Selecting a Shop for Car Care and Repair

August 9, 2010

As an automotive consumer advocate and a long time valley car talk show host, one of the questions that I’m asked most often is “how can I find a honest and reputable repair shop?”

Recently, I interviewed the Arizona Attorney General, Terry Goddard on my radio show and his statistics mirror those of the Phoenix area Better Business Bureau which show that some of the highest number of complaints that their offices receive concern automotive issues.

As a member of the BBB’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee, I can attest to the severity of the problems with some shops performing poor quality repairs, overcharging customers and inexperienced technicians performing the work.

It’s common for many folks to select a repair shop that is convenient to them or has a coupon. However, not all auto repair shops are created equal!

Before you need a repair performed, use the shop for simple maintenance items. Make sure that you are comfortable with the management and facility, the quality of their work and the price that they charge.

When having repairs performed:

  • Have the diagnostics performed first, then discuss your service options with the shop to insure a first time repair solution.
  • Request to have your old part(s) back for your inspection.
  • Use a charge card so that you can dispute the charge if the repair did not fix the issue.
  • Check their BBB rating and the number of complaints filed against them and how long they have been in business.
  • Check for online testimonials and complaints.
  • Get a written warranty.
  • Until you’ve found a trusted shop, a second written estimate that shows like quality parts and labor operations is a wise decision.

Independent shops typically charge about 34% less than dealerships (according to Consumer Reports) due to lower overhead costs and more flexibility with the parts they use.

If I can assist you in finding a quality shop near you, please email me through the Contact page at We have researched the majority of repair shops in town and are happy to provide you with this information!

Happy Motoring! 

Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate,  and host of the “Calling All Cars” radio show heard in Phoenix on KXXT 1010 AM Fridays at 10:00 am. Cary serves on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee and has over 30 years in the auto industry. Ask Cary your automotive questions at


Synthetic Motor Oil-A Wise Choice for Car Owners

August 9, 2010

Caring for your car can be quite expensive and time consuming! Whether you’re the do-it-yourselfer for your car maintenance or you take it to a shop, I’ve got some great news that will save you time and money as well as getting a longer life out of your engine and increase your fuel economy!

 Synthetic motor oil was developed in 1969 and over the years, it was reformulated to the point where many auto manufacturers began using it as factory-fill in many production vehicles.

 Where we have been in the habit of changing our oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles, some vehicle manufacturers state that oil changes can be extended to intervals of up to 10,000 miles or more when using synthetic motor oil.

Synthetic motor oil studies find that these products have:

  • Improved mechanical friction reduction, increasing engine life and fuel economy.
  • Much better low and high temperature viscosity stability.
  • Enhanced chemical & shear stability
  • Greater resistance to oxidation, thermal breakdown and oil sludge formation.
  • Increased oil change intervals and less waste oil.
  • Quicker lubrication on cold starts which greatly reduces engine wear!

Personally, I run synthetic engine oil in all of my vehicles, from my older cars to my later model vehicles. I have found that the engine performance is far superior having run the synthetics. In fact, one friend of mine racked up over 450,000 miles on his construction truck, running synthetics from day one. When he sold the truck with 450,000 miles, the original engine was still running strong!

While synthetic engine oils are typicallly 2-3 times more expensive than the typical mineral based engine oils, being able to increase your oil change intervals and all of the other benefits that come with it, far outweigh using a conventional engine oil.

Synthetic oils reduces our demand on crude oil as well as our reliance on foreign oil producers.

In my book, synthetic engine oil is a great value for your budget, your vehicle, your time and the environment. An automotive maintenance grand slam!

Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate,  Big Three engineering veteran and host of the “Calling All Cars” radio show heard in Phoenix on KXXT 1010 AM and KXEG 1280 AM. Cary serves on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee and has over 30 years in the auto industry. Ask Cary your automotive questions at

Extend Component Life with Timely Refueling

August 9, 2010

There are many systems on later model cars that will sometimes give you early warning signs, alerting you that a problem is looming on the horizon. If you pay attention to items like minor fluid leaks, odd noises or odors, it may save you from a costly breakdown.

 However, there are some vehicle components that will fail without much warning! One such component is the fuel pump. When it fails, your vehicle will not run. Therefore, I like to do whatever I can to maximize its durability.

 You can extend the life of your fuel pump by always maintaining at least a ¼ tank of gas. These tank mounted pumps are cooled by the surrounding gasoline and low fuel levels can overheat and overwork the pump, causing them to fail prematurely.

 Another tip to get over 100,000 miles out of the fuel pump is to replace your fuel filter more often. Modern fuel systems have filters that are very effective at protecting expensive fuel injectors, but when they begin to get restricted, they tax the pump excessively which can lead to early failure too! I replace my vehicle’s fuel filters at 20k mile intervals and I recently passed 100 k miles on my vehicle with the original pump. Unfortunately, some vehicles have non-serviceable filters. Some people call that progress. I call it planned obsolescence.  

 Given the fact that most fuel pumps are modular components that are serviced as assembly, they can run you more than $900 as well as leaving you stranded.

 A few more trips to the gas station doesn’t sound that bad after all (given the benefit). Besides, who can resist those giant fountain drinks at the mini-marts!

 If you have a car question or comment, please email me through the Contact page at

 Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate,   and host of the “Calling All Cars” radio show heard in Phoenix on KXXT 1010 AM and KXEG 1280 AM. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry.

August 9, 2010

You’re driving down the road and glance down at the instrument panel. A light is on… the image of an engine. Your mind fills with dread as you envision the pile of money it’ll cost to repair the problem.

 Actually, having that check engine or service engine soon (SES) light come on may not mean a major repair expense is in your future. It could be an indication of a minor problem, such as your gas cap seal is cracked. It could also be an indication of an emission system problem which can cause poor fuel economy or a driveability issue.

 When this SES light is on solid, it is not a panic situation, however you should take your vehicle in for service in a timely manner.

 Another point of interest is that it is a diagnostic aid for more than just engine functions. You can expect to see an illuminated SES light if a fault is detected from other vehicle systems such as the transmission or the charging system.

 When this light comes on, it sets a code in the vehicle computer, making it easier and less costly for a technician to diagnose the problem. Using a scanner, the code will provide data that indicates the particular system that is malfunctioning. Then, the technician will go about determining which part in that system is the culprit.

 Depending on the condition, your vehicle may not display a check engine light when there is a malfunction, making it more difficult to diagnose because a code was not set in the computer.

 If the SES light is flashing, it is a warning that your vehicle needs immediate attention. It could mean that your vehicle has a misfire condition that could damage your expensive catalytic converter. Shutting off your vehicle as quickly as possible may save you from a budget busting repair.

 Continuing to drive a short distance could cost you dearly when that SES light is flashing. A small tow charge is well worth the price.

 Happy Motoring!

 Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate,  Big Three engineering veteran and host of the “Calling All Cars” radio show heard in Phoenix on KXXT 1010 AM and KXEG 1280 AM. Cary serves on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee and has over 30 years in the auto industry. Ask Cary your automotive questions at


August 9, 2010

  I don’t think your car will have an oppurtunity to drive through the pearly gates when it finally utters it’s last exhaust note but there are many items of value to have with you in case it attempts an early trip to the barb wire gated junk yard before your ready to let it go.

  Way before Nicholson and Freeman were in the movie about life goals before check out time,I’ve used a bucket full of stuff i keep in my car in case it attempts early vehicular suicide.

  Feel free to post this column on your refridgerator to help you fill up your own breakdown bucket.

 Normally , these articles are copywrited ,but since my editor is on vacation ,go ahead and copy the check list if it will help your friends and family. If someone mentions some kind of copywritten automotive guru protected work,tell them you have a permit. (use A.R.S.- B.L.2 cause that sounds real official)

  • well seasoned large bucket (mine has a handle and a history)                                          
  • Cell phone and car charger
  •  A towing service number in your wallet/phone
  •  jumper cables
  •  flashlight/fresh batteries
  •  a large bottle of drinking water   Warm water is still better than nothing.
  •  work gloves
  •  sunscreen
  •  sunglasses
  •  blanket/tarp
  •  small vehicle safety kit
  •  a can of fix a flat
  •  The complete jack/tire changing tools
  •  The lug lock key
  •  A windshield sun shade
  •  a sun shading hat

 Don’t forget to have an aired up spare tire that is easy to get to and not older than 7 years.

  Even if you only have to wait a short time for a tow truck,a half hour without some of these items can be pretty brutal.

  If you do happen to have an un-scheduled break down,(most seem to fit into that catagory) you’ll be so prepared that your deodorant won’t even work overtime.

  Two words that have always stayed with me since my boy scout days,be prepared ,will ultimately make a breakdown easier to cope with.

  Happy motoring !

My car needs a whatchamacallit?

August 9, 2010

Perhaps this has happened to you:

 You take your car in for service or repairs and the service writer tells you that you need to have a thingamajig replaced so that your car will function properly. You don’t understand a single word that he utters, your eyes glaze over as you nod your head affirmatively and then when you are presented with a quote for the repair, sticker shock sets in.

 You tell the shop that you’ll think about it and when you get home, you call your uncle Jake in Des Moines. You figure, heck…Jake knows a lot about cars! He replaced the distributor in his 1973 Chevy truck and it only took him a week to do it.

 Problem is Uncle Jake’s analysis and explanation is about as helpful as that service writer’s was!

 Vehicles have become incredibly complex. They are very sophisticated and ever-evolving. These days it takes a highly-trained technician to properly diagnose a vehicle problem.

 After working as a senior engineering technician with one of the Big Three automakers for over 20 years, owning an auto repair shop for 10 years and having a car talk radio show in the Valley for about 5 years, I understand how you might feel about auto care and repair.

 That’s why I am excited to announce that I will be writing columns for the Arizona Republic that I hope will help you understand your car better.

 In my columns, I will strive to bring you the kind of information that will make you feel much more comfortable the next time your vehicle needs service or repairs. I will also tell you about the latest in new car technologies, important recalls and pass along money-saving info about selling or buying a new or used vehicle.

 I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

 If there is ever an automotive topic that you’d like for me to address in my column or you have a car care question, you can always reach me through the “Contact Us” page at

 Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate,  Big Three engineering veteran and host of the “Calling All Cars” radio show heard in Phoenix on KXXT 1010 AM and KXEG 1280 AM. Cary serves on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee and has over 30 years in the auto industry. Ask Cary your automotive questions at

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 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 You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.