Phil's FAQ's & Answers
Q: How long should an automatic transmission last and how do
I know when it needs replacement?
A: There is a strong correlation between the original price
of the vehicle and the amount of mileage before failures occur.
If, however, the vehicle is driven long distances on the highway, then
almost all components, even on an
will last two or three times longer. 4x4 trucks give much more trouble
due to the presence of many more rotating
components that can wear out and fail. All that being said, we expect
to replace a transmission on average,
100,000 miles, or 160,000 Km.
Changing the ATF ( automatic transmission
fluid ) at the intervals as prescribed in your owner's manual is
very good insurance that you will maximize
the life of your transmission.
Sometimes a transmission will fail completely. When "D" or "R" is selected,
Sometimes, while on the highway, the engine will suddenly rev up,
or refuse to shift.
At other times, there will be a very distinct "thud" as the vehicle
comes to a stop.
When the vehicle is cold, it sometimes take 2 or 3 minutes for the
transmission to engage.
Except for having no drive at all, other
symptoms MIGHT be overcome by an ATF change along with a
Nevertheless, you are living on borrowed time at this point. Older
transmissions could some times be
since no electronic controls were involved, but today your problem
MAY be a computer glitch, only a specialist
can tell for sure.
Which is where honesty prevails and where your choice of a competent,
honest shop is so important.
Q: How long should an exhaust system last?
A: Quite a number of vehicles these days come equipped with
stainless steel exhaust systems that seem to last about 6 years.
Being low chrome alloys, these systems don't last forever.
It is very difficult to find after market exhaust systems made of stainless
steel, even the dealers don't seem to stock them,
relying instead on "lifetime" warranty
as a sales tool.
The materials used in exhaust systems are
either plain carbon steel, usually very cheap and warranted for one year,
or "aluminized" systems, which are carbon steel wrapped both sides
These latter systems usually last 3-4 years.
Cold starts and short runs are fatal to exhaust
pipes and mufflers, so that a system in Arizona will last far
longer than one in Minnesota or Manitoba.
Gasoline produces a very dilute sulphuric
acid as a product of combustion, so that most systems corrode from the
NOT the other way around.
"Lifetime" warranty usually applies only
to the original purchaser, does not include labour costs and certainly
does not include connecting pipe sections.
A catalyser is always made of stainless steel
and is usually warranted by the car manufacturer, as part of the
emissions system, for 70,000 miles or 120,000 Km.
Catalysers usually fail because the internal ceramic honeycomb crumbles
and blocks the container.
Usually catalysers are replaced due to lack of engine performance or overheating.
Failure of an exhaust system is heralded
by incredible noise, or smell, or both!
Q: When is a wheel alignment necessary.
A: Not as often these days. With the universal adoption of rack
& pinion steering for most cars, steering systems
stay in alignment far longer. 4x4's are a different story, since they
use the older drop link, track rod system that is
much more complicated and therefore, vulnerable to misalignment.
Even when suspension and even steering work
is performed, if the technician is careful in replacing the components,
so that they are in exactly the position from whence they came, a wheel
alignment may not be required.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Take the vehicle out onto a smooth 3 lane highway when traffic is light,
set the the vehicle straight in the centre lane
where there is no camber to the road. If the vehicle runs straight
for several minutes and does not have a tendency
to drift right or left, the chances are that the alignment is correct.
However, it is always wise to remember that
alignment is only one element of steering and suspension
adjustment and that a good HONEST technician
can tell from his electronic read out whether other elements
of the steering/suspension system are out
Q: How often should I change my oil?
A: Depends on the type of oil you're using. Recycled oil sells
for as little as 85 cents a litre.
This may be OK for an old engine
blowing smoke and using a lot of oil, but even then, it should be changed
every 3000 Km.
Re-refined oil, by the way, is a different product and has been back
through the whole process at the refinery.
It and regular mineral oil selling for $1.50
a litre, should be changed every 5,000 Km.
Now we can move on to the Synthetic lubricants
such as Mobil 1 and Castrol Syntec. These lubricants, selling
as they usually do, for about $6 a litre,
will last 25,000 Km in your engine. They should be changed along with
the filter at this time. Synthetics produce
better cold weather starting, far less cold start engine wear, better fuel
economy, smoother running, and better resistance to the contamination
that can occur when a remote starter is used
and the engine idles cold for a long period of time. Now we move on
again to the PAO polymer synthetics such as
Amsoil, Motrlube and Red Line, which usually sell for $10 to $13 a
Each of these manufacturers has a different
recommendation on oil change periods, but they are all
far in excess of other synthetics.
On average, an oil change every 35,000 Km is recommended.
Unless a special and expensive filter is
in use, a filter change at half distance is the usual practice.
An oil filter can be changed without draining
the engine. The only oil loss is that which is contained within
the filter itself.
Q: The Ten Commandments of Leasing.
1. Don't lease if you plan to drive the same
car for more than three years.
2. Don't lease if there is any possibility that
you will not be able to make the payments for any reason
Leases are very difficult and expensive to
get out of.
3. Insist on a closed end lease if you want to
walk away afterwards.
4. To figure out if it's a deal. First find out
what the vehicle would have cost for cash, then price a loan,
then price the lease.
BEFORE YOU SIGN ANYTHING.
5. Find out what price the lease is based on.
If you cannot establish this price, multiply the lease monthly
payment by 100 and add on any down payments
or cash equivalents. Establish the REAL interest rate,
even if this means consulting your bank manager.
6. Insist on a list of all the charges you must
pay before you drive away.
No down payment, does not mean no charges.
7. Establish clearly what minimum charges you
will be responsible for when the lease is over.
Bald tires and scratched paint work can cost
you a lot.
Very rarely do lessees hand over the keys
and walk away.
Usually there is something to be paid, sometimes
8. Evaluate the buy back carefully. is the car
really going to be worth that much?
9. Don't assume that a lease offers protection
against the ownership of a lemon.
You cannot suspend payments just because
you are having trouble with the car.
10. Treat the vehicle as you would a rented apartment.
Keep it in good condition, but don't spend extra
money on it. Remember you are only BORROWING
the car from it's real owner.
Q: Does my new car need to be "rustproofed"?
A: Many new car dealers still try to sell rust proofing as an
option. I have often wondered what the salesperson would say
if you cancelled your sales contract on the grounds that you did not
want a car that was not adequately
rust treated at the factory.
In fact, since 1990, when the Japanese switched over to the use of
pure steel, rather than recycled steel, rusting,
even on cheap
cars has become a very minor problem.
Many new car buyers, however are trading
a in a seven or eight year old car that HAS rusted and they do not want
it to happen again.
In this state of mind, they are vulnerable to the sale of a totally
unnecessary and very expensive, rust treatment they simply do not need.
Many manufacturers have warned their dealerships to cease the practice
of selling rust treatment, just to enhance profits.
On the first occasion that your new car is in for an oil change, take a walk around underneath, you will be amazed
at the underside
finish that is now applied to all cars. Manufacturers have come
to realise that a rusty car will be a lost sale some where down the road.
Q: Does my new car need paint protection?
A: Yes, it does. However, the application of a clear coat sealer
and a top coat of carnauba wax (not silicone or teflon )
should not cost more than $120 at an independent detailing shop.
Since the beginning of 1990, many
car manufacturers have adopted water borne paints, because they do not pollute
factory or the atmosphere in the way the xylene and other solvents
do in the older acrylic lacquer paints.
However, many manufactures have run into problems with paint adhesion
and clear coat peeling, because the paint
manufacturers got ahead of themselves in
assuring the car producers that water based paint was fully developed.
Significantly, BMW has only recently finished construction of
a painting facility in Oxford, England to use
water based paint. Nine years after the other lot plunged in where
angels feared to tread. GM and Ford have
run into class action suits over the poor quality of their paint.
While all these problems seem to have been resolved,
the fact remains that today's paint finishes are now much more vulnerable
to bird "bombings",
tree sap and industrial pollution in general than they used to
Additionally, the aerodynamic shape of cars today almost ensures
that small stones that used to fly over the top of the
car will now impact on the hood, producing " stone chips". A Plexiglas
stone deflector on the leading edge of the hood
is a very good $90 investment.
A good wax application on your vehicle will help minimize paint
deterioration, but we are rapidly reaching the
point at which a spring paint tune-up at a body shop is almost
as necessary as a springtime mechanical
blessing of the car, it may even be MORE important!
Q: Do I have to have my car serviced at the dealership where
I bought it?
A: Does "don't open your hood to strangers" really apply? No,
Once you have purchased your vehicle
you can have it serviced anywhere that you want.
PROVIDING that the independent garage follows the maintenance schedule in your owners manual to the letter
and that you keep good records to show that the work was done.
If you do the work yourself, keep your receipts for oil and filters,
or whatever, since they constitute proof that you
actually did the work. Why else would you buy these items?
Probably it is best to buy them from the dealer on his invoice. Sometimes
dealers have very good prices anyway.
And dealer quality is good. Buying items
at the large stores almost guarantees a minimum quality standard.
Most significantly, if your best price in
a new or used car happens to be at some friendly, small town, low overhead
you can buy from him and take it to a garage you trust near your home
for service. An independent cannot repair warranty
defects, but at least when you go back to the dealer, you are armed
In our shop, when doing an end of warranty inspection, we make sure
that the client actually is witness
to the defect we have found.
If the dealer then disputes the existence of the defect, the owner
can safely say he saw it himself.
Many dealers will try to sell a lot of extras on a recall or warranty
Everything from a battery to additives. Just
Fix the warranty item and give me an estimate for the rest.
Then get a second opinion to see if all the other "needed" items were
Another advantage of service anywhere, is that you can buy your car
on the Internet, or through a broker without service concerns.
Years ago, dealers would give customers with
a long history of loyalty, some room on out of warranty claims, but no more!
In this competitive climate, when your warranty
is up, it's up, no discussion.