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On Sunday I was doing some Google searching, trying to fine tune the site so folks can find it. Which reminds me, THANK YOU to everyone who has shared this site. I really appreciate it. Our little community is growing and I am excited for the future! Ok~ A.D.D. moment over.~

I came across an article called “Top10 Mechanic Scams” on AskMen.com. What kind of mechanic would I be if I didn’t read that? It turns out, they are dead on for some of them, and WAY off on others. The ones they got wrong, come from not being in the industry. It is a common issue I find with professional writers. I really respect what they do, and most are really awesome, but I usually feel like they miss the mark. That only comes from reporting, the industry, not living it.

I plan on breaking this up in to two posts. Lets tackle the first 5, or would that be the last 5? The part in quotes comes from the original post. My thoughts are under that.

No.10 Replacing spark plugs prematurely

“In your father’s day, spark plugs had the lifespan of a housefly compared to their modern counterparts. Open your owner’s manual to see for yourself and you might discover that you drive a car with 100,000-mile spark plug replacement intervals. Even if that’s really only feasible under the most gentle of operating conditions, you see our point: Don’t get talked into premature replacement unless there’s a legitimate need to address a drivability issue. Then, ask to see the culprits. Plugs often have telltale visual signs when something’s amuck.”

I mostly agree with this one. If there is a replacement interval be sure to replace them. I would not wait much longer. If you do have a drivabilty issue, most mechanics will tell you to do the maintenance before making a repair! The problem is now you have to pay diagnostic charged.

No.9 Engine treatment

“This mechanic scam often comes up at oil-change joints, but it’s also at some repair shops and they’re on store shelves too. The pitch is that by adding just a little of the product to the oil, the engine will run like new. Between our own testing and the expertise of some techs, results are mixed. They may not necessarily harm your engine, but the benefits, if any, seem minimal and temporary at best. If the idea is to quiet noisy lifters, for example, you may have bigger issues not to be ignored.”

This one I am part of the “mixed” crowd they are talking about. If they are referring to the can you add when changing the oil, then I think they might be right. That being said, I add a can with ever oil change I do on my car. There is a brand called Lucas that I have used and it works really great to quite down lifter noise. I would say though that most of the things you see at Walmart is junk. If they are referring to an actual engine treatment done by professionals. I totally disagree. There have been some issues with 1.8t Passats. The oil can sludge if not properly maintained. We have a chemical treatment that we do to the engine that works wonders. The treatment, along with some hand cleaning, can take a noisy engine and make it sound great in a few hours.

No.8 Unnecessary upgrade to synthetic oil

“Whatever your opinion on the last mechanic scam, you can’t discount the benefits of the original engine treatment: regular oil and filter changes. When done as recommended by your car’s manufacturer, you’ll probably avoid needing miracle cures altogether. Just don’t get scammed with an unneeded upgrade to synthetic oil. Although synthetic definitely won’t harm your engine, there’s no point in using it in the 200,000-mile car you’re going to replace soon either. Finally, while most of us will benefit from using the more expensive stuff, don’t let them gouge you on the cost.”

I totally 100% agree. If you have seen any of the interviews I have done in Behind The Wrench, you can see that every mechanic agrees! The one thing I will add is that the price of regular oil and synthetic oil is not that much. In fact, at my dealer synthetic is cheaper. We buy synthetic in such huge amounts, that we can sell it a little cheaper than regular. Just make sure you are using the correct oil.

No.7 Replacing air and/or cabin filter prematurely

“Here’s another scam seen frequently at the McOil Change places. The mechanic has grim news to report: It’s your air filter, and it doesn’t look good. Maybe the cabin filter too, and that’s important to maintain healthy air inside the car. Right. A guy looking like Kid Rock with missing teeth and cigarette breath is lecturing about health. Anyway, the good news is he can replace both right away. Ask to see them first. If you can’t see daylight through them or they’re obviously dirty, only then do you consider proceeding.”

You can ALWAYS ask to see the filter. If they refuse to show you, then take your car somewhere else. I think this is something that most people can do themselves. I recommend replacing your cabin pollen filter at least once a year. It can grow bacteria, and make your car smell nasty. Also, if you live in the southern US, we get horrible pollen, no need to keep breathing that stuff.

No.6 Transmission treatment

“Tranny servicing isn’t just a section on Craigslist, it’s something you’ll need to explore on your car. It’s also a source of mechanic scams. For too many people, too little attention is paid to the transmission. Beyond when to put it in park, reverse or drive, no conscious thought is given until there’s a malfunction. So, avoid pour-in services claiming to calm fears and extend service life, as they’re not a lot different from the engine treatments we addressed earlier. For most drivers, sticking to fluid and filter changes at recommended intervals is the best practice.”

I think they said it best. The good thing about working for VW is, you can’t just add stuff to the transmission. I guess when it comes to these types of treatments, there is really no such thing as a “mechanic in a can”.

No.5 Premature cooling-system flush

“The idea of a cooling-system flush itself isn’t truly a mechanic scam, but selling it prematurely is in many cases. Let’s say your coolant tests in the acceptable performance range, but you’re at the manufacturer’s recommended change interval. While you could just have the drain and refill done, a little extra time and money can buy a full cooling-system flush. Why not splurge on this car colonic? Unless the manufacturer recommends it or the existing coolant is seriously ineffective or contaminated, it’s just flushing money away.”

Ok, this is where we start to have different opinions. They said do not do the coolant flush “prematurely”. To me that means before it’s needed. Well, isn’t that EXACTLY what preventative maintenance is? Don’t you want to remove the contaminants before they cause damage? Now if premature means at 10,000 miles, yeah, that is not needed.

In fact this is where I differ from the manufacturer too. Some cars say they are a “life time” fluid. Well call me crazy, but how is that possible? All fluids in your car have 3 major functions,

  • Cool
  • lubricate
  • hold contaminates

The more contaminates it has, the less it will lubricate, the less it lubricates, the less it cools, and so on. Removing the contaminates before there is a problem is much better advise than saying “unless the manufacturer recommends or it is seriously contaminated, your flushing money away” What might be better advise is, make sure you have your coolant checked, if they recommend a flush ask to see the coolant.

What do you guys think? Be sure to read the whole post on Askmen.com. Come back tomorrow and we will talk about the rest of the scams. Do you have a scam you want to ask about? Post it in the comments below, I like confirm/debunk stuff! Also, be sure to signup for email updates, you will get updates before anyone else!

I am REALLY sure that someone will be pissed off at me for writing this post! This story will be a great example of cheaper is not better, and how important it is to have a mechanic you can rely on.

I got a text from my little sister Ashley. She asked my “how long is it ok to drive without that big plastic piece underneath the car?” I may have said it before, but she drives a really nice 1999 VW Passat wagon. Her car has a plastic shield, or belly pan, under the car. It covers up the oil pan and prevents things from getting up into the engine. Her car will run with out it, but it is something that needs to be there.

This is a picture of a good belly pan. When this falls off, it's $200+ down the drain, or down the highway 😉

So, I get the text, and text her back, “What happened to your belly pan”. She tells me that she took it to a place to get the oil changed that was not the dealer. The later then belly pan fell off while she was driving down the highway. The bad part is, the pan is totally destroyed.

Trying to be a good brother, I called the place and talked to the service manager. He was polite enough, but I could tell that he had no interest in dealing with me. I also called the local VW dealer. Basically the same treatment, but I was able to get the information that I needed. It turns out the cost of a new belly pan and related hardware was about $230.

The manager from the quick lube called her back and told her that they would pay up to $50 for a replacement belly pan, leaving her with a $170 bill. So far she has be out about 2 hours of her time, $35 for an oil change, and add on $170 for the belly pan. When I asked her why only $50, she said they told her it was held on with zipties and it was already damaged. That might be true, but why didn’t they tell her that when they were servicing the car? Not only that, but I have used zipties to attach belly pans, it works REALLY well.

This is Ashley's 1999 VW Passat wagon.

After some fighting, she got her belly pan replaced. It took several phone calls and I think her and her dad had to go down there, but it is fixed. She learned a few life lessons with this experience.

  1. Cheaper is almost never better. I still learn this one from time to time.
  2. There is a difference in getting your car serviced at a good dealer vs anywhere else.
  3. The people that work on your car better know what the heck they are doing
  4. Wasting time to try and save money is a bad choice.
  5. If a place does something wrong, YOU have to fight to make it right. Do not let someone walk all over you.

Well Ashley, sorry you had to be the topic of this post, but I thought it would be a good story to help everyone out. I am really glad you got your car fixed, and to quote her, “I know that now. First and only time I didn’t/wont take it to the dealer”.

 

Hey folks, it’s Thursday, so it’s time for another round of Shop Shots! This week we have some strange add-ons to a Beetle, a Jetta that was in a wreck, and some bad news about a timing belt. If you have some shop shot, or you want your car featured, please just contact me! There is also a section on the Forum for you to post up your car!

 

First up we have this Beetle. I took this picture a few years ago so I forget what I was doing to it. I have no problem with folks customizing their car, but I am not really a fan of this. As you can imagine, I got laughed at when I pulled the car in the shop. Pink lips, eye brows and Tinkerbell seat covers. Yep!

This is just outside the shop. I was coming back from lunch and the car was towed in. I believe this car came from a body shop. When cars are being repaired at body shops, they will “sublet” them to dealers for repairs. One of the guys in the shop removed the engine so the body shop could straighten the front end. The engine sat in our shop of about 3 weeks.

This WAS a timing belt on a 1.8t Beetle. If you notice all of the teeth are missing. A timing belt drives is the main belt that connects the upper and lower part of the engine. When a timing belt breaks, it can do catastrophic engine damage. I think that the water pump seized and ripped all the teeth off of the belt. Just another example of anything can happen at anytime to anyone.

So this is a shot of my home shop. You are seeing a picture of my 1996 VW Cabrio. When I got it, the car didn’t run, the top had a hole in it, and the car was NASTY. I paid about $500 for it. I installed a new battery, put a new ignition coil in it, and drove it home. When I bought this car, I was driving an Acura CL type-S. I sold that and drove the Cabby for almost 2 years. I really did like that car, and I wish I still had it. i might have some more pics of it somewhere, maybe I will post them up in the future.

Well, another week of Shop Shots in the books. Are we on the right track with the pictures? Do you want to see more carnage? If there is something you want to see featured, let me know! Oh, and don’t miss tomorrows interview. Bill will be joining us for a great interview from a guy that has been in the industry a long time. Don’t miss it!

Hey everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying a nice Saturday. It’s warm and raining here. As you know, I have been on vacation from work this past week. I just wanted to give you a little recap of my week off…In no particular order.

Interview
On Wednesday, I was featured on a really cool automation blog. Matt over at CashDollar.biz and I talk about car technology. We get a little more techie than I normally do here, but I think it turned out pretty great. Swing by and check it out.

Video
I hope everyone got to see yesterdays video post. It is just a quick video showing you How to check and replace a fuse. I did that video after a conversation with a customer, who had no idea how to replace a fuse. Remember, we all start somewhere.

Article Mention
An article I wrote a while back was mentioned on a preparedness site called Prepsted.com. Shawn wrote a really post about vehicle maintenance, and brief How-to on changing oil. Head over and check out Shawn’s site. He has TONS of great information on homesteading, and some around the house tips.

Around my house
Since our travel plans were cancelled, I used the time off to work around the house. My big accomplishment was getting a blueberry patch started and finished. I know its not cars stuff, but just something else I am into.

POST POST POST
I love the weeks where I can get 5 good posts done. I also had some time to work on another site. It is not fully up and running yet, but as soon as it is, I will let you guys know.

I will be back in the shop next week. I am looking forward to getting back to wrenching, but I have enjoyed the hell out of being off work. Not to mention the fact that I will be catching up for about 2 weeks. 😉

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Charles

Something that I get asked a lot is, “How can I keep my car running good?”. There is countless things that everyone needs should do to keep their car running be best it can. Proper maintenance, and care is vital to keeping your car running great. There seems to an idea that mileage on a car is a bad thing. Everyone has heard of the little old lady that only drove her car on Sundays to church and back. Well, that might not be such a good thing for any of the systems your car has

Lets start with the engine. Engines are meant to be run, they are not built to sit for extended periods of time. When a car is not driven, it never gets up to temperature. This can cause the fluids inside the engine(engine oil and coolant) to break down faster. Part of the job of these fluids is to carry debris away from the engine. Oil will move debris back to the oil pan, and leave it there until the oil is changed. Coolant does basically the same thing.That debris will deteriorate the metal and plastic of the engine causing premature wear.

Driving like that little old lady can impact the electronics of the car too. When a battery sits, it looses charge. When a car is driven, the alternator charges the battery back up. If a battery does not get properly charged, it will loose the ability to become completely charged. I am not sure if I have stressed how important battery voltage is, but I have seen bad batteries reek havoc on a car and cause it to do crazy things. Basically every system of the car is affected by not driving a car. Tires can get flat spots, brakes can wear funky where the pads touch the rotors. Even wiper blades will become brittle if not used.

What about the other side, “Drive it like you stole it”? I usually don’t say that to customers, I try to say, “Be sure take your car on a SPIRITED drive”. 😉 As far as I am convinced, there are only 2 negatives to this.

  1. Lower fuel economy. Lets face it, you will not be getting great MPG driving this way
  2. Fast wear on tires. You will probably be going through tires faster

You will notice that I did NOT mention brakes wearing out fast. The cool thing about VW brakes is the last longer when used a slightly more aggressive. I would say our average customer gets about 35,000-45,000 miles out of their rear brakes. The rears will wear out faster on a VW. The rear brakes actually engage before the front. Someone that rides the brakes will wear the rear brakes out faster. I got about 75,000 out of my rear brakes. I could have gone another 5,000-7,000 miles if I wanted to push it.

I have seen a lot of cars over the years. Some had high miles, some have so few miles I wonder why the people even needed a car. Everything being equal, the cars with high miles seem to be better cars. We have a customer with 220,xxx miles on her Jetta. The car has had a ton of maintenance, but very few repairs. I think she it just about due for timing belt number 2!

So why is it that we shy away from cars with high miles? My guess is the higher unknown factor. A car with 100,000 miles had a lot of road time compared to a car with 20,000 miles. That is a long time to wonder if the owner took good care of the car. Did they do all the maintenance they should have? The same can be said for the car with 20,000 miles. I would be willing to bet that my 2005 Passat with 92,000 miles is in better condition that most every Passat of that year, regardless of miles. Well, it might not be as clean, but it runs top notch. 😉 Here is my secret, proper oil changes, and every I get on the highway, I put the pedal to the floor. That “blows the junk out”, as my mom would say. It actually keeps carbon from building up on intake valves.

What do you guys think? Drive it like you stole it, or is that little old lady doing it right?

P.S.
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P.P.S.
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As a dealership level mechanic, this is not really something that I run into very often. Most of the folks that modify their cars do not take it to the dealership for repairs. I do occasionally run in to a modified car. Whether it is for performance, or just for looks, it can create a few issues, especially when a car is covered under vehicle warranty.

From a personal standpoint, I think modifying cars is great. It allows folks to make something their own. It lets their personality and love for their car show. It can truly be a great reflection of a person. It shows a great passion for their car. It doesn’t matter what other think, its about the person modifying the car.

From a profession standpoint, I actually look at it a few different ways.

I couldn’t care less

Looking at it solely from a nuts and bolts machine, it really makes no difference to me if the car is modified or not. I do not have any type of relationship with the CAR. My relationship is more with the customers. This is really where my opinion doesn’t matter. I have seen some “less that tasteful” mods come through the dealer, but again, I couldn’t care less. (actually, I usually get a good laugh)

I love it

It makes for something different in the shop. I have seen thousands of VWs, over the years. When a tastefully modified car come in, I will admit, I get excited. Some nice wheels, a PROPERLY done suspension, some performance upgrades, all make a car stand out in a good way.  Now, poorly done mods are good too. The worse they are, the funnier they are. The more duct tape, the better 😉 I wish I had more pictures of awful mods.

I worry about it

Like I said, I have seen some poorly done mods. The thing that concerns me most is safety. Cars that ride WAY too low, is a prime example. Lowered suspension changes lighting angles, changes impact points in a collision, and reduces your visibility to other cars. The other one I see a lot is adding car stereo equipment. I have seen wires ran under the car unprotected, pinched in doors, ran through metal with out protection. This can be a fire hazard to say the least. If you choose to modify, PLEASE do it right/safe.

I hate it

This is where I usually fall in the dealership. This comes from a completely selfish place. Just about any time someone has their car modified, it makes more work for me. Lowered suspension mean extra work getting the car on the lift. Cold air intakes can make batteries harder to replace K&N air filters are good about tweaking Air Flow Sensors, making them do weird stuff Aftermarket stereos give another element to disconnecting batteries and dealing with wiring. On the newer VWs, people can change coding in modules. This can make things like, windows down with remote. The problem is, changing to the wrong coding can make the car do the craziest things ever!

There is also the question of vehicle warranty. Did the customer damage something when doing the mod? Is the problem directly related to the mods? As far as that goes, it really depends on who is working on the car. Personally, if I can’t PROVE 100% that the mods caused the issue, I take care of the problem. If the customer were to call VW, they would say fix it anyway. This way just makes me a hero!

Anther issue I have is mantenance. When you modify a car, the maintenance cost will be higher, and its often overlooked. The fancy wheels and boomin stereo, doesn’t look good when your car is broken down

So last weeks “Shop Shops” was a pretty big hit! Thanks Brett for the great name. I think this will be a Thursday post from now on.

This picture could fall under the “Tech Tip of the Day” post. This is a transmission seal on a 2002(or so) VW passat. One of the mechanics in the shop replaced this seal because it was leaking. This is actually a pretty common repair. Well, a couple of days later the customer comes back in saying his car is leaking worse than before.

The mechanic that had replaced it was off that day. One of the other guys had to remove the axle and the flange to gain access to the seal. He called me over to show me what he found. It turns out that this seal is installed BACKWARDS! We fixed the car no problem. The guy that installed the seal, got the time taken back for his mistake.

This is actually a mess that I made. I had to replace the engine on this 2004 VW Passat. The engine locked up and broke the timing belt. I think it was due to lack of oil changes, but could not prove that. The engine on the right is the new one. This type of job usually takes about 2 days to complete.

I think I took this mid day. No way I would have left this mess overnight. This is not really my favorite job. There is a lot of “How does this go together” on a job like this.

This is a picture of a buddy’s Passat. I have turned a few wrenches on this car. In fact, I think we rebuilt the entire front suspension, among other things. He bought this car with 187,xxx miles on it. He actually knew the original owner of this Passat. Not only that, but he worked on the car starting at 30,xxx miles.

With 284,xxx miles, he sold it to buy a newer Passat. It couldn’t have been 3 weeks after he sold it, it got totaled. It was really sad to see a car that was so well maintained, with such high miles go to the car grave yard. Don’t worry, everyone was ok. It just stinks.

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Thanks for reading
Charles