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British American Auto Care Blog

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To Tow or Not to Tow -- Which Car Problems Require a Tow?


towing a car for repairsWhen you have a car problem, sometimes it is hard to know whether to have the car towed or to get the car repair done on the spot.  Here are some tips to help you decide what to do when faced with this situation.

Flat Tires - One of the most common car problems is a flat tire due to a tire puncture.  Should you try and change the wheel on the side of the road, call for someone to change the wheel right there, or have the car towed? Most of the time it is best to have the car towed because it is the safest option. The second best option would be to have the tire repaired or the wheel changed by a garage or a motoring organization. Importantly, if you have not changed a wheel before do not attempt it. Some people opt to drive the car with a flat tire; this normally ends up with a $300-400 wheel being damaged. Only drive the car as far as is necessary to get into a safe position.  If you are on an interstate highway, get right over to the right, onto the grass if necessary. You may even want to consider getting out of the car and away from the highway; there have been many cases where a stranded car has been hit.

Battery Problems - The next most common problem is when the car battery becomes completely discharged (flat or dead). Batteries do go dead just because of age.  If you believe this is likely the case, having the battery changed by a motoring organization might be a convenient option. But in a large percentage of cases, there is another reason behind the problem with the battery.  That's why it's a good idea to have the car towed.  This way, an auto service technician can diagnose the problem.  

Recently while having dinner by a window looking out over a parking lot I watched as a motoring organization struggled to get a car going. We were over an hour eating our dinner, but still they had not got anywhere with getting the car going.  In the end they towed the car.

Stalling - If your car is stalling or running badly then have your car towed. If any of the fluid warning lights come on have it towed. If the check engine light comes on steady (not flashing) then you can drive the car, but if is flashing, have it towed. If you have any doubts then call the garage that services your car and get their advice.

It is very important to establish a relationship with an independent auto repair shop that can give you advice. It's even better to have regular check ups.  When you car is serviced, make sure that part of the service is checking the tires carefully for damage or to see if something has been picked up and has punctured the tire. Regular servicing includes battery checks. If your battery is over five years old consider having it changed (in hotter parts of the country this could be every two years). Preventive car care helps to prevent automobile breakdowns, and then the towing question never comes up.


photo courtesy of @mjb

Incentives and Auto Repair -- How is Your Technician Being Paid???


auto technician incentivesIt could be the tire store in Columbia, the Toyota dealer in Clarksville, the Honda dealer in Ellicott City or an independent shop in Laurel -- all four could have a pay plan called FLAT RATE that puts pressure on all employees to sell more than the vehicle needs.

What if I told you that the company that you took your car to sets targets on how many suspension struts are sold or how many shocks and alignments are sold? AND three times a day the corporate office checks in to the store to see that they are meeting those goals.  On top of all this, if the manager of the store is not meeting these targets the manager's bonus would be reduced! The service writers at these companies have to sell what the corporation says or the company will want to know why a car that has 50,000 miles on it has not been sold shocks or struts!

Just imagine a technician working for a company like this; the pressure to produce is great because if they do not find work on a car they do not get paid. This is how the FLAT RATE system works. Pressure from the top down; put yourself in the position of any of these employees. It is a crazy system that pushed by people who do not understand how to maintain a vehicle.

There is a standard technician joke about a muffler store, “Hey the exhaust system must be part of the suspension system because every time you see a car with a [national chain] muffler on it has new shocks”!!

The terrible thing is that most of the service and repair shops and new car dealers work on the FLAT RATE system.

Some shops also ignore the wages and hours laws that require paying overtime when workers work more than 40 hours a week.

The FLAT RATE system is wrong and there is a temptation for a technician to be UNETHICAL.

This type of payment plan extends into many other industries and it has led to dishonest practices. Some say this type of quota system for home mortgages helped to fuel the recent recession.  It also might be the reason you received that last traffic ticket for driving just a few miles over the limit.

Here at British American, our technicians and managers are paid on an hourly or salary system. They aren't rewarded based on targets or quotas!  There are no paid incentives for doing unnecessary work!

Do you know how your auto mechanic or service manager is being paid???

ASE Certified Automotive Technicians -- Does it really matter?


ase certified technicianHave you noticed that auto service and repair shops proudly promote the fact that their technicians are ASE certified? What does this mean, and should you care about this? In general the answer is yes.

The industry has had this self certifying ASE test since the 1970's, and it has helped rasie the bar for qualifications which has been a very good thing for the auto repair industry. Prior to this, customers had no "objective" means of knowing how well trained the mechanics at a particular service station might be.  The ASE certification provides a good indication that the auto shop provides high quality auto repair services.  Before they can become certified, auto mechanics must pass a series of exams, and have at least two years of experience. Additionally, in order to remain certified, auto mechanics must re-test every five years.

For mechanical repair shops (not body shops) there are eight main tests that cover all aspects of automotive technology. Tests take place twice a year throughout the country.  Recently  ASE has added computer testing other times during the year. If a technician passes all eight tests he is given the title of Master Technician. There are even more advanced tests for diaognostics. For more information about the ASE certification test, check out the ASE website.

In addition to the standard certification testing, there are additional requirements for a technician to become a Maryland Certified Emissions Technician.  If an auto shop wants to become a Certified Emissions Repair Facility (CERF) they must have certified emissions technicians along with special equipment for conducting the emissions test. The CERF program is run by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). They support CERF's by providing up-to-date training. In fact, a few times a year the MDE brings in the best trainers from around the country and holds classes at no cost. This keeps CERF shops up to date, and provides a great incentive for auto shops to embrace the emissions program in Maryland.

So... when you are looking for an auto repair facility for your car, make sure they require that their technicians take the ASE certification tests!  But of course, that's only one factor in choosing a good repair shop.  Be sure to check out websites like Yelp for consumer reviews.  And finally, ask you friends and neighbors to recommend a shop where they have had a good experience.  

How the Columbia Auto Repair Center Got it's Start


Customers often ask me, "Where did you first open your Columbia auto repair business?"  I thought this blog would be the ideal place to answer that question...

Columbia founder   James RouseWe opened in the first Columbia Auto Care Center on Dobbin Road. The innovative idea of opening a Columbia Auto Repair Center was the brainchild of a Swiss business man. The idea was to have all the auto care shops in one place. Columbia founder, James Rouse, thought this was a great idea.  It fit the Columbia planed community model perfectly. The Swiss businessman had seen auto repair centers on the west coast, and so he set about opening the first auto repair center on the east coast. The first facility to open was Columbia Foreign Car Care.  They opened just one week before British American Auto Care.  Columbia Transmission followed next, then a trim shop, and then Columbia Auto Body. Our leases were written so we complimented each other, and each lease specified which types of cars each facility could work on. The first building was about 14,000 square feet. British American started off with a three bay section that was just 1500 square feet. Later we moved down the building and took over another 3000 square feet. Soon other buildings were added to the complex.

Unfortunately, while the Auto Repair Center grew, the number of parking spaces stayed constant, and parking eventually became a  problem.  That is when we started to look for a new location. In 1989 we moved to the new Columbia Auto Care facility off Oakland Mills Road. We rented 8400 square feet of space, and it worked out great for ten years until we outgrew that space. We ended up moving into our own building, right here on Berger Road in 1999.

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