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I've just moved from buffalo to northern jersey and my car's up for an oil change. Since I actually have some money I want to take care of some things my place back home (firestone) has been suggesting, but first I want to run the list by you guys to find out what I can do for cheaper, on my own, or what I should definitely have them look at:

Car specs:
2000 toyota rav 4, 4 cyl, 44k on it - inactive from mid-january 05 until mid may 05

Things the car might need:

brake rotors: had brake pads replaced in January, but the rotors weren't necessary at the time, he said to feel for "shuddering" and i've yet to feel that, ok right? there is a slight squeaking when i brake sometimes, but its not consistent. sounds like a faint "weeweeweeweewee"

battery replacement ($105 w/labor - interstate mtp35 - $89) - they said the battery clocked in at low - is this a result of it being inactive for those 4 months? it runs fine now...no lights come on - I tried to take it to an autozone but since I wasn't in the mood to have it taken out at the moment, they weren't able to check it.

Transmission fluid flush everwear ($100) - not sure when if ever this was done... should I get it done?

differential service ($85)
they said the system failed (but at the time, provided no details) but I declined service because of the cost - $25 for the fluid and $60 for the labor.

additionally - I just had an oil change at firestone/mastercase (yes I know these type of places aren't the best...but i had a $12.99 coup for it..) and in addition I have a lifetime alignment purchased through them. Before I got the oil change I was about 1500k over and perhaps it was my paranoia that caused me to notice when i started the car the oil indication light in the dash seemed to light up/linger when before it didnt. after the oil change, today, it seems the light behaves the same. i've heard some horror stories recently about firestone using old oil... to check it, i pull the stick when the engine is hot or cold?

is there ANYONE on here from Northern Jersey that has a reputable car mechanic, or knows where I might go to find one? I would take it to the dealer but their markup seems awfully high, but I've now staretd to mistrust firestone and the like...
 
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Okay, first order of business...

I don't know what your Firestones on the east coast are like, but here in the Midwest, they survive only by preying on novice car users such as yourself. While there might be an occasional legitimate mechanic among them, the vast majority of the time, taking your vehicle to Firestone is an astonishingly good way to destroy it. I have the distinct suspicion that they are paid by commission.

Let me give you an example of one of my experiences with Firestone recently.

I've mentioned the Demon Car Celebrity on here a couple of times, and it was a pain in the ass for every last bit of the six months I drove it. Still, it was a cheap car, and you get what you pay for. Well, I took the Demon Car to Firestone (since at that point we didn't know a good mechanic in town), and here's what they told me:

-Needs a new rack and pinion for $700
-Needs a new CV joint - $400
-Air Filter - $35
-Brake Pads - $50
-Alternator belt - $60
-Power steering belt - $40

Now, I'm no car expert, but I know a little bit about cars. Enough to get by passably, and enough to know when to take my car to a professional and when to fiddle with it myself. I also know when someone's a professional and when someone's attempting to blow smoke up my posterior, most of the time.

So, we started with the easiest question first: Why do the belts need replaced? Well, according to them, the belts have oil on them. Yay. Well, we figured it was a little oil, no big deal. We hadn't really had time or energy to check it out ourselves, and the car was new to us (since this point, and almost entirely because of the Demon Car, I have become both much better at mechanic-y stuff and I pay much more attention to what's going on under the hood... I also have invented many, many expletives regarding the familial origins of cars).

We replaced the air filter, but nothing else. There are reasons for that, but I'll get to most of them in a second. The secondary reason was that we were pressed for time.

So, during the three hour drive in the Demon Car, we discussed the problems they had told us about. They struck us as being very odd, and so the primary reason we hadn't replaced anything more was because we didn't trust Firestone at all. Both of us had a gut feeling that there was something inherently screwy about what they had told us. For starters, the brake pads had been replaced about a week earlier by a reliable mechanic my family's gone to for years. We knew they weren't bad.

Secondly, why would the belts have oil on them? They were squealing a bit, so we knew something was wrong with them, but we wanted to know why they had oil on them. Nothing on the list involved any oil leakage, after all, and as the trip wore on, it became increasingly obvious that there was something seriously funky going on with the belts.

We made it where we were going, but by the end of the trip, the car was screaming bloody murder constantly. Fortunately, the friends we were going to visit happen to know more about cars than we do, and so we decided to let them help us take a look under the hood to see what we were looking for, and how to fix it.

Turns out that there wasn't just oil on the belts. There was oil EVERYWHERE. It seems that in Firestone's amazing inspection of the engine that had revealed all those great and wonderful bits that needed replaced (and had taken two hours), they had somehow missed the fact that the valve cover gasket was more gone than present. The reason there was oil on the belts was because the oil from the engine itself was spraying out onto them.

Thus, we spent several more days in Oklahoma than we'd intended to, but we had access to our friend's father's garage, which made things much, much easier.

There are two morals to this story:

1) PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CAR. Look at it. Listen to it. Check under the hood. Go pretend you're looking for a new one so you can check under the hoods of others at car lots. Look at pictures here. Find out what your engine is supposed to look like, and what's normal for it to be doing or not doing, and if something changes, ask about it.

2) NEVER GO TO FIRESTONE. Find a reliable mechanic. Ask friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. until you find someone that both knows what they're doing and will treat you well, both in terms of customer service and price. It may take a while, but it's well worth the effort. My recommendation is to take your car in when it's in perfect condition, and say, "I need my alternator replaced."

Tell them to call you with an estimate before they replace it. If they want to replace your alternator, or if they tell you they did without calling first, then don't ever go there again. You might pick a less expensive part, though. Alternators can be easily tested, though, and around here, an O'Reilly's will do it for free. If they call you to say that they tested it and it doesn't need replaced, you've found your mechanic.

Oh, and as for the other "problems" Firestone found?

-Rack and pinion? No. It was actually that one of the hoses on the power steering pump wasn't connected quite right. Fixed for about $15.
-New CV joint? Not according to two other reliable mechanics (one my old one, and the other my new one).
-Alternator and Power Steering belts? A total of $50 for the whole deal, doing it ourselves, including a Chilton's manual, a valve cover gasket, black valve cover gasket goop stuff, both belts, spark plug wires, and a bit of wire-cored weed-eater cord to tie the spark plug wires up to the brackets that originally held them, whose ends had been baked to brittleness and shattered when we tried to get the wires out of them.
 

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*sigh* pretty much as i expected.

luckily the laundry list of things i needed done came from the one back in buffalo - last night's excursion out to firestone only warranted a vague mention of replacing the air filter - nothing more, surprise surprise! but still...yes I need a mechanic of my own.

I do hope someone responds not just about the ills of firestone, but about the actual things I was told I needed - I like idea of going in and saying "I think I need new rotors" (which I'm pretty sure I dont...they're smooth) and telling them to check first, report back with price quotes and then see where it goes.

oy. i try so hard to care for my car, i really do.
 
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One thing I'd recommend, in particular, concerning your laundry list of stuff is replacing the battery yourself. It's insanely easy, usually only requires a crescent wrench or a screwdriver (or occasionally both) on any car, and it's a lot cheaper that way.

Getting a good battery is pretty easy, and you get to pick the one you get. Go to your local auto parts store or battery place (I choose O'Reilly's, because they're close, acceptably priced, and their return policy is good). Depending on the one you choose, the staff could be really helpful or not much help at all.

Choose a battery that fits you. Even in a place where the staff isn't very helpful otherwise, they tend to know what the batteries do, because lots of people buy them. Just tell them the make and model of your RAV, and they should be able to tell you which will do fine in it. Honestly, it'll likely be most of them that will do fine.

RAVs take the normal, top-post batteries (meaning the wires attach at the top), so they're even easy to get at to take off. I haven't checked yet to see if there's anything holding it down, but likely that won't take much effort to undo. Just remove the wiring to the battery via the bolts on the side where they attach to the battery itself (be careful, but it's not particularly dangerous).
 
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Oh, and another benefit of doing the simple stuff like the battery yourself... particularly at O'Reilly's, if the battery gets drained for whatever reason, it'll have a warranty on it (that's the biggest part of the choice for which battery to choose, really). It'll be one, two, or three years, usually. Within that time, you can haul the battery in to be recharged or replaced if it goes dead. The Demon Car's battery ended up having to be recharged about once a week, toward the end. it's kinda sad when the guy sees you and starts walking to the recharger to meet you.

If you go through somebody else to replace the battery, you have to have them take it in. At O'Reilly's, and probably at other places, recharging the battery's free if it's still under warranty, so you don't have to pay the other person the labor to get the battery recharged.
 

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Re: a bunch of questions from a car novice (but i love my RA

dustball said:
brake rotors: had brake pads replaced in January, but the rotors weren't necessary at the time, he said to feel for "shuddering" and i've yet to feel that, ok right? there is a slight squeaking when i brake sometimes, but its not consistent. sounds like a faint "weeweeweeweewee"
My 2000 RAV (51k miles) is doing the exact same thing. Usually on braking there's a squeaksqueaksqueak coming from the right rear wheel. It has drums back there and my guess is that the drum needs to be machined. It'll be going into the shop later this month and I'll definitely have this taken care of.

dustball said:
battery replacement ($105 w/labor - interstate mtp35 - $89) - they said the battery clocked in at low - is this a result of it being inactive for those 4 months? it runs fine now...no lights come on - I tried to take it to an autozone but since I wasn't in the mood to have it taken out at the moment, they weren't able to check it.
Have it checked again if you're not sure--if the battery isn't holding a charge well now, it'll be even worse in colder weather and you'll wish you had it replaced. Batteries only last a few years anyway. I would get this replaced if there's any question.

dustball said:
Transmission fluid flush everwear ($100) - not sure when if ever this was done... should I get it done?
differential service ($85)
I bought my RAV used and I couldn't tell whether the previous owner had paid attention to fluids other than oil changes, so I read up in the manual on what other fluids needed to be changed out.

In Canada, anyway, the interval for changing the auto transmission fluid as well as the engine coolant is every three years or 48k km (30k miles). For the rear differential fluid and transfer case fluid, it's every four years or 64k km (40k miles).

I had those four fluids changed, plus an oil change, for the equivalent of US$170 at the dealer last March.
 

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The rotors thing, a local rip-off place got me on that many years ago when I didn't know better. Another place tried it again later and that time I knew better. My brakes were fine. Now I go to a local brake and muffler place where my hubby and I are friends with the owner (we do their computer work, they do our brakes and mufflers). If you do need rotors resurfaced or replaced, chances are you'll know it, or at the very least you'll know that some kind of a problem really exists.

The battery, if for some reason you don't want to do it yourself, believe it or not Wal-Mart has some perfectly respectable batteries in the range of $30-40, and they install them free. Get the one with the highest CCA and you'll be fine.

The diff and tranny, check the owner's maintenance manual and it should tell you the intervals for having these done. (I'm making an assumption on the tranny as I have a manual tranny, but I know it tells when to do the diff).

If you know a GOOD, REPUTABLE Toyota dealer near you, you might consider going there for service, or at least for diagnostics. It's true their service is pricier than local shops, but if you don't know a reputable local shop, at least you know a reputable Toyota dealer won't lie to you about what needs doing. For example, one time I had my '96 Rav in for an oil change and they noted that my battery was very low (which I knew anyway, I was planning on getting a battery before winter because the OEM one I had was 7 years old). They asked if I wanted them to replace it...for I think $120!!! I thanked them for letting me know but respectfully declined and got the battery at Wal-Mart for $40, and all was well.

My Firestone story: About 15 or 16 years ago I had taken my car there for something, I think an oil change. Got it back and quickly noticed that the A/C suddenly didn't get cold anymore. I had never had the slightest problem with it before and the car was maybe a year or two old. Being too young and stupid to connect the dots, I took it back there for A/C service. SURPRISE, I had a hole in my A/C system. Gee, can't imagine how that got there. :roll: I can't believe how uninformed I was!

Becky
 
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First off, I have never even heard of Firestone, at least outside of the tires. However, if they use the reconstituted oil like Wal-Mart, it is really bad for your car. For one thing, it is thinner. It doesn't do its job. AND IT IS FREAKIN ALREADY USED! Its like drinking someone else's urine, you do it if you had to, but avoid it at all costs otherwise. (Its actually a survival trick, but that is a whole diferent conversation entirely).

Next, when you had the brakes done, did they Machine the rotors so that th rotors would mate to the new pads?

The squeal, at least with mine ('98 AWD auto) is caused by the use of cheap pads. The brake dust will build up on the rotor and will squeal when your brake. To avoid this, get low dust brakes, like ceramics (which come in different grades, and all that depends on the manufacturer). Do not get the standard brakes from Midas, they only make it worse. I personally reccomend Raybestos. I have a pair of their high-end street brakes, and they work great, and are extremely low dust. They cost around 70 a pair.

Battery, def. do your self. All you need is a socket or wrench, and you are good to go, super easy, and takes like 5 - 10 mins.

Tranny fluid, check it for color and floating particles. For that matter check all your fluids (i.e. brake, steering). Last time I was at a Toyota dealer they showed me exactly how to tell (which I have since forgotten), and this is a great thing to know. Each fluid has its own specfic color it should be, and if it isn't well, change it. Flushes can be expensive, but I def. noticed a difference in the performance of mine after I did it.


The oil level indicated by the light can be do to several factors. Garde of oil, temprature of oil, and level of oil. If the oil is extremely cold, it may take longer for it to rise to the point it is running through the whole system. Thicker oils take longer also. And if there is lower levels of oil, that will do it. Personally, mine burns oil (which yours may do also, just at a lesser rate), so I watch the light, and when it gets to a certain point, I know I need more oil. To check the oil, make sure the car has been sitting for awhile. If the engine is warm, it will lead to a reading of more oil than there really is. As for 1500 over the change, oh well, it won't harm anything. And a few people on here will disagree, but todays oils are formulated to last just a little bit longer. I reccomend (as do the car talk guys) that you go somewhere in the 4000 to 5000 mile range.

As for mechanics, sorry, can't help, I live in Northern Michigan. I can offer three tips. Part one, Toyota dealers know Toyota vehicles, there is something to be said about that, and they have better access to OEM parts, always a plus. Tip 2, ask around. Talk to friends/neighbors/co-workers. Esspecially ask any who drive a Rav, Toyota, or japanese make car. Once again, competance on the vehicle is everything. There are mechanics in the area I live in who could do anything and everything to a Toyota, and some who can't figure out that metric is a whole different system of measurement. Really, I have shops here that out-right refuse it because it is a Toyota. Third peice of advice, drive around and look to see what they have in their parking lot. If they have alot of toyotas, or japanese cars, chances are, they are good at them. And a little side hint that works for me, when you go in to talk, hint that you would like to make a good customer/mechanic relationship. They want your business. They want to see you coming back. THis means they will do a good job, and will be trustworthy. Repeat business is always good business (unless it is for the same reason every time).

Ahter that, getting a good manual for the Rav, like a haynes (I personally reccomend), is a good idea. It has step by step on how to do everything, and I mean everything. Really, at $20, it pays itself off wuick. If nothing else, it gives you a good idea what to llok for so you don't get cheated by a mechanic.

Hope my short novel here helps ya.
 

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SZRimaging said:
First off, I have never even heard of Firestone, at least outside of the tires. However, if they use the reconstituted oil like Wal-Mart, it is really bad for your car. For one thing, it is thinner. It doesn't do its job. AND IT IS FREAKIN ALREADY USED! Its like drinking someone else's urine, you do it if you had to, but avoid it at all costs otherwise. (Its actually a survival trick, but that is a whole diferent conversation entirely).
I have been to 2 walmarts in 2 diffrent states and everytime they pulled the bottles of oil right off the shelf, or they have had me pull it for them. I know because I every other change I got a half bottle of unused oil I brought back the next time so I would pay 5 gal, 4 gal, 5 gal....etc.

Maybe it's because I used synthetic but I'm curious where the proof of these claims are.
 
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When you go, do you get the cheapest change possible? If you get the cheap one, (like 13 dollars or something) you get the reconditioned oil. The proof is all over the place. Just look for it on the net. Now, this is not to say you don't pay a higher price to get real oil in yours, in which case, I just hope the people that work at yours are better than mine.
 

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SZRimaging said:
When you go, do you get the cheapest change possible? If you get the cheap one, (like 13 dollars or something) you get the reconditioned oil. The proof is all over the place. Just look for it on the net. Now, this is not to say you don't pay a higher price to get real oil in yours, in which case, I just hope the people that work at yours are better than mine.
After 15 minutes of Google searching variations of "Walmart, Wal-Mart, sells, oil, used, reconditioned.. " I have yet to find one reference to this.

Could you please post a link?
 
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Hmmm...I may have to admit defeat on the reconstituted oil (although I have had 5 seperate techs point it out to me, all at different shops). I did find so many people who had damage to their car that I would wonder why you would trust them in the first place.

Fact: the training to become a tech in the auto service center is watching a video. Thats it.

I have had oil underfilled from a walmart. My friends tire fell off. Search the net and there is a whole list of others. If you value your Rav at all, never go to walmart, or if you do, make sure the guy in the pit at least knows what he is doin. It may be cheap, but in the long run, it pays to not be so cheap.
 

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SZRimaging said:
Hmmm...I may have to admit defeat on the reconstituted oil (although I have had 5 seperate techs point it out to me, all at different shops). I did find so many people who had damage to their car that I would wonder why you would trust them in the first place.

Fact: the training to become a tech in the auto service center is watching a video. Thats it.

I have had oil underfilled from a walmart. My friends tire fell off. Search the net and there is a whole list of others. If you value your RAV at all, never go to walmart, or if you do, make sure the guy in the pit at least knows what he is doin. It may be cheap, but in the long run, it pays to not be so cheap.
I didn't say I go there regularly, I know all the horror stories and I know training = short video. I have just used them in the past with other cars.
 

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SZRimaging said:
Hmmm...I may have to admit defeat on the reconstituted oil (although I have had 5 seperate techs point it out to me, all at different shops). I did find so many people who had damage to their car that I would wonder why you would trust them in the first place.

Fact: the training to become a tech in the auto service center is watching a video. Thats it.

I have had oil underfilled from a walmart. My friends tire fell off. Search the net and there is a whole list of others. If you value your RAV at all, never go to walmart, or if you do, make sure the guy in the pit at least knows what he is doin. It may be cheap, but in the long run, it pays to not be so cheap.
Sounds more like someone is trying to take business from wal-mart... just beacuse wal-mart is known for cheap stuff doesent mean thay cut corners like that... I would know, my first job was working in automotive at the local walmart :evil: Yes, you are irght about tho video. but your forgot the test we had to take, too :lol: as for the problems you have experienced, ive got no clue... the only problem I ever heard of in the 2 years I worked there was someone putting the wrong type of oil into a car...

But anyway, im going to have to agree. stay away from Firestone Service Center. The one over here actually owes me 348$ for damages they caused from an inproper tune-up. Stay away from them... it will save you a headache....

and as for you orginal questions:
brake rotors: The squeaking sound is common, dont worry about it. Usually just means one of hte rotors is slightly mis-aligned, or a pad might be a little crooked. It usually happens after you get your pads replaced, such as you did. If you must change the rotors... do it yourself. Its basically a bolt-on process... look around, you can find a quide to see if you can handle it or not.

battery: WTF? 105$ for labor? fuck that. all you have to do is put the new battery in and attach the cables. for that price you could go out and buy an optima yellow-top battery that will last you damn near forever...

Tranny flush: A lot of people dont know this, but you should have your tranny fluid changed out with every other oil change.... and because most people dont know, you will end up with some nasty shit in there after a while... if you cant remember the last itme it was done, id say go get one. it will notably change the performance, especially in a manual...

Differental: eh, thats up to you. flushing it out wont hurt it, tho.
 
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dustball,
Man, places like this that prey on the uninformed really steam me...but, you'll have to become a more informed consumer in order to deal with them properly.

Let's deal with these items:
1.Brake Rotors - I doubt you would need new rotors at 44k, but stranger things have happened. You really need to have them tested for thickness and runout (the variation in how even the surface is) before swapping them. The shop should give you these numbers so you can compare them to what is in your shop manual...yes, I suggest everyone get a shop manual.

2.Battery - ok, it tested low, but how many volts? I've seen these places tell people they have a low battery that tested at 12.6 volts...Get a multimeter and test it yourself.

3.Tranny fluid - yes, this should be done every two years or 30k miles to avoild problems. A simple drain and fill on an autobox will be enough at that interval. I'm a little wary of tranny flushes...Also, if you have an automatic, I believe there is a separate, front diff fluid you should change out.

4.Diff fluid - similarly, I change this out every 30k

I didn't see any mention of the coolant, but that should be changed at the same 2 year/30k mile interval...

Yeah, right after an oil change, your oil pressure idiot light will take a few seconds to go off...no biggie, but is it still doing that? To get the most accurate reading, check the oil when the vehicle is on a flat surface when cold...some places just don't know how much oil to put in...sheesh.

I can't help you with a mechanic in your area, but I'm about 3 hours away, up near Albany...if you're ever in the area...

Bogatyr
 

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Hello - and thank you everyone...after my last oil change I will cease to go to Firestone except for alignment (I bought a lifetime from them...oy...)

I think I'm going to take it (when I actually have money again) to the local toyota dealership and have them just "check everything" (anyone know how much this might run?) - brakes and fluids notably - I figure they know the cars and its in a pretty decent area so hopefully they can just run diagnostics and I'll know what I really have to do in the near future.

Sound legit?
 
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Some dealerships might (mine did this) not charge you for the check-up on a basic check if they find problems. If it is a-ok then they may charge a fee. But that is just how mine operated, yours could be completely different.
 
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