Some options are more valuable than others

"In the auto repair industry we quickly learn what options are important to our customers."

As I have said many times, the modern automobile is a marvel of complexity. The manufacturers say that we the consumers determine what gizmos and gadgets end up on our automobiles. In the auto repair industry we quickly learn what options are important to our customers.

When the customer decides to pay hard earned money to fix something that is broken we can say that option must have significant value. Sometimes the customers are less than rational.

Air conditioning comes to mind. When the sun comes out even safety features are trumped by air conditioning repairs.

I have fixed a few air conditioning systems on vehicles that would have benefitted much more from a new set of shock absorbers. These vehicles would have driven down the road one hundred percent better, stopped shorter, had longer lasting tires, steering and suspension components but the driver and/or passenger would have been hot and bothered.

In fact, safety features are probably the most overlooked options when it comes to repairs. I am sure that there are a lot of vehicles driving around with the airbag or inflatable restraint light glowing. This means the system will not work. The other safety system that is quite often neglected is the antilock brake system. A stuck on ABS light means your braking ability will not be augmented by a computer trying to keep you in control in a panic situation.

Most of the new whiz bang options on vehicles involve added electronic systems. Back up cameras, proximity sensing systems, cruise control systems that maintain the distance between the vehicle in front of you, vehicles that will park themselves, systems that help you stay in your lane, the list goes on.

Many of these options seem to be heading in the direction of cars that drive themselves. Will consumers fix these systems when they fail? Once you drive with them, will you not be able to drive without them and spend your hard earned cash to fix them?

As a mechanic I know these new options will not be flawless and therefore I will need to learn to fix them. For this I will need information, training and tools. First though, I must learn to operate the system. An owner’s manual is a necessity.

Speaking of options I found an interesting one that I did not even know existed and was way ahead of its time. The vehicle was a 2001 Audi. Upon parking the vehicle and turning it off we noticed that the interior fan was continuing to run.

Was this supposed to happen? And if so, why? Stuff that stays running usually means dead battery. Time to find the owner’s manual. This car has a solar panel in the sun roof that provides power to run the interior fan to circulate air and keep the interior of the car from heating up in the sun.

That is an option I would like to have. An overheated interior is hard on everything in it. Who hasn’t done some damage leaving something in a parked vehicle in the sun. Would I pay to fix it? Maybe!

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He will write every other Thursday. E-mail:

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