Saturday, February 4, 2017


When I was growing up, most women would ask their fathers or husbands to take the car to the mechanic. The idea was that men knew how to fix cars, while women would get hoodwinked. But after working as an automotive repair technician for the past 16 years, I'd like to share a secret with you - today's cars are a mystery to nearly everybody including many auto mechanics.
The typical car is a Wi-Fi-enabled, rolling gizmo with USB ports,  Bluetooth, satellite navigation, and an average of 38 onboard computers. This complexity is increasing by the day as manufacturers add features borrowed from prototype driverless cars - everything from the latest collision-avoidance systems to outright "autopilot" modes.

These changes are creating big challenges for those who want to get their cars fixed correctly the first time, at a fair price. Successfully servicing and repairing these vehicles increasingly hinges on access to sophisticated, manufacturer-specific diagnostic technology - expensive factory equipment that few independent garages or national franchise operators are willing to invest in. To save money and offer broad-based capability, many garages rely on generic scanners that spit out limited information. Much like an x-ray, generic scan tools offer a limited view, while in comparison, a factory scan tool is like an MRI of your vehicle-and it takes months, even years, to master the function and operation of each individual factory tool. Factory scan tools, paired with certified technicians, allow access into the vehicle's operating systems. This yields a clearer picture of what's happening with your vehicle, and it can save you a lot of money.

Let's say your check engine light comes on. A generic scan might yield a single code: "oxygen sensor." The mechanic changes your oxygen sensor based on the limited view of your vehicle and information provided by this generic scan. Like a blindfolded dart-thrower, the mechanic just took a guess, but it didn't work. The real problem, it turns out, was a simple vacuum leak. Unfortunately, many shops see the return visits that come from such incorrect diagnoses as an "opportunity" to charge you for yet another attempted repair.

In addition, don't be snookered by ads for "free diagnostics." All too often, these involve a generic scan that could fail to properly identify the  problem. Be willing to pay upfront for a complete diagnostic overview with factory equipment. This certainly beats hauling your car back to the shop and paying for each misguided "repair."

Asking the Right Questions

    Still, there's no need to feel jittery about taking your car to the shop. Just be sure to ask the right questions. Does the shop you have in mind have the right equipment for you specific vehicle? The garage should be able to physically show you the factory diagnostic tool it plans to use. Dealerships service only one manufacturer, while many independent shops attempt to repair all makes and models using one universal generic scan tool. (At Advanced Tire & Auto Center, we have invested in 21 factory diagnostic tools, offering broad coverage for many domestic and foreign manufacturers.)

Additionally, are the mechanics ASE Certified or NJ Emission Repair certified? Have you noticed the industry has begun to advertise techs as "trained" rather than "certified"? That's no accident. Anyone can be described as "trained." But it takes a lot of time, money, and a strong commitment to obtain certifications. Because of a high mechanic turnover rate, many independent shops and dealerships are unwilling to invest in certifying all of their mechanics.

  Finally, you also want to vet your choice via outside sources. Car repairs merit some research. Be skeptical of review sites that allow friends and family to praise the business. It's smarter to read reviews from actual customers on sites like SureCritic.

Holmdel native Janet Bigelow of Advanced Tire & Auto center in Aberdeen NJ is a veteran auto technician with more than 16 years experience. She is a State of  New Jersey Certified Emission Repair Technician and Licensed Emission Inspector, and has ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) and Hybrid Electric Vehicle and Diesel Technologies certifications.
  Contact      732-290-7300


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