Archive for the ‘Car Care Tips’ Category

Getting the most out of your air conditioning system

Friday, July 7th, 2017

July has barely begun, but we’ve already been inundated with some very hot weeks in Alberta! Naturally, we’re doing lots of air conditioning repairs these days. But what if your air conditioning system works, but it doesn’t cool as well as you’d like? Here are some tips to maximize its effectiveness.

 

Change your cabin air filter.

Cabin what? We still run into a lot of people who won’t know their car has a cabin air filter! Your cabin air filter is the “furnace filter of your car”, filtering the air travelling through your heater vents. The effect a restricted filter can have on air conditioning cooling is dramatic! A plugged filter not only drastically reduces the force with which the air blows from the vents, but it also reduces cooling. Check out this vent temperature comparison we did on a vehicle with a very dirty cabin air filter:

air conditioning repair

We don’t charge any labour to replace cabin air filters on most vehicles, and we sell most vehicles’ filters for between $20 and $30!

 

Replace your climate-controlled seat filter.

Does your vehicle have air conditioned or cooled seats? Most of these have filters that require regular replacement as well. Check your owner’s manual on how often you should tend to them on your vehicle.

 

Turn your fan speed down.

As tempting as it may be to really get that cold air blasting, you’ll usually achieve a colder vent temperature at settings around three quarters of the way up your blower motor’s fan speed range. For example, this may be speed #4 of 5 settings. The faster the incoming air is moving, the less time it spends inside your vehicle’s evaporator core to be cooled, and too much air can overload the system on hot days.

 

Use your “recirculate” or “max A/C” setting.

car ac not cold

In one pass through the system, your air conditioning system can only cool the incoming air by so many degrees. By switching to your “recirculate” setting, you direct the system to pull air from inside the vehicle (which has already been cooled once) instead of outside. This dramatically reduces vent temperature on most vehicles. Just be careful on longer drives, because the air conditioning system also dries the air that passes through it. You’ll want to switch off the recirculation mode from time to time in order to avoid dry mouth or headaches.

 

Check your radiator for restrictions.

radiator replacement

For your A/C system to cool properly, it must be able to draw large amounts of air through the condenser mounted behind your vehicle’s front grille. Dirt and mud build-up on the front of the radiator and between your vehicle’s various coolers – very common on trucks – can really reduce this airflow. We’ve even seen where a customer forgot their “Saskatchewan thermostat” (piece of cardboard) behind the radiator after the winter ended! While we’re taking shots at our neighbors to the east, radiators plugged with bugs and grasshoppers are a real cooling issue in the prairies as well! Most of this debris can be washed out with a garden hose from the rear of the radiator. Be careful using a pressure washer; you’ll want to keep the angle of your spray perpendicular to the radiator or else you’ll bend the fins.

 

Have your air conditioning system recharged.

While a perfectly sealed air conditioning system should never get low on refrigerant – or “freon”, as we used to call it – the reality is that over the years, the refrigerant level may drop. Removing, measuring and topping up (or “recharging”) the refrigerant level can get your vehicle cooling like new again. This is something that should be left to a professional; see our post here on why you should not use store-bought “canned” refrigerant products. If your air conditioning system becomes low on charge after just one year or two, then it likely has a leak that should be repaired.

We charge between $140 and $180 for this service, on most vehicles.

 

Have any air conditioning system problems or concerns? Email us or give us a call!

The “extra warranty” you didn’t know your vehicle had!

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

airdrie exhaust catalytic converter

By Chris Dekker

 

This month, we had a 2011 Buick in the shop for a check engine light diagnosis. We determined that the car had a failed catalytic converter; not a cheap repair. We called the customer and informed them that while we’d love to replace their catalytic converter, we couldn’t charge them for something they could receive for free under warranty. “Warranty?” they said, “That thing has been off warranty for almost two years!”

While the customer was right – the powertrain warranty had long since expired – the catalytic converter was covered under a special, federally mandated emissions system warranty. American and Canadian laws state that car manufacturers must cover certain emissions system-related parts for 8 years, or 130,000 km. This list of parts includes:

  • The catalytic converter and any related shielding/protection.
  • The under-dash data link connector that is used with scan tools.
  • The “check engine” light bulb and related wiring.
  • The engine control module or computer (ECM, PCM, etc).
  • In addition to these parts, any other on-board computer that performs diagnostic functions related to the emission system must be covered. On some vehicles, this includes the Transmission Control Module, Fuel Pump Driver Module, and more.

While this is a fairly short list of parts, some of these items are very expensive components to replace, so it’s worth knowing about!

airdrie ecm pcm repair

 

Who can perform these warranty repairs?

Only a repair facility authorized by the vehicle manufacturer themselves can perform a no-charge repair under your emissions warranty. In most cases, this will only be the servicing dealership for that brand.

Can I be charged for any part of an emissions warranty repair?

No; it’s forbidden by law. While many dealerships will ask you to commit to a diagnostic charge up front, in case your problem isn’t actually being caused by one of the warrantable parts, they cannot charge you for this diagnosis once it is determined that a warrantable part has failed. You are not to be charged for the diagnosis, or any additional parts and/or supplies that are required to complete the repair. For example, if a catalyst replacement requires installation of new exhaust gaskets, pipes or clamps, you should not be charged for these items either.

Is there any way a dealership can deny an emissions warranty claim?

Yes – but only if they can prove that you have misused your vehicle or not maintained it correctly, and it is this abuse that caused the failure of the warrantable part. Some examples of these abuses include:

  • Vehicle abuse such as off-road driving or overloading.
  • Tampering with emissions system components, including removal; intentional damage; or disabling of any emissions parts. (This would include installation of many aftermarket performance parts; “chips”; or “programmers”.)
  • Improper maintenance, such as not following the manufacturer’s service schedules, or not using replacement parts that are equivalent to factory parts. For example, let’s pretend your owner’s manual states to replace your spark plugs at 100,000 km. If you bring your vehicle in with a failed catalytic converter at 120,000 km, and the original spark plugs still installed, it could be argued (and fairly so) that the worn-out spark plugs caused an engine running condition that damaged the catalytic converter.

What should you do if your claim is denied, and you’re sure it shouldn’t have been?

  1. Ask for a detailed explanation, in writing as to why emissions warranty coverage was denied; and
  2. Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) involved in the decision to deny coverage, including anyone from the manufacturer’s regional or zone office; and
  3. Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) with the manufacturer you should contact to appeal the denial of coverage under the emissions warranty.
  4. Contact the person mentioned above requesting coverage and giving the basis for your request. Repeat and continue the appeal process until you are satisfied or have exhausted all means of appeal. In Alberta, motorists can also reach out to the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) for help with any auto purchasing or service issues.

We hope this information is helpful, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about new vehicle warranties – or anything else car-related! Please call or email us anytime.

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.

By Chris Dekker

 

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

 

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!

Stop Changing Your Oil

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Airdrie Calgary Oil Changes

 

In this month’s car care article, I’m not actually telling you to stop changing your oil. I am, however, telling you to stop just changing your oil. What does this mean?

Let’s start with a little background. Decades ago, engines (and engine oils) weren’t nearly as good as they are now. Engines didn’t last nearly as long as they do today, and quite often when car owners finally had to get rid of their old car, it was because the engine or transmission itself was worn out. Over the years, consumers learned that regular oil changes were a very important part of making their engine (and therefore, their car) last for its intended lifespan, and became very good about changing their oil regularly – too good, almost.

Soon, small “lube shops” started popping up everywhere, capitalizing on car owners new-found commitment to regular oil changes. Customers would faithfully drive in every 3000 miles (5000 km), have their oil changed, and drive away satisfied that they were taking great care of their vehicle. What they didn’t realize, though, is that they were only addressing a small percentage of their vehicle’s needs; and overpaying to do it. We’ll get to the overpaying part later; first let’s talk about proper vehicle maintenance.

At Tools in Motion, we always talk about “complete car care”. This means taking proper care of your entire vehicle and every one of its systems. When we recommend vehicle maintenance services, we’re actually following the recommendations of your vehicle manufacturer – we do not use overly aggressive or unrealistic “in-house” service schedules as found elsewhere.

I have randomly selected one vehicle that we serviced this week; a 2008 Hyundai Veracruz.

Let’s examine this car’s needs: Hyundai recommends an oil change on this vehicle every 7500 miles (12,000 km). At every oil change, they also recommend a tire rotation, and a complete inspection of the brakes, steering system, driveline, evaporative emission system, electronic throttle control system and more. Every second oil change, Hyundai recommends replacing the cabin air filter. As the mileage gets higher, other items get added to the checklist, and other maintenance items are due to be replaced at different intervals. After 50,000 km or so, brake parts, tires or other “wear and tear” suspension parts may require replacement.

You’ll notice that this Hyundai doesn’t call for an oil change anywhere near every 5000 km. This is the norm today, and this is where the “overpaying” part comes in: many lube shops, and even dealership service departments continue to install oil change stickers encouraging customers to come back every 5000 km for an oil change that honestly, they don’t need yet. The money for these extra oil changes could have been much better spent on some of the other required services that aren’t being done at these shops.

Most vehicles today have an oil change interval of 10,000 km or more, which means that the average driver will only have two opportunities per year to have their vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic. We encourage every driver not to waste these opportunities, and have these oil changes done by a team that will service their vehicle as a whole. At Tools in Motion, besides installing your manufacturer’s recommended oil and a premium filter, we will rotate your tires and provide you with a full vehicle inspection at every oil change, performed by a journeyman technician. We’ll let you know if you’ve reached the mileage where, according to your vehicle manufacturer, any other service items are due, as well as advise you if there are any overdue services that may have been missed in the past.

Every day, these inspections catch important safety/reliability issues that the vehicle owner might have never known about if their oil changes weren’t being performed by a business with this “whole vehicle” approach to maintenance. And with our highly informative, but low pressure sales experience, customers drive away satisfied because they know we’re on their side, and that we’ll work with them to prioritize repairs in order to keep their vehicle safe and reliable while staying within their budget.