Your vehicle is in the shop and you have questions that you believe only your mechanic can answer. You give him a call but he’s unavailable. What’s the deal? Why does my mechanic say he is occupied?
Our client services representative, Victoria, is good at talking with clients about their vehicles. She wears the hat of a service writer and many others. She’s good at her job and can answer a lot of your questions. However, sometimes you just need to talk to the mechanic. He knows the intricacies of your vehicle more than a service writer because he’s the one working on the machines day in and day out.
Why, then, when you ask Victoria if you can talk to Andrew does she say he’s occupied?
I often see memes encouraging young people to consider trade school over college. It’s true that these tradesmen are needed and that a lot of them make good money. I usually comment, “Yes, a lot of these trades pay well, but auto repair doesn’t.”
“But my mechanic makes $60 an hour!” is the response.
“No, they don’t. Far less, actually.”
“So, why does my invoice say that the labor is $60/hour?” they retort.
Ah, the confusion. I’ve had conversations with many people with this misunderstanding. Let me clear it up for you. Labor rate and a mechanics wage are two different things.
It’s really annoying and frustrating, if not stressful, to go in for maintenance due just a few weeks after an oil change. And then, a couple months after that, to go in for a surprise repair. You are busy. You have work, school, kids, etc. Your time is valuable. You don’t have time to be running back and forth to and from your mechanic.
While we like the relationships we’ve built with our clients, we value honoring their time, and only seeing them as few times as possible throughout the year is one indicator that we are doing our job well. Our goal is to remove the stress of going back and forth as much as possible. That’s why we’ve introduced Service Visits into the model of care we give to our clients. So, with each visit the vehicle gets a proper blend of maintenance, inspection, and repair procedures so that you don’t have to return to the shop in between visits, and you have an opportunity to plan ahead for the next visit.
Andrew and I recently went to see a local orchestra and choir perform. It was our first night out together in many months and I was so excited to be enjoying music with him. In case you didn’t already know, Andrew is an accomplished musician with a degree in music education. I was really enjoying the concert and at intermission, I asked him what he thought. Overall, he said he was enjoying it, but pointed out that the orchestra was playing a bit sloppy and the choir wasn’t always in sync. Having a little musical training myself, I had to agree with him, but I couldn’t have pointed each detail like Andrew did. He’s always focused on the details and when he becomes a master at his craft, he takes it very seriously. The same goes for vehicles as it does music.
Since we opened the shop in 2015, we’ve had three vehicles come in with broken timing belts. That may not sound like a big number, but for a big problem like this, once a year is pretty significant. Timing belts are a maintenance item that people often overlook, but it is actually just as important as getting your oil changed because it can cause major damage to your vehicle if it’s past due. It’s one of those things that, when it breaks, leaves you stranded on the side of the road.
What Is A Timing Belt?
A timing belt is kind of like the conductor of an orchestra. There are many components that keep your engine running smoothly, but if they are out of sync, the melody and harmony begin to clash, ruining the intended effect of the music. While instruments in an orchestra playing to different beats simply take away from the enjoyment of the performance, an engine out of sync can cause serious internal damage. If it were me, I’d rather listen to a bad orchestra than have a worn out timing belt in my car!
In the most basic terms, the timing belt keeps two very important components, pistons and valves, in time so they do not crash into each other. When these engine components get out of sync, they crash into each other, causing severe damage.
Some vehicles have metal timing chains rather than rubber belts. While they perform the same function, belts are quieter. However, belts wear down with age and miles, so if not replaced at regular intervals, they lose their effectiveness.
When Should I Replace My Timing Belt?
The interval for timing belt replacement varies from vehicle to vehicle and can range from approximately 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Your owners manual should have a maintenance schedule, but it’s always a good idea to discuss it with your mechanic because he/she is apprised of manufacturer schedules and updates for your vehicle.
In many cases the timing belt is replaced along with other components nearby. These parts work together and are often due to be changed at the same time or soon thereafter. It keeps the labor cost down to do them all at once and they can often be bought together in a kit.
What’s The Big Deal?
Keeping up on maintenance items like oil changes, brake pads, and timing belts not only keep you safe and keep your car running smoothly, but it also prevents damage that could cost thousands of dollars and keep you without a car for several days.
If you do not have a clear picture of what maintenance has been done to your vehicle, or what might be coming up, I highly recommend having a trusted mechanic do a comprehensive inspection on your vehicle. At our shop, that includes providing a list of safety concerns, needed repairs, and a maintenance schedule (including the timing belt) along with estimated costs.
If you are like me, you want to take care of your car in a way that thwarts stress in your finances and your daily schedule. I know enough to change the oil and take it in for regular check-ups, but I rely on someone with more knowledge to point out the details. I’m slowly becoming that person for you, but I will no more have a degree in music than I will be a mechanic anytime soon. Hopefully you have a mechanic you trust. If not, please find one. You’ll thank me!
When I got my first car, I knew nothing – I mean absolutely nothing – about cars. All I knew was that I needed to keep it full of gas and that I should get the oil changed according to the sticker in my windshield. I remember going to the oil change for the first several years (yes, several!) and having no idea what kind of oil to put in my car. The guy would ask which weight I wanted and I had no clue what he was even talking about. I didn’t know anything about weight, grade, or manufacturers. If I had a good mechanic, I should not have had to. However, here’s a very basic run-down of a very complicated aspect of your vehicle’s regular maintenance. Hopefully it will save you from some of the confusion I had as a young vehicle owner.
I recently shared information on finding the proper gasoline for your vehicle, and while there are very specific regulations in place for fuel grades, this is not true for engine oil. The science behind engine oil is rather complex and, while Andrew is really good at explaining it to those who want to know, it goes over my head even though I’ve heard it a hundred times before. Here are the bare basics as I understand it. Please get in touch with Andrew if you are interested in a more detailed explanation.
The Bare Basics on Motor Oil Grade and Weight
The American market for motor oil offers oil grades labeled as “conventional,” “synthetic blend,” and “synthetic.” Conventional grade motor oil is derived directly from crude oil. Synthetic grade motor oil is refined conventional oil that is distilled and broken down into a cleaner product, which is a good thing for your vehicle’s engine. But don’t just go by the label. What you see is not necessarily what you get, as many times what the label says is purely for marketing purposes and what is labeled as “synthetic” may actually be a synthetic blend of varying degrees.
In addition to the grade is the oil weight, or viscosity, of the oil. The weight of the oil you use in your vehicle should always be the same. For example, you don’t use 5W30 one time and then 5W20 the next oil change. The only exception is if you live in a climate that gets below freezing on a regular basis. In that instance, you would use a different weight (as directed in your Owner’s Manual) during those months than the months that are regularly above freezing.
Confused? It’s ok. Look in your owner’s manual and stick with what weight and grade your vehicle’s manufacturer formulates (i.e. If you have a Toyota and your vehicle’s manual says to use 5W30 weight, use Toyota 5W30 oil), but don’t hesitate to talk to your mechanic about cost effective options of equal or greater quality keeping in mind that not all oil is created equally. This is why it’s important to have a mechanic whom you can trust to do quality work with quality products.
It’s Not Just About Oil
The good news about the confusing marketing ploys of the oil industry is that we don’t rely on the oil grade alone to keep your vehicle in good condition. Another important aspect of changing your vehicle’s oil is also changing the engine oil filter. By replacing the filter with a new properly fitted high quality filter each time you change your oil, you are ensuring removal of any debris from the oil before it gets into your engine. As with the oil, be sure the filter is the proper size and a quality equal to or better than the filter that the manufacturer designed for the vehicle.
Proper installation is also important. A lot of people think that changing oil is a rather simple process once getting the proper oil and filter. However, the number of times we’ve seen vehicle’s in our shop with oil drain plugs and oil filters that were improperly installed into the vehicle is surprising. These issues don’t just come up with DIYers, but also improperly trained mechanics (be wary of anywhere that promises fast and cheap – you get what you pay for). This can cause costly damage to the vehicle, so it’s worth it spend a little now to save a little later by having a professional whom you trust do the work.
The Importance of Oil Change Intervals
One final note on engine oil – you can use the highest quality oil and filter installed by a professional trusted mechanic but still risk damage to your engine if you do not adhere to a proper interval between changes. Just because the bottle says you can go longer between oil changes, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to do so.
The interval will vary based on the make and model of your vehicle and your driving conditions. Each vehicle manufacturer offers a range of mileage acceptable for your specific vehicle. You’ll want to stick to the lower end of the range if you are taking a lot of short trips (5 minutes or so) or driving in a lot of heavy stop and go traffic (like downtown city driving). You can stretch to the upper end of the range if you do a lot of long trips, like on long stretches of highway. It’s always better to use a mileage interval than a time interval for this reason. But don’t just guess, talk to a trusted mechanic about your driving conditions and he or she can help you determine what an appropriate interval is for your vehicle. The good news is that newer vehicles often have an oil quality indicator which is generally pretty accurate – when you get to about 15% quality, it’s time to make an appointment for an oil change.
There is a lot of information about oil out there – some of it is accurate and some is not and it’s a lot to sort through. Believe me, just researching it gave me a headache! This is why having a mechanic you trust and have a relationship with is important for maintaining for vehicle well. Just like eating a healthy balanced diet is important for our overall health and well-being, using the right oil is also important for the health and wellbeing of your vehicle. If you trust the expert (your mechanic) and invest wisely in putting the right stuff in your vehicle now, you’ll get a better and longer life out of your vehicle down the road.
A friend recently sent me a photo of the gas options offered at a fueling station and said, “Help! Which one do I use?” There were FIVE options at that particular pump. No wonder she was confused. I have since spent a lot of time researching different gas grades and I finally have an answer for her. What is the right answer for you?
The budget conscious vehicle owner wants to do the right thing to make their car last as long as possible without spending more than they need to. On the other hand, the motor-heads among us may want the highest grade of care no matter the financial output. Whichever category you may fall into, we want to help you make good decisions for your vehicle and your budget when it comes to the gas you use.
Gasoline, Octane, and Power
When you go to the pump, you know there’s going to be at least two or three options of fuel grades to put in your vehicle – Regular, Premium, and one or more grades in-between. For the budget conscious you may not even think about it and immediately reach for the Regular. Others of you may think, “I want the best!” and proudly reach for the Premium. But have you ever wondered if you should make a different choice – especially when you have as many as FIVE grades of fuel to choose from? What’s the difference and does it matter?
The difference comes down to octane, put simply, the measure of compression of the fuel before it ignites. Of course it’s much more complex than that, but what you need to know is that the numbers you see on the fuel grades (i.e. 87, 89, 93 etc…) represent the level of octane of the fuel. Basically, the higher octane level, the faster the engine will be able to get from 0 to 60mph.
It may seem like the higher the octane, the better for your vehicle, right? Well, maybe…or not necessarily. It really depends on your vehicle’s engine, not how fast you want to go (regardless, you want to drive safely, so flooring your accelerator isn’t the best idea for your vehicle or your safety). High performance vehicles require higher octane levels, while most vehicles you see around town require lower levels. Being as that the lower the octane, the less expensive the gas, that’s good news for most of you!
While your vehicle most likely takes the lowest octane level, please talk to us (or another mechanic you trust) if you are unsure. I would especially encourage you to contact us before you start experimenting with anything beyond your usual selection, especially if you are noticing an issue with your car or truck.
Just beware of judging a pump by it’s label, though. Just because a fuel station offers the level of gasoline you want, doesn’t mean you are putting quality fuel in your tank. A study on Top-Tier gasoline discovered which stations meet the top standards of fuel. These retailers sell Top-Tier gas that provides better driveability and fuel economy.
Not Just Octane
One more important thing to consider when filling up your tank is the matter of when you fill it up. Letting it get to empty and “running on fumes” every time you pull up to the pump can cause issues with your engine. It’s best to fill up before you get to “E”. If I’m driving by a gas station and have time to stop when my tank is half full, I try my best to do so. Otherwise, I usually make sure to fill up at no less than a quarter tank.
Engine issues aside, it’s super inconvenient to run out of gas when you are nowhere near a gas station. This happened to me when Andrew and I were dating. I had to call him in the middle of the night and he came to my rescue. I was so embarrassed. No one likes to do the walk of shame to the pump with a portable gas tank…especially if you’re trying to impress someone special!