Is your mechanic an Authority?

I am impressed with people when they offer appologies – probably because I have a hard time doing it myself.  I had a client do just this today – it’s a long story but basically he misjudged our abilities and was kind enough to admit it.  That’s touching, for sure, but something else he said kept me thinking:  “I’ve seen a lot of guys with ASE patches on their shirts that shouldn’t be fixing cars.”  (Or something close to that).

Reading between the lines I would say he was skeptical of our claim to be Audi-experts and seeing our ASE credentials didn’t, by themselves, convince him otherwise.  What did convince him, thankfully, was a detailed description of our diagnostic process and, of course, the end result of us solving the problem.

Honestly, too, this guy’s technical understanding of engines and modern engine-management systems was pretty good – way above what the average consumer knows.  I think, in a way, he felt slightly in competition with us and has had bad experiences with others lording their credentials over him as a way to dismiss his questions or alternate theories.  We’re good with vehicle enthusiasts as clients and, because of our commitment to integrity, we don’t fall into these types of conflicts.

Doing some quick web research I offer the following statistics on ASE certifications:

Definition:
The ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) board is the standard of certification for technicians in the US.  ASE credentials require certifiable work experience (2 year mininum) and passing a written test.  ASE certifications are good for 5 years before they expire. 

Total number of full-time automotive Technicians in the US:  750,000
Percent that hold current ASE certifications:  33%
Percent that hold current ASE Master-Level certifications:  13%
Percent of Integrity First Automotive technicians holding ASE-Master Level certifications:  100%

In software engineering we had a great expression:  “Be an authority, not an authority figure”.

This is brilliant advice for automotive technicians and it gets to the heart of this issue with my client today.  His experience, I speculate, is of automotive professionals that were more “authority figures” than real authorities.  Moreover, because he worked pretty hard at being a real authority he found this offensive.

I believe it is dangerous for anyone to rest on their laurels – certified or not – and anyone that does this deserves to be told so. 

My first ASE certification was in brakes.  I remember getting my test results in the mail, and attached to the report-card was a short paragraph that, roughly said:  “regardless of how you did you should be proud as only a small percentage of automotive techs even attempt to get certified and, of these, only a percentage pass…”.  (ASE tests have a 1/3 failure rate).

I think this gets to the heart of the matter:  a willingness to stand up and be tested demonstrates something – and the ASE is wise to capitalize on this and encourage automotive professionals to really be authorities in their profession.

We see vehicle problems every day of all types including easy and hard.  Although ‘hard’ aren’t always our favorite we promote a love of learning in our business and have tried to build an environment that supports this.  Anyone can fall into the trap of ego that halts learning, we’re not immune, but experiences like this one today serve as great reminders to stay open minded.

At my first job back when I was a teenager my boss used to say, “when you’re green you’re growing but when you’re ripe you rot”.

If you can admit that you’re ‘green’ and continue to learn, you can avoid rotting too.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

As a shop owner and as a technician I have benefited so much from the goodwill of others in my profession.

I have had many mentors who have taught me both how to be a better manager and how to be a better technician.  This is an interesting industry because technology is constantly changing both what we need to do and how we go about doing it.

I think 10-20 years ago a good mechanic could still largely exist by him/herself.  Learning newer technologies and the latest vehicle models could be done from shop manuals and the occasional training class.

Today this is just not so.  No man/woman can be an island.  In our shop we rely on technical networks like iATN and BIMRS as well as Autonerdz and several others.  Additionally Alldata is a technicial information system containing repair procedures – it is constantly updated and we rely on it every day.  Running an automotive shop today, especially one known for handling the tough probems, would be near impossible without a good high-speed internet connection.

What’s interesting though, and more the source of inspiration for blogging, is the real synergy that results from shops and technicians sharing beyond more traditional bounds.  Near our shop, for example, are several ‘mom and pops’ shops that have been in business for a long time and have a different business model than our’s.  We have tried to extend a hand of friendship to them and they have recipricated.  Together now we know we have more resources at our disposal and our shop and theirs have really gained from the friendship.  Certainly there are those that tell us “that’s your competition” and we shouldn’t be sharing like this.  We have found we’re better off this way.  And, what’s even better is, our clients are better off because we share in solving their problems.

Jason, one of our very talented technicians, is constantly contacted by people from all over the country to get his help on custom-tuning engine management systems.  He is very sharing with his talent and, I believe, has become better at that speciality because of it.  He gets to play with more custom engine management systems than just about anybody.  This builds his talent and his willingness to share opens the door to give him this exposure.  Pretty neat and everybody wins.

I am personal friends with Cecil Bullard, an automotive training guru and owner of Automofo.com.  I have heard several shop owners rave about how Cecil literally saved their businesses and their livelihoods.  One such case he never charged a cent for.  Cecil has been huge in helping our shop keep on the right path and I’m certain without his help, help he willingly gives, we would have had a much harder time building a successful business or any business at all.

I hear people fearful of the modern world we live in and the instant access we have to millions of people.  Certainly the internet has brought some bad things into our lives but I sincerely believe that the strengths brought to us by the power of networks far outweigh these bad things.

An interesting book to read on this topic is Wikinomics:  How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

Pick up a copy and read it – I think it’ll reshape your attitudes about sharing and collaboration.  I can certainly testify that collaboration in my industry, even with so-called competitors, has always resulted in win-win.  I think paradigms are shifting and this kind of attitude towards sharing is going to be required (if it isn’t already) to be the very best in any field – it’s happening in our’s.

How cool is that?

AAA Approved

We owe a big THANK-YOU to our wonderful clients who were willing to answer the phone and participate in AAA’s survey of our business a couple of months ago.  That was a critical part of their approval process to becoming a ‘AAA Approved’ repair facility.

AAA have requirements for tooling, certifications, facility, customer satisfaction, and even insurance and uniform requirements!  Our goal in becoming AAA approved was to have a third party hold us to a high service standard / thanks to our great clients we passed that test.  We would like to sincerely THANK YOU, we really appreciate your trust and faith in us.

 

AAA Approval

BMW V8 Leaking Coolant?

Here’s a huge advantage to working with the aftermarket – our friends at All German Auto have come up with an excellent way to save tonnes and tonnes of work on coolant leak repairs on the new BMW Valvetronic V8 engines.  Including:

- 2002-2005 BMW 745i & il
- 2004-2006 BMW X5 4.4i/4.8is
- 2004-2005 BMW 545i
- 2004-2005 BMW 645ci
- 2002-2005 Range Rover.

Here’s a link with more info on the fix:

http://www.allgermanauto.com/products/expanding-cooling-pipe-tube.html

This is actually very very similar to the problem with Porsche’s V8 (in the Cayenne and Panamera) and the same solution – a collapsible pipe for the repair.  This saves extensive labor in engine disassembly.  We’ve tried it; it works great!

If you’ve got one of these needing this repair let us know.  We can also do factory level software updates and diagnostics for your BMW too!


Quitting Smoking?

Well it’s that time of year again:  New Year!  Time for a change – right?  Why do people resolve to quit smoking?  Presumably because they know it’s bad for their heath.  But if they know that why do they smoke at all?  I think, besides the chemical addiction, that a big part of it is they can’t really see the damage one cigarette at a time.  You don’t feel different after a cigarette.  You don’t noticed any decreased lung capacity or increase in lung cancer or anything like that…  Right?

Well, as your family mechanic, I reflected on last year and want to help you have a better year this year.  One thing I remember about last year is the number of engines, ruined engines, that came through the shop.  I think it was 6 total last year.  ALL of them were in cars that shouldn’t have needed an engine yet.  ALL of them were due to poor maintenance – oil changes or lack thereof.  Which got me thinking about smoking.  Here’s the parallel:

Ignoring your oil change interval and skipping or doing an oil change too late usually won’t affect your car in a noticable way at the time that you do it.  Like that one cigarette, you can’t see the damage.  BUT, just like that cigarette, it does cause damage and do it enough and the engine will be ruined.

To make things worse we had some customers that not only went WAY too long between oil changes but they also had their changes done at discount department stores.  No oil change for $15 includes good oil – none.  Modern engines need good oil – a lot of modern engines require a full synthetic oil.  Many others SHOULD require full synthetic.

Of the ruined engines we saw last year ALL of them could have lasted A LOT LONGER.

So this year, instead of harping at you about maintenance as we always do this time of year – instead let me simply harp at you about oil changes:  Do your changes on time, use good quality oil.  Check your oil level regularly.

Like smoking a cigarette, breaking these rules won’t feel like you caused any damage, but if you do it enough you will end up needing a new engine.

For a lot of cars the cost of a new engine outweighs the value of the vehicle.  So ruining your engine can effectively mean ruining your car.  It’s not worth it.

Oh – and – at Integrity First Automotive – we can create a custom oil change interval for your vehicle based on your vehicle type or your engine.  OR, better, we can create an oil change interval just for you.  Our computer system will keep track of it for you.

Happy New Year!

How Do Labor Times Work?

Recently, on Facebook, an old neighbor and friend of mine posted a comment discussing his frustration with a local dealership service center and the labor he was charged on the services provided.

His concern was that the labor charge represented more time than his vehicle was actually in the service center!  A potentially alarming situation for sure.

On Facebook he was quick to adjust his statement to reflect the fact that although he felt cheated in that instance he did actually feel that there are other service centers that don’t cheat their customers.  (Whew!)

It is an interesting topic though and one that I thought maybe an industry insider should explain further.  So, here goes:

“THE BOOK”.  It is common for consumers and auto service professionals alike to use the term “the book” or “book time” when discussing labor charges.  There are labor guides that we use in the industry to help us bid or estimate service.  There are multiple such guides though, and some that are dealership specific.  Porsche, for example, use the term “labor units” but intentionally don’t publish how much clock time a labor unit represents.  The thing to remember with “the book” is that it is only a guide.  The times that it suggests for services are derived by having a technician perform such tasks on a new vehicle in a lab environment.  This does make for a good starting point but as vehicles age it becomes less and less acurate.  On one hand as pattern-failures are discovered on vehicles the service industry usually responds with creative procedures or special tools to perform the repairs for those pattern-failures quicker.  On the other hand older vehicles become more brittle in nature and what was once easy to service becomes a much longer process due to rust or other aging characteristics.

Labor overlap:  A more service-driven shop (like Integrity First Automotive) is constantly looking for ways to save its clients money – one good way to do this is to perform related services at the same time.  The savings are in the labor overlap.  For example, when changing a waterpump its drive belt has to be removed – if that belt is worn it’s a great time to replace it since the labor is effectively free.

Complications:  Sometimes a task on a vehicle can take longer than book time due to complications.  Much of the time this is never billed back to the client but, occassionally, it is.  Performance modifications, for example, can add a lot of extra work to a service that would be easier on a non modified vehicle.

Ultimately the question becomes:  what to charge?

The process is exactly like having a remodeling project done (something we’re having done with a bathroom in our home right now):  The job is looked at, the client’s needs assessed, and then a bid is created.  Typically there is some discussion with the client to consider what is and isn’t optional and then a game-plan is agreed upon.  At Integrity First Automotive the rule of Win-Win dominates this process where, as Steven Covey describes it, we want “Win-Win or No-Deal”.  To further quote Covey “this is the only sustainable business relationship”.  Wise words.

Of course it goes without saying that once an agreement is made it has to be upheld.  Sometimes re-negotiations may be necessary due to unforseen complications but in our business this is unusual.  In fact in our business we make it standard practice to over-deliver on our commitments because we place a very high value on client-loyality and word of mouth reputation.  Additionally, like all good service providers, we strive to minimize any inconviences to our client during the service process, and we stand behind the work afterwards with an exceptional guarantee.

So far this is all pretty straightforward right?  So – what happens in the case where a job comes in under budget?  In the case of parts that were on the bid but not needed this saving is handed directly back to the client.  The parts weren’t used so the client is not charged for them – easy.  In the case of labor though, this isn’t as straight-forward.

Most of the time, in our shop, what appears to be a labor saving really isn’t.  We believe in teamwork and often have helpers lightening the load.  In fact, in many dealerships, there are formal team structures where senior technicians have junior understudies that work with them – this can create some great business efficencies when done well.

But still – should a team of two be billed the same as individuals?  Should the client receive some type of discount for a team or, perhaps, some type of surcharge? 

Teams aren’t the only way to add efficencies to productivity – tools and equipment play a large role as well.  I remember years ago when a new tool came on the market called HubTamer.  It was an amazing new tool that allowed technicians to replace wheel bearings (in certain situtaions) in approximately half the time it used to take!  I think the tool debuted with about an $800 price tag but, used enough, it would certainly pay for itself.  Today HubTamer is a common-place tool and “The Book” labor times reflect its advantages.  So what used to be a way to increase income for a technician has become the expected procedure.

If you think about it, this was probably the case with all tool inovations.  Snap-On invented the concept of removable sockets and ratchets (with sockets and extensions that you clipped together or “Snapped On”.)  I’m sure this represented a leap in service technician productivity and I’m sure Snap-On managed to sell their tools because of this productivity increase.

So what do we do about my friend’s problem with the dealership appearing to charge more time than his vehicle was in the service bay?  He feels he should have been given a discount on his bill to adjust for the labor difference.

If the service was simply easier to perform than expected then the rule of Win-Win still applies and the ‘winnings’ in this case need to be shared.  This is our policy at Integrity First Automotive.

But, in the case where some innovative new procedure or tool has been used to help that technician gain a productivity advantage, that saving doesn’t have to be shared.

Here’s why:  if there was no incentive for the technician and the industry in general to create these innovative tools and procedures they would not get created. 

Why buy a HubTamer, for example, if the technician is required to give the savings back to the client?  HubTamer and other tool innovations would never get created and ultimately the market would suffer for it.  “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

As an innovation ages or a shop gets better and better at something they have a competitive advantage at, they will probably start to share that saving with their clients.  Why?  To get more business.  Once the innovation is widespread it becomes necessary to share it with the client or the shop would no longer be competitive (since the shop’s competition is willing to share).  EG:  there is no labor savings anymore for using snap-together sockets.  But equally true:  there are new innovations on the market that do create labor savings for the technician.

And let’s not forget about the times when a technician takes longer to do a job than was bid to the client.  If the invoice should reflect the real labor no-matter-what how would any efficencies ever be created?

I’m no economist but this just feels to me like a free market doing what it’s supposed to.

At my home, with our bathroom remodeling, we have a top notch contractor who is clearly over-delivering on his commitments.  I would expect his staff are using various innovations in their trades to produce this exceptional service.  As long as we get what we paid for we’re happy.  If we get more than we paid for we’re even happier.

What matters is:  Win-Win.

Porsche Track Day

Porsche Track Day Miller Motorsports

 

The IRPCA (Intermountain Region of the Porsche Club of America) held a track-weekend at the Larry H Miller Motorsports Park the weekend of Sept 25-27.  My father-in-law (Mike) and I had the pleasure of going as guests of Ed Mineau, an executive member of the club (and driver of a Black, K-Jetronic, 911 racer).  We cleaned up the engine bay of Mike’s 944 to take it along and show off the LS1 engine conversion.  We didn’t get much opportunity as everyone there was pretty focused on the main draw:  getting on the track!

Mike's LS1 converted 944

Earlier in the day another 944, a later model 944 Turbo, slid off the track.  We later saw the car and the damage:

944 Turbo broken ball joint

The driver said the car just suddenly broke a lower ball joint while he was braking and the wheel pushed back into the fender.  The car then just took him for a ride off the track.  Fortunately he got the car to stop fairly quickly and it stayed on its tires.

The lower ball joints are a known weak-point on the aluminum control arms that Porsche used on the later 944 and the 968.  Racer’s Edge have a good fix for this problem with their Geometry correcting A-arms (click here for more info).  Mike was relieved to know his 944 has this upgrade!

The whole day was Porsche-overload!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many Porsche’s in one place.  A Carerra GT even made a brief track-appearance.  The driver, probably more used to the rear-engine cars, spun it out on a corner and did a 360 or two right off the track!  That was all we saw of it.

There were plenty of other cars to see though:

Garages

Outside the Garages

The day ended with a Enduro race, and, to our surprize, the 944 with the broken ball joint was fixed and back on the track!

Enduro Green Flag

Pits and Porsches

Another treat, used to help the pace-car at the start of the Enduro, was a 917!

Porsche 917

Teen Safe Driving Tips

TEEN SAFE DRIVING TIPS

Did you know:

  1. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American Teens – more than drugs, guns, or cancer.
  2. Approximately 500,000 Teenage drivers are injured or killed in auto accidents in the U.S. each year.
  3. 1 in 7 Teen drivers will have an auto accident during their first year of driving.
  4. For every 20 Teenagers in the US, one will die or be seriously injured in an automobile accident this year.
  5. SPEED and LACK OF JUDGEMENT are the two most common factors involved in a Teen auto crash with injuries.

      (sources: National Institute of Health, National Institute for Highway Safety)

Although it has been a few years for some of us, as high-school students we all remember this time of year as an exciting one.  Today’s Teens, in contrast to those of us that graduated in a different decade, face greater challenges and risk on the road.  Having a car or regular access to a car is becoming standard in Utah’s Teen population.

There is much to learn as a new driver and unfortunately we cannot cover everything we would like Teen drivers to know here.  But, there are good websites with such data here:

Met Life Teaching Your Teen To Drive – pdf file

AAA Offers Ten Things Parents Can Do To Keep Their Teen Drivers Safe

Teens will be Teens

Rest assured, in researching this article we have found that life as a Teen is still a lot like it was when we were Teens (I think they may even like bell-bottoms again!).  The differences that you need to know about have to do with technological changes since your days.  Consider these things before your put your Teen on the road:

Cell Phones:  In case you haven’t noticed, Teens love cell phones!  We were just as socially aware as Teens but we didn’t have the means to talk to all our friends like today’s Teens!  That cell phone can literally be a killer when a Teen is behind the wheel.  Our recommendation:  Get the cell phone out of the car, or, more realistically, get your Teen a head-set for his/her cell phone.

Text Messaging:  This modern technology twist represents a huge new problem for all drivers, particularly Teens.  Again, there are not many stats for this new problem but distractions are a huge factor in automotive accidents, especially for lesser-experienced drivers.  If you consider how much Teens text and combine that with their driving experience you can see what a dangerous combination this can be.  If the cell phone is being used with a headset when driving, there is less temptation to text.

Friends:  Also in the social-department Teens with friends in their car are significantly more likely to have an accident than Teens driving alone.  Encourage your Teen drivers to drive alone.

Emotional distractions:  Life as a Teen today can have large stresses; don’t let a Teen drive when he or she is upset.  Emotional highs can be dangerous too.  Be aware of your Teen’s emotional state and don’t be afraid to take his/her keys if emotions are out of control.

Technology isn’t always working against new drivers, here’s some new developments in technology that you may not be aware of:

On-Board data tracking.  As you probably know modern vehicles can record live data while the vehicle is being driven.  This technology was originally developed to help technicians diagnose intermittent problems with a car.  Manufacturers have expanded this technology to help reduce fraudulent warranty claims.  There is an urban legend about a new Ferrari that got brought back to the dealership with engine failure.  Ferrari denied the warranty claim because the car’s on-board computer recorded significant engine over-reving with date-stamps that coincided with when the vehicle was borrowed by the owner’s teenage son!  This may or may not be a true story, but the capabilities of this type of ‘black box’ data recording are very real and becoming more advanced. 

GPS Tracking.  In the same way, if you want more data on your Teen driver there are very advanced GPS tracking devices that you can buy and install in his/her vehicle that will tell you all about where the car was driven, when, and how fast.

Advice from our industry:

As your family automotive service center we feel we can be helpful by presenting tips for keeping Teen drivers safe from our vantage point:

Safety devices:  Vehicles with airbags and other safety equipment are a great idea for a new driver, don’t underestimate their value – they can mean the difference between life and death.

Vehicle Maintenance:  A poorly maintained vehicle will break down more frequently.  New drivers are not good at handling these exceptions and this can easily lead to accidents.

Tires:  PLEASE have your Teen’s tires checked regularly for pressure and for tread wear.  Teens are not going to notice a bald tire like an experienced driver would.  Also PLEASE never let anyone, Teen or not, drive on a temporary spare tire beyond its intended use.  NEVER drive at freeway speeds on a temp. spare and NEVER use the temp for more than getting you to a tire store.

Vehicle Type:  Teens are very likely to ding, dent, crash, and sometimes even destroy their first car.  Putting the human cost aside for a minute, be aware that also translates to more vehicle repairs.  Having Teens driving less glamorous, more ‘utility’ vehicles will mean less money spent at the body shop and elsewhere.  A good tip we like to pass on to parents who are shopping for a vehicle for a first-time driver:  consider the number of seats in the vehicle.  Teens are much more prone to accidents when they have friends along for the ride so less seats = less friends in the car.  A great application of this is to buy your Teen a 2-seater pickup truck.  It’s larger, fairly safe, less glamorous, and seats less.  If you live in a hilly area you might want one with four-wheel-drive although using good winter tires during the snowy months works well too.

Driver Education:  We STRONGLY advocate getting new drivers as much professional education as you can.  Driving school is one of the best investment you can make in your children.

Inspect what you Expect:  This is good advice for living with a Teen in general, but very true with their vehicles.  Go for a drive with them regularly.  Check their car out, see what’s going on.

PLEASE take time to educate your young drivers, if there is anything at all we can do to help here at Integrity First Automotive, let us know.  Our favorite public service that we offer is to hold educational classes at our facility and we would be happy to coordinate something for a group of young drivers if you have such a need.  Please contact us and let us know.

Drive Safely.

Vehicle Purchasing Wisdom

With spring here I have had more than a few clients looking into their stables and wondering if maybe this is the time for some spring-cleaning with their vehicles. 

With the economy being what it is there are some real opportunities in the used car market – the trick is to be certain you know what you’re getting.  To do this get a good pre-purchase inspection performed by a qualified technician interested in your needs and well-being.  At Integrity First Automotive our Pre-Purchase Inspection is an industry-leading program – check out a sample by clicking here.

The Bad Honda (or, what NOT to do):

I had a client refer a friend of his about a year ago with an early 90’s Honda.  They bought it used for their niece who was a new driver.  By most accounts a used Honda is a pretty good vehicle for this use – I think they paid something like $2000 for this car.  Not an uncommon solution for a new driver.After purchasing it they then went to an inspection station to get its safety and emissions certificates.  This, unfortunately, is where their troubles began. 

An honest safety inspector did his job and looked the car over to see if it complied with the Utah Highway Patrol’s safety standards.  Unfortunately for the budget this uncovered approx. $1000 in repairs needed to make the car safe.  Once these repairs were complete the vehicle started having problems with overheating and, in their frustration, my client was asked who would be an excellent technician to figure this problem-vehicle out.  I was called and the vehicle was towed to my shop.  Sadly, the overheating issue was due to internal engine problems and they ended up selling the vehicle for salvage instead of spending the $3000-4000 needed to replace the engine. 

They lost over $2000 in the process and it was clear to all involved that a pre-purchase inspection would have saved them this money as well as a lot of heartache, and hassle.

Utah Safety and Emissions:

There is a percentage of the population that think the safety inspection and emissions test needed to register a vehicle in Salt Lake County is enough of a test to determine if a vehicle is worth purchasing.  Although in theory this holds some truth, even when those tests are conducted correctly, there is much more about vehicle’s condition that you need to know to determine if its purchase price is a good value.  Brakes, for example, only need 20% of their wear-surface remaining to pass – but on most European vehicles we service at Integrity First Automotive, this means the vehicle will need brake pads and rotors in the next 6-12 months.  This service (on a modern European vehicle) averages approx. $400 but can get as high as $1000.  Obviously this information changes the actual value of the vehicle.

The F-150:

I once had a client whose son was excited to purchase his first vehicle – he wanted a newer F-150 pickup.  He found some nice looking trucks and brought all of them to me for a pre-purchase inspection.  The one he wanted to buy was the most questionable of the bunch. 

The driver’s door didn’t seal properly at the top and the main engine computer, located under the hood, had its entire wiring harness spliced (over 20 wires spliced together with wire-nuts!).  The dealership selling this vehicle was offering a better price than most based on mileage, age, etc but I was convinced this truck had been rolled and the computer wiring hack was certainly going to cause untold grief over the years as that wiring caused poor signals to reach the computer.  The truck did pass the required safety and emissions tests and came with a certificate of such from the dealer.

How to Get a Used-Car Dealer to take back their Lemon:

Which reminds me of another story:  Again involving a first-time vehicle buyer.  This girl bought a used Chevrolet from a car dealership and it died on the street the next day.  In her frustration she called a client of mine that she baby-sat for and I went to get this car off the street and checked it over.  Again this car came with a safety and emissions certificate from the used-car dealer.  In this case the certificate was fraudulent.  The tires were bald, and completely unsafe by any standard.  Likewise the front brakes were in terrible condition.  The drivability problem that caused it to stall was some critical problem with the engine that I can’t even remember.  What I do remember is that the dealership was not interested in having this vehicle returned.  However, once we inquired as to who did the safety inspection (so we could alert the Utah Highway Patrol to the errors in it) the dealership, fortunately, decided that it would be better for them to just take the car back.  She was lucky.

I urge anyone shopping for a used vehicle to take the time to have the vehicle inspected by a good technician who is interested in your well-being and you receiving good value for money.  There are good deals to be had on used vehicles but unless you know what kind of condition it is in you will likely not know the true value of what you’re considering purchasing. 

CarFax and Kelly Blue-Book:

Don’t rely exclusively on services like CarFax or other computer database information.  These systems do not tell much beyond how many owners a vehicle has had, if the odometer readings are correct, and if the vehicle has had damage enough to give it a salvage title.  This information is useful but far from complete.  Moreover it becomes less useful as a vehicle ages since things like the actual mileage are less important in determining the value of the vehicle.  Do a vehicle valuation for a car over 10 years old, then add 50,000 or 100,000 miles and re-evaluate – you’ll notice how little impact mileage has on vehicles in this age category.  The reason is the more a vehicle ages the more its value is determined by how it was looked after – not by how many miles it has.

Kelly-Blue-Book is a good resource for helping you determine a fair price.  However, if you have an eBay account, you can search eBayMotors for completed auctions and get a better sense of what the ‘street’ value of a car is.  Be aware that there are regional differences in prices. 

A Good Pre-Purchase Inspection:

A good pre-purchase inspection should include a good comprehensive report.  As I frequently tell my clients I WILL find something wrong with the vehicle but usually this information is more for you to use as leverage in your negotiations than as something that should disqualify the vehicle.  Typically this leverage will more than offset the cost of the inspection.

Another sign of quality in a pre-purchase inspection is that the technician performing the inspection will tailor his/her focus based on the vehicle.  For example, newer cars or sports cars should have more attention paid to the condition of their bodywork than more utility vehicles like older minivans or SUVs.  The bodywork is still important but less so on a car more subjected to door-dings and scratches from the kids’ bikes.

Engine Health:

A pre-purchase inspection should include some means of determining the health of the engine.  This, at our shop, means we perform one of the following tests:

– cylinder compression test

– engine vacuum test (usually done with the above)

– exhaust gas-readings

– ignition spark analysis

 Click here for a sample of our Pre-Purchase Inspection Report

Watch Out for Recent Computer-Resets:

Additionally, if the car is newer than 1996 the shop should do a computer scan to check for any error codes and to determine if the computer has set the vehicle emission readiness-flags to ‘READY’.  (If the flags are not in Ready status this could indicate that the computer was recently reset to switch the check-engine light off in the dash and to hide an underlying emissions or engine problem in the vehicle).

European vehicles particularly, should be scanned with factory-level computer scanners since their computers (a modern BMW or Mercedes-Benz can have as many as 25 active computers in the vehicle) can report much richer data about the vehicle’s electronics and controls than the simplistic OBD-II scanners used by none-European specialty shops.

There is much involved in finding a good used vehicle but, rest assured, there are some great values to be found.

Want Further Education?:

Unfortunately the less-informed consumer – usually the first-time car buyer – is the most vulnerable to the traps out there.  At Integrity First Automotive we recognize this and make ourselves available for evening or weekend training classes to help educate these buyers.  If you have a group of 10-20 people interested in such training, we would be happy to setup a community service class, here at our facility, to teach them.  Contact us for additional details.