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Phil's Undercar Specialist Shop Articles


A question we get a lot at Phil’s is, “Should I keep this vehicle and repair it, or should I buy a new vehicle.

Let’s divide the car-buying universe into two camps. Those who keep a car until it drops and those who think a new car will change their lives.

To the first group, a round of applause. There’s nothing short, of the bus, that’s cheaper than keeping a car until it crumbles into a pile of rust. Almost any car can be nursed to 200,000 miles without endangering your life.

To the second group, also a round of applause, because the 16 million or so new cars they buy every year instantly become used cars soon available, at a considerable discount to those in group 1. If you are a drive-until-the-muffler-is-dragging wannabe, read on. We’ll look at all the ways to keep your car on the road longer and realistically weigh the costs of upgrading.

Never Skimp On Maintenance . Pay special attention to the things that will cost you a fortune if they break. That means regular oil changes, tire rotations, and transmission tune-ups, even if the car is running fine. Timing belts, for example, can cost as much as $600.00 and replacing one for no other reason than that the odometer has turned 90,000 miles might seem wasteful. But let one break and you’ll find that repairing bent valves could cost you three times that.

I’d love to keep my old car, but You may feel nervous taking your’98 Ford on a trip to Colorado. Your little Accord may be a tight squeeze when family comes to town. The solution to this is to RENT. Why buy a gas-sucking pickup because you visit Home Depot twice a year, or a $30,000 sport-utility because you take the kids skiing for a week at Easter? Even at $100.00 a weekend, renting is cheaper than a car payment. You get to drive the very latest and not have to worry about insurance, license tags, maintenance or depreciate.

Those repair bills are really adding up. Then do the math. Does cost of repairs exceed the cost of a new car? A typical new car is $21,000, or about $350 a month for five years after 20% down. A rebuilt transmission might run $2,000, a huge outlay in one chunk, but far less than the $4800 a year you’d spend on new car payments. If you can’t afford repairs twice a year, it’s unlikely you can afford a new car payment every month. In any case, anybody with a car older than three years should be tucking aside $50 a month for repairs and maintenance.

I'm nervous driving an older car. Maybe little things are beginning to go, a new thermostat one month, a starter the next. You might simply spend $50 on an AAA member ship and carry a cell phone, reminding yourself that even new cars aren’t immune to mechanical failure. The upside of frequent breakdowns is that you’ll get to know the mechanics quite well. Find one you like, Flatter him, pay your bills on time and the next time he fixes your car, ask him to take a few minutes to see what else will need repairing soon.

Am I ready for a newer car? Your first step is to do nothing except write a check to yourself in the amount you think you can afford every month. Put aside a car payment every month for three months (long enough for at least one of life’s little emergencies to crop up).

To pass the time, make two phone calls; one to your bank, to find out what kind of rates they charge on loans to people with your credit history; one to your insurer, to ask the rates for comprehensive insurance on a model you think you’d like to buy. At the end of three months, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much did it hurt? If you skimped at all on other bills or shorted the amount of payment, you’re not ready.
  • Would I have enough left over to pay for insurance and licensing fees each year?
  • Would I pay this much every month for the car that’s in my driveway already? Sooner or later, every car becomes an old car, and you’ll feel about the next car just the way you do about your old clunker.
  • Would I rather have the cash? Our typical car payment, $350 adds up to more that $1000 in just three short months. Perhaps you’d prefer to get a tan in Mexico and limp along with old Betsy another year.

Above all this, maintenance is the key to keeping your vehicle running safely and efficiently.

REGULAR MAINTENANCE to your vehicle saves MONEY and adds LIFE to your vehicle.

Don’t let this happen to you! Keep up with the maintenance on your vehicle and it will keep you running for a long time. A well maintained vehicle is a long running vehicle and safe vehicle.


By Joe Benton | ConsumerAffairs.com

Ten years after General Motors began using Dex-Cool as an antifreeze in most of its cars and light trucks, GM car and truck owners continue to complain that the coolant corrodes and clogs radiators and radiator caps, erodes water pumps, rots radiator hoses, causes chronic overheating and engine damage while leading to leaky engine gaskets.

Patricia in Barberton, Ohio, feels cheated by the automaker. “I have had 2 intake gaskets replaced on my 1997 Pontiac Grand Am. The gaskets cost me close to $1,000 and they told me there is no guarantee it won’t happen again,” she wrote in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.

“I just recently saw about the Dex-Cool problems and that is what I have been using in my vehicle since that is the kind that is required from the automakers,” Patricia said.

Dex-Cool is now used in almost 40 million vehicles sold by GM since 1996. On its website, GM claims Dex-Cool will last 5 years or 150,000 miles but a steady stream of consumers insist the product is defective and has damaged their vehicles.

GM is quick to clarify its confidence in the antifreeze by stating that the GM owner’s manual recommended 150,000-mile service interval is not a warranty guarantee. On its website, the company now also warns owners to consult their vehicle “owner’s manual for the type of coolant right for your vehicle” and never “mix one type of coolant with the other.”

Lawsuits Pending

At last count there were 14 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts throughout the country by GM vehicle owners angered over their experience with Dex-Cool.

A Missouri judge may soon grant class-action status to suits in his state — and that would mean that millions of GM customers could become involved in the lawsuit. The Missouri Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from GM challenging class-action certification.

The Missouri suit was filed in April 2003 alleging GM vehicles with Dex-Cool in their cooling systems developed a rusty sludge.

The plaintiffs claim that GM refused to repair their vehicles or pay for the repairs and the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for breach of warranty under the federal Magnuson-Moss Act and the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

Samuel in Bellville, Ohio experienced a similar problem with sludge in the cooling system of his car.

“I have sludge in my coolant caused by Dex-Cool,’ he wrote. “GM demands that the coolant be used. So far it’s just the gasket that has to be replaced. I will see if further damage was caused,” he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

GM Is Mum

GM will not comment on the pending lawsuits but continues to claim that Dex-Cool represents an improvement over traditional coolants. Nevertheless, the automaker has alerted mechanics that vehicles operated for 15,000 to 20,000 miles with low coolant levels “may be susceptible to the formation of a rust like material in the cooling system.”

Deborah in Hornell, New York faced similar news from her mechanic when she took her 2002 Buick Century in for a maintenance check. Deborah was told the Dex-Cool needed to be flushed and refilled even though the owner’s manual stated the coolant ought to be good for 100,000 miles.

“My car has only 48,000 miles,” she wrote. “The Dex-Cool had corroded the engine and the mechanic also advised that the plastic manifold would need to be replaced since the Dex-Cool had literally eaten through it.”

Deborah blames the costly repairs on GM because in her view the automaker “installed what they knew as faulty equipment, namely a plastic item in an engine unit and Dex-Cool antifreeze that does not work.”

In Madison County, Illinois, a lawsuit claims Dex-Cool “began to turn into sludge which then accumulated in the vehicle’s engine cooling system and radiator.”

Clear As Mud

The bright orange coolant often changes into a muddy colored liquid and when the change occurs automobile mechanics blame Dex-Cool for expensive cooling system flushes, gasket replacements, and even new radiators and heater cores.

“You’ll see heater cores leaking. You’ll see frost plugs leaking. You’ll see water pump failures. You’ll see overheating problems. You’ll see air conditioners not cooling very good. You’ll see transmissions burning up at 100,000 miles if the coolant systems are not working right,” said one mechanic who works on GM cars and trucks.

Ronald in Downey, California told ConsumerAffairs.com the Dex-Cool has almost destroyed the engine in his car. “The product in vehicles coolant systems deteriorates aluminum parts in the engine,” Ronald said. “The intake manifold, cylinder heads and timing chain cover are all made out of aluminum. My vehicle needs all these parts replaced.”

His problems worsened. “The motor has coolant in the oil and oil in coolant,” indicating that the head gasket is leaking. “This is the second time this problem has occurred.”

The repairs to his damaged engine have now cost Ronald more than $4,000 “because all the aluminum parts have to be replaced.”

Last but not least, if your car came from the factory with standard ”green” antifreeze, don’t switch to Dex-Cool.

Here at Phil’s Undercar, we recommend changing your vehicle from Dex-Cool over to the standard ”green” antifreeze, and flushing it every 30,000 miles. Also, all of your other fluid flushes and scheduled maintenance items should be done on a regular basis. This will help keep you from running into these BIG expensive repair jobs.

Best wishes;

Phil’s Undercar Specialist Shop
11353 Tecumseh-Clinton Rd.
Clinton, MI 49236