Shady Mechanics

Sometimes you take the lid off a topic and find that you have opened an unexpected can of worms.The response was overwhelming to my column last week about my honest auto mechanic, John, who found that as an independent mechanic, he could not compete with the ever-increasing competition from car dealership repair shops. Among the auto repair rip-off horror stories and the auto mechanic recommendations I received from readers, there was one letter that stopped me in my tracks.It was from a reader who signed his e-mail with only one name — Bill. Bill’s correspondence described to me a murky world that few outsiders have ever been privy to. He outlined the unscrupulous details of his experiences as a mechanic for unethical repair shops.Of course, Bill can only describe the practices of the establishments he worked for. Certainly, every business has its own policies and procedures, and not all can be lumped into the same unsavory stew. With that in mind, let’s consider the information that Bill imparts. It’s food for thought: “I am now retired, but when I worked as a mechanic at large repair shops, we were told not to make problems when we were checking out vehicles, but we were told to find problems. Then we were told to be sure to ‘talk up’ what the damage could be to the customer’s car if the problems we found were not taken care of.””There was a kickback from whatever work we recommended that the customer had done. However, most of the money from this kickback was given to the mechanic in charge at the shop. If people came in for a ‘checkup’ and we told the shop foreman that we found nothing wrong with the car, he told us to look again and try to find something.””There were many times when I saw other mechanics doing shady things — like not doing required maintenance when they were supposed to. This was because usually we were forced to work on two or three cars at a time because someone else had promised that the cars would be done.””And while the labor rate was high, we were only paid a small portion of that rate; the shop got the rest.””I just wanted to say that you had a legitimate complaint when you wrote about trying to find an honest mechanic.” — Bill.I don’t know about you, but from now on, if I take my car into a repair shop and they start “talking up” the dangers of issues I didn’t come in for, they will be looking at the backside of my car driving off into the sunset before they have time to put a period at the end of their sentence. News source: Woman Motorist

Gas Prices

With gas prices holding steady – and even dropping a bit in the past few weeks – the consumer outrage that flared up this spring has calmed down considerably. Pump price photos have fallen from front pages and politicians proposing solutions are visibly absent from cable TV channels. But as the July 4th weekend kicks off an exodus of vacationing motorists, U.S. Fuel supplies remain tight – which raises the odds that gas prices are about to make another move higher. After a sharp run-up in March and April, pump prices have fallen slightly in the past two weeks from peak levels reached in mid-May. Still, at $2.87 a gallon, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded logged by the Department of Energy this week is still 65 cents higher than this time last year.Pump prices typically head higher between July 4th and Labor Day, as an armada of RVs and fully loaded SUVs roll out across the country for the peak vacation season. That increased demand puts upward pressure on Fuel prices. The goods news is that pump prices typically fall back again when summer winds down. But it’s far from clear just how high prices will go before they fall again. News source: MSNBC

GM Sales down

DETROIT – Domestic automakers’ sales slid in June, lashed by higher gas prices and by tough comparisons with last summer’s discount-driven bonanza, the companies said on Monday.Struggling General Motors Corp. got the worst beating; its sales plunged 25.7 percent last month.But rising fuel costs were a boon to Toyota Motor Corp., which credited its fuel-efficient lineup for much of its 14.4 percent sales increase over June 2005. Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. sales were flat.Sales from a year ago slipped 15.5 percent at DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group and 6.8 percent at Ford Motor Co., the companies reported Monday.Across the industry, sales were down 10.5 percent, with truck sales plummeting 19.4 percent and cars inching up 1.6 percent, according to Autodata Corp. The seasonally adjusted sales rate for June, which shows what total sales would be if they remained at the same rate for the entire year, was 16.3 million vehicles. Automakers sold 17 million vehicles in 2005. News source: AP

Breakdowns

Preventing Auto RepairsYou cannot prevent all automobile problems, but by staying alert to signs of trouble and performing regular maintenance, you may avoid costly breakdowns.Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. Most auto manufacturers provide a recommended maintenance schedule for specific types of driving. Following their guidelines can keep your car running smoothly and prevent major problems.Keep up with routine maintenance. Because so many parts on your car are connected, neglecting problems with one part can cause complications with others. Have your car checked at the first sign of trouble, and do not underestimate the importance of simple maintenance like changing the oil or checking fuel levels. Ignoring these minor tasks can lead to unreliability, poor mileage, or even expensive breakdowns.Know your vehicle. Do not let car problems blindside you. By knowing how your car usually performs, you can spot trouble early, perhaps early enough to fix the problem before it causes more damage. Pay attention to how your car usually feels and sounds. If you notice any changes, investigate them. They may stem from minor issues, such as the need for an oil change or a tune-up, but they may also be symptomatic of more serious problems. Strange smells, sounds, or changes in the way a car handles should be taken seriously; they may be early signs of trouble. News source: Car Advisor

Saving Fuel

Tips for Saving FuelIf you’re not ready to buy a more fuel-efficient car, you can still save money in whatever vehicle you drive. Cars.com provides the tips and dispels the myths. News source: Cars.com Revive the ClassicsThe biggest fuel savings comes not from hybrid technology but from the old standards: car pooling and public transportation. If you and just one friend or neighbor trade off commuting to and from work, you cut your fuel usage by about 50 percent. No other step will save you as much money. Also, if you have two vehicles in the family motor pool, leave the thirstier one in the garage as often as possible. Public transportation saves fuel, and possibly money. It also decreases congestion, which saves everyone fuel. Help yourself and everyone else; be part of the solution.Get the Lead OutWeight is fuel economy’s natural enemy, so removing unnecessary items – or people – from your car can translate to real fuel savings.Get the Leadfoot OutYou can save fuel immediately in whatever you drive by going easy on the accelerator. Jack rabbit starts and full-throttle acceleration boost fuel consumption dramatically. It’s all a matter of degree: Light acceleration saves more than moderate acceleration. Top speed also plays a part. Most vehicles are most efficient when cruising in their top gear at a relatively low speed. For example, a car with a five-speed transmission would be most efficient in 5th gear at 40 to 55 mph. Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed, so as your pace increases from this point, fuel economy drops dramatically. Onboard trip computers that show instantaneous and average fuel economy are remarkably accurate. Keep an eye on this and you’ll learn how to drive in a miserly fashion.An Ounce of PreventionKeeping your tires inflated properly and your engine running right is critical to efficient motoring. Underinflated tires can lower your fuel economy by full miles per gallon. (Get the proper inflation pressure from the sticker on your car’s doorjamb or the owner’s manual, and not the tire’s sidewall.) Even if your car seems to be running well, that perplexing Check Engine light could represent a dead oxygen sensor or some other emissions control problem that causes the vehicle to waste several miles per gallon. Open Windows or Air Conditioning?This is an age-old conundrum. (Unlike a car’s heater, which uses free engine heat to warm the cabin, the air conditioner robs engine power and lowers fuel economy.) So which approach is better? Sorry, but it’s not as simple as one or the other. If your car has been sitting in the sun and is hotter than the outside air, drive for a few minutes with the windows open to cool it off. Then, if you’re hitting the highway, close ’em up and turn on the A/C. Aerodynamics are more important at high speeds, so if you’re not exceeding 35 or 40 mph, open windows won’t make as much difference. It also depends on the vehicle. The detriment from driving with the windows down is greater, say, in a Chevy Corvette, which has excellent aerodynamics, than in a Hummer, which has … none. The same applies to convertibles; you’ll burn less fuel with the top up.Keep It SleekSpeaking of aerodynamics, roof-top carriers and bike and ski racks don’t do you any favors – even when they’re empty. If you keep all your cargo inside the car, you’ll slip through the wind better. Also, strip off any aftermarket add-ons such as bug deflectors and window and sunroof wind deflectors. By design, these items work by wrecking your aerodynamics. Sure, bug entrails on your windshield are gross, but they aren’t known to cost you any fuel.Premium or Regular?Lower octane costs less, but should you use it? Most modern cars that call for premium fuel can run on regular Fuel without knocking or any long-term penalty. Technically, this makes the car less efficient, but not to a degree that negates the cost savings from the cheaper fuel grade. NOTE: This is true of cars for which premium is recommended, not required. If in doubt, look for terms such as “for best performance” and “recommended” as opposed to “only” or “required.” If your car has a turbocharger or supercharger, you probably should stick with premium fuel. Of course, if your car calls for regular Fuel, there’s no reason to run it on anything higher in octane.By Joe Wiesenfelder, cars.com News source: Cars.com

Hot Weather Planning

By Christina LeeSpecial to The GazetteThe summer heat has a way of wearing down any worries and cares of city residents, making a road trip sound so appealing.However, before any engines can be revved, residents must remember that the heat can also bring wear and tear to their vehicles.‘‘The heat in the summer, in a lot of ways, is worst that the cold in the winter,” said Albert Kreis, manager of A & A Automotive in Frederick.Luckily, combating its effects is not very difficult. Minor and regular procedures can better ensure a safe, enjoyable road trip.A car’s liquid coolants or antifreeze levels require special attention. Because of the increase in use of air conditioning and time spent on the highway, lowering levels of coolants or antifreeze will cause the car to overheat and break down, said Darlene Valderson, a manager of Family Auto Repair Inc. in Frederick.Checking on coolants or antifreeze levels, along with replacing worn hoses, are the two more important procedures to take care of this summer, said Kreis.In addition, a road trip can easily be put to a stop because of worn tires. The summer heat dries tires out, causing them to wear down a little more quickly, said Mark Reynolds, manager of Carriage House Automotive.Reynolds points out though that the Maryland climate should not pose as much danger to the tires as the climates in other areas would.‘‘It doesn’t get as hot here as it does in the West,” he said. ‘‘You can actually fry eggs on the roads because they become so hot.”Brake fluid changes are also a necessary procedure that needs to be done every couple of years. The brake system produces a lot of heat by itself, so as the temperature outside increases, the effectiveness of the brake fluid decreases.Even a car’s aesthetic qualities may need a little more attention. The heat and sunlight causes the paint’s color to fade and the clear coating to flake. The remedy is a simple wax, said Reynolds.All in all, the summer heat stresses the motor and the rest of the car components in a factor greater than that of other seasons. Getting regular procedures is strongly encouraged.‘‘The weak links… tend to go at this time,” said Kreis. News source: The Gazette

Checker & Lester

Checkers could sponsor Lester or another team in 2007: If #23-Bill Lester lands a Nextel Cup ride in the future – he has only two starts, both this year, but drives for Bill Davis Racing, which has two open seats for its Toyota program in 2007 – he may already have met his sponsor: Tampa-based Checkers/Rally’s. Lester, who has a partial sponsorship deal with the official drive-through of NASCAR for his BDR Truck series program, is well-liked within the company. This season he became just the sixth African-American to qualify for a race in NASCAR’s top series. “He helped us secure the deal (to become a NASCAR sponsor in 2005),” said Checkers vice president of marketing Rich Turer. “Bill participated in our final meeting with our franchise advisory council two years ago at Homestead-Miami (Speedway). Bill was our invited guest and NASCAR brought him in specifically to talk about this match. We have 800 restaurants, and some of them are very urban and are more minority-driven in the customer base, and we had some franchisees that were concerned about our investment against that. Bill was able to come in and talk to them and have dinner and spent a lot of time. He’s great. We’re not a huge sponsor of Bill – we sponsor a few races for him a year – but he remains near and dear to my heart because he really helped make secure some of the important franchise votes we needed to get the deal done.” Turer said the company is in discussions with two teams about a full-season Nextel Cup sponsorship for 2007. Turer did not name teams, but noted the company’s right to use race-winners’ images in its advertising reduces the pressure to sign a high-profile driver.(St Petersburg Times)(7-4-2006) News source: St Petersburg Times

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