’s how I like doing business,” Mallette says. “To me it seems so much more personal and then you can understand what’s really going on with your car.”

2) Consider the Operation’s Location and Overhead
“Where you get screwed in our business is labor hours,” Mallette explains. His shop charges $40 per hour for labor. But in ritzy parts of West Los Angeles, the per-hour labor charge is $60-$65. In wealthy Newport Beach, California, Mallette has heard of $90-per-hour labor charges. Large body shops with a lot of front-office workers probably have to charge higher rates to pay their staff. While service delivered by front-desk folks, managers and foremen gives some people a feeling of confidence in the business, it can result in estimates that are padded with non-essential work. When they’re charging more labor hours at a higher rate, your bill can add up quickly.

In his shop, Mallette says he does things by the book — literally. Body shops and garages use reference guides that estimate the number of hours required to perform common repairs. “Let’s say somebody has damage to their fender, bumper and headlight,” Mallette tells us. “I go to my book, I write an estimate and I basically go by the hours mandated by the book.” By contrast, the higher-end shops might decide to charge for everything in “the gray area,” meaning those things that they might have to do to fix the problem. In Mallette’s example, high-end estimates might include a charge for time spent removing the hood and the door, while his judgment call is not to perform this additional work.

3) Get Several Estimates
Taking your car to several auto body shops for repair quotes is the best way to avoid overcharges, Mallette notes. “I’ll tell people to go get some estimates and bring ’em back to me. I’ll match estimates if I can.” And while it’s important to protect against being overcharged, you shouldn’t simply take the lowest quote. “You might get some kind of midnight guy who will say he can do it really cheap,” he says. “Stay away from those guys, because there is something they’re not doing. You could have major problems down the road.”