What’s a Valve Clearance Inspection?

Every 60,000 miles or so, we advise to you have us perform a “valve clearance inspection” (also known as a “valve adjustment”). You’ll often see us recommend a valve adjustment in the recommendations at the bottom of your Lowell’s invoice.

But what, exactly, is a valve clearance inspection, and why is it important? (We’re glad you asked!)

Related Posts: What’s a flush? and What’s a cabin air filter?

Your engine’s intake and exhaust valves let air in and out of your engine as it burns fuel. The right mixture of air and fuel can keep your engine running smoothly and ensure that you are getting the best fuel economy from your vehicle.

Wear and stress can cause your valves to slowly get out of adjustment, hurting your fuel mileage and causing your engine to run inefficiently.

Left unaddressed, improperly-adjusted valves can cause your engine run roughly, burn your valves, or even damage your pistons. This kind of damage can be very expensive to repair, because it forces us to disassemble your engine in order to get to the damaged components.

So how does a valve clearance inspection work?

At Lowell’s, we’ll remove your valve covers to measure the clearances of each valve (up to 32 depending on your type of engine).

If we find valves which aren’t within specification, we can often adjust the clearances while we have the valve covers off. Some newer vehicles, however, require much more extensive work to adjust valve clearances. (If that is the case with your vehicle, we’ll call you for approval before we proceed with the adjustment. Just ask us if you have any questions about which type of engine your vehicle has.)

After inspecting your valve clearances, we put your valve covers back on. Because valve cover gaskets are also a major source of engine oil leaks, we’ll also replace your valve cover gaskets during this service.

Lowell’s 2013 Black Friday Specials

If you’d rather not fight the crowds in search of a good deal on Black Friday, why not get great deals at Lowell’s this year instead?

BlackFridayNext Friday, November 29th, we’re offering the best prices all year on some of your most important services!

Here’s what we’re offering:

  • $100 off of a timing belt replacement!
  • Save 50% on a power steering flush! (A savings of $57.)
  • 50% off of a brake flush! (A savings of $75.)
  • FREE remote battery replacement with any other service!

That’s a potential savings of over $230 on the award-winning service you expect from Lowell’s!

Be sure to reserve your slot for this Friday by calling Lowell’s at 233-1173 or by making your appointment online today.  We can’t wait to see you!

UPDATE: Because so many customers are traveling this weekend, we’re extending our Black Friday deals to “Cyber Monday” – Monday, December 2nd – as well.

How we make recommendations

We look over your vehicle every time you come into Lowell’s to identify service items which might need your attention. We put our recommendations (if any) at the bottom of your invoice, and we prioritize and color-code them for you.


What do these mean?

But what do those color codes mean, exactly? What’s the difference between “Needed” and “Needed Soon”? What is “Due by Mileage”?

We have five classifications we use here at Lowell’s based on your future costs and your safety. Here are the guidelines we use when we prioritize your recommendations, from low to high severity:

  1. DUE BY MILEAGE – For these service items, we can’t  tell whether the service is needed through a visual inspection alone, but your vehicle’s mileage indicates that the service is due.In other words, the service may have been done elsewhere, but we can’t tell. This is why DUE BY MILEAGE often comes up with newer Lowell’s customers. If you’ve recently had the service done, then it probably isn’t necessary. (And be sure to let us know so that we stop bugging you about it.)
  2. NEEDED – These items are likely to create long-term damage to your vehicle if left untreated. They are not safety risks, and we haven’t seen any damage occuring on your vehicle yet.If you choose not to address this item today, monitor that part of the vehicle and consider scheduling this service or repair with your next regular visit with Lowell’s (i.e., the next time you change your oil).
  3. NEEDED SOON – These items are likely to create moderate vehicle damage (less than $750) in the next six months if left untreated. They are not safety risks, but they could be currently damaging your vehicle.If you don’t address this item today, consider scheduling an appointment with us in the next one to two months.
  4. URGENT – These items represent a near-term safety risk or are likely to create significant near-term vehicle damage (over $750) if left untreated. In other words, something could easily go wrong in the near future.If you don’t address this item today, schedule an appointment with us in the next three weeks to repair your vehicle.
  5. CRITICAL – These items are immediate safety risks or are currently creating significant vehicle damage. Vehicles with a CRITICAL classification shouldn’t be driven.If you don’t address this item today, please consider towing the vehicle from the shop.

Based on our experiences with vehicles like yours, we assess how severe the service item could become. Most of our recommendations fall into the DUE BY MILEAGE or NEEDED categories. We only rarely use the URGENT or CRITICAL classifications on a vehicle.

You and your car are unique. You may be able to drive with a problem we’ve identified for quite some time, or you may experience problems sooner than we predicted.

We hope that these categories help give you a general idea of the importance of each item as you review your recommendations. And, as always, you should feel free to contact us whenever you have questions about your invoice or your vehicle.

A Greener Oil Change

Motor oil is pretty nasty stuff — Just one gallon of used oil can contaminate over a million gallons of drinking water. But oil is also a critical part of keeping your car running.

For years, Lowell’s has recycled your used oil to ensure it didn’t end up harming the environment. But we never considered using recycled oil in our oil changes…

Until now.

NextGen3Traditionally, re-refined (recycled) oils weren’t good enough for use at Lowell’s. Valvoline — headquarted here in Lexington — has finally changed that.

Related Post: What does Lowell’s do with your old oil?

Lowell’s is pleased to introduce a new, high-quality oil change option featuring a recycled oil from Valvoline.

NextGen motor oil exceeds all major industry standards while using at least 50% recycled oil. Functionally, it is equivalent to our regular Valvoline oil.

But because it uses more recycled oil, NextGen can be made with less energy and pollution (and less international strife, too) than is the case when finding, drilling, extracting, and shipping crude oil from the ends of the earth.

While oil will never be truly environmentally friendly, our oil changes with NextGen have less environmental and geopolitical impact than standard oil changes.

The best part? NextGen oil changes will only cost about $5 more than a ‘normal’ oil change. For now.*

Lowell’s still offers traditional oil changes alongside our new, greener option.

Currently, NextGen is available in 5W-20 and 5W-30 grades — the most common motor oil grades we use for Toyota and Lexus here at the shop. Ironically, this lower-impact product is not (yet) available in the 0W-20 grade used for many newer (2010 or later) hybrid vehicles and Camrys. Just ask us whether NextGen is an option for your vehicle.

* Note: Because recycled oil is easier to get and refine than traditional oil, it actually costs less to produce. For the near term, however, NextGen will cost more than a traditional Valvoline oil change because of the lower volumes we use. As more Lowell’s customers choose NextGen, we anticipate that a ‘greener’ oil change could cost the same as a traditional one.

What do we do with your old oil?

What happens to your old motor oil after you leave the shop?

Most people don’t know. Most people don’t really think about it.

Because oil can easily damage the environment if it seeps into soil or ground water, Lowell’s has recycled your used motor oil for many years.

Motor oil is made up of about 85% oil and about 15% additives. Contrary to perception, the oil component of motor oil doesn’t typically break down. As the oil is used to lubricate your engine, however, the additives do break down as they absorb contaminants. Once those additives and contaminants are removed, the remaining oil can be re-refined and reused as new.


When we drain the used oil from your vehicle, we use rolling steel containers with an attached drain pan which helps us catch the oil. We also capture other vehicle fluids — from your transmission, power steering, brakes, and cooling system, for example — in much the same way. When the rolling oil containers fill up, we pump the oil out into much larger standing tanks.

Every two weeks, a recycling service comes to our shop and pumps the used oil into their trucks. We also store used oil filters, which they pick up every few months. After picking up the oil and filters, our recycling service transports the oil to their facility in Columbus, Ohio.

There, they re-refine the waste oil to remove fuel, water, additives, and other contaminants, and they distill the refined oil into new petroleum-containing consumer products. They also crush the oil filters, extract the old oil, and send out the filter body as scrap metal to other recyclers.

Related Post: A greener oil change See how Lowell’s offers high-quality oil changes using recycled oil.

Eighty-six percent of our waste oil is recycled directly back into new motor oil, like Valvoline’s NextGen oil. About 5% is used for asphalt paving and roofing materials. The rest is used for other petroleum-based products.

In the video above, Valvoline explains how old motor oil can be recycled into ‘as-good-as-new’ (in our case, we think of it as ‘better-than-new’) NextGen oil.

Call the shop if you’d like to learn more about our recycling process, or about how you might use recycled products for your vehicle.

Be our guest for Picnic with the Pops

PWPSunsetIf you’re like me, some of your earliest exposure to classical music was during Saturday morning cartoons.

I especially remember classic Looney Tunes episodes with Bugs Bunny: The Rabbit of Seville, for instance, or What’s Opera, Doc? (where Elmer Fudd sings “Kill the Wabbit” to Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries).

Just hearing a few notes from these classics brings back fun childhood memories. I’ll bet that it does for many of you as well.

Now, you can relive those memories with a few of your friends from Lowell’s.

PWPBugsTowerFor 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.

This year’s special guest? None other than Bugs Bunny in a critically-acclaimed show that combines classic “Looney Tunes” cartoons with live music from the Philharmonic.

Following its premiere three weeks ago at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Times called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony “a program that delights all ages.”

This year’s Picnic featuring Bugs will be on Friday, August 16th and Saturday, August 17th. Find out all of the details about Picnic with the Pops here. It should be a great show.

And the best part?

Lowell’s is giving 4 lucky customers reserved seats for Lexington’s favorite summer event. Lowell’s will host you and your guest at our catered picnic table on the night of your choice.

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 on August 6th.

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

A better auto repair invoice

InvoiceHeaderEvery customer deserves to understand exactly what we’ve done while servicing their vehicle at Lowell’s. Over the past few months, we’ve introduced a new invoice design which helps do just that. We built it from scratch to make  it easier to see just what you are getting with every visit to Lowell’s.

After looking at a lot of invoices, we think ours is the best invoice in the repair industry.

But why care about your mechanic’s invoice? Because the invoice tells you a lot about your mechanic, and whether they want you to be informed about your car and their work. Here’s what our invoice does for you:

Easier Reading

New Invoice

Click image to magnify

We’ve placed basic information about you and your vehicle along the left side of the invoice, while the main part of the invoice shows details about this visit to Lowell’s.

Making Our Work Clearer for You

We’ve organized the core of our invoice into three sections to help you see what we did (and what we did not do). A dark red bar visually marks the beginning of each section.

Your Service Request outlines the reasons you brought your car into Lowell’s.

What We Did contains the details surrounding the work we’ve done to your vehicle.

What We Recommend tells you about items we noticed during your service which might need your attention soon, along with estimates for addressing each issue.

Job by Job

Lots of repair places lump their work into a big jumble which makes it hard for customers to figure out what they’re paying for. Many dealers, for example, take the labor from several separate jobs and smush it all together into a single big labor charge. That makes it really, really hard to decode what they’re really, really charging you for.

At Lowell’s, we want you to see exactly what you are paying for. For each distinct job in our What We Did section, we show you our labor (in bold) and every part used (indented). These items are grouped together by job – a Lubrication Service, say, is clearly separated from other work, like a Brake System Flush. Our charges for each component of a job are also clearly shown.

The Best Warranty in the Business

We really stand behind our work here at Lowell’s. Most of our repair work carries an unmatched 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty – three to twelve times the warranty of most dealers and other shops for the same work.

Whenever we do work for you which carries a warranty, your invoice will clearly show that with a green “warranty box”, which describes the duration of the warranty for that particular work.

Because we also note the date and your vehicle’s mileage on each invoice, you can easily see whether a repair is still covered. (And if it is, we’ll fix it, of course.)

You Can Plan Ahead

When we notice things during your service which might need your attention, we try to prioritize those items for you in the What We Recommend section of the new invoice.

Related Post: How we make recommendations at Lowell’s.

We color-code each recommendation to help you understand its urgency: Red means that the item represents a potential safety issue, and should be addressed immediately; Orange means that the item could damage your vehicle soon if left untreated; Yellow denotes items which you should address to keep your vehicle operating smoothly; and Gray indicates items which might be due according to your vehicle’s mileage (usually these are items we can’t confirm the need for with a simple visual check and which might have been done elsewhere).


Our new invoice clarifies our work, and helps you plan how to keep your car running long into the future. We think it reflects the unique ‘spirit’ of Lowell’s toward automotive repair: open, direct, clear, and easy to understand.

As always, we’d love to know how we can do better (with this invoice or any other aspect of our service). Let us know what you’d like to see in the comments below.

Lowell’s Supports the Carnegie Center

In any thriving community, there are some organizations which create lasting positive change. Our neighbors at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning do that for Lexington.

Carnegie CenterJust a block from Lowell’s in Gratz Park, The Carnegie Center weaves together a unique set of programs to make Lexington a better, more educated, more literate place.

For example, the Carnegie Center is working to establish Lexington as a nationally- and regionally-recognized center for literature.

As part of that effort, the Center offers writing and publishing workshops and conferences for budding authors – helping new writers learn the process of starting, completing, and publishing their works.

And these workshops are not just theoretical exercises: they include insights directly from literary agents and excellent local and regional writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Nikky Finney, and Bobbie Ann Mason. New writers get to learn from experienced ones.


Beyond writing, the Carnegie Center also offers adult workshops in such diverse topics as GRE preparation, yoga, computer use, bookbinding, entrepreneurship, Spanish, French, English as a second language, and blogging.

Most of these courses are very reasonably priced, and many are offered for free.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Carnegie Center is what they do for children.  This includes reading groups and book clubs for kids as young as 2 years old, and progresses into reading, writing, math, and Spanish classes for elementary school students. For middle school students, the Carnegie Center also offers classes in writing, computer-based art, and poetry.

Not only does the Carnegie Center help adult writers – they are also nurturing Lexington’s next generation of writers and readers.

At Lowell’s, we are especially big fans of Carnegie’s award-winning K-12 tutoring programs. These include one-on-one tutoring for over 180 students each week during the school year. Volunteers work with each student to help develop their reading, writing, and math proficiency. The program is so popular that all 180 spots were filled only minutes after the Center began accepting reservations.

Because the one-on-one tutoring program fills so soon, the Center also offers the Carnegie Club – after-school tutoring in small groups – and an additional summer tutoring program.

Even better? Most of the Carnegie Center’s classes for kids are free, and the tutoring programs are $50 or less.

With these (and many other) programs, the Carnegie Center is creating a new “Cycle of Literacy” – smarter kids, smarter adults, smarter writers – which creates new opportunities for individuals and substantial benefits for our entire community.  We are fortunate to have them here.

Lowell’s is proud to support the Carnegie Center and its one-on-one tutoring program. We believe that smarter kids make a better Lexington.

And we love a better Lexington.

No Stupid Charges

Reason #54 from our Why Should I Choose Lowell’s? series.

Since the economy slowed a few years ago, it seems that a lot of businesses have found some ‘creative’ ways to inflate their prices with unexplained (and inexplicable) charges.

These silly fees have found their way into the auto repair industry, too. Some places tack on up to 15% more to your invoice with them.

Here’s a screwball example from a local dealer:


This invoice describes a fairly standard brake job for $252.88.  But then the dealer goes on to add $18.89 in “miscellaneous” charges:


In this case, the miscellaneous charges magically add another 7.5% to the bill!

Document Retention Fees. Shop Supplies Charges. Environmental Disposal Fees. Fuel Surcharges. What the heck are these things, anyway?

This dealer is basically making customers pay its bills.  Next thing you know, they’ll just forward their electrical bill to you.  Or tack on a “staff training charge” or a “we-just-bought-new-equipment fee”.  Just kidding.  Hopefully.

We think the whole idea is just silly.

We don’t like it when our suppliers apply stupid fees to us. And we bet you don’t like it either.

So we don’t do it at Lowell’s.

Instead, we figure out a fair price for our service, and quote that to you.  Then – and this is the key – we deliver our work for that price.

That’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?

At Lowell’s, the price we quote is the price you pay. No silly games. No hidden fees. No unpleasant surprises when you pick up your car.

We think that’s a smarter way to run a business. We hope you do, too.

Your mechanic on Mechanic Street

Lowell’s is Lexington’s only mechanic on Mechanic Street.

Mechanic StreetMany of you know that Lowell’s has been serving Lexington for more than 30 years from the same location at 111 Mechanic Street. We love being your mechanic on Mechanic!

While we like to joke that the street was named for Lowell’s, we’ve long been curious about where the name came from.  “Mechanic” seems like a pretty new term, and we wondered if the street was relatively new or if the name had been changed from something else.

So we were surprised to learn that it has been called Mechanic Street for nearly 200 years!

Today, “mechanic” is commonly used to refer to someone who works on machinery.  Back then, it had a somewhat different usage: “mechanic” referred to a variety of skilled tradesmen.  Essentially, “mechanic” was used in the same sense that we use “artisan” today.

Records from an 1818 directory of Lexington show an Elisha Babcock as Mechanic Street’s only resident. In that directory, Babcock was listed as a “carriage maker”.

200 years later, we’d like to think that we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping up Mr. Babcock’s legacy of helping Lexington move forward!

If you’re curious about the data, Richard E. Stevens of the University of Delaware compiled historical datasets from many U.S. cities.  I found Elisha Babcock in the 1818 Lexington Directory (Excel file) and 1818 tax rolls (DBF file – can be opened with Excel).  I also found RootsWeb’s Fayette County resources and maps to be useful in my research.  Access Geneology lists many other Kentucky directories, as well.