Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maintain your car... the work pays off

How would you like to get a million kilometres or more out of your car?

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THESE days, once your mode of transport starts nipping at the 200,000-km mark, you're usually parking it at the end of the driveway with a For Sale sign in the windshield, or accepting whatever minor trade-in allowance you can get from Dealership Row. After all, who in their right mind would think that any car with two hundred thou on the odometer makes good purchase sense? Bill Gardiner, that's who. In addition to his own auto repair shop in Mississauga, Ont., Bill is also the resident auto mechanic from TSN's Motoring 2003. I met up with Gardiner last week on his cross-country tour promoting National Car Care Month.

The secret to creating the automotive equivalent of Bob Hope's lifespan is simple, regular maintenance. "If you look after your vehicle in the first three or four years of it's life, that homework will pay off," says Gardiner. He ought to know. His own 1992 Chevrolet pickup just hit 400,000 kms. Many of his Highway 401 commuting customers have in excess of 600,000 kms on their cars. And as part of National Car Care Month, Pennzoil-Quaker State is sending it's Million Mile Truck on tour across the country.

It's a 1995 Chevy Silverado from Georgia with 1,014,000 miles on the odometer. The truck's owner changed the oil every 3,200 miles, or in his case, once a week. Gardiner explains how the owner ran into a problem getting an oil change at the 400,000 mile mark. "Their software would not allow an entry greater than 400,000 miles." The Pennzoil-Quaker State head office got involved and changed the program. They gave the owner a brand new truck upon reaching the million-mile mark, in exchange for his mechanical marvel. The original engine has been dismantled and mounted in the truck bed to showcase the almost non-existent wear. "It's a graphic example of just how much maintenance can extend the life of a vehicle." says Gardiner.

Gardiner has found that most people change their engine oil at the recommended factory intervals, but tend to miss other important components. He finds that transmission servicing is most often missed. "If you neglect servicing until you have an active problem, then it's too late."

Proper wheel alignments are also overlooked. "A $1,000 bill for tire replacement is not uncommon these days," Gardiner says. He recommends alignment shops that can provide you with before and after printouts to correct problems that could lead to premature tire wear. While makes and models will vary, Gardiner feels that one should expect to pay $600 to $1,000 a year on scheduled maintenance. "It's going to vary tremendously, from one car to the next, from one driver to the next, and from one year to the next."

According to Gardiner, the best way to isolate your car's problems is to treat them like a doctor-patient relationship. "People try to describe what they think is wrong with the car, as opposed to just a description of the symptoms," he says. "That's where a lot of mechanics can get on the wrong track." Gardiner goes to great lengths to experience the exact cause of the customer's complaint, sometimes driving their car for a two-day period. "Until you can replicate the problem, you're taking a shot in the dark trying to fix it." He also carries notepads with him constantly, recording under what circumstances, ie: engine load, braking input, that the problems are occurring at.

He also advises motorists to be clear with what your concerns are with your vehicle when you're having it checked, to avoid unnecessary repairs.

We've all heard horror stories from friends or family who've had un-needed, and usually expensive vehicle repairs performed. Gardiner gives this tip for avoiding wallet dents.

"Avoid establishments where you see a product or service advertised at way lower than market value." It's usually a ploy to get you in so they can find other items that may or may not require immediate attention.

With more than 25 years experience, Gardiner applauds the continuing improvements to computer engine management systems. "Engines hold their state of tune much longer." He's seen his fair share of maintenance nightmares, like a rear strut assembly from a Mercury Topaz falling clean off the car as it was raised on the hoist in his shop. "It really amazes me how bad a car can be mechanically, and a driver who's careful, prudent, and who adjusts for it, can still somehow safely bring that car into the shop."

* * *

The Winnipeg Free Press and Pennzoil Quaker-State are giving away six car-care packages, including enough Pennzoil 5W30 Synthetic and Quaker State Higher Mileage Engine 5W30 Motor Oil for one oil change each, and a bottle each of Black Magic Tire Wet, Black Magic Wet Shine Spray Detailer, Black Magic Wet Shine Car Wash, Slick 50 Fuel System Treatment, Pennzoil Fuel Injector Cleaner, Rain X Anti-fog and Rain X Original Glass Treatment. Each kit is worth $175 retail but prizes must be accepted as awarded. How to enter: we want to see the worst basket-case car known to man. Send a photograph of your beater to Show us your beater, P.O. Box 2460, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 4A7. The pic need not be recent, but the car must have been your daily driver within the past five years. Extra points for a car currently on the road and bonus points for a current (within one year) safety certificate. Also, tell us the current mileage (or the mileage when it was retired). Entry deadline is June 6. No cash value to prizes, winners agree to permit publication of their names and winning photographs. Decisions of the judges are final.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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