The Truth About Cars » Maintenance The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Maintenance Question Of The Day : How Much Would You Charge To Teach The Basics? Wed, 07 May 2014 18:10:32 +0000 celica

I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8.

Cars were a mystery to me. Motor oil could have been the same thing as cooking oil right up until my 16th birthday.

Then I caught the bug. We all get it. A nasty incurable fever known as, “First-car-itis”.

I wanted a car in the worst possible way. I knew that if I just grabbed my hands on every magazine, book and repair manual I could find, that first car would become mine for a long, long time.

I didn’t expect a steep learning curve.

The public library in Englewood, New Jersey offered a nice selection of Chilton’s manuals that probably had all of one reader. Those manuals were thick, hard with just a few exceptions, and practically unintelligible at first.

This access to a repair manual made all the difference in the beginning.  I started by opening the hood to a 1987 Toyota Celica which wasn’t even mine, and figuring out where the hood prop was located. That took a little bit of time. Then I had to figure out the little things. The oil cap. The coolant reservoir. After endless page turning, I finally figured out where the brake and power steering fluids were, and accidentally also discovered one of the a/c Freon outlets.

Hot? Cold? Heck, for all I knew that little nozzle could have been a hidden charger for the air struts that lifted the trunklid.

My beginnings were more humble than the 1962 New York Mets. I knew nothing, learned a little however I could, and eventually became proficient at… the basics. It wasn’t until college that I learned how to change out brakes, and that took two other people to do most of the coaching. I brought the pizza and beer.

Cars are intimidating machines, and today’s sealed containers, plastic skid plates, and engine covers aren’t doing the curious novice any favors.

So my question to all of you is, “How much would you charge to teach a newbie how to perform the basics of auto maintenance?”

Let’s keep it simple. Oil change. Coolant replacement. Changing a flat tire. Replacing fluids from the top. Topping off the A/C. Replacing the battery. Checking fluids and tire pressure. Basic inspection of the brake pads.

Remember that they will more than likely need to learn how to use a jack and jack stands as well, and some may even be able to handle a tranny fluid change with either an excavator or a simple wrench if there is a simple bolt to remove it (pray to the old Volvo gods for easy access!). You may also want to throw in basic wrenching techniques into the mix.

Could all this be taught in one spring day?  If so, how much would you charge if you were teaching this type of course? Throw in some free pizza and cold beer for yourself as well.


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GM Throws In Free Scheduled Service Thu, 06 Jun 2013 15:50:50 +0000 Picture courtesy

A free-maintenance program introduced earlier this year to get its full-size pickups moving was expanded across the entire 2014 line.  For most 2014 vehicles, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealers will complete an oil and filter change, four-wheel tire rotation, and conduct a 27-point vehicle inspection based on what’s called for in the vehicle’s maintenance plan.

According to GM CEO Dan Akerson, this plan sells more cars:

“We know that customers who service their vehicles at our dealerships are much more likely to purchase another GM product down the road. It’s all the more important to bring customers to our service facilities for routine maintenance to further enhance the quality and reliability of their GM vehicles.”

Dealers will tell Akerson that such programs are a great way to sell lucrative service, whether it’s paid by the customer or by the company under warranty. Once that car is on the lift, a good service writer will always find something that needs attention, “now that the car’s here, might as well.”

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Five Simple Technologies For The Long Haul Sat, 21 Jul 2012 19:10:51 +0000

Just Imagine What I Can Do To Your Car!

Everybody wants a deal. But precious few people are willing to change their habits to make their deal last longer.

The casualties of the rough and reckless are expensive and almost always preventable. For every person who complains about an automatic transmission giving out, there are ten people who still insist on shifting from reverse to drive while the vehicle is in motion.

Moments like that make me feel like this behavior is just…

Click here to view the embedded video.

not economically viable.

I sometimes tell folks that doing that to a car is like walking backwards and having someone punch you in the square of the back. Enough hits in the back at that same place, and you’re going to need surgery.

Machines, like us limber humans,  shouldn’t have to deal with such stress issues.

Does the mpg’s stink? Sometimes it’s the fault of the manufacturer. But other times, more often than not, it’s because the owner abuses the vehicle with jackrabbit starts, hard braking, and outright neglect.

Steering and suspension components don’t last? Tell the screw behind the wheel to loosen up a bit, and watch the road ahead.

Waste costs money when it comes to cars. So what should we do if our father, cousin or former roommate are the automotive Kevorkians of the modern day?

Plan ahead… and hope that a few low-cost technologies become as common as these modern day Kevorkians.

1) The Shelf


You would think that I start this weekend’s column with some whiz bang technology that requires a computer and a circuit. Truth is a lot of folks eventually screw up the interiors because their stuff is all strewn about. They get used to having their transportation serve as a mobile romper room where anything can be chucked anywhere for any reason.

A well placed shelf in the rear of most hatchbacks has the effect of keeping everything in place and nearly doubling the available space you have to haul and store your cargo. This is important from an owner’s standard because the easier it is to keep things tidy, the more inclined we are to do it. An empty soda can in a clean room will usually be thrown away while the same can in a messy place will usually just blend in with the scenery.

A good shelf opens up a lot of space, and helps keep a car tidy.

2) Oil life monitoring systems.

This technology has been around for over 20 years and yet the overwhelming majority of cars still don’t have them.

The benefits of this are obvious… and yet as of 2010, only 40% of manufacturers use them in their cars.

If an automotive Kevorkian wants to ignore this technology, so be it. But putting this in cars would likely save a lot of folks hundreds of dollars and several unneeded oil changes. Multiply that by all the folks in need of it, and we could retire the debt of California… or at least Stockton.

3) MPG monitors: Instant and average


What can you do on a long, miserable commute home?

Daydream, listen to the radio, drive, talk on a hands free phone… and that’s about legally it.

Why not keep score?

Of course not all folks will do this. But offering a simple button or switch that makes this possible could alter the driving behaviors of at least a few errant drivers.

Besides, when you’re bored in stop and go traffic, frugality can be the only cheap fun out there.

4) Shift interlocks

I am stubborn on my belief that most CVT’s that will go south in the coming years can endure if their new owners learn how to shift properly.

Reverse, stop, shift. Drive, stop, park. Don’t shift in motion. Stop. STOP. STOP!!!

A shift lock mechanism that keeps the car from shifting while it’s in motion would help undo a learned behavior. That and the four figured premiums of replacing those transmissions.

5) Simple maintenance access

If an automaker wants to enshroud their engine in plastic, that’s fine. But no manufacturer should have the arrogance and gall to prevent access to the tranny fluid, claim that it is a ‘lifetime fluid’, and then whistle the tunes of warranties gone by once that transmission goes kaput.

Lifetime should mean lifetime. End of story. If a manufacturer wants to play the “What is a lifetime?” game, then at least give owners an easy means to replace the fluid.


Do you know of anything else that can be cheap or helpful? I have a few other ideas. But in the meantime, feel free to share any technologies or Kevorkians you have come across in your travels. As Judge Judy says, “You can’t stop stupid.” But perhaps a well-deigned shift interlock can slow it down.

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Customer Care: Whose Problem Is It Anyway? Thu, 06 Oct 2011 18:46:37 +0000

Three years ago I suggested that Detroit win back car buyers by doing something no one seemed to be doing: provide customer care deserving of the name. In a similar vein, Steve Lang recently asked readers whether manufacturers or the government should do more when a model commonly suffers from an expensive problem. Well, according to an article in Automotive News this week GM has strongly encouraged its dealers to pick up the tab on more out-of-warranty repairs to reward and create loyalty.

According to the article, the bottleneck hasn’t been GM—the customer care money has been there, but dealers have been too tight with it because of fears that GM would punish them if they spent it. Why did dealers have these fears in the first place? The article doesn’t say. The important thing isn’t how these fears came to exist, but that they’re currently unwarranted. One dealer calls the new “open pocketbook” approach to keeping customers happy a “seismic shift.” Problem solved?

Not so fast. Steve and I identified the problem: people are worried about having to pay big money because of faulty engineering or manufacturing on the part of the manufacturer. The solution I proposed: clearly state that repair costs will be covered whenever a problem reaches a certain threshold. I suggested two such thresholds, 10 percent before 100,000 miles and 20 percent before 120,000 miles (which is how far most people seem to now expect a car to go without expensive repairs). The specifics aren’t critical. They can be sorted out by market researchers and actuaries based on how common a problem has to become before it achieve “they all do that” status. (My latest, not yet expensive personal example: the aluminum hood on my 40,000-mile 2008 Ford Taurus X is corroding. I drop by the Ford dealer, and it turns out “they all do that, Expeditions too. To help we’ll refinish it at cost, $300.”) The key condition: the manufacturer would provide owners with complete confidence that they wouldn’t be stuck with the cost of fixing expensive common problems.

GM’s latest policy does not do this. Instead, it seems very similar to “customer care” as it has existed for years, though possibly with better odds. As before, it’s up to the dealer to decide whether or not a particular customer deserves the care. Didn’t buy the car new from them, or didn’t have all maintenance performed in their shop? Then you might be no more likely to receive “assistance” than you were before. This is what the article means about “rewarding loyalty.” The flipside is “punishing disloyalty.”
Nowhere does it say that GM is providing the care because they made a mistake at any point. In fact, the article strongly implies the opposite. Two cases are described. In one, a Chevrolet dealer covered the cost of replacing the door hinge on a ten-year-old pickup with 317,000 miles. In the other, the dealer picked up the cost of fixing a wheel that had suffered damage from an impact. These two cases share critical similarities, probably not by happenstance. In both GM was clearly NOT at fault. GM made no mistake. In both cases no reasonable customer would expect GM to pay for anything. GM did them a favor. Later they can return the favor by buying another GM car from this dealer.

Not mentioned: the Saturn VUE owners highlighted yesterday. Or, to give a more recent example, the Lambda crossover owners that have had to deal with persistent water leaks (though, to GM’s credit, it has bought back many affected vehicles). The problem Steve and I raised—common expensive repairs due to a fault in how the car was engineered or manufactured—is ignored. Addressing this problem would require that GM admit that it occasionally makes mistakes. And, for legal or other reasons, it’s still not willing to do this. No car manufacturer is.

I can see how the new policy, since it intensifies the traditional “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” game, might further encourage people to get all of their service work done at dealerships. And it might help GM retain some existing customers who would otherwise defect to the manufacturer. But it won’t do much to help GM gain new customers. People who aren’t on close terms with a dealer have every reason to remain as wary of GM (and other manufacturers) as they have been. Without a clearly stated out-of-warranty assistance policy, one that doesn’t rely on the dealer to arbitrarily decide on a case-by-case basis who gets help and who does not, car owners could, and likely will, continue to get badly burned by the thousands.

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GM: Impala Suspension Problems Are “Old GM’s” Liability Thu, 18 Aug 2011 18:19:33 +0000
The Detroit News’s David Shepardson reports that GM has requested the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging rear-suspension problems on 2007-8 model-year Impalas, on the grounds that

“New GM did not assume liability for old GM’s design choices, conduct or alleged breaches of liability under the warranty, and its terms expressly preclude money damages,” the response says.

The suit “is trying to saddle new GM with the alleged liability and conduct of old GM.”

The suit alleges that GM issued a service bulletin for police-fleet 2007-8 Impalas, which were eating through rear tires due to faulty spindle rods. In that bulletin, GM instructed its dealers to replace the rods as well as rear tires, where appropriate. But GM argues that police versions are different than civilian models, and has not issued a bulletin for regular-duty Impalas… and now, on top of it all, its arguing that the “new” post-bailout GM “only agreed to warranty obligations of cars assembled before 2009.” As many as 400,000 Impalas could be affected by the spindle rod issue (which GM says is a manufacturing problem, not a design defect), which could cause rear tires to wear out in as few as 6,000 miles. And despite the clear evidence that GM knew about the problem and fixed police-fleet versions, the bailout liability dump defense could just work: at least one lawsuit (regarding OnStar failure) has already been dismissed on the grounds that New GM is not liable for Old GM’s mistakes. The bailout, it seems, is the shafting that just keeps on shafting…

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Ford, Aftermarket Tangle Over Collision Replacement Parts Tue, 16 Aug 2011 19:03:28 +0000

For some time now, there’s been something of a low-scale war going on between OEMs and aftermarket parts suppliers just below the national media radar. The issue: whether or not aftermarket structural parts are as good as OEM parts. Ford has been a major proponent of the OEM-only approach, making the video you see above in hopes of proving that aftermarket parts aren’t up to the job. But the aftermarket is firing back, and they’ve made their own video in direct response to this one, which you can view after the jump.

The video above, made by the Automotive Body Parts Association, directly challenges the findings of Ford’s video experiments, arguing that they prove only that “motorists should avoid slowly driving into madmen wielding reciprocating saws.” In a press release, Co-Chair of the ABPA Legislation and Regulation Committee Eileen A. Sottile lays out her industry’s position

Time and again the aftermarket industry has demonstrated the safety and quality of its products, yet some car companies seem determined to counter scientific facts with fear-mongering. OEs cannot credibly argue that only their branded parts can provide safety, especially when it comes to components that play a very small role in crash energy management. If car company safety systems cannot handle a wide range of real world crash conditions and material differences in minor replacement parts then they are not robustly engineered and as such are a significant threat to the consumers.

You can read a compilation of material on the debate over at if you want to dive deeper into the argument, but it seems to me that the aftermarket is always going to face a single challenge again and again: branding. Whereas the OEMs can put their brands on their products, consumers will always be wary of parts made by different companies. Some consumers will always buy off-brand in hopes of a deal, but when safety is at stake, trust is of the utmost importance. Buyers trust brands, whereas the aftermarket’s myriad companies can’t all have the prominence of, say, a Ford… and they can’t all guarantee the exact same quality either. Still, that doesn’t mean the OEMs aren’t unnecessarily fearmongering…

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Watch This Video, And You Will Be Able To Change A Boxster Air Filter Using Only One Friend And An Hour Of Your Time Wed, 29 Jun 2011 15:21:35 +0000

How user-serviceable should a car be? Should special tools be required to perform basic tasks? If the car in question is a sporty car, should there be less effort on the manufacturer’s part to ensure serviceability (because it’s a “toy” and more likely to be owned by people with multiple cars) or more (because sporty cars tend to have longer in-service lifetimes and have a more self-service-oriented owner base)?

After performing most of the 30,000-miles service on my 2004 Boxster S “Anniversary Edition”, I believe I’ve become a little more passionate about my answers to the above questions.

This is what Porsche recommends for the 30k on a Boxster:

  • Oil and filter change, with Mobil 1 15-50
  • Air filter
  • Cabin air filter
  • Fuel filter (with caveats, see below)
  • Sparkplugs (really? At 30k????)

Start with the easy stuff. Cabin air filter: open the front trunk, remove a trim panel with a Torx T20 screwdriver, remove the top of the filter compartment, install in the same flow direction as the original. This isn’t too bad, although requiring a specific Torx bit to do gas-station-level work on the car seems odd. (If you have an Asko dishwasher, you already have a Torx T20 sitting around to remove the front panel, right?)

Fuel filter: Around the year 2002, Porsche switched from a removable inline filter to a “lifetime” tank filter. If we define “lifetime” by the MTBF for the M96 watercooled six, that’s not encouraging. I prefer to think that Porsche expects me to use the same fuel filter across two, or even three, complete engine replacements, so I ain’t gonna mess with it.

Oil and filter change: Using the rocker-panel dent you made the first time you jacked up your Boxster as a guide, jack up the left side of the car. The Boxster has four strong, durable lift points under the car, but you need those for your jackstands, so the shade-tree Boxster mechanic jacks the car up on the seam and puts the stands under those jack points. This does not always go well. There is a lot of plastic, and bendable metal, under there.

My fix is to jack the car up on the appropriate point, leave it on the jack, and put a couple of mounted wheel/tire combinations underneath the middle of the car for safety. I do think, however, that this says a lot about Porsche’s expectations for its owners. Take it to the dealer, and save your paint finish.

The Boxster holds ten quarts of hot oil. If you jack the car up, instead of putting it on a lift, it doesn’t all come out. Hmm. The oil filter is tucked under the car, on the driver’s side. It looks like a conventional filter, but it isn’t. It’s a twist-off housing. The real filter is inside. Porsche sells the appropriate “cup tool” at dealerships for $59. A regular filter wrench may remove it. If you damage the housing, it will cost you. Be careful.

Did you enjoy buying ten quarts of Mobil 1? Nowadays, that’s $80 most places. The rest of the parts mentioned above will run you $150 or so. $230 is a lot of money for a self-service, but the dealership charges $750 or more to do it. I wouldn’t buy regular oil to save money. Boxsters get hot. We’ll find out why in a moment.

Time for the air filter. The informative video which heads this article is applicable to pre-2004 Boxsters without the Bose stereo option. If you have an Anniversary car with Bose, as I do, you will need to add the following steps:

  • Unplug subwoofer while removing the first of the three covers on top of the engine. Do not damage plug. Remember where plug goes, since that area is not visible when replacing the cover.
  • Using a Philips head screwdriver, disassemble the air filter cover and filter mount, then work the old filter out sideways, being sure not to break the mouth of the air intake. The air filter arrangement on my car is the 987 filter arrangement, which flows much more air and sounds cool but which is more complex than the original.

Did you watch the video? Have you noticed that this is not a one-person job? Doing it yourself will damage the pieces and scratch the car, unless you use the Porsche factory rear fender covers. Your dealership has a set. They’ll do the work for you… but do you really trust them to swap the filter, when they can charge an hour’s labor and not bother with it?

Now we are ready to do the sparkplugs. I haven’t done those yet, but it’s as simple as jacking up each side of the car as described below, removing the rear wheels, removing the inner fender covers, and using a couple of ratchet wrenches and universal-joint extensions to remove the old plugs, wipe a little anti-seize on, and install the new ones. In an era where Hyundais and Fords have 100,000-mile plugs, why did a $62,220 Porsche come with 30,000-mile ones? They’re cheap, by the way. Oh, that must be why.

Congratulations! You’ve serviced your Boxster! Now have your friends work with you to reassemble the vehicle. Carefully, because if you happen to damage the very fragile “ball end” mounts for the top or break the crappy plastic hooks which hold down the back of the top liner, you will buy a new top for your Boxster, and you do not want to do that.

Normally, at this point I would deliver a stirring lecture about how the crappy new Porkers are far tougher to service than the awesome old ones… but as a 993 and 944 owner I know that isn’t the case. Changing the oil on a 993 is a serious affair involving two different filters in separate locations. Changing the plugs on a 993 involves dropping the motor. Let’s not even talk about the infamous 944 clutch job. Nope, the Boxster is business as usual at Zuffenhausen. The question is: Why?

Are Porsches made deliberately difficult to service in order to encourage their owners to use the dealer? Is it a side effect of trying to pack a lot of performance into car which are absolutely tiny by modern standards? Does Porsche, like much of the German auto industry, see its products as fixed-life, disposable items? Are there even any other recent-model Porsche owners who want to service their own cars?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions except the last one. When I explained to my Porsche parts supplier that I needed a “987″ air filter for a 2005 Boxster, instead of the “986″ filter, he shook his head. “Might be a problem.”

“Really?” I figured that this company, which sells enough parts every year to finance a Daytona Prototype team, might be aware of a fundamental flaw in the new filter. But that shouldn’t be the case, since Porsche’s been using that filter in the Boxster for six years now. Surely the bugs are worked out after Six. Long. Years. Right?

“We don’t know where to get it. Nobody’s asked us for one yet.”

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