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Check engine light diagnostic

July 2011

My check engine light went on and the mechanic wants to charge an hour of labor for the diagnostic. I need to save that money for the actual problem - whatever it is - does anyone know somewhere/someone that will do the diagnostic for free? preferably close to Alameda/Oakland. thanks!


You don't say what kind of car you have -- and I'm not sure if what I'm about to recommend applies to all cars -- but I know that with my Honda Accord, when the 'check engine light' goes on, it usually means that the gas cap has not been sufficiently tightened after getting gas! I would check that first before paying anyone for a 'diagnostic'. Take your gas cap off and after closing it, let it 'screech' about 3 more turns. The light doesn't go off right away, but may take as many as 3-4 times of starting the engine (I don't do this all at once -- just the natural times I start my car). Cross your fingers that's all it is. Honda owner
I recommend XYZ Motors on 30th& Broadway in Oakland. They did a free diagnostic when the check engine light came on in our old car, then advised us where to buy the needed part online for hundreds of dollars less. We then had them install the part, for much less than it would have been at the dealer. We went back again after the dealer quoted us $1800 to repair the A/C in our 2nd car. They were able to fix everything for less than $400. I can't recommend these guys highly enough! Their number is (510) 835-8882. terri

Someone to assess car before I buy

Feb 2010

Hi, Looking for a car mechanic who can assess a used car before I buy. Someone thorough, honest, reliable, customer-oriented. If he/she is good I will likely continue to use him/her for repairs in the future. Thank you. anon


I REALLY like our mechanic, Daniel Santos at RC Imports on Fairmount in El Cerrito. We've been going to Daniel for years with an old, old Acura, and we trust on his honest opinions for assuring safety while also giving us the best value.

He also recently helped us evaluate a used car for a friend. If an item could fall into the ''deferred maintenance'' column, he'll let us know. But if there's a potentially dangerous condition, he won't compromise.

Best of all, RC Imports is right next to El Cerrito Plaza BART for handy drop-offs and commuting. Call 526-8084. Highly recommended! Jeff


Hi, I would go go Henry's Service--1321 Gilman Street, Albany, CA 94706, (510) 524-2072. This is a family business and they are excellent at what they do and extremely honest. I have been going to them for 5 years after someone recommended them and won't go to anyone else. There has been a few times that I took my car in for minor issues and I had to insist that they actually charge me for their time. Now that is rare these days! anon
John Wozniak at Fairmount Auto on Fairmount St. just north of El Cerrito Plaza. He's been caring for our cars for 5+ years and has never steered us wrong. When we wanted to buy a used car, we took it to him to look over. He was very thorough and found a minor problem that enabled us to talk the seller down $300. He told us ''99% of the used cars people bring me to look over are no good but you should buy this one, it's in great shape and a bargain.'' He was right. Two years later the car is still doing great, zero problems. I think he would tell you honestly if the car you want to buy is a lemon. The seller was also impressed with his look-over and was going to start to take her other car to him too! I can't recall the exact price for the look-over, but it was very thorough and somewhere around $100. Worth the price. Also, we've found that as regular customers, John goes above and beyond for us. Great service. anon

Typical auto minor and major check-up schedule?

Nov 2009

I would like some advices from someone who knows a lot about car maintenance, and how frequently I should bring my cars to the services. I own two Toyota cars (1999 Rav 4, manual stick, and 2007 Sienna, auto.) Lately I have been receiving the fliers from my Toyota service centers to tell me that it is time for 5,000 mile service, (or every 6 months.)

Having services done every 5,000 miles seem too frequent to me, as I also do oil change every 3,000 to 4,000 miles. I don't remember it was recommended to do so so frequently in the past. My understanding was to do the check up every 10,000 miles or so. However, I am not so knowledgeable about car maintenance, so I am worried if I am not taking care of my cars well, or if there is anything changing about auto maintenance recommendation.

Could you educate me what would be a sufficient way to maintain my car, and how often I should bring my cars to the services? Thank you. Mika


If you don't still have it, track down the recommended maintenance manual that came with the cars. You might be able to find it on the internet, or the dealership might be able to give you one. I have been following this manual instead of what is suggested by the mainteance or oil change shop - in fact, I started having my car maintained by the dealership because I got tired of the oil change shop pressuring me to agree to all kinds of services that I did not feel were absolutely necessary. I was just in the dealership shop yesterday, and had to have a lot of work done - as recommended by the manuel - because our car is high mileage - BUT I noticed that for the next 15,000 miles, the maintenance manuel only recommends an oil change and tire rotation every 5,000 miles (and having all fluid levels checked). So I guess from my ''experience'', no, you don't need maintenance every 5,000 miles, usually just an oil change and tire rotation. OHH and the oil change shop also told me an oil change HAD to be done every 3,000 miles - apparently not. I feel much more comfortable walking into shop with the manuel and saying ''this is what I NEED done''. It definately takes the pressure off. anon
The every 5,000 mile service IS for an oil change! (and they check a few things) So if you are getting your oil changes elsewhere, just bring the car in every 10K miles. Or stop getting the oil changes somewhere else and bring it in to the dealer every 5K. Happy Toyota owner
Hi Mike - My husband, Sal Abbate, is a mechanic and suggests using the Car Care Council's service schedule. You can find it here: http://www.carcare.org/consumers/service-schedule. Cars are often a person's second largest expenditure (after housing) so it makes sense to keep them up. Sal says that many larger issues can be avoided by making sure that your cars fluids are properly filled, tires are at the correct pressure, and belts are in good shape and not allowed to break. Auto On The Go is hosting a Car Care Seminar on January 30 - you might be interested in it. Register at www.autoonthego.com. Hope this helps! Jane
I work at a service station. For cars that are driven hard there is no telling how often they need to be brought in. They could have skipped the recommended maintenance but the risk of a breakdown increased. Some of those hard-driven cars needed the recommended service and some didn't. Many of those drivers spent a lot of money and still didn't have peace of mind. There was always something else that could break down.

None of the gently driven cars needed anything at that schedule. The driver could have skipped that and saved a lot of money. With our cars this is what we practice: oil changes every 5K or so (not 3-4K !), check the tires with a good tire gauge, check the fluid levels, and take them in only if they present a problem of some kind, or need something obvious, i.e., tires, brakes. But we do drive them gently. They have gone for 45-65K without need of repair. There is no magic to it: driving sensibly and calmly will give you impressive savings on maintenance and fuel costs.

Shop around and also try an indep mechanic. If you leave it up to the dealer they will want you to visit every 5K for the rest of the car's life. A lot of money is made on that. Especially for new cars there is no reason to bring it in every 5-10K, or even 20K. Why buy a newer car if it needs that much care? The dealer where I work uses this as a way of getting people addicted

Don't forget to register with toyota to be notified of recalls which should be of no cost to you, and done at the dealer.

The best shop is the one that tells you to skip some things thereby saving money. After shopping around over the years, we found one (Oceanworks in Berkeley) but I am sure there are other shops out there. frugal service advisor


Mechanic to evaluate a used car purchase

March 2009

Hello, This is a second time I am buying a used car. THe first time I have not used a mechanic since the car I bought was from a friend. I really dont want to experience again for having so many problems buying a used car. So my husband told me to find a mechanic that can take a look at the car before buying it. Has anybody done this before? Can you please give me a recommendations / information in buying a used car? I considered myself new to the area - good recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Yes, mechanics do this all the time. We live in Berkeley but bought a used car in Hayward where we didn't know any mechanics. I found one near the place that was selling the car through the CSAA website. (www.csaa.com, I think.) You don't need to be a AAA member to use the website. In our particular case we were looking at a salvaged vehicle and wanted a mechanic who was very local so they'd be familiar with all the tricks that car rebuilders may try in order to cut corners. Happy used car owner
I am responding to the person looking for a good mechanic to check out a used car for them. I go to Berkeley Motor Works on San Pablo Ave near Solano Ave. The repair shop is run by a husband and wife team that are very helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. The mechanics are well trained and have performed car inspections in the past for costumers. They have always given me great service without an outrageous bill in the end. They also do the little extras that make doing business there a pleasure like vacuuming my car out before returning it to me. Heather

Solid repair shop in Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda

Jan 2009

I need to give my not-oft driven Geo Prism at good tune up! It's 14 years old, so I don't want to spend too much money but would like recommendations on solid auto repair shops in Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda areas Thanks! mindy


Call Bridgeway in Berkeley (by Claremont Hotel) - (510) 549-0234. My family has been taking cars there for literally decades and Steve has never steered us wrong. Between my extended family we must currently take about six cars there. He will always give you solid advice and you wont' spend any more than necessary. Don't be overly cheap or you won't have a safe car. You can read his reviews online and you'll hear the same from others. Fan of Steve!
I love Precision People's Car Repair in Berkeley (just off San Pablo near Gilman/REI). Ken never made me feel stupid for not understanding cars, he was fair in his fees, didn't do unnecessary repairs, and really cared about quality. Very good guy, good hires, good place to take a car. Talia
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