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RepairPal Blog:

Mechanic's Corner

Advice from experts concerning automotive parts, repairs, and services

The issue of trust and Automotive Repair Shops has been in the news for years.  I live in the SF Bay Area and about every 6 months one of the major, network-affiliated TV stations will do an undercover sting-like "expose" about Auto Repair Shops "ripping off" the public.

AutoNation conducted a poll and found that for over 70% of the consumers called the number one complaint was a lack of trust in the process of having their vehicle serviced and repaired.  This seems to be particularly true for women, who, at least based on many of my own conversations with female customers, believe that repair shops feel that women are more gullible than men.

This is the third in a series of blog posts that our Honda expert, Robert Isbell, is writing for RepairPal. Robert has worked at Honda dealerships for over 22 years as a technician, shop foreman and service manager. He has developed and led new owner clinics that educate new owners about their cars and he will be contributing to  our blog to educate our visitors about the methods for getting the most out of your service experience.

Missed the preceding post? Click here.

This is the second in a series of blog posts that our Honda expert, Robert Isbell, is writing for RepairPal. Robert has worked at Honda dealerships for over 22 years as a technician, shop foreman and service manager. He has developed and led new owner clinics that educate new owners about their cars and he will be contributing to our blog to educate our visitors about the methods for getting the most out of your service experience.

If you missed the preceding post about finding a shop, click here.

As of January 2, 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued by The State of California in the hope of overturning a denial for a waiver under The Clean Air Act to set stricter Emission Control standards.  There are potentially another 13-15 States ready to join California in this lawsuit.  What this means is that the Automakers, who are struggling to stay alive, will have to make several different Emission Control Systems for new vehicles so that they can be sold to the States that have adopted the new California Standards or the Federal Standards.

For many years, there have been Federally Certified Emission Control vehicles and California Certified Emission Control vehicles.  In the 1980s there were some real differences in these Emission Controls, but as time has passed, the Federal Vehicles became much less common and the real differences in their Emission Control Systems are basically zero. (For more, see our Check Engine Light article.)

This is the first in a series of blog posts that our Honda expert, Robert Isbell, will be writing for RepairPal. Robert has worked at Honda dealerships for over 22 years as a technician, shop foreman and service manager. He has developed and led new owner clinics that educate new owners about their cars and he will be contributing to our blog to educate our visitors about the methods for getting the most out of your service experience.

What you should do before you make your first service appointment

What's a Wheel Alignment and When Do I Need One?

When we notice our vehicle begins to pull to the right or left while in motion, things are no doubt starting to get out of whack – or for a better term - "out of alignment."  To correct the problem, a wheel alignment requires attention from a certified mechanic who will perform the necessary maintenance and see to it that all the wheels are parallel and the rubber can once again firmly meet the road.

About 1-2 times per week I am put in the position of having to explain why a vehicle has poor braking performance when the brakes were just serviced or repaired 1-2 weeks ago by another shop.  Typically the brakes are noisy--either squeaking or making a bothersome rubbing sound when applied.  Often the problem has to do with a vibration or pulsation when the brakes are applied, especially when slowing down to exit from a freeway.  Sometimes it has to do with the pedal being too soft and the brakes not having enough stopping force.

All the above concerns often have to do with poor quality brake parts.  In the late 1980s, the manufacturers had to stop using asbestos in any brake parts.  Of course this was a good thing for the peoples' health, but the factories have had a hard time coming up with brake pads and shoes that stop vehicles without a lot of loud squeaking or rubbing sounds.  I was working at two different dealerships at the time asbestos disappeared, and every other week we would get another shipment of brake pads or shoes that were supposed to "work". The point here is that it hasn't been easy for the some of the best engineers to develop a workable brake pad or shoe that stops without squeaking or grinding.

Every week when I explain to a customer what a diagnostic inspection has revealed about their vehicle and what needs to be replaced and/or repaired in order for the vehicle to run or operate properly, I always recommend factory quality parts in the estimate.

I don't do this because the business I work for makes more money on factory parts (or original equipment manufacturer -- "OEM," for short), because I get a potential bonus for selling these parts, or even because they save the customer money.  In fact, using factory quality parts probably missing on all three counts, and selling a universal aftermarket parts probably would do all three.  There are a couple of useful things customers should know about factory quality parts and auto repair.

We here at RepairPal have been receiving tons of feedback from you about the complexities that revolve around the automotive repair process. Many of you have commented on the difficulties involved with having to return to the shop several times to have a problem addressed, sometimes without a resolution. This often results in wasted time and money, and you may still have a vehicle with the original problem! What we at RepairPal will continue to do is to provide you with the tools necessary to increase your chances of resolving these difficult problems.

While there are many automotive repair shops that strive to "Fix it Right the First Time", this is not always an easy task. Providing the service advisor, and thus the mechanic working on the car with the appropriate information is a major step toward resolving vehicle problems. One of the tools we will be providing over the coming months are questionnaire sheets that will ask you, the person experiencing the problem, about the symptoms related to the problem. When you can provide this valuable information from the start, your chances of a speedy, less costly resolution are greatly increased.

There is a stunning statistic that was related to me at a recent Emissions Tech 2009 update class.  Nationwide, over 60% of all the Catalytic Converters replaced in order for a vehicle to pass an emissions test are failing less than six months later--in fact, the catalytic converters are failing so severely that six months later, the new CAT and vehicle will again fail the emissions test.  This means that the vehicle is back to inefficient performance and wasting fuel, based on what is being released from the tailpipe.  How could a perfectly good CAT go bad so fast?

The answer is that the 'root cause' of the emissions problem was never addressed. The Catalytic Converter was replaced to 'mask' the real problem. When a vehicle is new, it barely needs a CAT in order to run 'clean' other than during warm-up or when it is under a heavy load.  As the engine management components, i.e., the spark plugs, wires, coil(s), air and fuel filter, injectors, oxygen sensor(s), EGR system wear and get dirty with carbon, the performance efficiency of the engine degrades drastically. This why the 'Check Engine Light' was created. It's a signal that the engine is running poorly and one or more systems have reached their maximum level of compensation or have even failed.