Repair or replace?

“Is it worth it?”

This question comes up pretty frequently in the shop, and we understand why!

Are you saving or losing money keeping your tried and true vehicle as opposed to starting over with a new car? It’s not difficult to decide when you break down exactly what factors are going into your decision.

With a little evaluation of your finances and a little math, you can make a sound decision.

How much are you (really) spending on maintenance?

Initially, you have to figure out  how much you’re spending on repairs from month to month. Even a couple-hundred-dollar repair bill every few months is significantly less than a new monthly car payment. Assuming that your insurance and fuel costs won’t change much, your old car’s maintenance probably costs less than purchasing a new car. 91-Toyota-Camry-DX-1024x517

If you’re still making payments on your current car, you’ll also lose the money you’ve already put into both paying off the car and what you’ve put into any previous repairs. (This can be especially tricky when you purchase a used car, as it may come with some future repairs!)

Unless you feel as though you’re “always bringing it to the shop” and your maintenance costs are exorbitant, you probably won’t save money by trading your old car in for another.


How much are you spending on repairs?

Because maintenance is a cost that comes with every vehicle, the real issue is whether or not the repairs are worth it. This all-important decision comes down to a couple questions you should know the answers to before deciding.

Does the repair cost more than half the market worth of the car?

If not, you should go ahead with the repair. Even with a car that is worth $5000, a $1,500 dollar repair would be worth doing in terms of the longevity of your vehicle. (Websites like Edmunds True Market Value Calculator and Kelley Blue Book are useful in this calculation!)

In going ahead with repairs, you can benefit in 2 ways: Not only are you getting your problem fixed, you can also add to the eventual trade-in value of your car.

How much “life” can your car get from going ahead with the repair?

Now imagine your car is worth $2,200, and you’re faced with the same $1,500 repair. Think of the cost in comparison to potential costs from purchasing a new car instead.

If this $1,500 repair would keep your car road-worthy for a few more years, then compare to how much it would cost for a down payment, new insurance, and the equivalent amount of time in monthly payments for a new vehicle.

The repair usually comes out on top, especially when you have an honest and knowledgeable mechanic you can trust to tell you whether or not it’s going to be worth it. (Like the technicians and service staff we have here at Lowell’s!)

Is the repair less than a few months’ car payment on a new vehicle? 

If the repair in question costs less than one month of payments, and your vehicle on the other hand is paid off, your decision is pretty well made.

If the cost is less than a few months of payments, and your car would be able to go for more than a few months without additional repairs or maintenance costs, then it makes sense to go ahead with the repairs, in this case, too.

Is it in your budget?

If it is hard to pay for a costly repair, how hard will it be to fit a car payment into your current monthly expenses?

In this post, we’ve tried to outline some of the key factors to consider when deciding to repair or replace your vehicle.

At Lowell’s, we’re biased – We usually think repairing your vehicle makes more sense than
replacing it.

But your situation is unique, and may include other considerations.

As always, feel free to talk your decision through with Lowell’s. We’ll give you our honest assessment of your vehicle while helping you make your decision.

Join us for Picnic with the Pops!

PWPSunsetFor two nights under the stars each August, Picnic with the Pops features our own Lexington Philharmonic with a special guest artist at Keeneland’s Meadow at Keene Barn.

image from lexpops.comThis year’s guest artist, Michael Cavanaugh, was named Corporate Entertainer of the Year for 2013 by Reuters. For Picnic with the Pops, Cavanaugh will perform The Songs of Elton John and More! 

More from the Picnic website: ‘The dynamic set list for this show will feature creative reinterpretations of classic Elton John hits, interspersed with additional songs by rock & roll legends Wings, Styx, The Eagles and more.”

This year’s Picnic will be held on Friday, August 15th and Saturday, August 16th. Find out all of the details about Picnic with the Pops here. It should be a great show.

Whether homemade or catered, great food has always put the ‘picnic’ in Picnic with the Pops. In 2014 – for the first time – two gourmet food trucks (Fork in the Road and Minton’s at 760) will also serve food available for purchase during the event. Find out more about food options here.

And the best part?

Lowell’s is giving 4 lucky customers reserved seats for the Friday night performance of Lexington’s favorite summer event. Lowell’s will host you and your guest at our catered picnic table. We’ll serve dinner a little after 6:30 pm and the performance should start at sunset (about 8:30 pm).

Here’s how easy it is to enter: Just send an email to (pwp {at} lowells {dot} us) telling us you’d like join us. That’s it! We’ll draw for winners and contact all entrants by August 11th.

(Full disclosure: I serve on the Picnic with the Pops Commission. I am very biased. And it will be a blast.)

Lowell’s named Lexington’s first RepairPal Certified shop

Only one day after winning a Readers’ Choice Award as Lexington’s Favorite Auto Repair Service, Lowell’s has also been named Lexington’s first and only RepairPal Certified repair shop.

RepairPal is an online service designed “to provide drivers with the most accurate, unbiased, and useful car ownership information available”. In other words, RepairPal helps consumers find the very best automotive service.

The RepairPal Certified designation means that we meet or exceed RepairPal’s rigorous standards for customer satisfaction, employee training, fair prices, and quality work.

As is the case with all of our awards over the years, this designation also belongs to our incredible customers. Over 30 recent customers were kind enough to give us very positive reviews. (Thank you so much!)

You can read RepairPal’s profile of Lowell’s to learn more.  Lowell’s received a 95.8% overall rating on the RepairPal Quality Index.

We’re honored and humbled by this recognition, and we’ll work diligently to earn your continued trust and respect.

Lowell’s wins 2014 Readers’ Choice Award

For the eighth time – including each of the past six years – Lexington Herald-Leader readers have voted Lowell’s their “Favorite Auto Repair Service” in the 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards.

Readers' Choice - 6 in a row!

We also came in second place in the new “Favorite Oil Change” category.

We are humbled and honored to have the support of our wonderful, wonderful customers. We are also very grateful to have such thoughtful and skilled employees. We promise to keep improving our service to keep deserving your appreciation.

Lowell’s won the Repair Service category even when matched up against other great finalists who have national backing, multiple locations, and who service multiple vehicle brands (Tire Discounters and S&S Tire).

In addition to the past six years, Lowell’s was also the top pick for Herald-Leader readers in 2007 and 1994 – to our knowledge, that’s every time the auto repair category has been up for voting.

Thank you so much,
Rob, Suzanne, and your Friends at Lowell’s


Service Schedule Cheat Sheet

With so many things to keep up with on your vehicle, we know it can be hard to stay current on the maintenance for your vehicle.

To help you plan regular service items, here’s the Lowell’s guide to Toyota maintenance:

Oil Change
Oil changes are the single most important service to extend the life of your car. Lowell’s recommends oil changes every 3,500 miles* or every 6 months, whichever comes first.

Cabin and Engine Air Filters
We recommend replacing cabin and engine air filters every 15,000 miles. (If you’re driving in especially dirty or dusty environments, you might consider more frequent replacements.) Check out our guide to cabin air filters here.

Brake Inspections
We recommend brake inspections every 15,000 miles. If your vehicle is equipped with drum brakes, we’ll also clean and adjust your brakes.

Flushes (Brake System, Transmission, Coolant, Power Steering)
Fluid maintenance is another important way to extend the life of your vehicle. We recommend fluid flushes every 30,000 miles. What’s a flush? Great question, and we have your answers here.


Valve Clearance Inspection and Adjustment
We recommend valve clearance inspections every 60,000 miles. Learn more here.

Timing Belt
We recommend timing belt changes every 90,000 miles. (If your vehicle is equipped with a timing chain, it should not normally need replacement.)

We recommend getting a tune-up for your vehicle every 30,000, 60,000, or 120,000 miles, depending on the kind of spark plugs your vehicle left the factory with. Check out our guide to tune-ups here.

Call the shop if you ever have any questions about your vehicle or recommended service. We’re always happy to help you prioritize the services your vehicle needs.


*Note: We know that many Toyota owner’s manuals now recommend an oil change interval up to 5,000 miles. We still recommend oil changes every 3,500 miles.

The 5,000 mile interval may be safe for very new vehicles, but we don’t recommend it for vehicles that are more than a few years old.

If your engine has been leaking or burning oil, the extra 1,500 miles can result in permanent engine damage because your engine lacks enough oil to lubricate properly. Plus, your oil can still get dirty and contaminated, and can start to break down before the 5,000 mile point (which again could result in engine damage). 

That’s why our recommendation is different from Toyota’s. 

Aaron Evans Joins Lowell’s

Photo 3We’re very pleased to announce that Aaron Evans has joined the Lowell’s team!

Aaron joins Lowell’s after retail assignments with J.C. Penney and Macy’s in Lexington, California, and Seattle, and we think he’ll be a big help in delivering an even better Lowell’s experience for you.

To start, you’ll see Aaron driving our shuttle and helping out around the shop. He’ll also be helping with a lot of behind-the-scenes efforts to improve the shop.

As he learns more about our business, he’ll also help out on the phone and at the front counter.

We have a reputation for delivering the very best automotive service in Lexington. We’ve made a lot of changes recently to ensure that we stay the best. Aaron will be a key part of these ongoing efforts.

If you run into Aaron, be sure to welcome him to the Lowell’s family!

What’s a Tune-Up?


Old (left) and new spark plugs

One of the most frequently used – but least understood – terms used in our industry is “tune-up”.

A few decades ago, vehicles required frequent mechanical tuning to keep them operating optimally. Over time, “tune-up” became a common way of saying “make my car run better”.

In today’s electronically-controlled vehicles, however, a tune-up is very different. Many of the mechanical adjustments we made in older cars are now made by your vehicle’s onboard computer.

So when we talk about a tune-up at Lowell’s, we mean changing your vehicle’s spark plugs and, when appropriate, your fuel filter and engine air filter.

A spark plug converts an incoming electrical charge into a spark which ignites the mixture of air and fuel that  powers your car’s engine. The spark jumps between two electrodes at the end of the plug, creating the controlled explosion that drives an internal combustion engine.


Close-up view of old and new spark plugs

Spark plugs can wear out. Each spark burns off tiny bits of metal on the electrodes, and after hundreds of millions of sparks, the spark plug doesn’t fire as efficiently. Spark plugs can also become coated with residue (‘fouled’) if your fuel doesn’t burn cleanly.

Fouled or worn-out spark plugs can reduce your fuel mileage or cause your engine to run roughly. When the gap between the electrodes becomes too large, your ignition coils strain to generate sufficient current, and coil damage can result. (Note how the center electrode for the old plug on the left has tapered into a cone-like shape, requiring significantly more current to spark.)

The electrodes for Toyota plugs (made by Denso) are plated with different highly conductive metals: nickel, platinum, or iridium. The type of metal used determines how long the spark plug lasts: Nickel-plated spark plugs typically last for 30,000 miles; Platinum for 60,000; and Iridium for 120,000 miles.

When we do a tune-up at Lowell’s, we remove and inspect your old spark plugs to see whether there are any issues other than normal wear. We replace them with new spark plugs, adjusting the gap between electrodes when necessary. If needed, we’ll also replace the fuel filter and engine air filter.

Feel free to call the shop with any questions, and – if it is time for a tune-up or other service for your vehicle – to make an appointment for service.

Noises and your car

Finding and fixing vehicle noises are one of the most difficult tasks for our technicians.


ASE Master Technician Keith Shelburne listening for engine sounds. Yes, we sometimes use stethiscopes to find noises.

Sometimes, we can’t make the noise occur in the shop or on a test drive. Other times, we might hear a noise, but it isn’t the same one that our customer heard. Often, the customer who brings the vehicle into the shop to fix the noise isn’t the car’s primary driver, and hasn’t really heard the sound and can’t adequately describe it.

So we’ve put together this simple guide to help you describe the noises your car makes. Following the tips we share below will save you time and money, and help us diagnose the issue faster.

1) Describe the kind of noise.

Because your car makes so many sounds, describing the particular kind of noise it is making will usually help us locate the issue faster.

Would you call it a rattle or a squeal? A thump or a hiss? A clank, a ping, a buzz, a scrape, a click, or a pop? Or something else entirely?

Using specific terms like these to describe sounds will help us zero in on the noise and what might be causing it.

2) Notice when and how the noise occurs.

If you can tell us when the noise happens, that will also help us re-create it here in the shop. And if we can hear it in the shop, our chances of finding and fixing the problem go way up.

Here are a few examples of helpful details around noises:

  • It usually happens once, and then doesn’t happen again for a while.
  • It happens over and over.
  • It happens when starting the car; just after starting the car; when the car is cold; first thing in the morning.
  • It happens when the car has warmed up; when it is hot outside.
  • It happens when turning; turning left; turning right; turning sharply; going around curves.
  • It happens when going over bumps or potholes.
  • It happens when using the brakes.
  • It happens when sitting at the light.
  • It happens when cruising down the highway.
  • The noise gets faster or slower (or louder or softer) as the car moves faster or slower.
  • The noise is accompanied by a physical sensation – a vibration or bump that you can feel in the steering wheel or in your seat, for example.

In addition to helping us replicate the noise, these details can give us important clues about what parts of the car might be causing the noise.

3) Make the noise for us.

It sounds kind of funny, but it really helps if you can mimic the exact sound your car is making. It might seem embarrassing to make an “EE-er-EE-er” sound for us in the lobby, but we truly appreciate how much it helps us find the right sound faster. (Besides, people make sounds for us all the time. We’re used to it!)


The more that you can tell us about the noises your car makes – what kind of noise, when it occurs, and what it sounds like – the faster that our team here at Lowell’s will be able to help. And we’re here to help!

Lowell’s selected for Angie’s List 2013 Super Service Award

2013 Super Service Award

Lowell’s wins Angie’s List Super Service Award for Auto Repair in Lexington

We are extremely humbled by the awards that customers have chosen for us over the years.

We have won 7 Readers’ Choice Awards from Herald-Leader readers as Favorite Auto Repair Shop. We’ve also won 9 Ace Magazine Best in Lex Awards as Favorite Mechanic.

Now we are pleased to add a new award to that great list!

Lowell’s has earned the Angie’s List 2013 Super Service Award for the outstanding things our customers have said about our service on Angie’s List.

Not all online reviews are equal. Angie’s List collects reviews from real people on a variety of services, including reviews of auto repair service in Lexington.

According to Angie’s List, “winners of this award have met strict eligibility requirements, which include an ‘A’ rating in overall grade, recent grade, and review period grade; the company must be in good standing with Angie’s List, have a fully complete profile, pass a background check and abide by Angie’s List operational guidelines.”

“Only about 5 percent of the companies Lowell’s competes with in Lexington are able to earn our Super Service Award,” said Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks. “It’s a mark of consistently great customer service.”

We are so honored to serve great customers and to have had those customers make this award happen for us. Thanks for all of the wonderful things you say and do for Lowell’s!

Mmmmm. Candy.

There are two non-car-related questions we get most often here at Lowell’s.

The first is, “How can you afford to sell Cokes for just a nickel?” (We’ll keep that a secret for now…)

The second is, “Where do you get these delicious candies (and how can I get some)?”

Since holiday entertaining season is here, we’ve decided to let you in on our secret – just in case you needed ideas for a nice surprise for your guests.

I love chocolate. And I love sharing chocolate with customers. So whenever the weather allows us to, we try to keep a generous supply of fine chocolate truffles on hand.


Dilettante (Chocolates)

Our favorite source of these chocolate treats is Dilettante, a wonderful chocolatier based near Seattle.

We usually order peppermint, toffee, raspberry, latte, mocha, and espresso truffles for the shop. As a dark chocolate lover, my favorite flavor is Ephemere, a delicious dark chocolate truffle.

In addition to the truffles we order for the shop, Dilettante offers a wide variety of gift boxes and bags, chocolate-covered fruits, and other delicious treats.

When the weather gets warmer, those chocolates don’t hold up so well to the heat (Think: puddles). That’s when we switch to caramels.

We have two great sources of fine flavored caramels, and we recommend both.


AvenueSweets (Caramels)

AvenueSweets is a confectioner based in Utah. We usually order chocolate, Dutch apple, sea salt, and Irish cream caramels, and can’t resist getting some of their almond nougat as well. My personal favorite flavor from AvenueSweets is their butter rum caramels.


Béquet (Caramels)

Béquet Confections is based in Montana and makes eleven incredible varieties of caramels. My favorites: cinnamon swirl and chipotle (which is both sweet and spicy).

In my experience, AvenueSweets often arrives with smoother textures and richer flavors than Béquet. Béquet tends to be more consistent and ‘shelf-stable’ than AvenueSweets, whose smoothness tends to break down if you keep them for longer than a couple of months.

If you think you might keep your caramels around for few months or more, consider Béquet. If you and your guests will go through them quickly, consider AvenueSweets. But, really, you can’t go wrong here. Both are delicious options for gourmet caramels.

Dilettante truffles used to be available in local grocery stores in the specialty chocolates areas. Lately, I’ve not seen them in local stores. I’ve not seen AvenueSweets or Béquet available in gift boxes in Lexington retailers. A few local shops sell Béquet a piece at a time.

If you really like these candies, I’d recommend going directly to their makers to get higher volumes. This time of year, they often have sales and/or discounted shipping available.