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Category Archives: Automotive

A Quick Guide to Recalls

We’ve all heard the word “recall” tossed around at one time or another, but it can be hard to pin down what it actually means — in an automotive context anyway. With both the government and auto manufacturers issuing bulletins for everything from faulty seatbelt harnesses and cruise control cables to poor AM radio reception and warped plastic wheel covers, it’s no wonder the distinction between formal recalls and other types of bulletins is unclear. For starters, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for investigating possible design and manufacturing defects in the vehicles we drive. Most often, consumers complain to the NHTSA, and after several people complain about the same mechanical or safety-related problem, the NHTSA will investigate the issue to determine whether the consumer or the manufacturer is at fault.

If the manufacturer is found to be responsible for a serious defect that may compromise the safety of the vehicle, a recall is issued. In other instances, an auto manufacturer may find a defect that occurred during the design or manufacturing process of a vehicle and issue a recall voluntarily (the NHTSA still receives notification, though). Whatever the circumstances, a recall requires the manufacturer to send an official notice to owners of the vehicles found to be defective. Dealer service departments will then make the necessary repairs free of charge. Ordinarily, recalls affect only a portion of the production run of a given year, make and model.

You can easily find out about recalls that may apply to your vehicle by using our Maintenance Guide. Enter the year, make, model, trim level and drivetrain configuration, and you’ll have access to the full text of all the recalls issued for that particular vehicle. For instance, we decided to check out the recall listings for two vehicles we used to have in our long-term test fleet — a 2003 Honda Pilot EX and a2000 Ford Focus ZX3. Our search turned up one recall for the Pilot, which definitely applied to our vehicle, and 10 recalls for the Focus, two of which applied to our long-termer while it was in our care.

Of course, only a dealer service department can determine whether your vehicle is actually affected by a recall by running the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through the manufacturer database. Nevertheless, the Maintenance Guide is a good check-and-balance for consumers, as we know of more than one person who failed to receive a manufacturer’s recall notice sent by mail.

Recalls are not to be confused with technical service bulletins (or TSBs) issued by the manufacturer for less serious problems that affect the normal operation of the vehicle. Sometimes called “secret warranties,” TSBs cover known problems and provide repair instructions for service technicians, and accordingly, are distributed to all of the manufacturer’s dealerships. (Some bulletins don’t address any actual problems and merely provide updated information on parts and maintenance protocol.) The NHTSA maintains a database of TSBs issued by every manufacturer, but consumers only have ready access to summary information, which is usually quite vague.

Unlike recall-related repairs, which are performed on a no-questions-asked basis, TSB repairs are made only to resolve problems that can be verified by dealer service technicians. And generally, these repairs will be free of charge only if your vehicle is still under warranty. If you want to learn more about TSBs, check out these related stories, “You, Your Vehicle and the Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)” and “The Secret Warranty.” You can also search for TSBs that may apply to your vehicle with theMaintenance Guide.

What’s a Cabin Air Filter and When Should You Replace It?

The cabin air filter, a feature found on most late-model vehicles, cleans the air that comes into the interior through the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. It catches dust, pollen and other airborne material that can make riding in a car unpleasant, particularly if you have allergies or other respiratory problems.

Recommendations on when it should be replaced vary by manufacturer — some say every 12,000 or 15,000 miles, others longer — and how often can depend on how much you drive and where. Check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. If you drive in heavy traffic in an urban area that has poor air quality, you could need to replace the filter annually or even more often. However, that also could be true in a desert climate where there is a lot of dust.

Some signs that you need a new cabin air filter are reduced air flow through your climate control system, such as when you crank up the fan too high and get more noise than results. Another is persistent bad odors. Even if you don’t have these warnings, you should have the filter checked at least once a year, and you may be able to do that yourself.

Many cabin air filters are located behind the glove box and are easily accessible by freeing the glove box from its fasteners (instructions should be in the owner’s manual). Others are located under the dashboard and may not be easy to reach, or under the hood where fresh air enters the climate control system. Some of these filters are expensive, as in $50 or more at dealerships, so you could save money by buying a replacement at a parts store and doing it yourself.

If a dealership service department or repair shop recommends you get a new cabin air filter, ask to see the current one. Depending on how long the filter has been in service, you might be shocked at what you see: leaves, twigs, insects, soot and grime that literally cover the entire surface that comes in contact with incoming air. You’ll know it’s time for a new cabin air filter.

Do Fuel Injectors Need Periodic Cleaning?

Cleaning fuel injectors is a service frequently recommended by dealers and repair shops, but unless there are noticeable signs of clogged injectors (such as a rough idle, stalling, poor acceleration or high emissions levels) it might not be necessary. One tipoff is that fuel injector cleaning is not typically listed on automakers’ routine maintenance schedules.

Many shops promote a quick/easy injector service that runs a cleaning solution through the injectors while they’re still mounted in the engine. A more thorough (and expensive) process for severely clogged injectors requires removing the injectors and cleaning them on a machine designed for that purpose.

Fuel injectors clog when deposits build up over time and thousands of miles; when that happens, they don’t deliver the fine mist of gas that provides maximum performance and efficiency. If that happens, you’ll notice a loss of engine performance or lower fuel economy.

The type of gasoline you use also can be a factor. All gasoline is required to contain detergents that prevent carbon deposits, varnish and other gunk from forming in the fuel system, but not all brands use the same amount. Lower-priced brands often use only the minimum, but the so-called Top Tier brands use more detergents, and some vehicle manufacturers recommend them because of that.

Detergents have been required by the EPA since 1995 because many vehicle owners complained of clogged injectors and fuel-system deposits. Not only has gasoline gotten better since then, but so have the injectors, so problems aren’t as widespread as they used to be.

However, gasoline direct injection, a more sophisticated injection system that operates under higher pressure, is becoming commonplace in engines, and some GDI systems have proved to be more prone to clogging than regular fuel injection.

That’s why some manufacturers, such as Hyundai and Kia, among others, recommend adding a fuel system cleaner to your gas tank periodically if you’re not using Top Tier gas on a regular basis.

Many other gasoline additives that are supposed to clean fuel system parts are also available over the counter, and they may help keep things clean enough so that fuel injector cleaning isn’t necessary. The additional detergents found in Top Tier gas should do the same thing, which might be all your fuel system needs.

How Often Should I Replace My Accessory Drive Belt?

Most vehicles have a rubber belt on the front of the engine that drives accessories such as the air-conditioning compressor, power steering pump and alternator. If this accessory drive belt (also called a V or serpentine belt) breaks, the battery won’t get charged, the air conditioner won’t blow cold air and the power steering will go out. In addition, if the belt drives the water pump, the engine could overheat.

Most manufacturers call for periodic inspection of the belt as part of scheduled maintenance, but few list a specific replacement interval, and inspection intervals vary widely.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, says to inspect the belt every two years or 20,000 miles, while Volkswagen says to check it every 40,000 miles. On most Ford vehicles, the manufacturer says to start inspecting it after 100,000 miles and then every 10,000 miles. On many GM vehicles, the first recommended inspection is at 150,000 miles or 10 years.

Though these belts often last many years, they can become cracked or frayed and need to be replaced. That’s why they should be inspected at least annually on vehicles that are more than a few years old. In addition, if a belt needs to be replaced, the pulleys and tensioners that guide the belt should be inspected to determine if they caused damage other than normal wear.

A belt that isn’t cracked or frayed may look like it’s in good shape, but grooves on the hidden side may be worn enough that the belt slips on the pulleys that drive the accessories. That will cause problems in systems that rely on the belt to keep things humming. For example, a slipping drive belt may cause the alternator to work intermittently or at reduced power, and the battery won’t get fully recharged as a result, perhaps triggering a warning light.

Another sign of a worn belt is a squealing noise under acceleration. That could indicate that the belt is slipping because of wear, a belt tensioner is loose or a pulley is out of alignment.

Most modern vehicles use belts made from ethylene propylene diene monomer, a synthetic rubber that lasts longer than older types of engine belts. Most belt manufacturers estimate the typical lifespan of an EPDM belt to be 50,000 to 60,000 miles, and some say it’s more than 100,000 miles. However, it can be hard to tell how worn one is with just a visual check because EPDM belts are less likely to crack or lose chunks of rubber than other types. They should be inspected by a professional.

Signs You May Need a Tune-Up

If your engine misfires, hesitates, stalls, gets poor mileage, is hard to start or has failed an emissions test, it clearly needs something, though a tune-up in the traditional sense might not be the cure.

If you tell a repair shop you need a tune-up, the mechanic should ask why you feel you need one before recommending any service. Just like a doctor should ask what symptoms you’re experiencing, a mechanic should seek to diagnose the problem. And just as a doctor may recommend some tests, a mechanic may do the same.

You can speed the process by being ready to describe what happens and when (such as whether your car hesitates when the engine is cold or when passing at highway speeds), any sounds you hear and what you feel when your car’s “illness” shows up.

One caution about lower fuel economy: You should expect it to go down at least a little during the cold months, and maybe a lot. Colder temperatures make your engine and charging system work harder. In addition, winter gasoline blends have slightly less energy content than summer blends, so they don’t deliver as many miles per gallon. A tune-up won’t make Old Man Winter, or his effects, go away.

What are symptoms that might make you think you need a tune-up?

* A misfiring engine (when spark plugs ignite at the wrong time) could be caused by worn or fouled spark plugs. Bad spark plugs can also cause low fuel economy, hard starting and sluggish acceleration. Most plugs, though, should last 100,000 miles or more, and engine computers do a remarkable job of compensating for worn plugs, so that might not be the main or only culprit.


* A dirty or clogged engine air filter is more likely to reduce acceleration than fuel economy, according to tests conducted by the EPA. Because filters get dirty gradually over time, you might not notice a small but steady loss of performance until your car is accelerating like a turtle. But if you haven’t changed the filter in a couple of years (or sooner in areas that have a lot of soot in the air), that could be part of the problem.

* Engine deposits caused by low-quality or contaminated gasoline create drivability problems, and the cure for that might be a fuel system cleaning, either by a repair shop or with a gas-tank additive.

* An illuminated check engine light signals when something is amiss in the emissions control system, but depending on what the issue is it could also affect fuel economy or engine performance, so don’t ignore it. A faulty oxygen sensor, for example, leaves the engine computer in the dark about how to set the air-fuel mixture, and that can result in poor fuel economy.

* An old oxygen sensor (say, 90,000 miles or more) may still work well enough that it doesn’t trigger the check engine light but could still hurt fuel economy. Engine performance can also be reduced by more serious internal problems, such as valves that don’t seat properly or worn piston rings, or by restrictions in the exhaust system.

Because the same symptoms can suggest different problems, and there are often several possible causes and cures, it’s better to consult a professional mechanic than to try to be one if you have neither the experience nor the right equipment to diagnose drivability problems.In short, rather than ask for a tune-up, tell a mechanic what you’re experiencing and ask him or her to find the cause.

How Can I Tell If My Radiator Is Leaking?

When the temperature gauge on your dashboard reads high or a temperature warning light comes on, you have a cooling system problem that may be caused by a leak — be it in the radiator itself or some other component.

First, make sure it’s coolant that’s leaking, not another fluid. (Coolant is often referred to as antifreeze, but technically coolant is a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.) You can easily check the coolant level in your see-through overflow tank. If it’s empty or low, the next step should be to check the coolant level in the radiator, but that should be done only when the engine is cool.

Once you know you’re losing coolant, the radiator is a good place to start. Some radiator leaks will be easy to spot — such as a puddle underneath the radiator — but others not so much. It’s best to check the radiator from every angle, not just from above, and pay particular attention to seams and the bottom. Corrosion inside the radiator or holes from road debris also can cause leaks.

Antifreeze comes in different colors — green, yellow and pinkish-red, for example — feels like slimy water and usually has a sweet smell. If you can’t see coolant dripping or seeping, look for rust, tracks or stains on the radiator. Those are telltale signs of where it has leaked.

If the radiator appears to be OK, the cooling system offers several possibilities for leaks, including the hoses from the radiator to the engine, the radiator cap, water pump, engine block, thermostat, overflow tank, heat exchanger (a small radiator that circulates hot coolant into the dashboard for cabin heating) and others. A blown gasket between the cylinder head and engine block is another possibility, allowing coolant inside the combustion chambers — a problem that must be addressed immediately by a mechanic.

If you can’t find a leak, have it checked by a professional. Coolant has a way of escaping only under pressure when the car is running — possibly in the form of steam, which may not leave a trace.

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.

Greeter
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.

Dispatcher
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).

Technician
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.

Booker
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.

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 Edmunds.com 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.