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A letter from Stew

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Newsletter No 35
November 2001


MISSION STATEMENT

Why 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.
There 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 point).
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.
We recently 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.
When pricing 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.

MORE E-SAVVY


Did you know that a deployed airbag can cost up to $2,000 to replace?
Not 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 accident.  
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. 

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). 

Let’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 causes. 
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 same time.  
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.
Good and 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?
We recommend oil changes every 3,000 miles or four months, whichever comes first.  We know that many manufacturers have gone to 7,500 mile intervals.
If anything, today’s cars are more sensitive than yesterday’s to degrading oil, and we do not recommend doubling your oil change intervals.
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.
Toyotas are especially prone to carbon build-up, so those of you who own Toyotas should be especially scrupulous about your oil changes.
Also, 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.

ELECTRIFYING NEWS
I 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 kris.stew@prodigy.net.) The truck is here at the shop and anyone is welcome to inspect it!


SURF’S UP

We are working hard on our web site and hope to have it up and running by the middle of December.  The URL is  http://foreignservicemn.com.

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.



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