Auto Pilot - January 2016

A Little Now or a Lot Later


by Jay Ramowski

... is this mechanic trying to *#!$ me?

I am often asked questions about general car maintenance, and they typically start with something like “I took my Weiner mobile in for its 5K mile oil change and they say I need $2000 worth of work but I just spent $500 last oil change, is this mechanic trying to *#!$ me?”  This is always the awkward point where I wonder if I should have become a hair stylist or perhaps a yoga instructor because I am sure they rarely get these types of questions; but based on my lack of Zen calmness and inability to trim even my dogs hair in an attractive manner, I guess my path in life should continue down the all things mechanical brick road.

The simple answer is “maybe”; there are certainly some mechanics out there that will try to sell maintenance that isn’t necessary. Case in point, a friend called and said she was about to leave NC to come visit Charleston for the weekend and decided to have her oil changed before leaving since it was almost due anyway. She called from the oil change place and said the technician said her air filter was dirty and recommended changing it immediately. Since it wasn’t all that expensive I said let them do it BUT have them save the old one and bring it with you for me to look at. When I saw the filter they removed, I was shocked! I would have assumed it was new or nearly new and clearly didn’t need to be changed. The oil change dude saw a relatively car naive women and decided to sell a little unnecessary maintenance that day. But in general, an air filter, oil change, transmission fluid service or cooling system maintenance are simple, relatively inexpensive services that can save you from having big problems later in your car’s life.

For most automotive maintenance businesses—either new car dealer or small independent business—the oil change is merely a “loss leader” to get you in the door and hopefully the technician will notice it’s time for brakes, battery or a light bulb etc. They get a bit of added business and in all reality you get a safer car back. Nothing wrong with this, it’s the American entrepreneurial way. My complaint comes when one greedy bad apple spoils the whole basket. So my caveat is this; when in doubt get a second opinion. You wouldn’t have open-heart surgery just because the doctor who gave you a physical said he thought you needed it. View major car maintenance the same way. Asking questions and even a quick Google search might save you a bunch of hard earned cash.

I was just reminded of a phone call I received earlier this week from a friend. Her college aged son, who is away at school, was stranded in his big jacked up truck with what seemed to be a transmission issue. I agreed it was likely time for a transmission replacement based on the symptoms and the fact the truck has nearly 200K miles on it and is driven with the utter tenderness and care afforded the vehicle of any frat boy. They had it towed to an unknown independent shop that was close to where it  had broken down, and low and behold the mechanic said it needed a new transmission AND a new engine. Seemed odd since the engine ran fine and the truck was driving right up to the point it would only drive in reverse while stopped at a traffic light. My immediate advice was have it towed to the closest Chevy dealer and get a second professional opinion. No word back yet but it’s often guys like this who give the whole industry a bad name.

In closing, perhaps we should look at vehicle maintenance the same way we would the care for our faces. It’s certainly much easier to use a bit of moisturizing cream before bed, sunscreen and the occasional facial at the spa to maintain our healthy youthful look rather than do nothing along the way and wake up one morning realizing we are as leathery and wrinkly as an old catchers mitt and need to see a good cosmetic surgeon for a complete face overhaul.


Jay Ramowski is a commercial helicopter pilot, automotive consultant and professional driver based in Charleston. Jay brings an easygoing love of all things mechanical and a particular passion for cars and the people who drive them. Have questions? Email Jay at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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