Newsletter No 35
do we do this newsletter? It is, after all, a lot of work on top
of our regular daily duties. The answer is that we want to help
you stay better informed and better able to cope with the ever-changing
demands of car ownership. Though cars are not improving at quite
the rate of information technologies, they are still changing
fast. Improvements in computers, metallurgy, materials, and
manufacturing (to list a few) are having an enormous effect on how cars
are fixed and how they are used.
One of the reasons this
newsletter is a bit irregular is that we do everything ourselves.
We could pay someone else to do it or subscribe to a canned newsletter
service, but we feel that keeping the personal touch is what our
business is all about.
E-SAVVY: INTERNET TIPS
We often get inquires about what a car is worth.
are two major sources of car values these days: the NADA internet site
and the NADA blue book (which is actually yellow, but that’s beside the
You will find higher car values on the internet, which has
national values. The printed blue book is the midwestern edition
and its prices are adjusted downward for this
area. Minnesota cars depreciate faster than
average, because of road salt and other such stresses.
had a car buyer fly in from Ohio, as he found the prices in Minnesota
so favorable. He brought us a car from a local dealer
for a used car check. I am happy to report that all was
well, and he drove off for home a very happy camper.
used cars, it is important to be aware that prices are subject to local
ups and downs too, especially the less common makes and models.
For instance, as I write this, the very generous financing programs on
new cars are creating a glut of used cars, severely depressing
prices. It may be a good time to get a different car if you have
been thinking of doing that anyhow.
Did you know that a deployed airbag can cost up to $2,000 to replace?
surprisingly, stolen airbags are becoming a big problem. Also,
some unscrupulous body shops are re-using deployed airbags when they’re
fixing damaged cars. Sometimes, the only way to tell
an airbag isn’t working is when it fails to deploy in an
This is a very worrisome situation.
Cars are being made of increasingly lighter materials as manufacturers
rely more and more on airbags.
If you’re buying a used car equipped
with an airbag, it will be worth your time to do an internet title
search on the car. It can reveal accident damage on the car,
ownership changes, title transfers and so on. Call us if
you need help with this.
As always, we recommend a used car check even on late-model cars.
PARING THE REPAIR
I’d like to devote much of this newsletter to a discussion of the actual process of repair, and how complicated it can be.
First off, let’s define the difference between car repair and car maintenance.
is something that should be performed at scheduled intervals, in order
to keep the car running optimally. Repair is the process of
fixing a broken car after diagnosing the problem(s).
begin with an example. A customer brings in a car she has
just purchased. There is no service history on the car, and the
problem with the car is that it’s running poorly.
I could give
you a list of about twenty different problems the car might have,
causing that symptom. The first problem could be that the
maintenance is not up to date. Old spark plugs or clogged filters
can make a car run poorly. The first thing we would do in this
case is recommend bringing the maintenance up to date, since there is a
good chance it might solve the problem. Step 1: ENSURE
MAINTENANCE IS CURRENT.
If maintenance is up to date, then we move
on to the process of diagnosing the problem (or problems).
Diagnosis is the first and perhaps most essential part of a car repair.
Our goal is to repair the car in the most efficient and economical
manner possible – meaning that we take time to diagnose the problem
instead of just throwing parts at it and hoping it solves the problem.
Step 2: PROPERLY DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM(S).
The entire process
is very methodical. When we diagnose a fault that explains the
symptoms, we recommend the repair. When we do the repair, we then
perform any other pertinent check-outs or tests (for instance, a
charging system check if we have replaced a failed battery).
Lastly, we take the car on a test drive and see if the symptoms are
gone. If the symptoms are gone, we stop there. We do not
dig deeper and recommend replacing everything that could be
related to the symptoms - this would result in a huge bill for
potentially unnecessary work. Step 3:
COMPLETE THE REPAIRS AND WRAP UP THE JOB.
In a small number of
situations, the car can have another problem creating the same symptom,
in the same way that you can get a headache from a number of different
We know how frustrating this is for you, and believe
me, it is just as frustrating for us. We repair the problems we
find and we do our absolute best to find all of them when the car is
here, but in some cases they are not all presenting themselves at the
It’s a great help for us (and it can
potentially save you some diagnostic costs) if you can give us a
complete scenario of when the problems occur. Your car is running
poorly. Is the engine hot or cold? Does it occur at idle
(stoplights) or while driving? Does the car speed make a
difference? Does the symptom ever disappear under certain
conditions? What is the weather like when the problems occur?
Humid or wet conditions causing a running problem point us right away
to a spark problem. Be observant.
Another example: a
customer drops his car off over the weekend with a note saying it’s an
“occasional no-start”. If he tells us that the problem occurs
only when the engine is warmed up, we are halfway there.
accurate information helps everyone. As I said earlier, it
will save you money on the diagnostic costs. And it saves
time too, meaning that we don’t have to call you to get more
information and set the car aside until we hear from you.
Car repair is a process, and our goal is to have you help us repair your car in the most economical manner possible.
TIME FOR A CHANGE?
recommend oil changes every 3,000 miles or four months, whichever comes
first. We know that many manufacturers have gone to 7,500 mile
If anything, today’s cars are more sensitive than
yesterday’s to degrading oil, and we do not recommend doubling your oil
Engine damage from infrequent oil changes
(carbon build-up, etc.) doesn’t show up for quite some time,
mileage-wise, and the manufacturers are counting on you having traded
the car in by the time it does.
Also, we live in a “severe service”
climate with our changeable weather, harsh winters and hot
summers. The maintenance book will show a much shorter interval
due to this.
In our opinion, oil changes every 3,000 miles are affordable insurance against expensive engine problems.
are especially prone to carbon build-up, so those of you who own
Toyotas should be especially scrupulous about your oil changes.
if you own a Volvo 850, we recommend that you use synthetic oil all the
time, even if you’re a high mileage driver. Volvo 850’s are also
prone to carbon build up, even if oil change intervals are adhered
to. Synthetic oil helps prevent carbon build-up.
have always been interested in alternative energy and efficiency
issues. This led me to do some research on electric cars.
Last year I decided to go ahead and convert a Mazda pick-up truck to a
fully electric vehicle. I am happy to report that the work has
commenced and is progressing well. If anyone has an interest in
EV’s or batteries and related technologies, drop me a line.
(E-mail works best. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The truck is here at the shop and anyone is welcome to inspect it!
are working hard on our web site and hope to have it up and running by
the middle of December. The URL is
EDITORS NOTE: The new web address is: TheForeignServiceMN.com
Let us know what you think.
Stop in to visit us, or if you have any questions about your cars, call us at 651-635-0395.