Benefits of Using an Independent Repair Shop Over a Dealership

This is a guest post by Ron Haugen who is the owner of Westside Auto Pro’s in Des Moines IA.  Named “Best Place for Auto Repair” in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014 by the Des Moines Business Record.

You just barely bought your car and it’s already time to think about whether to be loyal to the dealership for your ongoing maintenance and care, or to find a reputable independent repair shop to provide all of your automotive repair and maintenance needs. There are many advantages and disadvantages of either option. However, your local repair shop may just win your heart, and your business.
For starters, they have a depth of knowledge surrounding all types of vehicles and vehicle maintenance or repair situations, not just the particular makes and models currently being sold and serviced by your dealer. When you call and say your car is making a funny noise that sounds sort of like a ‘whirring and clicking’ sound, typically an established independent repair shop can hone in quickly on the potential suspect; possibly saving you money on both diagnostic and long-term repair bills.
It’s a hard truth that many dealership garages are staffed by younger, less experienced mechanics. That’s not meant to be a knock against them. They do have the leverage of the dealership behind them. But typically an independent repair shop owner has years of auto mechanic repairs under their belt; and to boot they frequently started out at a dealership to get their certifications and experience before branching out on their own to have the American dream and become their own boss.
Your local repair shop probably has the corner on providing its clients with personal, individualized service. They know your spouse’s name, your children’s names and where they go to school, what your dream car is, how long you’ve had your current car, what your last car was, why you sold it, what other cars you own and what your favorite snack is out of the vending machine! Now none of that is necessarily solely a good enough reason to give your business to the local guy, but in today’s fast-paced world there is a slowly simmering trend towards moving back to personalized service with an extra touch.
When you need a little leeway, like the shop staying open a little later so you can get there in time to pick up or drop off your vehicle, your independent shop is more likely to care, and they are also easier to get a hold of a live person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a technology geek. I love to point and click and buy or research all day long. But when I need to talk to a person, my biggest pet-peeve is getting routed through the dreaded phone menu tree.
When it comes right down to it, whether you take your car to the dealership or to a local independent repair shop for your ongoing maintenance and repair needs is entirely a personal decision. However, one key factor that we haven’t touched on yet is that typically an independent guy is going to cost you less than the dealer. There’s also the added benefit of possibly being able to barter for services, and it’s hard to put a cap on that price savings during the entire life of your car. Look around in your area and see if there are any independent repair shops in the neighborhood. If there are, ask around, look online for reviews, go down there and introduce yourself. You may just find that you and your car are right where you belong.
–Ron Haugen

Tires – Inflation DOT Other Information

What do you know about your tires? – Tire information series

Inflation Pressures


Today in our series on tire information we will look at some more important information contained in the fine print on the side of your tires. Every tire has a rated maximum inflation pressure.  Often it will be found in small print around the rim edge of the sidewall.  It will say something like “Max. Load  670 kg (1477 lbs.) Max. Press. 340 kPa ( 50 PSI)”.  This means that the tire will safely carry up to 1477 lbs. and can be safely inflated up to 300 kPa (Kilopascal) or 50 psi (pounds per square inch).  Often the vehicle manufacturer will specify a slightly lower pressure on the door jamb sticker for purposes of ride comfort and handling performance.   For maximum tread life and fuel economy it can sometimes be helpful to inflate the tires to a pressure closer to the rating on the tire rather than the rating on the door jamb of the car, but doing this can sometimes negatively affect ride comfort and possibly traction.

DOT numbers and other information


Every tire sold in the US must have a DOT (Department of Transportation) number.  The DOT number is a safety certification number that includes information about who manufactured the tire and where and when (week and year) the tire was manufactured.  This number is useful if a recall needs to be made on a certain batch tires.  For potential recall or safety issues it is a good idea to register your tires with the manufacturer.  You can do this online or by sending in a DOT registration card (provided by your tire installer).

One other marking on some tires, is a directional marking.  Some tires are designed with a certain side of the tire intended to be mounted towards the inside or outside of the vehicle.  These tires will have either an “Inside” or “Outside” written on the tire and should be mounted accordingly.  Other tires are designed to provide good traction and treadwear only if operated in a certain direction.  These tires are called directional tires and have an arrow symbol or other marking on the outer sidewall of the tire indicating which direction the tire should be mounted for forward rotation.

Well, there you have it.  That covers the information found on most tires sold for passenger vehicles in the US.   Now you can be an educated consumer and impress your friends with your knowledge of tires.

If you are located in the Harrisonburg Virginia area – give us a call and we will be glad to help you choose the right tires for your car or light truck.

Tires – Treadwear, Traction, Temperature

What do you know about your tires? – Tire information series

Treadwear, Traction, Temperature

It isn’t just size that matters when choosing tires for your vehicle.  There are some other numbers and letters on the side of the tire that you should pay attention to.   You will find the treadwear listed in three digit numeric format such as “320” and the traction and temperature in letters such as AA, A, B, or C.



The treadwear rating is a relative measurement of the tire’s durability and tread life. It is important to remember that road surfaces, driving habits, and other factors determine actual tread life. Each tire manufacturer independently determines treadwear through their own tests. Treadwear is not based on any one industry or government standard.  The higher the number the longer the tire should last compared to similar tires from the same manufacture with lower numbers.  A tire with a treadwear rating of 800 should theoretically last about twice as long as a tire with a treadwear rating of 400.  A longer life tire will be designed with a harder rubber compound to withstand wear better.


Unfortunately, while a harder compound tire will last longer it will do so at the expense of some traction – particularly on wet surfaces.  The softer tire compounds will grip the road surface better for improved handling and braking performance.  The traction specification is listed beside the treadwear in the form of letters such as AA, or A, or B with AA being the highest grade possible.  The traction rating is a measurement of a tire’s ability to stop on a straight, wet surface under controlled conditions. It does not indicate the tire’s cornering ability on a wet surface or its traction on ice or snow.


The temperature rating is a measurement of a tire’s resistance to heat generation under normal operating conditions at recommended inflation pressures. Temperature grades range from A to C, with A being highest rated and therefore most resistant to heat generation.  Tires graded A effectively dissipate heat up to a maximum speed that is greater than 115 mph. B rates at a maximum between 100 mph and 115 mph. C rates at a maximum of between 85 mph to 100 mph. Tires that cannot grade up to C or higher cannot be sold in the US.

If you are located in the Harrisonburg Virginia area – give us a call and we will be glad to help you choose the right tires for your car or light truck.

Tires – Size, Load and Speed Ratings

What do you know about your tires? – Tire information series

Tire Size

For safe performance and good tire life it is very important that the tires you put on your vehicle are the right size.  On a label found on the door jamb of your car you can check to see what size tires your vehicle was designed to use and on this label you will find some numbers that look like this 225/45 R17.


You will also find these numbers on the sidewall of your tires.


The size of the tire is really pretty simple to decipher.  The first number – in this case the 225, is the width of the tread of the tire given in millimeters.  The second number describes the height of the sidewall (the part of the tire from the rim of the wheel to the tread).  This is expressed as a percentage or ratio of the tread width referred to as the aspect ratio.  In this case it is 45 which means that the sidewall height is 45% of 225 millimeters or about 101 millimeters.  The last number is the diameter of the wheel or rim expressed in inches – in this case a 17 inch wheel.  (I know, I know, it doesn’t make any sense to mix English and metric measurements). The “R” stands for radial construction.  A bias ply tire will not have any letter in front of the rim size.  Almost all passenger and light truck tires sold today are radial tires.  Sometimes you will find a “P” or “LT” in front of the size.  This designates what kind of use the tires are intended for.  “P” stands for passenger tire and “LT” stands for light truck tire.  Sometimes you will see a ZR instead of an R.  The “Z” designates the speed rating of the tire.  Speed ratings will be explained next.

Load and Speed Ratings

It isn’t just the size of the tire that is important.   Load ratings and speed ratings are also very important for safe driving and good tread life.  Again the manufactures recommendation will be found on the door jamb sticker and somewhere on the side of the tire you will see numbers and letters in this format “94H”.  The numbers represent the load rating of the tire.  Generally the higher the number the more weight the tire is designed to carry.  In this case the “94” indicates the tire is designed to carry up to 1477 lbs. at a normal inflation pressure.  “H” means that this tire is rated for speeds up to 130 mph.   Light truck tires have a different weight rating classification system with letters such as B,C,D,E which correspond to a ply rating.  “C” stands for 6 ply tires, “D” for 8 ply, and “E” for 10 ply.   These different ratings indicate the relative strength of the tire and maximum inflation pressures the tire can safely handle.

If you are located in the Harrisonburg Virginia area – give us a call and we will help you choose the right tires for your car or light truck.

Tires – Brand, Model, Features

What do you know about your tires? – Tire information series

Usually the most prominent markings on a tire are the name brand and model.  Tire manufacturers such as Michelin, Cooper, Firestone, B.F. Goodrich, want to make sure their name is featured prominently on the tire.  These companies also make a variety of tire models.  The tire model identification sometimes gives an indication of the intended use or special features of the tire.  For example a Cooper Discoverer AT3 tire is an all terrain (AT) truck tire intended for vehicles that might need to venture off the pavement. A Cooper Discoverer H/T tire has a tread pattern that is better suited to highway driving.  A Michelin LTX M/S tire is a Light Truck tire intended for all season use with better than average traction in mud and snow.  A tire like the Goodyear Fuel Max Assurance is a tire which has been designed for low rolling resistance (LRR) to facilitate better fuel economy.

People who live in areas that receive frozen precipitation in the winter should also take special note of the seasonal designation of tires.   All purpose or all season tires with good snow traction will often carry an M/S or M+S designation.  These tires are suitable for use year round and have above average snow and mud traction.  Purpose built winter only snow tires will generally have a mountain peak outline symbol with a snowflake inside.

Winter tire

These tires offer more extreme snow and ice traction and are generally not well suited for summer use.  Sometimes these tires are made to accept studs which are small metal spikes mounted into the tread.   Tires with an M+S A/S or AS designation in their model or elsewhere on the tire are considered all season tires.  These tires are a compromise between good hot/dry weather performance and snowy/wet weather performance. These tires will generally offer acceptable traction in minor wet and winter conditions as well as dry pavement but they are not true winter or snow tires.   If none of the above listed designations are on the tire or in the marketing literature then it is considered to be a summer or performance tire and should not be considered safe for slippery conditions in ice or snow but these tire will handle better on dry roads and in high temperature environments.

If you are located in the Harrisonburg Virginia area – give us a call and we will be glad to help you choose the right tires for your car or light truck.

What do you know about your tires?

What do you know about the tires on your car?

The automobile tire is possibly the least understood part of a modern vehicle. With all the technology that is employed in today’s vehicles, the tire is, and continues to be, the one component that few people truly understand. It is often overlooked and dismissed as a simple device. This is simply not the case. But unfortunately even people in both the retail tire industry and the automotive repair business often have very little knowledge of tires.


Have you ever wondered what all those little numbers on the sides of your car tires mean?  If you are like most people you have probably never given it a thought.  When it comes time to buy new tires you just tell the friendly salesperson at the tire shop to put on something cheap or something good. Most people care about the safety of their passengers and cargo and most people want a tire to wear properly so they don’t have to replace them often.  But do you know whether you are getting something good or whether or not the cheap tires are actually the right tires for your car and driving conditions? All those little numbers on the side of your tires can tell you whether the tires you are buying are the right tires for your vehicle and driving style.  But most of you probably don’t know what all those little numbers mean.

Don’t worry, Mountain Valley Motors is here to help.  Not only do we know what all those numbers mean, we will be glad to explain them to you so that you know exactly what you are getting.  So let’s get started on a little tutorial shall we?  Over the next couple days we will post a series of informational articles to explain what you need to know in order to be an educated consumer.

If you are located in the Harrisonburg Virginia area – give us a call and we will help you choose the right tires for your car or light truck.

Transmission Repair and Replacement, Harrisonburg

When was the last time you had the transmission in your vehicle serviced?

For many people the transmission in their car is something they don’t think about until it quits shifting properly or until their transmission completely fails leaving them stranded. All transmissions whether automatic, manual, or Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT), use special fluids to lubricate and cool the transmission. In automatic transmissions the fluid is also used to control and power the transmission.   These fluids must meet very stringent specifications in order for the transmission to operate properly and provide a long life for the components in the transmission.

While transmission fluid is not exposed to the contaminations of combustion like engine oil is, it does break down over time with heat and shear forces being the main contributing factors. It also can become contaminated with small metal wear particles or clutch material from inside the transmission.   Some transmissions have filters and/or magnets to help keep these wear particles from moving through the transmission and causing damage. In any case the fluids and filters in a transmission need to be changed as a preventative measure to ensure long life and proper operation over the life of the vehicle.

Some vehicle manufacturers claim that their transmissions never need service or they recommend an extended service interval of 100,000 miles or more.   It is our experience that these manufacturers enjoy selling you transmissions and new cars more than they enjoy seeing your transmission last for hundreds of thousands of miles.   Most transmissions will benefit from a more regular maintenance program and your wallet will benefit too! A couple hundred dollars in transmission service is far preferable to many thousands of dollars for a transmission replacement.

It is our recommendation that most people should have their automatic and CVT transmissions serviced or at least checked every 30,000 miles.   For manual transmissions that have fewer demands on the fluid it is probably safe to extend that out to 50,000 or even 100,000 miles in some cases.

At Mountain Valley Motors we use high quality synthetic transmission fluids and gear oils. We stock a wide variety of fluids and filters for specific applications. We can check your transmission and make recommendations about proper service intervals based on how you use your vehicle.

Timing Belt Replacement, Harrisonburg

When To Check Your Timing Belt & Chains

An often overlooked maintenance item on vehicles is the replacement of engine timing components on vehicles. Some vehicles are equipped with timing belts to drive the camshafts of the engine. Others have timing chains to accomplish the same purpose. The advantage of timing belts is that they run very quietly and efficiently under a wide variety of conditions. They are also easier to service and maintain. The disadvantage is that they require more regular replacement than timing chains. Most modern vehicle manufacturers who use timing belts have recommended replacement intervals of somewhere between 60,000 and 120,000 miles and between 7 and 10 years.   Most timing chains are designed to not need preventative replacement for the life of the engine. However if a timing chain does fail the cost to repair it are much higher than the costs to replace a timing belt.

When either a timing belt or timing chain fails, the results can be catastrophic in terms of engine damage. If the camshafts and the crankshaft get out of time with each other, the valves can collide with the pistons causing very expensive damage to the engine. This is the reason why you don’t want to neglect or take shortcuts with your timing belt service. It is also recommended that you replace related components that run on the timing belt such as tensioners, pulleys, and water pumps.

Timing chains do not usually require regular scheduled replacement, but it is important to change your engine oil regularly as that is what lubricates the chain and pressurizes the tensioners on the chain. If your oil gets too thick or contaminated it can cause premature timing chain failure.   Also, warning signs of impending timing chain failure such as a clattering noise on start up or a rattle in the front of the engine while it is running should not be ignored.

At Mountain Valley Motors, we can advise you regarding the factory recommended replacement intervals for your vehicle. We also use only the highest quality belts and components from manufacturers like Dayco, Continental, and Gates.

How often should I change my oil?

One of the most common questions that we get asked is how often an oil change should be scheduled for a car. The answer is – it depends.

The first answer that many people are given is what their father or grandfather told them. “Of course you should change your oil every 3,000 miles.” The second most common answer, and usually a better answer is “Whatever the manufacturer recommends.” But that still doesn’t completely answer the question. Car manufacturer’s recommendations for oil change intervals (OCI) are often confusing and sometimes misleading. Manufacturer recommended intervals for an oil change range anywhere from 3,000 miles to over 15,000 miles for vehicles sold in the United States and so we are still back to “it depends.” Furthermore, manufacturers usually have a couple different recommended intervals based on how the vehicle is used and what environmental conditions it is driven in. And sometimes the manufacturer’s recommendations simply do not provide adequate protection for your vehicle in the real world.

Another variable that comes into play is the type or quality of oil and filter used. Not all oil and filters are created equal. Some are more satisfactory for longer OCI’s than others.

As you can see, there is no real simple answer to the question that we posed in the beginning. So what should you do? A properly maintained vehicle will cost less to operate over the long haul and have fewer breakdowns and unexpected failures. The experienced staff at Mountain Valley Motors will be happy to assist you in developing a customized preventative maintenance plan for your vehicle based on your driving habits and environment. We have the experience and knowledge to help you make informed decision about how best to care for your car. Call us today!