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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Common Radiator and Cooling-System Problems

If steam is pouring from under your hood, a temperature warning light is glowing bright red on your dashboard or the needle in the temperature gauge is cozying up to the High mark, it’s time to pull off the road and shut down the engine before it fries from overheating.

Any indication of overheating is a serious matter, so the best course of action is to shut down the engine to prevent further damage. Driving a car with an overheated engine can warp cylinder heads and damage internal engine parts such as valves, camshafts and pistons.

Even letting the engine cool for an hour and topping off the radiator with a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water may not fix what’s wrong. Here are some reasons an engine will overheat:

  • The coolant level could be extremely low, because of long-term neglect or because a leak has developed in the radiator or radiator hoses. Coolant circulates inside the engine block to cool it, and the leak might be in the block, or from the water pump or heater hoses. Old coolant loses its corrosion-inhibiting properties, allowing rust to form and ultimately causing damage.
  • The thermostat that allows coolant to circulate may be stuck in the closed position or a clog may have developed, perhaps from debris in the cooling system.
  • The engine cooling fan has stopped working or the radiator’s cooling fins are clogged with debris so that the air flow that reduces the coolant temperature is restricted.
  • The radiator cap has gone bad and no longer maintains enough pressure in the cooling system, allowing coolant to boil over (engines normally operate at about 210 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The head gasket that seals the gap between the cylinder head and engine block may have failed, allowing coolant to leak inside the combustion chambers. The steam should be visible coming out of the exhaust system.
  • The water pump has stopped working or the belt that drives it broke or is slipping and not pumping enough coolant.
  • You’ve been towing a 5,000-pound trailer with a vehicle equipped to tow only 2,000 pounds, exceeding the vehicle’s cooling capacity. (You probably also strained the transmission.)

Checking your engine coolant level in the overflow tank on a regular basis can help avoid disasters. If you have to keep topping off the coolant, that’s an indication of a small leak that should be taken care of before it becomes a major one. Having your coolant tested and the entire system inspected by a mechanic every couple of years is an even better way to prevent cooling system disasters.

5 Tips for Choosing The Right Auto Body Shop

 1) Pay Attention to Word-of-Mouth
Any business can advertise, but you’ll do better with a shop that friends, family or acquaintances recommend. It’s a business that has proven it can satisfy customers. And it might not be the biggest or best-known shop in your area.

Mallette went to a shop years ago on such recommendations and found that the owner was a “real stand-up guy…. He doesn’t advertise on the Internet; it’s a family-owned shop,” Mallette says. “But, golly, if you take your car there, you’ll get a fair price.”

In some cases, you might get a recommendation for a small shop where the owner works on the cars himself. “That’s how I like doing business,” Mallette says. “To me it seems so much more personal and then you can understand what’s really going on with your car.”

2) Consider the Operation’s Location and Overhead
“Where you get screwed in our business is labor hours,” Mallette explains. His shop charges $40 per hour for labor. But in ritzy parts of West Los Angeles, the per-hour labor charge is $60-$65. In wealthy Newport Beach, California, Mallette has heard of $90-per-hour labor charges.

Large body shops with a lot of front-office workers probably have to charge higher rates to pay their staff. While service delivered by front-desk folks, managers and foremen gives some people a feeling of confidence in the business, it can result in estimates that are padded with non-essential work. When they’re charging more labor hours at a higher rate, your bill can add up quickly.

In his shop, Mallette says he does things by the book — literally. Body shops and garages use reference guides that estimate the number of hours required to perform common repairs.

“Let’s say somebody has damage to their fender, bumper and headlight,” Mallette tells us. “I go to my book, I write an estimate and I basically go by the hours mandated by the book.”

By contrast, the higher-end shops might decide to charge for everything in “the gray area,” meaning those things that they might have to do to fix the problem. In Mallette’s example, high-end estimates might include a charge for time spent removing the hood and the door, while his judgment call is not to perform this additional work.

3) Get Several Estimates
Taking your car to several auto body shops for repair quotes is the best way to avoid overcharges, Mallette notes. “I’ll tell people to go get some estimates and bring ’em back to me. I’ll match estimates if I can.”

And while it’s important to protect against being overcharged, you shouldn’t simply take the lowest quote. “You might get some kind of midnight guy who will say he can do it really cheap,” he says. “Stay away from those guys, because there is something they’re not doing. You could have major problems down the road.”

4) Ask the Right Questions
When choosing a body shop, “you don’t go in with your pocketbook open,” Mallette explains. “You go in smart,” and ask some key questions. Does the shop provide a written warranty? And if so, for how long? What does the warranty cover?

A one-year warranty is a minimum, Mallette says. His shop offers a two-year warranty for body work and a three-year warranty for complete paint jobs. Some shops offer lifetime warranties as a selling point, but that isn’t realistic, he says.

“Most of the stipulations and conditions those warranties require are more restrictive than the majority of people can adhere to,” he says. “So basically, the warranty becomes useless.”

Another key question is whether the shop carries fire and theft insurance. You want to be sure you’re covered if your car is destroyed, stolen or burglarized. Don’t forget to ask how long the shop has been in business. Make sure it has a business license.

You will also want to know about the materials the shop intends to use. Are new, used or aftermarket body parts going to be used? New parts are obviously the best and used parts are fine, though they don’t offer the savings people imagine. Depending on the damage to your vehicle, aftermarket parts can save a lot of money and can be just as good as the ones that come from the original manufacturer. If paint work is involved, ask how many coats of paint and clear coat the shop intends to use.

5) Follow Your Intuition
Finally, it’s important to trust your intuition about the shop you’re considering. If a shop isn’t busy, maybe that’s because customers are avoiding it because of shoddy repairs. If the place is really dirty, cluttered or disorganized, this might reflect the kind of work you could expect the shop to do with your car. Is the shop owner or manager a grouch who seems to resent answering your questions? You’ll be happier with a shop where the owner communicates well and is straightforward with customers.

Roles of the Dealership Service Staff …Who Does What?

 Have you ever thought to yourself, “Gee, something feels different,” after getting your vehicle back from a service center? Often it begins as a vague suspicion once you drive away. Or it may be more obvious, such as the radio being tuned to a different station, a sticky steering wheel or a spot of grease on your carpet. All this begs the question, “Who are these people who I trusted with my vehicle?”

From the time you drop off your vehicle until you pick it up, eight or more people may have played a part in servicing your car or truck. All of these individuals play an integral role while your vehicle is in the service department.

Service greeters are most often employed at larger high-volume dealerships. Greeters function as “traffic police” to help guide the high flow of customers into the appropriate area. Typical job duties for a greeter include setting service appointments, verifying appointments, providing follow-up calls and informing the appropriate service advisor of your arrival. Often it is the greeter who will provide a friendly face and a beverage upon your arrival.

Service Advisor
At most dealerships (other than the high-volume ones mentioned above), the service advisor will be your first and primary contact at the dealership. The service advisor is responsible for understanding what needs to be done to your vehicle — normal maintenance or addressing a specific concern. This is a critical step in the process because the service advisor must interpret and note these concerns on the paperwork in terms the service technician will understand. Most service advisors will repeat all problems and services requested in a concise form in order to ensure that no miscommunication has occurred. Upon your sign-off of the estimate for service, the paperwork is distributed to the dispatcher (see below) for routing.

It is the service advisor’s responsibility to contact you if there are any additional services or costs that arise during service. Within the industry, these calls from the service advisor are commonly referred to as “up-sell” opportunities, because they inevitably raise your costs. The service advisor then monitors your vehicle’s progress to ensure that the correct repairs are done and that the vehicle is finished on time.

If your final bill looks like hieroglyphics, your service advisor will typically be the one to explain what work was performed. This is especially true if the vehicle is under warranty, since this type of repair (which is done at no cost to the customer) does not involve owner authorization and may have been done without your knowledge.

Service dispatchers are akin to air traffic controllers: Both are responsible for the flow of vehicles into and out of a facility. Service dispatchers understand the time and labor commitments required for each service and route your vehicle to the appropriate technicians on staff who can perform these repairs. Seasoned dispatchers are capable of keeping an even flow of work throughout the day at a dealership.

Some dealerships have opted not to have a dispatcher. In these instances, two scenarios might exist. In one scenario, the service advisor is part of a team of technicians and any work taken in will be performed by one of the team members. The other scenario simply has the service advisor select from a pool of on-staff technicians (often without a true sense of the technicians’ workload).

Service technicians (otherwise known as mechanics) are considered the lifeblood of the service department. These individuals often have advanced training in a particular area of automotive repair or on a certain make of vehicle. Training for service technicians is an ongoing process as new vehicles go into production every year. With these new vehicles come the latest technologies that must be learned, in addition to advancements in repair procedures for the older models. Technicians advise service advisors when problems exist that may require additional parts or services. In short, they’re the ones who fix your vehicle.

Parts Counter Personnel
The parts counter personnel have the know-how to determine quickly what parts are available for your vehicle. Dealerships usually maintain large inventories of the most popular items, but will need to order parts from the automobile manufacturer’s local warehouse if a less common part is required. A well run parts department will usually have the parts required to complete the repairs to your vehicle in stock and at the technician’s disposal when your car is dispatched.

Lot Porter
When the term “lot porter” is used, many people may envision the Ferrari’s epic leap on a Chicago thoroughfare in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The lot porter’s real purpose — counter to the Flying Ferrari syndrome — is the movement of your vehicle from the service drive into a parking spot to await a technician. These individuals are also in charge of washing your vehicle (including the cleanup of any grease stains or oil-smudged fingerprints) and the delivery of your vehicle to the service drive. On occasion, the lot porter will put fuel in the vehicle at the local gas station.

The booker can be thought of as a bookkeeper in a traditional business. The booker is responsible for the matching of all components of service while your vehicle was at the service center. This includes any labor or parts charged by the technicians or the parts counter personnel. All of these receipts will be summed, any notes from the technician will be added to the paperwork and all information will be provided as an itemized statement. If a discount applies, the booker will provide the discount and make the appropriate changes to the statement prior to submitting the paperwork to the cashier.

The cashier collects money due for service and directs the lot porter to bring your vehicle to the service drive. The cashier is privy only to the information on the paperwork and is not authorized to make changes. If the moment of truth arrives and it appears that your bill is higher than expected, expressing concerns about the bill to the cashier may be wasting your breath. Instead, it’s the service advisor who should explain the charges and correct any errors. If the repair work is still incomplete (as happens occasionally), the service advisor can also send the car back for further work or make a new appointment.

Maintenance Basics

 Many car owners spend little or no time preparing for a scheduled maintenance visit to the dealership. They merely drive in and agree to the recommendation of the service advisor. This can be a costly error.

This article will tell you how, when and where to have your car serviced. It will also show you how to use the various tools on to schedule service visits with local dealerships or independent garages.

We’ll tell you how to prepare for your encounter with the service advisor, and how to tell if you are being overcharged for scheduled car maintenance.

What Is Needed?
The car’s service manual is the best way to learn how to maintain your car. It was written by the factory representatives who designed and built the car. It stands to reason that they should also know how best to keep everything running smoothly.

Now consider the role of the service advisor at your local dealership. This person is certainly knowledgeable about your car. However, the service advisor also gets a commission for all work done on your car. Therefore, if he or she recommends a brake job, for example, a slice of your payment will go into his or her pocket.

In another instance, the car’s manual may say that the automatic transmission fluid doesn’t have to be changed until 80,000 miles, but the service advisor says it’s best to change it at 30,000 miles. Who’s right? Consider this: The service advisor gets a commission for all the parts and services he sells. So his opinion isn’t exactly unbiased.

New Vehicles Under Warranty
If your car is less than three years old and has fewer than 36,000 miles (or whatever the terms of your warranty are), mechanical problems will be fixed under the bumper-to-bumper warranty for no charge. However, this doesn’t cover wear items like brake pads, and your car will still need “routine maintenance” for which you will have to pay. Routine maintenance is most often oil and filter changes, tire rotations and various inspections. After about the length of your warranty, the routine maintenance often becomes more involved and more expensive.

An Overview of Required Service
Car owners usually become aware of the need for routine maintenance at certain mileage intervals. These intervals are described in the owner’s manual or in our car maintenance section. Changing your oil every 3,000 miles as “recommended” by the quick oil change chains and car dealerships is typically more than twice as often as necessary. Again, look to the owner’s manual for proper scheduled car maintenance intervals.

Some vehicles will even have a reminder display indicating that a service, typically an oil change, is required at a certain mileage point. Still other vehicles will use a “maintenance minder,” which will only become illuminated when the work is actually required. A computer in the car’s engine makes a calculation based on a number of factors that more accurately determine the time at which oil begins to break down.

Scheduling a Service Visit
You should review your car’s manual to find the actual work that is required at the appropriate mileage interval. Print this out along with the estimate of costs in our maintenance section.

Increasingly, dealership Web sites have an e-mail link to the service manager. You can e-mail the service advisor for an appointment and get a quote for the work you want done. This will give you a chance to review the charges and compare the quote with other dealerships or independent garages before you commit to using their services.

Alternately, you might call several dealerships, ask for the service department and get quotes. Make sure you get the advisor’s name for future reference. Once you’ve decided who you’re going to take your car to, you can call them back to set a time to bring in your car.

Before you go to the dealership, you should check for recalls and Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs)that have been issued for your car. Print out any information you find and give this to the service advisor. (A good service advisor should automatically clear all recalls and TSBs on your vehicle but this doesn’t always happen.)

At the Dealership
When you arrive at the dealership, you will be welcomed by a “greeter.” Often, this person will take the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the vehicle’s mileage and write this on a form that is given to the service advisor. Your car is about to be driven away so take your wallet, purse, computer and anything else you need. You will then meet with the service advisor. If it is early in the morning, it could be busy in the service department and the service advisor could be rushed and impatient. Don’t be pressured. A lot of money is at stake here.

Often, the interaction will begin with the service advisor saying, “How many miles do you have on your car?” You should understand this is their opening gambit for a sales pitch. You can answer, “There are 20,000 miles on my car, but all I want is an oil and filter change and tire rotation.” The service advisor might then whip out an official-looking list of “dealer-recommended services” and say, “We recommend this service be done at 20,000 miles.” If you look at this list, you’ll see that many items on it are not shown in your car’s service manual.