Adding brake fluid definitely will not help the problem. I can't help with specific costs. That depends on how much the shop charges per hour, environmental charges they have to add on, whether they charge extra for gasket sealers, lubricants, and things like that, and whether they go according to flat rate or by the hour. Flat rate means they charge for the hours listed in the flat rate book for what each procedure should take, regardless if it takes them longer to do the work or if they get it done faster. Think of a barber. They charge the same price no matter how long it takes. The least expensive shop and the lowest cost estimate aren't always the best value. Some mechanics do the bare minimum to solve the problem in an attempt to get more business by being the lowest priced. Some shops do extra steps and perform more preventive operations to increase the long-term quality of the service. They rely more on customer loyalty and repeat business so they do what is necessary so you have as few problems as possible in the future.
As a former suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership, I replaced a lot of struts but that was over ten years ago. They are very easy to do on Chrysler products compared to other brands. As I recall, I think the flat rate guide called for.5 hours for each one plus the alignment. The upper mounts are removed as part of the strut replacement procedure so no additional labor is involved to replace them. I can only guess at the cost of the mounts. The auto parts stores have web sites where you can look up the parts and their cost. Expect to pay more for the parts from your mechanic. That markup covers their costs associated with replacing defective parts under warranty and stocking unsold parts.
Some suppliers are now also offering complete strut assemblies that do-it-yourselfers can replace without needing a spring compressor. You get new struts, springs, and upper mounts already assembled. The advantage is ride height is restored on older vehicles and installation time is cut to almost nothing. An alignment is still needed.
Driving the van with binding upper mounts won't hurt anything but it can be irritating, especially if it causes "memory steer". That is when the steering wheel stays where you put it instead of self-centering itself. You have to physically put the steering wheel straight ahead after cornering. That is less of a problem at highway speeds because road bumps and vibrations help the mounts to release and move.
Brake fluid should not be filled when it is low. It is low for only one of two reasons; there is a leak that must be located and repaired, or the disc brake pads are worn and due to be replaced. A piston in each brake caliper moves out to apply pressure to the pads when you push the pedal. The pistons move back in about the thickness of a sheet of paper to release pressure, but they move out further as the pads wear down. Brake fluid is behind the pistons. As the pistons move out further over months and years of driving, more fluid leaves the reservoir and fills in behind the pistons. That's why the level goes down over time. Most professionals inspect the fluid level during other routine service and they know to recommend a brake system inspection when fluid is low. They will not fill it because later, when a normal brake job is performed, the pistons have to be manually pushed back into the calipers to make room for the new thicker pads. That forces the fluid back up into the reservoir. If it was filled previously, the fluid will spill out and run down on painted surfaces. Besides eating paint away, it makes a miserable mess. Other than that mess, there is no harm in filling the fluid; it just normally isn't done.
Years ago brake calipers caused a lot of problems after the pistons were pressed back in so it was common to rebuild them. Dirt and moisture got past the dust boots and caused rust buildup or rings of crud on the pistons that caused them to stick and keep the brakes applied. That is less of a problem now but to insure a quality repair many shops still replace them. Professionally rebuilt calipers today can be found for as little as 20 - 30 bucks, some even come with the new pads already installed, called "loaded" calipers. They are a real good deal since just the pistons used to cost around 20 dollars in the 1980s. The rebuilding kits, not including the pistons, used to cost around ten dollars.
Some people just push the pistons in and pop in a new set of brake pads. It is important to understand what happens to the rotors. Over time grooves wear into the two sides of the rotor and the pads wear down to match those groves. That results in 100 percent of the pads' linings making full contact when applied. Every brake job involves machining the rotors to make the braking surfaces perfectly flat and parallel. Often, do-it-yourselfers skip this step because it requires taking them to a shop and paying for the service. Even when there are no deep grooves, the new pads will never match the old rotors perfectly so there will not be full contact between them until the pads wear a little. Normally that takes only a hundred miles or so and presents little problems. In severe cases, the braking ability is so reduced that excessive pedal pressure is required to stop. That can lead to overheating and brake fade where you push and push on the pedal but the van doesn't slow down. The fix for that is to just sit and let the brakes cool down, then drive off like normal. The biggest way professionals avoid this, even after machining the rotors or replacing them is to do a test drive that includes a few good hard stops to "seat" the pads. They are done with the test drive long before the pads have a chance to overheat. That break-in procedure eliminates a lot of complaints about squeals and poor braking performance.
When the pads are worn down to where the backing plates rub on the rotors, various different sounds can occur. Grinding is the most common. By that time the rotors are usually not able to be saved as they will be below the legal minimum thickness. There was so much extra metal on rotors of older cars from the 1980s and before that they could last the life of the car. Newer cars have very thin rotors to save weight for better fuel mileage so when they start making noise, they are already in need of replacement. The good news is the typical rotor for a front wheel drive vehicle that cost $99.00 in the mid 1980s now costs around $35.00. Many shops elect to replace rather than machine them. The cost of replacement cutting bits and the labor time involved makes it less expensive to just replace them.
Midas is about the most expensive place to have brake work done because they like to add on a lot of parts that aren't always needed. I did a lot of brake jobs at the dealership after we provided a second opinion after people went to Midas right across the street. We usually saved our customers a couple of hundred dollars. Due to the age and mileage of your vehicle, the rubber brake hoses should be inspected, but there is no need to replace them if the outer casing isn't cracked or weather-checked / dry rotted. Some shops will recommend replacing the brake fluid. This has always been ignored until a leak develops or hydraulic parts are replaced, but it is more important now on vehicles with anti-lock brakes. Moisture finds its way into the fluid leading to corrosion of metal parts and it lowers the fluid's boiling point. A lower boiling point can easily lead to a soft brake pedal and partial loss of braking power. Brake fluid boils at somewhere around 450 degrees. Water boils at 212 degrees. It is real easy for brake parts to reach well over 212 degrees, especially during city driving. If your mechanic doesn't recommend fluid service, it probably isn't necessary. Most manufacturers recommend replacing it at regular intervals but it's something no one actually does.
Using the wrong fluid in the transmission isn't likely to cause a problem other than the shudder. This has been explained two different ways to me. One person said there is a lot of slippage while the clutch pack is applying and the proper fluid helps them grab better as they apply. Another person said the clutch plates apply too aggressively and the correct fluid lets them slip a little so they engage smoother. The wrong fluid shouldn't cause a problem with the rubber seals or the valves.
The days of automatic transmissions lasting the life of the car are long gone. People today are accepting of transmissions that need to be rebuilt two or three times. Years ago we did a simple filter and fluid change that involved draining only the fluid in the pan. That removed about four quarts of the nine that's in the transmission. In response to the high transmission failure rate, the industry has developed a flushing system that replaces all of the old fluid. Many shops now offer this service that replaces 100 percent of the fluid. This involves adding a chemical that dissolves varnish buildup that can impede valve operation, then driving the vehicle for a few miles before using the new fluid to push the old fluid out. Many speedy lube-type places offer this service. I think it costs around $80.00 - 100.00.
The additives in transmission fluid last a whole lot longer than the additives in engine oil so replacing transmission fluid isn't as important. There is also some concern about doing this on high-mileage transmissions due to the thought that the clutch plate material has flaked off and is circulating in the fluid. That grit bites into the clutch plates and helps to prevent them from slipping. Supposedly if the fluid is replaced, that grit is gone and you're left with worn clutch plates. I'm not sure I believe this story because first of all, circulating grit will chew up the seals that hold the pressurized fluid that keeps the clutch packs applied. I think it's more likely the customer had a pre-existing problem that he kept secret, and requested this service in hopes it would solve it. When it didn't solve the problem, he could blame it on the mechanic or the service. To add to that, the instructor who shared this story isn't the brightest bulb. He never actually was a mechanic. I've never heard of this service causing a problem for anyone else, and it only happened to this instructor once.
To boil this down, I wouldn't worry too much about the fluid change yet. The normal recommended change interval is typically 36,000 miles. In the meantime, if the shudder is too irritating, visit your local auto parts store and ask them to recommend an additive you can use that will reduce the shudder. It must be a chemical that can remain in the system until the next fluid change. Some additives are designed to be drained after a short time period and should not be left in.
One quart low on engine oil is not really something to lose sleep over either, especially if that's as low as it gets between oil changes. Most engines use low-tension piston rings to reduce friction and increase fuel mileage. That lower tension allows a little more oil consumption than in years past. To reduce the number of associated complaints, most oil dipsticks are now marked with "min." And "max" instead of "full" and "add" . I haven't changed the oil in my '88 Grand Caravan in over eight years. I had my students replace the filter every other year, and I add a quart or two when the valve train starts to rattle! Now, obviously I'm not recommending that to anyone, but it goes to show how well some engines can hold up this abuse. It has 378,000 miles and I pull an enclosed trailer that's bigger than the van. Some engines, the 2.7L in particular, are known to develop a lot of major problems when the oil isn't changed at the proper intervals. For other engines, oils today are so good running a little low or stretching the time between changes is not a reason to panic.
Minor oil leaks are common. Yours could even be not worth noting except that your mechanic worked a little harder to find it in response to the low level. A former student chased oil leaks on my van for days. Each time he found one and repaired it, it leaked worse. Turns out the main leak was a pinhole rusted through the oil pan right where the oil ran past it on its way down. Every time he fixed a leak, more pressure built up in the bottom of the engine, and it's that pressure that was pushing the oil out of the pinhole. My only reason for bringing this up is to point out that replacing the easy gasket COULD inadvertently cause the other gasket to leak more. Leaking oil pan gaskets are fairly common too. Those can be messy but they will usually leave a spot on the ground. Whether to have a leak this small repaired is a judgment call based on cost, how fast it leaks, and how picky you are about such things.
As for the coolant hoses, you will have to ask your mechanic why he recommends replacement. It is good practice to replace them to prevent failure but they usually get ignored until one pops a leak. The antifreeze should be replaced every two years to get the acids out that naturally build up in the system and because corrosion inhibitors and water pump lubricant additives wear out in about two years. That's a good time to do the hoses while the coolant is already drained out. Hoses that feel unusually mushy are rotting from the inside. The real small curved water pump bypass hose seems to fail more than the others. It is fairly inexpensive but probably the hardest one to replace. Heater hoses don't seem to spring a leak very often. If you are careful, it is possible to nurse a car with a leaking hose a long way to get home or to a shop. The trick is to let the engine cool down which happens surprisingly quickly, then start the engine and get up to highway speed as quickly as possible, then shift to neutral, stop the engine, and cost for up to a mile. You won't have power steering and after two or three brake pedal applications, you won't have power brakes either once the engine is stopped. Under the best of circumstances, this will eliminate the need to call a tow truck.
Saturday, June 12th, 2010 AT 7:45 PM