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.

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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.


Car Computers Are Better Than PC’s

April 18, 2010

Every three years (like clockwork), my office computer takes its last breath and goes to PC heaven. For example, it never seems to fail when I’m writing a quick email to my cousin Ned in Toad Suck Arkansas. It waits until I’m three days in to writing a business proposal and I’m one hour away from my deadline. For better or for worse, my computer guru was able to stop by to examine the BSOD (blue screen of death) and gave the sign of the cross before leaving. At that time, I realized that resuscitation of my computer would not occur.

Deadline abandoned, I hop in my car and drive to a nearby electronics store to purchase another computer that will last me another 3 years.

As I approached the parking lot of my favorite computer superstore, it hit me like a freightliner. If our car computers only lasted three years, people would be outraged, protesting with signs and pitchforks, longing for the days of the old Corvair and Edsel. Well, maybe not that far back but some car that was manufactured in the 1970’s before computers were introduced in to our automobiles.

Unbelievable as it may be, automotive computers, sensors and modules control  most of today’s vehicles. They take so much abuse but typically last for 100,000+ miles. There is not a label on our car that states “fragile-do not drop” on the outside of our car when we purchase it. Automotive computers are designed to survive in some pretty brutal environments. Freezing cold, severe heat and humidity are common as well as being vibrated and bounced around every day the car is driven.

According to Slate.com, “our vehicle computers are loaded with software code. By some estimates, new cars contain as much software as desktop PC’s. with thousands of individual functions powered by computers”.

I started putting together a list of all of the components that were controlled by computers in current model vehicles. It’s somewhat amazing when you think about it! Today, we have powertrain  control modules (PCM’s), body control modules (BCM’s), Ignition modules, cooling system, stereo and security modules, modules that operate our windshield wiper blades, heat and cool our cars and our seats, power our mirrors and door locks, monitor the life of our engine oil, air bag modules, back up cameras, lane departure sensors, tire pressure monitors and the list goes on and on!

My wife recently asked me if all of this technology and all of the new features will be costly to fix or replace when a vehicle gets in to its “senior years”. I thought about it for a moment and realized that we have become so addicted to having all of these “bells and whistles” that many people will “pony-up” the bucks to fix them when they fail, especially those computer modules that keep us from driving our vehicles!

I guess we should all be thankful that computer controlled car systems last much longer than our PC’s do!

So the next time that you have to replace your P.C., just remember and be thankful that the car that you purchased did not come with a “fragile” warning label affixed to it! 

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.


Tires Can Kill!

April 18, 2010

A tragic and deadly accident occurred one February morning after the driver of a vehicle pulled in to the emergency lane of I-17 to change a flat tire and was struck by another car.

This terrible accident should serve as a reminder to all of us that the condition of our tires is of the utmost importance when it comes to your safety.

When having routine maintenance performed on your vehicle, it is important to use a quality, full service shop with experienced technicians who will inspect the condition of your tires as well as insuring that your tires are properly inflated. The shop can look for signs of uneven tread wear, bubbles, cracking, punctures as well as checking the date code. Vehicle manufactures recommend replacing your tires every seven years regardless of tread life. This is especially important in our hot Arizona climate where the ultraviolet rays and severe heat will cause structural changes to the tires, putting you at risk of a tire failure. Spring and summer months put our tires at even greater risk of failure when they are old and worn due to the excessive heat. If your spare tire is located in your trunk, make sure that your shop has easy access to inspect it for proper inflation and to examine the date code. To insure that your tires get the longest life, ask your shop to rotate them every 6,000 miles.     

Every month as a part of your regular vehicle care, you should check the tire pressures. Check your owner’s manual or the label posted on the drivers side door jam for proper inflation levels as determined by the vehicle manufacturer. Operating your vehicle on under or over-inflated tires can decrease the life of your tires and could produce hazardous results. Do not use the inflation level stamped on the actual tire. It is always best to check your tire pressures when the tires are cold. Use a good quality tire gauge in order to receive an accurate reading.

To insure that you are best prepared in the event of a tire failure:

  1. Get hands-on instruction to properly and quickly change a tire.
  2. Make sure that your spare is in good condition and properly inflated.
  3. Make sure that your jack is in good working order.
  4. If your wheels have lug locks, make sure that you have the key handy.
  5. Have an emergency kit in your vehicle that includes flares and a flashlight.

 

In the event of a tire failure:

  1. Move your vehicle off the road as far as possible.
  2. Do not attempt to change a tire if the jack can not be used on a stable and level surface.

 

If you do not know how to properly and quickly change a tire in the event of a failure, the side of the road is not a good place to learn. Store the phone number of a reputable towing service in your cell phone or your wallet.

Remember, tires that are worn do not stop a vehicle as rapidly and they do not handle as well, especially when raining!

When it’s time to replace your tires, be sure to use a reputable tire dealer and insist on a quality, name brand tire. Be sure that the date code of the tires shows that they were manufactured within the past year to insure that you get the longest life out of your tire investment. 

It is vitally important to our overall road safety for drivers to secure items that are transported in the beds of their trucks or on the exterior of the vehicle. Road debris is a road hazard especially when it creates a catastrophic tire failure.

Your tires are critical to the safety of you and your passengers. Make sure that your vehicle is road ready every day!

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.


Do We Have Socialized Auto Insurance in Arizona?

October 30, 2009

Did you know that about 25% of the drivers in Arizona do not have auto insurance? Yes, for every four cars on the road, one of them is not insured! For those of us that play by the rules and are responsible for our actions, we pay an additional fee for uninsured motorists in our insurance premium payments! Essentially, we are paying for them, kind of like auto insurance socialism! Now that should send a chill up your spine!

On my 13 year old pickup truck, my insurance company charges me $77.00 a year for uninsured motorist coverage and an additional $76.00 a year for underinsured motorist coverage. So that’s over $150.00 a year that I am paying for this socialized system! And that’s just for one of my vehicles!

Remember years ago when you could not get license plate renewal tags for your vehicle if you did not have proof that you had insurance coverage? If you changed insurance carriers, you would likely get a letter in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles asking you for proof of insurance! Why is it that they were able to monitor insurance coverage back then but can’t do that today after computer technology has evolved by leaps and bounds?

Finally, just a few days ago on October 1st, a brand new law has taken affect that will put some teeth in to our laws about driving without insurance. For those caught driving without insurance, they will be fined $500 on their first offense and up to $1,000 for their second offense. They might even lose their license if the judge is feeling rather ornery that day.

The minimum coverage that is mandated by this new law is $15,000 for bodily injury coverage and $10,000 for property damage coverage. So, with those low coverage amounts, it will barely cover six hours in a hospital emergency room and you better hope that you hit a 5 year old Chevy Impala instead of a new $90,000 Mercedes Benz.

Well, they say that it will reduce the premiums of those that have auto insurance but I’m not holding my breath! Once the accident claim goes well beyond their limits of coverage, the person with minimum coverage will probably skip out on any judgment against them. Heck, if they couldn’t afford to cover their vehicle in the first place, why should we think that they would make good on a judgment?

Did our legislators just pass a feel good law with no teeth in it after everything is said and done? If you can’t afford to be a responsible driver, stay off the roads and take public transportation or ride with a friend. I’m tired of paying for those people who can not be responsible for their actions!

There has also been talk about adding a gasoline fee which would provide all drivers with insurance. I am also opposed to this because it takes away our ability to choose our insurance providers and would be government run. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this!

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.


Are we weapons of mass destruction?

September 30, 2009

texting

All kidding aside, these two ton transportation traveling machines are killers on the highways and byways. Just ask the guy that plowed down 7 elk and walked away without a scratch! It’s too bad that he just sent these beautiful creatures to elk heaven! It certainly was an ugly mess.

However, most folks believe that the government is there to protect us and keep us free from harm so when we harm others or ourselves when getting in to accidents, our government wants to further regulate us. That being the case, we now have seat belt laws and certainly the city of Chandler AZ thought long and hard about this before sending out their posse to ticket those in their city who drove without being buckled up. The posse also took the time to check on your youngsters in the back seat to make sure that they were properly restrained in their car seats.

Now, another issue is looming and legislation is forthcoming. To text or not to text while driving. A recent survey shows that 80 to 90% of American drivers want texting while driving banned. The other 10 to 20% that does not want texting banned was too high on drugs or alcohol to respond in understandable terms, or were they? Maybe that group understands that it is a further encroachment on our rights so that we are free to travel without the eye of Big Brother constantly monitoring us.

I recently posed this question on the internet and received mixed feedback, but I already had taken a position in this looming legislation. When have we become so mindless regarding our own safety that we would stand to be distracted while driving? Some people are so oblivious to the safety of others that they would not consider the act of texting as a distraction that could kill or injure others? Are we so hooked on the necessity of constant communication that we forget how our actions can and do harm others?

There should be no need for legislation to ban texting or cell phone use while driving! We just need to be responsible for our actions and act accordingly! Believe it or not, we once got along without these electronic devices and actually paid attention to our duties of being a safe and responsible driver. When we become oblivious to our responsibilities, the government will deal with it by passing more legislation that will take away more of our freedom. Think about it!

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.


Will You Get Stuck With a Warranty Issue When Your G.M. Dealership Closes?

September 28, 2009

As you may know, GM is closing 1,300 franchised dealerships across the country and they offered these dealers $100,000. to $1 million to wind-down the dealerships. In order to get this wind-down money, the dealers had to sign an agreement that they would not be able to order any new vehicles. Well, the Cash For Clunkers program has essentially eliminated most of their inventory, leaving many of them with a 30 to 60 day supply of vehicles on hand. Once that inventory is gone, GM has allowed them to discontinue their franchise rather than waiting until January 1, 2010 (as originally agreed).

If you remember, GM had sent out notices to the 1.300 dealers telling them that their franchise had been cancelled and it was up to the individual dealer to release the information that they would be closing. However, they said that these dealers would not be closing until late 2010. So, here we are one year ahead of schedule and the public does not know if their dealer is one that will be terminated. These dealers represent 21% of the total of GM dealers in the nation. Also, GM has stated that it plans to close a total of 3,500 to 3,800 of its 6,100 dealerships by the end of 2010 or 57% to 62% of their total dealerships. GM states that this will save them $1,100,000 per dealer per year

Here are some of the problems that we see:

1. Many dealerships offer a Dealer Backed Extended Warranties. If you purchased  a dealer backed warranty, you should ask for a prorated refund if you believe that your dealership has been terminated.

2. You need to get a printout (service records) from the dealer for warranty purposes. This report will need to list the service that was performed on the vehicle (as well as when it was performed and the mileage when it was performed). Having these records are necessary if you have a manufacturers warranty claim and it is also very beneficial to a new auto care facility that will be performing your service work in the future.

3. You should be hesitant to take your vehicle to a GM dealership for any minor or major repair if you suspect that this dealer may be closing their doors. If they do go out of business, other local GM dealers should be able to handle a part(s) claim in a warranty situation but they probably won’t cover the labor side of a warranty claim.

4. If you believe that the dealership that you use is going out of business, you need to get acquainted with a new shop right away. It would be a good idea to have this new shop perform some minor services to insure that you are comfortable with them. It is never a good idea to have a break-down situation where you are forced to take it to a shop that you are unfamiliar with.

 GM hopes that by eliminating up to 62% of their dealerships that the remaining dealerships can be more competitive and charge more for their vehicles.

You may want to consider selecting an independent auto care facility. Well equipped and professional shops have the same tools and skills as the dealership and are able to charge significantly less for service and repairs. This is because shops can install O.E.M. and other high quality parts for less due to their lower overhead costs. Recently, Consumer Reports stated that when using an independent shop you can expect to see savings of over 30% when compared to the dealerships. When selecting a new auto care facility for your vehicle, it may be tempting to use one closest to your home or place of employment or perhaps one that a friend or neighbor recommends. Before trusting anyone with your vehicle, spend a few minutes on line checking them out.

  1. Check the shop out with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org The BBB typically has a letter grading system. Only use shops that have an A rating! Some shops may have an A rating but have numerous resolved complaints against them so consider crossing them off your list if you are not comfortable with the volume of complaints.
  2. Many times the BBB report will indicate how many years they have been in business. You will want to select a shop that has been in operation for many years and have the expertise and knowledge of operating a shop so that they will be there for many more years to come.
  3. Make sure that the shop is clean and well kept as this may be an indication of how they will treat your vehicle.
  4. Getting a written quote for major services or repairs is a good idea. You may also want to get a second opinion from another good shop but be sure that they quote you for the same quality parts and services.
  5. Always pay for your service with a major charge card so that you will have the ability to file a dispute with the charge card company if a problem arises.
  6. If you live in the Phoenix area, we invite you to use www.yourautonetwork.com We have researched all of the local auto care shops in the area and have listed the top rated shops for your consideration. Those living outside the Phoenix metropolitan area can find more tips on selecting an auto care facility by going to this website and clicking on Business Criteria.

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.