Blog - Pawlik Automotive Repair, Vancouver BC

Dealer Service

Is Dealer Service your best choice?

Unfortunately, over and over I am reminded that they don’t always do a great job.

Even though I’ve been an independent mechanic and shop owner all of my adult life I still hear this notion, like many people, that the dealer is the best place to get your car serviced.

They may be more expensive but they will always do what’s best for the car, do fine quality work and they are experts because they service their own brand.

Behind the nice appearance of their facility and people, the shuttle service and the washed car… the overall work on the vehicle is often not that great!

Case in point: we had a new client today with a 2002 Volvo XC90. The vehicle has 130,000 kilometers on the clock and until today had always been dealer serviced.

While the engine oil had certainly been replaced we found a number of very dirty fluids, especially the transmission. This fluid is normally a clear bright red colour, however on this vehicle it was as black as old engine oil: clearly long overdue for service.

Clean Oil vs Dirty Oil

We advised the client and they wisely did the fluid flush. Why do dealers neglect these important fluid replacements when they are so glaringly needed??

So often we see this on dealer serviced cars: critical fluids not replaced.

The cynic in me has to ask… “Is it because they don’t really care about the longevity of your car?” After all if the transmission blows up, that makes you a perfect candidate for the sales department and a new car.

Good news about the HST

With the HST now implemented in BC here’s some good news: Car repair and maintenance isn’t going to cost you a dollar more – even with HST.

That’s because car repairs for the past 10 or so years have been subject to PST and GST on labour and parts. You’ve already been paying the full pop.

I know that this really isn’t great news but at least it is one thing that won’t be costing you more. If you own a business the HST now becomes a 12% input tax credit as opposed to the 5% of the GST.

Happy Motoring!

How Safe is the Car You’re Driving?

Do you know how safe the car that you are driving is?

Picture this scenario: Your car is in a body shop for a couple of months being restored and a very kind friend lends you their ‘spare’ car.

Sounds like a fabulous arrangement doesn’t it? Well maybe the arrangement is not so fabulous if that friend’s car has serious safety defects that are unknown to you and the car owner.

Often we drive our cars and they seem to run fine, so an assumption is made that all is good. There may however, be one or more components that are about to fail, possibly leading to a catastrophic accident.

Can this be prevented? Absolutely: by having a routine safety inspection done once per year. Many parts on a car can be worn and fail suddenly without warning but will be noticed during a safety inspection.

This scenario was recently inspired by a true story: our client brought in a vehicle for a level one maintenance service (oil & filter service and minor inspection) that a very kind friend had lent him for a couple of months.

While inspecting under the car we noted seriously cracked front brake hoses: something that neither the car owner or current driver was aware of. Cracked brake hoses give no warning of an impending failure. When they fail they usual burst suddenly, leaving you with little or no brakes.

There are many other components that also give no warning: loose steering parts are example. The good news is that their condition can be easily confirmed during a safety inspection.

The whole point of this story is: if a vehicle is being driven, you need to be certain that it is a safe car. This applies to both the owner and the driver. There are legal liabilities, not to mention moral obligations and the possible ruining of a friendship should an accident occur or a part breaks that was just about to fail due to old age.

Be sure that if you own a car or are driving a friend’s car that it is safe. An annual safety inspection is not expensive and will make sure that you know that you have a safe car.

Depreciation: Frighteningly Expensive and Not Considered

Few car owners think of the cost of depreciation when they buy a vehicle. When you truly look at it, sometimes it can be astounding.

Here’s an extreme example of a higher end luxury car where depreciation can be outrageous. Our example car is a 2006 BMW 645I, a very nice sporty luxury car with a base price of $99,000. This same car can be bought used, with only 45,000 kilometers on the odometer for $37,500. That’s a drop of $61,500 in only 4 years!

Put another way… the previous owner paid $1.36 for every kilometer that he or she drove or approximately $15,000 per year in depreciation.

That is an insane amount of money to burn away and yet few people consider it. I know that this is an extreme example but it is a very important financial consideration and one that I bring up as an auto service professional. We hear some folks whining about the cost of auto repairs and yet I have never had a client spend even close to $15,000 dollars in a year on vehicle repairs and if they did, they would not be spending that again in the next year or the year following.

Now lets consider buying this car used. It’s a real bargain at this price and I would imagine that 5 years later, if well taken care of, it will still be worth $10,000 minimum. This next owner will only lose $27,500 to depreciation. Per kilometer, assuming that only 45,000 kilometers are driven, that costs only $.61 per kilometer or $6900 per year in depreciation.

Half price!

Now this car, as it ages will no doubt need some repairs, but I would be hard pressed to imagine even a $10,000 dollar expense on this type of car. But, if we were to add $10,000 to the $27,500 of depreciation we have $37,500 total cost and per kilometer $.83. That is still a substantially lower cost.

Perhaps the downside is that the used car owner doesn’t have the prestige and cachet that comes with driving that beautiful new BMW; but he or she still has a fabulous vehicle and one that will be very reliable. The second owner will also have a huge amount of extra cash available to spend on other things or to wisely invest and make more money.

This is an extreme example of depreciation but it applies across the board with any vehicle.

Also not considered in this equation are financing costs and that adds further to the expense of the vehicle. Naturally this is much higher with the high price of the new vehicle. So next time that you are faced with a large auto repair bill – consider that compared to depreciation it may not be all that high.

Proper Tire Inflation

Did you know that keeping your tires properly inflated saves you money on fuel, optimizes your safety and maximizes your tire life?

Did you also know that it is easy to check your own tire pressures?

Finally, did you know that you must use a tire guage to properly set tire pressures?

Yes, properly inflated tires save money on gas. When tires are under inflated, rolling resistance increases and that causes your engine to burn more fuel. Additionally, under inflated tires are dangerous because they run hotter and in extreme circumstances can blow out. Under or over inflated tires will cause the treads to wear unevenly and this shortens tire life.

Inspecting your tire pressures once a month can easily rectify all of this. You must use a tire guage and not your eyes. Why? Because most tires, when properly inflated have bulging sidewalls and look slightly flat.

Here’s how to do it right:

First, find the proper inflation for your vehicle. This is usually found on a tag in the driver’s or passenger’s door jam but may be found on your glove box door or fuel door.

Second, check your tires when cold: when your vehicle has been stopped for at least three hours or has not been driven more than 2 km.

In some circumstances using other than the vehicle recommended pressures is better. Examples are: 1) in the case of some SUV vehicles that have low manufacturer recommended pressures designed to give a soft ride and 2) if high performance or off-road tires are installed which require different pressures.

For the SUV concern, some have 26PSI as the recommended fill and I would not do less that 30PSI. It will slightly roughen the ride but add a margin of safety. For the high performance or off-road tires, these manufacturers will have their own recommendations. Find out what they are and use that pressure.

So there you have it, a simple to do, routine service with the benefit of saving you money and increasing your safety.

3rd Party Extended Warrantees

Extended Warranty

What do they cover and what are the pitfalls?

When buying a used vehicle, many dealers will offer extended warrantees. While the thought of warrantee protection sounds fantastic, clearly examining the contract is critical before paying extra cash for what may be of little value.

Extended Warranty

First thing to know is that these warrantees are provided by a warrantee company who has no affiliation with the vehicle manufacturer. Their business is selling warrantees and to make a profit they must pay out as little in claims as possible.

While your vehicle manufacturer also wants to also do a bare minimum of warrantee repairs, they have their reputation at stake when something goes wrong. For a warrantee company any claim is a cost against their profit.

Secondly some warrantee companies have unrealistic requirements when it comes to routine maintenance services such as oil changes.

One company insists that oil be changed every 3 months or 5,000 kilometers and will allow only one extra month or 1000 kilometers. This is completely substandard to the automotive industry but yet you must follow their schedule to keep the warrantee valid.

Third item on the list is what the warrantee actually covers. Only parts listed on the contract are covered.

For most concerns this is adequate but I have seen several occasions where a faulty part is not covered because it is not specifically named in the contract. Diagnosis is also yours to pay. If your check engine lamp is on and/or your car runs poorly they will usually pay for the repair (provided the part is listed in the contract) but not the diagnosis.

Many times the diagnosis is complex and could cost you several hundred dollars. As a repair facility, we are responsible to repair the problem; coverage for that is what you paid for. Strangely though, they won’t pay for the process of finding out what the actual fault is. Also, items such as fluids and shop supplies are not covered. In the case of a leaking radiator for example, they will pay for your radiator and labour, but not the antifreeze.

Fourth concern is that repairs are limited only to the part at fault.

Here’s an example: if your automatic transmission has a problem, they will cover only the labour to remove and reinstall the transmission along with disassembly and reassembly to replace the faulty part. They will only pay for the faulty part and bare minimum of other parts to complete the repair.

While this solves the problem, usually an automatic transmission is so labour intensive to repair, that rebuilding it completely is the most cost effective way to go to ensure a proper, long life repair. This costs marginally more than just replacing the part at fault, yet they will not do this and so you, the consumer, are stuck with a substandard repair.

So there you have it: the dark side of that warrantee that sounds so good in the dealer’s office. There are good points and a warrantee -can- save you money. The important thing is to read the contract, look at the reliability records of car that you are buying and then make an educated decision.

If you need an opinion on a warrantee that you are about to purchase, call us or talk to your trusted shop for their thoughts.

Why Transmission Flushes Make Sense

Most vehicles are equipped with automatic transmissions, a very complex piece of equipment with hundreds if not thousands of parts, all of which rely on the transmission fluid to keep it operating properly.

Automatic Transmission

The fluid performs many tasks, from controlling and operating clutches inside the transmission to providing lubrication to the moving parts as well as cooling the intense heat generated inside. So critical is this fluid, that without it, your transmission will simply not work and your car will not move.

Flushing and servicing your transmission fluid is a relatively new service (20 years ago it was rarely done).

So why do we do it now?

Because modern transmissions keep getting more complex, are packed into tighter spaces and are made with lighter-weight materials which are often less durable. For many years 3 speed transmissions were the norm, then it became 4 speeds, now it’s 5 and 6 speeds with some manufacturers offering up to 10 speeds.

With these increased number of speeds, complexity just keeps growing and along with it come astronomical repair costs. If you have one of these 5 and up speed units that need replacement you could be looking at a $5,000 to $10,000 bill, and maybe more.

Routine maintenance, which consists of flushing the fluid and replacing the filter (if equipped) is an economical way to give your transmission its longest life. Many manufacturers recommend replacing the fluid, usually at around 50,000 kilometers. There are however, a number of manufacturers, mainly European who do not recommend replacing the fluid ever: it is supposedly “fill for life”.

Why would this be?

Most of the rationale behind this is that many of these transmissions use high quality synthetic fluids which are very durable and will maintain their lubricating properties indefinitely. Consider though, that inside these transmissions they still have components that wear and their fluid becomes just as contaminated as the fluid in any other vehicle. Over time, worn particles are being pumped through the transmission, increasing wear every time you drive.

It therefore makes sense to flush these fluids also. As long as the correct fluid is installed and the level is proper, only good can come of doing this.

It must be remembered that vehicle maintenance schedules are created by the engineers who design the vehicles, and while they are reasonably good on paper they may not always be good out in the field.

Also to be remembered is that the auto manufacturers are in the business of selling new cars, so while reliability is important it is only important for so long. The bottom line is that routine fluid replacement leads to longer transmission life which will keep lots of money in your pocket.

The Two Models of Vehicle Ownership

There are two paths to take in vehicle ownership.

The first path I’ll call the Manufacturer/Dealer model. On this path you buy or lease a new car every 3 to 5 years and follow the bare minimum of the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.

The second path is the Long-Term Ownership model. On this path you buy a new or slightly used vehicle and plan to keep it for 10 or more years. While following this plan, a more rigorous maintenance schedule is performed.

What Are The Pros and Cons to Each?

Pros on the Manufacturer/dealer path include very predictable costs, an almost new vehicle all the time, and high reliability. Cons are costs: ongoing monthly payments and higher insurance costs, lack of freedom around unlimited mileage and vehicle modifications (on a lease).

Pros on the Long-term ownership model are lower costs; once the car is paid off, there is only maintenance and repair costs and insurance rates are lower. Cons include some unpredictability of cost due to breakdowns and slightly less reliability as the car ages: both of which can be minimized with excellent routine maintenance.

It is very important to know which path you are on because this will affect your choices when it comes to maintaining your vehicle.

If, from the moment you buy your car you know that you want it to last a long time, then your choices of maintenance will evolve around keeping your car in the best shape possible. These will include routine oil services, routine fluid replacements, and regular inspections to replace components before they wear and damage other parts, creating further costs and breakdowns.

Those are your two models. Which do you follow?

What Does It Take To Do Great Diagnostic Work?

Through the time of owning your vehicle, you may experience it running poorly, or a warning lamp may illuminate on your dash saying check engine or ABS.

When one of these concerns occur, a diagnosis will be required to find the cause. While under the manufacturer’s warrantee the manufacturer will pay for the above concerns to be diagnosed and repaired; however once that time has expired, you are responsible to pay the cost of repairs.

Having a trusted shop to properly diagnose and repair your vehicle is critical.

Many of your instrument panel warning lights like the check engine, ABS or air bag lamp all involve very complex electronic and mechanical components. Finding the exact cause for the failure is critical if the repair is to be done properly and for the least cost. Similarly, drivability concerns such as poor engine performance, transmission shifting problems, lack of acceleration, engine misfire or ABS braking problems also involve these complex electronic and mechanical systems.

Due to this complexity, you want to trust your diagnosis and repair to a competent shop. A shop that has high quality scan tools, a lab scope, highly skilled technicians and up to date repair information. While most diagnostics go smoothly, some can become very complex and to find the cause can take every piece of equipment, all the best repair info and the minds of more than one expert technician.

Did you know that many shops and dealerships do not do proper diagnosis?

While dealerships usually have fabulous scan tools, their diagnosis may be limited to scan tool data and then a best guess of the problem based on that data. Dealerships usually pay their technicians a flat rate and this can lead to a quick and possibly incorrect diagnosis.

Some independent shops and some chain/franchise shops (tire stores for example) do not have the proper diagnostic equipment or the skilled technicians on staff. Their diagnosis can be incorrect or lead to unnecessary parts being replaced.

How will you know whether a shop is equipped to diagnose your vehicle properly?

Ask them a few questions: Do you have skilled diagnostic technicians? Do you have proper diagnostic equipment for my make and model? What will diagnosis cost? (Cheap price is probably not a good thing!) Do they guarantee their diagnose and what are they guaranteeing?

Please do know that to properly diagnose a concern may involve several procedures, along with parts replacement to solve the cause of your concern. The actual procedures and time required will be unknown until the process is started. The shop that you deal with needs to inform and educate you of this and communicate clearly with you every step of the way.

The Challenges of Air Conditioning Repairs

Air conditioning problems occur from one of two areas: the first and most common are mechanical problems and the second are electrical.
Vehicle Air conditioning system
While we attempt to accurately diagnose your air conditioning concerns first time around, using state of the art equipment and skilled technicians, due to the nature of A/C systems this is not always possible.

Generally speaking, electrical problems, once found and repaired give little problem later. Mechanical concerns however are another matter.
The mechanical components of your A/C system include: the compressor, accumulator or filter/dryer, evaporator core and condenser. These parts are all connected by hoses and lines.

Contained within the system is the refrigerant: a special fluid that can change its state from gas to liquid and in so doing, cools the inside of your car.

Leaks are the most common mechanical failure; however compressors will fail and blockages can occur in many areas of the system. Finding leaks and blockages can be time consuming and may require multiple diagnostic procedures, which may include multiple repairs.

It is impossible to be 100% certain of any A/C leak diagnosis due to several factors. These include hidden components such as the evaporator which is contained inside a box under the dash; or leaks that will only show up when the system is fully charged and operating. And sometimes, a leak may only occur when a vehicle hits a bump.

To ensure that we find your problem as efficiently as possible here is a brief outline of the tests that we do:

    Our diagnostic procedures start with a refrigerant identification to be certain that the installed refrigerant is either R12 or R134a. All other types of refrigerants and contaminated refrigerants must be properly disposed of.

    If the refrigerant passes identification then we test system operating pressures: if the pressures are low, there is likely a leak in the system. The refrigerant will then be evacuated and leak diagnosis will follow.

    We utilize several methods for leak detection: nitrogen gas, UV dye, electronic leak detectors & ultrasonic leak detection. Most leaks will be found with these methods however some leaks are very difficult to find due to specific conditions mentioned above (the evaporator for example, which is encased in a box under the dash on most cars).

    If leaks are found we will repair them, refill the system, reinspect for further leaks and if none are noted and the system operates as it should we will return the car to you.

From this, we provide our 1 year/20,000 km warrantee on the components we have replaced and repairs to the leaks that we have found. We cannot be certain that further problems and leaks may not be present: these may show up days, weeks or months down the road. As we always add UV dye to your system this may assist in us finding future leaks.

Further areas of mechanical problems are blockages in your A/C system. These may not be evident until all leaks are repaired and the system is fully recharged and tested. If system pressures are too high or low and/or interior cooling is inadequate, further diagnosis will be required.

As you can see, A/C repairs can be simple or complex, and sometimes require multiple diagnostic and repair procedures. You may perhaps wonder, why not just change the whole system and be done with it? While that is possible, it is cost prohibitive as the air conditioning system consists of many parts distributed throughout your vehicle.

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