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Maintenance Advice

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     Cars today are so reliable people are avoiding maintaining them. The new stuff out there is low maintenance not NO maintenance. The point we’re making here is, don’t avoid servicing your car just because it feels “OK”. Cars are complicated and if you have ever had to pay for repairs, expensive. We have seen transmission overhauls for high end European car heading into 5 figures.
     Having your car on a regular maintenance schedule accomplishes several things. Gaining the confidence to travel without having to worry about unscheduled repairs is definitely worth something, plus being on top of any repairs that may be required. Don’t let small a job become a big job.
     Many years ago we had a gal in with a break down. The engine had locked up. Seized. We checked for oil leaks, none. However the engine failed because it ran out of oil. The car was approximately three years old. We asked the owner for some history on the vehicle. When did you last change the oil? “Never, I thought all cars come with oil”. Check your owner’s manual for the service requirements on your vehicle. Remember in the “snow belt” we use the severe service schedule. Another TV mechanic once said, “pay me now or pay me later”. A profound statement if I ever heard one.

     Our shop owns several new vehicles, mostly trucks. Some of these units cost well over 30,000 dollars. As with most machinery nothings perfect. Every so often I find myself on the other side of the service counter. I don’t let on who I am or my affiliation to the industry. I just let the service advisor do his stuff. The service advisor is the guy (or gal) who listens to your problems, translates your requests into language that the techs can understand. They are also responsible to keep you informed as to the progress of the repair. If they’re really good, the entire experience can be a pleasant one. Somehow I don’t think management at my local dealer realise how important this position is.
     The service writer’s demeanour and attitude represents the entire dealership. If they come across surly, or disinterested the facility is painted with that brush. So why am I telling you this? Well I have had two service experiences with these guys and they suck! Everything that could be negative was. They actually we’re demeaning. I’m an easy going guy; however I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Come on guy’s you are in the service business. Practice a little empathy. Empathy? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and possibly care just a little. I’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect at our shop; but, all my staff knows how to treat a client.
     The other day one of customers was involved in a fender bender, in one of our cars. I overheard the conversation my tech was having with the distraught customer at the other end of the phone. The first thing my guy said “are you ok”? That’s empathy. Hey it’s your business to lose. On second though keep it up, I can use the work.

     Let’s face it Car sales are down. New cars sales were down significantly. More and more drivers are considering pushing their existing wheels just one more season. The best way to weather this harsh “economic winter” may just be putting off a new car acquisition and continue to use your current vehicle. Some tips and facts you should be aware of. Audit or appraisal your current ride. Call your mechanic, arrange an appointment and get the car up on a hoist. Have the tech estimate the service requirements your vehicle may need to get it though the next six months. That’s all we want, six months driving at a time. Does it need brakes? How’s the exhaust? Engine? Transmission? Approach your driving requirements the same way you would a blind date. Nothing long term, at least until we get to know each other a little better. Most shops have a check list they go through, plus they have access to defects that have become apparent in similar vehicles.
     The better facilities can check for recalls and TSB’s (technical service bulletins). If the estimates come in a reasonable figure, go for it. The average age of the car on the road ….. 8 years. Average cost to lease or purchase new $3000 in payments plus depreciation annually. According to the experts, Servicing and maintaining your present used car is a growing trend. “People are spending more and more on older cars,” according to Master Mechanic’s Jamie Holmes. “The quality of the used cars is so much better than it was 10 years ago.” Conclusion? Get out your car’s owner’s manual and read the section concerning maintenance. Remember, vehicles running in Canada operate under “the severe service schedule.” The possibility exists that the solution to some of your financial issues are right in your own back yard.

     How do I make my car last in these tough times? It a great question. Due to the space limitations of this column - the abbreviated version. It’s good to know what you have to work with. That is what the general condition of your car now. We always recommend that you audit the vehicle. Have your tech spend some quality time with it. They should come up with a list. Sort of a menu. What has to be attended to now and what can be put off till later. Once you have identified your areas of concern act upon them. Safety first, I don’t care as much if it doesn’t run as I do when it doesn’t stop.
     Next, let’s talk about cleanliness. Dirty cars rust faster (now hang on, don’t start writing me about why they don’t) they do. Mud that’s built up in the cracks and crevasses holds moisture and that moisture is held against the metal. Manufactures have combated the corrosion issue by utilising better materials. Galvanized metals, more plastics are in use today. However; the basic structure is still metal. I recommend an oil spray treatment once a year. The theory is that the oil spray displaces the water and locks out the oxygen, protecting the metal. I like the Krown treatment because it’s solvent free and won’t cause all the rubber bits to swell and deform. Last point for today? Maintain the car. Change the oil on a regular basis, watch you tire pressures, take care of the little things before they become major repairs. A lot of this information is in your owner’s manual; take the time to read it.

     I can’t overstress the importance of maintenance when it comes to extending the service life of your car. We have just come through a very tough winter season. Usually it's during the spring maintenance regime that we correct most of winter’s damage. This year we have been noticing more brake wear than normal. Why? Most of the damage we see is due to seizure of the brake components.
     Braking systems are composed of several different types of metals and alloys. The salt and calcium hydrides used on our roads cause these metals to interact. This interaction has a tendency to freeze the components. I should explain the clamping forces used when applying the brakes a measured in hundreds of pounds. The releasing forces are measured in ounces. Actually they’re nil. So as the moving parts tend to get stiff, the brake won't release. When this condition is affecting you brakes, you’re driving around with the brakes on. The effect, the brakes burn out.
     When it comes to brake service we recommend servicing the brakes going into the winter and again as we come out of the cold weather. These services should be performed over and above your regular service schedule. Check your owner’s manual for more info. Remember in Canada we use the severe service column. One more thing. Don’t skimp on servicing and maintaining your car in these tough times. Today’s cars are low maintenance not no maintenance. Not maintaining your ride is the worst thing you can do.

     Last week we wrote about the merits of keeping your old car on the road. After receiving vast amounts of comments on the subject, let’s look at the best things you can do to keep that ride Safe, Reliable and Economical. Bill; one of my mentors, always claimed that, that phrase, is definition of good service supplied by the better shops. Keeping your vehicle safe, reliable and economical. Change the oil on a regular basis. The oil in your engine does more than lubricate the internals in your engine. Oil cleans, by removing dirt particles and holding them in suspension to be drained at your next change. Oil cools the mechanical bits it comes in contact with. It’s for these reasons we recommend frequent oil changes. Clean oil just does a better job.
     Keeping your car clean also goes a long way in extending the vehicles useful life. Running a car creates turbulence and dust. The dust builds up in the joints and welds of the body and forms the mud that holds moisture against the body panels of the car. Regular cleaning lessens the chances of build up. As we are coming out of the winter season salt is mixed in this toxic mixture. In fact, some cities are now applying magnesium chloride. Nasty stuff. Again regular cleaning lessens the chance of rust developing. The folks at Krown have developed a product called MR35. This product is designed to dissolve the salt and magnesium chloride. Mr35 treats the body to be more resistant to build up. By the way regular under body spray also helps combat corrosions by blocking the oxygen from the metal creating rust. Get to know your mechanic. Have him check out your ride. Discuss your driving habits with him and have him discuss your service needs.

Tire Maintenance

     Safe, Reliable and Economical part 2. Last we talked about keeping your vehicle on the road and the things you can do to extend it’s useful life. Tires are almost always ignored by today’s busy drivers, yet their performance is vital to keeping your car Safe, Reliable and Economical. Think about this, there is about 20 square inches of rubber in contact with the road. 20 square inches caring a minimum of 2500 lbs of dynamic weight, usually more, up to 9000 lbs when it comes to larger SUV’s. That weight can be steered, braked or accelerated. That’s a lot to ask of 4 to 5 square inches of rubber per wheel. Loose grip and you’re in trouble. So what can you do? Check the tire pressures at least once a month.
     Tires will lose one pound of inflation monthly on average. Check for damage and abrasion. Hit any potholes this winter? Tires have a memory for the big hits. Look for separations and cord breakages. How old is the rubber? Manufactures recommend no more than 6 years on the road. In Canada we run under the severe service schedule. So don’t be surprised if this figure is reduced. Clean the interior. Nothing ages a vehicle more than a worn a dirty interior. Actually a dirty interior will wear faster as the dirt acts as an abrasive. Best advice here is to vacuum the interior and shampoo the material with a quality upholstery cleaner. Use a leather conditioner on the seats if so equipped. These products will keep the leather from cracking and discolouring. NAPA C/MAX , part of the NAPA parts group, has a service to custom mix leather die to match your sample. I use their service frequently when restoring cars. Use plastic conditioner on the dash and plastic components. Clean the windows. The point is maintaining the vehicle. Investing in your car’s up keep will pay dividends down the road. What can more green than not having to replace vehicle.

Exterior Maintenance

     Last week, we talked about cleaning the interior of your ride. This week we’ll tackle the outside. This may sound crazy, but, most folks never see the passenger side of their car. This is especially true in the colder weather. It’s just gas and go. Pull up to the pumps, pop in your credit card, fill’er up and you’re off. So, what’s the best way to find out what shape your car’s body is in? Don’t laugh - wash it by hand. There’s plenty of summer left so now would be a good time to plan some hands on therapy.
     Hand washing your car forces you to take a hard look at the damages caused by daily use. Abrasions, scratches, stone chips, dents, rust. You be amazed how much damage has collected over the years. We used to wash customers cars after a major service. We stopped. Why? We were being accused of damaging customer’s cars. Seems when we cleaned the car all the existing damage became evident. The truth is most owners don’t have any idea as to the condition of their car. Cleaning it will bring out the flaws. Once you have identified the areas that need attention, you’ll find it’s not hard to repair modern cars. I like to work with the folks a NAPA. They offer a service that perfectly match’s your car’s colour and they package the paint in a convenient spray can. The system records the car’s exact colour by digitalizing the colour on the painted panel. The formula is calculated and the paint is produced on the spot. Best to bring a piece of the body in for an exact match. Something like the gas filler lid. If removing a panel is complicated the reader is portable. They’ll bring the equipment right out to the car. Why go through this trouble? Well paint fades over the years. A newly refinished panel will stick out like a sore thumb. You can freshen up the interior too. Last year we used this service to refinish the leather seats on a late model Cadillac. A perfect match. A year later the surface has shown not shown significant signs of wear and still looks fresh. Contact Napa’s CMAX division for more info on this system.