Regularly replacing the oil in your car’s engine is still the best way to extend the life of your engine, but the problem with this is the fact that it is easy for unscrupulous mechanics, repair shops, and “quick lube” establishments to turn this common-sense preventative maintenance chore into a scare tactic.
To help you avoid falling victim to such scare tactics, we have listed four things you should know about oil, and oil changes that will not only help you identify snake oil salesmen, but save you some money as well.
Most oil is replaced too soon – Oil changes
A common scare tactic used by less than honest mechanics is to say that your oil needs changing because it’s black in color, “…and if you don’t, you could lose your engine.”
The fact is that with the exception of new engines, the new oil in an engine turns black almost immediately. This is caused by the old oil that remains in the engine; this oil mixes with the new oil, turning it black. This does not affect the new oil negatively, and with the new oil, you should be fine for the expected life of the type, grade, and quality of the new oil.
These days, there are no car (or oil) manufacturers that recommend replacing oil every 3 000 miles (4 800 Km), despite claims to the contrary by many mechanics and quick-lube joints. Of course, there is no harm in changing your oil twice as frequently as you should, but why change it when the manufacturer recommends replacing it at 6 000 miles (9 600 Km)?
By sticking to the oil changes intervals stated in your maintenance schedule, you not only protect your engine- you save a lot of money over the useful life of your car as well.
Don’t use dual -purpose oil.
To maximize their profits, many repair shops and quick-lube joints use dual-purpose oil. This type of oil is “designed” to be used in both gasoline and diesel engines, but despite claims by their makers, these oils do NOT offer the best of both all possible worlds in terms of engine cleaning and lubricity.
The fact is that conditions inside a diesel engine are vastly different from those that obtain in gasoline engines. Diesel engines produce different types of combustion products (and more of it), than are produced by gasoline engines. Therefore, to keep a diesel engine clean and lubricated, specially-designed additive packages are required.
Additive packages in oil can account for up to 25% of the oil’s total volume, and this is fine if the additive package is designed for a specific purpose, say, for use in a gasoline engine. So, if you want to formulate an oil that is suitable for both diesel and gasoline engines, you need to add more additives to deal with diesel combustion products, which can elevate the total additive content of the oil to 35% and more.
What this means in practice, is that the base oil content is only about 65%, with the rest made up of additives that could (and often do) interfere with the lubrication of highly engineered gasoline engines.
The safest thing to do is to stick with the oil recommended by the manufacturer of your car. If they do not recommend dual-purpose oil, don’t allow a mechanic to talk you into using it.
Use the correct type of synthetic oil – Oil changes
More and more car manufacturers are designing their engines to take advantage of the increased lubricity of fully synthetic oils. The main advantage of synthetic oil is that since they are distilled from various hydrocarbon-rich gases, the resulting molecules are all exactly the same size, which is not the case with refined crude oil.
The uniform size of synthetic oil molecules allow for smaller engineering tolerances in engines, as well as the use of new-generation steels that have a natural affinity for synthetic oil molecules. This means that the steel “attracts” a protective film of oil which clings to wear surfaces, even if the engine is not working. This provides almost perfect lubrication during cold starts, which goes a long way toward eliminating mechanical wear.
However, even fully synthetic oils require the addition of additives like friction modifiers and detergents, and herein lies a potential problem. European car makers are allowed to develop specific oil formulations for use in their products, which is something American car makers do not do. The only standards American oils have to comply with have to do with the Clean Air Act, and they don’t have to make provision for special lubrication requirements.
One example of special lubrication requirements is the fuel injection system in some new Volkswagen diesel engines. These systems use pressure pumps that are driven directly by the engine, and using incorrectly formulated synthetic oil can destroy the pump.
If you drive an imported European car, make sure that the synthetic oil you get during a routine oil changes is formulated for the specific needs of your engine. Make sure that the European oil standards, as opposed to only the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standards are displayed on the container, and that the formulation conforms to the requirements of your engine.
Don’t use mineral oil if you need synthetic oil – Oil changes
Substituting mineral oil for synthetic oil is a foolish economy. Engines that are designed for synthetic oil are also fitted with emission control systems that are designed to cope with synthetic oil. Apart from the fact that mineral oil cannot lubricate an engine that is designed to be lubricated with synthetic oil, the fact is that mineral oil can, and does, damage catalytic converters, oxygen sensors, and other emission control components.
There is simply no way to repair a catalytic converter that has been damaged by mineral oil. The only remedy is replacement of the catalytic converter, along with all the other damaged emission control components. The total cost of such a repair will make the money you “saved” by using mineral oil look like a tiny drop in a vast ocean, so do yourself a favor and use the correct oil- every time.
At Prestige Auto Tech
we understand that replacing your car’s tires can be a harrowing, and confusing affair. There are dozens of tire brands, compound formulations, ratings, and numbers to keep track of, so how do you know you are making the right tire choices for you and your car?
However, none of this should be a problem if you are dealing with a reputable tire shop, and at Prestige Auto Tech we pride ourselves on the fact that we provide accurate, reliable advice on tire choices that will keep you safe, and on the road for the expected life of the tires you buy. So if you are looking to replace your tires, here are some tips on what to look out for, as well as some advice on tire safety and maintenance that will make your tires last for as long as they should.
Check the date of manufacture
Tires have a limited shelf life, which is why the date of a tire’s manufacture is molded into the sidewalls of all tires. Therefore, when you replace your tires it is crucially important to check that the tires you buy have not reached their sell-by dates.
You need to make sure that tires are no older than about two years, although some tire manufacturers claim that their products are perfectly safe after having been in storage for as long as four to five years. However, storage conditions at some tire shops are a lot less than ideal, with moisture and UV radiation from sunlight that are not controlled.
Since UV radiation degrades the rubber compound of tires, it is the single biggest factor that damages tires in storage. The really bad news is however that this type of damage is often invisible to the naked eye, so make absolutely sure you only buy tires that fall within the allowed storage window.
Only buy premium brands
While there is a market for cheaper tires, we do not recommend that you buy anything but premium, trusted tire brands. Premium tires may be more expensive initially, but they will save you significant amounts of money in both premature tire replacement costs, and fuel, since premium tyres are designed to decrease the wheels’ rolling resistance.
Only buy what you need
Prestige Auto Tech provides high quality wheel balancing and alignment services, and while we would appreciate your business, we would rather you get the tires that suits your car than perform endless wheel alignments on your car because someone sold you unsuitable tires.
For instance, uni-directional tires work better on powerful, high-end cars than on compact runabouts. Uni-directional tires can only work on one side of a vehicle, meaning that they cannot be rotated in the same way that tires meant for all-purpose use can be. Moreover, unidirectional tires usually have traction and speed ratings the limits of which can never be achieved with a compact car, meaning that if you buy uni-directional tires, you will be paying for benefits that you cannot use.
Maintain wheel alignment
If your car’s alignment is out of specification, it hardly matters what type of tires you buy, since poor alignment will destroy a set of expensive tires as easily as it will a set of cheap tires. At Prestige Auto Tech, we can inspect your alignment and correct all faults when you have replaced your tires to ensure that you get the most out of your new tires, regardless of the car, tire brand, or the age of your vehicle.
Maintain correct tire pressures
You have no doubt heard this a million times before, but after wheel alignment, maintaining the correct pressures in your tires is still the best way to preserve and extend the life of your tires. Never rely on the Tire Pressure Monitoring System of your car to keep the tires at the correct pressures; these systems are notoriously inaccurate, and your tires could be under-inflated by as much as 25% before the system will activate a warning light.
The most reliable way to monitor your tire pressures is to buy a good quality digital tire pressure gauge with which to check your tires once a week. Tire pressure gauges are available for a few dollars at almost any auto parts store, but the money spent will save you hundreds of dollars in unnecessary tire replacements.
At Prestige Auto Tech, we can run a quick diagnostic check on your car’s Tire Pressure Monitoring System to ensure that it works properly. The last thing we want when you leave our shop after an alignment is for the system to fail to register incorrect tire pressures, which can (and will) drastically reduce the life of your new tires.
How To Find An Auto Repair Shop That Is Right For You
Moving to a new town or city can be a trying experience, but it can become a positively traumatic one if your car suddenly develops a strange noise two days after the move. What do you do if you cannot fix it yourself? Whom do you take it to for diagnosis and repair in a town where you don’t know anybody, and especially a reliable, competent mechanic?
Most of us have lived though similar experiences, but a logical approach to the problem of finding a good auto repair shop often produces the desired results within a few days, provided you ask the right questions right from the get-go. Here are some pointers on how to find the auto repair shop that is right for you, and of course, your car.
Define your needs
The first thing to do is to ask yourself what you need. For instance, if your car is still covered by a warranty, you run the risk of having the warranty invalidated if you take your car to an independent auto repair shop. In such a case, you are far better off taking the car to a dealership, even though the dealers are more expensive; but then again, you could get the repair done for free if the problem is covered by warranty conditions.
However, the real problem starts if your car is not covered by a warranty. If this is the case, you need to ask yourself the following-
Is your car an import?
European cars are more often than not quite a bit different from cars produced in say, the North American or Japanese markets. The most important differences involve suspension setups, brake systems, emission controls, lubrication requirements, and even safety equipment/systems, which often require specialized knowledge and equipment to diagnose and repair.
In these cases, you need an auto repair shop that has proven experience in working on your car, but more importantly, you need a shop that is conversant with the particular problem your car is experiencing. Finding such as a shop can be a daunting task, but there are proven ways of doing it. The following tips will help you find such a shop, but they will also help you find a reliable repair shop regardless of the brand, or origin of your car.
The best source of information is always local knowledge, so ask neighbours, colleagues, and even the local taxi drivers for recommendations. This is the quickest way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, since you will get warnings as well as recommendations.
Make a shortlist of the positive recommendations, and give them a call to get the following information:
Do they provide written estimates?
In some jurisdictions, it is not a legal requirement for repair shops to provide written estimates on costs and the time it will take to complete a repair, but it is always a good sign if an auto repair shop does provide this, since it eliminates nasty surprises. With a written estimate, you know exactly what the repair will cost, what parts are required, and how long the repair will take. If a shop does not provide such an estimate, cross it off your list, and proceed to the following point-
Do they guarantee their workmanship and parts?
Again, not all jurisdictions require auto repair shops to guarantee their workmanship and parts, but if they do, you have half the battle won. Modern cars are highly complex, and a botched repair could make a car unsafe to drive. Therefore, you need a guarantee that the requested work will be performed professionally and reliably, and the only way to be reasonably sure you get this, is for the shop to issue a guarantee that the work they do is done professionally, and correctly the first time round. If a shop does not provide reasonable guarantees, cross it off your list.
Are the technicians qualified, or certified to work on your car?
Qualifications and certifications mean nothing if they do not relate to your car. For instance, Lexus cars are built by Toyota, but if you have a problem with your Lexus, and it is out of warranty, you need to take it to a shop that employs mechanics who know their way around a Lexus. There is little point in taking it to a shop that works on all Toyota products except Lexus models, since from a practical point of view a Lexus is as different from a Corolla, as it is from a Cadillac.
There are other examples, but this one should illustrate the point that you need to use mechanics that are qualified to work on your specific car to prevent a recurrence of the problem or worse, the distinct possibility that a botched repair could create new problems. If they cannot work on your car, cross them off your list, but by now, you should have a few candidate shops left on your list, so do the following-
Visit them in turn
First impressions may be important, but you need more than a good first impression if you are going to leave your car in the hands of mechanics you don’t know, so you need to check up on a few things during your first visit to any particular auto repair shop. Here is what to be on the lookout for:
Check for abandoned cars in the parking lot
Check for cars in the parking lot that have obviously not been worked on for a long period. This is always a bad sign; it could mean that the shop cannot repair the vehicle, but more often, it is a sign of poor customer relations. Cars that cannot be repaired should be referred to shops that can fix them, or be returned to their owners, so walk away- you could end up with your un-repaired or un-repairable car in the parking lot as well.
Check for other cars like yours.
Shops that advertize the fact that they work on a specific vehicle/model will almost always have a few of those vehicles either in the shop, or outside in the parking lot. Take it as a good sign if you find cars like yours in, or at an auto repair shop, since it is almost certain that they will be able to repair yours as well.
Ask for information
It goes without saying that the reception area should be clean, tidy, well organized, and that the reception staff should be friendly and professional. However, you need more than that; such as the fact that the reception staff should be willing to explain the nature of the problem you are experiencing with your car in a way that makes sense to a non-professional, for instance.
More importantly, they should be willing to answer all your questions on the causes of the problem, as well as the repair procedure. Put in another way, the reception staff should be able, and willing to tell you what caused the problem, how they are going to fix it, what parts they are going to use, how long the repair will take, and exactly how much it is going to cost you.
If they can do all of that without hesitation or obfuscation, you may have a winner, but there remains one final test, which is well, putting them to the test.
Have the repair done
The old adage that “talk is cheap, but money buys the whiskey” applies to car repairs as much as it does to anything else, and since you have to trust some mechanics some of the time, now would be a good time to see if you can trust this particular crowd.
However, it would be a mistake to trust them blindly. What you need to do is to phone around to obtain cost estimates for the same repair from at least four or five other shops, based on the estimate you got from your candidate shop(s), but price in itself should never be the final deciding factor on which shop you use.
Assuming that the shop(s) you have visited have all met the criteria listed above; you will be in a position of strength if you have several competing estimates. Use this to bargain for a better price, but bear in mind that no shop is obliged to meet, or beat any other written quotation.
If your chosen repair shop’s price falls within a few percent of the average of all the cost estimates you have, it means that their pricing is fair, and that they will very likely take good care of you and your car, since they want your repeat business.
Nonetheless, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if your chosen auto repair shop completes (and guarantees) the repair at the stated price and within the stated timeframe, you would do well to stick with them. Over time, the mechanics will get to know you and your car, which is an excellent way to build a relationship based on trust between you and the shop.
One more thing
Going from shop to shop, means that nobody ever gets to know your car, and the sometimes-peculiar problems it may develop. It also means that to most shops, you will always just be another customer, instead of being a trusted, favorite customer, which goes a very long way toward always getting professional, friendly, and reliable service from an establishment that knows your car, and how to fix it at the best possible price in the shortest possible time.