Archive for January, 2016

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!‎

Big Tools in Motion update!

Friday, January 15th, 2016


This update is coming two weeks later than planned, because we have been SWAMPED at the shop! We thank all of the awesome customers who’ve helped keep us so busy during this normally slower time of year. 2016 is here, and we’re rolling out some exciting new changes that we’ve been working on for a while.


First, we wanted to mention our new Service Manager, Brent.

Many of you have met him already, and we hope many more people will soon. Brent has been with us since late summer of last year, and we’re super happy that he’s part of the team. Brent is a licensed mechanic as well, and we’ve known him for over a decade. When it was time to look for some help up front, Brent was high on a very short list of people we’d trust to look after our valued customers; and he’s been doing a great job so far.

They say that if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards. With that in mind, we’ve got some awesome new business changes to announce:


We now offer a 3 year/60,000 km parts & labour warranty on every repair! 

We’re very confident in the quality of every repair that we do, and now we’re prepared to stand behind those repairs like nobody else will. This will be the area’s only no strings attached, no BS three year warranty. There are no hoops to jump through to in order to maintain this warranty, including no mandatory annual inspections. Just have us complete a repair, and it’s covered –  for three years. Period.

But wait, there’s more! (Sorry; couldn’t resist…) The first two years of this warranty are North America-wide! If we install an alternator for you – for example – and it fails while you’re on a road trip, we’ll pay to tow you to one of over 30,000 repair businesses who can perform the warranty repair, across the continent.


We’ve got a great new tire warranty, too!

For an optional $6.95 per tire, customers can purchase a road hazard warranty that entitles them to a free replacement of that tire if it can’t be repaired for any reason. Nail in the sidewall, or other non-repairable puncture? It’s covered! You recieve a new tire at no charge, regardless of how much tread is worn off. Blow a tire going down the highway? That’s covered, too. Back over your kid’s bicycle and damage both rear tires? Even that’s covered. The warranty will cover every new tire purchased for five years, or until it reaches the tread depth of 1.5mm or 2/32″, when it is considered legally worn out.

We’re also taking this to a new level for our industry: Let’s say your tires are half worn, and it wouldn’t be safe or advisable to install just one new tire on your vehicle in the event of a tire failure. (All wheel drive vehicles come to mind). If necessary, we’ll install two, or even four new tires for free.


Roadside assistance: a little “thank you” for our loyal customers!

Starting next month, you’ll receive a free roadside assistance card with every service visit! These are good across North America; valid for one year; and provide a $100 credit towards towing, flat tire changes, boosting, etc. Customers who visit us at least once a year will basically be enrolled in the program all the time – which could save you a lot of money!


A better pre-purchase inspection!

A pre-purchase inspection is the best money you can spend when picking out a used vehicle. Last year, dozens of people hired us to provide an honest assessment of a vehicle’s condition before choosing to buy it. Now, all of our pre-purchase inspections (which cost $120) include a vehicle history report from AutoCheck! This will provide you with information about ownership history, past accidents, and more.

We can also provide you with an AutoCheck report separately for $19.95, which is 40% off the regular consumer price.


We’re now stocking more genuine, OEM fluids than ever before.

Over twenty different kinds of transmission fluid wasn’t enough. We’re now stocking even more genuine OE (original equipment) transmission fluids, antifreezes, and other fluids. It’s all part of our commitment to doing the little things right. New additions include Honda Dual Pump II rear axle fluid and Mitsubishi Diamond SP-III ATF.


Customer supplied parts:

Like most auto service businesses in our area, we used to have a strict “no customer supplied parts” policy. This was for two reasons:

  1. Like every other automotive service business, we purchase parts at a discount and then resell them for a price closer to what you would pay. This mark-up is part of what pays our bills, or “keeps the lights on”, so to speak.
  2. In the event of a parts failure, there is a legal “grey area” when it comes to determining blame. Let’s say we install a timing belt that you supply, and it breaks, causing massive damage to your engine. Was it your part that caused the failure, or something that went wrong with our installation of the belt? (If we supply a timing belt and it breaks, causing engine damage, we can go after our supplier to cover the cost of a new engine – we’ve done it!)

However… we’ve decided to relax this policy in order to try and help more people. We’ll now install customer supplied parts, but we charge a higher labour rate of $150 per hour. This helps make up for the lost revenue from point #1, and makes the repair worth doing for us.

But here’s the good news! We’ll also provide you with a one year parts and labour warranty on that repair – using your parts! Nobody else in the industry is doing this.


Regarding our labour rate:

We’re holding the line on labour pricing in Airdrie. This will be our third straight year at our current general labour rate of $110 per hour, with no plans to increase it in the immediate future, despite our costs increasing.

We still don’t charge for “shop supplies” or environmental fees on top of our labour rate, so $110 really means $110; another Tools in Motion exclusive.

We’re still looking out for your bottom line. Our longtime customers know that we do lots of little things that never make it onto your invoice. They also understand that real value is hard to measure, but worth so much; how we provide honest discounts for labour overlap between related jobs, and stand behind our work like nobody else.


Our diagnostics & programming labour rate is increasing to $150 per hour.

This isn’t to help pad the walls of the Tools in Motion vault! We’re using this increase to pay for:

  1. Wages. We employ some very intelligent, skilled technicians; the kind of top techs that are rare in our industry. Naturally, these technicians deserve a wage that is in line with their skill level.
  2. The increasing cost of diagnostic equipment, and purchasing new equipment. We are making substantial investments in our diagnostic arsenal this year as we strive to stay ahead of most businesses in this area, and stay on the leading edge of our industry.
  3. The low Canadian dollar. When we perform software updates, we purchase programming licenses and software files from your vehicle manufacturer in American dollars. Because of the poor exchange rates today, software files that used to cost us $50 now cost us almost $80!

But you know there’s an upside: our diagnostics are now guaranteed! But to be fair, this isn’t really something new – it’s the way we’ve always run our business. We just want to promote our diagnostic guarantee because it really is different. “If we’re wrong, you don’t pay” means just that: if we tell you that your vehicle needs a specific part replaced to correct a problem, and it doesn’t fix the problem, then we’ll refund the cost of the diagnosis – and of course you’ll never pay for a part that you don’t need.


And last, but not least…

airdrie auto diagnostis

Next month, we’re launching a new business division, Tools in Motion Diagnostics. Through this business, we’ll be providing diagnostic support and vehicle programming to other repair shops in the Calgary area. This is something we’ve dabbled with in the past, with about a dozen shops that currently use us, but it’s not a part of the business we’ve tried to grow – until now. Stay tuned for more information on this soon.


Thanks from Chris, Tim, Brent, Richard, Dan, Eric, Klayton and Alyssa for your continued support! We look forward to serving you in the future.