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Venus & Mars Talk Cars -
Your Car Questions from a Male & Female Perspective


Venus & Mars, aka Jessica Levy and Roger Kwapich, are renaissance technicians who answer regularly answer questions from male and female motorists for the Car Care Council. 

Dear Venus and Mars,

My owner's manual suggests replacing my timing belt every 60,000 miles. My wife pointed out that the car is running fine; there don't seem to be any problems. Why should I pay for a new belt and pay for someone to install it if it's OK?

The View from Venus

The whole idea behind preventive maintenance is to avert major problems with your vehicle. Following the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual is the "safest" way to go. Both you and your wife should realize that over time and mileage, timing belts tend to wear and stretch. When a belt breaks the damage to the engine can be substantial. By replacing the belt before it gets too worn you can prevent costly damage. If you have an extended warranty on your engine, not following the suggested maintenance schedule may void the warranty. 

Now, that would be a fine mess; you choose to leave the old belt on the car to save money. The belt breaks and destroys the engine to the point where it needs a new one. The warranty is void because you didn't replace the belt per the schedule, and you are stuck with a whopping bill. In this situation, you are probably better off following the maintenance schedule. Here is another scenario: your owner's manual suggests replacing all filters at a specific time. There aren't many miles on your vehicle, so you wonder if these replacements are necessary. You may want to have a trusted technician check over the car to see what it really needs. Filters tend to last different lengths of time depending on driving patterns and the area weather.

Here is another suggestion: some shops have an inspection that covers all major points of your vehicle so you have a good feel for what needs to be done. This type of inspection can give you a heads up on preventive maintenance items and repairs. An example is the Car Care Council's Certified Inspection. Check them out on the web at www.certifiedinspection.org.

The View from Mars

I like to compare preventive maintenance to the habit of filling your fuel tank. You have 2 choices: 1) You put fuel in the tank while there is still fuel left or 2) you run the engine until the tank is dry (wherever that may be) and then you go searching for gas. Which scenario would you choose? 

So the answer to your question is, change the belt before it breaks or in this case, at 60,000 miles. People now pay an average of $24,000 for a new car, yet, some motorists absolutely refuse to take good care of them. Until consumers come to a point where they really trust their repair shops and technicians, they will continue to have more automotive problems than are necessary. The best way for you and your wife to protect your investment is to maintain it, inside and out, from oil changes to filters, belts to hoses, car washes to interior scrubs. Taking care of your car is the best way to make sure that your car will take care of you. 

Venus & Mars, aka Jessica Levy and Roger Kwapich, are renaissance technicians who answer questions from male and female motorists for the Car Care Council.

Question of the Month:

Dear Venus and Mars:

As an auto shop instructor I tell my students one big reason for problems with customers is poor communications between the service advisor and the vehicle owner. Any ideas you’d care to pass on?

The View From Venus

I applaud you for addressing this issue. As an ex-auto shop instructor, I know how important it is to understand a customer’s description of car symptoms.

Consider this for a class project; have your students create a questionnaire for use by owners before taking their vehicles in for diagnosis and repairs. I don’t suggest a motorist become a diagnostician but at least provide some basic facts to help isolate an elusive problem more quickly. Everyone benefits.

The View From Mars

Bingo! You are absolutely correct. Let’s take it one more step. There are generally no less than three people involved in repairing a vehicle: the customer, the service writer and the technician. If any of the three lose (or don’t get) the facts, the likelihood of repairing the vehicle right the first time are stymied. So here’s how to avoid that problem.

The vehicle owner must write a note with the symptoms. Don’t try to commit these to memory in order to tell the service writer in person. Distractions can result in an incomplete and/or inaccurate repair order.

Here’s a list of things that can happen when you take your car in for repair that hinder getting all the facts!

  • You’re having a bad hair day

  • You’re running late

  • Your ride is early and waiting

  • The service writer is buried with customers

  • The phone is ringing, breaking your conversation

  • You forget some important facts

  • The service writer is a poor typist and it seems he’ll never get it right

  • The kids are screaming for a soda

  • The serviced writer seems to be having a bad hair day

  • The customer rambles on about the trip he took and the sites, but fail to give the service writer any usable information (but we know the weather was great).

  • So the bottom line is this:

    • Set the appointment

    • Write out a list of services and problems

    • Ask the service writer if he/she understands by reviewing the list with you

    • Attach the list to the service order

    This should help to get the vehicle fixed right the first time.

    In line with Venus’ thoughts, this could be as much driver education as tech education. Motorists should become more aware of the circumstances under which intermittent symptoms occur, when and how they show up. Once I have basic vehicle information recorded, here are some of the questions I might want to ask an owner.

    • How long has it been since it was serviced?

    • What was done?

    • When and how did you first notice it?

    • Do you recall circumstances of weather, temperature, time of day? Does it happen when moving or when parked? Under load, at certain speeds? On smooth vs. rough roads?

    • How often does it occur?

    • Do you notice it in any particular gear?

    • When the engine is cold vs. warmed up?

    • Have you noticed noises, odors or leaks? Had to add fluids?

    • Do any warning lights turn on?

    We recommend that a car owner should take detailed notes about an intermittent problem that he/she may not be able to demonstrate when in our shop. It can save time and money.

    — Provided by the Car Care Council

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