Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Q: It’s been a while since my car has been serviced, and we’re planning to go up to Tahoe for some skiing. One of my friends told me that I should have my car checked out before we go. Do you think I should do it now, or can I wait until we get back?

A: It’s important to have your car serviced before you go. There will be a change in climate from where you are driving now (relatively warmer and dryer) to where you will be skiing (colder and wetter). This change in climate will have an effect on a number of vehicle system components. Important items to have checked are:

1. Tires for proper inflation and tread depth. These both have a large effect on traction and control.
2. Battery and starting/charging systems. As the temperature outside lowers, the vehicle battery loses its ability to provide the current needed to get the starter to turn the engine. What starts the vehicle when it’s warm, may not when it gets cold.
3. Window wiper blades. For safety reasons, make sure that the blades are in good condition to give you the best visibility.
4. Exterior lights. Brake lights, tail lights, etc., if not working, can increase the chances for an accident. There seems to be more vehicles than usual driving with inoperable brake lights. When was the last time yours were checked?
5. Finally, the heater and defrosters must be in working order to ensure the windows are kept clear on the inside.

Also, keep in mind that the ice and snow will require all of your driving expertise to stay on the road and a safe distance from the vehicles around you. As I recommend for someone new to driving, I highly recommend a defensive driving course, such as the Highway Survival course at Jim Russell Racing School (Sears Point Raceway, now known as Infineon), in Sonoma (http://www.jimrussellusa.com/driving%20courses/drivingcourses.php) Course instruction includes accident avoidance, skid control, high-speed exercises (yes, 65-70 mph is high speed!), etc.

Warren McCord, Owner/ASE Certified Master Technician
Dean’s Automotive, Inc.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Those Expired Warranty Phone Calls

Q: I keep getting phone calls with a recorded message saying that my vehicle warranty is about to run out and that I need to renew it immediately. It sounds urgent; do I need to respond in some way?

A: The simple answer is No!
Any telephone calls or mail solicitations that you receive about this are from questionable sources. They do not know anything about your current warranty coverage or even if you have a current warranty. The calls and mailings are made randomly and often include people who either do not have a warranty on their vehicle(s) or, in some cases, do not even own a vehicle!
The value of these and other extended service/repair contracts that are offered to the consumer are also questionable. For instance, they often do not cover pre-existing conditions. Proof of maintenance records may be required, and there may be restrictions on how much they will pay for a repair, as well as which repair facility you can use.
The Bay Area we live in is one of the most expensive places to do business. The labor rate that many of the warranty companies are willing to pay equals only half of what if costs to repair a vehicle in the Bay Area, leaving the vehicle owner to make up the difference.
There are many different maintenance and repair contracts sold by many different entities. Some are o.k., and some are worth next to nothing when it comes time to use them. In the last few years, maintenance contracts have been sold or given away with new vehicles. These only provide the very minimum services needed to get the vehicle through the manufacturer’s warranty period. Anyone expecting to keep a vehicle for more than 5 years would do better to pay for the maintenance services themselves and receive a more complete service that will help prolong their vehicle’s life span.
Remember that any repair or maintenance contract is a contract. Before you sign, make sure that what you are actually getting is what you think you are getting.

Warren McCord/ASE Certified Master Tech
Owner, Dean's Automotive, Inc.
2037 Old Middlefield Way
Mountain View, CA 94043

Sunday, June 14, 2009

When do I need new tires?


Q: How often do I need to think about getting new tires? If they still have tread on them, and appear to be in good condition, is there any reason to replace them? When is a tire considered “old”?

A: As automobile tires (or any rubber tire for that matter) age, the rubber deteriorates and eventually develops cracks. Definitely, when a tire gets to the point of having cracks in the rubber, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible. The likelihood of a tire failure increases with age and is even more likely to occur when cracks are visible. Cracks can be hidden between the tire treads, so taking a closer look periodically is important.

In general, the life of a tire is 8 to 10 years. But this depends on the environment
the tire operates in. For example, a climate such as an Arizona summer with 110 degree
heat is very hard on tires. So is not having the correct air pressure level in the tires. Too little air pressure causes the tires to become much hotter when driven at freeway speeds. This extra heat leads to faster tire degradation, and can cause even a good tire to fail. Over inflation is also bad and can result in the tires not being able to stop within a safe distance or failing due to exceeding the tire design pressure.

A “new” tire can be 6 to 12 months old before it is installed. So, how do you know what you got or what you are getting? As of the year 2000, there is a four number birth date molded into the side wall of the tire. This date represents the week of the year and the year that the tire was made. Barring the deciphering of the birth date, where can you feel confident about buying new tires?

First, DO NOT buy tires from any business or person that has them sitting out in the sun. The sun’s ultra violet light deteriorates the rubber.

DO buy tires from a business that sells a lot of tires and stores them inside out of direct sunlight. This way, you can be more confident that the tires have not been sitting on the shelf for years, such as might be the case at a gas station or discount store. An independent repair shop or auto dealer that orders tires as needed from large, wholesale warehouses can also be a good choice.

Lastly, the quality of the tire (buy only well-known brands) affects the length of its service and the effect it will have on your gas mileage. At each vehicle service, tire tread depth, tire pressures, evenness of tire tread wear and condition of the rubber should be checked.

The most important thing to remember is that it is extremely unsafe to drive with either under-inflated, over-inflated and/or cracked tires. Check them regularly, and replace them as soon as possible when needed.

Warren McCord, Owner/ASE Certified Master Technician
Dean’s Automotive, Inc.