Cheap Auto Parts Are Hazardous

April 18, 2010

The untold story of “pay me now or pay me a whole lot later”.

Over the past few decades (or longer), the U.S. consumer has become accustomed to cheap products at the store. Because the price is so low, it never is a “big deal” when it wears out quickly because they can just run out to the store and replace it with another cheap item. However, the biggest risk that the consumer faces when buying a cheap soap dispenser is that the pump fails. However, installing cheap brakes on your car carries a significant risk. Global out sourcing of auto parts has put the consumer at risk, a very big risk. In fact, sometimes the form of pay me later comes in the form of a fatality.

The F.M.V.S.S. (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) are easily side stepped by unscrupulous “grey goods” that arrive to our shores daily stocked at our local auto parts stores. Manufacturers in China, India and other countries are well known for shoddy workmanship and sub-par components.

These poor quality parts are thrust upon do-it-yourselfers and uncaring repair shops whose only focus is the cheap price. As a matter of fact, some auto repair shops take advantage of these cheap parts by luring the unknowing consumer in with a low repair quote. With price as their only concern, they are putting the lives and safety (of many) at risk. Failure of inferior parts such as brakes can certainly cause injury or death of the occupants of a vehicle OR perhaps be a significant hazard to other drivers or pedestrians who share the roadways.

The average consumer would never think that a toy or a pallet of drywall could be hazardous, but tainted with lead paint or chemicals when produced in countries with lax or no safety standards, these products can be toxic and cause serious injury. The same applies to these cheap auto parts and the unsuspecting consumer may not know how they are truly risking their lives and the safety of others.    

Yes, it seems like we are more concerned about protecting the wealth of a movie studio by cracking down on “Pirated” DVD’s than we are about cracking down on the importation of potentially hazardous products.

Here’s an example of some of these poor quality parts and your risk factors:

Brake Parts: especially sub-standard brake pads and brake shoes can under perform and extend the stopping distance of your vehicle. Poor quality and inferior brake rotors, brake drums and hydraulic system parts can also compromise your vehicles safety and durability.

Tires: Economy brand and no-name tires are everywhere! Arguably, the most important component on a vehicle. Because of the harsh conditions that they endure, a cheap tire can fail prematurely causing problems with traction and control of the vehicle. Low quality tires will increase the vehicles stopping distance and have poor handling characteristics as well as reduce your fuel economy.

Drive Belts: Most vehicles now have a wide multi-ribbed one-belt system which is also known as a Serpentine Drive Belt. One belt has the critical function of keeping the power steering, water pump and alternator functioning as well as non-critical items such as the air conditioning. When the Serpentine belt fails, the power steering system becomes disabled, the engine could overheat rapidly and the alternator is no longer charging the battery. This situation would make it necessary to shut down the vehicle, potentially leaving its occupants stranded.  

Hoses: Every vehicle has an array of many types and sizes of hoses. The cooling system hoses and by-pass hoses help keep your engine operating at a proper temperature level and failure of any one of these hoses can cause engine overheating, again potentially leaving the occupants stranded. Engine overheating can cause major engine damage and huge repair costs.

Filters: Poor quality filters are a slow and silent killer! Oil, air and fuel filters are rather inexpensive anyway, however, inferior quality filters can accelerate engine wear and poor quality fuel filters can cause fuel injectors to fail which can cause immediate loss of engine power and are rather expensive to replace.

 When it comes time to purchase auto parts for your vehicle or when taking your vehicle in to the shop for repairs and maintenance, always insist that O.E.M. (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or equivalent parts are used or the “pay me now or pay me a whole lot later” scenario may jeopardize your safety as well as taking a big bite out of your wallet!

Cary Lockwood of www.yourautonetwork.com is an automotive consumer advocate and the host of Your Auto Network’s Calling All Cars radio show on KXXT 1010 AM Phoenix and KXEG 1280 AM Phoenix. Cary is also on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry as an engineering technician at G.M. as well as being an auto repair shop owner for 10 years. You can download the radio show by going to www.yourautonetwork.com You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.


Oil Changes Can Harm Your Car

April 18, 2010

Call it intuition, but do you ever get one of those feelings in your gut that screams out at you “for the love of Fred (Pete or God), walk away from this place and never darken their door again”! Gut instincts will sometimes steer us away from doing business with someone that might not be acting in our best interest! But there are other times that we think “This is the deal of the century and I’m gonna take advantage of it”! That might excite those that respond to emails that state “You have won the lottery in Nigeria”. For those of us that listen to our gut feeling, this article might be of interest to you.

How many of you have clipped a coupon thinking that you are going to get a “screaming deal” on an oil change? OK… many of those oil change coupons are a “come on”. After you factor in their EPA fees, shop supplies and basic “other” charges, you might not be getting a deal after all! And then, this oil change shop may want to use a viscosity of oil that the manufacturer of your vehicle does not recommend. Alright then…do you go ahead with this service because it’s cheap or do you ask them to use the manufacturers recommended oil viscosity to keep your vehicle warranty in tact? Uh-oh…the shop adds on another few dollars to comply with your request.

There have been so many complaints about some quick lube shops as well as  big box stores because their oil change technicians do not have proper training when it comes to the task of an oil change. Well, an oil change service is much different now than it was years ago. With today’s engine technology, it requires a properly trained technician to change the oil on your vehicle!

OK.. you might be thinking “an oil change is just an oil change”! Well, not so fast friend! In today’s engines, we need to consider so many things! If an oil change technician over fills your engine, it can lead to catastrophic failure, If they under fill, it can starve your engine for lubrication! Are they using a high grade of oil and filter? Yes, using a low grade oil and filter can reduce the life of your engine too! Did you know that reclaimed and recycled oil is also used by some shops to save a buck at your expense?

Having worked as an engineering technician in vehicle development for a major auto manufacturer for many years, we found that there are two critical items that are typically missed when an oil change is performed. After the oil has been drained from the engine and new fluid is installed, when the vehicle is started the engine is operating without proper lubrication for the first few seconds. This can cause wear and tear on the engine that over time, could lead to its premature death. If the technician primes the new oil filter before installation, the engine has proper lubrication at start up. Also, consider spending a couple extra dollars on your oil change and have the shop replace your drain plug gasket every time your oil is changed. This will help reduce any oil leaks and minimize the need to add oil between changes. It will also save you from scrubbing your garage floor!

As vehicle and oil technologies have evolved over the years, the 3,000 mile interval for oil changes have increased somewhat. Now, experts state that you can go 4,000 to 5,000 miles between oil changes with a mineral based oil, or twice per year whichever comes first. If you are using a synthetic oil, your interval should be 6,000 to 7,000 or once per year (whichever comes first). If your vehicle came with factory-fill synthetic oil, you should continue to run this, however, if it came factory-filled with the standard mineral based oil, you can switch over to synthetic. While synthetics are more than twice the price of mineral based oils, you can almost double the intervals between oil changes, reduce your fuel consumption by as much as 2% and get better engine protection so your engine will last much longer! Oil life monitor systems have proven to be very reliable as an indication of when an oil change is needed, however, if your vehicle did not come with a factory-fill of synthetic oil, the monitor will not take this in to account if you switch to synthetic so you will have to track it based on your mileage and time intervals.

When selecting an auto care shop for your next oil change and lube, you should factor in the “bells and whistles” that they include in the price of your service. Some shops will offer a free tire rotation as well as a general vehicle inspection which would include checking tire pressures, fluids, belts, hoses, cooling system components and brakes. With hotter temperatures right around the corner, vehicles become much more prone to failure and making sure that your vehicle is in top working order could save you from a break down condition!     

As a general rule of thumb, you should spend a few minutes of quality time with your vehicle once a month. Checking your fluid levels on a cold engine while parked on a level surface could help you catch problems before it leads to a costly repair!

Cary Lockwood of www.yourautonetwork.com is an automotive consumer advocate and the host of Your Auto Network’s Calling All Cars radio show on KXXT 1010 AM Phoenix and KXEG 1280 AM Phoenix. Cary is also on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry as an engineering technician at G.M. as well as being a auto repair shop owner for 10 years. You can download the radio show by going to www.yourautonetwork.com You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.