FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
There is a lot of information on this site and it can sometimes be difficult to find out exactly what is here. If you are looking for an answer to a specific question, see below for my break-down of questions and answers. If you want to just see everything at once, you can view all the articles in the database using the links immediately below. The top bar navigation includes a search feature as well as the most common sections.
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Check out the comprehensive listing of Art’s Automotive’s articles:
Questions about Hybrid repair or service?
Questions about General Automotive repairs and services, including maintenance?
Questions about Art’s Automotive the shop itself?
Questions about Automotive procedures and their explanations?
Check out our Ask a Mechanic forum for specific answers to customer-submitted questions:
Ask a Mechanic
Check out some commonly asked questions and our responses…
… about appointment-making, logistics and shop-operations:
Q: Do you guys work on Saturday?
A: No, sorry. Monday through Thursday, 8am to 6pm; Fridays, 8am to 5pm.
Q: Can I leave my car before you guys open?
A: Yes. Read this article about drop off times and pick up options.
Q: Can I pick my car up after you guys close?
A: Yes. Read this article about drop off times and pick up options.
Q: Do I need an appointment for [insert work desired]?
A: Yes. We have two separate schedules for any given day. We can do oil changes on a while-you-wait basis, but only 2 per day. Most other work requires that you drop the car in the morning for the entirety of the day. Try to choose a day where being without the car is all right for you.
Q: Will you guys call me before doing any work on my car?
A: Yes. Unless you have already authorized a certain amount of labor time or paid for parts, we will always contact you to ask permission to do work on your vehicle.
Q: I’m really busy and must have my car finished by X o’clock; is that OK?
A: If you can budget a day where there wouldn’t be a time restriction, it would work better for everyone involved. If you think about behind the scenes, an early promise time means the mechanic working on your car doesn’t get a lunch break. We are a high-volume shop, which means that your car is not the only car in a mechanic’s box. The mechanic has to budget time to do inspections early in the day, wait for authorization from you the customer, then receive orders/parts from a service writer. An early promise time means he may not get an inspection done on a vehicle early enough to get parts, thereby precluding another customer from having his or her car that day. We can try to accommodate your schedule, but please try to make arrangements on days you are more flexible. Or rent a car.
Q: Can I get a ride to BART?
A: No, sorry. We don’t offer any shuttle services. Sometimes other customers can help you out.
Q: I can’t get through on the phone at 8am, why is the answering machine on still?
A: We are very very busy receiving cars from customers at that time. If you are calling to cancel, that’s fine; we appreciate the heads up, but it’s easier to drop us an email letting us know. If it’s more than a simple cancellation, please wait until after 9am to contact us. Usually the answering machine stays on until 9am or so to allow us face-time with customers who are checking their cars in. Just call back after 9am if you have something to ask or tell us.
Q: I’ll be there in 5minutes! I’m just around the corner! Can you wait for me?
A: We won’t slam the door in your face, but we just worked a 10 hour day and have wives, kids and families to go home to. Try to make ride arrangements that allow you to comfortably arrive before closing.
Q: My car is broken and I need it fixed ASAP!! Can you help?
A: Yes, of course we’ll try to help! Depending on the way the day is working out, however, we may or may not have a chance to actually look at your car. We will put you on “Standby” and if your car is here when a mechanic needs work, we can start diagnosis or repair. Of course, customers with appointments are our first priority and sometimes standby cars are not looked at the same day. Being flexible is crucial. If you can’t flex and need a repair this very instant, there are many hungry shops looking for work. Just be cautious when they start trying to sell you more work!
Q: Can I get an appointment for 2pm?
A: No, sorry. The way our shop operates is that we receive all vehicles in the morning and dispatch them to various mechanics. Budget a day where you can be without the car because most repairs and maintenance requires at least half the day to complete.
Q: Can you install [insert Ebay-bought part here]?
A: No. We no longer allow for customer-supplied parts because more often than not they are incorrect for the application, fit poorly or work badly. We can’t warranty the part either, so if it fails you’re looking at paying us again to do it right.
Q: Why won’t you work on my car?
A: There are few reasons we might decline to work on a car.
First, we only work cars we have the knowledge and tools to competently repair. It’s impossible for a mechanic to be an expert on every make and model. If we don’t know a make or a model, we won’t work on the car.
Then there’s size. We’ve been in business since 1980, and our shop was designed around working on the much smaller Japanese cars and trucks made before 2000. Many of the modern Japanese trucks won’t fit in our shop or on our lifts.
We won’t work on older cars except for those that we have been servicing since before they became old. Why? Are we car snobs? No, we actually have valid reasons for having an age cutoff. First, it becomes difficult to find good quality parts for older cars and crappy parts lead to poor performance and warranty repairs. Next, there’s the value of the car. Most, but not all older cars need a lot of repair. Often the value of the necessary repairs will exceed the value of the car, so customers will look for a compromise to avoid spending more than the car is worth. That’s understandable, but when we repair to a customer’s budget rather than the car’s needs, it often ends unhappily for everyone involved.
… about getting, comparing, and understanding estimates:
Q: How much for a tune up?
A: Unfortunately this doesn’t really mean much at all. “Tune up” refers to replacement of the “tune components” like spark plugs, or air filter, but this really comprises a very small portion of scheduled/required maintenance. A more useful question would be more like this: “My car currently has 90,000 miles on it; how much for a service?” Read these articles for additional information: why ‘tune-up’ doesn’t mean much; and common maintenance schedules.
Q: How much for a new engine/transmission?
A: More often than not, dropping a new engine or transmission into your vehicle is not a good idea. We frequently get calls from people who have been told they need a new engine/transmission, so they’re now shopping around to find out how much that would actually cost. Art’s Automotive evaluates each major job of this nature on a case by case basis, and if your vehicle truly needs major work of that magnitude, we can talk more specifically about the job. Call us.
Q: JiffyLube, et al. said I need [insert whatever]. How much?
A: You’d be surprised how often we get calls preceded by “such and such chain shop said I need brakes/tires/CV boots/axles…” Our response is invariably that we want to look at it ourselves. They may be correct; we don’t assume they’re always hungering for work — just most of the time! Schedule an appointment with us for a second opinion. The small amount of money spent on proper diagnosis can easily save you significantly from a poorly installed, over-priced aftermarket garbage repair that they would offer.
Q: Is this right? Your estimate is lots more than the dealership/JoeBob’s!
A: No, it’s probably not right. The automotive industry is not like consumer electronics, for example. A “Timing Belt Job” is not a universally understood and established product, like a “40inch 1080p Flatscreen TV” might be. If you are searching for that flatscreen, you know variation in cost is due to brand or big-box markup. However, you can safely assume that a particular model is going to be identical at any shop you go to — NOT SO FOR AUTOMOTIVE REPAIRS. You need to get an exact line-item estimate for what work you want, then compare each shop’s version of “Timing Belt Job” to the other. It’s fiscally impossible for a dealership to do what we do for less money; we use the same Genuine parts, but have a shop labor rate that is less than 3/4ths theirs! JoeBob might be able to low-ball us, but that’s because he’s using cheap parts or cheap labor. We’ve written up a concise article about this, and you should read about comparing apples to apples.
Q: I have this weird noise… What do you think it is and how much to fix it?
A: There’s really not much we can do over the phone. Noises are so arbitrarily described that unless we hear it in person, it’s not even worth speculating on the possible repair. Schedule a time with us to investigate it; we usually start with 1 hour labor, and depending upon how difficult to ascertain, pinpoint or reproduce the sound is, it may require more or less time. Any shop that says over the phone, “oh yeah that’s your ______ going bad!” is likely going to fail to properly fix your problem; or perhaps worse, once you arrive they say “not only is your hyperflux capacitor bad, so is your reverse tension g-force string. $3000 please!”
Q: Can’t you just give me an idea of what might be wrong like Click and Clack?
A: Sure, but you have to remember that you’re paying us to do the job properly. Click and Clack can say whatever they want because they’re not diagnosing your car. If we “Click and Clack”ed our way through diagnosis, we would have some pretty dissatisfied customers!
Q: My catalytic converter is bad, but the dealership wants too much to fix it. Can you guys put in something cheaper?
A: We do not use aftermarket converters because they are heavily regulated by California. The biggest reason is that they’re not worth the money. You may spend $400 on an aftermarket converter job that will fail within the year. Our stance is, go aftermarket if you are going to smog the car to sell it to someone you don’t like. You can weigh for yourself the ethics of that! Read this article on the converter changes in 2009.
… about Hybrid cars:
Q: How much for service on my Prius?
A: That depends upon how much or how little you actually want to treat your hybrid to. Toyota factory service requirements for warranty preservation is pretty slim, and we would recommend adding additional service items that will help your hybrid last longer. Read more about the minimum versus recommended here in this article about the Prius 30k.
Q: Would you buy a Hybrid?
A: Sure, but only if we were already in the market for a new vehicle. Read this article about our Hybrid Take.
Q: How much better mileage does a Hybrid get, anyways?
A: A lot or a little, it really depends. Some hybrid drivers have a lead-foot and get the same or less mileage per gallon as my 2003 Civic. Some hybrid drivers can push 50 MPG+ by driving like grandma. In short, you will get better mileage in a hybrid than you would in a conventional car given the same commute, conditions, and driving style. However, many drivers manage to get very poor mileage in a hybrid, and many drivers manage to get very good mileage in conventional cars. Hybrids offer the opportunity to get amazing mileage, whether you do is up to you. You can read our fuel economy analysis in this article here.
Q: When will my hybrid’s high-voltage battery die?
A: So far, we’ve seen a few 1st generation Prius batteries fail. The quick answer is “don’t worry about it.” A more fulfilling estimate would be something around 7-10 years from date of purchase; however, we’re not certain this is really worth mentioning. You can read here about Paul’s lengthy predictive battery failure analysis. If you’re tech-savvy or curious, you can learn how we replace the HV battery in this article.
Q: I saw a great deal for a new* Prius with a salvaged title. What could possibly go wrong?
A: Too much to write here in this little caption! Why not click here and see this brief article.
… about particular repairs and diagnoses:
Q: Why are my brakes squeaking?
A: Brakes can squeak for lots of reasons that may not necessarily mean they require replacement or are unsafe. To answer this question properly, it would take a bit more explanation and knowledge of your specific car. A quick response is this: brakes squeak because the sensors are contacting; or the anti-squeal shims have been removed by a previous brake job; or the current brake pads’ material is cheap quality; or the rotors are pitted/grooved/rusted/warped. To eliminate the squeak, you have to use the factory-specific pads and shim kits, lubricate the backing plates, or machine or replace the rotors.
Q: My brakes squeak but my mechanic says they are fine. How is this possible?
A: Brakes do what they do through friction. Most brake noise complaints are cause by disc brakes, so that will be the focus of this short article.
Q: My “Check Engine” light is on, but I just had my oil changed. What gives?
A: With the exception of a few VTEC/VVT-related codes, the check engine light is pretty much independent of whether you’ve changed your oil. The check engine light illuminates when your car’s central computer does not get an expected signal from some circuit. Basically, it simply means something is broken and needs to be fixed. You can read all about it here in our Check Engine Light Crash Course page.
Q: My “Check Engine” light has been on for a while, but everything seems okay. Why should I care?
A: The light only comes on when something is broken or not sending proper signals. If you ignore, for example, an oxygen sensor, the vehicle may run excessively rich (too much fuel into the engine). As a result, you’re burning more fuel than necessary, and the catalytic converter is being damaged by all that excess fuel. A catalytic converter that dies ahead of schedule is going to cost you more than $1000 to replace. You could also be polluting, and you will automatically fail a smog test if your CEL is on.
Q: My repair order says to recheck the brakes in some number of thousand miles, but why?
A: This is a common confusion for people. The brake inspection recommendation is simply a conservative “minimum safe distance” we feel that your brakes will comfortably go before needing to be replaced. Most normal drivers will consume approximately 1mm of pad thickness on a front-wheel drive vehicle every 8000 miles or so; however, everyone wears brakes differently because of terrain, driving habits, transmission types, vehicle pad materials, etc. Therefore, we often recommend you recheck your brakes more frequently than you anticipate needing to replace them. This is more eloquently stated in our article about how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Q: Do you guys set the tire pressure?
A: Yes. We’ve been setting tire pressure and checking oil levels for years (with few exceptions). Now California may mandate that any vehicle pulled into a shop have its tire pressures set, but does not regulate whether those shops charge. We do not charge you.
Q: Don’t touch my tires, they have NITROGEN in them. See the little green caps?!
A: Nitrogen inflation for consumer automobiles is a waste of money, at minimum. At worst, it could be dangerous because of the possibility for blow out due to lack of inflation. Why does Costco do it? There is benefit, for certain, but not for your car. Read this article to find out more.
Q: Ever since you touched my car there’s now [insert complaint]. What have you done?!
A: Not all of these sorts of complaints are illegitimate. If there is something truly wrong resultant from work performed recently here at Art’s Automotive, we will warranty the job. We own up to our mistakes, but aren’t push-overs either. First of all, if your car came in with a noise and all you wanted was an oil change, it’s unlikely that we spent a lot of time documenting every scratch, ding, clunk, wunk, whirr, smell, leak or driveability issue. We usually perform an “anything obvious” check at no cost to you, mostly to protect our own hides, but please point out to us that you are concerned about a certain noise. Also, we have many customers with many different thresholds for noise. One man’s “massive grinding” might not even register to anyone else. Lastly, there is a distinct AutoHypochondria that crops up. More often than not, the noise or smell was already there, but since you just spent money on your car you’re hyper-tuned and all of a sudden notice it.
Q: My new Honda is “smart” and has a Maintenance reMinder system. Must be bad for you guys?
A: Well, not really. The new systems are useful for reminding people that their vehicles require more attention than just putting gas in them. However, the new Minder systems are pretty dumb. They usually tend to recommend far too little service far too late. We stick by our guns when we suggest you follow the standard maintenance schedule of (15k/30k/45k/etc.) or the minder, whichever comes first.
Q: What’s TPMS and why does it seem to cost me more?
A: Tire pressure monitoring systems are mandatory on all vehicles manufactured in 2008 and newer, and were an option on some other cars. It consists of a wireless pressure sender in each wheel that reports to the ECU what the current tire pressure is. If the computer senses that the pressure is low on one of the tires (usually something like 25psi), it will turn the light on to remind you that you should set your pressure. Of course, you should be setting your pressure frequently anyways, right?! It ends up costing you during service for a few reasons. First, you must reseal the TPMS sensor every time you unmount the tire from the rim. Resealing kits can cost between $7 and $20 and vary literally by vehicle. Also, some TPMS systems cannot be reset or cleared without the use of a scanner that plugs into the OBD-II port. If you’d like to learn more, you can read our most popular article on TPMS here.
Q: Wait, you want to charge me to investigate a “Check Engine” light?
A: Yes, we do. We pride ourselves in our ability to properly and effectively diagnose a check engine light. Some shops will give you a “free check engine diagnosis” which consists of pulling the code from the computer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually fix the problem because the computer isn’t telling you what’s wrong, just where the failed circuit is. In short, it takes a lot of time and effort to fully flesh out a check engine light and anyone who is going to give you this diagnosis for free is probably not worth much more than that to begin with. If you merely want us to pull your codes, we can do that for free as well, but we would never try to pass that off as diagnosis. We wrote up a large article here about why CEL diagnosis is going to be more and more important as cars become more and more sophisticated.
Q: Why does every JiffyLube place tell me my “CV boots” are cracked/torn?
A: It’s easy to see your Constant Velocity axles and the boots that cover the inner and outer joints when you’re beneath a car. It’s also a job that sounds impressive and urgent to customers for whom “your axles are going to fail” can easily be equated to “you are surely going to die if you don’t pay us money.” When the grease leaks out from a torn boot, the axle joint will dry out and become noisy. After a while, the axle can eventually fall apart and this can do “bad things” when you’re on the freeway, for example. You have two options: reboot the joint before it dries; replace the axle when it goes bad. In my opinion, they are both viable options, but not nearly as urgent as Big-O might have you believe.
Q: My coolant hoses are original; is this bad?
A: Potentially. If you see a comment that your coolant hoses are original, it’s mainly a reminder to you that your vehicle is getting old and “things can happen.” If you know you want to keep your car well beyond the 200k mile mark, it might make sense to replace your coolant hoses during one of the major jobs in your car’s life. Also, it’s a reminder that if your vehicle has oil leaks that are damaging hoses or heat/age crunchiness, you should consider replacing any hose you touch as part of the repair.
Q: Can you just put some more Freon into my Air Conditioning?
A: It is illegal to simply charge a system that may possibly be leaking. Most A/C complaints stem from the system no longer blowing cold air frequently due to the system being low or out of refrigerant. However, the system is designed to be sealed, which means that if your A/C isn’t cold it’s because of a leak somewhere. Depending upon the size of the leak, you can recharge the system and enjoy cold A/C for some arbitrary amount of time while the refrigerant vents to atmosphere. You can read the whole A/C Story here on this page.
Q: My car won’t start; what now?
A: Good question. First things first, take note of the symptom so you can accurately describe it over the phone to us when you call. Are the dome lights on when you put the key into the ignition and turn to ACC? Does the car try to crank but nothing happens when you turn the key to START? Does the car make a CLICK noise when you turn the key? Does the car sometimes start after you keep turning the key? Can you jump the car? Does the car shut off immediately after you let go of the key? Does the car crank and crank but never actually start? It might sound like useless information to you, but it helps us know where to start.
Q: AAA said I need a new starter/alternator/battery; can you do that?
A: Sure, we can do pretty much everything you can think of on a car. However, I don’t know whether you want to go doing everything the AAA tow-truck drivers suggest. We feel that it’s prudent to do a bit of poking around on our own than to simply start replacing alternators and starters and whatever-else the tow-guys say you need. If you let us diagnose the problem properly, we can warranty it. Otherwise, you’re liable to be back on the tow-truck with Butch who is “pretty sure it’s the starter this time.”
Q: My cousin’s boyfriend says I need a new [insert part here]; how much?
A: If you’ve been reading this far into the FAQ, you’re likely to catch a theme: we prefer to do diagnosis in-house. If another shop, or a shade-tree mechanic, or a really confident boyfriend says you need a particular repair and you have us do it, what happens when your problem persists? What if your friend is partially correct, but there’s something that should be replaced in tandem with the suggested repair? We can always perform speculation repairs, but if you’re trusting us to do the repair, why not trust us to find the root of the problem?
Q: My mechanic friend says he’s seen this problem before; can you just replace [whatever he said to replace]?
A: No doubt he’s seen it before, but not all cars are the same. Just because we have expertise with Japanese makes doesn’t make us masters of the domestic vehicle market. Other mechanics may have seen similar problems on things they’re familiar with, but more often than not they’ve got an incomplete awareness of whatever car you’ve got. I have heard a lot of people asking me how much to service their Camry’s noisy rear differential or their Honda’s shocks. These mechanics might have the right idea, but they don’t know for certain if the application is correct. Again, let us do the diagnosis and we can talk to you about the proper repair. I’m certain it’s better for your friend to say “I told you so,” rather than hear him say “Oh, I’m sorry; I could have sworn it would have been the _____ not the _____ that cost you another $200.”
Q: I know what the problem is. Can’t you just do what I tell you?
A: Sure, as long as you don’t get upset if your problem isn’t fixed. We can warranty our craftsmanship, but if it’s a misdiagnosis you’re still stuck with whatever bill there is. We often see customers who have their own scanners say “it just needs an O2 sensor, replace it,” but more often than not they’re mistaken. Ultimately, we will do whatever you ask us to do.
… about cars in general:
Q: Why do you guys tell me that something is “Aftermarket”?
A: “Aftermarket” is a term we typically employ for a part that is created by a company who is not licensed by any major manufacturer for supply of parts used in the initial factory production of their vehicle. This means that the company does NOT have to adhere to any quality or fitment standards that factory-warrantied parts do. As a general rule, aftermarket components are worse than factory components. When we say something is “aftermarket,” it’s typically a warning label that the part in question may fail prematurely or without reason, or otherwise complicate diagnosis of another problem by behaving in a non-standard manner
Q: How often should I change the oil?
A: Every 3000 miles. Seriously. If you aim for 3000, then you’ll most likely end up in the shop around 3750 which is our official stance. The only exception to this advocacy is for Hybrid-drive motors that are not used as frequently (5000 for those).
Q: The owner’s manual says I don’t have to replace fluids until they look bad! Why do you want to change them?
A: By the time a fluid looks or tests bad, it’s done damage to the system it’s designed to protect. For example, automatic transmission fluid will naturally burn due to the nature of its engineering as a viscous coupling. Infrequent replacement allows the fluid to darken from excessive heat due to friction, and the nasty particulate
Q: How often should I rotate my tires?
A: Every 7500 miles is our recommendation. You may require more frequent rotation depending on the driving you tend to do. More cornering (turns) will increase toe-out, naturally scrubbing tire tread from the front wheels.
Q: How do I buy a used car?
A: We’ve got two great articles to help you through the process. Click here.
So what’s the deal? Why do you tell the customers all this stuff? What’s in it for you?
We’ve got nothing to hide from our customers at Art’s Automotive, that’s why you find so much information on our website about the repairs we do and maintenance we recommend. Ultimately, we understand it’s your decision and your car; we want to provide you with enough information to determine what service to have performed.
We encourage our customers to educate themselves about the repairs and maintenance procedures available at Art’s. Just like you don’t spend money at the dentist’s office without understanding exactly what he’s about to do, why should the auto industry be exempt from scrutiny?
Sometimes your car just needs a check up, other times it may need some serious repair. Whatever the case may be, you should understand the service so that it makes sense to you what you’re spending money on. Some shops (dealerships especially) rely on customers’ acquiescence to their authority; Art’s Automotive wants you to ask questions and know what is going on.