Monday, September 27, 2010

My New Best Friend


On September 22, 2010 I had the incredible good fortune to travel to Washington, DC to to join an informal backyard gathering with President Obama and over a dozen other participants from around the country who will benefit from the new health care protections that went into effect on September 23. We came to share our stories of how the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and its Patient’s Bill of Rights will improve our own and our families’ health as well as the financial well-being of our country’s small businesses. The President spent well over an hour listening to people tell their stories of how the health care reform provisions will improve their lives, sometimes dramatically. I met people who no longer face denial of coverage because they have a pre-existing medical condition or have exceeded their lifetime health insurance limit. In attendance were young people who will continue to be covered by their parent’s insurance policy until they turn 26 and people who will benefit from not having to pay co-pays or deductibles for recommended preventive care.

The significance of the new law for Hawthorne Auto Clinic is that we will be able to continue fully funding our employees’ and their families’ health care coverage. Our company is one of over 4 million small businesses now eligible for the new health care tax credits. Our health care costs for our employees and their families had reached 20% of payroll: an unsustainable burden. The effect of this tax credit for our company will be to return our health care expenses to 2008 levels – a major cost reduction. My visit with President Obama was truly remarkable and I was most impressed with how hard he and his administration have been working to address our health care crisis and make these health insurance reforms a reality.

During our visit the President remarked on the challenge of providing Americans with the information necessary to take advantage of the new health care law. In my research before making this trip I was surprised to learn how few Americans actually know what the ACA provides. Not surprisingly I also learned that the special interests who want to overturn this reform and return control of our health to the insurance companies have outspent, in radio, TV and print advertising, supporters of the Patient’s Bill of Rights by large margins. Though we may not be able to affect the spending ratio of the anti-health reform big insurance companies and their allies, I intend to do my part to help all Americans understand and take advantage of this new health care reform law.

To learn the facts about how the ACA will enable all to take control of their health care needs, access the new law’s details at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ . For a non-partisan evaluation of the ACA, the respected Kaiser Family Foundation Web site has excellent information at http://healthreform.kff.org/. To learn how the ACA can help America’s 4 million small businesses provide health insurance coverage for their employees, check http://mainstreetalliance.org/wordpress/ .

Jim Houser, co-owner Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Inc.

Friday, June 11, 2010

OIL MOLECULES DON'T WEAR OUT




Re-refined oil? Does that mean you drain the oil from someone else's car and put it in mine? Sounds sketchy! Well, yes and no.... Last month we completed the switch from using virgin oil in the most commonly specified grades, 5w-20, 5w-30, and 10w-30, to using re-refined oil in our oil changes at Hawthorne Auto Clinic. So we better have a good explanation.

The process of creating base stocks for re-refined oil begins with the collection of used oil drained from customer vehicles at our shop and and many others. This oil, contaminated with moisture, engine wear products, and chemical byproducts of combustion, is transported to the refinery. In a process similar to that of refining crude oil, but using 85% less energy, it is converted into re-refined base oil, and combined with an additive package similar to that used for virgin oil.

First stop is the dehydration unit, where water,
gasoline, and other light-boiling components are "flashed out" of the feedstock. Next, vacuum distillation strips away diesel fuels and gas oils which can be used in asphalt roofing and refinery fuel. Dirt, polymers, heavy metals and other contaminants are removed from the resulting base lube stock by the thin-film evaporator. Hydrofinishing uses hydrogen to remove sulfur and chlorine compounds, purifying the base stock. Finally, an additive package is blended in to produce oil that meets or exceeds auto manufacturers' warranty requirements and the American Petroleum Institute's motor oil specifications.

Because a part of our mission at Hawthorne Auto Clinic is to help our customers get the
maximum lifespan from their vehicles, it's important to us that re-refined oil meets the latest API SM and ILSAC GF-4 specifications. Most governmental agencies as well as corporations like UPS and Frito-Lay use it in fleets (the US Postal Service has used it for over 10 years), Mercedes Benz uses it as factory fill in new cars, and it even sees use on the NASCAR circuit. We have been using it in our own vehicles and by customer request for a number of years and have never seen any engine problems related to its use. That said, some manufacturers do require full synthetic or other specialty oils to meed warranty requirements for several models, and we always confirm we are recommending oil specified by the manufacturer when we are changing a customer's oil.

Environmental degradation associated with the production and use of petroleum is much in the news lately, and obviously the solution must be multifaceted. In addition, it's estimated that more than 350 million gallons of used motor oil is disposed of improperly each year, mostly a gallon at a time by do-it-yourselfers, and is thought to cause more than 40% of the total oil pollution of our waterways. Before the re-refining process became common, much oil from shops was either burned on-site for heat or collected to burn as fuel elsewhere, adding heavy metal emissions and greenhouse gases to our atmosphere. Help close the loop - use re-refined oil in your vehicle.

(Information in this post came from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, State of California Dept. of General Services, Undercar Magazine, and Vehicle MD Magazine)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who Will Fix Your Car?

Who will fix your car five or ten years from now? Maybe you’ve noticed your mechanic’s hair turning grey, or perhaps disappearing entirely. Perhaps you’ve observed that your neighborhood high school no longer offers auto shop, that fewer young people are spending time in the driveway or family garage working on their “ride”.

These days community colleges provide the primary training ground for auto repair technicians. Students often enter several years after leaving high school, having realized that minimum wage work doesn’t provide much satisfaction or future, but without the support needed to successfully complete the two-year automotive technology program. Instructors tell stories of students living in their cars, subsisting on a diet of ramen, dropping out because a spouse lost a job.

For over twenty years the Association of Women in Automotive has raised money for scholarships for students in the automotive program at Portland Community College. You can help us by attending our plant sale this Saturday, May 8, in the parking lot at Hawthorne Auto Clinic, 4307 SE Hawthorne Blvd. from 8:30AM to 3:00PM. We are offering colorful annuals, vegetable starts, perennial divisions from members’ gardens, some natives, and even a smattering of rummage!

All proceeds go to assist automotive students. You can help a young person preparing for a career that pays a living wage, offers healthcare and other benefits, and performs a useful function in the community – keeping your vehicle in safe operating condition.

Liz Dally

President, Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Inc.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today's Oregonian, 1/26/2010, published a commentary I submitted (http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/01/health_care_reform_changing_th.html) . Since there were some errors in their editing I thought I would post my original submission.

"As the final details are being negotiated on the health care reform legislation, I can’t help but think back to a year ago when I began to speak out on this issue. As a small business owner, getting involved in advocating for health care reform was an easy choice for me. Sure, I was inspired by the historic election of President Obama last year and excited by his early commitment to make health care reform a priority. But that wasn’t the clincher.

Just before the President was sworn in, I got a notice that our insurance rates were going up 13%. Well, it’s that time of year again and last week I got this year’s bad news: another 11% hike. You do the math and it’s scary: our staff’s health care costs now exceed $90,000 a year, an increase of 100 percent over the last eight years. It’s that kind of math that produced another auto mechanic for health care reform: yours truly.

My wife and I have operated our auto repair business for 27 years. We’ve always offered health insurance for our employees, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes good business sense.

Cars are very complex and, in our industry, servicing them properly requires high-level employees. We need well-trained technicians who pay close attention to detail. Our workers are very skilled and very committed. We have people on our team who’ve worked here twenty years; our longest-serving employee just retired after 26 years. I don’t want my customers to even think about going anywhere else but our shop… and I really don’t want my technicians to think of going anywhere else either.

We offer full health care coverage for all our regular employees and their families, but the premiums far outstrip any reasonable cost for what we receive. With that 100 percent increase over the last eight years, rising health insurance costs hinder our ability to provide well-deserved raises and other needed benefits. While good health care coverage helps us keep good employees, the increased cost of health insurance premiums is unsustainable.

The game of health care is rigged against small businesses in two key ways that need to be fixed.

First, as a small business that pays for good coverage for our employees, the expense puts us at a competitive disadvantage to other similar businesses that shirk that responsibility. We need reform to level the playing field for business owners like me by calling on all employers to step up, to be responsible employers and do their part. The final bill must ensure a system of shared responsibility so that small businesses—the engine of our economy—can compete and thrive.

Second, small businesses have no bargaining power in the current structure of state-based small group health insurance markets. The insurance companies have us over a barrel. That’s why we need a national health insurance exchange where businesses and individuals can shop for coverage that meets our needs. A national exchange will give us real options: a wide array of competing providers offering different plans with varying benefit levels and prices. No more discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Plans will have to be certified and meet a basic standard of benefits. The exchange will give us the benefit of real choices with the bargaining power that only large employers enjoy now.

The bill Congress is poised to pass is historic. Sure, we could find a hundred and one things in it to complain about, but what we have is an inspiring start, the beginning of a process to fix our broken health care system. We should not allow a minority of politicians who are dead-set against meaningful reform to derail this hard-won legislation. For me as a small business owner, this long-overdue health care reform can’t come soon enough."