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Serving Glen Burnie and the surrounding areas

Building Long Lasting Relationships With Quality Service and Trust Since 1980

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100% customer satisfaction

Frequently Asked Questions About Your Car

Alpine Auto Service, Inc. wants you to learn more about your car or truck. View below for our complete list of FAQs about your engine, transmission, and more.

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1. How do I choose an auto repair facility?

        Like a doctor or any other professional, it's best to find a good repair shop before you need one.  Hunting through the Yellow Pages for a repair shop while waiting for a tow truck is not the way to go.  You're not likely to make as good a decision when you're under pressure.  The best way to find a shop is on the recommendation of a trusted friend or acquaintance.   Ask friends, neighbors, family member and coworkers if they use a shop that they are happy with. Preferably, a shop with which they've had a relationship for a year or more. This shop is likely to be an excellent choice.

If you can't find someone with a recommendation and you're forced to go shop hunting on your own, here are a few suggestions:

        1.When calling on the phone, look for someone who answers the phone courteously and professionally.  If they must return your phone call, look for promptness.

        2.It's a good idea to check with the local Better Business Bureau , but just because the shop has no complaints against it, doesn't automatically mean it's a shop worthy of your business.  Look for ASE certification and industry affiliation with groups such as ASA and iATN.

         3.Don't choose a shop strictly on a convenient location or business hours. No matter how close the shop may be to work or home, it's never convenient to have to take your car back two or three times for the same problem.  When choosing a shop, consider convenience as a bonus, not a major criterion. Convenient is a shop that does everything you need ... minor services, routine maintenance, major repairs, glass, etc.  That way, no matter what your car needs, you know that that shop can handle it for you.

        4.The shop should be  relatively  clean and well organized.  The staff should be well dressed and courteous.

        5.Make sure the shop works on your make of vehicle.  Some shops specialize in one or two makes.  If you own a Chevy and the shop just repairs Hondas, that shop is not for you no matter how good they are.  Be sure to ask if they work on your make of vehicle and perform the type of repair you need.

        6.Don't be concerned with the labor rate.  The labor rate does not dictate how much your bill will be. Charges are generally based on time multiplied by a labor rate.  But there is nothing to say that two shops will charge the same amount of time for the same job.  Which is less expensive, 2 hours at $80 per hour or 3 hours at $70 per hour?  Furthermore, there is no "book time" or "flat rate" time for diagnosis.  The correct diagnosis at $100 per hour could be a lot less expensive than an incorrect one a $50 per hour.  The point is, a competent shop is likely to save you money by correctly and efficiently diagnosing and repairing the problem, regardless of the labor rate.  They won't be replacing parts that are not defective.

        7.Ask the shop for several names of satisfied customers.  They should be willing to provide that information.

        The important thing is to find a shop that you trust and stick with them.  Just as your doctor comes to know you and your medical history, by being loyal to one shop, the shop gets to know you, your car and its "medical" history.  A shop can then check the entire history of your maintenance and repairs, saving both time and money in terms of diagnosis, maintenance and repairs.  Another perk is that a loyal customer is more likely to be given special  consideration in times of need, such as that occasional and unavoidable delay when you can't get there before the shop closes, you need immediate advise, or you forgot your checkbook and some other payment arrangement needs to be made.  Loyalty has its rewards.

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2. Where should I take my vehicle for service?

        There is no real "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question. Whether you choose the new car dealer, a large chain, or an independent shop, each has its own niche.

 

Dealers

        People often choose the dealer, mistakenly believing that the dealer knows their car best. While dealers are required to maintain a certain level of equipment, that doesn’t mean that other shops don’t have the same equipment. Other shops also have access to the same repair information as the dealer. Manufacturer specific training is also available to non-dealer shops. Don’t assume that the dealer knows your car best.

        The dealer is often perceived as having the highest price with the least friendly staff. However, pricing and staff must be taken on a case-by-case basis. All dealers are not the same, and some have excellent technicians with a friendly staff. Of course, stereotypes are usually born out of truth, and most dealerships have large service departments, which intrinsically make it more difficult for them to get to know you and your car personally. Don’t expect extras from the dealer. They have a reputation for being the least flexible.

        Dealers almost always pay their technicians by the "flat rate" system. This is where the technician gets paid by the job instead of by the hour. This system rewards technicians for doing the job quickly. While that’s not always bad, people paid by flat rate are less likely to spend the extra time needed for certain intermittent problems, or where extensive road testing is necessary to find the problem.

        If you have a warranty repair that is covered by the vehicle manufacturer, you must take the car back to the dealer, as the manufacturer will not pay anyone else for warranty repairs. This is not necessarily the case if you purchased an extended warranty. Also, the dealer is probably a good choice for service if you are out of town. The national dealer network will be able to honor a warranty from town to town. This may be important if you use your vehicle for extensive traveling in various areas.

Chains / Franchises

        Chains or franchised repair shops such as Midas ® , Goodyear ® , Precision Tune ® , Pep Boys ® etc. are often geared to a particular kind of service, such as brakes, exhaust, tune-up or suspension repairs. They are definitely not a one-stop shop, as they are not likely to perform all of the service a vehicle will require during its life. Here again, the quality of the staff is dependent upon each individual franchise, as most are independently owned and operated. They are more likely to offer low-ball deals to entice you to go to them. Low prices may cause more grief than they’re worth as low quality parts may be used to save money. Pay plans vary from place to place. Owners of franchised shops often own multiple locations and are investors, not "car people”.

Independent Repair Shops

        Independent repair shops are usually family owned and operated. Many independent shops are owned by technicians who decided to start their own business. They enjoy working on mechanical things, and are in the car business because they love the business. They are more likely to know you and your needs. They will be focused on performing the job to your satisfaction, and take pride in fixing the "unfixable". Independent shops are where you’re most likely to find someone who wants to know you and your car, and make you a long-term customer.

        Unfortunately, the independent shop sometimes is thought of as the least knowledgeable and least expensive. But, some of the brightest and most motivated staff can be found in independent shops. Don’t expect a quality independent shop to be less expensive than any other shop. You can expect a quality shop to save you money over the life of the vehicle by recommending needed maintenance, performing accurate diagnoses, not selling unneeded service and using quality parts in the repair process.

        Since many independent shops are owned by former technicians, the reality is that while they know their technical stuff, they’re sometimes not well trained in business management. In trying to please the customer, they sometimes undercharge to the point that the business is not profitable enough to survive. Therefore, these shops often have a high rate of business failure. Independent repair shops that have been in business for seven years or more are extremely likely to have the technical skill and management skill necessary to run a business where you can place your trust. You know they’ll be there for you today and tomorrow. Some of these shops have taken care of their customers for several generations.

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3. What do I tell the shop about my car problem?

        An important part of getting your car fixed right the first time is communication. There must be excellent communication between you, the service advisor and the technician. If any communication breaks down or is inaccurate, the repair can be more expensive, or worse yet, not fixed at all.

        What you tell the service advisor about your car’s problem is critical to an effective repair. You should tell the service advisor what the symptom is. In other words, if you have a vibration, tell them, "The car has a vibration." Don’t say, "The wheels need to be balanced." Vibrations can come from many sources, and certainly the wheels are one possibility. But if the shop balances the wheels because that’s what you asked for, and the vibration is not fixed, you won’t be happy … and neither will the shop. A customer will sometimes request a specific service like a wheel balance to cure a vibration because he knows it’s an inexpensive procedure. But if you balance the wheels unnecessarily, you wind up paying for an unneeded service plus fixing whatever the real problem is. A good service advisor won’t let you get away with requesting a wheel balance without asking you why you suspect the wheels need to be balanced. The moral of the story is, tell the service advisor what the symptom is, don’t diagnose or ask for a specific procedure.

        Equally important is telling them when it happens (setting still, 50 miles per hour, while using the brakes, etc.) and how often the problem occurs (all the time, twice a day, once a week.) It’s often impossible to diagnose the problem if the problem can’t be reproduced. Weather conditions can be important, too. Take a hard starting problem, for example. Does the problem happen only when it’s cold, hot or rainy? Does the problem happen first thing in the morning and not the rest of the day? If the problem happens only during the first start in the morning, be prepared to leave the car overnight so that the technician can observe the problem. If the problem is intermittent or involves noises, be prepared to take a test drive with the technician to point out the specific noise or condition.

        Things that you may not think are important may be key to the repair. Tell everything you know about the problem and under what conditions it happens. Don’t hold back information thinking that by not telling certain things that the repair will be less expensive. Withholding information will undoubtedly make the diagnosis more difficult, more time consuming, and ultimately, more expensive.

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4. Parts are parts, right?

        WRONG! Remember the old Pennzoil commercial where the old man says, "Motor oil is motor oil"? (OK, maybe you’re not that old.) The point was that there is a difference between various types of motor oils and they are definitely not all the same.

        Now, more than ever, the same is true of automotive parts. Parts are not all the same. Over the last decade, there has been an unbelievable proliferation of poor quality parts in the market. They come from all over the world, and a brand name does not necessarily guarantee that the part is a high quality part. Due to the expansion of low cost parts, even reputable parts manufacturers now offer a "value" line of parts. They have done this because they were losing market share to the importers of low price, low quality parts.

Brake rotors are an excellent example. Rotors have become smaller and lighter, and if you were to slice a rotor open, you’d find numerous vane configurations. Rotors are engineered for specific applications to meet the car manufacturer’s specifications. Poorly designed rotors are made of substandard materials, do not have the correct surface finish, and are not built to adequately dissipate heat. This can result in premature warping, brake noise and longer stopping distances.

        It used to be the only parts that you had to be concerned about were remanufactured items such as starter and alternators. Some low quality units are cleaned and have only damaged parts replaced, whereas a quality part would be thoroughly tested and all likely-to-fail parts replaced with new ones. Today you can find low quality parts in any category; brake pads and rotors, starters, alternators, radiators, electronic modules and sensors, water pumps and even wiper blades! Just because a part is new, does not mean it will function correctly or last as long as it should.

        Installing a low quality oxygen sensor in a late model vehicle could result in a "Check Engine" light that won’t go out. The assumption would be, "It can’t be the oxygen sensor, I just replaced it." Hours of diagnostic time and hundreds of dollars in labor charges could be wasted before the problem is found to be the cheap sensor.

        A quality oriented repair shop will not install these inferior parts on their customers’ cars because they know the consequences for both the shop and the customer. The shop that truly cares about their reputation and their customers will install quality parts that will work correctly and last a long time. Cheap parts are no bargain when you’re standing in the rain on the side of a dark road waiting for the tow truck.

There are times when a value line of parts makes sense. If you’re not going to keep your car much longer, the best brake pads might not make the most financial sense.  A shop like Alpine Auto Services, one that truly cares about your best interest, can advise you when it makes sense to choose a quality part and when to choose a value line.

        There are excellent quality parts available both at the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, or dealer) and aftermarket levels. OEM parts are not necessarily better than aftermarket parts. In some applications, the OEM part may be better, and in other cases, the aftermarket part may be better. Once you’ve found a shop you can trust, you can be assured that their years of experience will guide them in choosing the right part for your car.

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5. How importance is maintenance?

        The subject of vehicle maintenance is a murky one at best. Vehicle manufacturers have recently found that promoting their vehicles as "low maintenance" plays well with prospective buyers. Who wouldn’t want a vehicle that needs nothing more than fuel? So, their recommended service intervals are not based on what will make your car last as long as it can. After all, they want to sell cars, and they’d rather sell you one every 100,000 miles rather than every 250,000 miles.

        You can find the manufacturer’s maintenance schedules in the back of your owner’s manual. This used to be considered the minimum required maintenance to keep your vehicle running efficiently for a long time. Note that these schedules are the minimum required. If you plan on keeping your vehicle for only 70,000 or 80,000 miles, these schedules will suffice. However, with proper maintenance, many of today’s engines can easily exceed 200,000 miles without a major overhaul or rebuild. But that’s not likely to happen if you follow the manufacturer’s schedule.

        Here’s the main problem for the consumer when he or she shops for maintenance. It’s extremely difficult to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. There is no standard for maintenance. You could ask 10 different repair shops for a price on a 30,000-mile service, for example, and get 10 different prices that vary dramatically. That’s not because they all have vastly different labor rates, it’s because all 10 have different ideas of what the service entails. One shop may have a "one-size-fits-all" approach, so that no matter what kind of vehicle you drive, a 30,000-mile service is the same.

        Frequent oil and filter changes are critical to extended engine life. Yes, engine oil is much better than it used to be. And modern engines don’t contribute as much "blow-by" to the crankcase. But modern engines also run much harder and hotter than those large engines of years past. Also, some engines are more prone to "sludging" than others. Sludge plugs oil passages within the engine and starves critical components of oil, resulting in severe engine damage. Changing the engine oil and filter every 3000 miles or 3 months will ensure that you won’t be plagued by expensive lubrication problems.

        Consider the implications of not flushing your cooling system for 100,000 miles. Proper cooling system maintenance will reduce corrosion in expensive items like radiators and heater cores. But it will also reduce the corrosion on inexpensive items like freeze plugs. Freeze plugs are small metal discs that seal access holes that are cast into engine blocks and cylinder heads. They may cost only 50 cents each, but some are located in the back of the block. If they rust through and leak, the engine or transmission must be removed to replace them. The other freeze plugs are apt to be in the same condition. You could easily spend $1000 to replace all of the freeze plugs, which are worth about $10 for all of them. It’s a lot less expensive to flush the cooling system every other year.

        The cost to replace a timing belt may be several hundred dollars before it breaks, but if you wait until it breaks, it may do several thousand dollars’ worth of damage to valves and pistons.

So how do you know what you need? The key here is to find a shop that you trust and follow their advice. They will have many years of experience and know what maintenance is needed based on your make of vehicle and your driving style. Maintenance is not free, but it’s much less costly than a repair.

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6. Do I have to go to the dealer to maintain my warranty?

        In a word, NO! You DO NOT have to take you car back to the dealer in order to keep your warranty valid. It is in fact illegal for the dealer to tell you that. The owner’s manual spells out the maintenance required to maintain your warranty. As long as you follow the schedule in the owner’s manual for oil change intervals and other required service, the manufacturer cannot deny a warranty claim based on the work being done elsewhere. That is the law.

        Many dealers have their own maintenance schedules that include services that are not required by the manufacturer. These services may include such things as fuel additives, engine oil additives, power steering fluid additives, and transmission fluid additives. Look at the owner’s manual and compare the dealer’s maintenance schedule to the one in your owner’s manual. If items appear in the dealer’s schedule that are not in the owner’s manual, that service is not required to maintain your warranty.

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7. How can I save money on auto repairs?

         There are two key elements to saving money on auto service:

        1.Find a professional, reputable shop and stick with them.

        2.Follow the maintenance schedule that the shop recommends.

        Here’s why these points are important. A professional shop will save you money in the long run. Not by performing any given repair for the lowest price, but by doing what is needed and not guessing at repairs by replacing parts, hoping that the right one is replaced.

         Alpine Auto Service owner Lou Calka relates the story of a Ford Escort owner who was extremely reluctant to pay for an accurate diagnosis. Lou says, "This gentleman had a problem during a cold start first thing in the morning. The Escort would run roughly for a minute or so and then clear up. He had been to a franchised tune-up shop many times trying to get it repaired. Each time the shop would not charge him for diagnosis, but instead would replace a different sensor. They had replaced just about every sensor in the car. He had spent over $900 and the car was not fixed."

        Lou continues, "I convinced the customer that if he paid the diagnostic charge and the completed repair did not fix the car, he would owe nothing. Well, how could he argue with that? He agreed and left the car overnight so that we could observe the symptom. It turned out that at some point in time, someone had replaced the fuel injector. Whoever had installed the injector did not lubricate the O-ring, and the O-ring had rolled over when the injector was installed. After the car sat for 10 hours, the O-ring would relax and prevent a good seal. When the car was started in the morning, the leaky O-ring would allow extra gasoline to enter the intake manifold, causing the engine to run roughly. After a minute or so of running, the fuel pressure would force the O-ring back into position enough that the leak would stop and the car would run fine for the rest of the day. The total cost for diagnosis and repair was under $100.”

        Lou states, "This is just one of many stories I could tell where an attempt to save a few dollars cost the customer many times the amount of the repair had it been correctly diagnosed the first time. As cars become increasingly more computerized and complex, a single misdiagnosis can cost the vehicle owner hundreds of wasted dollars."

        Sticking with the same shop will ensure that you get the same quality of service each and every time. That shop will know you, your vehicle and its service history. By performing required maintenance on a regular basis, using quality parts, and making accurate diagnoses, a professional shop can literally save you thousands of dollars over the life of your vehicle. Yes, their oil change may be a few dollars more. Or their brake job may be higher than the guy down the street. But in the long run, you’ll have fewer problems, you won’t be going back for the same problems, and you’ll save a ton of money.

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