What Does “Diagnostic” Mean?

We have found most of our customers don’t really understand what is involved in diagnosing a problem with a car. One of the questions we hear a lot is, “Can’t you just hook the computer up and it tells you what’s wrong?” The answer to that is, “Not exactly.” Diagnosing car problems is not entirely unlike what a doctor goes through diagnosing a health problem. There are steps we need to take in order to get it right.

Diagnostic computers are the number one misunderstood tool by people not familiar with using them in detail. A diagnostic computer does not tell us what is wrong with the car. Instead, the diagnostic computer gives us a voice to tell us about the problem and help us learn what the cause is.

When your check engine light comes on, we get one or more diagnostic codes. These are 5 digit codes that basically describe a symptom or problem the car is having. These are a starting point, much like telling a doctor “My knee hurts.” The car equivalent may be “Misfire Cylinder 3.” We know what the car is experiencing, but not what the cause is.

The next thing the computer tells us is what we call “freeze frame data.” This is a snapshot of all the sensor and everything that was going on at the time the code was set. Back to our knee example, this answers the question, “What were you doing when the pain started?” Our experienced technicians can use this data to help figure out what may have happened to cause the problem.

Our high-end computer equipment will allow us to have tools sort of like an EKG, CAT-Scan, and other tools that doctors have. We can monitor live data from every sensor on the car and watch for anything out of the ordinary. We can also test individual components and run various tests by making a change and watching the computer data to see the result. All of these can help us narrow down the source of the problem.

Sometimes, the computer tools can get us right to the exact problem. Sometimes, we need a little more hands-on when the computer can’t give us enough information. Like a doctor, we can do a visual inspection to look for anything abnormal or obvious damage. We may have to take things apart and inspect and test individual components like a doctor would do during exploratory surgery. Just like a doctor may not have to send every cough to get an MRI, we don’t necessarily need to spend 15 hours of in-depth diagnostic time to get to the bottom of the issue. Most of the time, we can get enough information to find the problem with just a few steps.

As you can imagine, sometimes we need to spend a significant amount of time with your vehicle. We may need to subject it to various different conditions, such as driving cold, driving hot, highway and in-town driving, etc. in order to gather the information we need. You can help us by giving as many details as you can about what you are experiencing, when and how it happened, and what we can do to duplicate the issue. This will help us make sure we are testing just what we need to.

Is Your Car Ready For Winter?

Winter is coming, like it or not.  The mercury has dipped this week and it is very important you get your car ready for Jack Frost’s arrival in the coming weeks.  I know making sure your seat heaters work is probably at the top of your priority list, but there are some other things your car needs.  Here are some things you need to check before winter hits:

TIRES

snowtireThe absolute number one thing to consider as we get into winter is the condition of your tires.  Tires are the only thing connecting your car to the ground, and when we get snow and ice, you need the best traction you can get.  For the few days of snow a year we get here, a set of good all-season tires with 50% or more tread should be fine.  Take a look or have us measure the tread to be sure you’re safe.  Check your tire pressure too, as cold air shrinks and your tires may need to be topped off as a result.

FLUIDS

fluidsWinter is hard on your engine and demands more of the fluids in your car.  Before it gets cold, get a fresh oil change.  In the cold, oil can develop condensation and not warming up to full temperature can cause acids to form in the oil, both of which can cause corrosion and wear.  Also, test your coolant to be sure the engine won’t freeze and crack, and your heater will work.  All fresh coolant is cheap insurance.  All the other fluids, transmission, brake, power steering, etc all need to be in good shape.  Come see us to check it all out!

BATTERY/ELECTRICAL

batteryContrary to popular belief, winter cold doesn’t kill your battery.  Summer heat causes the water in the battery acid to evaporate and wear the battery down.  When the battery is cold, the reaction that produces electricity slows down, and thicker fluids make the engine slower to turn over.  Both factors will make a weakened battery unable to start the car in the cold.  We can test your battery and charging system to make sure your car starts even on the coldest days.

YOUR TRUNK

trunkYes, check your trunk.  In the fall, you should take a nice day and swap out your summer goodies for winter necessities.  That extra swimsuit and beach towel can come out of the trunk, and the spare flip-flops can go too.  Make sure you have blankets to keep warm, an ice scraper, deicer, something for traction like kitty litter, tire chains, or cardboard.  If you don’t already keep an emergency kit and food/water in your car, now is a good idea to put some in there.  We always recommend a flashlight as well.

BONUS TIP

touchlessWash your car often in the winter, especially after snow or salt has been on the road.  A touchless car wash with underbody is great for getting salt and debris off the bottom of your car that can cause rust and corrosion.  Salt is the number one cause of rusty cars, so do your best to wash it off as soon as possible.

How to Avoid Buying Flood Cars

Our country just got hit by two devastating hurricanes, one in Texas and then in Florida.  Estimates put the number of damaged and totaled cars near a million.  A significant number of those cars will be sold with no documentation of the damage.  In northern states like here in Ohio, used cars often have rust, damage from heavy rains, and other things that make a flood vehicle blend in.  Here are some tips to avoid getting scammed into buying a flood vehicle. Continue reading “How to Avoid Buying Flood Cars”

10 Car Mods That are a Waste

Since the early days of cars, people have been looking for ways to get a little more performance.  There are hundreds of different ways to go about it, and tens of thousands of products to choose from.  Here are 10 mods that may not be worth the money for you though. Continue reading “10 Car Mods That are a Waste”

What am I actually paying for?

When you come into our shop, we give you an itemized invoice when you pay for your repair. It lists labor rate and labor hours, parts, and maybe a few other things you may not be sure what exactly they are. We try to make our invoices easy to read, unlike doctor bills, but still, some things may need a bit of explaining, or you might want to know what all goes into our “labor rate” or what a “sublet” is. Let us help you out with reading and understanding your invoice, and what you actually get. Continue reading “What am I actually paying for?”

10 Odd Things You Can Use in Your Car

Auto parts stores and sites like Ebay and Amazon are full of hundreds of random odds and ends that are designed to make your driving experience a little bit nicer.  Many of these things are either cheap, junky gimmicks, or just way overpriced. We have also noticed that once the word “automotive” goes on the package, the price doubles (“marine” makes it quadruple).  What most people don’t know is that your local discount or dollar store is full of great things you can re-purpose in the car.  Here are just a few of them: Continue reading “10 Odd Things You Can Use in Your Car”

The Answers to the 10 Things Mechanics Don’t Want You to Know

I had a different article written for this week, but then I came across an article called “10 Things Mechanics Don’t Want You to Know.” This article was clickbait garbage, and tried to say that sleazeball scammers were the norm in auto repair shops. While shady repair shops do exist, the vast majority of shops are honest and have good intentions. The crooks are usually pretty easy to spot and avoid. To prove them wrong, here are the answers to their 10 things that “We Don’t Want You to Know.” Continue reading “The Answers to the 10 Things Mechanics Don’t Want You to Know”

While We’re In There

You may have heard it from us or another shop when you’ve had your car in for repair. You have the car in for a transmission repair, and we recommend another service “while we’re in there.” That isn’t our way of selling more work. In fact, we do it to SAVE you money, and possibly save a life. I know, additional work sounds like it couldn’t possibly save money, but let us explain why it does. Continue reading “While We’re In There”

Why We Can’t Use Your Parts

We, along with the vast majority of auto repair facilities, do not allow customers to bring in their own parts. Some customers want to bring in their own parts for one of a couple reasons. The first is the thought that it will save them money; and the second is that they bought the parts to make the repair themselves, and for some reason decided not to do it on their own. Unfortunately, we cannot install these parts, and here’s why: Continue reading “Why We Can’t Use Your Parts”

10 Maintenance Items You are Forgetting

Most car owners know to change their oil and rotate tires, but there is a whole lot more to properly maintaining a car than just that.  In order to keep your car at it’s best you need to keep up on maintenance.  Here are 10 items we bet you are forgetting: Continue reading “10 Maintenance Items You are Forgetting”