Make car problems easier to diagnose: take photos, video, or write notes

In Diagnostics, Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

When you have car problems, it can be a real bummer. And sometimes, depending on what problem you’re having, it can be a mystery too.

Recently in my own car, I noticed that the ABS light and traction control light would come on when I hit the brakes, and I couldn’t figure out why. Over time, even very light taps on the brakes would make the lights come on, and they would stay on until I turned off the vehicle. After a few days of this, I had had enough – and I snapped a photo of the lights, and brought it to our guys in the shop.

That photo really came in handy – but I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

A few weeks back we also had a customer that ran into the shop, telling us that she had left the car running, so our service writers could see the problem firsthand, because the problem would only happen when the car was running.

And another one of our Girl in Mechanic’s World bloggers, Jasmine, had a problem where her car was misfiring, and because there was no audio or video recording of it, it took several days to diagnose and get the problem to replicate itself.

Taking a photo, a video, or showing the problem when it’s happening in your vehicle is actually more important than you know, and can save hassle and time, so the guys can get you back out on the road.

When a customer comes in with a car issue, but hasn’t documented the problem, it’s up to the technicians to inspect the vehicle and take it out on a test run, in an effort to identify the problem, so it can be fixed. But the way we drive our cars is going to be different than the technicians, and in many cases, it can be very difficult for them to replicate the problem. And the harder it is to replicate the problem, the harder it is to find the problem and fix it.

In my own case, one of our technicians wasn’t able to replicate the problem, but with the photo I took, an inspection, and some testing, they were able to determine that it was a sensor behind the tire that was malfunctioning, and they were able to fix my vehicle and get it back to normal.

While some problems can’t always be captured – and I strongly suggest against taking photos or video when you’re behind the wheel, driving – if you can safely snap a quick photo, video, or write down the specifics on the problem, including where you were, what time it was, and what was happening when the problem was occurring, it will make it much easier to diagnose and fix your vehicle.

Meet Jasmine, one of our new girls for Girl in a Mechanic’s World

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Communications SpecialistI started working for Steve’s Auto Repair and Tire mid-April as a Communications Specialist, which usually means getting to sit behind a desk in front of a computer all day – but that’s not how it works at Steve’s.

Doing communications for an auto repair shop requires being very hands-on. I can’t create content for Steve’s without knowing what I’m talking about. For the first few weeks of my employment, I only worked part time so I could wrap up my college degree, and only recently started working full time. I’ve been at Steve’s for a little over a month now, and in this short period of time, I’ve learned a lot about not only how an auto repair shop works, but about cars themselves. I’ve also learnt why your car sometimes smells like rotten eggs (it’s your catalytic converter, by the way.)

I look forward to continuing my job here at Steve’s. I work in a friendly environment where the guys on the job don’t mind stopping to answer my questions, even if they seem completely ridiculous. I’ve also been promised that someone here will finally teach me how to parallel park, so I can finally commute to D.C. without having to take the darn Metro.

How did a young female filmmaker end up working in an auto repair shop?

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire


She was taking film classes at Northern Community College, and her professor connected her with local businessman, ST Billingsley, who offered her a short term internship. While she never imagined working for an auto shop, she ended up making a multitude of commercial and informational videos for Steve’s Auto Repair and Tire business and an online local newspaper, ‘What’s Up Woodbridge’.

But that’s not the whole story. Let’s back up a bit. My name is Roxana Trujillo. Although I completed my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, I wanted to learn more about filmmaking. I had always loved watching movies and TV, but I had always wanted to know more; I wanted to know about the practical and conceptual aspects of film. Additionally, I’ve always loved the narrative aspects of film. While I take photos and write occasionally, film felt like the only true medium that would satisfactorily translate my imagination. I wanted to tell not only my story, but the stories of others and those that were make-believe.

I decided to temporarily “go back to school”. So, I enrolled in the introductory level film classes at Northern Virginia’s Community College in Woodbridge. While they don’t have an official film program, they have a dedicated triad of professor’s who lead it: Bryan Brown, Chris Stallings, and Kelly Cochran. Stallings teaches video production process, Brown teaches film theory and appreciation, and Cochran teaches literature and writing. The three make an ideal team and a great resource to anyone who is passionate about learning more about film.

I took a class from each Professor Stallings and Brown. I learned a lot from both, and the classes academically complimented each other very well. However, I’ve always been a very hands-on learner, so when January 2016 came along, I decided to enroll in video II. Around the same time, Stallings was aware that I was looking for work. One day, he contacted me about ST Billingsley’s need for an individual to help him make videos. It seemed to be a good fit, we tried it – and it worked. I spent a month at Steve’s Auto Repair and Tire, “cranking out videos” as ST likes to say. And let me tell you, it’s been quite a ride. (No auto-pun intended).

If anyone ever mentioned ‘auto repair shop’, only a few things pop into mind: cars, male mechanics, loud noises, and dirty junk everywhere. As a young female, due to culturally ingrained stereotypes, I also wasn’t how sure my presence would be welcomed in a perceived macho-male-dominate environment. While my experience might have aligned with my expectations if I were a mechanic, they did not, since I was here as a videographer and video editor. But that’s part of the whole point! I would have never even imagined any car repair shop doing video work! That was a complete novelty! And that’s one thing that makes Steve’s Auto Repair and Tire so special and unique. They don’t meet your expectations, they surpass them. And even better, they surprise you.

As an employee, I had an incredibly positive working experience. My colleagues were very laid back, yet professional and hard working. ST Billingsley is always enthusiastic, approachable and honest, which makes him a great mentor for any employee. Stephanie Tipple is the master of multi-tasking and is very knowledgeable in general, and always ready to talk about worldly issues.

During my time working with them, not only did I grow my experience in videography and editing, but I also learned new things unrelated to film. I learned about business, SEO (search engine optimization), online marketing, online news reporting, interviewing, and leadership. I had opportunities such as attending the Prince William Chamber of Commerce Women’s Leadership Conference, meeting and interviewing local leaders of the community. These leaders represent many local non-profit organizations, such as ACTS, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts of America.

While they are not celebrities by any means, working for ‘What’s up Woodbridge’ gave me the possibility to give them the publicity they deserve, but often don’t get. Although I spent merely a month working for ST, we were always busy working on a plethora of projects that never ended. Honestly, because of the constant jokes and humor at Steve’s Auto, this month would have felt like work, but thanks to these crazy cucks, time flew by and I had a blast.

Springing a leak in your coolant system

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Springing a leak in your coolant system

Radiator cap increases the pressure on the engine cooling system so the antifreeze does not boil

Have you ever seen the cartoon, where there’s a hole in the boat, and the character plugs the leak, only to have another one to pop up somewhere else? That’s how it can feel sometimes when it comes to handling your coolant system and leaks.

Let’s look at another example.

I have old copper piping in my home.  It’s under my unfinished house, exposed to all the elements; the cold, the heat – but protected overhead by my home.  In this case, water is constantly running through the pipe to supply my house with water. In the pipes, the water branches off in the pipes to all of the rooms in our home. This is much like you cooling system in your car, because it’s meant to divert heat away from your engine. It may be protected by the hood of your car and by the skid plates under the car, but all of it is still exposed to the elements.

One day, I discovered a leak in one of my pipes.  I fixed the pipe that was leaking.  Several months later, I noticed that my water pressure had gone down a bit. I looked underneath my house and discovered another leak. So what did I do?  I had to replace yet another pipe.  This has happened several times over the last decade or so until I finally got fed up with piecing this system back together and finally replaced all of my pipes with newer PVC and got rid of my decaying old copper pipes. This stopped the leaks. While it all appeared to be fine, the piping was rotting from the inside out where I couldn’t see it.

Springing a leak in your coolant system

Using a good and correct engine coolant or radiator fluid is important

The situation I had is very similar to what goes on with your vehicle’s coolant system. With your cooling system, we recommend replacing most of your parts at the same time because sometimes once we have fixed a leak, and you have great pressure back in your system, it can cause another leak if there are other weak spots within your system.

In a recent case here at our shop, we had an older vehicle, where the coolant light kept coming on.  We pressure tested the system and could see no apparent leaks.  We even performed a head gasket leak test and it passed that test as well.  About every month or so, the customer would come back in and say her light was back on, we could tell that the fluid was slightly low and we would add coolant accordingly. We advised her to keep an eye on it, and once it became more frequent we would pressure test the system again to see if we could detect any further or larger leaks.

Finally after a few trips in, we were able to tell that there was a slight leak coming from the radiator cap.  We replaced the cap.  Time went on and the light came on yet again.  She returned again.  After another pressure test, we were able to discover a slight crack in the radiator where the plastic meets the metal radiator.  So at that point we replaced the radiator, the hoses and flushed the old fluid out and replaced it with new fluid.  Problem solved.

Why did we require the hoses to be replaced if the radiator was the culprit?  Well, once again, the hoses were most likely original, weakening from the inside out and with good pressure going through the entire system once again, we

Springing a leak in your coolant system

Radiator hose leaking engine coolant due to age

did not want her to return yet again with any further leaks.  So the best option was to replace the hoses as well to prevent this from happening.

The bottom line is sometimes it’s very difficult to track down a very small leak, and even more importantly once one leak is detected and fixed, and there is good pressure back in the system, it can often times cause other areas to leak where there are already existing weak spots. So if there’s an issue with your coolant system, then it may be time for a replacement.

Tech Tip: By servicing your coolant system on recommended intervals you can cut down on major repairs.  When coolant begins to break down it becomes acidic which causes radiator failure and leaks.  Acidic coolant equals corrosion to metal parts and causes deposits in your system which causes blockages and damages internal parts of your system which leads to costly repairs!

What happens when a customer wants to talk tires

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

What happens when a customer wants to talk tiresWritten by Teresa Anderson

There’s an entire process that goes on between myself and the customer, when it comes to helping them find new tires for their vehicle.

Often times we’ll get “Do you sell tires?” from our customers. The answer is yes!

From there, I’ll begin asking about any brand preferences the customer may have for tires, but a lot of times they don’t have a preference. That’s perfectly fine because we’re an authorized Goodyear and Continental dealer, and we carry several other brands, so there’s no shortage of options.

Throughout the process, I’ll ask the customer a lot of questions to see what kind of driver they are. Did you know that the way you drive, and the main use of your vehicle impacts what kind of tires you should be using? This means that I need to talk with customers about how many miles they drive, how long they’re planning to keep the vehicle, if they do most of their driving on the highway or in the city, among many other questions to make sure that we’re going to put our customers in a set of wheels that work best for their needs.

We also need to know about tire size and speed rating, to make sure we’re helping you select a tire that’s appropriate for your vehicle. As a service advisor, I’ll go through or stock and speak with our customers about all of the types we have – starting from our premium and recommended tires, because we always want our customers in the best, and work my way down to the more entry level ones. We always give our customers a price quote for tire options that would work for their vehicle, and try and take a look at their tires to see what they already have.

We will run into people that want the cheapest option out there, when it comes to buying tires, but this isn’t the right way to think about them. As a driver, you should be thinking about your tires as an investment. If you opt for entry level tires, you’re going to go through two sets of those before going through one set of quality tires, which ends up costing you more in the long run. We try to explain the durability and value of each of the customer’s tire options.

The more educated the customer is, the better choice the customer will make based on the criteria of their driving.  The more educated the advisor is, the more information you can offer to help the customer make the right choice. This is why I’m always trying to learn information about our tires, that I can pass off to the customer.

I believe in giving all the information available to our customers, as well as my personal experiences with different brands.  I even use experiences of other customers I’ve had over the last 12 years with particular brands.  ‘Knowledge is power’ in these situations, and we want our customers to be confident when they’re buying tires from us.

What happens when a customer wants to talk tires

Test drives and training at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire

In Girl in a Mechanics World, Tires and Wheels by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Written by: Teresa Anderson

Test drives and training at Steve's Auto Repair & Tire

BFGoodrich g force comp a/s testing on a ford mustang

Test drives and training at Steve's Auto Repair & Tire

Rafael Torres giving a driving and tire test class for BFGoodrich g force comp 2 a/s

Ever wondering what kind of training staff goes through at an auto repair shop, like Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire? A lot of times we get not only training videos and information to read and study from, but we also get to do plenty of ‘hands on’ learning as well.

I’d like to share my experience as a woman attending the BFGoodrich training course that was held at the FedEx Field on August 6.

At the 5 hour training course, myself and several colleagues learned about the new and popular tire lines offered by BFGoodrich – like the All Terrain KO2, and the Comp-2 A/S. We had a class with one of the most knowledgeable tire experts out there, that explained the different tests that all BFGoodrich tires undergo, and how the results of these tests compare to other tires on the market. Things that may seem small, like grip in the rain, and dealing with seasonal weather, vary widely from brand to brand.

Test drives and training at Steve's Auto Repair & Tire

Andrew Comrie-Picard giving a class on the BFGoodrich g force comp 2 a/s

And we didn’t just learn about the different tires, we got to get behind the wheel and experience first hand, the performance differences between a BFGoodrich tire and a competitor’s tire – on a dry and a wet weather course.

Hands down, one of the most valuable parts of the experience were these behind-the-wheel road courses, when it comes to giving us knowledge about tires that we can pass on to our customers. For each test, they had cars with the same year, make and model. The only difference was that one car had BFGoodrich tires, and the other, a leading competitor’s tire.

Test drives and training at Steve's Auto Repair & Tire

BFGoodrich g force comp 2 a/s testing on a Toyota

While I was afraid to drive on the wet track, and had a professional driver there to drive me on the course, I did drive on the dry track. During both courses we practiced accelerating, hard braking, fast turns and swerving in the different conditions, to really push the vehicle to its limit. People normally don’t think about the performance differences from one tire to another, but when I got behind the wheel with both sets of tired, I was floored by how much better the BFGoodrich tires performed. The difference was absolutely night and day.

Test drives and training at Steve's Auto Repair & Tire

BFGoodrich KO2 on a jeep at the ride and drive event held at Fed Ex Field

Overall, I felt that the BFGoodrich course was an excellent way to reinforce the things we’re constantly learning about tires and vehicles, and helping us to have a practical hands on understanding that we can pass on as knowledge to our customers. When it comes to the safety of yourself and your family, having technicians that can speak from experience about the quality and performance of tires is something you need to look for as a smart consumer.

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts? I only have “X” amount of miles on my car!

In Girl in a Mechanics World, Shocks and Struts by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Written by Teresa Anderson – service writer for Steve’s Auto Repair and Tire

Shocks and struts are not something most people think about wearing out, like they do with tires. They’re not as visible for drivers, and they don’t wear out as fast, or need frequent maintenance, like oil changes.

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts?

Worn Strut Assemblies from a Toyota Tundra. The struts work with the coil springs.

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts?

Shock starting to leak oil. This can cause tire wear and a longer braking distance.

Shocks and struts are important because they stabilize your vehicle and keep your car from bouncing when you drive over rough road. Think about how many bumps and potholes there are in the road. Think about the rough pavement and rocks that you drive over every single time you get into your car to go somewhere. This is what wears out your shocks and struts, and this is why when a car professional recommends replacing them, you should take them seriously.

To understand the seriousness of replacing shocks and struts, it’s important to understand what can happen if you’re driving around with a set that are worn out.

The job of your shocks and struts is not to keep the car up as most people conceive, it’s to minimize bouncing – which can really damage your car’s tires and suspension. And if your shocks and struts are worn out, and lead to an impaired suspension system in your car – this can have a serious consequence. Bad suspension can also wreak havoc on your brake system.  It can lengthen your stopping distance because the car is lunging forward with the weight of the vehicle putting more pressure on your brakes, causing them to wear out faster. And this could also lead you to get into an accident because of impaired handling and brake time.

Can you visibly see worn shocks and struts? Well…sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. And for many drivers , it can be a challenge to determine when it’s time to commit to replacing your shocks and struts

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts?

Worn shocks, the one on the top is starting to seep oil. (see dark spot in the middle .

Most manufacturers recommend replacement every 50,000 miles. Consider manufacturer’s recommendations, because after 50,000 miles they have definitely carried a lot of weight, gone quite a distance and are no longer performing as that should be, but a technician will be able to tell you for sure.

Looking for an easy way to determine if your shocks and struts are wearing out? The best way to tell if they are not performing the way they should is to do the bounce test.  Push down on the trunk of the car and the front of the car  and see how quickly it bounces back.  If it’s bouncy, the shocks are wearing out, if it returns slowly, they are most likely fine.

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts?

Mercedes wheel bent from hitting a pothole also effects the shocks and struts

It should just bounce about 1 and ½ times and that should be it.  If you are getting more than than that, the suspension is failing. Mileage – including the 50,000 mile recommendation – doesn’t always mean that you have to replace them.  I’ve seen certain vehicles that are notorious for needing them replaced as early as 40,000 miles!  I know that may not be what you want to hear, especially since it means it will cost you money, but it’s necessary to keep your car running safely on the road.

The first thing a auto technician would do is inspect the condition of the suspension.  If they can see the fluid seeping out of the shocks, then they are weak because the fluid is coming out and it’s definitely time to consider replacement.

Why did the repair facility advise me to replace my shocks/struts?

strut from the front of a mini van

Even though they may not be leaking, it still may be time to replace them.  A technician can tell by looking at a few different things, and they will be able to guide you on what to do to get your vehicle working safely.

Looking back at my time at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Looking back at my time at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire

By Katie Tatum

This is my closing chapter working as an assistant technician at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire before leaving for Ohio Technical College.

The shop has done a lot for me in the past year and I cannot thank them enough. They are friendly, not only to the customers but the technicians in the shop.

Last summer, I started looking for a job in the automotive field – not only to help me with autotech – but to also to save up money for college.

A lot of places turned me down because I wasn’t eighteen yet (even though I would turn eighteen in a couple of months). This really brought my hopes down because for the most part I thought I did really bad at job interviews, until my automotive teacher, Mr. Stevens, recommended I go to Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire.

The owner, Mr. Billingsley, hired me on the spot with one condition – I could not drive cars into the shop until I turned eighteen. I was over excited and extremely nervous because this was going to be my first job. Best first job ever right?

From here on out this job would help me grow a lot during my senior year of high school. I thought I would really have a hard time being a female in the automotive field, however, at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire, I grew thick skin really fast, which you really need in this field.

Thanks to them I have learned and will continue to learn to stand up for myself in every situation that it will be needed. Throughout life people will push you around if you have the chance of being better than they are. At Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire, they taught me how to handle that and now I treat the other technicians like annoying big brothers.

There were more lessons that I have learned during my year working at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire.

The automotive industry is way different from working in a restaurant, for example. If you mess up a customer’s order in a restaurant, that’s okay they just make a new plate. In the shop if you mess up someone’s car, it is expensive and depending on what went wrong it can be life threatening. You need to know what you are doing so you don’t put anyone’s life or wallet at risk. This helped me pay more attention to the way I act in daily life and the way I communicate with other people.

I also learned that you need to finish things once you start them. You cannot stop in the middle of putting a tire on a car and say, “Okay I’m done now.” The task is incomplete and the car is undrivable. Learning this has helped me fight against procrastination in the real world. For example, if I don’t feel like doing my homework all I have to do is write a sentence and then I will see the task through until I am finished.

There are many more things I learned in this shop than just those two things that have to do with growing up and transitioning from being a student to an employee.

I have each and every person in that shop to give credit to especially the owner, ST Billingsley. He has helped me realize there is more to the automotive industry than just working on cars and as you read this, he is opening up more doors for me. That is only something an extraordinary person would do for another.

As a woman in a male dominated industry I now have confidence in myself and my abilities to compete and work on the same level as everyone else thanks to Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire.

I am not sucking up to my bosses reading this (ok maybe a little) but seriously, I am really going to miss working here and could not have asked for a better first job. I cannot even begin to describe how open and friendly this shop is. I know I am safe here to grow as needed and they have expressed interest in rehiring me if I ever want to come back after Technical School. I am really going to miss working at Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire for the next few years because this was not just a first job, but it grew into finding a place I would very gladly want to come back to in the future and I know I will be comfortable.

Jubilant June

In Girl in a Mechanics World by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

Spring has sprung and so has the excitement in Prince William County. Whether it’s a concert, kid’s event or a picnic there are events to satisfy every weather worshipper.

On June 14 the Spring into Summer festival will be held at Stonebridge Potomac Center. I personally am excited for this one as in addition to music and food there will be a fashion show. The event will be held from 12-6. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

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