Matt Winders spends most of his day on routine motor oil changes and brake swaps at DJ's Automotive in Helena. But every now and then, he’ll run into an engine turned to mush by infrequent oil changes, or a gas tank that’s been repurposed as a rat’s nest. More than once, he’s encountered an angry, yellow-bellied marmot, also known as a rock chuck.
The Independent Record sat down with the Helena native to talk about a few of the tips and tricks he’s picked up in 20 years as a mechanic.
IR: What’s the most common problem you see roll into the shop?
MW: Brakes and tune-ups. Around here shocks and struts -- because of the rutted roads -- and ball joints.
IR: What’s the least common, or the weirdest?
MW: We’ve found live animals in an engine -- rock chucks. We’ll pop the hood up and they’ll come out to say hello. They’re like beavers on steroids.
IR: What maintenance issue is most often overlooked by drivers?
MW: Preventative maintenance. Oil changes, (timing) belts, fuel system cleanings.
We got one (car) out here, we had put a brand new motor in it. The guy hadn’t changed his oil in 12,000 miles. … People get busy and they just don’t think about it.
IR: What’s the most common car maintenance myth?
MW: A lot of people think if you run synthetic oil you can go longer on oil changes. Not true. Oil still breaks down and you’ve still got the same filters.
IR: How often should you change your oil?
MW: Every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
IR: How often should you change your tires?
MW: It kind of just depends. … A lot can go to 60,000 or 80,000 miles these days. Rotate them every other oil change.
IR: Why are there so many Subarus here?
MW: Subaru is actually a really good car, especially in Montana. Maintaining them is actually a lot cheaper than most cars. Not as much goes wrong with them, as very expensive repairs go. We see them in here all the time with 300,000 to 400,000 miles on them.
IR: What’s an underrated non-Subaru car that you would recommend to Helena drivers?
MW: (General Motors) is pretty good. Quite a few of their four wheel drives are good, and you just about have to have that or an all-wheel drive in Montana; though not lately, with the winters we’ve been having.
IR: How do we know you’re not ripping us off?
MW: We do a 60-point inspection on every car that comes in. … If there’s something wrong, I’ll take people out and show them (the problem), explain it to them. I think that helps.
If they want to have it looked at somewhere else, more power to them. We have people bring estimates to us all the time. Sometimes (the estimates) are right, sometimes they’re wrong.
IR: Can you think of an example?
MW: I had one where they told (the customer) the head gaskets were blown. All it needed was a thermostat.