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I Married A Car Guy: My Journey Toward Car Literacy

Hi, I'm Debbie Nol, and I married a car guy. My 14 years of working at Arie Nol Auto Center has been an incredible journey, building amazing relationships with customers and learning so much from our experienced technicians.

Now I'm launching a blog to share what I've learned about cars and some of my most memorable customer stories. Hopefully you will find my blog both helpful and entertaining!

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My nephew is three and likes to stop and see Aunt Debbie at work, mainly because I carry him out to the bays and he looks at the ‘cars in the air.’

Last time he was in, one of the technicians was performing an oil change on a vehicle, and Jack asked me what he was doing. I told him, but he wanted to know what oil was. I explained to him that it was essentially car blood – not the most technical description but pretty accurate. I explained how oil lubricates the engine and becomes dirty, so the oil and filter need to be changed regularly. Similarly, your body uses the kidney, liver and spleen to filter your blood, but your body “cleans” them automatically. Your car is dependent on you for this necessary function.

Car manufacturers have many specifications and recommendations so it’s important to follow these. Although using synthetic oil for an oil change is more expensive, deciding to use conventional oil to save some money is not usually a good decision. Down the road, the cost of engine-related problems far exceeds the cost of the correct oil change.

If you were in the emergency room and needed a blood transfusion, you would hope they would use the correct blood type. You’d also expect the doctors to know the correct type of blood you required. You wouldn’t ask if you could save money by using a different blood type. Having your oil changed by a technician who knows the requirements for your particular make of vehicle is important.

I’m sure I’ll get a call from my sister if Jack sees oil on the ground and tells someone that a car is bleeding.

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Dreams of Spring Break dance through our heads as we continue to endure the cold, grayness of Michigan. Lying on the beach in the hot sun, with the sound of seagulls fighting over snacks left in the sand by previous sunbathers. I can almost smell the sunscreen!

Are you taking a road trip for Spring Break? Every year, the week before Spring Break is very busy at local auto repair facilities -- people wanting to get their vehicles checked over before they leave, in hopes of avoiding an emergency pit stop along the way.

I would recommend scheduling an appointment at least two weeks before your trip. Have your tires checked, oil changed, fluids checked and filled, hoses and belts checked, and battery tested. Your windshield wipers should be replaced if necessary. Have them check your brakes to see how much of the pad remains. It’s a long trip and parts that are nearing the end of their lifecycle should not be going on the trip with you.

Every year, without fail, we get a couple of calls for last minute appointments from people leaving the next day on their trip. Although we leave room in the schedule, sometimes we just cannot do it – just like most shops in Grand Rapids that week. The worst case scenario is that we get their vehicle in, discover some pretty necessary repairs, and they either have to rent a car, borrow a car, or delay their trip by a day.

Be proactive, make your appointment early, and put your mind at ease knowing your car has been checked over. We want you to go on your trip and have a great time at the pool or on the beach, not on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.

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My Mom always told me to have a pair of boots in the trunk of my car. Probably because she knew I would not have weather-appropriate shoes on if I was involved in an accident or my vehicle broke down.

She was correct. Jeff and I were driving on the highway and were hit by another car on New Year’s Eve years ago. I had on an awesome pair of high heels appropriate for New Year’s Eve, but not so appropriate standing on the side of the highway in the winter. After Jeff boosted me out of the car, he was able to get the trunk open and get my boots. I called my Mom the next day and told her she was right.

The lesson here is to make sure you have some emergency items in your vehicle. Michigan weather can be vicious and we should be prepared for it. Having a blanket, extra boots, gloves and a hat in your vehicle can mean the difference between being inconvenienced by a dead car or being put in a dangerous situation by not being prepared.

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We all do it. As we go about our day, we fail to think about the people who contribute to our day going well.

We rely on our vendors and their employees. For example, you drop off your vehicle for new brakes on your way to work in the morning. After our technician determines what needs to be replaced, the system kicks into gear. If we don’t have the item in stock, we call our supplier. Someone pulls the part from the shelf, schedules it for delivery, then the driver delivers it to us. 98% of the time, the system works perfectly. Said part is delivered and installed in the allotted time frame, and you receive your vehicle with new brakes.

It’s when the system doesn’t work that we all notice. We’ve all been at a restaurant and had a less than ideal experience. It could have been the hostess, server, dishwasher, chef, person bussing the table, or the cashier that caused the system to fail, but you feel the effect. If the server is having a bad day and isn’t very pleasant, you notice. If you notice a lipstick stain on your glass, the dishwasher dropped the ball.

We appreciate the people who help us do our job every day. Without them, we couldn’t offer the level of service we strive for at our shop. Take a moment to say “Thanks!” to the person who’s working behind the scenes in your world. Maybe it’s someone who contributes to your ability to excel at your job. Perhaps it’s the person who prepares lunches at your kids’ school or the guy at the gas station that always smiles when you enter in the morning. Thanks is such a small word, but saying it can contribute to THEM having a great day.

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We should make a tape of car noises. You could push a series of buttons and tell us which one best identifies the sound you’re hearing.

Some customers come into the shop and are very hesitant to make the noise they’re hearing, while others are all in. They’re totally committed to making the correct sound. It’s surprising how many times the sound really does give the service advisor a good starting point to the follow-up questions they ask. This is helpful when passing the information along to the service technician to determine what is happening with your vehicle. So, if your vehicle is making a noise and you want to demonstrate that sound to the service advisor, go ahead. You won’t be the first or the last, and we’d never laugh. Everyone here has demonstrated the sounds themselves at some point.

Customers will joke about turning up the radio to drown out the sound the vehicle is making. A good rule of thumb is to occasionally turn off your radio and listen to your car as you drive. It may be trying to tell you something.

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We have a bird feeder outside of our lobby door. Last summer, we had an unusual bird arriving with a flock of sparrows. It was yellow and I thought maybe it was a finch. My ornithology knowledge is limited. One of our employees, David, has raised birds and recognized it as a parakeet. We watched it all summer as it showed up daily to the bird feeder. Reality set in when David said it would die during the winter. I thought it would fly south – hence, the comment about my ornithology knowledge above!

Operation Save the Parakeet kicked into gear. For those of you who don’t know, air bags are shipped in something that resembles a live-trap style cage… we had just received one. That was the beginning of the plan. When everyone was finished devising the trap, it was similar to a Wyle E. Coyote setup. An air bag cage with a stick holding it up at one end, food inside the cage and a rope attached to the stick. The chance of success was low.

One of the technicians, Grant, was walking through the parking lot and saw the parakeet eating the food inside the cage. He walked over, pulled the rope, and he captured it! Now the parakeet lives at David’s home, with another (bird) friend purchased from Meijer. I wonder if our formerly wild parakeet thinks about his summer of flying with the flock of sparrows?