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The Honor of Working On An Old Car Guy’s Stuff

Old car guy tools

One thing that most car guys/gals have in common is that we work on our own stuff. We may grumble about it or put off repairs we know will be a pain, but in the end we buckle down, grab our tools and take care of business. I firmly believe that working with your hands is one of the keys to a long life. But at some point it gets too hard to get under a car to do an oil change, or arthritis makes gripping a wrench almost impossible. The old car guy spirit is willing, but the body could use a rebuild. At this point you must now find someone you trust to do the things that you once did with so much pride. The other week I was that person for an old friend from church, and I was honored.

Think about it. This man had a garage full of tools. He’d made his living building the infrastructure that still makes your home telephone work. His profession made it easy to access all the tools he needed to take care of the family cars, so it just became part of his routine. Now in retirement his tools were impeccably laid out ready for any problem that came before him. But his body was failing him. Between bad eyesight and a fall a year ago his days of crawling under a hood were over,. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially since he could also no longer drive. So he called me for advice on a truck problem and I told him I’d be over the next day.

What followed was a leisurely diagnosis of the problem (loose battery cable connection) and a trip down memory lane. We talked about tricky problems we’d fixed and compared maintenance tips. He walked me through his tools and what they did. Being a phone company man he had some amazing specialty tools that are probably obsolete but still necessary in some rural areas. I was in tool geek heaven.

I could have been done with the repair in 20 minutes, but I spent two hours with him in the garage. I checked belts & hoses, fluid levels, and all the lights. He’d never drive the truck again, but it was in top condition just in case. We chatted the entire time I worked. In the end he tried to pay me, but I managed to barter a trade instead by borrowing a woodworking tool for the week. Truthfully I wouldn’t have taken $1,000 for the time I spent with him that day. A special thing happened as we poked and prodded under the hood of that truck, he handed part of his car guy mantle down to me. In that moment he validated the reputation I tried for years to cultivate through my work. He trusted me with his pride & joy and I was honored to help.

So the next time an old car guy asks for your advice on a car problem, think about what they are really saying. You aren’t just a mechanic making a repair, you are a trusted member of the car guy brotherhood, and that old car guy believes in you more than you know.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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What Does It Mean To Buy An “American Car” Today?

2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax is an American car

As usual the most popular question we get is “what car should I buy?” Answering this question usually requires us to identify the following criteria for the buyer:

  • Overall purchase budget
  • How the vehicle will be used
  • Who will be riding in the vehicle
  • Fuel economy concerns
  • Annual repair budget or personal mechanical ability

Answering these questions will usually get us pretty close to an answer. Notice that make/model/year aren’t part of the criteria. We recommend the best vehicle for the budget that fits the criteria, even if it might be a 20 year old Buick. But recently after giving a person our picks of what they should buy we were met with a response of “but I only want an American car”.

That isn’t an easy answer in today’s automotive landscape. In fact, it is quite complicated once you take into account the difference between “making” an automobile and “assembling” an automobile. Edmunds has a fantastic article here that does a great job breaking down the nuts and bolts of what goes into creating an “American” car.

Made In America

Just for fun let’s take a look at a list of the vehicles currently being built in the United States by the major automakers. This isn’t a 100% complete list, but it will give you a good idea. First the “Big 3” American automakers:



Chrysler Chrysler 200
Chrysler Dodge Dart
Chrysler Dodge Durango
Chrysler Dodge Viper
Chrysler Jeep Cherokee
Chrysler Jeep Compass
Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee
Chrysler Jeep Patriot
Chrysler Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Chrysler Jeep Wrangler,
Chrysler Ram 1500
Ford Ford C-MAX
Ford Ford Econoline
Ford Ford Escape,
Ford Ford Expedition
Ford Ford Explorer
Ford Ford F-150
Ford Ford Focus
Ford Ford Fusion
Ford Ford Mustang,
Ford Ford Super Duty
Ford Ford Taurus
Ford Ford Transit
Ford Lincoln MKC
Ford Lincoln MKS
Ford Lincoln Navigator
General Motors Buick Enclave
General Motors Buick LaCrosse
General Motors Buick Verano
General Motors Cadillac ATS
General Motors Cadillac CT6
General Motors Cadillac CTS
General Motors Cadillac ELR
General Motors Cadillac Escalade
General Motors Chevrolet Camaro
General Motors Chevrolet Colorado
General Motors Chevrolet Equinox
General Motors Chevrolet Express
General Motors Chevrolet Impala
General Motors Chevrolet Malibu
General Motors Chevrolet Silverado
General Motors Chevrolet Sonic
General Motors Chevrolet Suburban
General Motors Chevrolet Tahoe
General Motors Chevrolet Traverse
General Motors Chevrolet Volt
General Motors Corvette
General Motors Cruze
General Motors GMC Acadia
General Motors GMC Canyon
General Motors GMC Savana
General Motors GMC Sierra
General Motors GMC Yukon
General Motors GMC Yukon XL

And now the foreign automakers:



Honda Acura MDX
Honda Acura NSX
Honda Acura RDX
Honda Honda Civic
Honda Honda CR-V
Honda Honda Crosstour
Honda Honda Odyssey
Honda Honda Pilot
Honda Honda Ridgeline
Hyundai Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Hyundai Sonata
Kia Kia Optima
Kia Kia Sorento
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLS SUV
Nissan Infiniti QX60
Nissan Nissan Altima
Nissan Nissan Armada
Nissan Nissan Frontier
Nissan Nissan Leaf
Nissan Nissan Maxima
Nissan Nissan Murano
Nissan Nissan NV
Nissan Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan Nissan Rogue
Nissan Nissan Titan
Toyota Lexus ES
Toyota Toyota Avalon
Toyota Toyota Camry
Toyota Toyota Corolla
Toyota Toyota Highlander
Toyota Toyota Sequoia
Toyota Toyota Sienna
Toyota Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Toyota Tundra
Toyota Toyota Venza
Volkswagen Volkswagen Passat


Let’s take a look at a few examples. Are you in the market for a new American truck? Excellent! the RAM 1500 is built in Warren, Michigan. But wait, you want a bit more capacity so maybe you want to step up to a RAM 2500. Same brand, just a bit more payload, shouldn’t make a difference, right? Wrong, the RAM 2500 is built at the Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Coahuila, Mexico. ¡Ay, caramba!

Meanwhile Toyota is cranking out Tundra pickups in Texas, Nissan is building Titan pickups in Mississippi, and Honda is ramping up production of Ridgeline pickups in Alabama. All three of these “foreign” trucks were designed specifically for the North American market and are not sold elsewhere in the world.

While being American built, the Dodge Dart isn’t exactly home grown. The Dodge Dart rides on a Fiat designed chassis that first showed up in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Basically it and its Chrysler 200 twin are re-skinned Fiats that are made in America. And remember, Dodge is part of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) which is an Italian company, so even Dodge isn’t an “American” brand anymore. That’s a tough pill to swallow coming from someone who owns a ’75 Plymouth Duster.

Starting to get the picture? When you start looking at badge engineering things can get really interesting. That used Pontiac Vibe you bought your kid to drive to college is just a Toyota Matrix (which is just a Corolla wagon), but at least it was built in the U.S.A. at the NUMMI plant in Fremot, California. Ford did the same thing with the first gen Mercury Villager van, which was just a Nissan Quest assembled in Avon Lake, Ohio. Japanese engineering, Japanese parts, assembled in the U.S.A. with an American car company badge on the front. That line between “domestic” and “import” is starting to look pretty blurry isn’t it.

Thinking Beyond The Badge

The point of this article is to make you think about more than just the name badge on the trunk of your car. You should think about what you need in a vehicle and your specific situation. Weight that need with reliability research and your own automobile budget. If the true origin of your vehicle means a lot to you, you are going to need to do a lot more homework than just a name. The worldwide growth of the automotive industry has lead to some amazing innovations, but it has also muddied the waters as to what is and is not an “American car.”

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Good Looking Tires Can Be Deceiving – Beware Of Old Tires

Everything looked fine. The tires held air, there was plenty of tread, and the tread wear was even thanks to the excellent rotation schedule of the previous owner. But this set of tires held a secret that wasn’t so obvious: they were expired. That’s why one of them came apart on the owner in the middle of south Georgia on a warm April day. Luckily the tread separation was quick and the tire still held air, which allowed the driver to make it to a nearby rest stop. The whole thing was over in an instant. A few loud “blap blap blaps” and then it was quiet. The car didn’t even shimmy, but the tire tread was last seen flying into the roadside grass.

The car owner was flabbergasted. He’d only owned the car a few months (a mid 90s Buick) but he had looked the car over meticulously before the trip. Sure he’d checked the tires, but they all had plenty of tread and were aired up to precisely 36 psi. What went wrong? Upon inspection of the failed tire the date code told the story: 1997, it was 19 years old! The tire had come apart because the rubber had deteriorated to the point that the centrifugal force exerted on the tire at highway speed ripped the tread from the carcass. The sidewalls and belting were intact, but the tread had made an exit…stage left.

So what can you do? If you are driving a car made within the last five years and have only bought new tires, you have little to worry about. Once you get past five years or if you are the second owner of the car, you need to find out the age of your tires. Tire Rack has an excellent guide on how to determine the age of a tire. If you are in the market for used tires make sure to check the age before plunking down your money.

Tires don’t have a set “expiration date” like a jug of milk, but once you pass the 5-6 year mark things start to go down hill. Exposure to sunlight, heat, and even low tire pressure can all accelerate the rate at which a tire ages. Sunlight and heat make the rubber deteriorate (rot) to the point it loses elasticity and strength. Running a tire low on air for extended amounts of time can cause the sidewalls to rip (think of how you can break a piece of metal by bending it back & forth, same idea). Low tire damage isn’t always visible, but a ring around the tire sidewall is usually a sign that a tire was run low on air for too long.

We are going to go ahead and say that if your tire has a three digit code (which means it was made before the year 2000) it should be replaced, period. Again, just because the tires LOOKS fine doesn’t mean it is fine. If you still think it is a waste to get rid of it, maybe make it into a nice planter or a swing. Don’t gamble with an old tire just to save a few bucks.

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Can I Convert My Car To Manual Brakes By Removing The Brake Booster?

By IFCAR - Own work, Public Domain,

Our latest question comes from Rob. He asks: “I have a 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and I want to convert it to manual brakes. Can I remove my power brake booster and use the same master cylinder to make it manual brakes?”

Excellent question Rob! At first the idea makes sense. If the power brake booster is what puts the “power” in power brakes, then removing it should be the only step, right? Not quite. The brake system is designed to work as a unit. Removing the brake booster would truly render the system “manual” but the effort required to stop the car would be MUCH higher than you’d expect. This all has to do with the size of the master cylinder bore and brake pedal ratio. My friend & fellow hot rodder Jefferson Bryant did an excellent write up on master cylinder sizing and pedal ratio that can be found right here. I highly suggest reading Jefferson’s article as it covers a lot of theory and includes some great technical information.

So the short answer is: no, you cannot convert a car to manual brakes by just removing the power booster. But lets dig a little deeper for a solution. The GM G-body vehicles (including Rob’s 1984 Monte Carlo) were built from 1978-1988 and included a LOT of vehicles:

  • Buick Regal (1978–1987)
  • Chevrolet El Camino (1978–1987)
  • Chevrolet Malibu (1978–1983)
  • Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1978–1988)
  • GMC Caballero (1982–1987)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (1978–1988)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser (1982–1983)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon (1986–1987)
  • Pontiac Bonneville (1982–1986)
  • Pontiac Grand Prix (1978–1987)

Vehicle list courtesy of Wikipedia.

This broad spectrum of vehicles were all built on the standardized General Motors G-body platform, which means that a lot of the parts are mix-n-match. If you dig into the vehicle options from back then you will find that a few cars were available from the factory with manual brakes. The folks at the G-Body Forum have a great discussion thread about model years and parts differences for the factory manual brake cars right here. Even though we have not done this particular swap here at Ask My Car Guys world headquarters, it looks like you will need a manual brake master cylinder (with reservoir), a factory pushrod from the junkyard (or an adjustable unit), and an adapter plate for the firewall (since the brake booster is mounted with four bolts, and the master cylinder alone only uses two). You will also have to bend your brake lines a bit to attach them to the master cylinder (since it moves back a few inches). You brake pedal SHOULD have the correct hole in it already to mount the pushrod for proper manual brake pedal ratio (there is a great discussion thread with photos here on the G-Body Forum). That should be the bulk of the parts you need, from there it will be classic hot rodding “trial and error” to get everything working smoothly. It may be easy, it may not, you have to decide if it is worth the time and effort.

Another great resource is this discussion thread on the forum. This method uses some bits from a Chevrolet S-10 pickup and some good old hot rodding modifications to get the job done.

The bottom line is that when you want to change your vehicle from one configuration to another, start by looking to see if your vehicle was ever available with that option during its production life. This works for brakes, transmissions, engines, rear axles, even seats. There is no reason to re-engineer the vehicle when factory replacement parts may be available that bolt right in and are designed to work together.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Is My Car Part Of The Big Airbag Recall?

two airbags deployed

You have probably heard about the huge airbag recall involving Takata airbags. These airbags were used in hundreds of thousands of vehicles for well over a decade. Unfortunately there is still some confusion from car owners about whether their vehicle is affected. Some manufactures have been speedy to send recall notices, while others seem to be dragging their feet. We’ve taken the list available here from the NHTSA and made it a bit more user friendly. Simply look for your vehicle’s make, model and year. Alternately, if you have your VIN you can go here and see if any recalls are open for your vehicle.

If you have one of the vehicles on this list it is important that you contact your local dealer immediately and ask if your vehicle is included in the recall. If it is part of the recall, you will need to schedule your recall repair. Once your repair is scheduled it is important to make time to have the repair done. We’ve had reports of dealers with stacks of replacement airbags that are assigned to customers who won’t bring their vehicle in for the free repair. There is no excuse for that. Replacement airbags are trickling in slowly, so don’t assume that your vehicle is not repairable.

Make Model Year
Acura 3.2CL 2003
Acura 3.2TL 2002-2003
Acura ILX 2013-2016
Acura ILX Hybrid 2013-2014
Acura MDX 2003-2006
Acura RDX 2007-2016
Acura RL 2005-2012
Acura TL 2009-2014
Acura ZDX 2010-2013
Audi A3 2005-2013
Audi A4 Cabrio 2006-2009
Audi A5 Cabrio 2010-2011
Audi Q5 2009-2012
BMW 1 Series M 2008-2013
BMW 128i 2008-2013
BMW 135i 2008-2013
BMW 323i 2000
BMW 325Ci 2002-2006
BMW 325i 2001-2011
BMW 325iT 2002-2003
BMW 325xi 2001-2011
BMW 325xiT 2002-2003
BMW 325xiT 2006-2012
BMW 328i 2000
BMW 328i 2006-2013
BMW 328i xDrive 2006-2013
BMW 328xi 2006-2013
BMW 330Ci 2002-2006
BMW 330i 2001-2011
BMW 330xi 2001-2011
BMW 335d 2009-2011
BMW 335i 2006-2013
BMW 335i xDrive 2006-2013
BMW 335is 2007-2013
BMW 335xi 2006-2013
BMW 525i 2002-2003
BMW 530i 2002-2003
BMW 540i 2002-2003
BMW M3 2001-2013
BMW M5 2002-2003
BMW X1 sDrive28i 2013-2015
BMW X1 xDrive28i 2013-2015
BMW X1 xDrive35i 2013-2015
BMW X3 xDrive30i 2007-2010
BMW X5 3.0i 2003
BMW X5 4.4i 2003
BMW X5 M 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive30i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive35d 2009-2013
BMW X5 xDrive35i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive48i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive50 2007-2013
BMW X6 M 2008-2014
BMW X6 xDrive35i 2008-2014
BMW X6 xDrive50i 2008-2014
Chevrolet Silverado 2500 2007-2008
Chevrolet Silverado 3500 2007-2008
Chrysler 300 2005-2010
Chrysler 300 SRT8 2005-2010
Chrysler 300C 2005-2010
Chrysler Aspen 2007-2008
Chrysler Crossfire 2006-2007
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2004-2008
Dodge Challenger 2005-2008
Dodge Challenger 2005-2011
Dodge Challenger 2006-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Sprinter 2500 2007-2008
Dodge Sprinter 3500 2007-2008
Ford GT 2005-2006
Ford Mustang 2005-2014
Ford Ranger 2004-2006
Freightliner Freightliner Sprinter 2500 2007-2014
Freightliner Freightliner Sprinter 3500 2007-2014
GMC GMC Sierra 2500 2007-2008
GMC GMC Sierra 3500 2007-2008
Honda Accord 2001-2007
Honda Civic 2001-2005
Honda Civic CNG 2001-2004
Honda Civic Hybrid 2003-2005
Honda CR-V 2002-2011
Honda CR-Z 2011-2015
Honda Element 2003-2011
Honda FCX Clarity 2010-2014
Honda Fit 2009-2013
Honda Fit EV 2013-2014
Honda Insight 2010-2014
Honda Odyssey 2002-2004
Honda Pilot 2003-2008
Honda Ridgeline 2006-2014
Infiniti FX35 2003-2005
Infiniti FX45 2003-2005
Infiniti I30 2001
Infiniti I35 2002-2004
Infiniti M35 2006
Infiniti M45 2006
Infiniti QX4 2002-2003
Lexus Lexus SC 2002-2010
Mazda B-Series Truck 2004-2006
Mazda Mazda6 2003-2008
Mazda Mazdaspeed6 2006-2007
Mazda MPV 2004-2005
Mazda RX-8 2004-2008
Mercedes-Benz C230 2006-2007
Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor 2005
Mercedes-Benz C300 2008-2011
Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic 2008-2011
Mercedes-Benz C320 2005
Mercedes-Benz C350 2006-2011
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet 2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet 2011
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 4Matic 2011-2012
Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz GL550 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 2010-2012
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic 2010-2012
Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz ML350 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML350 4Matic 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML450 4Matic Hybrid 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML550 4Matic 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz R350 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec 4Matic 2011-2012
Mercedes-Benz SLK280 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLK350 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG 2011-2014
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Cabriolet 2012
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT 2013-2014
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 2010-2014
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 2010-2014
Mitsubishi Lancer 2004-2006
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 2004-2006
Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback 2004
Mitsubishi Raider 2006-2009
Nissan Maxima 2001-2003
Nissan Pathfinder 2002-2004
Nissan Sentra 2002-2006
Pontiac Vibe 2003-2008
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2008-2010
Ram Ram 5500 2008-2010
Saab 9/3/2016 2003-2011
Saab 9/5/2016 2010-2011
Saab 9-2x 2005
Saturn Astra 2008-2009
Sterling Bullet 4500 2008-2009
Sterling Bullet 5500 2008-2009
Subaru Baja 2003-2005
Subaru Impreza 2004-2005
Subaru Legacy 2003-2008
Subaru Outback 2003-2008
Toyota Corolla 2003-2008
Toyota Corolla Matrix 2003-2008
Toyota Rav4 2004-2005
Toyota Sequoia 2002-2007
Toyota Tundra 2003-2006
Volkswagen (VW) CC 2009-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Eos 2012-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Golf 2010-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Jetta Sportwagen 2010-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Passat 2006-2010
Volkswagen (VW) Passat 2012-2014


You can visit for more information and updates on the Takata airbag recall.


Photo courtesy of Morgue File.

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Why Do I Have An Expensive Car Repair If The Parts Are Cheap?

One question we get often at “Ask My Car Guys” is “Why did I have such an expensive car repair? I found the part online and it is only $XX.XX, but the shop wants $XXX.XX to do the job?” And while it is easy to scream “THE SHOP IS RIPPING ME OFF!!” the explanation is quite simple: parts and labor are separate costs.

Take for example the lowly rear main crankshaft seal on your engine. The rear main seal’s job is to keep the oil inside the engine while allowing the crankshaft to rotate freely and send power to the transmission. The seal itself is usually less than $20 for most vehicles, but the labor involved is usually several hundred dollars. Why the disparity? Because in order to change the rear main seal on most vehicles the entire transmission must be removed from the vehicle. Now we are talking about needing a lift and special transmission jack just to get to a piece of molded rubber. Gaskets & seals are particularly bad offenders, as they are usually fairly cheap to buy but getting to them can be hours of labor. Speaking of labor…

Labor time is actually standardized across almost every repair. Mechanics use an industry standard to estimate the time that a competent mechanic should take to do a specific repair. The labor payment rate is up to each individual shop, but the time required for a repair will be fairly even across the board. This means that if a shop gives you an estimate of 2 hours do perform a job, the shop across town should give the same time estimate as well. The number of hours necessary should be about the same, but again, it is up to each shop to decide how much they charge per hour for that labor.

There is an exception to the estimation rule, and that is some mechanics can actually complete a repair faster than the standard estimated time. This is where being a skilled mechanic with the right tools pays off. The mechanic still deserves payment for the estimated repair time because they have invested their own money in training and specialty tools that make them highly skilled. The payoff for the customer is a repair that takes less time and gets you back on the road sooner. Some mechanics will pass the reduced labor time on to their customers, but that is solely at their discretion. Look at it this way, do you REALLY want the cheapest, least competent person fixing your car? Didn’t think so.

Let’s talk about part pricing for a minute. Most shops are able to give a “good, better, best” range of options for repair parts they install. Sure, you can go online and find a part cheaper, but that isn’t the same part that a shop is going to install in your car. Why doesn’t the shop want to sell you the cheapest part you ask? Because they don’t want to do the job twice. Shops don’t make money on a “come back” repair, they work with their suppliers to make sure they are installing dependable parts. If a part fails it isn’t the part manufacturer that looks bad, it’s the repair shop!

Just for fun, here are a few examples of common parts that fall into the expensive car repair “cheap to buy, expensive to install” category:

  • Intake manifold gasket
  • Starter (if mounted under the intake manifold)
  • Oil pump
  • Oil pan gasket
  • Clutch throwout bearing
  • Water pump
  • Heater core

There are far more, but those are ones we hear a lot at “Ask My Car Guys” central.

So before you fire off that angry Tweet or Yelp review following an expensive car repair, take a minute to think about how complex a modern car can be, and realize that paying to have a job done right isn’t a necessary evil, it is an investment in your safety and your vehicle’s future.

Photo courtesy of Morgue File.

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Broken Timing Belt – Is My Engine Dead?

The news from the mechanic was grim: our friend’s car had probably suffered a broken timing belt. The car quit while driving down the highway. One minute they were cruising along, then the next minute the engine had completely stopped and they were coasting (thank goodness it was an automatic transmission). After wrestling the now (un)powered steering car over to the curb a futile attempt was made to restart the vehicle. Eventually the battery was drained and a tow truck was called. Bummer.

To be fair, our friend only asked his mechanic for a quick diagnosis, which the mechanic did for free. Peeking behind the timing belt cover confirmed the worst: a broken timing belt. Now things were getting serious, which meant it was “Ask My Car Guys” time. After getting the year/make/model and engine specs of the car I quickly found that my friend may have been lucky, as this was a non-interference engine. But what does that mean?

In simplest terms the interference part has to do with whether or not the piston will strike a open valve as it reaches the top of the cylinder. A non-interference engine means that even if a valve is wide open as the piston goes by, it won’t touch it. Now for the bad part. An interference engine means that if a valve is open as the piston goes by, it will at minimum bend the valve, but at worst it will snap the valve head off and proceed to bang everything in the cylinder to pieces. Kind of like making egg salad with a jackhammer.

My friend’s car had a non-interference engine. When his timing belt broke the valves of the engine stopped opening and closing in sync with the movement of the pistons. The valves simply stopped wherever they were when the belt broke, making internal combustion impossible. But even as the engine coasted to a stop the pistons never touched the valves. The mechanic was able to install a new timing belt after rotating the camshaft pulley to its correct position (which had fallen out of sync after the old belt broke). With a new belt in place and the pulleys timed correctly the engine started up happily.

This time the story had a happy ending, but for many engines out there a snapped timing belt can mean complete disaster. Damage can range from a few bent valves (requires a new or rebuilt cylinder head) to complete destruction of the engine (pistons, cylinders, cylinder heads and more). Repairs costs can range between several hundred to several thousand dollars. Even just replacing a single cylinder head can incur a few hundred dollars in shop labor costs plus the cost of parts.

The key is preventative maintenance. Each manufacturer has a specific replacement interval for the timing belt (usually in miles). Always check your owners manual for specifics. It you are unsure of the number of miles on your current timing belt, it may be worth having it replaced regardless. This is especially important if you have an interference engine (see footnote), as a few hundred dollars in preventative maintenance may save you thousands later on, plus it buys you peace of mind knowing there isn’t a ticking time bomb under the hood.

Image courtesy of Flickr.


NOTE: So how do you know if you have an interference or non-interference engine? This site has one of the best lists I’ve seen. You will need to know your engine manufacturer and size.

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Do You Really Need to Run Premium Gas?


Selecting the Right Octane Fuel

Does it Really Matter What Octane I use?

So, you purchased a fly new ride but are starting to feel the pinch at the pump paying extra for premium fuel. Do you really need to use a higher octane premium fuel? Premium gas costs 15 to 20 cents per gallon more than regular. That extra can add $200 or more a year in extra costs depending on your driving habits.

The old adage is unless your engine is knocking, buying higher octane gasoline is a waste of money, but some vehicles actually require high-octane. Whats the best method to determine what your car requires? Continue reading Do You Really Need to Run Premium Gas?

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Air Conditioning Repair – Did I Get Ripped Off?

Recently I received a phone call from an acquaintance who experienced sticker shock from an unexpected air conditioning repair. Naturally they reached out to their “Car Guy” for a deeper understanding of the situation. Here’s what happened: while traveling on the highway a random knocking noise started under the hood. The noise came and went, but was getting louder and more consistent. The driver stopped, popped the hood, and pinpointed the location of the noise: the A/C compressor. Continue reading Air Conditioning Repair – Did I Get Ripped Off?

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1994-96 Buick Roadmaster Estate – Unicorn Hunting on a Budget

1994-1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate wagon

I don’t hunt. It’s not that I have anything against hunting, it’s just not my thing. What I do enjoy though is the thrill of the hunt. Looking for signs, following trails, maybe even laying out a bit of bait. My quarry isn’t four-legged though, but it is a lumbering beast of the American highways. In this case a Buick Roadmaster Estate.

Roadmaster_ad_1As a “Car Guy” one of the most common questions I get is “what car should I buy?” In this case I had a request for a modern unicorn: something that can haul a lot of people/stuff inside the car while being able to tow a decent sizer trailer AND deliver decent gas mileage (well, relatively decent at least). Oh, and no SUVs or minivans. Continue reading 1994-96 Buick Roadmaster Estate – Unicorn Hunting on a Budget