Archive for the ‘Around the Shop’ Category

Making the right decision, not the profitable one.

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

By Chris Dekker

airdrie mechanic

“Don’t tell them about the loose ball joints; we don’t want to lose the brake job.” These were the words from my manager, at an auto repair shop that I worked for years ago. A customer had brought their vehicle in for a brake repair and agreed on a price. Once we brought the vehicle inside, we noticed the lower ball joints were very worn and loose. Besides being a safety hazard, this was also going to be an expensive repair. My manager made the decision to tell the customer about the ball joint issue after we repaired the brakes, for fear that the more expensive estimate “scare the customer off”, or lead them to not fix the vehicle at all. He didn’t want to lose the revenue from the brake repair.

Is this right? Of course not! But you’d be surprised at how often stuff like this happens in our industry.

Before I get too carried away, let’s change gears for a minute. This week, I met with a fellow to discuss some new shop equipment. He marveled at how quickly our business had grown over the last few years. He asked, “How, after only 4 years, are you so much busier than these businesses that have been in Airdrie for over two decades?”

I wasn’t really sure how to answer that question at first. We haven’t really tried to grow this quickly; we just do our best for our customers every day, and it kind of happened on its own. After I thought for a while, though, I was able to pick out what I feel is the principle driver of our growth: our reputation for honesty. We’ve worked very hard for this reputation, and continue to every day. I told the man, “It really comes down to all the little decisions that we make every day; decisions that aren’t always the most profitable for us, but they’re the right thing to do.”

That’s truly what it comes down to. Running our business the way we do costs a lot of money. It means that our profits on a given volume of sales will be lower than competitors, and lower than what is normal in the automotive repair industry. Every day in this industry, you find yourself in situations where you need to choose a path: The path that earns you the most profit, or the ethical path that usually means less profit – and sometimes a loss of money. You’ll be happy to know that we always choose the latter; and put our customers (and our reputation) ahead of any short-term financial gain.

 

Examples of these situations include:

1.) The “Sell just enough work that we can still get the job” routine:

The aforementioned scenario, where a customer will bring their vehicle in for a repair, and you notice other important issues that (if we were the customer), we’d want to know about first. If the issues are serious, we always stop work immediately and get in touch with the customer before proceeding. Quite often, even if the customer doesn’t want a full inspection, we’ll do a complete check-over on a customer’s vehicle before starting a big job – usually at no charge to them. This helps prevent us from doing a repair on a vehicle that’s not worth fixing, and we’ve actually talked a few folks out of fixing their car because of these inspections.

2) The botched diagnosis:

Even though we’re very good at what we do, we’re also human beings; and we make mistakes. Let’s pretend you bring your car in to diagnose a misfire, and we tell you it needs a fuel pump. You agree to the repair, and we replace the pump. However, we start the vehicle up afterwards and it’s still misfiring! Clearly we got it wrong, and something else is the issue. Let’s say that further testing reveals your problem is actually the spark plugs. This is a much cheaper repair than a new fuel pump. Here are two ways that some automotive businesses often handle this situation: 1) Discovering their mistake, the shop replaces the spark plugs and doesn’t tell the customer. The customer, none the wiser, picks up their smooth running car and believes the fuel pump fixed the issue – even though the correct repair would have been half the cost. 2) The shop calls the customer and tells them that their vehicle is “Better than it was”, or “Has a different problem now” and sells them the spark plug repair as well. They might even go so far as to make up a silly story about how the faulty fuel pump must have “taken out” the spark plugs. The customer pays for both repairs – the ones they did need, and the one they didn’t.

Now here’s how we handle this situation: We usually call up the customer right away, and inform them that we’ve made a mistake. We explain why we thought the fuel pump was the culprit, but that it didn’t fix the problem. We also tell the customer that they aren’t going to pay for that new fuel pump – but they can keep the new part. (Parts like these are usually non-returnable, and we’d lose even more money paying a technician to change the part again, anyway.) We then explain that the actual repair (the new spark plugs) was much cheaper and the customer usually picks up their vehicle feeling pretty happy.

3) The botched diagnosis, part 2:

Take example #2 above, but pretend that instead of needing new spark plugs, we discover the vehicle needs new fuel injectors. Let’s pretend that new fuel injectors cost even more money than a new fuel pump. Maybe the fuel pump replacement was $800, but the injectors would cost $1000; meaning the correct repair actually costs $200 more than we’d originally quoted. Now what? Well, as you may already know, all of our diagnostics are guaranteed. This means that it we told you it’s going to cost $800 to repair your misfire, that’s what it’s going to cost – and this customer just got a free fuel pump, plus a $1000 set of injectors for $800. It’s just the right thing to do.

(Obviously, there are cases where a vehicle does indeed have multiple issues; or one issue must be repaired first before you can tackle another one. This is different. But you can always count on us to own up to our mistakes if we make one, and be honest with you in these situations.)

 

We always believed that running our business this way would pay off in the long run, and now we’re seeing the payoff that we knew would come. Sure, we aren’t making the money that we could be making, but we’re OK with that. We’re very proud of our outstanding reputation in the community, because we’ve worked very hard – and made a lot of sacrifices – for it.

I’ve mentioned the “making the right decisions” thing before, so hopefully this helps give you a behind-the-scenes look at our management style, and how Tim & I have decided to run our company. We sincerely appreciate you and every one of our customers who support us. We know you have a lot of choices out there, and we don’t take it for granted that you choose us for your automotive needs. We also know that we’re not perfect. There are situations where we’re still learning; where we make mistakes; or where there is a breakdown in communication. We ask that you always bring these situations to our attention, because we really do care about our customers and we might be a lot more eager to “make a bad situation right” than you might expect!

Thank you from everyone at Tools in Motion for letting us help keep you on the road!

The magic computer? We still don’t have one.

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

“Do you have one of those computers that tells you what’s wrong with the car?” This has got to be one of every mechanic’s least favourite questions to get from a customer. As we’ve explained before, while scan tools can provide a starting point for a proper diagnosis, it’s very early in the process that the human brain must take over. As we often tell people, there is a big difference between pulling out a trouble code and actually diagnosing a problem.

Here’s a great example from this week. This little Honda CR-V came to us with a “check engine” light on, and the engine idling rough.

airdrie check engine light

 

We connected a scan tool and retrieved the stored trouble codes from the engine computer, or ECM. As we often see, the stored codes were of no help, as the engine had set misfire codes for all four cylinders. We already knew the engine was misfiring, and the trouble codes don’t tell us why the misfire is happening.

airdrie car scan

 

Even though this vehicle’s rather simplistic engine computer is flagging misfires on all four cylinders, the issue really felt more like a consistent misfire from a single cylinder. Removing and shorting out the spark plugs wires one by one, we determined that the engine was misfiring on cylinder #4.

airdrie spark plugs

 

OK, now what? We’ve got lots of possibilities here: the issue could be a bad spark plug or plug wire; a problem with the distributor (yes, this car still has one); a faulty fuel injector; or about a dozen other things. Removing and inspecting the cylinder #4 spark plug seemed like a good place to start. As it turns out, the spark plug and wire were both in good condition.

airdrie mechanic

 

We noticed, however, that the spark plug was a bit wet with fuel. Having already ensured we had a strong spark supply to the plug from the distributor and coil, this could only mean one thing: The spark plug was firing; the fuel injector was firing; but the combustion event was not taking place inside the cylinder. The next logical step seemed like performing a compression test. We installed our compression tester in the #4 spark plug tube; disabled the ignition system; and cranked the engine over. As it turned out, cylinder #4 was only making about 40PSI of compression! (A good cylinder on this engine measured around 160 PSI.)

airdrie compression test

 
The low compression was definitely the cause of the misfire. Every engine needs at least 100 PSI per cylinder to “get the fire going”, so to speak. Now it was time to determine why cylinder #4 had low compression. Like before, there are lots of possibilities: it could be a burnt/bent valve; worn out piston rings; or a handful of other things. How do we determine where all that lost compression is going? We install a cylinder leakdown tester. Out came the compression tester, and in went this next tool.

airdrie car repair

 

We rotated the engine until cylinder #4 was on its compression stroke, with all the valves closed. Using the leakdown tester, we filled the cylinder with compressed air. As you can see, this cylinder has about 85% leakdown. (20% is the most we’d ever like to see on a good engine.)

We can also use the leakdown tester to determine where the leaking compression is going, by listening for air leakage at different points on the engine. Air coming out of the intake manifold or throttle body indicates a leaking intake valve on this cylinder. Air hissing from the tailpipe indicates a leaking exhaust valve, and air leaking from the oil cap points towards a leak into the crankcase via worn out cylinders and/or piston rings. This vehicle had none of these leaks. The compressed air was actually leaking from the cylinder #3 spark plug hole, indicating there is a blown head gasket or other combustion leak between these two adjacent cylinders.

The next step in diagnosis will be to remove the cylinder head for inspection, and likely replace the leaking head gasket.

 

Almost every warning light diagnosis works this way. The trouble codes (sometimes) provide a starting point, and then there are usually many other tests that must be performed – using even more specialized equipment – to “zero in” on the route cause of the issue. With some issues, there are no codes stored at all, and the technician must let the symptoms and their experience lead them in the right testing direction.

Every good diagnosis goes like the one on our Honda this week: A well-trained technician knows exactly what test to perform next based on the symptoms at hand, and lets the results of that test tell them what test should be performed afterwards. There is no wasted time troubleshooting parts that don’t need to be checked – and more importantly, no money wasted replacing parts that won’t fix the problem.

This is the value of a good diagnosis by a qualified professional, and it’s what we work to bring you every day.

Labour Rate Increase

Friday, April 21st, 2017

From Tim and Chris:

After more than three years at our current shop labour rate, we are are finally making an increase. Prices in the area have increased to the point where we are now charging $15-$25/hour less than most other independent repair shops in Airdrie, and $35/hour less than local dealerships. When you consider that these other businesses are also billing another $10-$15/hour in “shop supplies” charges on top of their labour rate – and we don’t – the price disparity is actually between $25 and $55/hour.

In many cases, we are charging a lot less for a shop that is better equipped; technicians who are better trained; and a better quality repair (with a much better warranty) than these competitors.

Obviously that’s not right. But this isn’t the only reason for the rate increase. We (the owners) won’t see a pay increase a result of the higher labour rate. The higher labour rate is necessary to keep up with increasing costs, which have actually risen a lot in the last couple years despite the bad economy. For these reasons, our general labour rate will be increasing by $15 to $125 per hour this month.

So what is not changing? Our overall value offered will still be exceptional, because:

  • Our diagnostics & programming rate will remain at $150/hour, where it was before.
  • Our diagnostics are still guaranteed. If we tell you that you need something, and it doesn’t fix the problem, you don’t pay. Ever.
  • Our general labour rate is still pretty darn competitive, since our effective labour rate (including fees) will still be $10-$30 lower than most competitors.
  • Our honesty – arguably the largest factor when it comes to determining value – isn’t going anywhere. Our customers never pay for repairs they don’t need, or unnecessary labour overlap between related repairs.
  • Our parts pricing will not change.
  • Our service after the sale isn’t changing. If you ever have a problem, we want to hear about it! And you might be impressed by how concerned we are with taking care of you.
  • Our industry-leading 3 year/60,000 km parts & labour warranty on all repairs, with 2 years of North America-wide coverage and roadside assistance, remains in effect. This is significant. As an example, let’s say a friend of yours has a water pump replaced at another business, and it starts leaking 13 months later. They’re likely out of warranty, and out of luck. This is a bad situation, and it happens! If we’d installed that pump, your friend would have been taken care of, and would have another two years of warranty coverage left.

Any questions or concerns? Please email us at feedback@toolsinmotionauto.ca :)

Our new policy regarding power steering pumps, and why we’re adopting it.

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

airdrie auto repair

We’ve decided to start installing only OEM (original equipment, or factory) power steering pumps in our customers’ vehicles. Here’s why.

 

A major part of us providing you with a lasting, quality repair is choosing the right replacement parts for your vehicle. Our years of experience help us understand what types and brands of parts will work best in different situations. We know where you can save money by going with an aftermarket part, and where only an OEM part will do. (In some cases, the aftermarket part is actually an improvement over the stock design, and we’ll inform you of this, too!)

We’re continuously evaluating the work we do, and looking for ways to bring our customers a better repair while balancing the need to keep things affordable. While our pricing is definitely competitive, we’re competing just as much on quality and service; and we want to protect our hard-earned reputation for quality, honest work. One area where we feel like we can make an improvement (when it comes to quality) is with power steering pump replacements.

The power steering pump can be a fairly common failure part, and we probably replace a few of them every week. In the past, we’ve primarily used aftermarket power steering pumps because of the very large cost difference between an aftermarket and an OEM pump. For the most part, they’re what every shop uses. For a 2005 Dodge diesel truck, as an example, an OEM pump costs over $1000 but an aftermarket unit is less than $200. The price difference on other vehicles isn’t as drastic, but it’s always there. However, this is where it’s important to recognize the difference between price and value. While it’s true that we’ve installed lots of aftermarket steering pumps for customers who have had good service from them, the failure rate of the aftermarket units is higher than we consider to be acceptable. Even with our top quality install and a thorough flush of the steering system, we are seeing too many aftermarket pumps failing within the first couple years.

We really wish the aftermarket power steering pumps were better. Unfortunately, no matter where you buy an aftermarket pump, they mostly all come from the same supplier: Cardone Industries. Cardone rebuilds pumps for Auto Value, Napa Auto Parts, Bumper to Bumper, Partsource, Canadian Tire, and most of the other large auto parts retailers. Cardone builds many good quality products, but their remanufactured steering parts aren’t up to our standards – and this is a feeling shared by many in our industry. It’s pretty much impossible an alternative to the Cardone pump in the aftermarket world, though.

We are not okay with installing a part that we can’t be 100% confident in, or that we suspect will need replacing again in the coming few years. Even though using an aftermarket power steering pump might be cheaper in the short term, paying for the repair multiple times will quickly get more expensive than just fixing the issue once – the first time – with a better quality part.

Even if a power steering pump fails within our warranty period, and the repair is free to you, it’s still a bad thing. A breakdown is inconvenient; could leave you stranded somewhere; and could leave you having to pay for a tow. A failed part also makes our quality of work look bad. It’s just not worth it. This is why we’ve made the decision to stick with the OEM pumps from now on.

It won’t always be the most popular decision. We know that in the event a customer is calling around comparing prices for a pump replacement, our pricing will likely seem very high at first. We’ll have to explain that the competitive shop is likely quoting an aftermarket pump. But we feel that, as with our commitment to only using OEM-approved fluids – and all of the other little things we do differently – we’ll be able to explain the benefits of doing the repair right; and doing it once.

The technician or the tool; what matters more?

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

airdrie mechanics

By Chris Dekker

 

We’ve seen some shops use really nice, state of the art alignment machines to turn out some pretty bad wheel alignments; and we’ve seen shops with much older, basic machines perform some really good ones. In terms of our alignment machine, anywayn we’re definitely part of the group with the older, not-so-fancy units! So what makes the difference? It’s the person running the machine, and how much they care.

This month, our technician Dan really impressed us – and our customer – with his dedication to “getting it right” and making a big, lifted truck steer better.

A proper alignment includes adjustment of three suspension angles: caster, camber and toe. Toe angle, the most important one, describes where the wheel is pointing, or steering. Camber describes how much the top of the wheel leans inwards towards the vehicle, or outwards.

Caster angle is the hardest to adjust, and the hardest to explain. It’s what makes the vehicle steering return to centre when you complete a turn, and what helps the wheels stay pointed straight down the road. Have you noticed how a shopping cart’s wheels always stay pointed forwards as you push it? How is that, when there’s no way to steer them? That’s an example of positive caster angle at work.

 

airdrie wheel alignments

 

If a customer isn’t paying attention, toe angle might be the only one that gets adjusted by some businesses. “Set the toe, collect the dough and let ‘er go” is a popular joke amongst commission-paid mechanics. The 2007 Ford F-350 that our customer was so impressed with us about had perfect camber and toe – and it should have, because the customer had already been to two shops who told him the alignment was as good as it could get! However, the truck was still “all over the road” and not enjoyable to drive at all.

Dan put the truck on our alignment rack and found that the caster angle was way too low. Both sides were around -1.0 degrees, and Ford’s recommended specification was between +1.0 degrees and +2.0 degrees! Caster angle that’s 2-3 degrees too low will cause problems in itself; but we’d never seen NEGATIVE caster on a vehicle before! In theory, this would make a vehicle very hard to steer – and in practice, it did!

So what could we do about the low caster? The new lower control arms that were included in the lift kit didn’t include a caster adjustment like the factory control arms do; so that was out. What if we fitted adjustable control arms? That sounded like a good idea until we realized that by twisting the axle backwards to increase caster angle, we would exacerbate an already very steep pinion angle on the front driveshaft; so that option was out. We didn’t need this truck steering better but suddenly burning out universal joints once a month!

Dan had one more idea. The upper ball joints on these trucks bolted to a metal insert, which presses into the steering knuckle, and differently shaped inserts can be ordered to move the ball joint forwards and backwards to change caster angle. But these were only meant to accomplish small adjustments; would it be enough? We decided to try.

We set to finding the most extreme insert we could find, with the absolute most adjustment possible. We found some, and ordered two. Dan removed the upper ball joint nuts and pressed the factory inserts out. When the new inserts arrived, he oriented them in such a way that they would move the upper ball joints as far backwards as possible, to increase caster angle the most he could, and pressed them in. Back onto the alignment machine went the truck.

We had hoped for a bit more improvement, but were nonetheless relieved to see the caster angle around +1.2 degrees on both sides. This was just barely within Ford’s acceptable spec, but more importantly, was at least 2 degrees higher; positive; and in the right direction!

On the road, the 2 degree improvement in caster angle translated into a huge difference in how the truck drove. The owner actually called us a few days later to thank us again for fixing his “unfixable” truck! We told him not to thank us, and thanked him, for choosing to service his vehicle with us. After all, we were only doing our job; old alignment machine and all!‎

Tire “freebies”, and taking a look at the bigger picture.

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

airdrie tire salesBy Chris Dekker

 

Two years ago, we started selling tires as part of our commitment to become a “one stop” full service business for our customers. This part of our business has grown like crazy, with customers (and even ourselves) being happily surprised with the kind of tire pricing we’ve been able to offer. The tire business is very competitive, and therefore filled with gimmicks and giveaways; but this kind of stuff just doesn’t fit into our business model.

From the beginning, we’ve sold tires the way we operate the rest of our business – without all the BS. No pretend “4 for the price of 3” sales. No “$100 cash back” coupons. Just call us, any time of the year, and we’ll give you our best price on a set of tires.

Sometimes we are asked about free tire rotations, free flat repairs, or some of the other items that the “big guys” include when you purchase tires from them. Do we offer those? I give you some answers below, and you’ll notice I’m sticking with a common theme of mine: the difference between price and real value. I want to get people thinking about how their auto service business really looks after their well being, and their vehicle.

 

Do you include free tire rotations when I purchase tires from Tools in Motion?

No. Well, actually… yes. Kind of?

We don’t have a written policy in place that entitles anyone to free tire rotations when they purchase tires from us. But we already do (and always have) rotated our customers’ tires for free at every oil change.

And there’s more: Sometimes we’ll have a customer’s vehicle in for something completely unrelated to the tires, like an engine repair, and we’ll still rotate the tires if they look like they could use it. Our technicians don’t even ask; they just do it, in the same way that they replace burnt out bulbs on customers vehicles without asking, or “selling it” first. We do it for free, and you can’t sell what’s already free!

These little things are all part of a true commitment to our customers; to looking after their vehicle (and their best interests) as a whole. No company policy written on a piece of paper will ever compare to what true care can do for you.

 

Do you include free flat tire repairs with tire purchases?

The short answer is the same as above – no, but yes.

Many of our customers will purchase a set of tires from us, and never have a flat. But if they do, we perform the best tire repair available on the market, a true plug and patch, and we re-balance every tire we repair. For this we charge $30, regardless of where you purchased the tires. But it’s not at all uncommon for us to give away this service to a good customer, especially if they’re already in for other work. A couple weeks ago, a gentleman pulled out his wallet as I was finishing a trailer tire repair for him. We had just performed a major differential overhaul for him the week prior, to the tune of almost 4 thousand dollars. I told him he was nuts if he thought I was going to charge him for that tire repair.

So, we don’t have a specific policy entitling our tire customers to free flat repairs. But we also don’t have a policy stating that after we repair a tire, we’ll drive out in a service truck to the customers’ RV storage facility, and install their tire back onto their RV for free. Or one that says when a customer’s tire turns out to be leaking from a broken (and very hard to find) rim, we’ll spend hours looking everywhere for a replacement, including setting up purchasing a used one from a seller on Kijiji – for free. But these are both examples of things that happened at our shop last week; demonstrating what true care can do.

 

Do your tires have a mileage warranty?

No. But tire mileage warranties are tricky. Our tires (like everyone else’s) have a mileage rating, which is an idea of how long the manufacturer thinks they could last under perfect conditions. Some tire sellers offer a mileage warranty, which is intended to reimburse you if your tires do not last for their rated mileage.

Mileage warranties make consumers feel good when they purchase new tires, but that’s usually where the good feelings stop. They are notoriously difficult to actually make a claim on; with most requiring documented proof of tire rotations, and printouts of alignment angles, etc. And if you’re able to make a claim, the credit you’ll receive is pro-rated based on tire tread wear and mileage, meaning you might only receive a couple bucks if your 100,000 km-rated tires only last for 90,000 km.

Here’s an interesting fact for you, though: Tires last longer on our regular customers’ cars. Why is this? For one, regular tire rotations and pressure checks every service go a long way to keeping them wearing evenly. Regular mechanical inspections (by a licensed technician, too) on the same service can help catch front end or steering problems before they cause abnormal wear or damage to the tires. Our customers’ vehicles are generally in better mechanical condition than average, and this translates into better tire life.

A final, but important piece of the puzzle is that instead of just chasing a sale, we’ll take the time to truly select tires that will work well with your vehicle, and how you drive it. There’s a lot more to selecting the right tire than punching in a tire size. This isn’t something you can teach a teenager sitting behind a computer to do overnight; it takes real automotive knowledge and experience.

Just this week, we saw two examples of bad tire choices: 1) A big, highway-driven cube van with aggressive mud tires on it, and 2) An older minivan with slick, directional summer/performance tires. Both of these customers were having tire-related problems as a result of owning tires that were a poor match for their vehicle and their needs.

Step by step: Our 3M headlight restoration.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

airdrie auto repair

This little Volkswagen came in with some very cloudy headlights, which were affecting the driver’s visibility at night.

The best repair for this problem would be two new headlamp assemblies. Unfortunately, that’s often expensive – and this vehicle was an example of that. Not only are the new parts rather pricey, but changing them is labour intensive because (as with many vehicles today) the front bumper must be removed to access some of the bolts. And of course, new assemblies must be aligned using our headlight aimer; adding more expense.

So, what about the headlamp fillers and polishes available at your local hardware store? We’ve tried several of these products, but weren’t impressed with the results: either the results weren’t great, or they just didn’t last.

More recently, we have been using a kit from 3M that actually allows us to repair – not just temporarily fill – the headlamp lense. Customers have been loving this solution for vehicles where replacement headlight assemblies are too expensive an option.

Here’s what we did to repair the headlamps on this Volkswagen Golf today:

 

calgary auto repair

Step 1) On vehicles where it is very time consuming to remove the headlamp, we do the restoration with the headlamps in the vehicle. In these cases, we tape off the surrounding area to avoid scratching the paint.

 

calgary auto service

Step 2) We start with a fairly coarse sandpaper mounted on a soft foam pad, and actually sand away a thin layer of plastic from the headlamp. We remove just enough surface plastic to eliminate any cloudiness or pitting that exists. This step is tricky, as too low a sanding speed can leave scratches, but too much speed will melt and burn the plastic.

 

honest mechanic airdrie

Steps 3 & 4) We continue sanding, working our way from the first (and most aggresive) grit to a finer sandpaper; and then a finger grit again. After working our way through all 3 grits of sandpaper, the surface imperfections are removed and we’re starting to smooth out the lense surface.

 

honest mechanic calgary

Step 5) We perform a wet sand with a special rough sponge. This smooths out the surface and liquifies a layer of loose plastic from the sanding into a white slurry, which is forced into any remaining low spots as a filler. It is during this stage that we start to see the results of the previous steps, as the clarity improves.

 

headlight lense restoration

Step 6) We perform a final polish using a special sponge, and rubbing compound – a special gritty paste. Like toothpaste, rubbing compound has fine abrasive particles in it, which polish out imperfections.

 

auto maintenance airdrie

Step 7) After removing the masking tape, we apply a sealer & wax to the headlamp lense in order to protect it. Looks great, doesn’t it?

 

Would you like your headlight assemblies restored using this method? Call us today! For almost all vehicles, we charge $69 per headlamp (about $140 for both).

Cleaning intake valves, using crushed walnut shells!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

By Chris Dekker

 

During the 1980s, there was an important shift in the automotive industry: carburetors were out, and fuel injection was in. While a carbureted engine basically sucks in a stream of liquid fuel, a fuel injected engine uses an electronic fuel injector (which is controlled by a computer) to deliver a burst of high-pressure fuel mist at precisely the right moment. Think of a Windex bottle; the stream setting mimics a carburetor, while the mist setting is your fuel injector.

Most fuel injected engines from the last 20 years use port fuel injection, where fuel is injected upstream of the cylinder into the intake manifold. The fuel spray is carried past the intake valve, and into the cylinder (where it is burned) by the flow of air into the cylinder. Remember this part about fuel passing through the intake valve, as it gets important later!

Liquid gasoline has a hard time burning; it’s the vapor that really gets things going inside your engine. The mist delivered by a fuel injector atomizes easier, and burns more completely. This more complete burn – combined with the improved control from having a computer running things – translates into better fuel economy and decreased emissions. Now imagine that we could take that mist from your Windex bottle, crank the pressure way up, and shoot that pressure through tiny holes so small that the human eye can barely see them. The fuel spray would be super fine; how well would that burn?

 

direct injection

This idea is part of a new technology called direct injection. Direct injection also offers another advantage: it delivers its super-high-pressure fuel spray directly into the cylinders of your engine, right beside the spark plugs. Compared to port injection, direct injection offers even better control of the combustion event, and even better performance. Gasoline direct injection (GDI, for short) is getting more common in our industry, as car manufacturers continue to chase better fuel economy and cleaner emissions. GDI can help a small engine to make as much horsepower as significantly larger one, as Ford has demonstrated with their popular Ecoboost engines.

 

airdrie auto diagnostics

 

However, moving the fuel spray from the intake manifold to inside the cylinders had an unexpected conseqeuence: bad deposit build-up on the intake valves. It turns out that the continuous fuel spray onto the intake valves in a port-injected engine did a good job keeping them clean. Deposit build-up on the intake valves of GDI engines has become a big problem; causing misfiring, hard starting and poor performance.

 

carbon buildup valve

This nasty build-up is composed of:

  • Carbon from the combustion of fuel, which is pushed back out of the cylinders.
  • Trace amounts of engine oil that leak past the valve seals, or are carried into the intake manifold by the crankcase ventilation system.
  • Exhaust soot that is recirculated back through the intake manifold by the EGR (an emissions control) system.

 

This all combines to create a rock-hard, clumpy layer of junk on the intake valves that gets thicker and thicker over time. Eventually it builds up to the point where airflow through the valve is restricted, or the valve cannot open and close properly.

The photo above is from a Mazda that we serviced this week, and is the worst example of this build-up that we have seen to date. This engine had less than 150,000 kilometers on it, and a bad misfire that was due in part to the valve issues. With this Mazda, we decided to do a little experiment. As GDI becomes more common in our industry, so too do the problems with intake valve deposits. Several companies have responded with various products designed to clean off these deposits, including CRC with their GDI-specific “Intake Valve Cleaner”. But do any of them work?

Most of these products are a liquid designed to be “fogged” into the intake manifold as the engine runs, where they will travel through the intake valves and hopefully remove some of the deposit build-up as they pass by. The trouble with these products is that you normally never get to see how well they work (or don’t work), since the valves are hidden deep inside the engine. With this Mazda, we had the intake manifold removed and full access to the valves – so we decided to try several popular products to clean the valves directly. We chose CRC Intake Valve Cleaner, Sea Foam Motor Treatment, ACDelco Cleens Combustion Chamber Cleaner, and a last-minute crazy idea: Wipe-Out, a very powerful gun cleaner designed to remove carbon and copper fouling from rifle barrels.

airdrie auto repair

 

First we sprayed each of the valves with one of the cleaning products, let them soak for a couple minutes, then blew out the intake runners with compressed air. Initial results were disappointing: none of these products magically dissolved or removed any of the build-up through contact with the valves alone. Experience told us not to expect this anyways, but it would have been nice!

Next, we tried a longer, ten minute soak and then a good scrubbing with a small toothbrush before blowing out the ports again. A tiny amount of deposit was removed from each valve, with all of the products working about the same, but we were barely making a dent. We could tell that completely cleaning the valves this way would probably take days; not an economical choice for the customer!

It was the end of the day, so we decided to fill each intake port with cleaning product and let the valves soak overnight. The next morning, we gave each valve a good picking-at with a dental pick, and then a scrubbing with the toothbrush before blowing out the ports. The Wipe-Out seemed to work the best, but barely. We were hoping that “thinking outside the box” would produce an industry-leading breakthrough here, but it was not meant to be. All of the products loosened up an outer layer of the build-up, but 80% of the deposits remained.

One important note: Most of these products are designed to work in the presence of heat on a running engine, which should make the carbon build-up easier to remove. This was impossible with the engine disassembled, of course. However, we’d like to believe that if overnight soaking, scrubbing and brushing will not remove much of the build-up, 2-3 minutes of misting onto the valve will not work either.

At this point, it seemed that the various cleaning products, like much of the snake oil bottles on the parts store shelves, were a chemical solution to a mechanical problem, and just weren’t going to work. No chemical was going to remove these deposits, and pulling the cylinder head to remove the valves would cost thousands of dollars. There had to be a better way. It was after a little research that we came across another popular solution: sand-blasting the valves with crushed walnut shells.

 

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The crushed walnut shells are abrasive enough to remove the deposits, but not enough to remove metal from the valves or cylinder head. After a quick phone call, we had a big 30 pound bag of crushed walnut shells to play with, and decided to try this technique out. Now, we were making progress! It still took a lot of careful work, but the sandblaster did a nice job of cleaning the valves.

The walnut shell grains proved a bit too large for our recovery system to handle, though. A few hours later, poor Richard had walnut shells everywhere – in his hair, his clothes, and even his nose – but the Mazda had some much better looking valves!

 

airdrie auto service

 

The crushed walnut shell technique offers a good value in that it’s much more effective than most cleaning methods, and still relatively quick; definitely the way to go in a case like our Mazda here.

Having fixed this one, our focus now shifted to preventing this problem in the first place. Would some of the commercial cleaning products work better if used every 10-20,000 kilometers, as maintenance to prevent this build-up? Is this a service we should be recommending to our customers who own direct-injected vehicles?  We don’t want to sell a product that our customers will not receive a substantial benefit from. Continued research over the coming months should give us these answers, and we look forward to sharing more with you!

 

The best deal we’ve ever offered!

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Any customer who uses us will get a great quality repair for a very competitive price. But yesterday, Brenna G. of Calgary got the best deal we’ve ever offered – hundreds of dollars in much-needed repairs, for free!

Brenna was the winner of our September Facebook contest. We asked parents to nominate themselves, or another parent they knew whose “family taxi” needed some love during this busy, and very expensive back-to-school season. We promised one entrant some free repair work – and we delivered.

 

Airdrie car repair

Here’s Brenna’s Ford Explorer, just into the shop.

 

Since we had never serviced this vehicle before, and it was due for an oil change, we decided to start with our service/tire rotation/full inspection packages.

 

airdrie oil changes

Here is Klayton doing the honors on the oil change.

airdrie mechanics

Even though we did this oil change for free, we didn’t cheap out! The Explorer got a premium filter (as always) and 5 litres of Mobil 1 synthetic oil.

airdrie car inspections

Here is the inspection form that we’ve made up. We fill this out with every oil change.

 

The customer had noticed a clunking noise underneath, and we found a pretty serious issue: the upper control arm bolts on the driver’s side were coming loose! We tighted these up.

 

airdrie wheel alignments

Here is one of the upper control arm bolts that had come loose.

 

Based on the results of our inspection, the most urgent repair on the Explorer was to fix a bad coolant leak from the radiator. We decided to install a new radiator, and flush the cooling system.

 

airdrie radiator repairs

Here is the new radiator going in. This is about a two hour repair on a V8-powered Explorer.

 

One thing we’re proud of is that we only use OEM-approved, correct fluids in ever repair. This repair was no exception. We even mix our coolant with distilled water, which helps reduce corrosion in the cooling system compared to tap water. It’s one of those little things that every mechanic knows you should do, but very few shops actually do it.

 

affordable car repair

That’s a heck of a deal!

 

We hope Brenna enjoys her newly-repaired vehicle, which should be a little safer and more reliable when shuttling the kids back and forth to school now!