RepairPal Blog:

Mechanic's Corner

Advice from experts concerning automotive parts, repairs, and services

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.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that our emissions and diagnostics expert, Daniel Dillon, will be writing for RepairPal.  Dan has 22 years of experience as a licensed Smog Technician in California. He helped write test questions for the California Smog Technician Exam, and has performed Consumer Assistance Program and gold shield diagnostic work for the State. He also was an instructor for SnapOn Tool Corporation.

Dan's posts will address important events or trends he encounters in his shop.

I believe the biggest point of confusion that motorists who own modern vehicles encounter besides the Check Engine Light is whether or not they need a "tune up".  A quick search of any automotive repair help forum or catch-all answer solution like Yahoo Answers will reveal any number of owners asking whether their car needs to be tuned up, what happens during a tune up, and how much it should cost.

Check out our write-up on tune ups, which includes everything you need to know about tune ups--even the history behind what it used to mean to give a car a tune up.

As an automotive technician, I can tell you the most difficult vehicle problems to solve are intermittent problems--the kind of problems that only happen some of the time. These problems can be even more frustrating for a customer who has to return to a repair shop several times to have the problem resolved.

The best way to avoid this auto repair scenario is for both parties to be prepared.  Service advisers need to ask the right questions of car owners, so that the auto technician has a good chance of success.  Car owners have to come armed with the answers to these questions and any additional information that will help assist in the correction of the problem; however, many owners aren't confident in their ability to find the right answers and describe them the right way.

You love that new car smell! You're so freaked out about your new baby getting its first scratch that you somehow manage to take up 3 parking spaces trying to keep it safe. You adore the fact that your ride has never had a problem. But you know it's inevitable: your car will have its first "event"—hopefully later rather than sooner.

To help you prepare you for that first issue, check out RepairPal's Common Problems With Your Car section. Select the make, model, and year of your car, and our exclusive database will tell you if there are any problems that commonly crop up on your specific vehicle. These can include issues with the brakes, drive train, electrical system, lights, engine, exhaust system, heating, AC, suspension, or steering. If there are common issues, some may be avoidable by a preventive visit to your mechanic (Repairpal can even help you find one).

Now that RepairPal covers 94 percent of the cars on the road, we’ve discovered some interesting data that we’ll be sharing with you. But instead of just telling you about our findings, we thought you might like a game of trivia. It's a bit like Jeopardy for our auto enthusiasts.  

Question: What’s the most complex vehicle on the road? Hint: it has more than 100 Intel processors on board.