Newsletter No 33
may have noticed that our shop rate has recently increased. We
have placed ourselves in the middle of the range for our area, as every
shop is going up. And we still don’t have a supplies
charge! We resisted raising our rate for a long time, but
economic realities have finally caught up with us.
There are many reasons for the rapid rise in auto repair labor rates, and one of the biggest is equipment.
manufacturers are involved in a war against independent (non-dealer)
shops such as us. They are trying to force you to take your car
to a dealer. If they are successful, they will put the
Foreign Service and every other independent repair shop out of
How are they doing this? They are
engaged in a repair information lockout to non-dealers. This is
illegal, but shops such as us don’t have the money to take on the car
For example, BMW recently announced that they will not
allow ANY service information out of their network beginning with the
model year 2000. Whether they can get away with this remains to
Car makers have another trick up their sleeves.
They’re making tools (for resetting computers and accessories) and then
they refuse to sell the tools to anyone but their dealers.
have been trying to buy the tool for interfacing with Saab systems for
years. We finally found someone to sell us one “under the
table”. With a price tag of $3,000, it was a good deal.
Saab owners take note: we can now reset all of your malfunction
lights (the check engine light, ABS light, and SRS light). In
other words, we have all the Saab computer tools a Saab dealer does
through the model year 2000.
Other manufacturers are following
Saab’s example to some degree, and thus our equipment costs are rising
dramatically. We have a reputation for doing the difficult
diagnostics, and we have to stay equipped to handle the tough
ones. At this time, we have the capability of interfacing and
resetting almost all of the systems on the cars we work on.
I am on the subject, allow me to do Stew’s Rant (with a nod to Molson
and Joe’s Rant) for a moment. We have received a number of phone
calls lately where our client expresses surprise that we can work on
their new car. Dealers are telling new car owners that only
dealers have the computerized tools to fix their cars.
BALONEY! Yes, we are qualified, and yes, we have the tools to
work on just about everything. The only work we can’t do is new
car warranty repairs or recall work. If you are in doubt, call us
before you call the dealer about your new car.
season is here (at least it was) and it’s time for this year’s
update! The wonderful world of automotive AC repair changes
As most of you know, most cars manufactured prior to
1995 used R12 (freon) as the refrigerant in their AC systems. New
production of freon was banned several years ago, because it is a known
ozone-depleter. This never meant that it was illegal to service
freon-based AC systems. What it did mean is that these services
must be done by EPA licensed technicians (such as me).
be the last summer that freon is available. The EPA estimates
that 23 million lbs. are still in various inventories, and 19 million
lbs. will be used this summer - more if the summer is hotter than
predicted. Most shops I know still don’t do conversions to
the new refrigerant (R134a) and some are even stockpiling freon!
Why they’re postponing the inevitable, I don’t know.
As for us, we will work on freon-based systems only as long as
our current supply holds out.
What’s involved in an AC
conversion? It’s really pretty simple for most cars. We
replace the receiver-dryer, change over to a different oil, change the
necessary fittings and add new labels.
Conversions are very
reasonably priced for most cars, even more so if we do them when
the system is down for major repair. Note to Volvo owners:
conversions to R134a usually result in improved cooling!
let anyone (yourself included) put any refrigerant blend in your
car. Yes, some of them are “EPA approved”. What “EPA
approved” means is that the refrigerant is not toxic, flammable, or
harmful to the environment. It doesn’t mean that it will work
well in your car. In fact, the opposite is true: the
alternative refrigerants can affect seals, cause performance problems,
and most shops (including ours) won’t work on them. We use
dedicated refrigerant evacuation equipment (one for freon and one for
R134a), and the introduction of any blend would contaminate our
supplies. We use a refrigerant ID tester to test each system
before proceeding with the work.
Most AC systems fail
because of a leak. One leak can be fixed and another will occur a
month (or even a week) down the line. For this reason, we add AC
dye to every system we’re working on. An ultraviolet light will
pick up the dye if it’s leaked out, allowing us to track down the leak.
do systems fail because they have “gone low on a charge”. The
refrigerant had to leak out somehow. For this reason, we don’t
recommend “topping up” a system without checking for (and fixing)
leaks. It becomes money wasted (your money) when the system goes
BRAKING THE MYTH
If you have a
stick shift car, you’re probably used to pulling the brake on when you
park (just in case you accidentally park in neutral).
perception seems to be, however, that parking brakes on cars with
automatic transmissions are more or less an accessory. This is
Many modern cars have self-adjusting brake systems
which only self-adjust when you use the parking brake. Not using the
parking brake can cause problems, most notably the brake pedal sinking
further down than it should. If you drive an automatic, you
should be using the parking brake at least one to three times a
If you haven’t
been using the parking brake, though, call us before you pull it
on. Long time corrosion may have taken over and the brakes could
Did any of you catch the program
on NPR the other week about road rage? It focused on the new
effort by the State Patrol to catch road rage incidents as they happen
(from helicopters), and pursue the offenders.
A great idea, but it’s only one part of the problem, especially for those of us who live in the city or inner-ring suburbs.
it seems like at least twice a week one of us has a new driving horror
story to tell. We’ve seen (or been) pedestrians honked at in
crosswalks while crossing on the walk light, or pedestrians nearly run
over while in crosswalks. Hostility toward pedestrians and bikers
is definitely on the rise, as well as hostility toward drivers who like
to obey traffic laws (for instance, not turning right on red when it’s
marked “no turn on red”.)
It shocks me that these things are
taking place more and more frequently. I’m only bringing it up to
remind everybody that we all need to calm down and pay better attention
to pedestrians and bikers. They have as much right to the roads
as vehicles do.
NEED A TOW?
you need a tow, don’t call Gus Post’s old number. If you don’t
know who Gus Post is, skip to the next paragraph. Many years ago
Gus sold his business to another towing company whose rates are not the
We recommend Statewide Towing. They can be reached
at 651-633-4262. You can pay them direct or have them bill
it to us.
We don’t get a “cut” or any benefit from referrals -
we’re just trying to make sure you get good reliable service at the
best price possible.
BUY AMERICAN - OUR JOBS DEPEND ON IT
so-called “domestic” cars are actually imports. Do you own a Ford
Probe or a Geo Prizm? We work on those (the Probe is a closet
Mazda, the Prizm a Toyota).
We work on most American minivans
too, including Plymouth Voyagers, Dodge Caravans, and Mercury
Villagers. These too are imports. Confused? Pop the
hood of your car and look for Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, or
Mitsubishi. Call us if you’re wondering if your domestic car
might be an import.
Stop in to visit us, or if you have any questions about your cars, call us at 651-635-0395.