Thursday, February 16, 2017

A (DIS)service

Today while on my way to work I was listening to morning radio when an alarming commercial played. Typically, I am able to drown out the white noise of radio advertisements, but as a mechanic and a man who values integrity, this particular ad struck a nerve. It began by making outlandish promises of predicting exactly what your car needs and when without any real inspection. I listened in awe of the misinformation the spokesperson was enthusiastically promoting.

This “service” is a device that you can add to your car with the idea that it will easily tell you exactly what needs to be fixed. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the technology used to find this information could just as easily be found in an automobile manual. This product simply recites what the code is when the check engine light turns on. No, really, ALL IT DOES IS TELL YOU WHAT THE CODE IS IF THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT COMES ON. This is the opposite of innovation and could potentially be damaging to your car (and your wallet!).

In the ad, they claim that their product has the ability to tell you what exactly is wrong with your car without any diagnostic, which is frankly irresponsible advertising. The service they mentioned in the ad is what’s known as a code reader. Auto parts stores have been misleading people for years using code readers. Let me explain how the whole thing works…

Whenever the check engine light comes on in a car a ‘code’ will be stored in the ECM (electronic control module, also known as the car’s computer). The code will indicate what circuit is faulty that turned on the check engine light. Code readers simply read that code. They don’t go beyond that. When I’m working on a car, and I read the code, I then know what test procedures to follow to find the problem. Each code has a different set of test procedures. There are no code readers that perform test procedures. For instance, if I read a code and it is a P0171 that indicates that the system is running lean on bank 1 (the oxygen sensor detects too much oxygen in the exhaust system) the cause of this could be a vacuum leak in the intake, a fuel injector, a fuel pump, or even a wiring problem. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people have a P0171 code read than buy an oxygen sensor because they are lead to believe this will solve the problem. People will come to my shop with an oxygen sensor they bought and ask me to install it based on being told they have a P0171 code. As a business owner myself, I know the value of a dollar, and it always pains me to watch others waste their hard-earned money on a part that is not ultimately the problem. In the end, reading a fault code is kind of like reading the title of a book—you can’t read the title and say that you now understand the whole book. Hell, it’s not even the cliff notes!

At Ek Auto we don’t believe in blindly replacing parts in hopes that it fixes the problem, our mission is to fix the problem entirely the FIRST time. Guessing can be very costly, which is why our inspection process is so thorough. I understand that in an age of so many technological advances this gadget may sound legitimate, but it is merely a re-advertised tool that has been around for years.
     I looked up the company online to find out the cost and wholly cow, their advertising agency should get a raise for convincing consumers that this service is worth this much! The piece you plug into your car was upwards of $30, and then there was a onetime activation fee of $20, and THEN a monthly subscription fee of $10. That comes to $170 a year just for a code IF the check engine light come on. That’s more money than a diagnostic at Ek Automotive!

The lesson of the day being, before you go spending money on a gadget for your car that you’re told does everything under the sun, talk to a professional first.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women in the Auto Industry

Good help is hard to find. How many times have we heard that said? Truth is, I disagree. I think there are plenty of capable people out there but somehow we’re not connecting. We better start connecting and it better start real soon. The math is simple, there are more cars on the road today than ever before, there are less young people entering the automotive aftermarket industry (the aftermarket is defined as every aspect of the automotive industry that happens after the original sale of a car by the manufacture). It doesn’t have to be like this. There are millions and millions of people in America that see getting into this industry as not even being on their radar. Those millions and millions of people are women.  If the same number of females entered this industry as males we would have more than enough good help.

There are several reasons why this disconnect exists, fortunately all are solvable. First step is all shops have to get out of the dark ages. There was a time that the only girl in a shop was the one on a calendar. Not only does that have to end but the mentality of that has to end as well. There is a time and place for everything, but this industry is no longer in that time and is not in that place. Second step is that it is up to repair shops taking on the responsibility of introducing young people to automobiles kinda what shop class was like. Schools have been cutting shop class so why don’t I offer a class to young people about cars? (Spoiler alert, look for that coming in the spring).  Third step is getting in front of ALL young people to explain and show them what this industry has evolve to become (career day) It’s still view that to enter this industry you had to me a mechanic. That would be true today, if today were 1981. If anybody wants to enter this industry as a mechanic I think that’s fantastic, we could always use more great techs (techs are what mechanics are called today) but there are so many other positions to fill as well. Half of my employees were never mechanics and don’t work on cars now. Shops employee service advisers, marketing personal, parts professionals, managers, office personal and so on. That’s just in a general. There are collision shops, transmission shops, big truck repair, restoration shops, and specialty shops just to name a few. Then there are the parts suppliers where there are so many more positions. Parts manufacturers, wheel and tire manufactures, and sound systems and electronics manufacturers. There are tools and equipment manufactures and suppliers.  The list can go on and on. A simple truth, women make up about 50% of the drivers on the road yet less than 10% of the industry of the car they drive. Personally, I’d welcome new people, with new ideas and new approaches to the industry. If this is something that might appeal to you feel free to contact me. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Natasa is a prime example of why it's important to keep up with maintaining your vehicle...

I’ve worked at Ek Auto for a year now. Throughout this year, the most important thing I’ve learned about working here is the severity of keeping up with maintaining your vehicle. When I first got my car, the only thing I knew about was getting an oil change and putting gas in it… even then I was never on time for an oil change. I’ve seen so many cars come in that needed major repairs that could have easily been avoided if they had just been maintained better. I’m currently stuck in a pickle due to not maintaining my vehicle. My heat isn’t working… usually a coolant flush at the proper inter volt could have prevented this problem. I’ve owned my car for 5 years now and have NEVER gotten a coolant flush. So, we went ahead and did one and tried to flush out the heater core. My heat still isn’t working. So, the next step is to completely remove my dashboard and take a look inside. A coolant flush is approximately $100 and it should be done every few years. Removing my dashboard and fixing the problem will be a little over $1,000. If I had only brought my car in for routine checkups throughout the years, I could have EASILY avoided this problem.

Most of us are pretty busy people and it’s very easy to forget about bringing your car in. Or, if you’re like me, you just don’t know enough about the damage that can be done when you don’t bring your vehicle in for routine checkups. Whatever the case, if you ever think you are having an issue, do not hesitate to give us a call. If you have been to us before, every 3 months we send out a letter and an email reminding you that it is time for an oil change. When you bring your vehicle in, the guys will do a complete vehicle inspection. At the end of it all, Mike will let you know how everything looks and if it is time to get anything else done.

Moral of the story…. Don’t ignore little warning signs and always make sure to get your car checked out every few months. This will save you a boatload of money!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How much is a tune up?

     One of my pet peeves is when a question is answered with a question (especially when I’m the one doing it). That only leads to more questions. But when I’m asked how much is a tune up I can only answer with a question. “What’s going on with your car that you feel it needs a tune up?” “Oh, it hasn’t had one in years.” That’s when I change around the wording but still ask the same question. “Is there something in particular going on with your car that prompted you to ask about a tune up?” “It just feels like it does.” This volley can go one for some time before we get to the actual problem. There is a problem with the car, I know it and the customer knows it. The last time I had a customer actually ask for a tune up as a preventative maintenance was maybe 1988. I’ve often wondered that if the reason they minimize the concern with their car (tune up

     The point I’m trying to make is, you as the car owner are not reasonable to diagnose or determine what your car needs to keep it dependable and running smooth, that’s my job. As the car owner all you have to do is tell the service adviser what you know to be true. The check engine light is on, the car runs rough at idle, things like that. Here at my shop we take the time to get to the bottom of what’s going on with the car. Unfortunately there are shops out there that would have ‘tuned it up’ first. Install new spark plugs, gas filter, spark plug wires, air filter, PCV valve and so on. After that they would then look at your car’s real problem. When talking with shops about this pour way of addressing the customer’s needs, I’ve heard responses like ‘the customer asked for it’ and ‘that’s what the customer wanted’. In conclusion, find a reputable shop, get in good communication, and never worry again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Installing Parts vs. Having Your Car Repaired Right the First Time

Every once in a while, not too often, I’ll get a phone call from some random person asking me how much it would cost to install a part. Say a starter, or struts, or maybe heater core. I know the phone call is not going to go well when they follow up with “Labor only, I have the part.” There are two things I’d like to do at this point. First, avoid this job like the plague. Second, take the time to educate this person. They don’t want to hear the expert, with over 30 years of experience, take the time to help them out; they want to hear a dollar amount so they can hang up and call the next shop. This person will call 10 shops and then choose the cheapest (most likely they will want it done yesterday as well). This person will usually have the least reliable car on the road and one that you would never want to buy as a used car.

If this caller ever let me help them, here is what I’d tell them. My first question is; why do they think their car needs that particular part? I suspect Google diagnosed their car for them. The reason I would start with this question is because I don’t want to see them spending their hard earned money on a part their car may or may not need. Auto repair is expensive, don’t make it more expensive by buying wrong parts. I sometimes think people get caught up on word association, like, if the car doesn’t start, must be a starter, or ‘I don’t smell fuel, must be a fuel pump’.

Let’s give them the benefit of doubt and say that they got it right. Next, is the part itself. Again, this is an area I’m an expert in with over 30 years’ experience. Not all parts are created equal. There are at least a few different grades of the same part, for every part. The lowest quality is referred to as the value line. This is the cheapest in cost, the lowest in quality, and has the highest failure rate. In case you skipped over that last part let me raise my voice and repeat IT HAS THE HIGHEST FAILURE RATE. The person shopping around for a low cost of installing, always buys the value line part. Can you understand how installing this part is a bad idea? This park won’t last, it will fail, and it’s only a question of when and where. Which leads me to my next point.
Value line parts won’t last, they will eventual fail. Like I said, it’s a question of when and where. If I were to install this part and it failed, I would have to charge the customer the labor over again to replace that part. The customer on the phone will always agree to that, right up until it happens. “You’re going to charge me again?” “But I already paid you for labor” YES, I’m going to charge you again. YES, you already paid me labor and I already did the job. If you want me to install YOUR part I’m going to charge every time I install it. Your warranty for parts you purchase is through whoever you purchased them from.
Trying to save money by buying  a part you think your car needs often ends up costing more than if you just brought the car to my shop in the first place and had the job done right. When we work on a car, we stand behind it, we can even offer a nationwide warranty.

In the end, no reputable shop is ever going to install a part that a customer supplies. Save yourself the hassle and just have it done right. You’ll save money, and avoid breakdowns.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why go to one shop

      Last week a long time customer dropped off their car with two problems to be looked at. The first was an intermittent no start/ no crank problem. The other was a TPMS light that was on. The first problem was fairly easy to diagnose because we were able to duplicate the problem and test the starting system. The second seemed like it would be pretty simple, put some air in the right front tire. The car was on the lift up in the air, my tech put some air in the tire when he felt a little movement in it. The movement was actually coming from the suspension. More specifically the lower control arm, it was worn out. When he told me about it being worn, it sparked a memory. I looked up history and sure enough several years and 40,000 miles earlier we had replaced the control arm. It’s standard that we use the highest quality parts with the best warranties. Turns out the part had a lifetime warranty. When I called the customer to tell them about it, they didn’t even remember when I did it originally. Imagine how happy they were when I told them we were replacing the control arm for FREE. It pays to use quality parts and it most certainly pays to go to a good shop for all your service. Oh, by the way, had the person gone to another shop, that control arm would have been about $700 installed. But hey, it’s only money………. It’s just yours. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

There is no room for guess work!

There is no room for guess work when it comes to repairing YOUR car. Just in case you didn’t read that line I’ll repeat it. There is no room for guess work when it comes to YOUR car. The only thing worse than to guess what’s wrong with your car is having that guess validated. I’m not talking about us guessing, I’m talking about the car owner guessing then wanting us to validate. Let me give an example, the car owner notices something wrong with their car, let’s just use a loud clunk when turning. They happen to mention it to their coworkers. Without fail, there is at least two coworkers that chime up that they have the EXACT same problem. A third coworker had a brother with the exact same problem as well. A quick conversation at the water cooler reals that you need a ball joint. It must be the ball joint, after all what else could it possibly be? A quick google search and diagnoses confirmed, it’s a ball joint. Now it’s time for the validation. You pick up the phone and call the shop for a price. When you ask for a price and the shop gives it to you, SHAME ON THEM. Not only did they validate your guess, they’ve done you an even bigger disservice than that. They gave you information that you used to make a decision about your car based on nothing. If the problem isn’t the ball joint (rarely is the watercooler pow-wow guess correct) but you have a dollar amount in your head to repair the problem that isn’t actually going to be the cost of the repair.
You need good information so that you can make good decisions. Nowhere in the scenario above do you have good information. Given the wrong information, guess what kind of decision you’re going to make? A good repair shop would explain to you that without a thorough inspection there is no way to tell what car repairs are needed. Sadly, there are shops out there that will not only give you a price, but they’ll give you a low price so that you have that warm fuzzy feel, they do this because they know that most likely that isn’t what the car needs. Yet so many people will bring their car to those shops because they heard what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear.

True story, I had a customer call me and ask for a price for a rebuilt transmission on their Dodge Caravan. They were trying to make a decision whether to fix it or junk it. Rather than shooting them a price I spent the time to find out more of what was happening with their minivan. I started suspecting it wasn’t a transmission at all. I encouraged them to have it towed in. Upon inspecting it, I found that a CV joint on the front axle had broken. The repair was going to be a new front axle for a cost of about $350. Could you imagine if I told them the cost of a transmission over the phone? A rebuilt transmission on that van was about $2000. For sure they would have junked it. If they would have called a shop for a price on a transmission they would have made a bad decision.