Archive for the ‘Car Care Tips’ Category

What does maintaining a vehicle really cost?

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

Written by Chris Dekker, former co-owner at Tools in Motion.car repair

 

“This vehicle is costing me too much money.” It’s a phrase that we hear from customers quite often, and sometimes we agree with them! Often, though, we feel that the customer doesn’t have a realistic expectation of what (properly) maintaining a vehicle should cost.

Driving costs money. It’s an expense that never goes away, and most drivers are faced with a choice between making payments on a new vehicle, or paying for repairs on an older one. With today’s longer 60, 72 or 84 month financing terms, many car owners will actually find themselves doing both. Maintaining your older, paid-for vehicle is always cheaper, how much cheaper is it? How do you know if your car is “costing you too much money”?

We feel that the average car owner should fully expect and budget for $2500 per year in maintenance and repair expenses. This increases to around $3000 annually for full-size trucks, and $4000 for 3/4-ton and larger diesel trucks, especially if they are driven a lot. Automotive industry groups like AIA Canada come up with similar numbers. This will vary a bit based on vehicle model, as a more expensive vehicle will usually also cost more to own over time. (Maintaining an Audi Q5 will obviously cost more than maintaining a Kia Sorento.)

 

Is $2500/year worth it? How much cheaper is maintaining your older vehicle?

Maintaining your older vehicle usually cuts your cost of driving in half vs making payments on a new car, but numbers vary depending on model. Here are a couple examples:

  1. A mid-level Honda Odyssey EX without navigation costs $43,000 after taxes and fees, and would cost around $766 per month at 2.9% interest over 5 years; or about $9200 per year. In this case, spending our recommended $2500 annually on your older minivan would cost you 73% less than purchasing the new van, even before considering that the new van will still require some maintenance as well.
  2. Here’s another example with a less expensive vehicle: a new Chevy Cruze. A mid-range Cruze LS with an automatic transmission costs around $25,000 after taxes and fees, or $420 per month/$5000 annually over five years. Even though Chevrolet kicks in a few free oil changes at the beginning, you’ll probably spend a few hundred bucks per year on maintenance, meaning our $2500 investment in your older car would still cost you 53% less.

This illustrates that while spending $2500-$3000 per year maintaining your older vehicle might sound like a lot of money, it actually represents a very good value when it comes to cost of driving.

 

What about a really cheap vehicle, like one you paid $2000 for?

We’ll often hear from people that they don’t want to put $1000-$2000 of work into their older car, because they only paid a couple thousand dollars for the vehicle. While there definitely comes a point in every car’s life where it becomes no longer worth fixing – and we’ve actually talked many folks out of fixing their vehicles before – we don’t feel this is a valid reason not to maintain most vehicles properly.

It’s important to remember that while auto manufacturers will refer to your vehicle as an investment, it’s really just an expense. Keeping the car you rely on safe and reliable is an on-going life expense, just like heating your home or feeding your family. That expense doesn’t change much based on what you paid for the vehicle – just like it takes the same amount of food to fill a $5000 brand-new fridge from The Brick every week as it does a $100 used fridge from Kijiji. It takes the same amount of natural gas to heat a 1,500 square foot home whether you paid $50,000 or $400,000 for it. We should view the cost of reliable transportation the same way.

 

airdrie car mechanic

 

 

Why “A/C in a can” is a bad idea.

Saturday, August 15th, 2015
airdrie auto air conditioning

This is an example of an “auto parts store” A/C recharge kit.

Written by Chris Dekker, former co-owner at Tools in Motion.

 

Air conditioning refrigerant, sometimes referred to as “freon”, is the liquid that circulates through your car’s air conditioning system and makes the system cool. The refrigerant that has been used in vehicles since 1995 is called R-134a. Your refrigerant should theoretically never need topping up or changing, but the reality is that it can sometimes leak out over time, and your vehicle’s air conditioning may start to work poorly. (If a leak is found, it should be repaired, of course!) This post explains why an increasingly popular air conditioning “solution” is actually a bad idea.

While browsing your department store, you may have come across small cans of aftermarket, hydrocarbon-based refrigerant for sale, including brands like Duracool, Red Tek, and Emzone 12A. Should you use these products to “top up” your air conditioning system, and get it cooling well again? These products claim to offer better cooling (because they are a more efficient refrigerant), and be easier on the environment, so it sounds tempting. They’re cheap, too. While these claims are partially true, there are a bunch of reasons why you still shouldn’t put them in your vehicle’s A/C system:

 

Reason #1: You can’t recharge your system properly.

A proper, long-lasting air conditioning recharge procedure includes the following steps:

  1. Evacuate the old refrigerant from the system, and weight it to determine if the system was over, or under-charged.
  2. Measure the amount of oil that was removed from the system.
  3. Using an electric vacuum pump, pull a vacuum on the system for at least 15 minutes to draw out any trapped air, and boil off any water in the system. (Water boils at room temperature when under a vacuum!)
  4. Leave the system under vacuum for at least 10 minutes after stopping the pump, and monitor rate of vacuum drop to test the system for leaks.
  5. Add the appropriate amount of oil to the system. There is a minimum amount of oil required to protect system components; but too much oil will insulate the lines and reduce cooling.
  6. Charge the system with a specific weight of refrigerant. Too little refrigerant will result in poor cooling, and too much will create high running pressures, also causing poor cooling.
  7. Run the system and monitor high and low side pressures; temperatures; cooling fans, etc, to make sure everything is working properly.
  8. Add an ultraviolet dye to the system, so if any leaks develop, they can be located with a UV light and glasses.

The “refrigerant in a can” kits only address step #6, and poorly at that. There is no way to accurately measure how much refrigerant is added, and no way to pull all the air out of the system before adding it.  This means you are injecting an unknown amount of one refrigerant on top of an unknown amount of a different refrigerant (plus any air and water in the system), with an unknown amount of oil. It’s not hard to see why the results are often less than stellar.

So what happens if you try a hydrocarbon-based refrigerant, and your A/C still doesn’t perform as desired? Maybe now, it’s time to bring your car to a professional. But that brings us to problem #2…

 

Reason #2: Once a hydrocarbon-based refrigerant is added, most professional mechanics will not touch your A/C system.

What’s an azeotrope? It’s a mixture of  two different refrigerants, which when mixed, exhibit unique and undesirable properties. By adding a hydrocarbon-based refrigerant to the haloalkane factory refrigerant, this is what you create. This mixtures of refrigerant often behave unpredictably, and don’t function right in an A/C system.

Azeotropes cannot be disposed of in the same way that you could with a pure refrigerant such as R-134a. In Alberta, azeotropes are treated as a hazardous waste and must be disposed of at the Swan Hills treatment facility, at a cost of over $300 per pound. You can see why no shop would want to contaminate their R-134a tanks, or their A/C equipment with a hydrocarbon-based refrigerant!

We (and most other businesses) use an expensive tool called a refrigerant identifier, before we hook equipment up to your A/C system. It lets us take a sample of the refrigerant in your system, and analyze it to find out what chemicals it’s made up of. If we find hydrocarbons in the system, we have to inform the customer that we cannot service their air conditioning.

 

airdrie auto ac

Here is our refrigerant identifier, taking a sample on a customer’s vehicle. This is a $3000 tool!

 

Reason #3: Hydrocarbon refrigerants are flammable.

That’s right! Most of these “canned” refrigerants are made up of a light hydrocarbon such as propane. Propane actually has the right boiling point to make an excellent refrigerant, if it wasn’t for the safety concerns involved. In the event of a front-end collision where the air conditioning condenser or hoses were punctured, high pressure refrigerant spraying out at over 100 PSI could cause an inferno in a matter of seconds if it comes in contact with something hot under the hood. The chances are low, but this situation is certainly possible, and does happen. Refrigerant vapour under the hood can even be ignited by a leaking spark plug wire.

 

The “A/C in a can” solution is tempting for somebody who doesn’t know better: it’s quick, easy and cheap – but as you may now understand – could end up costing you a whole lot more than just servicing your system properly in the first place.

Be a Happy Camper: Checking your Trailer

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Written by Chris Dekker, former co-owner at Tools in Motion.

 

Airdrie Trailer MaintenanceWith the weather finally starting to look better, lots of people are starting to think about summer, and the summer adventures that lie ahead. For many Albertans, that means a family trip in an RV. Camping trailers are by far the most popular form of RVs, and (we feel) for good reason. They are much easier to maintain than a motor home; since they don’t come with a second engine, transmission, brake and suspension system that needs attention. Providing you have kept your tow vehicle in good shape throughout the winter, you can expect your whole set-up to be pretty reliable.

That being said, trailers do need some annual attention. Most of the trailer break-downs that we respond to involve the trailer tires. There are a couple things every trailer owner should check before going out:

  • The tire pressure,  even if the tires look OK. If they haven’t been checked since last season, they are low for sure. Low tire pressure reduces the tire’s ability to carry weight and causes it to heat up more as it rotates. Low pressure is the leading cause of tire blow-outs.
  • Carefully inspect the tires, including the sidewalls, for any cracking or signs of separation. Many trailer tires are a bias-ply construction, and prone to the tread section peeling off. Before this happens, you may notice cracking where the tread section meets the sidewall of the tire. Besides being inconvenient, this kind of tire failure can cause extensive damage to the side of your trailer. Since they usually don’t see regular use and have a chance to “bloom” (this is a natural moisturizing process that occurs when a tire rolls, and waxes are released) regularly, it’s not uncommon to replace trailer tires well before the tread is worn out!

Trailers should also receive an annual inspection of their brakes and wheel bearings. Wheel bearing failure is the second-most common trailer break-down that we see on a regular basis. Sometimes, a “spun” or failed bearing can result in having to replace the whole axle, which can be an expensive proposition. The wheel bearings should be serviced at least every second season, which involves cleaning them, packing them with new grease and adjusting them, plus replacing the wheel seals. At the same time, the trailer brakes can be inspected and adjusted. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had your trailer’s wheel bearings serviced, it has been too long!