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We talk all the time about making good choices when it comes to car repairs. Everything from required vehicle maintenance to repairing broken or worn out parts. You might be asking yourself why we are talking about NOT fixing your car. Well, lets face it, sometimes repairs are just not doable.

Today I am not talking about getting scammed, or the mechanic in a can type stuff. I am talking about real repairs to your car. Whether it is money, time, or priority sometimes we just can’t make the repairs to our cars. Here are some ways to decline a repair, but still get the most from your shop, and mechanic.

Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy! If you find that your car needs a repair you didn’t expect, just be honest about it. If the repair is not in the budget just say so. If time is an issue, just let the advisor know you don’t have the time right now.

I appreciate when a customer is honest. I understand that repairs are not planned. Not many people can just drop $500 plus on a car repair.

You want to do some research
With the internet being the endless source of information, it can be easy to find answers to questions. Telling your advisor that you want to do more research is totally understandable. This can give you time to find out more information about the recommended repair.

If it is a safety issue, there is an option too. Don’t be afraid to leave your car at the shop. That will still give you time to research, but not risk doing more damage.

Ask for a printout
Well to be fair, you should not have to ask. 😉 That is something that good repair shops would do for you anyway. Getting a print out will do a few things.

  1. Keeps a record for YOU! Then you don’t have to try and remember what was wrong.
  2. Keeps a record for the shop. Lets say you don’t do a repair. The information will be on file for the next visit.

Prioritize
If your car needs more than one repair, have the service advisor prioritize the list. Just like a printout, a good advisor will do this with out asking. The order I like to use is

  1. Safety. Items that are safety related are always the most important. If it can cause harm to you, or others on the road, it is priority number 1
  2. It can leave you stranded. If not making a repair can leave the car not drivable, it is a very close second. Cars usually don’t break down in your driveway at home.
  3. Further damage will occur. If not making a repair will cause other items to fail, it gets pushed up on the list. If your timing belt breaks, it will cause engine damage. That is much more expensive than just replacing the timing belt.
  4. State Inspection. In my state we have annual inspections for the state. Most of the items we check are safety related. The ones that are not, need to be fixed before a car can pass.
  5. Past due maintenance. This one is pretty self explanatory.
  6. Regular maintenance. Sadly this one will fall to the bottom of the list almost every time. 🙁

The funny thing about prioritizing is, they can fall under more than one number. Leaving you stranded can totally be a safety issue. That is where a good service advisor/mechanic team is vital!

If you feel like your being bullied, be strong. I was at the dentist(YUCK) today, and went through the up selling. I just asked them to keep noting it in my file. That stopped the pressure to buy more stuff.

Any other tips on declining recommended work? I think the key is being nice about it. It is the old saying, you get more flies with honey!

Remember, you can sign up for all the post updates. Just fill out the box on the right, and BAM, you will get notifications on all post. Oh, don’t worry about spam, I don’t do that junk. I also wont send you 35 emails a day. That is not how I roll.

Happy Friday everyone! I am sitting enjoying a nice day off, sipping some coffee, and hanging out with the family. Today I wanted to follow up with a post I wrote a while back. It was several stories about throwing automotive logic out the window. One of comments on that post was from Garrett. He told me that he had a similar story when working on his Jetta.

Garrett sent me that story and I wanted to share that with you today.

On my way to taking my daughter to cheerleading, about a mile after driving, my 96 2.0l Jetta started bucking and surging pretty heavily. Almost to the point of stalling. It would buck/surge then stop and do it again over and over.

It did this most of the time between 1-4000 rpm. I looked it over briefly and didn’t notice anything obvious. I then tried disconnecting the MAF sensor and driving it, changed the effects slightly but still did it. Next i did the same with the throttle body and got the same results. I then took it to a mechanic friend of mine and left it at his shop while i went to work.

After work i stopped back and he had the diagnostic check list printed out for the throttle body. He had checked the levels of each prong with a voltmeter and came to the conclusion it had to be the throttle body. During my investigating i noticed the check engine light didn’t come on when i unplugged the MAF, and it was also coated in engine oil which had leaked all the way down into my air filter from a gummed up pcv so now im under the conclusion i prolly need a new MAF sensor AND a throttle body…ouch!

My next step was google’ing it and asking my fellow vw buddies and vw pages on facebook for help or advice (how i came across Humble Mechanic, you also thought TB from my explanation) So knowing i was due for a tune-up anyway i decided to go against my friends advice and my own gut and do the tune up first. I spent about 300 bucks on plugs, wires, cap an rotor, ignition coil, fuel filter, air filter, vacuum lines and some cleaning sprays (maf cleaner and tb cleaner).

I did the tune-up and stripped my intake apart cleaning everything from intake manifold to sensors to piping and TB. So finally when i was done i crossed my fingers and went for a test drive! IT WORKED! It drove like brand new! For the next 2-3 days anyway! Haha. Then suddenly it started again! I was baffled and angry! So just when i was ready to give in and buy a
new TB and MAF sensor i got a text from a friend who i questioned about my issue.

He said check my fuse panel cuz his mk4 golf burned out the entire fuse panel one by one causing his car to go crazy. I thought it was a far shot but what the heck. I popped the lower dash panels off and started checkin wiring. After a couple mins i decided to look under the hood one more time. 10 minutes later i was back to the thought of ordering a new TB and MAF.

Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a damaged piece of wire shroud or wrap on the main harness next to the distributor. I twisted it around and saw what looked like 2 exposed wires from rubbing, but i was kinda dirty so i grabbed a can of spray and cleaned it up. Sure enough there were 2 barely exposed wires! I traced them back..1 to the MAF and 1 to the TB!!!! S.O.B! HAHA

So i wrapped em um with some tape and hopped in the car…it once again drove great! So i used some zip ties and some more tape to prevent
it from rubbing on the small threads coming off a metal heater line. Over the next few days i was leery, expecting it to start up again…but much to my joy it hasn’t ! All that over 20 cents of tape and 2 zip ties! I couldn’t believe it!

WOW! Thanks so much for that story Garrett! Let me put into Garrett’s story into prospective. If he would have continued on the path to replace the throttle body and MAF, be would have sent over $1000 on parts. $1000 that would have done nothing to fix his car. Imagine how mad he would have been if that happened.

I actually remember talking to him about the issue. Based on what he was finding, all signs were pointing to a throttle body. I have seen mechanics in my shop get beat up over this exact problem. I remember I had a MK3 GTI that the turn signals were acting strange. Turns out it had broken wires in the same spot. I think I stumbled across it the same way that Garrett did, GETTING LUCKY!

If you have a story about your car, feel free to share it with everyone. Just contact me and I will post it!

Ok, we have a few “housekeeping” things to wrap up.

  • I am still looking for a project name for the 1988 Cabriolet I got yesterday. Post a comment of what you think we should call this project. I will pick one, and send that person a cool VW something
  • On Monday, my internet was messed up. I really want to get to know the community better, so I put out a few questions for everyone. If you didn’t post a comment, head over and check it out. I REALLY want to give this stuff away. Oh, I will pay shipping too.
  • Have a GREAT weekend. Really, do it!

If you have ever been stumped, or got your butt kicked by a problem, you can get revenge by clicking one of the share buttons below.

Check Engine Light OBD II

Most of us know that, “BEEEEP” from your car, followed by that little amber light, that looks like an engine with a lightening bolt in it. Or maybe even the phrase, “Emissions Workshop” showing in the instrument cluster. But do you know what it means when your vehicles check engine light comes on? Understanding what your check engine light means can save both headache and wallet-ache! Before I get into what a check engine light means, let’s talk about what it is, and why we even have it.

All cars from model year 1996 and newer are set to a basic standard. That standard is known as O.B.D II, short for On Board diagnostic second generation. It basically says that all cars will meet a certain standard when it comes to diagnostics, they include

  • A standard connector to hook up a scan tool. This is so all shops can gather the same information.
  • Standard(ish) location for the connector, called a Data Link Connector or DLC for short
  • Standard codes, basically if a VW has a failed sensor, and a Honda has a failed sensor, they must use the same code to describe the fault, more on that later.
  • There are more standards, but they have to do with communication rates, and more things that do not really matter.
  • Also, the light itself has a standard(ish) look to it.

    VAS 5051B Volkswagen scan tool

    Here is the VAS 5051B hooked up to an EOS with a top issue

When your check engine light comes on, it means the cars engine computer sees an issue. The issue can be anything from a loose gas cap, to engine timing being wrong, or some crazy wiring issues. I could go on for days and days about all the ways that the check engine light can come on.

When you bring your car to have the codes checked, I would hook up a diagnostic tool. I generally prefer a VAS 5051B. That is the big boy of VW scan tools. I find it to be far more reliable than the other scan tools we have. The information that I get is show like this.

P0420, Catalyst efficiency below threshold.

The “P” code is used to determine what system the fault is. P0420, the P is for power train, the 0 means that a Fuel and Air Metering and Auxiliary Emission Controls fault exists, and the last 3 digits give a more specific system of failure.

Check engine Lights

Your check engine light might look like one of these

There are 3 states of your check engine light.

OFF
If your check engine light is “OFF”, you generally have nothing to worry about. There might be an issue, but it has not happened enough times to set the light. Most issues take 2 failures in a row to turn the light on.

ON
If the light is “ON”, you have an system in your engine or transmission that is having an issue. If your car is driving normal, get it to a service station when you can. I DO NOT recommend waiting for an extended period of time. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to have more issues.

FLASHING
Ok, this one is pretty serious, if the light is “FLASHING”, you need to STOP driving and have the car towed to a service station(I prefer the dealer of course). When the light is flashing, your vehicle is mis-firing. That means the air and fuel is not being used properly. This will cause damage to the vehicle emissions system, and that is expensive.

Some quick advise, if your check engine light comes on, check your gas cap first. It is free, and might eliminate the hassle of bringing your car in for service. Also, if your light is just “ON” and the car runs fine, don’t panic. Just get it fixed soon.

Don’t forget that we have are on facebook. Also, if you hate check engine lights, just click one of the share buttons below, it will eliminate them forever~well, not really but it is worth a shot right 😉

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”.

 

Is it better to wait with your car, or should you drop it off for repair?This is a really big point of contention in the shop. From the service advisors to the technicians, everyone has an opinion, and they are all right, just ask them. 😉

Like anything, there are pros and cons to each. From a mechanic’s point of view, dropping it off is best. It takes any time pressure off of us and lets us be thorough. It also keeps a service advisor from bothering a mechanic while they are trying to work. I will save my opinion for the end. 🙂

Let’s take a look at some pros and cons a customer might experience,

Pros to waiting at the dealer

  • You will generally get done faster if you are there waiting
  • Most dealer have free snacks
  • I can’t imagine a dealer not having WIFI, at least you can get work done
  • It is a great place to meet folks. I talked to a customer that met his girlfriend in our waiting room. How cool is that!
  • There will be no back and forth on the phone if the mechanic finds something wrong with your car.
  • If they do find something wrong with your can, you have an easy out if you DON’T want to fix your car. “Sorry I can’t wait that long”.
  • If something is wrong, you can see it yourself. Even if you don’t know what you are looking at, it will help to see something the problem, and prevent unneeded services
  • You can test drive the newest coolest cars
  • You have leverage to getting a better deal. Asking for a coupon or a loaner car so needed repairs can get completed. You won’t have that if you drop your car off.

Cons to waiting at the dealer

  • You are stuck waiting at the dealer.
  • It can get boring waiting, if the waiting room is lame
  • There is a chance that a salesman will try to sell you a new car~only a con if you don’t want a new car
  • You might get stuck longer if your car needs further repairs
  • Again, YOU ARE STUCK there.
  • You might have better things to do than wait
  • Mechanics might rush through the job

Like I said there are some good and some bad about waiting. What about your other choice, leaving your car? Pros and Cons~~~GO!

Pros to dropping your car off

  • You are not stuck at the dealer in a boring waiting room
  • This will give the mechanics more time to do their job as thorough as they can.
  • If the mechanic needs to contact a “help line” for assistance, they are free to do so.
  • You just might get a car wash(no promise)
  • If gives the mechanic a chance to earn the money you are paying. It keeps most of us from getting fussy.

Cons to dropping your car off

  • You have to make arrangements for a ride twice
  • You can rent a car, but that adds to the bill
  • There will be multiple phone calls, emails, texts no matter what
  • There will be even more phone calls if the mechanic finds something wrong
  • You have to get your car by the time they close, or “No Car For You”(are soup Nazi joke lame)
  • They might take their sweet time, and push your car until the end of the day.
  • You BETTER trust your mechanic, you can’t see a problem like you could if you were there.(If you have been following my advise, that is not an issue) 😉

When I wrote that out, I really did make a strong case for waiting on your car didn’t I. To me, it doesn’t really matter. Yep, I not mind either way. If you want to drop your car off awesome! If you want to come and hang out while I work on your car, that is cool too. I strive to do the same job either way.

Just remember, it is YOUR choice. If you wait, do not get mad when it takes a little longer then you thought. 🙂

What do you guys think? Do you prefer to wait for your car at the dealer? What is your main reason? How can dealers make the waiting room better? Hit me with what you got!

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Your inside look into the world of car repair and Volkswagen Dealer service

This is a question that I get all the time. Whether a customer asks me, I see it posted, or I just over hear the conversation, it comes up all the time. Remember, I work for VW, I think overall German cars cost more to maintain than American, or Japanese cars.

Since there are so many factors that play into the cost of maintaining your car, lets just take one and really focus on that. The one that I am really thinking about today is the psychology of the statement, “It costs too much”. Just a heads up, I am not belittling the cost to properly maintain a car. I know that it cost a lot to keep your car running great!

When we buy a car, we put lots of time into researching the vehicle. Whether it is looking at which model we want, making sure we get the color we like, and finally making sure the price is fair. One thing most folks do not do, is take maintenance into account. We get caught up in the hype of buying a TDI (diesel), or getting the upgraded wheel and tire package. Not giving a thought that tires will cost more,or a TDI needs more maintenance. Once of my early posts talked about some things to consider when getting a TDI.

So I think that from day 1 of owning a car, most people have no idea what it will cost to own their car. Does that explain why we have a skewed view of proper maintenance costs? Well, not totally. Think about how many Jiffy Change commercials you have seen. They advertise a $29.99 oil change. Or that Pep Boys ad that shows you can buy 4 tires for $100. Whether we actually believe that we can get our cars serviced at that price, doesn’t really matter. It has been embedded into our brains. Think about how long places have been telling people they can “service” cars at that price. I remember being a very little kid and seeing those signs. Of course they probably said $19.99 way back then. 😉

Basically, we have been “marketed” into a false reality of maintenance costs. Sure, someone can pay

$29.95 for an oil change, but does that mean you can pay that much? You know that really tiny print

at the bottom of ads, here is what they are telling you

Is it REALLY possible to get a proper oil change for this price?

  • Not all cars qualify
  • Limit of 5qt of oil
  • Filter might cost extra
  • No trucks
  • Diesels not included
  • Non Synthetic oil
  • lots of other BS restrictions that will wind up costing you

Ok, those ads usually don’t come right out and say that last one, but we know its true!

Lets look at the other side too. How often do you hear that the dealership is a rip off? I hear all the time that “We charge too much”. The truth is, we are cheaper than Jiffy for an oil change. Try convincing customers of that. Even if we were a few dollars more, the valve is unquestionable!

Lets also consider the maintenance needs of our cars have changed. When I was a kid, oil changes were common at 3,000 miles. Now VWs are due for an oil change every 10,000 miles. Does it really matter if an oil change costs double what it did 20 years ago, if you can go 3x longer between oil changes? Sounds like even though the oil itself costs more, the per year service is cheaper.

Non of that really even touches on the actual COST of a service. Crude oil prices are up, that will make EVERYTHING cost more. It adds cost to each leg of the process. When oil prices go up, it costs more to ship and make things. Plus at an est. 73% inflation since 1990, that $19.99 oil change will cost you about $35, just based on inflation. (if you want to be sick, check out Inflation Calculator)

So how can we as customers see through the crap that we are fed? Try these ideas

  • Shop around, you might be able to save a few bucks
  • Be sure to COMPARE apples to apples. Synthetic and Non-synthetic oil are NOT the same
  • Find a mechanic you trust. Even if it cost a couple of bucks more, it will be worth it in the long run
  • Learn to do some of your own maintenance. (I hope I can help you with some of that)

Don’t fall into the $29.99 oil change trap. I unless you drive a 1995 Chevy Cavalier, it will cost you more. Even if you can get the $29.99 oil change, it will cost you more in the long run.

One more thought, be sure to consider how much your car cost when it was new(not USED). Our VW Touareg was a ~$50,000 vehicle when it was new. Now the 2004 are dirt cheap, I mean $12,000 cheap. That doesn’t mean that you are trying to maintain a $12,000 car. The car will still cost what other $50,000 vehicles cost to maintain.

What do you guys think? Have we been “marketed” into believing something SHOULD cost x, but really costs y?

Oh, 1 more thing,again. Be sure to check out the forum. There is still some room left in the “First 50“. Lets try and get there this week. I do need you guys to help me spread the word on that. Also, if you have signed up, and have not been approved, please Contact Me. Some people have weird email addresses that might look like spam. I want to be sure to keep the forum free of crap.

Yesterday I gave you guys some things to consider when decided between dealer service and aftermarket service. Well, that reminded me of a story, where the customer spent about $3000 more than they needed to.

This happened last summer(which means the details might be fuzzy). Another shop brought a 2004 VW Touareg to our dealer. They told us to replace the ECM(engine computer). We replaced the ECM and sent it back to them. An ECM replacement generally costs about $2000. We found out a few days later, that they shop also replaced the instrument cluster. They replaced that part before we replaced the ECM. That repair would cost about $1100.

A couple of days later, the customer that owns the car brought it to back to us. They were mad(at us) because it was still overheating. Well, it turns out, that was the problem all along. The shop told us they wanted the ECM replaced. They never said anything about the car overheating.

We go in and diagnose the problem. It turns out that the water pump was bad. The good thing for the customer, is they were due for timing belt maintenance anyway. On this car, the timing belt turns the water pump. This is about a $1400 job on a Touareg. We replaced the water pump, and the timing belt. Wouldn’t ya know, the car is fixed.

The customer realized that it wasn’t our fault and everything was cool, or so we thought. Another couple of days went by, and the shop that originally brought us the car called mad at us. Their issue was, the mileage reading on the Touareg was wrong.

When we replace an instrument cluster, we have to program the mileage. The cluster reading is 0 when it is new. The only way to do that is with a VW scan tool, and the knowledge on how to do it. There is a code that needs to be retrieved from the original cluster and imported to the new cluster, AND you only get 1 shot at programming. Remember that the shop replaced the cluster? Well since they didn’t have the proper equipment, they never set the mileage. The customers car had 90,xxx miles on it, but the cluster showed 4xx something.

The shop was mad at us because “We never told them to program the cluster”.  I remember the parts manager asking me about the replacement process. We talked for a while, and came to this conclusion, “NOT OUR PROBLEM”! That is actually a pretty cold response, but it is not our responsibility to make sure other shops know how to replace parts. We will supply anyone with any part, but we can not train people how to replace them. We tried to help the shop out, and sold them the replacement cluster at cost and cut them a deal on labor to replace it.

After several trips to the first shop, and several trips to my dealer, the customer finally had their car back and running properly. I think the total amount the customer spent was just shy of $4500. Had that customer just brought the Touareg to us, they would have saved ~$3000, lots of time, and the gas money they spent running back and forth.

Just remember that when another shop tells you they can “Fix it cheaper” it doesn’t mean they can fix it at all! A vehicle like a Touareg is hard enough for me to fix. I have all the resources available, plus I have had my butt kicked by more than my fair share of them. I can’t imagine trying to fix one in an aftermarket shop.