Employee Profile: Tanner Hamilton

March 14th, 2017

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Tanner is our newest employee, and has proven to be a valuable addition to our team. Though he’s a second year apprentice, he’s been servicing vehicles and building performance cars for most of his life; he has more real-world experience than many licensed technicians. He built his first engine at 14 years old, and pushing his performance engines to their limits remains a big part of his life.

When he’s not at the race track, Tanner spends 40 or 50 hours a week with us doing less exciting repairs. His quality of work is very good, and he really cares about getting the little details right. Tanner also displays an exceptional ability to see things “from the customer’s perspective”, and really cares about the people who use our services every day. Obviously, this is a quality that we really appreciate.

Tanner came to us because he felt he was no longer being challenged at his previous workplace. Like many shops, this business would “sub out” or turn away complex repairs and seek out the easier work, while we’re quite the opposite and actually have a reputation for figuring out the “tough ones”. Tanner wants to keep growing and learning as a technician, and we’re happy to keep throwing challenges his way.

Here are Tanner’s stats:

Position: Automotive Service Technician Apprentice

Shop nickname: Tanner is the new guy, so he gets pestered lots. In the course of a day, the poor guy goes by everything from “Hey Jack*ss” to “Hey you over there”.

Years in the trade: 14

Previous employment: Certigard, Self-employed

Currently lives in: Airdrie

Born in: Edmonton. He says they were “just passing through”, and he’s no Edmontonian!

Specialty/favourite automotive work: Engine removal/replacement/repair.

Least favourite automotive work: Oil changes.

What attracted him to Tools in Motion: The challenges discussed above, and the broader range of experience it provides. Tanner appreciates that our shop is willing to take on tough jobs; often fixing things instead of replacing them. He also appreciates that we really care about our customers, and don’t view them as (in his words) “dollar signs walking in the front door”.

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Favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: The positive atmosphere in the shop.

Least favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: Tanner is playing it safe and not telling us for now. Once we figure it out, we’ll let you know!

Favourite car brand: He says Chevy. We say it’s actually anything he can cram a turbocharged LS V8 into.

Hobbies: Building performance vehicles and drag racing.

Cats or dogs? Dogs.

Employee Profile: Eric Licuanan

February 7th, 2017


Airdrie automotive


Eric is our longest serving employee, and part of the “original three” from when Tools in Motion was formed back in 2013. (He was formerly an employee of Chris’ previous company.) Chris and Eric worked together at a shop in Calgary many years ago, with Chris mentoring the newer technician. Chris was impressed with Eric’s work ethic and skill level, and told Eric, “One day, when I own my own business, you’re coming to work for me.” Chris soon left that shop to start that business, which eventually grew to the point where he needed some extra help. As promised, he tracked down Eric and offered him a job.

Things didn’t go as Chris had planned, though: Eric’s family was a bit concerned with the idea of leaving a stable job at an established business to work for a one year old, very small company. Eric agreed to come on part time at first, but was soon convinced that this was the “real deal” and business wasn’t slowing down any time soon.

We’re super glad he made that decision, because Eric is a fantastic employee and has performed hundreds of high quality repairs with us during the last few years. His worth ethic is unmatched and while he doesn’t take to diagnostics and electrical work as much as some of us, he’s a mechanical “natural” with a great feel for parts placement, fastener torque, and some of the other intricacies of our craft. You don’t hear much from Eric during the day because’s he’s all business until the repair is done, with his head down, working hard.

We count ourselves very lucky to have caring guys like Eric on our team. Here are Eric’s vital statistics:

Position: Automotive Service Technician Apprentice

Shop nickname: None! (Eric is actually the only guy in the shop without a stupid nickname. He wants us to call him “Easy E” but nobody’s biting!)

Years in the trade: 7

Previous employment: Certigard, Canadian Tire

Currently lives in: Calgary

Born in: Manila, Philippines

Specialty/favourite automotive work: Steering & alignment adjustment and repair.

Least favourite automotive work: Diesel engine repair.

What attracted him to Tools in Motion: Chris’ persistent pestering! (See story above.)

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Favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: Learning from mentors Chris and Tim.

Least favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: Catching flak from his wife for eating all the donuts, chocolates, and other unhealthy treats that customers are always bringing us.

Favourite car brand: Honda

Favourite colour: Blue

Hobbies: Working out and playing basketball. (Editor’s note: Eric is a strong dude! You should see it.)

Cats or dogs? Cats.

Employee Profile: Don Hunter

December 17th, 2016

Airdrie Auto Repair


Hiring an older/experienced technician can go one of two ways. Some techs that have been in the trade for decades are getting tired of it; their skills have fallen behind, and they are just looking to get another 5-10 years out of the tools and knowledge they already have. On the other hand, some older techs are still passionate and still love their job. They’ve kept themselves current, and when you combine a strong technical understanding with that many years of experience, you end up with the ultimate person to tackle any automotive problem. That’s what we got in Don Hunter.

Don is a very skilled technician, and a very caring one too. He knows many of our customers’ names, and remembers more about their vehicles than we do sometimes! Kind, quiet and soft-spoken, Don is instantly likeable as you immediately sense that he’s just a “good guy”. He’s also a very hard worker, and it’s not unusual to see Don still at the shop one or two hours after closing time.

Here are Don’s vital statistics!

Position: Journeyman Automotive Service Technician

Shop nickname: “Mr. Nice Guy”

Years in the trade: 35

Previous employment: Woodman’s Garage (Glovertown, Newfoundland), Crossroads Pontiac (Gander, Newfoundland)

Curently lives in: Calgary

Born in: Gander, Newfoundland

Specialty/favourite automotive work: Don is super versatile and it’s tough to pick a specialty, but his favourite work is steering & suspension diagnosis and repair.

Least favourite automotive work: Heater/evaporator core replacements (that involve 6+ hours of instrument panel disassembly).

What attracted him to Tools in Motion: Don came to us from Glovertown, Newfoundland. Considering moving to the Calgary area, he asked some friends who already lived here where he should apply for a job. One of them recommended Tools in Motion, and after learning more about him, we were happy to make him part of the team!

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Favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: The people he works with every day, and the wide variety of repairs that come through our shop.

Least favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: “Having to get out of bed in the morning!”

Favourite car brand: Chevrolet

Favourite colour: Red

Hobbies: Reading, and playing hockey.

Cats or dogs? Dogs!

Employee Profile: Richard Kloiber

December 8th, 2016

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We’ve got quite a crew working in the shop these days. We’ve grown from the original three team members (Chris, Tim and Eric) back in 2013, to 8 great people today. Since you might know some of guys better than others, we’d like to properly introduce you to everyone! We’ll profile one member of the team each week over the next couple months.


For no reason in particular, we are starting with Richard Kloiber.

Richard came to us in 2014 and has become a very valuable part of our team. He works in what we’ve started calling the “spoiled brat bay”; right beside the bathroom, tools and supplies room, fluids rack and technician clean-up area. Intelligent, cheerful and never without an opinion, Richard is always part of some great shop discussions with topics ranging from politics to the TV shows – and everything in between. Richard is also very passionate about our trade; which contributes to both his high level of skill, and his superb quality of work. He’s a bit loud, too, and it always feels like something is missing when Richard is not in the shop.

Here are Richard’s vital statistics!

Position: Journeyman Automotive Service Technician

Shop nickname: “Princess”

Years in the trade: 13

Previous employment: Fountain Tire, Brasso Nissan

Currently lives in: Calgary

Born in: Calgary (one of the rare few “original Calgarians!”)

Specialty/favourite automotive work: Electrical trouble-shooting and diagnostics of complicated problems. Today’s best technicians do more work with their brains than their hands, and Richard is a great example of this.

Least favourite automotive work: Removal and installation of major driveline components like transmissions.

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What attracted him to Tools in Motion: A combination of no longer being challenged at his previous employer, plus the desire to work for an independent shop interested in staying on the leading edge with regards to technology. Richard said certain little things, like how the shop only uses OEM fluids and premium filters, were also important to him.

Favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: A steady supply of complex problems to diagnose and repair. Our reputation for “being able to figure out the tricky ones” has allowed us to provide Richard with more diagnostics work than he would expect to see in most shops.

Least favourite part of working at Tools in Motion: The long commute from south Calgary every day!

Favourite automotive brand: BMW

Favourite colour: Blue

Hobbies: Long distance precision shooting, and home renovation/woodworking.

(We need to ask!) Cats or dogs: Dogs!

We consider ourselves very lucky to have Richard as part of the team, and we’re proud to be running the type of business that can attract top level technicians like him. Stay tuned for another profile next week!

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.


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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.


airdrie car inspections

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.

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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.

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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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