In pictures: Changing a tire, step by step.

September 19th, 2016

“Tire season” is almost upon us, where many motorists trade their worn-out rubber for something that will work better in the coming winter months. We’ve already been super busy with tire work over the last couple weeks, and thought it would be fun to do a little write-up for you. Just what are you getting when you pay a professional $20-30 to mount and balance a tire? Read on!

(And yes, you caught us… we certainly didn’t clean up our busy shop for any of these pictures!)

 

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We’ll skip to the point where we’ve already got the car inside, and the wheels off. The first step, before dismounting the tire, is to remove the old balancing weights. If we don’t remove them first, they can get caught by the tire changer and damage the wheel.

 

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Next, we clean all this nasty corrosion from the wheel’s centre hole and mounting surface. This will allow them to align correctly to the balancing machine, and will help prevent the wheels from coming loose on the vehicle later on.

 

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Next we break the bead, separating the tire from the wheel. Over time, they can become quite stuck together! The hydraulic arms of this expensive machine do most of the hard work for us.

 

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Next, we use the tire changing machine to remove the old tire from the wheel.

 

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Here’s an important step: cleaning rust and corrosion from the bead surface of the wheels. This will help ensure a leak-free seal.

 

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This looks better!

 

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Next, we install a new tire valve.

 

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A special lubricant applied to the new tire helps to prevent damage on installation, and contains a corrosion inhibitor to help protect your wheels.

 

airdrie tire repairs

On with the new tire! Especially when dealing with pressure sensor valves, we must be very careful about where we start and stop the machine, to avoid damaging the sensor.

 

airdrie winter tires

This tire has an asymmetrical tread pattern, designed to provide a better compromise between handling and wet traction. These tires are usually fairly clearly marked as to which side of the tire faces outwards.

 

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On to the wheel balancer we go! After mounting the wheel to the machine using specific adaptors, we spin it up. The machine identifies the heavy spots on the tire/wheel combination, and tells us where to add weight to correct for this.

 

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We carry many different types of weights, in order to fit all of the different wheels out there. Many newer wheels also use adhesive weights that stick to the inside of the wheel; we have those too!

 

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Here’s one of those “little things” that honestly does make a difference: we apply the wheel weights with a rubber-headed hammer, to avoid breaking the coating on the weight. This goes a long way to preventing unsightly corrosion of your wheels.

 

airdrie tire balancing

All good! This tire is now balanced, which will prevent vibration in the vehicle, especially at highway speeds.

 

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Finally, the wheels can go back on to your car! We use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts. Not too loose; not too tight! The torque should be rechecked again after 100 km of driving.

 

airdrie wheel alignments

A wheel alignment is always a good idea when installing new tires. The alignment procedure involves adjusting many angles of your vehicle’s suspension, to make sure there will be no premature tire wear.

 

Are you looking for some new tires? Does your vehicle have a vibration; a pull to one side; or any other issue that might be tire related? Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any of your tire – or mechanical – questions.

PS: The Kumho Solus TA11, featured in these photos, is a big seller for us. It provides a lot of tire for the money, and customers are sometimes surprised by how little it costs to step up from a generic store-brand to a quality, brand name all season tire.

In the Beginning

August 26th, 2016

 

quality mechanic airdrie

By Chris Dekker

 

This is a “Scotchlok” wiring connector, and you might say that these things are part of the reason our business exists today. Allow me to explain:

These connectors are the fastest way to splice into a circuit on your car. Just wrap it around two wires; push the metal blade down; and you’re done. The blade pierces through the insulation of both wires, and connects them together. They’re also the worst way to make a wiring connection on your car. Since the connection is neither secure nor sealed against moisture, using these connectors often results in electrical issues; corrosion of the wiring; and expensive repairs down the road.

I spent the first six years of my automotive career working in a what we call a chain store, or chain shop. Like most “____ Tire” franchises, all of the technicians (including myself) were paid on commission. That is to say that we received no hourly wage, and were instead paid by the job.

One job that I performed regularly was to install aftermarket daytime running light kits in vehicles imported from the United States, which do not have daytime running lights. This involved mounting a control unit; running a bunch of wiring; and making 5 connections to different circuits under the hood. We were paid 0.5 “units”, (or half an hour’s labour) to do this install. If we did the install in 10 minutes or two hours, it didn’t matter; we were paid for half an hour of our time.

Doing a good quality install in half an hour was impossible. If you wanted to securely mount the control unit; loom/tape/protect all of the wiring and route it nicely; and make good quality connections to the vehicle circuits, it usually took about an hour. So I was faced with a choice: Do I perform a quick (and in my opinion, lousy) install, or do I do it right but lose half an hour’s pay every time?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: There isn’t even a real choice here. Just do the good quality install, right? I wish I could say that was the choice I always made. I’m still not happy about it, but I did many installs that I’m not proud of – including using the cheesy “Scotchlok” wiring connectors that came in the kits. I was there to make a living, and trust me: It isn’t easy going home at the end of an 8 hour shift and telling your wife that you only earned 4 hours pay that day. Try doing it 4 or 5 days in a row! I still remember how in the slow winter months, it could be a challenge to put food on the table.

Now, to be fair, I did earn some of this “lost time” back on other jobs that I could complete more quickly. During the busy summer season, a skilled technician can earn a good wage on commission. But here’s my point in all of this: A flat rate or commission pay structure can force even the best technician to perform lower quality repairs that are below their standards. I was being forced by my employer to make a choice every day; between doing things right, or getting paid fairly for my time. That’s completely unreasonable. It’s a choice I wasn’t comfortable making anymore, and so I moved on.

It’s a choice that we’re not comfortable asking our technicians to make either. It’s not fair to them, or to our customers, who expect the absolute best quality repairs. This is why everyone in our shop is paid a fair hourly wage, with no incentive based pay system in place at all. Our quality of work needs to be good, not “good enough”.

The best quality and the best value in the region is what we promise you, and we do everything possible to achieve that. It starts with taking proper care of the gentlemen servicing your vehicle.

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

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.

What are “Labour Times”?

May 29th, 2016

Insight into how an automotive repair business comes up with the price you pay.

honest mechanic calgary

By Chris Dekker

 

So, you call up an auto repair shop, looking for a price on a given repair. The person answering the phone might tell you that the repair in question is a “4.7 hour repair”; or a “2 hour job”. Where do these numbers come from? Read on…

An automotive repair business such as ours needs a way to price out repairs with consistency. As an example, we don’t want to charge one 2010 Chevy Malibu owner one price for a tune-up, and then charge the next 2010 Malibu owner a completely different price! Also, because we service hundreds of different vehicle models, each with hundreds of replaceable parts, there’s a good chance we might be quoting a specific repair that we’ve never done before. We need a way to determine roughly how long that repair will take. This is where labour guides come in.

A labour guide is a program or document that lists all of the common repairs, adjustments and maintenance services for a vehicle, with an estimated time of how long each repair will take. Companies that develop these guides come up with these labour times a variety of different ways. Some will have multiple technicians perform a repair – often repeatedly – and select an average time, or the fastest time from that group. Many of the labour times also come from the vehicle manufacturers themselves. We mostly use the Mitchell labour guide, a sort of “industry standard” that most auto repair facilities use, when estimating the cost of repairs.

For example, let’s take that 2010 Chevy Malibu. The published labour time (from the Mitchell labour guide) to replace the water pump is listed as 1.6 hours for the V6 engine, but 4.0 hours for the 4 cylinder engine! That’s good information to know when pricing out a repair. Of course, the guide is just that: a guide; not a “labour rule book” or “labour law”. All businesses are free to interpret the labour times however they wish. Some businesses lure in customers with a low advertised labour rate, but then “inflate” their labour times to make up the difference. Other businesses may charge lower labour times in an effort to stay competitive, and others may increase the times to boost profit a little. One must also remember that these labour times are determined when a vehicle is brand new. Many repairs take longer as a vehicle ages: bolts rust and are prone to breaking; plastic becomes brittle; electrical connectors become filled with dirt and hard to disconnect; etc. One broken bolt in a tough spot can turn what is supposed to be a 1 hour job into a 5 hour disaster!

We typically follow the labour guide quite faithfully, but apply a formula that reduces the labour times for some repairs on newer vehicles, and adds to the labour time as vehicles age, to make up for the issues noted above. We’re very committed to honoring our estimated price, though, and will often end up “eating” extra time when things go wrong, like an inadvertent broken bolt. We don’t have to – and can’t always – do this, but we do our best to help our customers out as much as possible.

Here’s something you might not know about labour timesThere is a widespread public belief that most published labour times are excessive or biased, and designed to bring auto repair shops extra money. The truth is that the system actually favours the customer, by a factor of about 20 percent. How so? Let me explain. One of the numbers that every auto service business owner/manager looks at is productivity. Productivity is the ratio of billable hours of work a technician can complete, vs the number of hours the technician actually works. Once you calculate this for each technician, you can then average the numbers and figure out the productivity level of the entire shop. What kind of numbers are most businesses seeing? You might be surprised by the answer.

The average independent auto repair business such as hours, employing hourly-paid (not commission-paid, such as in a dealership or “chain store”) technicians is shooting for an average productivity of 80 percent. This means that if a technician works an 8 hour shift, they will complete 6.4 hours of billable work. And this is just the goal! But the Automotive Industries Association of Canada reports that in most years this goal is achieved on average, or at least almost achieved.

Why just 80 percent? There are a bunch of reasons why 100% productivity can be hard to achieve:

  1. Doing a job well, and doing all of the little things right, often takes time. A technician who puts a lot of pride into their work will usually take longer than a sloppy technician who is in a hurry.
  2. In an independent business such as ours, which services most vehicle makes and models, we do a wide variety of repairs. This sometimes prevents us from getting the repetition that breeds speed. You can imagine how your second time doing a given repair will usually be quicker than your first; and your 10th time even faster yet! The labour times are often based on a technician who has done that given repair over and over.
  3. Technicians sometimes spend a lot of time doing things that the labour guide does not account for, like test driving a vehicle to make sure the customer’s problem is gone; or thoroughly cleaning the underside of a car following a leak repair; etc.
  4. Sh*t happens. Bolts break, or can’t be removed. Parts sometimes do not fit correctly. The wrong parts might show up. Customers sometimes show up late for an appointment, or do not show up at all. There are all kinds of things that can throw a wrench (no pun intended) into a perfectly-planned schedule.

Someone might tell you that they were charged 2 hours labour for a repair that only took a technician an hour and a half, and they wouldn’t be lying. But odds are that sometime in that person’s recent auto repair history, they were also charged 2 hours labour for a repair that took 3 hours to complete. The difference always comes out in the wash; and usually ends up slightly favouring the customer at the end of the day.

Sometime else to consider when discussing labour times is labour overlap between related jobs. Let’s use the Chevy Malibu water pump repair as an example. The V6 water pump is listed at 1.6 hours. Let’s say the car also needs a new serpentine belt tensioner, which is listed at 0.8 hours. If we’re doing both repairs together, should we charge the sum of the labour times, or 2.4 hours? We don’t think so; because there is labour overlap between these jobs. In order to replace either part, the serpentine belt and several other parts common to each repair must be removed, so there is a labour savings when doing the repairs together. In a case like this one, we would likely quote the water pump repair at the original 1.6 hours, and then the belt tensioner as a combination repair at 0.3 hours or so. Not every business does their pricing thing way, but we feel it’s the right thing to do, and part of what sets us apart in the industry.

 

Hopefully this gives you some insight into how we run our business every day. Do you have any questions about labour times, or any part of the pricing process? Please shoot us an email using the contact link above; call us; or message us on Facebook! We’d be happy to share any information we can.

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Are you being sold a “wallet flush”? Examining maintenance schedules!

May 9th, 2016

By Chris Dekker

A transmission fluid flush on a vehicle with 36,000 km. A brake fluid flush once every year. A coolant flush on a two year old vehicle. Do you really need this stuff?

Most people know that maintaining their vehicle is important. Over a vehicle’s life it will need fluid changes; filter replacements; various adjustments and more. But when should you perform these services? The answer is usually no further away than your owner’s manual. All vehicle manufacturers (automakers) release recommended service schedules that, when followed correctly, will provide all of the protection your vehicle needs. They usually list a normal maintenance schedule, and a severe service schedule. Most Canadian vehicles fall under the latter, in part because of the extreme temperature ranges that our vehicles see.

Here’s a problem we have with our industry: You’d think that if any service shop was going to follow the maintenance schedule as recommended by a given manufacturer, it would be a dealership representing that brand. Unfortunately, as we’ve experienced more and more recently, this couldn’t be further from the truth; and it’s making our whole industry look bad.

We have lots of customers with near-new vehicles, many of whom service these vehicles at the dealership of purchase because of “free oil change” programs, or other incentives that were thrown in when they bought the car. Lately we’ve received phone calls from some of them, concerned that the dealerships were trying to sell them maintenance services that they didn’t yet need; like the examples at the start of this column. We checked the vehicle manufacturers’ severe service schedules for these customers, and found that most of the services recommended were not yet required. Take the owner of the 2013 Ram 1500, for example. He was being sold a transmission fluid change at 35,000 km, but Chrysler Canada does not recommend one until 96,000 km; almost three times his current mileage! This kind of excessive maintenance has been jokingly coined the “wallet flush” by some in our industry, since a lighter pocketbook is really the only benefit a customer is receiving.

So, what’s going on? Instead of following the recommendations laid out by the folks that built your vehicle, these dealerships have cooked up their own in-house service schedules, sometimes printed on very official-looking paperwork complete with the automaker’s logo. These schedules are usually much more aggressive than the factory schedule, often recommending services years before the manufacturer actually does.

Some dealerships, like a local Hyundai dealership that a customer called us from last week, stoop so low as to tell customers that their warranties will be void if they don’t follow the in-house schedule. This is, of course, completely false. No wonder our industry gets a bad name, and some people don’t trust us.

airdrie honest mechanics

Here is a screenshot from one of our service information programs, where we are browsing the factory maintenance schedule of a 2013 Ram 1500. Circled are the items that should be attended to around 100,000 km.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that this problem isn’t confined just to dealerships. And in some ways, making up your own maintenance schedule isn’t wrong – as long as you do it honestly, and fairly. We can think of a few examples of where the manufacturers’ recommendations aren’t enough – like late model Ford trucks, who don’t require a differential fluid change until 240,000 km. The only problem with that number is that the differentials often fail and require a full overhaul by 150,000 km, if the fluid is not changed. But these are rare examples, and many of the in-house service schedules we’ve looked at lately are – in my opinion – fraught with greed.

Don’t be mistaken; vehicle maintenance is very important – and many vehicles on the road are not being properly maintained. Many businesses have just lost sight of the fact that looking after the customer who owns the vehicle – and looking after their budget – is just as important as looking after the car itself.

I use the words many businesses because there are still lots of honest auto service businesses out there. We know of several great shops, just in Airdrie alone, who are genuinely looking after their customers’ best interests. Of course, we’d like to include our own business in that group. Since starting our company almost three years ago, we’ve been able to make a real, positive impact in the local auto service world. Customers seem refreshed by the type of honest, low-pressure environment we run.

So we’re not telling you to stop maintaining your vehicle, just to be careful about when you have certain services done, and who you choose to perform those services. If a service recommendation sounds a little off to you, get a second opinion from another business. If you’re ever wondering about when a certain service should be performed on your vehicle, just give us a call. We’d be happy to look up your manufacturer’s recommendations, and happy to help – whether or not you choose to do the work with us!

Race To The Bottom

March 11th, 2016

Should you pay for diagnosis when a shop fixes your car?

By Chris Dekker

 

Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to secure fleet maintenance contracts with many small, and several large companies. This month, I had a chance to earn the business of another commercial client, but lost that chance over my unwillingness to compromise on one thing: charging for diagnostics. The customer felt that they shouldn’t have to pay for time spent diagnosing an issue if they went ahead and repaired that issue with us; a commonly-held belief among some car owners. I had to explain that giving away diagnostics may have been common many years ago, but is an antiquated business model that no longer works today. For a modern auto service business, it’s a race to the bottom.

Why is this? Years ago, cars were simpler; and all very similar. Diagnosing problems required fewer (or no) expensive special tools, and took less time. Repairing these vehicles was also simpler, and more profitable. For a repair shop owner, it made sense to give away a quick, cheap diagnosis if it meant gaining a lucrative repair.

Today, things are very different. Diagnosis is complicated, and expensive. Vehicle quality is much better, and vehicles break down less. Many of the most profitable repairs are gone, and vehicles usually require far fewer parts replaced over their lifetime. Many repairs now involve replacing no parts at all!

 

Examining today’s diagnostics:

Performing diagnostics and software programming work at the highest level requires a very substantial investment in scan tools; service information; and technician training. That last part, regarding our technicians, is important. Technicians who are capable of quickly and accurately troubleshooting today’s vehicles are hard to find, and therefore command a higher wage; adding to the cost of the diagnosis. As we’ve discussed before, it’s very early in the diagnostic process that the scan tool is of no further help and the human brain must take over, so good technicians are a very important piece of the puzzle.

While we hope to add more tooling and capability in the years to come, we already own tens of thousands of dollars in scan tools (dealership/factory tools, and aftermarket or “multi-vehicle” ones), which each require thousands of dollars in software updates each year. Purchasing genuine service information and specifications from each vehicle manufacturer costs thousands more. We estimate that the cost of offering full, dealership-level capability on just the “big three” domestic manufacturers’ vehicles is about $23,000 per year at today’s exchange rates, before factoring in wage costs or any of our other normal operating costs.

Diagnosing issues on today’s vehicles not only costs more; it often takes longer, too. While the first fuel-injected cars of the 1990s had one on-board computer, modern vehicles have 20 or more, and they communicate with each other over high-speed data networks. The wiring diagrams detailing every electrical circuit on a vehicle can now span dozens of pages. The carbureted vehicles of yesteryear could be contained to 3 or 4.

airdrie car diagnosis

Here we are using an oscilloscope to determine if an engine’s valves and fuel injectors are opening at the right time. Checking this kind of thing used to require hours of mechanical diassembly, but not any more!

airdrie mechanics

This is a “known good” waveform from our one of our information resources, which we can compare with.

For those willing to embrace the technology and challenges that newer vehicles bring, our job can be very satisfying, though! Being able to provide an accurate diagnosis only gets more important every year, as parts continue to get more expensive. “Throwing parts at a problem” never was a good idea, but is an especially bad one today. The cost of installing one part that doesn’t fix the problem could easily pay for a good diagnosis by a qualified technician.

 

Examining today’s repairs:

Auto repair today is less profitable than in decades past, as cars continue to get better.  A lot of the “easy money” is gone, as vehicles need fewer hard parts replaced. Many ball joints, tie rod ends, and other steering components now outlast the vehicle. Exhaust systems are all stainless steel and rarely need replacing. Spark plugs last for 160,000 km instead of 40,000. Antifreeze needs replacing every five years instead of two. Gasket and seal technology has come so far that even leak repairs are much less common today.

Repairs have become more complicated, too. Granted, our trade still involves lots of nuts, bolts and grease; but electronics are creeping into everything we do. On some cars, even the brakes can’t be replaced without a specific scan tool: the electronic brake calipers must first be commanded to retract so the new pads can be fitted.

airdrie brake mechanics

Here’s an example of a brake caliper with an electric parking brake motor inside it.

Many repairs today involve replacing no parts at all! More and more issues can be rectified with software updates and changes. One really cool example of this, which I always share with people, involves a BMW with wind noise from the sunroof at highway speeds. BMW released a software update to fix this! They changed the sunroof control unit’s calibration so that when the driver pushed the automatic close button, it would run the sunroof motor for a split-second longer, sucking the glass into the weatherstripping a little more tightly.

Today we regularly fix hard transmission shifting, electrical issues, and even engine noises with software changes. It’s easy to see how the line between diagnosis and repair becomes blurred, as one of the first steps in a good diagnosis is making sure the vehicle has the latest available software calibrations installed; a process which will sometimes fix the issue by itself. Other issues may also be repaired indirectly as part of the diagnosis, such as bad electrical connections; blown fuses; or corroded grounds.

 

Hopefully this helps to demonstrate why the cost of a good diagnosis is a necessary, and valuable expense.  Thinking of having us diagnose a vehicle problem for you? Here’s how the process works in our business:

  1.  We’ll gather as much information from you as we can, regarding what your problem is; when it happens; etc. We may sometimes ask to go for a drive with you, so you can show us what’s going on.
  2. We’ll ask you to pre-authorize a certain amount of diagnostic time. Most of our diagnostics is billed at a rate of $150 per hour. Most warning lights and simple problems are diagnosed within an hour, with 96% of issues being diagnosed within two.
  3. If we haven’t come to a diagnosis within the time you have authorized, we’ll contact you with an update on what we have done so far, and a request to authorize more time. We’ll let you know what we have already tested; what tests we’d like to perform next; and how close we think we are to having your answer.
  4. We’ll never “throw parts at your vehicle” as part of a diagnosis. Once we have informed you what needs fixing, and we finally perform the repair, it will be the repair that fixes your problem – guaranteed. If we tell you that you need a certain part replaced to correct your issue, and the new part doesn’t fix the problem, then you don’t pay for that repair. It’s just how we run our business.

 

On a side note, we welcomed our 5000th customer to our shop today! We would like to thank everyone who has chosen us for their auto repair needs over the past years. Our business has grown like crazy through word-of-mouth referrals over the last two years, and our team has grown to eight great people. It is your business that makes it possible for us to do a job we love, every day!

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Brent’s February Blessing!

February 26th, 2016

At the start of this month, we ran a contest on our Facebook page where we asked people to nominate someone deserving of a $250 Tools in Motion gift certificate. We picked a winner, and had their vehicle in this week. As it turns out, we ended up doing a lot more for our winner than anyone involved first expected!

The winner we picked was a local woman named Chris; a single mother who hasn’t had an easy life over the past year. Among other things, she has been fighting breast cancer for many months. Her 2002 Oldsmobile is her and her young son’s only means of transportation. The car had a coolant leak, so she brought it in with the hopes that the $250 gift certificate would be enough to pay for a repair. We performed a no-charge full inspection to start, and soon discovered that the coolant leak was the least of her worries.

 

Calgary Automotive Repair

Chris’ car in the shop for inspection!

 

The old Oldsmobile needed a lot of love, and we struggled with what to do, realizing that the $250 would barely put a dent in the repairs that this car needed. We couldn’t even pick a “most serious” issue to address first; there were too many safety-related issues. Tim and Brent made a decision: Let’s do a more than $250 in repairs for Chris… like a lot more.

Brent reached out to some of our suppliers to see if they were interested in helping. Boy, did they ever, donating hundreds of dollars in parts to the cause:

  • Auto Value Auto Parts in Airdrie gave us – at no charge – two new front wheel bearings; a front outer tie rod end; rear brake pads; and rear brake rotors.
  • Napa Auto Parts in Airdrie kicked in a new power steering pump.
  • Tire Wholesalers in Calgary gave us a set of tires at their cost.

 

Airdrie Tire Install

Thanks to Airdrie Auto Value and Tire Wholesalers! Auto Value came in huge for us, donating hundreds of dollars in parts for Chris’ car.

 

Airdrie Steering Repairs

Replacing the power steering pump – thank you Airdrie Napa!

 

Richard and Klayton mounting the new tires.

Richard and Klayton mounting and balancing the new tires.

 

Airdrie Auto Repair

The boys hard at work!

 

Airdrie Auto Diagnostics

Eric working under the hood.

 

We paid for the rest of the required parts, fluids and supplies to complete Chris’ repairs, and also kicked in all of the labour. Tim, Klayton, Eric and Richard set to getting the Oldsmobile all fixed up before our tight end-of-day deadline. After an afternoon of the boys doing what they do best, we had completed over two thousand dollars of repairs on Chris’ Oldsmobile, just in time for closing – at no charge to Chris whatsoever!

 

Airdrie Auto Service

Our very deserving winner!

 

Thanks again to our suppliers who helped with this one big time, and to Brent, who did most of the legwork when it came to securing these awesome parts deals, and getting all of the materials together in time.

The technician or the tool; what matters more?

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!

January 15th, 2016

AIRDRIE AUTO REPAIR

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.

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

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.