Archive for October, 2015

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!