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Thread: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

  1. #1
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    Default Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    From previous threads, I know there are quite a few knowledgeable CPF car mechanics so I'll post here what I posted in a Saturn car forum.

    When leaving work tonight, my Saturn 2002 SL1 automatic cranked over longer then it should before starting then immediately stalled. Started it up again and left work. Drove into supermarket parking lot about three or four miles away and when I slowed down because the car in front of me stopped it stalled again. Started it up again and drove the rest of the way home about 15 miles, without incident including a bit of stop and go traffic at a couple of lights.

    Any guesses what might have caused this? Do you think I might have gotten lucky and it was some stuck dirt in the fuel line or do you think it maybe signs of a fuel pump starting to go, or something else. When I got home, I had about a third of a tank of gas left but filled the remainder up with premium. Do failing fuel pumps tend to die at once or experience intermittentcy.
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    That kind of intermittent stuff is the toughest to find and fix. It'll drive you crazy.

    You didn't mention the "check engine" light, so I assume it didn't light up. That doesn't mean that error codes aren't stored in the car's brain. Usually, a good auto parts store will read it for you: if not prepare to get ripped for some $$ by a dealer or mechanic. Another option is to buy a code reader from Harbor Freight for $40 or so and do it yourself. Those cheap HF readers work fine, I've had one over a year and probably read over 15 vehicles with it.

    My first thought is as yours -- fuel problem. Don't know the Saturn system, but the filter, pump and gauge sender are probably a single assembly in the fuel tank. Which means the fuel tank must be emptied and dropped to replace any of it. Now aren't you glad that you filled up?

    If you decide to take it on yourself, you might consider buying an Alldata subscription www.alldata.com . Cost $20 first year and provides way more and better info than the commonly available DIY manuals.

    Keep us posted. Hope this is a short thread.

    BTW - if your fuel filter is the inline type, replace it first. Just a few $$ and could very well be the problem. It's also possible you have an accumulation of water from condensation, since your weather is getting cooler. A bottle of fuel treatment that disperses water is not expensive and won't cause any harm.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    First of all, as a fellow Saturn owner you have my sympathies...

    +1 to everything BIGIRON said above. Excellent advice. I've got a few comments about my Saturn (a 1994 SC2) that may relate to your problem. I'm not sure how different the engines are, so keep in mind this may or may not apply.

    For the Check Engine light, there's a trick to reading the codes by inserting a paper clip in the port under the dash. The Check Engine light will blink out the diagnostic code. Check the Saturn forums or a repair manual for details. I don't know if it works on the newer computers, so you may need the code reader anyway.

    My fuel filter is inline, located near the engine. It's also something I won't change myself, as it's too tight for me to get in there.

    As for your current problem, there are lots of causes, but I've had the exact same thing happen to me, sometimes without throwing the Check Engine light. My car is a manual, and I'd feel it buck when driving. When I put the clutch down, the car would stall. Because I'm still moving I could put it back in gear and automatically restart. An automatic can't do that, so you'll have to coast in Neutral and restart it. This problem has been caused by a sticking EGR valve. There's a little plunger in there that goes up and down. It gets all gummed up with deposits are starts to stick. I've been able to remove the EGR valve (it's right on top of the engine and held in with only 2 bolts and an electrical connector) and clean it with carb cleaner. Or you could buy a new one and replace it just as easily. I'd hold off on buying and replacing parts until you get a valid engine code, but the cleaning is quick and cheap.

    As for my sympathy comment earlier, I've got 158K on the car and it's still going strong. I really like the car, but absolutely HATE the company. That's not for this thread, but deal with them long enough and they'll screw you over too.


    Good luck!
    Who knows...

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Hey Big Mike, I've had so-so luck with the car and mixed feelings towards the dealership. For the most part except for when they put the oil filter over I tend to believe a previous stuck gasket from the old filter and it leaked like a sieve so I was down to less then a quart before I realized that (they said the seal on the current filter was bad), I believe the service department has provided very good service and accurately diagnosed my problems. However, it's been terrible, terrible expensive. They charged $540 to replace an intake manifold gasket and charged the what they said book 5.5 hours labor at $85 per yet the job took less then three hours. I know probably some techs are more experienced and faster then others but that and another instance makes me tend to believe Saturn sure pads the book labor rate for jobs. Maybe all dealers are like that.

    Anyhow here is a post from the first Saturn response which seems knowledgeable. I just went out and started the car after it has been sitting for a few hours and it started fine. I'm nervous though in that I hope these intermittent stall problems mainly only happen at low rpms as I don't want to be on my morning commute in the third lane of a busy interstate when this happens.

    "Fuel pump usually give you some clues that they're wearing out. Things like surging on the highway or under a load. Same for fuel filters. It's easy enough to check with a $15.00 fuel pressure gauge.

    If the car stalled, there should be a stall code in the computer. Though, if it didn't set a light, it may not be there. This is where a scanner that can read a datastream can come in real handy.

    It may be nothing more than a dirty throttle body or dirty idle air control valve, which is a pretty simple fix.

    I doubt that it's dirt in the injectors, or at least not dirt that magically got out of the injector and fixed itself. The pintel is very tiny and it would have to affect all the injectors to cause a stall."


    I have no idea what a dirty throttle body or dirty idle air control valve is and if it's easy to check.
    Last edited by geepondy; 09-28-2007 at 09:36 PM.
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Another good thing about Alldata is that they give you approximate part cost and the book time for a repair.

    I tend to agree that charging book rates seems like a real ripoff, but I have a friend, whom I trust, who owns an indy garage. His position is that some of the jobs get screwed up and take way more than the book time, so by charging by the book it kind of evens out. Sort of a crap shoot for the customer and a safety net for the garage.

    I disagree that a fuel pump will usually give warning other than bushing noise (if it's in the tank). You can literally hear it making a strained, whirring noise. Sometimes. Usually a pump either works or it doesn't.

    I don't particularly buy the dirty throttle body idea or idle air control valve either -- that's usually just a profit point for dealer maintence. They would only be noticeable at cold start or idle. A concentrate fuel cleaner will take care of the throttle body (Techron Concentrate - make sure it's the concentrate at about $9 bottle - the regular is not as effective). You can test the idle air control valve just by disconnecting it. If the engine changes speed or smoothness, it's not the valve.

    The clogged EGR valve or tube would cause roughness, particularly at idle and from the foregoing post, seems to have the potential to cause a stall. If it's easily accessible clean it up and see what happens.

    There's so many problem possibilities with a modern engine that the computer is really the best way.

    Good luck. Start simple and cheap if you take it on yourself. This stuff can make you crazy.
    Last edited by BIGIRON; 09-28-2007 at 10:18 PM.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Same thing happened to me. A vacuum hose came loose. Check for a small black rubber hose that's not connected to it's home and plug it back in. In my case the hose was worn through and needed replacement. $12 later I was back on the road.


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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I just got my truck back from getting the idle air control valve cleaned. It cranked as ran fine, but it would sometimes die @ idle. Also, idle was 200-300 rpm low.

    Was cheap fix. Cost $59 for the cleaning.
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Just a few random thoughts.

    Forgive me if I missed this, but was the weather wet or very humid? Bad plug wires can do this in the wet. Easy to check -- in the dark or near dark, pop the hood and with the engine running spray a mist (do NOT drench the engine) over the engine. If you see a funky little lightning storm it means it's time for new spark plug wires or possibly other ignition parts.

    The old rule of thumb in the days before engine diagnostics was, "If you think it's fuel, it's really electrical," and vice versa. An engine monitor download is a good idea but if you don't have that option, expand your thinking when looking for the source of the problem.

    If it was really hot out it could have been simple vapor lock.

    Another thought for older cars is that an electrical ground could be starting to fail.

    Fuel problems can be a complete PITA to run down without a computer. However, it's usually pretty cheap to change out the in line filter, run some Castle Fireball Plus or other another good injector/fuel system cleaner (but follow the instructions carefully), and so on. Also, it's always good preventive medicine to run decent quality gas (not necessarily higher octane) and to be careful to not fill up when the station has the tanker truck in sight since refilling the station tanks stirs up all sorts of crud that might make it through their filters.

    Hope this helps & good luck.
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    Default Same car, same symptoms, here's what it was:

    Been there, done that! Check your battery's charge level. Autozone has a device that will test your battery, as well as your alternator output, at no charge. They should also be able to retrieve and interpret trouble codes from your computer. Also, check your battery terminals for corrosion and build-up. I've had all kinds of interesting behaviors resulting from dirty terminals.

    I have a 2001 Saturn SL2. I had exactly the same symptoms a while back. Turned out, my wife left the dome light on for several hours a few nights before. After charging the battery, the car behaved normally. Oddly, the battery can be partially depleted, which will cause the stalling problem, while still having enough juice to start the car.


    Based on what you've described, I don't think it's your EGR. I replaced the EGR valve on my Saturn last year, and when the old one failed, the symptoms went way beyond occasional stalling. It lit the check-engine light and caused dramatic performance problems such as 2000+ rpm idling, loss of power, and running rough. Autozone retrieved the trouble codes for me, and EGR was at the top of the list.

    Alternators are not designed to charge a flat battery. They are intended to replace the power that is used to start your car. If you ever suspect you've severely depleted your battery, you should charge it using a dedicated charger that runs off an A/C power source as soon as possible. Autozone can do that too. Also, automotive batteries are not intended to be severely depleted. Running a car battery flat, and then letting your alternator try to recharge it will shorten the lives of both components.

    Good luck. I hope this helps.
    Last edited by jnj1033; 09-29-2007 at 01:13 AM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    hard starting from cold and stalling during warmup could be the imfamous coolant temp sensor.very common on saturns.they are plastic and crack letting coolant inside.
    then it lies to the ecm.

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    Default Re: Same car, same symptoms, here's what it was:

    Very difficult to troubleshoot in this manner, codes would help greatly. I'm not sure how handy you are with cars but lots of times just checking the basic things will fix the problem. A manual isn't very expensive and will tell you what to check and when to check it and some of the tools you will need also. My Oldsmobile went haywire and it was the Throttle Position Sensor. When it goes south the computer doesn't know where the throttle is. I'd check for codes and look for the simple things first, some of which are listed above. Get a manual and then you can proceed to your level. One final note, be careful with the ignition system on these newer cars. They are HIGH powered and can really zap you. Let us know what you find out.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    To reply to some of the useful suggestions, weather was fine, also plug wires just replaced two months ago. I'm going to take a look at it this afternoon and also go to autozone to see if they have a code reader I can use even though it didn't throw a code.
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Well I went out and bought a bottle of Techron concentrate today. It along with the many other brands of fuel cleaners say to put the contents in a nearly empty tank. Mine is nearly full, do you think it matters if I put it in now or should I wait for the tank to get low which will take a week. The car didn't stall on me during afternoon errand runs.

    I was observing the idle rpms today. It was above 1k when first started but then in drive or once warmed up, it would drop down to roughly 800 but sometimes would drop down to 600. Is this normal do you think? The 600 seemed pretty low although as mentioned it didn't stall.
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Not having a bottle in front of me (where have I read that before?) I seem to remember a recommendation of adding a bottle to 12 or 16 gallons. If that's the case, that's probably about what you have in your tank. I'd think putting a bottle in 30 gallons would dilute it too much and putting a bottle in 6 gallons or so, while it might clean very effectively, wouldn't clean for long.

    I might be totally off on this, but I've always felt it better not use the cleaner when your going to run through a tank quickly, like when on a roadtrip or put it in the tank when you're going to be parked for awhile. Theory is that if it sits too long, much of the stuff will vaporize (assuming it's basically a solvent) and if you run it through without stopping, you won't get the full cleaning effect. I always try to use it when I'll be doing regular around town driving for a few days. Just my thinking.

    The change in idle speed is interesting, assuming the engine is at operating temp and all other things are equal. And assuming you're not having an a/c cycling. This is where the troubleshooting section of a manual can help. I'll check and see if any I have can offer suggestions.
    Last edited by BIGIRON; 09-29-2007 at 03:43 PM.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I looked thru a couple of manuals for gas engines that cover 2002 models and, basically, I come up with "all the above". Just about everything mentioned in previous posts shows up for consideration.

    BTW - correct idle speed should be listed on the underhood label dealing with the emissions system.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I should have clarified myself more. The instructions say to put the cleaner in an empty tank and then fill up. Mine is already full so I wonder if it's ok to do it now or should I wait until the tank is empty again. I would imagine it would get into the the system quicker if you put it in first before the gas which is why they say that but I wonder how much of a difference it would really make.
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    No problem. It would just mix more thoroughly and quickly that way. Go for it, it'll mix completely anyway.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Hey the car is definitely running peppier with a smoother power curve. Is it the 93 octane gas after never using it before or the bottle of Techron fuel system cleaner?
    I live in a van down by the river

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    My Dads now gone '91 F150 had a screwy idle and some other goofy issues and cleaning the throttle body made ALL the difference! It was carboned up.
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Both
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Probably both. The big boys say that using premium in a vehicle not designed for it makes no difference but I think it does. May be wishful thinking, but every now when a tank is mostly empty I'll put in 10 or 15 gallons of premium (can't afford a full tank!!).

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I think premium gas contains more detergents as well as octane
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I guess I take offense to some of the comments that has been made in this thread. I would like to educate some of the posters.

    I'd like to start with some of the info here could be what's wrong but some mentioned is flat out wrong and shows me why it's best to take it to someone who knows what they are doing.

    Let me introduce myself first....I have worked at a father son auto repair shop all my life. 20 + years. Im a technician not a mechanic. We are a two man shop that has a very good reputation and we are the oldest repair shop in our town. Other than the yellow pages we don't do any advertising and stay very busy from repeat customers and word of mouth.

    It is very hard to diagnose a car just because it was hard starting or died. To do so would just be guessing to say the least. As far as making comments about shops "ripping you off" to "read codes" is ridiculous. Our scan tool cost us $8000 and has two updates a year at $895 per update. Do you get the idea that our "code reader" does more than the $40 code reader? That's because a code reader is just that a code reader. Can't check ABS, transmission, airbag, or body control modules. Doesn't have Bi-directional controls for a lot of the systems on a car. Just because a car has a O2 code how do you know it's the O2 sensor? A number of factors could give a O2 code and not be related to the O2 sensor. You need to be able to look at the data stream to see the sensor values. You need to be trained & experienced to know what these readings mean. You need lab scopes to check these sensors so you know that's what it really needs. Do you know how many times we have had Autozone customers come to us that had their codes read and put on whatever part the code said to find out it wasn't that part at all?

    Our shop rate is $60. In no way are we making $60 an hour, but that's what the uneducated wants to think. We easily spend $800-$1000 a month on tools and equipment. Probably more if I where to figure it out. $1000's for shop insurance, can't forget about health insurance that goes up $100's per year. Property taxes $4000. Utilities that keep going up. Oh yea 1000's for training. Building expense. Plus two families that need to eat. I could name a lot more.

    As far as not understanding why shops go by flat rate. What other method could we use? Every car is different. The same make car from one year to the next can easily be different. I wouldn't know any other way it could be done.

    I do understand that there are a number of shops that aren't honest and maybe this is why some of you feel the way you do.
    Last edited by sbebenelli; 10-03-2007 at 02:06 PM.

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    Flashaholic* sbebenelli's Avatar
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I want to clarify that when I say uneducated I mean about this topic here. Not in general.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    I have used the $40 code readers with a degree of success. I do all my own repairs. I have read about people who have been charged lots of money for a simple repair. for example - my 98 VW had a code which indicated that the throttle body had reached it limit. Huh?? some people went to their local VW and spent $800 to have the repair done and code reset. Long story very short, I cleaned the carbon off the throttle body, disconnected the battery for 30 minutes, re-connected everything and the throttle body reset itself. Total time involved was about 1 hour to repair, probably an hour or so for research.

    I have been very fortunate in that a few friends are good mechanics. The few times I got stuck - they gave me some additional information to resolve the problem. These mechanics are also very honest and their customers return.

    Like any business - there are some that are honest, some that are not. With all the sensors and computer chips in cars, it can be very difficult to determine what the problem is. My experience has been that the sensors are usually the failing item. It is much harder to do 'driveway repairs'
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Hey Benelli -- you're obviously reaponding to some of my statements. First, let me say I don't see how you can survive on a $60 shop rate. I didn't think we'd seen that for 10 years or more.

    I do know how much it costs to run a repair business. I have a very close relationship with a second generation well-regarded indy shop - almost family. I, even now, work for them some when they are swamped.

    I believe a person should first take care of their own business. They don't need to come to you to tell them that their gas cap is loose when the check engine light is on. The $40 reader will do that. If that doesn't fix it, then they probably will benefit from your equipment and experience.

    You sound like you are a real exception to the rule. That's why I ALWAYS recommend an established indy shop rather than a dealer or franchise. And that's why I bet you have more business than you can handle.

    Now I'll wait for the dealers and franchisee's to jump on.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Quote Originally Posted by BIGIRON View Post
    Hey Benelli -- you're obviously reaponding to some of my statements. First, let me say I don't see how you can survive on a $60 shop rate. I didn't think we'd seen that for 10 years or more.

    I do know how much it costs to run a repair business. I have a very close relationship with a second generation well-regarded indy shop - almost family. I, even now, work for them some when they are swamped.

    I believe a person should first take care of their own business. They don't need to come to you to tell them that their gas cap is loose when the check engine light is on. The $40 reader will do that. If that doesn't fix it, then they probably will benefit from your equipment and experience.

    You sound like you are a real exception to the rule. That's why I ALWAYS recommend an established indy shop rather than a dealer or franchise. And that's why I bet you have more business than you can handle.

    Now I'll wait for the dealers and franchisee's to jump on.
    I appreciate your response. Our shop rate is in line with the other shops in town. Some are higher some are lower. The dealerships are higher of coarse.

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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Quote Originally Posted by sbebenelli View Post
    I guess I take offense to some of the comments that has been made in this thread. I would like to educate some of the posters.

    I'd like to start with some of the info here could be what's wrong but some mentioned is flat out wrong and shows me why it's best to take it to someone who knows what they are doing.

    Let me introduce myself first....I have worked at a father son auto repair shop all my life. 20 + years. Im a technician not a mechanic. We are a two man shop that has a very good reputation and we are the oldest repair shop in our town. Other than the yellow pages we don't do any advertising and stay very busy from repeat customers and word of mouth.

    It is very hard to diagnose a car just because it was hard starting or died. To do so would just be guessing to say the least. As far as making comments about shops "ripping you off" to "read codes" is ridiculous. Our scan tool cost us $8000 and has two updates a year at $895 per update. Do you get the idea that our "code reader" does more than the $40 code reader? That's because a code reader is just that a code reader. Can't check ABS, transmission, airbag, or body control modules. Doesn't have Bi-directional controls for a lot of the systems on a car. Just because a car has a O2 code how do you know it's the O2 sensor? A number of factors could give a O2 code and not be related to the O2 sensor. You need to be able to look at the data stream to see the sensor values. You need to be trained & experienced to know what these readings mean. You need lab scopes to check these sensors so you know that's what it really needs. Do you know how many times we have had Autozone customers come to us that had their codes read and put on whatever part the code said to find out it wasn't that part at all?

    Our shop rate is $60. In no way are we making $60 an hour, but that's what the uneducated wants to think. We easily spend $800-$1000 a month on tools and equipment. Probably more if I where to figure it out. $1000's for shop insurance, can't forget about health insurance that goes up $100's per year. Property taxes $4000. Utilities that keep going up. Oh yea 1000's for training. Building expense. Plus two families that need to eat. I could name a lot more.

    As far as not understanding why shops go by flat rate. What other method could we use? Every car is different. The same make car from one year to the next can easily be different. I wouldn't know any other way it could be done.

    I do understand that there are a number of shops that aren't honest and maybe this is why some of you feel the way you do.
    +1 I would pretty much agree with this. I wasn't sure how far to go with my comments but I know diagnosing without eguipment and not having the vehicle in front of you is pretty tough. I just didn't want to give the impression that the semi-skilled repair person couldn't repair anything without a shop. There are lots of things that basic maintenence and troubleshooting will take care of. It depends on a number of factors as you state. I wish I could buy a nice ALDL or a breakout box etc but its too much money. I hope he can fix his Saturn on his own. Just my 2 cents worth.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Thus far the car has not repeated the problem. It still was kind of scary, just stalling out of the blue. Luckily I was driving in a parking lot at Costco rather then cruising down the highway in the third lane of a busy four lane interstate. Like I said it wasn't running or idling rough before this happened and had just been thru a Saturn tuneup.
    I live in a van down by the river

  30. #30
    Flashaholic*
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
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    Massachusetts
    Posts
    4,857

    Default Re: Car stalled tonight, any guesses why?

    Sbebenelli, if my car ever breaks down in Iowa I'll look you up. You undercut the Saturn dealership by $25/hr. One thing I'm interested in and perhaps you can answer, is your book rate source the same as the dealers? Saturn charged me for 5.5 hours to change my intake manifold gasket which only took them three hours. If you ever have a chance maybe you could look up your book rate for the same job? It's an intake manifold gasket for a 2002 Saturn SL1, automatic transmission. I wish I knew a local mechanic I could trust.


    Quote Originally Posted by sbebenelli View Post
    I guess I take offense to some of the comments that has been made in this thread. I would like to educate some of the posters.

    I'd like to start with some of the info here could be what's wrong but some mentioned is flat out wrong and shows me why it's best to take it to someone who knows what they are doing.

    Let me introduce myself first....I have worked at a father son auto repair shop all my life. 20 + years. Im a technician not a mechanic. We are a two man shop that has a very good reputation and we are the oldest repair shop in our town. Other than the yellow pages we don't do any advertising and stay very busy from repeat customers and word of mouth.

    It is very hard to diagnose a car just because it was hard starting or died. To do so would just be guessing to say the least. As far as making comments about shops "ripping you off" to "read codes" is ridiculous. Our scan tool cost us $8000 and has two updates a year at $895 per update. Do you get the idea that our "code reader" does more than the $40 code reader? That's because a code reader is just that a code reader. Can't check ABS, transmission, airbag, or body control modules. Doesn't have Bi-directional controls for a lot of the systems on a car. Just because a car has a O2 code how do you know it's the O2 sensor? A number of factors could give a O2 code and not be related to the O2 sensor. You need to be able to look at the data stream to see the sensor values. You need to be trained & experienced to know what these readings mean. You need lab scopes to check these sensors so you know that's what it really needs. Do you know how many times we have had Autozone customers come to us that had their codes read and put on whatever part the code said to find out it wasn't that part at all?

    Our shop rate is $60. In no way are we making $60 an hour, but that's what the uneducated wants to think. We easily spend $800-$1000 a month on tools and equipment. Probably more if I where to figure it out. $1000's for shop insurance, can't forget about health insurance that goes up $100's per year. Property taxes $4000. Utilities that keep going up. Oh yea 1000's for training. Building expense. Plus two families that need to eat. I could name a lot more.

    As far as not understanding why shops go by flat rate. What other method could we use? Every car is different. The same make car from one year to the next can easily be different. I wouldn't know any other way it could be done.

    I do understand that there are a number of shops that aren't honest and maybe this is why some of you feel the way you do.
    I live in a van down by the river

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