I received a coupon special from a neighborhood auto shop that’s just joined a national car care organization. As part of the special, the shop would do a complete car preventative maintenance check. I called and asked if performing an analysis of a Check Engine Light would be part of this effort, and they said “Sure!” This is in contrast to my previous auto care shop, who wanted to charge me $90.00.
Last Friday I took the car in and they had it all day long–checking all of the fluids for level and state; the transmission, the brakes, the exhaust, the tires, the drive axles, the signals, the hoses, and so on. They also changed the oil, oil filter, and libricated the chassis where needed. When I picked up the car, they found that the brakes are in amazingly good shape, my two tires are shot (knew that), the other two are evidencing uneven wear, and my brake fluid and power steering fluid were both extremely dirty and needed to be ‘flushed’.
They also diagnosed the Check Engine Light as a failure in the DPFE (Delta Pressure Feedback of EGR) sensor in the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) system. I knew immediately what they were talking about because before I took my car in, I researched causes of Check Engine Light failure on Ford Focus and found that it could be because of failure in two sensors: the O2 and the DPFE (or EGR sensor). I also researched how the exhaust system works, and even found a site that has an excellent article on the DPFE sensor, how it helps determine if enough exhaust is being recirculated back into the engine in order to help control emissions.
In fact, I found out that many Ford Focus owners have disabled the DPFE sensors because of known issues with the sensor in this model of car, and had easy to follow instructions if I wanted to do such myself. However, a quick check and I found out that doing so in Missouri is illegal. Not only that, but driving with a Check Engine Light on in Missouri (as well as many states) is illegal. At a minimum, you won’t be able to renew your car license, and the reason why is most Check Engine Light failures occur in the exhaust system and signal that your car is most likely polluting more than it should.
During the check, my local auto shop found out there is a special extended warranty on DPFE sensors for Ford Focus, just because of problems encountered. I logged into the computer at home and found that the extended warranty lasts until 60,000 miles and I have 58, 900 miles on my car. Today I took it into Ford and they verified my mechanics diagnosis and replaced it free of charge.
(If I wanted to, I could have bought my own diagnostic tool and found out myself what the problem was. These are easily used, and with help at the MyFordFocus forum, fairly easy to deciper. However, since I got this service for free at the auto shop, I’ll hold on a purchase for now.)
Even if it wasn’t under warranty, I could actually replace this myself — it’s not inaccessible, and it’s more a matter of unbolting it and putting in a new one and making sure the connections are right. But now it’s replaced and the Check Engine Light is off, and it didn’t cost me a penny.
As for the flushing the brake fluid and the power steering fluid, I checked again on the internet and found that the brake fluid should be checked when brakes are checked, but many auto shops don’t do so, primarily because many mechanics aren’t aware they should do so. From the state of my brake fluid (which I saw in a comparison with ‘good’ fluid color), mine should have been flushed a long time ago.
As for the power steering, it’s not unusual for it to get dirty but whether you flush it or not somewhat depends on how long you’ve had the car. For instance, I found that if the car has reached 60,000 miles, then the recommendation tends to be to flush the system; others recommend flushing the system if it’s dirty, period. Since my car is reaching the 60,000 mark and the fluid was very dirty, this is a good procedure.
The auto shop also told me that my “Air Intake & Induction System” was ‘dirty’ and needed to be replaced. Hmm, that was a new one on me. When I got home, a little checking led me to discover how the air instake system works, what would be replaced (a filter) and that if I want to race my Focus, I can replace the air instake system with a racing intake system or a Cold Air Intake (CAI) system, which could boost performance and milage. So, I may hold on replacing the filter and look at actually replacing the system.
(Heck, maybe someday I’ll replace the body with a new Focus racing body, with lightning streaks on the side. Vro-o-om, vro-o-o-m. I found a site that gives complete, step by step instructions on how to do this.)
But before I take the car in, I’ll call around and get price checks to see how much other shops are charging. If there’s a discrepancy in prices, I’ll then decide if my confidence in my mechanic is high enough to let the difference slide, or negotiate a price change at the shop, or take it to another shop. Right now, my confidence in this shop is high, so unless the price difference is significant, paying more is acceptable.
So now when I take my car in to get the rest of the maintenance completed, I’ll have had a complete systems check, Check Engine Light diagnosed, sensor replaced, fluids flushed, and other than replacing the two tires (and research is pointing me to Bridgestone high-performance all-weather tires), my car will be in optimum condition — and I’ll have a high degree of confidence that I got the repairs I needed, the maintenance I needed, and just what was needed and at a good cost (or none, for warranty repair). More importantly, I’ll have established at the auto shop that I do my homework, and am capable of discussing problems from a basis of understanding, not ignorance.
I was able to do all of this because I decided long ago that unless you’re using your penis as a dipstick replacement to check oil levels, you don’t need one when it comes to understanding how your car works.