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A letter from Stew


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Newsletter No 43
September 2005


To be able to survive in this very information-intensive repair industry, we need to complete a huge amount of  advanced training and research.  Last week, I got a break from the daily routine and attended a Volvo seminar.  Whenever that happens, it seems to open up a little processing power for reflection in my mind.

So, a few days ago, while driving to work in a circa 1965 “classic” car, I was suddenly struck by how simple that car really is.  I was also, at the same time, struck by how little some things have really changed.  Although these two statements may seem contrary, they aren’t at all.

A modern car is anything but simple, true, but it has practically everything you might find on a 1965 car.  The real difference is in somewhat superfluous details.  Cars sensing your presence as you approach, dashboard maps displaying position and routes, windows moving with the touch of a button, throttles connected only electronically to your accelerator foot.  The common thread here?  Electronics!  Most of the changes in our modern cars have to do with “advances” in electronics technology and just plain style.

Lately, I’ve started to wonder if we are getting a good value for our money.  For example, if we replace a part, we may need to hook up to a server somewhere and reprogram an onboard computer to make it work.  It can now cost hundreds of dollars just to replace spark plugs.  Ever wonder why they are stretching out the change interval on spark plugs?  Hint:  it’s not because the plugs last longer.  And, on some cars, you can no longer disconnect your battery without great risk of destroying various computers.

I often hear comments wondering why the heck some seemingly simple repair operation is sooooooo expensive.  Believe me, I am on your side.  I wish things were still designed to be simply  replaced if they fail.  And, I wish it did not cost $5,000 to $15,000 to buy a tool to communicate with just one type of car.

Technology is, inherently, neither a good nor a bad thing.  This has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, depending on the desired outcome.  The question of whether you, as a driver, are getting “value” from all these technological advances is not easy to answer.  I am often dismayed by the decisions automotive engineers make to use technology inappropriately.  On the other hand, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised by their innovation in using new technology.

I do think that as automotive consumers, we need to make a lot of noise when we see particularly egregious examples of bad design.  Some examples of this include switches that won’t work after replacement until a new program is downloaded to the computer, or burying a commonly-replaced air conditioning component so deeply in the dashboard that it requires complete dashboard removal to replace!  Another example is the crazy maintenance schedules and oil change intervals (discussed under “Hot Sludge Someday”).

Yelling and screaming in the lobby of your local dealer is not likely to get any real results.  However, if you feel you need to let someone know you are unhappy, by all means write to the manufacturer.  They may listen if enough people say they were very unhappy when their car broke down and they had to pay for a tow to get it repaired.  You may even get reimbursed for a repair.  Also, most manufacturers have owners’ groups on the internet, and these sites are  a great source for owner information and a good place to vent if you are not happy.  These sites have been the starting point for recalls and class-action lawsuits.


I’ve been thinking quite a bit about gas prices lately.

I become quite angry when I hear that high gas prices are our fault because we’re addicted to oil.  We do have a huge oil consumption problem, but we have very few reasonable alternatives to what we drive (assume for the moment that we’re not talking about gas guzzlers here).  We don’t have any choices other than what the automakers sell us.  Why wouldn’t we want our cars to get 40 miles to the gallon,

 instead ofthat it thinks the catalytic converter has stopped operating.  Should we just assume the code is correct and replace the catalytic converter?  Or, should we look into why the computer has recorded that information?  More commonly, an oxygen sensor upstream of the catalytic converter has failed and taken the catalytic converter off-line. 

With good equipment and a good brain, it is usually far less expensive to knuckle down and diagnose a problem instead of just “trying” replacement parts to see if that will fix it.  Anyone who tells you differently just isn’t being honest.  We consider each car on an individual basis, and help you make the most informed decisions for you and your car.  Maybe you’d rather replace a part based on our “this is the most likely scenario” recommendation, just to avoid the hassle of having to return if the “check engine” light returned.  Or, maybe you’d rather wait until a part actually has a hard failure before you replace it.  We are here to help you make those tough repair decisions.


Saab and Toyota owners, take note:  if you own a late model car, you probably have received the now infamous “Oil Sludge” letter from Saab or the “Oil Gelling” letter from Toyota.  Be very careful if you decide to take your car in to the dealer for an “assessment”.  For example, the Saab dealers are, last time we checked, charging $500 for an inspection, which they will reimburse to you only if they decide your car qualifies for a free engine rebuild.

We have had success in helping some of our customers work with Saab to qualify their cars for the free rebuild.  And, remember, we have done several engine rebuilds already, and our prices are more economical than the dealer’s.


I am pleased to introduce Nyia as the new office manager of the Foreign Service.  She is the new voice you’ll hear when you call.  Nyia is already up to speed on taking appointments and estimate requests.  If you have some technical questions, please ask for Betsy, who is now service manager.  The fact that you are reading this newsletter shows how helpful Nyia has already been.


The WR’s, Nokian’s true all-season tires, have proven that they live up to all the hype about them last year.  They do a great job on the icy roads and you don’t have to change (and store) tires and wheels every fall and spring.  For those of you who don’t remember, the Nokian WR’s are the first true “all season” tires, meaning that they perform exceptionally well in winter conditions.  In Finland, where winter tires are required by law, the WR’s are the only all-season tires to meet their winter tire regulations.

Nokian also makes a less expensive line of tires (the i3 Series).  They are significantly less expensive than the WR’s.  I am very partial to the Nokian line of tires, and am pleased that we can offer these two choices for you.

If you would like an estimate, please give us a call with your car information and tire size and we’ll be happy to do a quick estimate for you.



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