Tag Archive | "car servicing"

Don’t Ask The Family

Running a car – any car – is an expensive business. These days they are fairly complex too, so the days of DIY car repairs have perhaps lost the appeal they once had and we have lost those basic automotive skills. Obviously, there are still some diehard auto enthusiasts who will tackle pretty much any job but most of us baulk at the prospect. Nevertheless, DIY saves money so maybe it is worth a shot – or you could ask the family; but is this a good idea?

Many of us will have a family member or friend who reckons that he or she knows a thing or two about cars. Often this is an overbearing avuncular who won’t take no for an answer. The danger is, no matter how well intentioned, their assistance could end up being a costly experience.

Figures reveal that motorists and householders pay out an estimated three hundred million pounds a year after being forced to enlist the services of a professional to put things right. It seems that one in six of us is left regretting ever accepting help.

The maintenance blunders, made by well-meaning amateurs, range from elementary mistakes involving car batteries, to more serious errors such as using the wrong oil or fiddling with the electrics or engine parts. As a result almost half of those who subsequently had to employ an expert were left with an additional bill of over one hundred pounds

“What’s the worst that could happen”? Well, here’s some true examples – One in twelve experienced problems starting their cars after a battery change because the leads had been connected wrongly and a further one in six had water added to their screen wash not realising that diluting it reduced its ability to clean effectively and increased the risk of it freezing in winter. Imagine using your screen wash whilst driving at speed and having it freeze on the windscreen! It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Finally, even if all goes well there’s another problem. Many of us will feel obliged to return the favour or at least feel indebted to the person who helped them. This means that we have to return that kindness. Who knows where that could lead? You could find yourself teetering on a high ladder in a gale fixing someone else’s guttering. No – best play safe. If you cannot do it yourself or feel that the job is beyond you then leave it to the professionals. It will cost more but what price do you put on peace of mind?

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Know Where You Stand With Car Costs

Car manufacturers are always coming up with new and better ways to attract customers to their brand. Special offers, obviously, and cut price accessories are pretty much the norm these day so more inventive ideas are coming to the fore.

Auto companies have realised that the average driver is struggling to keep car costs under control. Fixed price routine servicing is one more recent phenomenon. Now, and expect to see it spread like a bushfire, SEAT have stolen a march on the other brands with an online tyre ordering service designed to make the process as simple as possible.

The company say it is a quick and easy service with a wide variety of rubber on offer. The work will be done on their premises and the company are quoted as saying that tyres will cost from forty pounds per unit and that the final cost will be inclusive of fitting, balancing and disposal of the old tyres.

Browsers on the main SEAT website will have the use of an online web tool. This will make recommendations based on the car and the other usual parameters and in a regularly updated database will score those recommendations on the basis of price, fuel economy, wet grip, stopping distance and noise. Buyers can refine the choice until the right tyre stands out and can be ordered. The buyer can then turn up at their dealer at the appointed time knowing in total how much it is going to cost.seatyre1 Know Where You Stand With Car Costs

Now, sceptical readers will be pointing out under their breath that buying anything from main dealer is normally the most expensive way of doing it. This of course is often the case but think of the alternative. There will be the usual tiresome trawl around the independent tyre market, scratching around for savings. Once this is achieved it may well be that the savings are not as big as first thought, possibly because of the sundry extras that seem to be added on at the end.

Buying from your dealer gives you control. You know where, when and how much and who from and all from one visit to a website. That has just got to be worth money and, of course, you know who to go back to if not satisfied. A dealer will want your return business.

SEAT already offer their ‘It’s Fixed!’ pricing policy on servicing. How convenient would it be for your tyres to be changed at the regular service interval if ordered at the same time as booking? A one-stop shop. Now that is convenient. Expect other manufacturers to follow suit in short order.

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That Mystery Noise Has Come Back Again!

These days, once you’ve discovered a reliable and trustworthy garage it pays to stick with it. Some people even become reliant on them, phoning up or visiting for every little issue, like a lonely hypochondriac at the doctor’s.

Fine, if there’s some dire mechanical fault or you are worried about poor economy then by all means pop along and get some good advice but what if it is just an irritating vibration or squeak that’s driving you mad? Garage proprietors hate these occasions and with good cause. Whilst they may well know all the cacophony of sounds that a car can make it is shockingly hard to diagnose the sound of a child’s Wellington boot trapped in the corner of the boot well.

If you persist and demand they solve the problem then they will have a fall-back position. The Chief Mechanic will be called over. He will listen to the noise. He will scratch his head, kick a tyre or two, suck air in over his teeth, ask for a clipboard and begin writing down large financial calculations which he will show you. This is designed to make you back off.

Of course, this all presupposes that your vehicle will make the noise at the right time. Certainly, it will make it all the way to the garage but, as sure as shooting, it will stop as you drive onto the forecourt. The car will behave like a malingering dog taken to the vets. It will stubbornly refuse to show any sign of a problem until you get home. Then it all begins again.

There is a solution and it is an easy one that costs you nothing – do it yourself. Here’s a true story. A driver of a well-known Japanese car is being driven crazy by a prolonged squeak – a known issue on this particular car – when he operates the clutch pedal. He goes to the garage. They apply lubricating oil to the pedal without success. In some cases with this vehicle dealers have been known to change clutch parts to resolve the problem and all the time the bill gets bigger and bigger.

As it turns out, all it involved was the act of getting down on knees and delving into the foot well whilst injecting heavy duty grease up into the area where they pedal goes through the firewall. Job done and it lasted for months before a re-application was required.

In other words, what is needed is a bit of time and perseverance. Spend time with your noise; grow to appreciate it. Crawl around the vehicle and try to isolate it in its lair. Does one action cause it and another doesn’t? Are you doing a particular function each time? More often than not the cause will come to light with just the loss of some skin off your knuckles. After all, nobody wants to pay out a large sum to have an Action Man body part removed from behind the rear seat squab!

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The Hidden Costs Of Car Ownership

As we’ve mentioned before on Motor Blogger, cars used to be simple and many owners would routinely service and fix them at home. Over the years the vehicles we drive have become increasingly complex and the dark arts of home mechanics, have, to a large extent, died out. We rely on manufacturers to make cars that don’t need fixing and, on those rare occasions when they fail, we rely on garages to sort it out. At a price, obviously.

That’s all fine and generally everyone accepts this as the way things are; but have we now reached a stage in the technological advances in auto manufacture where we don’t really know the long term effects and potential issues of those advances? What follows in just one example of what we mean.

Car engine flywheels function on one of the simplest principles in the world of physics: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The flywheel helps an engine to run smoother and last longer. Without it the vibrations from the internal combustion would drive us all mad. That’s the short version. Historically, all being well, the flywheel would last the lifetime of the car.

Thanks to the modern rise of diesel and some petrol engines that are extremely frugal yet very powerful, the basic flywheel has had a bit of a make-over and become a dual mass flywheel. Car manufacturers are wringing the maximum amount of performance from the minimum amount of fuel. This in turn means that the force of the ‘explosions’ in the vehicles’ cylinders has increased necessitating more complex flywheels to cope.

Dual mass flywheels, as the name suggests, means a conjoined pair – one attached to the crank and the other to the clutch. They are joined by a series of springs to act as cushioning and it is these which weaken over time. The result of this is that many dual mass flywheels may need replacing – unlike their simpler predecessors – somewhere around the fifty to seventy thousand mile mark. This is an additional cost brought to you by modern technology. It could mean that the money you save on fuel will be needed to pay for flywheel replacement.

The only good thing about it is that dual mass flywheels tend to fail around the same time as the clutch. As they work in conjunction with one another then it is as well to have the flywheel changed when your clutch goes. On a big diesel Audi, as an example, the cost of replacement of the flywheel alone would be something of the order of £1000, give or take.

Clearly, most technology is tried and tested before it appears on our cars but as things get more and more complex – without wishing to sound like alarmist doom-mongers – we simply cannot know what the long-term outcomes will be. All we can do is wait and see.

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Service Your Car Before It Goes For Service

Just lately, as we have reported on Motor Blogger, car dealers are having a tough time of it and are cutting their profit margins right down to the bone. This is particularly hard on them because, in reality, they don’t make that a great deal of money on a new or used car sale anyway, such is the competitive nature of the market. In fact, they make much of their coin from selling ‘add-ons’ at the point of sale or, later, on servicing, parts and the like.

Anyone who has owned a car for a while knows that the annual service is usually a costly exercise – and these days something that many drivers are postponing to try and save cash. Nevertheless, correct servicing is vital to the longevity and resale value of the car so it has got to be done; but you can help mitigate the cost by giving your vehicle the once-over before you take down to the service bay.

For example: If you make sure the windscreen washer bottle is completely full then the garage won’t have to top it up, will they? They charge more than the average owner might think for this very simple job. A bottle of neat screen wash from your local supermarket will cost pennies by comparison.

If the car tyres are looking a bit threadbare and need changing – it’s a straightforward job to check tread depth and sidewalls – take the trouble to find a cracking deal at your local fitters or online and get it done first. If the garage ‘phones up and informs you that tyres need replacing they are very likely to charge maximum retail for the product and may not even consult about brand or type.

This is the problem. In order to make a living, main dealer garages will charge the absolute maximum price for any item fitted or replaced. Have a good hard look at the servicing schedule for your car. Is there any aspect to it where money can be saved? It’s a bit of a cheek but if you’ve got the front for it, perhaps you could try asking the dealer to let you supply your own consumables, like the correct type of oil, on the basis that it can be purchased cheaper elsewhere. They will probably be a bit offended but hey, it’s your money. Maybe you could quote a bone fide price you’ve seen and ask them to match it. Yes, it’s come to that.

Alternatively you could go to an independent garage that definitely will be cheaper – making sure they have a good reputation first, obviously. If a car is under warranty it doesn’t matter where you have the job done as long as it’s done properly. It has been known for manufacturers to refuse to honour a warranty because of this – citing things like unapproved parts being fitted. Once the warranty has expired maybe an independent is the way to go.

If in doubt, ask the garage to supply a schedule of work before the job is done and ask for an itemised bill afterwards. It may at least prove to be of benefit next time.

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Ford’s Breakthrough Customer Programme

In the interests of gaining new customers and hanging on to the ones they have already got, motor companies have been upping their customer care packages of late. This is good news for hard-pressed car owners with family and household budgets to consider.

Of course, car manufacturers are not stupid and they understand that with modern technology and build techniques their cars are inherently much more reliable and long-lasting than they used to be. Thus the chances of being caned for expensive after-sales problems are greatly reduced.

Ford are the latest to come out with an extensive programme of customer care enhancements with their new range of services under the ‘Ford BlueService’ banner. The company already have the biggest dealer network – 650 to be precise nationwide – and this will be rolled out over the coming months across them all. The really good news is that it covers Ford’s of any age subject to certain conditions.FORD2 300x200 Ford’s Breakthrough Customer Programme

BlueService includes a free electronic vehicle health check (eCHECK). Benefits include fixed pricing for parts, servicing and other jobs. They will also offer security and operating system upgrades. Ford Assistance offers free roadside cover if clients have their car correctly serviced by the dealer.

That’s a good deal as it saves having to compare the various third-party companies. All aspects of accident management can be handled through a central point by calling just one phone number. A one stop shop as it were.

This sort of service is worth considering. Given the reliability of today’s cars it is doubtful that Ford will be overwhelmed with customer problems and complaints but it does seem like a good idea to have everything covered in one place.

It is yet to be seen how good the value for money will be against shopping around for all the various features on offer from this plan. On the other hand, on the basis that it is one less thing to worry about, cost may not be at the forefront of peoples’ considerations when the convenience is taken into account.

Many car makers now offer longer warranties and better after-sales service. Ford’s BlueService seems pretty comprehensive so it is probably a good idea to check with your local dealer for the full details. Ford’s make some extremely good cars so even if you don’t currently own one this sort of customer care may just influence the next purchase.

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Dad – What’s That Noise?

It is one of the great truisms of life that, when transporting the mother-in-law in the family car, she can always smell petrol and becomes convinced that she is about to be consumed by fire. Thereafter she will always smell petrol when riding with you, even on a tandem bike. Similarly, no one can be an experienced driver and not have had a relative in the car who asks about a curious noise that the driver had been studiously ignoring in the forlorn hope that it would go away.

The fact is a car will always tell you when something is wrong; mostly only after it is too late admittedly, but it will speak up for itself. Funny noises or smells, irksome rattling and general auto dyspepsia means the car needs at best a service and at worst, radical surgery. As we head into another delightful motoring Summer maybe it is time to investigate any strange automotive phenomena fully before that big family holiday and that big breakdown (see gratuitously posed image).

It’s a known fact that a percentage of car accidents are caused by some failure on the car, usually tyres or brakes but other parts like suspension or steering could be at fault. Listen to the car and try to grasp what it is telling you. For example, a growling noise that changes in pitch could well be a wheel bearing and it is essential this is dealt with immediately. A competent home mechanic should be able to handle this job.

A mysterious creaking or a nagging whine could be a track rod (part of the steering) or maybe a ball joint. Either way they are signals that something is not right and needs attention. A high-pitched squealing – assuming it isn’t children – will possibly be brake related. Hissing, after the car has been shut down, could subsequently result in smoke or steam issuing from under the bonnet. That can’t be right.

It is not always easy to diagnose a car. Groaning could be suspension and a loud humming noise could be a faulty or worn tyre and so on. The trick is not to simply turn up the stereo and hope for the best but rather to stop and investigate. The fault may not be apparent but it is a fairly safe bet that it’s there. Home mechanics have an ear for this sort of thing but when in doubt consult your local friendly garage.

Over the years the staff will have become experts in assessing the many and varied car impersonations that customers make. They can solve all dilemmas just by kicking the tyres and writing down large numbers with pound signs in front of them. Be pro-active, make sure the car gets its regular service on time and in full. Good dealers should always check over a car for safety’s sake. The car is used to transport the family and it is the driver’s job to keep them safe. Even the mother-in-law.

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More MOT Pain To Come

As if things weren’t bad enough for UK motorists, yesterday saw the arrival of new MOT rules. To be fair to our own Ministry for Transport, all they are doing is implementing changes to bring us in line with the latest Euro-rules. Politicians across Europe feel they must be seen to be doing something about road safety so they are constantly thinking up new ideas, although sometimes we could wish that they might be tempered with a little bit of common sense.

Nevertheless, here we are. Manufacturers are partly to blame as cars have become increasingly complex. Sophisticated new systems and gadgets are added whether we want them or not. Many of these now fall under the new MOT rules. The downside is that many motorists could face hefty bills as more and more cars fail.

Warning lights are a case in point. There is no doubt that there are many vehicles out there with a little light twinkling away on the display. The car may well be running fine but that’s not the point. The term ‘warning light’ signifies a problem – now it means a potential failure. It could for example mean an airbag issue which may not be of immediate concern because you have no intention of having a shunt. Too bad.

The cars of today have computers and much complex technology on board. For the most part it is there for a reason, although some will argue that a lot of it is superfluous. The trouble is that the current MOT rules have been around for twenty years now and it stands to reason that they are in need of updating. Unfortunately, financially crippled drivers are hanging on to their cars for much longer. The older the car the more likely it is to have faults.

If your car has tyre pressure monitoring – compulsory on any car since January 2012 – then this will be checked. The movement of car seats back and forth will be tested to ensure compliance and if the seat has electric power then that too comes under the rules. Can you imagine the potential cost of fixing a powered seat – something that drivers have never needed?

Even if the seatbelt is actually about your person but the little light stays on – fail. Brake fluid a bit low? Fail. Car doors must open and close properly and the warning light extinguished; all the dials, catalytic converters, stability controls and so on all come under examination. You have been warned.

In some parts of Europe, testing doesn’t start until four years after first registration and some countries allow two years between tests. Our government are resisting this and will stick with the three year / twelve month rule for now. Now that is something you can blame them for.

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Learn Car Maintenance And Save Money

As you know, when you open the bonnet of a modern vehicle, it all looks a bit complicated. It wasn’t always so. If you get the chance, open the lid of an original Mini and you will see just how comparatively straightforward cars used to be. Once, most drivers knew how to attend to basic maintenance or servicing issues and would even attempt more complex jobs – usually successfully.

The modern motorist seems to have forgotten those skills of yore as cars have become increasingly and wilfully complex. We prefer to leave it to the professionals with their computer readouts and specialist tools. On the other hand, this is often an expensive exercise and in these days of driving austerity the chance to save some cash seems like an attractive prospect. Is it possible to do at least some of the jobs yourself? Seriously – how hard can it be?

DIY car maintenance is all about common sense. New cars under warranty are probably best left to the dealer as any dodgy tinkering with the works could make a small problem bigger and could also invalidate the warranty. Basic maintenance on older used cars however does make a lot of sense.

If you don’t feel confident to proceed but like the idea in principle then a little training might be just the thing. There are literally hundreds of maintenance courses around the country. Most are organised through local colleges and adult learner schemes. They don’t cost a lot and some candidates may be eligible for financial help. You can also find distance learning courses although it seems better to get your hands oily directly under experienced supervision and practice on someone else’s car. You never know – a new career may beckon. There are many qualifications available.

The only problem with practical learning of this sort is that the equipment and technology may not be the latest thing, but a spark plug is a spark plug and the basics of the internal combustion engine haven’t changed much. The course is likely to be general and won’t deal specifically with your car so it is always a good idea to locate a workshop manual on paper or online that covers your exact needs.

A simple service of oil and filter change, spark plugs and air filter will always be beneficial to a car and you will save pounds in the process. As you learn you will become more confident but don’t get too cocky. It is easy to underestimate the length of time a job will take and this could result in being too hasty. You can always phone a friend.

You need to allow for the cost of tools and parts but with care and due diligence it is possible to drive safely and save money. Probably best not to work on electric cars just yet though. Too many volts can really spoil your day.

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Car News Updates

Last year Motor Blogger reported on news from the motoring world and for some of these reports things have moved on. For instance, over the last couple of years there’s been a bit of a buzz (sorry) about electric cars. They were thought to be the coming thing but now they are not going anywhere. New car buyers are all very aware of the drawbacks of this technology and now it seems that this has begun to sink in with the car makers.

Nissan had high hopes for its Leaf EV yet it has failed to achieve a planned sales figure worldwide of 20,000 Leafs (or should that be Leaves?). In the UK, less than 1500 electric cars were registered in 2012. Meanwhile Audi have had a bit of a think and have pulled the plug (sorry) on the A2 EV that was planned for 2015. Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen are all scaling back their electric plans. Renault – trying a slightly different approach whereby they lease batteries – are sticking with it for now and hope to turn on (sorry) buyers with the new Zoe (pictured), but even that has been delayed. Electric cars are a great idea but unfortunately the science isn’t there yet and the customers know it.

Another trend that is rather more worrying is the recent rise in accidents. Broadly speaking, statistics show that car accidents have been slowly reducing over the years as new car technology improves safety but now they are on the up again. Despite what you might hear officially this has at least got to be due in part to the drop in the policing of our roads as forces cut back. The number of traffic cops has dropped significantly.

The other reason for it as we have previously mentioned is that car owners are cutting back on servicing. The number of fatal road accidents caused by defective vehicles has risen for the first time in ten years. There were over 1600 accidents in 2011 that involved fatalities, of which some 52 were proven to have been caused by faults on cars. That’s only a small percentage now but the figure is going up. Worn tyres and bad brakes were predominately to blame.

The reason for this seems to be that motorists are cutting back on car costs without considering the ramifications. It’s a form of desperation caused by our dire national financial situation. As garage prices have risen so it appears that some cars never get serviced at all which means that defects are even less likely to be discovered until it is too late. A sorry state of affairs for which, right now, there doesn‘t seem to be an answer.

For sure new car buyers are increasingly looking at small inexpensive cars with low running costs in order to save money on motoring expense; but they aren‘t buying electric vehicles – preferring to go for frugal diesels and hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how the industry responds.

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