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A letter from Stew


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The Foreign Service Newsletter:
May 1999


Well, spring has sprung. In fact, it is already gone and summer is here! I am always amazed how quickly we can transition from the chills and darkness of winter into shirtsleeves and sunshine. It seems to have been only a few weeks ago I was running to work with my "studded" running shoes, flatfooting across ice fields. Now the lush green grass makes the "morning drive" significantly more comfy!

And speaking of the morning drive, I've got to share this with you. Kris and I were riding our bikes to work one morning early in April, when a curious looking animal dashed across the road in front of us. When we got to where it had disappeared into a back yard, we stopped. It only took a moment to spot the critter, because it was a HUGE ground bird. I had never seen a wild turkey before, but there's no mistaking it for anything but a wild turkey! It didn't like us staring at it, so it flew away--and that was a sight in itself! And, get this, this happened near the corner of Snelling and County C2, just a couple of blocks from the shop. I can remember when there were no wild turkeys in Minnesota, and the DNR proposed introducing them here. Seemed like a silly idea at the time. Now it's kind of neat.


We're getting lots of inquiries about the Y2K bug. "Will my car start on January first?" "What happens if I am on the road at midnight, New Year's Eve?" Well, to be quite honest, you are at greater risk of your car not starting because of the weather than because of the Y2K bug! And, you are more at risk from the millenial revelers than from some errant command inside any one of your car's computers. Don't worry, your car will be there for you on the first of the year, and we will be here for you the next working day--the third of January, 2000! To the best of my knowledge, there are no date sensitive programs on any of the cars we work on. To the best of my knowledge.


Let's go from Y2K to 100K. Okay?

Brace yourselves for an onslaught. The marketing departments at our favorite automobile companies have taken over the engineering departments. You are going to be bombarded with advertising designed to make you feel like a chump for not buying a new car. (Hmm, nothing new there...) How are they going to do it this time? They are in a battle to slice and dice the maintenance schedules, so the first "scheduled tune up" is at the magic 100K mark.

Is this for real? The succinct answer is kinda sorta maybe, depending on how you define certain key words such as: maintenance, scheduled maintenance, tune-up, and severe service, among others. And it also depends on whether you believe that this year's car is really any different than the car they made last year (which it isn't). Pretty succinct, huh?

Well, in the interest of honesty, I would like to state my view on this. It is silly--just plain silly. I don't usually put too much stock in what Click and Clack say about technical things, but one of them said it very well. "They may as well call it a million mile tune up, Œcuz if you leave the plugs in that long, chances are they will never come out". Well said, but it is only part of the story.

My pet theory is that cars are lasting too long. This is adversely affecting new car sales. So if they can get us to stop taking care of our cars, they will fall apart sooner; hence, more new cars sold! It is really just a brilliantly simple plan to reinvent planned obsolescence.

Part of the problem here is the use of the expression Œtune-up'. We haven't done Œtune-ups' for many years--it is really an obsolete term. Computerized cars don't need to be tuned-up, since they monitor themselves and make their own adjustments. The problem is that some people regard spark plug replacement as a tune-up. With cars running so cleanly, typical spark plug life is much longer than ever before. So the manufacturers seized upon this to claim that cars don't need tune-ups.

So, what does a car really need, maintenance wise? While it's true that there have been huge leaps made in the longevity of Œwearing' parts such as spark plugs, we still have light bulbs burning out, hinges and locks drying out, battery terminals crusting over, brakes wearing out, oils and other fluids escaping, and so on. Most of the increases in recommended longevity are due to emission laws making cars run cleaner--which, of course, the car makers fought tooth and nail! Cars respond very well to maintenance, to the point where two to three hundred thousand miles is an easy mark with a well maintained car. Neglecting maintenance will shorten that life expectancy significantly, and increase operating costs later in its life.

We will continue recommending that you bring your car in every fifteen thousand miles, which for the average person is once a year.


It's air conditioning time again. Not a whole lot has changed since last spring in terms of freon availability. Our recommendations are still the same for air conditioning work: if we're doing major AC repair to a car you're planning to keep for awhile, a conversion to R134 is in order. R134 has become the industry standard.

Most of you know that I'm all in favor of Œdo it yourselfers' for many things. Air conditioning is not one of them, despite the availability in the aftermarket of many refrigerant blends. For your information, every time we do AC work on a car, we use our refrigerant tester to identify the refrigerant. If the refrigerant is not freon (R12) or R134, we cannot evacuate it from the car, as it will contaminate our refrigerant recycling equipment and ruin our refrigerant supplies. Some of these blends are even flammable -- posing risk to mechanics as well as recycling equipment. AC systems fail for many reasons that have nothing to do with being low on refrigerant. If you add a refrigerant blend to your AC system and it still doesn't work, you won't be able to find a shop to fix it. It's that simple.


I am starting to get reports of hard sell jobs on something called an "emissions service", or a "fuel injector cleaning". A favorite tactic of the franchises when selling these kinds of services is to offer a "coupon" or "discount" if the service is done right away. Hmm, there's your clue right there... So what is the straight scoop? First of all, most cars don't need this service. Secondly, if a car does need it, you can do it yourself by buying a can of "Sea Foam" Engine Cleaner (available at auto parts stores and places such as Target or Walgreens) and putting it in the gas tank prior to a fill! (Total cost to you about six dollars.) So the lesson here is have a mechanic you can trust, and when someone tries to add on special service--just say no and call us to find out why.

Attention Volvo owners: be careful of franchises that install air filters. We have seen a rash of incorrectly installed air filters lately. The air duct housing gets destroyed and the seeping dirt can wipe out your MAF computer (a very costly repair).


Our lovable orange tabby has been "promoted" to a housecat. He's living with one of our former employees who just bought a house. Our black cat Shadow (who has been with us since 1986) has come out of retirement to assume the role of greeter pet.


We're having a silly contest right now, to name our second loaner car. Our Volvo 5 speed has already been christened "Peppy" (300K and feisty). The second car is a Volvo automatic. What's the contest prize? Name that Volvo and win $15 worth of free loaner car mileage, or a $10 oil change. Contest to be judged by Stew, Kris, and Betsy. No purchase necessary; all decisions of the judges are not necessarily final. Suggestions will be considered until a really good name is found (in the unanimous opinion of the three judges).


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