Survey says more people trust independents than dealers for car repairs!

Credit: AutoMD/

Dealership vs Independent Shop

Consumers Trust Independent Shops Over Dealerships for Car Repairs: Pricing is Key Issue, According to New Survey survey reveals consumers who shop for quotes report lower estimates at independent repair shops; four in five would not have chosen the dealership for repairs if vehicle was not under warranty/recall

Carson, CA – January 23, 2013 – A recent online survey on auto repair conducted by* showed that while consumers are generally satisfied with their dealership experience, they trust independent repair shops over dealerships for auto repairs by two to one. Better prices and mechanic relationships are the keys for independent repair shop preference, with 80% surveyed reporting they felt they had been overcharged for a repair at a dealership, and over 90% believing they can save at least 10% by visiting an independent shop. Meanwhile, most report choosing the dealership service center instead of an independent repair shop because their vehicle was under warranty/recall.

But is this notion that dealerships are more expensive just a perception? Not according to the majority of respondents who say they have actually comparison-shopped repair job quotes: a whopping 87% reported that independent shop quotes were more affordable than dealership quotes.

“It is no secret that consumers are holding onto their vehicles for record lengths of time, meaning more and more visits to the repair shop or dealer service center,” said Brian Hafer, VP of Marketing for “We conducted this snapshot survey to provide a window into how today’s car owners feel about their repair shop/dealership service center options, and found that price and relationships are making consumers push the independent trigger – unless their vehicle is under a dealership warranty. But, with so many aging cars now falling outside the warranty, this survey indicates that consumers are going to compare repair quotes – and then go where they believe the price is right.”

Survey Highlights

Car Owners Trust Independent Repair Shops More/Over-charging Perception Undermines Dealership Satisfaction

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said that they trust an independent repair shop more than a dealership to repair their vehicle.

Who do you trust more to repair your car: An independent repair shop or a dealership?

Independent Repair Shop 67%
Dealership 33%

When asked why they preferred the independent repair shop, the top two reasons were:
1) a relationship with their local mechanic (40%)
2) better pricing (at nearly 30%).

Why do you trust an independent repair shop more than a dealership?

I have a relationship with my local mechanic; I always take my car there 40%
I know I’ll get a better price for repairs at an independent repair shop 29%
Even though I could have them install more expensive automaker parts, they don’t dictate that I have to use them 9%
Their mechanics are knowledgeable; they fix all types of vehicle brands and I trust that they can fix mine 8%
They offer the best guarantee (parts/labor) 2%
Other 12%

Furthermore, the survey revealed that over 80% of respondents reported they had felt overcharged at the dealership, with 59% claiming that the overcharge was at least $200 and nearly 20% claiming over $500. Plus 47% said paying a premium or paying for unnecessary repairs / service is the worst part of the dealership experience.

But it is not all bad news for dealerships: 47% of those who utilize dealership service centers said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their experience, with 23% feeling neutral. However, of those who were dissatisfied with their dealership experience (30%), the belief that they had been overcharged was the number one driver of dissatisfaction. And of the 33% who say they trust the dealership more than the independent shop for repairs, 60% cited the dealership mechanic’s knowledge of and familiarity with their particular model as the reason for their preference.

Dealership Visits Driven by Warranties/Recalls

But it would appear that of those who go to the dealership for repairs, the vast majority are only doing so because their vehicle is under warranty or recall: 83% report that they would not have chosen the dealership if their vehicle hadn’t been under warranty/recall. The top reason? Repairs at the dealership are more expensive than at the independent repair shop (51%).

Car Owners Believe They Can Save at Independent Repair Shops – and Price Quotes Prove Them Right

Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe they can save over 20% on repairs by choosing an independent repair shop over a dealership, and 72% say a savings of just 10% would make them opt for the repair shop over the dealership.

This is not just perception or speculation, it’s an educated opinion. Consumers are looking for comparison quotes: 78% say they have compared repair job quotes between the dealership and independent repair shop. The results overwhelmingly show that independent repair shop quotes are more affordable (87%).

Savings appears to be a key driver of consumers being proactive in getting repair quotes: 78% said that if they knew it would save them 10% or more, they would compare repair job price quotes.

*The survey was conducted online among over 3,000 car owners from November 2 – December 12, 2012.

How to troubleshoot 5 common car problems

Even though most modern cars are dependable and durable machines, they can still run into problems from time to time. From simple maintenance issues to potentially being stranded on the road, it helps to know how to troubleshoot car common problems. If these five troubleshooting tips don’t help you solve the problem on your own, take your car to a trusted mechanic.

1. Car will not start and engine doesn’t turn

Make sure your car has gas in the tank. If the tank has gas, try testing a electrically powered accessory such as the windshield wipers or the horn. If the wipers and horn are dead, check the battery connections and clean them if they appear corrode. Test the battery to see if it holds a charge at all. If it has a charge, find the starter and tap gently on the starter case. If these things do not help, it’s time to call your mechanic.

2. Car will not start but engine turns slowly

If the car’s engine turns, but makes a clicking or moaning sound, it can mean the starter or alternator have gone bad, or that the battery can no longer hold a charge. A slow cranking starter makes a moaning sound. Check to see if any lights were left on. Check the date on the battery, and test the battery to see if it holds a charge. Hook the battery up to either jumper cables or a battery charger. If the car starts after hooking up a power source, you need to determine whether the problem’s source is a bad battery, lights left on, a bad starter or a bad alternator.

3. Wobbling or shuddering while driving

Wobbly, side-to-side motion can be caused by a bad tire. Look at your tires closely to see if you notice a bulge or wires sticking out of the rubber. If you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, put on a glove and gently slide your hand around the tire’s tread and side walls, feeling for bulges and exposed metal. If you cannot find the problem, contact a trusted auto repair shop.

4. Flashing dashboard lights

Failure to start might go hand-in-hand with dashboard light problems. Reset the car’s computer by detaching the battery cables. Leave the battery unhooked for at least ten minutes, then attach the cables. Start the car normally to see if the lights have stopped flashing. Take the car to your mechanic if the flashing continues.

5. Horn, windshield wipers or lights will not work

If one or more of these accessories stops working suddenly, check the fuses. The owner’s manual has information about where to find them, about which fuse goes to which accessory and about the correct fuse size for each accessory. Pop out the old fuse, check to see if the metal wire inside the plastic part has broken and replace the damaged fuse with a new one, if needed.

5 car maintenance tips for cold weather

Proper vehicle maintenance keeps cars running right in every season, but it’s especially important in cold weather. Winter weather brings unique challenges for car owners. Whether you enjoy backyard mechanic projects or want to hire a trusted mechanic to keep up your car, most of the time you can avoid ending up stranded in cold weather by following these five car maintenance tips. If you decide to hire a mechanic, make sure she takes care of these five things. If you decide to do it yourself, these tips should keep you on track.

1. Check the antifreeze: Use an antifreeze tester or refractometer to draw a few drops of antifreeze from the radiator or overflow. This will give information on the current freezing point of your car’s antifreeze. Check the normal lowest temperature for your area, and add more antifreeze as needed to make sure your engine block does not freeze.

2. Check the tires: Grab a ruler and check the depth of the tread on your car’s tires. If driving in snow, make sure the tires have a minimum of 6/32 of an inch of tread. If driving on wet roads, look for a minimum of 4/32 of an inch of tread. Make sure to check all four tires, because tires do not always wear evenly, and replace tires that do not meet the minimum tread depth for you area’s weather. Also, check tire pressure and make sure tire inflation reflects the manufacturer’s recommendations for your vehicle.

3. Maintain visibility: Check the wiper blades for signs of cracking and wear. Replace damaged blades with either winter blades or all-season wiper blades. Fill the windshield wiper fluid compartment with non-freezing windshield wiper fluid. Never use plain water in the windshield wiper fluid compartment for winter driving, because plain water can freeze on the windshield, reducing visibility.

4. Check the oil: Check the oil for signs of particulate matter in the oil. If the engine oil looks thick or unusually dark, start the season right with a fresh oil change, making sure to use the oil viscosity recommended by the manufacturer for cold weather vehicle operation. Information about recommended oil viscosity for cold weather operation is available in the owner’s manual or through an online search.

5. Replace or keep up the battery: Check the date stamp on your car’s battery, and consider replacing it if the battery is more than three years old. While looking at the battery, clean the metal connectors to make sure the cables make good contact with the battery terminals. Finally, if the battery has any low cells, meaning the fluid in the compartments inside the battery appears lower in some cells than others, have the low cells refilled by a reputable mechanic.

Keep your car running right year-round to avoid getting stuck on the side of the road. While not a substitution for basicvehicle maintenance and regular repairs, taking care of these five car maintenance tips helps to keep cars running in the worst types of cold weather.

8 ways to get your car ready for winter weather

As another year winds down, for many people, annual and season-ending chores are in full swing. Rake the leaves. Clean the gutters. Get the furnace prepared for winter. But seasonal chores aren’t limited to homeowners – car owners should also include these winterizing essentials to their end-of-the-year to-do list:

1. Check the tire pressure

As temperatures fall in colder weather, the air pressure in your tires will naturally drop, too. In fact, your tire’s car lose as much as 1 pound per square inch of pressure for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the temperature drops.

That loss can be significant when temperatures in colder climes plummet to 30 degrees or below. Take five minutes to make sure your tires don’t need a quick recharge. And don’t forget to check all four tires and the spare.

2. Check your tires

While you’re at checking the tire pressure, you should also give your tire treads a thorough inspection, too. Traction is important year-round, but it’s especially crucial during the winter when roads get slick with snow and ice.

If you don’t have a tire tread depth gauge handy, you can rely on the age-old trick of using a penny to determine tread depth. Insert the penny with the top of Lincoln’s head facing the tire tread into the groove. If Lincoln’s head is covered, you probably have adequate tread depth. But if you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to get new tires.

Uneven wear, bulging sidewalls, abnormal nicks or holes are all additional signs it may be a good time to purchase new tires.

3. Replace wiper blades

The driver’s ability to see clearly through the windshield is paramount in winter. Quick response time is vital and in colder climates, salt deposits, frost and blowing now can all easily obstruct vision. If your car’s wiper blades aren’t doing a good job of clearing the windshield now, how will they perform against frost, snow and sleet?

Check your blades ahead of time and replace blades that are cracked or don’t cleanly sweep across the windshield.

4. Check the windshield defroster

“Winter usually means that your your vehicle’s windshield defrosters will be used on a regular basis,” says Ron Montoya, consumer advice editor for automotive tips and advice site “It’s a good idea to check that they are in working order.” He adds it’s also a good idea to make sure your heating system is in working order before it gets too cold.

5. Inspect the coolant system

Yes, even though it’s cold out, your car’s coolant system is an important feature during cold-weather driving. If you have had a recent radiator flush, you should be more than prepared for winter. Otherwise, check to make sure that your radiator fluid levels are adequate, that you’re using the proper coolant and that all hoses are in good condition without wear indicators like cracks, bulges or stiffness.

6. Check the battery

Your car’s battery will be one system that will have to work harder during the colder months of the year. Cold-weather starts can quickly deplete an older battery, so check your battery’s condition before temperatures become low.

Check the installation date that may be marked on top of the battery. If your car’s battery is older than two to three years, consider buying a new one. Clean battery terminal connections are important, too, so look for any signs of whitish powder that signals corrosion at the battery posts. You can remove buildup with a solution of baking soda and warm water. After cleaning, make sure all the connections are tight.

7. Get a tune-up

Your car’s engine works harder in the cold, so it’s important to make sure it’s working at an optimum level. An engine that sputters or struggles to start in warm weather will only have more trouble when cold weather arrives. A tune-up by a qualified mechanic or auto service center manes you’ll be proactively diagnosing and fixing small problems, as well as adjusting the vehicle’s performance to manufacturer’s recommendations, which can help make sure your car has no problem running smoothly throughout the winter.

8. Put an emergency kit in the trunk

Even the best-maintained vehicles can break down or get involved in a slide-off, stranding or accident. A driver left stranded on the side of the road during warm months may be inconvenienced and frustrated, but safety is a serious concern in cold weather.

Be prepared for those circumstances by equipping your vehicle with the supplies and tools you may need to stay safe when stranded with your vehicle in cold weather. Recommended kit supplies include fire extinguisher, a hazard triangle or warning flares, blankets, a tire gauge, a spare tire jack and lug wrench, tire repair kits, jumper cables, a shovel, jumper cables, a flashlight, and gloves.

Auto Repair 101


Auto Repair and Troubleshooting Reference Information and Specs

By , Guide

It can be difficult to make your own auto repairs if you don’t have access to definitions, statistics, specifications and other vital information that is referenced often in how-to articles on auto repair and auto troubleshooting. If you need a description for air conditioning, fuel injection, your cooling system or ignition, we’ll help you out with that.
  1. Tools and Terminology
  2. Automotive Systems and How They Work
  3. OBD and OBD-II Diagnostics
  4. Dealing With Your Mechanic

Tools and Terminology

Trying to make sense of a troubleshooting tip or a DIY auto repair how-to guide can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo. It’s important to have a resource available to help you understand how to use specialized automotive tools or help you understand how parts of an automotive system come together to make that giant bag of bolts into something you can drive to work.

Automotive Systems and How They Work

The key to top notch automotive repair and troubleshooting lies in a thorough understanding of what’s actually going on under the hood. Sure, you know that a radiator keeps your engine cool, but understanding how it keeps it cool can be a huge help in troubleshooting a cooling system problem. If you know which parts perform what function, your powers of diagnosis will be much more powerful.

OBD and OBD-II Diagnostics

Modern cars have computer systems that do their own troubleshooting. These systems are referred to as OBD or On Board Diagnostics. When something is awry, the system will make a note of the error and store it in the computer for a technician (or you) to retrieve later. These error codes can be invaluable in trying to troubleshoot a problem your car is having. The OBD system can be overwhelming, but once you’re familiar with it you’ll be happy to have the information handy.

Dealing With Your Mechanic

Sometimes you have to break down and resort to the repair shop. Not every repair job is a DIY job, and you should only attempt a repair that you feel confident you can complete safely and successfully. When you have to take your car to a mechanic, it’s important to know how to properly communicate and protect yourself. The more you know about your car and what to expect at the repair shop, the better armed you’ll be to get your car fixed right the first time, at a good price, with absolutely no chance of being ripped off.

Winter Auto Maintenance Checklist


Winter is upon us, and winter driving comes with it. While safety is an important consideration all year long, there are certainly some auto maintenance jobs and safety checks that are specific to chilled air and winter driving that are a good idea to check into before we’re knee deep in the season. To be sure you don’t end up a road popsicle, or even worse end up with your holiday budget on ice thanks to unexpected repairs, have a look under the hood to be sure things are ship shape. As with any change of season, you should go to your regular maintenance log to make sure you are up to date on the maintenance items that should be taken care of throughout the year. The change of seasons is a great time to go through some once-a-year or twice-a-year auto maintenance tasks.

Winter Specific Maintenance
In addition to the added perils of winter driving, the change in weather can bring peril to your car’s systems. Freezing temps, salted roads and wintery precipitation can gang up on your car if you don’t give it a baseball-bat sized maintenance session. These winter maintenance jobs will keep you out of trouble:

  • Check your antifreeze
    Your antifreeze (the juice that goes in your radiator) is an essential part of your car’s winter protection. Your car contains a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is close to 50/50. Many auto service stations and repair centers will check this mixture free, or you can buy a tester for around $5. You did remember to perform a radiator flush last spring, didn’t you? 
  • Inspect your tires
    The last line of defense between you and an oak tree are your tires. Winter is not the time to get cheap about your tires, so take the time to check the tread depth. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board says you need at least 2/32″ of depth to be safe. It’s been my experience, especially in winter weather, that anything less than 4/32″ (1/8″) be replaced soon. The old penny test is as reliable as anything to find out whether your treads are ready for winter action. Also, be sure to check your tire pressure. Believe it or not, they lose a little pressure when it gets cold, so pump ‘em up.
    Do you need snow tires
  • Replace your wipers
    Wipers? What do your windshield wipers have to do with winter weather? Two things. First, anything falling from the sky is going to end up on your windshield, and unless you have a team of beavers riding on the hood of your car the task of clearing it falls on your wipers. Second, in areas that see snowfall in the winter, you’re also driving through that soupy muck that’s left on the road once the highway department does their thing. This muck includes a lot of sand and salt, both of which end up on your windshield. It takes wipers that are in top shape to keep your windshield clean and safe. 
  • Check your windshield washer fluid
    You’ll be using lots of washer fluid as you try to keep your windshield sparkly. A mile stuck behind an 18-wheeler will have your windshield looking like a Desert Humvee if you’re low on washer fluid. *Tip: Don’t fill your washer fluid reservoir with anything except washer fluid, it won’t freeze!

Annual Maintenance Procedures
On top of the checks you need to perform to ensure safe winter driving, now’s a good time to do some annual maintenance. These aren’t necessarily specific to winter driving, but it’s a good point on the calendar to get around to doing this stuff.


  • Clean your battery posts
    Starting problems are a bummer any time of year. Regularly treating your battery to a cleaning can keep electrical gremlins at bay. 
  • Inspect your spark plug wires
    Cracked up plug wires affect performance, gas mileage and general reliability. Be sure yours are in top shape. 
  • Inspect your brakes
    Brakes are not a good area to cut corners. Be sure your brakes have enough meat left to get you through the season. 
  • Check Your Engine Oil
    This should go without saying and should be done at least monthly. But in case you’re an amnesiac … you should also do an oil change

Cold weather safety should be a concern for anybody living in a cold climate. These tips will give you the upper hand when Old Man Winter tries to put a chill on your winter travels. If you’re extra curious about staying generally safe in winter weather, the National Weather Service has an excellent Winter Safety & Awareness guide that covers everything from how storms brew to a list of history’s billion dollar winter wonders.

Separating Facts from Friction


Separating Facts from Friction


Motor Oil

You’ve seen those slick ads for motor oils, but after you get beyond basic protection, the claims get slippery, because oil-makers don’t supply independent test results to back up their boasts. And some industry seals of approval don’t carry a lot of weight.

By Dan Carney
Article Published: 


Commercials from the makers of motor oil that boast that their product does the best job of protecting your car’s engine are standard fare. So are ads that fling charges against rival oils, such as the Castrol Edge spots that claim that the motor oil provides eight times better wear protection than Mobil’s does. Common to all of the ads, it seems, are warnings that your vehicle’s engine is at risk from friction, sludge, varnish and wear from motor oil than can be contaminated, oxidized, cooked or otherwise broken down.

The fact is that virtually every motor oil that is sold these days will deliver ample protection for the types of automobiles that most of us drive—provided, of course, that the oil is changed on schedule and that the oil meets the automaker’s engine requirements.

Unfortunately, the differences between the motor oil brands increasingly are blurred, and manufacturers are secretive about their testing. This means that you get—at best—a blend of hype and facts.

SYNTHETIC CLAIMS. Although there used to be strict government standards regarding what motor oil qualified as a synthetic oil, those definitions no longer apply. Oil-makers increased the processing of their oil, and the federal government responded by expanding its definition of what qualifies as a synthetic. The murkiness of government standards and the lack of third-party testing has resulted in a war of words among competitors. (Even though industry insiders might debate just how refined oil must be to qualify as a synthetic, you should know that synthetic oils all deliver comparable performance.)

It’s enough to make your head—if not your wheels—spin.

“I tell people that ninety-five percent of the words on a can of engine oil are marketing hype,” says James Garthe, who is an agricultural engineer at Penn State University and has conducted motor-oil research for the school. “Don’t believe all that crap that’s on there.” For instance, he says, an oil might boast of its anti-sludge properties, but “all [motor oils] have some anti-sludge additives.”

So, what you get when you buy into a major brand’s claims is a big dose of marketing. For instance, Walmart’s house brand of synthetic oil passes the stringent “Corvette” standard that General Motors has set for motor oils. (We’ll have more on that later.) It’s refined by a major oil-maker. The only thing that Walmart’s motor oil is lacking is the colorful branding and the flashy TV commercials.

After all, the raw material for synthetic motor oils and synthetic motor oil blends is still conventional mineral oil. About 5 percent of the crude oil that is pumped from the ground is suitable for making motor oil; that’s what’s called the base stock—the base oil that comprises most of each quart that you buy. Whether it’s marketed as conventional, synthetic or a blend, motor oil typically falls into four different categories—Groups 1 through 4—says Thom Smith of oil-maker Ashland Valvoline. The higher the group number is, the greater the amount of processing that’s been done to the oil (to make the oil’s molecules behave more predictably)—and the more expensive that the oil is.

Synthetic doesn’t have a lot of meaning anymore,” concedes Matthew Snider of GM. “A variety of products can be legally marketed as synthetics.” All that the term synthetic means is that Federal Trade Commission deems that the oil has been sufficiently processed and modified to qualify as “synthetic.”

What you need to know about synthetic motor oil is that it’s widely accepted that any motor oil that is classified as a synthetic delivers better protection than conventional oil does against thermal breakdown—the tendency of the oil to deteriorate (and thus not lubricate as well) when it’s heated. It also curtails wear, increases resistance to contamination, provides better flow at cold temperatures, and reduces sludge and deposits on piston rings. In other words, even though you’ll pay more—typically $1.50 to $3 per quart—for a synthetic motor oil than you would for a conventional motor oil, you’ll get more in return.

ADDING IT UP. Generally speaking, a synthetic motor oil is considered to be one that includes a variety of additives to distinguish it from a conventional oil. (However, even the lowest price conventional oils include a few additives.) The additives that oil companies mix with their base oil will determine its performance. For instance, conditioners that help to keep seals flexible and reduce oil leaks are typical of additives in motor oils that are marketed to drivers of high-mileage cars. But they won’t necessarily help if you’re looking to guard against engine wear.

Lubricants are formulated to address dozens of properties, says Bob Sutherland, who is the principal scientist for Shell Oil’s Pennzoil brand, but oils that try to cover all the bases cost more. (Motor oils that perform well in virtually all conditions tend to cost $9 to $10 a quart—compared with as little as $2 a quart for the most basic of conventional oil and $5.50 for the least expensive synthetic.) “Unless you are at the very high echelon,” Sutherland says, “you can’t be all things to all people.”

Because of their price, these all-purpose oils sell in low volumes, and no mainstream oil-maker makes them. Obviously, there’s nothing that prevents manufacturers from charging a lot for bad oil, but industry experts say it’s not possible to do the opposite—make the best oil cheaply. Without third-party testing, of course, there’s no way to compare.

So, why not just buy a low-price conventional oil that has fewer additives and use an aftermarket product to address a specific engine issue, such as stopping leaks?  Motor oil-makers, naturally, point to their formulations for anti-leak motor oils and say additives aren’t needed for typical car engines.

But David Kargas of engine-oil additive-maker STP argues that “Motor oils are formulated with the minimum level of additives required to pass the tests.” Consequently, he says, an aftermarket product that would boost the level of anti-wear additives would result in better engine performance.

Oil-makers dispute the “more is better” claim regarding additives, and American Petroleum Institute (API), perhaps unsurprisingly, comes down on the side of oil-makers. The trade association represents the oil and natural-gas industry, which includes producers, refiners, pipeline operators and tanker operators. It also sets industry standards and tests some motor oils to check that they meet those standards. API says it tests oils only in their unadulterated form and is not in position to evaluate additives. Although that explanation sounds weak, automakers with which we spoke say aftermarket additives are unnecessary and could be potentially detrimental to the oil.

But based on our research, we believe that oil additives that target specific problems, such as leaks or oil burning in high-mileage engines, could be beneficial—if you chose a budget-price conventional oil, rather than a synthetic oil that already contains the additives that alleviate those problems.

TESTING, TESTING. You don’t want to earn a doctorate in chemistry; you just want to pick a motor oil that will ensure that your engine doesn’t lock up and leave you stranded. So, can’t you just look at some neutral, unbiased test score and pick the oil that has the best result? Unfortunately, no.

“I wish there were a chart that showed in a simple fashion which is the best oil,” says Kevin Ferrick of API, “but unfortunately we don’t do that.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an independent test that determines which oil is the best, Garthe says. “That costs a zillion dollars to do it, so it doesn’t get done.” Motor oil-makers perform such tests themselves, he says, but most aren’t interested in sharing the information besides, of course, that their oil came out on top.

One company that did share its test results with us is Amsoil, which makes a specialty high-performance synthetic oil that costs about $9 per quart—compared with about $5.50 per quart for the big national brands’ synthetic oils. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Amsoil’s tests show that its oil tops all of the mainstream brands. What was notable was that other brands took turns in second place—the brand depending on which engine issue was the focus of the test. Although that’s a far cry from independent testing, Amsoil has no vested interest that we know of in the finishing order of the other brands that were tested. The results support what industry experts tell us about the mainstream brands that tout specific purposes—some are better than others at specific tasks, but it all depends on which task that you choose.

STANDARD RESPONSE. So, how should you pick a motor oil? It should go without saying that before you do anything else you should check your vehicle owner’s manual to see which type of oil is recommended by the manufacturer, both in terms of certifications (the seals of approval from industry groups and automakers that show that the oil has passed various performance tests) and viscosity. As long as your oil choice meets your engine’s specs, brands are inconsequential. Sadly, the various certifications are of somewhat dubious value in and of themselves.

The most common baseline certification is API’s seal. But don’t give it much credence when it comes to picking an oil: Even API admits that its seal certifies only a minimum performance rating that is met by virtually every motor oil that is sold. API says that this year it will update its seal to SN standards, which will mean a boost to its anti-sludge requirements from the current SM. However, that doesn’t mean that fewer oils will qualify for certification. API tweaks its specs every few years, and the oil-makers easily can adjust their formulas to meet the new requirements. You should be aware that newer certifications supersede older ones, so if your older car requires SJ or SL motor oil, the current SM and the upcoming SN oils will work just as well.

You’ll notice that some motor oils list certifications that come from other organizations, too, but because no one tracks what percentage of oils achieves any agency’s standard, we wonder whether  these certifications are any more helpful than API’s in evaluating which oil to buy. There’s International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC), which comprises Japanese and U.S. automakers. ILSAC also is considering a change in its current standard to include more-strict anti-sludge requirements. European automobile manufacturers’ Association des Constructeurs Européens d’Automobiles (ACEA) 2008 certification might indicate better protection in specific areas—ACEA’s standard has tougher limits than the API standard on sludge formation, for instance.

Most automobile manufacturers have their own testing requirements for motor oil, too, but you should know that just because an automaker uses and recommends a particular brand of oil doesn’t necessarily mean that that brand is better.  For instance, Mobil 1 is endorsed for GM and Mercedes models, and Castrol boasts that it is the factory-fill oil for BMW and Volvo. Although it’s obvious that no amount of money would get an automaker to recommend a bad motor oil (jeopardizing its vehicles), what isn’t known is whether oil-makers pay for the endorsement.

But all automakers concede that as long as an oil meets the requirements for viscosity and test certifications that are cited in the owners manual, they are happy with any brand of oil that you use. You should be aware that most of the test standards are similar, so an oil that boasts that it meets, say, five manufacturers’ standards, is really just a mild endorsement and likely doesn’t indicate notably better performance than what you’d get from another oil.

Still, some automakers feel the need to establish more-rigorous specifications. GM has two specifications—one for its mainstream models and another for its high-performance Cadillac and Chevrolet Corvette models. The GM6094M mainstream specification is similar to ILSAC’s, but it also requires that engine seals won’t leak and that oil flows at low temperatures. For the extreme requirements of high-performance engines, the company developed the GM4781M specification (the so-called Corvette/Cadillac standard).

This standard has higher benchmarks than GM6094M does for piston cleanliness (no carbon gunk stuck to the piston), high-temperature oil oxidation (when the oil is burned and loses its lubrication properties) and viscosity stability (the ability of the oil to not become too thick when it’s cold or too runny and thin when it’s hot).

This standard seems to mean something. Although most major oil-makers have a formulation that qualifies, you should know that GM’s list from this past June showed that there were only 16 approved formulations out of the hundreds that are sold in the United States.

Although there seems to be a clear demarcation in motor oils that pass this standard when compared with the other certifications, Snider says it’s a waste of money to use costlier motor oil that meets GM’s tougher requirements in vehicles that don’t require it. “The best” is an inappropriate term, he says. “The best oil is that which the vehicle was designed to run on.”

By using budget-price generic house brands or private-label conventional oil, you can, of course, save some money, but that’s only if those cheaper alternatives have the same certifications that are required for your car’s engine. We found that most do.

SLIDING AHEAD. With so much emphasis being put on the marketing of “green” this and “green” that, we’re not surprised that the motor oil segment is getting eco-friendly, too. And you’ll notice that a few manufacturers now urge you to scratch your eco-itch with recycled oil or an oil that is made of biological sources that aren’t petroleum-based.

The performance of recycled oil from Safety-Kleen compares with that of conventional mineral oils, the company says, because the used oil is refined by a similar process as the crude oil that is the source of regular motor oils, and, just like those oils, it meets API certification. And recycled oil typically costs about the same as conventional oils do.

But renewable oils that come from vegetable oil or recovered animal fat—also known as bio-oils—have a tougher time meeting the various certification standards than conventional oils do. At press time, only G-Oil from Green Earth Technologies achieved API SM certification. Does that reflect a pro-petroleum bias? It would appear not. API says it only sets the test requirements and leaves it up to manufacturers to provide the test results that show whether its products pass or fail. So, the burden of proof falls on the companies that make such oils to convince API, as well as us, of their performance. As long as green products fail to achieve even API’s minimal SM standard, they likely will cater only to the ecologically minded set.

Of potentially larger significance might be something small. Motor oils that involve nanolubricants, which aim to reduce friction and boost engine efficiency through the use of nanosize carbon particles that act as microscopic ball bearings between an engine’s metal surfaces, might be around the corner. Developers tout a significant improvement in oil lubricity—its slipperiness—by adding just 1 percent nanolubricant to motor oil, and that could translate into less friction between engine parts.

The resulting lower levels of heat and wear means that those parts won’t wear down as quickly. But don’t expect to see such a product on store shelves any time soon. All of the oil companies with which we spoke say they are investigating the technology, but none would say when—or if—such a product might be rolled out or at what price.

And “if” might be the correct outlook for nanolubricants, given the cautionary precedent of PTFE Teflon. PTFE Teflon was ballyhooed in the 1980s as the next great leap forward for motor oils. But it never was incorporated into mainstream products, and DuPont concluded at the time that it wasn’t suitable for such use. Besides, nanolubricants, like all nanomaterials, raise concerns with several agencies about their impact on your health because of their tiny size and their ability to collect everywhere—including in our bodies. And no one wants his/her motor oil to change anything except how his/her engine performs.

REF: Dan Carney is an automotive journalist who covers the industry for and Popular Mechanics magazine. He has covered automobiles for 20 years.

Auto repair 101

Two ver Informative links to help answer some common questions about Auto repair and its complexities:


Over the years folks have come to me with car problems that, though they were truly problems, did not need immediate attention. I know I always harp on getting the job done as soon as possible and having it done correctly by someone who knows what they are doing. However, sometimes it’s just not in the budget or it isn’t timely for a different reason.

Here’s a list of five repairs that can usually wait.

1. Oil Leaks

Oil often leaks from your engine’s rear and front main oil pan seals, which necessitates an expensive engine-out repair. Oil can also leak from the timing cover seals, valve cover gaskets, and intake plenum, all of which necessitate some amount of engine disassembly and a resultant hefty repair bill.

Engine oil leaks can lead to major damage if you ignore them and continue to drive the vehicle. But when faced with an oil leak that you simply cannot pay for, you can always try gingerly tightening up a compromised gasket by “snugging up” the mounting bolts. Sometimes the bolts have backed off by virtue of engine vibration, and by gently tightening the bolts you can stop the leak without replacing the gasket.

You must be careful though — don’t over-tighten them because you may split the gasket and create a bigger problem. If tightening them still doesn’t stop the leak, then simply keep an eye on the oil level and fill as necessary until you are able to pay for the fix.

2. Engine Knocks

This is an area that is subjective. If an automotive repair tech is sure that the knock is due to something like a wrist pin, piston slap, or main bearing, these are the kinds of knocking that can go a long time before repair. So if you’re financially strapped, go ahead and drive it. Just understand that if your budget is strained now, it will be even more so if and when the engine fails.

If the knock is due to a rod bearing, then the engine will probably fail immediately and your decision will be made for you. When it comes to engine knocks, it’s all about proper diagnosis before driving. If you know what you’re dealing with, you can make an informed decision as to wait, fix, or junk.

3. Body Repairs

Body damage is another subjective area. If the damage causes a safety issue, then repair is necessary — even if it’s only a temporary fix.

Here’s a personal example: Years ago, I owned a ‘68 Dodge that was hit hard in a parking lot and the front fender was jammed so hard that the driver’s door would not open. However, I was able to drive it. I took it to a shop where I worked and I peeled the fender back from the door hinge with a wrecking bar so that the door would open and close. There was a lot of sharp metal jutting out from the body, but I was able to curl it back so that the exposed metal edges were smooth to the touch and I could drive the car safely. At the time, I didn’t have the money to repair the vehicle, nor was the car worth putting so much money into body repair. I drove the car in this condition for another five years until I could afford another vehicle.

4. Paint Jobs

I get this question all the time: “Tom, I have a 2001 Ford Taurus with 200 thousand miles on it. The body is good but the paint has faded. I can’t afford a new car and I want it to look nice. Should I repaint it? The paint job will cost $3,500. What do you think?”

I am usually tactful when I answer such questions so that I don’t insult the questioner, but I hope you can see the idiocy here. Why would you spend $3,500 on a car that’s worth about half that? You would be much better off putting that money into another vehicle with lower mileage.

Obviously the motivating factor here is pride. They want the vehicle to appear better to other drivers. To which I would say, be careful, pride has cost many people excessive amounts of money in this arena.

An old, wise car salesman once told me, “Logic rides on the horse of emotion.” In other words, if the sales person can get the customer’s emotion to line up with the purchase, then the customer will buy on the logic that he arrived at based on manipulated emotion. Lesson? Keep your emotions in check when making such decisions.

With respect to paint that has faded, there are actually many ways to restore the luster of your car exterior that don’t involve a visit to Earl Scheib, such as rubbing compound, a good wax job, and special exterior conditioners. All will work, some better and easier than others.

5. Torn Seats

When seats get torn or faded, people often want to replace them. Don’t.

There are a few different options you can explore before busting the bank on new seats. First, look at seat covers. Before you balk, understand that seat covers have come a long way and today you can find seat covers for specific models that are tightly form fitting in an array of wonderful fabrics.

If the vehicle is worth it, you can even check into a vehicle re-upholsterer. Such shops can re-cover your vehicle’s seats so that they look like new. In addition, they can replace broken springs and repair worn-out stuffing and that’s a lot cheaper than replacing the seats.


2014 BMW M3 engine revealed [w/video]

Link: Autoblog

2014 BMW M3 engine spy shot


The most important fact revealed from these shots, is that the 2014 M3 will be rocking an inline-six engine in place of the high-revving V8 from the current car. That news is welcome on two fronts: it represents a return to the engine configuration that we most associate with BMW performance, and it suggests a further development of the six-pot we’ve come to love in so many of the brand’s current models.

The photos confirm that the engine is likely two have turbochargers at least (there are two pipes feeding the intercooler), and they do not contravene rumors that a third, electric turbo lies just out of sight.

Displacement figures for the engine still remain a bit of a mystery. It has been reported that the next M3 could be as voluminous as 3.3 liters, though it’s more likely, based on a BMW tech report claiming use of optimized, 500cc-cylinders, that the total size is 3.0 liters. In any event, everyone’s best guess about power output hovers around the 450-horsepower mark.