RepairPal Blog:

 Mechanic's Corner

Advice from experts concerning automotive parts, repairs, and services

As we begin 2012, I am reminded how our cars have become more and more complicated with each passing year. This added complexity can make repairs very difficult for our service technicians. When I began working on cars in the 1970s, they were pretty basic. Each passing year has added a level of complexity and there seems to be no end in sight. This places a huge burden on entry level technicians and the schools that train them.

Do our cars have too many warning lights? A lot of us may think so, but for years, warning lights were the best way vehicle designers had to inform the driver of a potential fault.

When you get right down to it, the reason car repairs are so expensive is because everyone involved is trying to make a living. The parts supplier must manufacture the part. The parts distributor must inventory and supply the repair shops. The repair shop must charge a labor rate that will allow them to remain in business. The technicians must be paid a hourly wage that reflects their investment in training, certifications, and tools.

As a follow up to last week’s blog describing how a four stroke piston engine works, this week I would like to talk a bit about the different fuels used in cars today. Although an internal combustion engine can run on just about any liquid or gaseous fuel, the two most common are gasoline and diesel.

Everyone knows what an engine is, right? It’s what makes your car go! But how does it work? Let’s take a closer look; it’s not as complicated as it seems.

Since we started using synthetic oil, the quandary has always been how often to change it. There is no question synthetic engine oil lasts longer than conventional mineral-based oil. However, most synthetic oil manufacturers simply defer to the auto manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals. 

Everyone in my generation (fifty-something) and older grew up with cars that required a tune-up as often as every year or 12,000 miles. There were moving parts (ignition points) inside the distributor to wear, and additives in the gas (lead) that left deposits on the spark plugs. As preventive maintenance, the fuel and air filters and PCV valve were commonly replaced, as well. Carburetor adjustments and ignition timing were also checked as part of a tune-up.

Lately, some of us at RepairPal have been traveling to different auto repair shops in our area. Our goal is to determine what makes a great repair shop. From a technical side, that is pretty easy for us to determine. We can look at the training, qualifications, and years of experience of the service advisers and technicians.

The automobiles and trucks being produced today are some of the most technically advanced machines ever built. They are by far the most complex machine any of us will own, yet they are commonly taken for granted. And if they break down before reaching 100k miles, we are disappointed.

Few topics in the automotive repair business are as controversial and confrontational as the fee for a diagnosis. Should a customer have to pay for the time the mechanic spends figuring out what is wrong with a vehicle or only for the repairs he or she actually makes? These days, don't technicians just plug the car into a computer to figure out what's wrong? Everyone, from consumers to advice columnists, have a strong opinion on this topic. But what’s missing is a technician’s point of view on the subject, so here goes …