motormouth | bob weber

Q: I needed to have my headlights aimed on my 1998 Dodge Stratus. The Dodge dealer said they would reset it to factory settings for an hourly rate for labor. They charged me $139.99 for labor with a $13.50 "environmental services charge." I asked the service rep what the environment service charge was and he said it was a state thing and they did not get the money. I called the state department of revenue, state EPA, secretary of state and no one knew about this fee. My state representative's office looked into it for me and also came up with nothing and when they called the dealer they were given no answer. I went back and another service rep said this is a fee the dealer charges to cover shop supplies and every dealer he worked at charges it. I think this is a rip-off. Someone said it is like ordering a steak dinner and then getting hit up 10 percent for the plates and silverware. What do you think?

J.G., Lincolnwood, Ill.

A: We think it is more like charging for disposal of the used cooking fat. We do not like it. Sadly, almost every shop does this. Restaurants' menu prices are set to cover the costs of doing business and we feel that the auto service business should do likewise. But to stay competitive with the labor rates with the guy down the street, they all play the game. We would like to see the practice abolished, but someone must be brave enough to be the first on the block. Whenever we have questioned the fees, they have been deleted.

Q: I have a 2011 Buick La Crosse with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). The sensor on one tire is causing problems. When I took my car to Tires Plus (where I bought the tires) they couldn't find anything wrong with the tire. I have read that the sensors have batteries that eventually lose strength and die. When I check the tire with my tire pressure gauge, is it reading the actual tire pressure or is it reading what the sensor is indicating?

R.W., Collegeville, Pa.

A: Your manual tire gauge is reading the air pressure inside the tire. If it does not jibe with the TPMS reading, there is probably a problem with the sensor. The batteries are designed to last at least 10 years. The sensors go to sleep when you park the car and wake up shortly after you begin driving.

Q: I purchased a 2015 Outlander Sport in Springfield, Pa., but work all week in the Albany, N.Y., area. I average 30,000 miles per year. I usually take it to a Mitsubishi dealer in Albany for routine service. The maintenance manual recommends replacing the automatic transmission oil every 30,000 miles. It costs about $200 from the dealer in Pa., and $300 from the Albany dealer. The Albany dealer tells me that I need to also replace transmission oil filters when replacing the fluid. The Pa. dealer disagrees. I don't understand why two dealers servicing the same vehicle tell me two different things.

M.G., Wallingford, Pa.

A: We checked the maintenance manual and replacing the transmission filter is not indicated. It only stipulates changing the fluid every 30,000 miles. In your case, that would work out to once a year. The difference in cost may be due to the labor rates the two shops charge.

Bob Weber is a writer and mechanic who became an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician in 1976. He maintains this status by seeking certification every five years. Weber's work appears in professional trade magazines and other consumer publications. His writing also appears in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest. Send automotive questions along with name and town to