RepairPal Blog: Mechanic's Corner

Advice from experts concerning automotive parts, repairs, and services

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.

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).