Niagara Gazette

April 17, 2014

TOM'S CORNER: Bringing your own parts to repair shop is a bad idea

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Here’s a few answers to reader questions:

MARY, OKLAHOMA: I am planning to buy a timing belt from an auto parts store and get it installed in my 2000 Toyota Camry (4 cylinder) by a mechanic. I am getting price quotes ranging from $200-$400. Why so much spread? What do you think is a reasonable price for this installation?

TOM: According to the book, the labor rate to do this job is 3.9 hours. Remember, you are bringing your own parts to install so the shop will not make the profit on the parts, thus they will probably charge a higher labor rate to cover the lost profit on the parts, plus you will be met with a cool reception. In addition, they will not warranty the job because you provided the parts. At a labor rate of $84 per hour, that job calculates out to $327.60. I would say that the quotes closer to $350 are in the right ballpark. They probably vary because of different labor rates of each shop. Some are quoting high because they don’t even want the job and are trying to politely discourage you from coming to them.


JOE FROM LONG ISLAND: I read your article at AOL Autos on oil changes. I noticed that there wasn’t any information about changing transmission fluid. A lot of automotive shops only want to change the transmission fluid and not the filter. Is this a good thing?

TOM: This is a good question. Transmission fluid is usually changed at 35-40K miles with a filter change. A lot of shops today use a flush machine. This device sucks out the old fluid and pumps new fluid in without taking the pan off. I do not recommend this method. As a matter of fact, flush machines ‘reverse flush’ the trans fluid, which results in dislodging dirt and wear particles back into the transmission. If you have it done, follow the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual and change the filter along with the fluid. Best to you.


GABBY FROM MONTREAL: Our 2003 Chrysler Sebring has a DOHC sign on the engine. What does this stand for?

TOM: This stands for Double Over Head Cam (DOHC). Your engine has two camshafts, one for each cylinder head. Each camshaft controls the valvetrain on each cylinder head.


JOHN FROM SAN FRANCISCO: My mechanic says that my engine is sludged up and starving for lubrication. Can changing oil more frequently reverse oil sludge?

TOM: No, once sludge builds up it has to be cleaned out. Chemical flush products work on minor sludge problems. AMSOIL makes a good engine flush product that can be found at However, be very careful! If the sludge buildup is significant then there will still be some left after a chemical flush and the problem will persist. If this is the case, it will be necessary to tear down the engine. I have actually resorted to using hammer and chisel to clean baked-on oil sludge inside of a cylinder head. Good luck.


CHARLES FROM TEXAS: I own a 2004 Chevy Silverado extended cab pickup. The battery is new and it won’t keep a charge. I had it charged twice this week and, although it started the following day, the clock goes back to 12:00. When I turn the ignition on, sometimes it starts and sometimes it doesn’t. I am selling the truck so I don’t want to buy another expensive battery. I’m wondering if it would be all right to put in a rebuilt battery and let the person that buys it deal with the problem.

TOM: At this point I would suspect a rogue parasitic electrical draw sapping energy out of the battery when the key is off (not a battery problem). In order to track this down, a tech will have to monitor the battery voltage while eliminating each electrical circuit until the draw is eliminated. When the offending circuit is identified, then the tech must trace it out to find the problem and repair it. Otherwise, you will have to keep a full stock of batteries on hand. Or, you can just pass the problem on to the next owner. I guess it depends on whatever you can sleep with …


SHARI FROM NEW YORK CITY: I would like to know if you could tell me the difference between a powertrain warranty and a drivetrain warranty, please?

TOM: Powertrain includes all components that power the car, IE: engine, turbo or super charger (if equipped), and all related engine componentry. Drivetrain usually relates to the transmission, differential/s, axles, wheels, and anything else that drives the car forward through gears and axles. I hope this helps clear things up a bit.


JIM FROM CHATTANOOGA, TENN.: My ‘98 Ford Contour has a problem; the headlights are dim. I’ve replaced the bulbs, but they still don’t work like they should. One of my friends told me it might be a grounding problem, but I wouldn’t know how to fix it. Can you help me?

TOM: The headlights are grounded on the front header panel (where the radiator support is located). Get a wiring schematic book to locate the headlight ground harness. It’s usually located somewhere to the left (passenger’s) side of the car. If you find a loose ground, then remove it, clean the paint from the metal, re-secure the connector with an oversize self-tapping screw, and insulate the connection with grease. By the way, while we’re talking about headlights on this car, did you know that there was a recall for the headlight switch? (Recall # 99V103000: Headlamp Switch Open Circuit). Call your local Ford dealer and have them check your vehicle’s VIN to see if this work has been done. If not, get it done. There will be no charge for the repair.

The problem of dim headlights could also be yellowed headlight lenses. Quite often the plastic of the headlight lens yellows over time due to exposure to UV rays and roadway dirt & chemicals kicked up on the lens. Look closely at the lens, if the surface is rough and yellow, buy a headlight lens cleaning kit from Turtle Wax (any parts store will have it). The process is a three step one that includes buffing the lens with a slightly rough emery cloth to remove the rough surface and clear the yellowed plastic, next a smoother emery cloth to buff the lens and make it smooth again, then a final super smooth buff, cleaner and sealer to seal and protect the lens once it is restored to clear. This often restores headlight candlepower very effectively on yellowed headlight lenses.


‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

“America’s Car Show” with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.