When I first started with VW,my instructor said “VW makes cars to support their special tool department”. The funny thing his, he was pretty much right. We have over $300,000 worth of tools designed especially for fixing Volkswagens. I have shown you guys pictures of some of the basic mechanic’s tools that I have. I made mention of buying cheaper tools to make custom tools. In the comments of that post, Brett said, ” I’m interested in what you would modify tools for and how you go about doing it”. I think that is a great idea Brett!

Custom tool for removing steering wheel airbag

Tools are REALLY expensive, often buying a special tool from VW or a top tier company is just out of budget. Paying $100+ of a tool you will use once is crazy(but sometimes necessary). Take the screwdriver on the right. VW has a very similar tool for removing steering wheel airbags. From VW the tool is about $100. I made this one for about $6. By clamping it in a vise, and heating it up, I bent it to about a 90degree angle. Then I had to bend the very edge to mirror the VW tool.

Missing tool
In a shop full of guys, would you believe that tools don’t get put away? Crazy right. Not only that, but tools get lost, get broken, or we never get them. I was replacing an oil pressure switch on a new Touareg. VW had a special tool for the job, but I could not find it. I was not sure if it was lost, or we never got it. To be fair, it did not matter. The issue was the sensor was pretty big (24mm) but the channel to work through was about 22mm. I could have removed more parts, to gain access, but I didn’t really want to do that. I had to cut about half an inch off of the socket. Then grind down the other end to have it fit in the channel. I spent about 1 hour making this special socket, but now I have it for next time.(that job stunk, I don’t want there to be a next time.)

Special fitment
This is most likely the most common reason to modify tools.When tool makers build tools, they do not have the specific fastener in mind. When Snap-On made this scraper, they didn’t know that it would not fit around the mounting surface of an oil pan. A few minutes of grinding, and bingo, a perfect fit. This is one of the very few top tier tools I have modified. Generally I would not do this, but it works GREAT! I do have several screw drivers that I have trimmed down to fit exactly what I need.

Fine tune
This can be similar to special fitment. Doing things like adding a magnet to the inside of a socket, adding some tape around a swivel, or taping the edge of a socket can really be a life saver. I wrap the socket that I use to remove wheels in electrical tape. This will prevent nicking or scratching a $400 alloy wheel. I also wrap some of my swivels in electrical tape. It makes the swivel a little more rigid.

When it comes to actually making the tools, a grinder and a cut off wheels are your best friend. It usually takes some trial and error, but it is worth it. Having a wrench that will allow you to do a job faster, because you don’t have to remove a certain bracket is vital to a mechanics success! Here are some more pics of the tools I have made over the years.
[slickr-flickr tag=”specialtools” items=”13″]

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Hey folks, it’s Friday so it’s time again for “Behind The Wrench”. Today we have Joe, a true VW nut, car enthusiast, and all around cool guy. You can really tell from this interview, just how much Joe lives and breathes this industry.


Joe aka Joe-hio….or Gus

How long have you been in the Industry?

Professionally 6 hobby wise 26+

What is your current job title?

Volkswagen tech/ part time pre 80’s (Volkswagen) nutcase

What were you doing for your first automotive job?

Working as a Tire tech/lube boy at NTB to save up cash to put me thru tech school

Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop, do you prefer one over the other?

I work at a dealer (Volkswagen) never had a chance to be at a independent shop…as preferring one or the other I can’t say, some say avoid the “stealership” at all costs but I must say that there is ALOT of dubs that show up on a hook(towed in) because “indy’s” don’t have the tech or the techs to solve an issue, at the same time there is a lot of good shops that know what they are doing, do the research VIA the web or word of mouth and find out what works for you and your vehicle.

Walk us through what you do on a daily basis.

Hmmmmmm….the daily grind….well being a flat-rate paid individual can be an interesting game of cat and mouse that 97.7% of the population will not understand…I won’t go there for the reason that the person(s) reading this know what I’m talking about…in a nutshell the everyday tech will perform any of the following career paths at any given time, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer; including but not limited to simple power and ground diagnosis to DSO graph interpretation, crime scene investigator for those accident prone Volkswagens, the list goes on and on for us but that’s the path we chose 😉

When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?

When I’m not on the clock I’m still playing with cars, I am restoring a Westmoreland built 84 GTI at home, besides cars I enjoying mountain biking (single speed 29er) and enjoying a nice local craft beer with some good company!!!!! 🙂

What kind of car do you drive?

I drive a Porcelain blue 98 Volkswagen GTI, also have a 2012 golf and a 2000 Cabrio, the list would go on for pages if it were a perfect world!!!!!

What was your first car?

My first car was a 96 Volkswagen Jetta…I never drove it because we couldn’t get the title from the seller….so a 96 Ford Ranger was the first vehicle I legally drove…not the coolest car a high school-er could drive but I made the best of it!!!

What made you want to work on cars?

This question is one of those unanswerable questions….I don’t know what made me choose this path, my parents are not “car” people, my friends were not “car” people….just kinda happened..all I know is that the love for Volkswagens came out of it!!!!!

What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?

2 mannequin the back seat serving as real humans for the HOV lanes in VA…scared the crap out of me when I looked in the rear view mirror, complete with the owners clothes…including underwear…I didn’t bother to ask the reason why mannequin need undies…

Do you have much customer interaction?

Interaction between me and customer usually happens between me and their VW…there are some customers that love to be “in the trenches”, wanting to see everything that goes on, which I enjoy showing them everything they need to stay informed on their dub. But most of the time the interaction I get from the customer is from online surveys or the “thank you” on the way out the door to their car…the techs are really the “behind the curtains” type of people…

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job is being challenged in a way that really takes everything you know to figure out the concern at hand, Volkswagens are on the leading edge of technology, which at times, can really test the knowledge of your training…when you get into the “zone” and find the problem there is nothing more rewarding than that, people reading this know what I’m getting at…

If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?

The one thing that I would never do again at work is…not make the best of your time while you are there…getting into a “slump” or “rut” can effect you and your fellow techs/writers…you just need to make the best of it and be thankful we have a weekly paycheck!!

The auto industry has a really bad rap, what do you say to someone who thinks you are trying to take advantage of them?

Without the auto repair industry, the world of transportation from golf carts to cruise liners would cease. I am proud to say and do the best I can to help out the customer which ever way I can…with that out of the way the dealership especially gets a bad rap for being nicknamed the “stealership” for having outrageous fees and hourly rates that may be higher than the average shop…I think that you get what you pay for in everything, especially for the care of your Volkswagen, I take a great deal of pride taking care the customers needs a expectations, at times I personally hand wash vehicles after a repair to show that the customers vehicle is well taken care of while here. I would love to rid the stereotype of some people about us dealer peeps and give us (or another) try in the future….

Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?

From my point of view it would be oil and filter changes…it’s the blood of the engine and needs to be in tip top condition for proper operation….yes there are plenty of other semi equal items that needs regular attention, make sure to check your owners manual for specific maintenance needs!!!!

How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?

Almost as important as wearing clothes in public…it can be costly if you don’t abide by book!!!

Have you read the owners manual to your car?

Another shot of Joe's Westmoreland built 84 GTI. This car has so much potential

But of course!!!! Learned a lot too!!!

What tool in your tool box do you use the most?

My Experience

Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?

I prefer what works without failure,which doesn’t mean the top brands (snap-on, matco, etc.) I have had plenty of crazy high dollar tools that disappointed me big time…being in the industry you soon find out that it isn’t always the name brand that is the failure proof system…but I do like snap-on 😛

If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be (and why)?

Experience, you can’t lose it….Pocket screw driver, it’s like a swiss army knife…but different…A good attitude, not really a tool but it can take you a long way…

If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?

I would most certainly say a invisibility cloak, or a ICEE machine, or just a nice set of bbs 3 piece wheels. 😛

You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?

Mk3 (93-98) VW golf 2.0 manual. That of course would be on my pay scale…but since that wasn’t the question I would have to to say a 2012 Touareg…not on my pay scale..

You can see some more pictures of Joe’s GTI build below
[slickr-flickr tag=”westmoreland” items=”5″]
Well, what did I tell you! Folks, if you care about your car, THIS is the type of mechanic you want to have. Imagine, your mechanic getting as excited about your car as you are. That would be really cool. I want to thank Joe for doing such an awesome interview. I will be sure to keep everyone posted on this GTI progress. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in an interview like this, just contact me!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! Don’t forget to sign up for email updates, I am still working with my buddy(the one that did the header) on doing some work with the site. There will most likely be something special coming when the new site launches, and the folks signed up will get a first dibs!

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I can’t believe that this is the 10th volume of Shop Shots! It seemed like just yesterday that you guys were helping me name this series! As always, you will see pictures of the random things that I see around the shop. AND…..GO

This is a close up of some bearing damage inside a manual transmission. This actually belonged to a great friend of mine Daniel. His concern was a noise, and trouble getting into gear. We decided to replace the transmission, but I really wanted to see what went wrong. There was metal in the fluid, so I knew that it was bad new. I did a really early post when I first started this car blog. In that post you can see the metal chunks on the drain plug. This is one of the few manual transmissions I have had an issue with.

While we are on the subject of transmissions, here is the guts of an automatic transmission. This comes from when I was at training for Routan transmissions. This is about 1/4 of the parts that make up the rings, clutches, gears, seals and so on. Automatic transmissions are really an engineering marvel. Actually, all transmissions are pretty awesome.

This is leaves, pine needles, and dirt built up on the cowl of a Jetta. On the surface it just looks bad, but it is actually a big deal. I have seen countless cars get water leaks due to leaves building up on the cowl and around the windshield. The get stuck in the water drains and that water will go somewhere. The crappy part is that somewhere is inside the car. I actually totaled 2 cars due to water leaks caused by this exact thing! One was a Touareg that was had mold everywhere. The estimate I wrote was for about $42,000 in repairs. Take a minute and make sure you don’t this happening.


Last but not least, this is a quick video of a crazy noise. This car was whistling when it was sitting at idle. When I revved it up, it would stop, but as soon as I let off the gas, it would make this noise. I remember the first time I heard this I thought, “What the hell, this is not gonna be fun to fix”. It turns out it is a really easy fix. There is a check valve that only lets air flow one way. Well it gets stuck and causes this noise. WARNING– this noise is loud, I recommend turning down the volume!

Well, that wraps up another volume of Shop Shots. I am always looking for new post topics, if you have a suggestion, just contact me, or post up in the comments. Also, don’t forget to swing by Humble Mechanic on Facebook and say hi!

Today we will wrap up the 2 part post about scams! I really want to thank AskMen.com for making the post on their “Top 10 Mechanic Scams“. If you missed 10-5 check them out at Mechanic Scams Confirmed and Debunked

No.4 Unneeded air conditioning recharge

“You might think you know whether or not your air conditioning is fully functional, but the mechanic disagrees. “You’re only blowing X degrees,” he says, which stirs potentially unsettling mental images. Then he offers to recharge the system’s refrigerant, which is something most of us won’t touch on our own. So where’s the scam? If you’re not noticing any defects or diminished cooling ability, you’re probably just being asked to address an inconvenience before it ever happens. Again, not a car-killer, but it’s an issue of spending too much too soon.”

This is a tricky one. The say the word “unneeded”, and of course that means you don’t need it. There are some advantages to getting your a/c system serviced. When I do an a/c system service, I remove all the refrigerant, most of the oil, vacuum the system, then recharge it to the proper level.

Much like with coolant, refrigerant holds contaminants. Removing all of the refirgerent, will remove most of the contaminating debris from the system. Applying vacuum will boil off any moisture in the system. Then when charging it, you know your are putting in the proper amount. This can make an a/c system last longer, but keeping it clean and dry. ~Free Tip~ this works the same for your home’s a/c system. I learned that the hard way to the tune of $2500.

No.3 Premature shock/strut replacement

“Sooner or later, you’ll need to replace your car’s shocks or struts. The mechanic scam here is when “sooner” is pushed too hard. Do a little pushing of your own. The old bounce test on your bumper in many cases is still a reliable way to tell if your shocks or struts are really bad, but also pay close attention while driving. If the car is like a bobblehead doll after hitting bumps, pitches and rolls in slow corners or is noticeably unable to quietly absorb all but the slightest imperfections, then it’s time.”

I pretty much agree with them here and I am not sure this really applies to modern cars. I hardly ever replace shocks or struts. I will say that having the bushings checked is really important. They tend to wear out faster than the shocks. Not really much more I can add than that, great job on this one.

No.2 Fuel injection service

“Here’s a mechanic scam with ties to the engine and transmission treatments mentioned elsewhere. Again, it’s all about removing contaminants and restoring efficiency and performance, like finding “hidden” horsepower. And like the others, it’s to be taken with a massive grain of salt — probably best avoided altogether. Name-brand gasoline usually contains enough additives to keep typical engines free of serious buildup under normal conditions. If you do want periodic help, skip the expensive service and add a bottle of name-brand treatment to your tank, such as Techron.”

I have seen this go both ways. To me much of these services depend on the end goal. If you are trying to remove carbon on the back of the valves, a good fuel injection service just might do the trick. If you are trying to unlock “hidden horsepower”, you are wasting your money. I have done this on several cars and it has worked great. I have seen it not do anything before. Using the right type and good quality fuel can help with some of this. Also a “spirited drive” can blow the junk out. I wrote a post about best way to drive a car that goes into more detail.

No.1 Premature brake pads/rotors

“The mechanic’s not lying: You do need fully functional brakes, and the pads and rotors aren’t at their peak thickness levels. But think about it. Technically, “peak thickness” only exists upon installation; everything after that is compromised. So, don’t ignore your brake system by any means, but also be aware of what does and doesn’t happen when you use them. If there’s truly a legitimate issue, address it. If not, don’t get taken by this mechanic scam and spend money prematurely”

There is that word again, “Premature”. I have a asking that I use, mostly when talking about timing belts, but it applies here too, “better 5,000 miles early than 1 mile too late”. Sure you can run your brakes down to the last 0.5mm of pad, but should you? Nope, you should not. Brakes produce a lot of heat, a pad that thin can not dissipate heat properly. This can affect stopping distance for sure. Not only that, it can warp the rotor causing a vibration.

There is also a cost saving, replacing brakes when the rotors can be resurfaced will cost about $280 at my dealer.(don’t hold me to that, its just an estimate). Replacing the pads and rotors will cost $470, due to the extra cost of buying rotors. So is getting another 1,000 miles worth risking the price almost doubling? I would so no.

Well, I really want to think AskMen.com for writing that article, be sure to check their site out, its has some cool stuff for guys and gals. What did you guys think of this format? I might do something similar in the future,there are no shortage of “scams” out there right!

Remember that I am still taking questions for another rapid fire Q&A. Just contact me with your question. If you know of any scams, post them up in the comments, lets get it rolling!.

On Sunday I was doing some Google searching, trying to fine tune the site so folks can find it. Which reminds me, THANK YOU to everyone who has shared this site. I really appreciate it. Our little community is growing and I am excited for the future! Ok~ A.D.D. moment over.~

I came across an article called “Top10 Mechanic Scams” on AskMen.com. What kind of mechanic would I be if I didn’t read that? It turns out, they are dead on for some of them, and WAY off on others. The ones they got wrong, come from not being in the industry. It is a common issue I find with professional writers. I really respect what they do, and most are really awesome, but I usually feel like they miss the mark. That only comes from reporting, the industry, not living it.

I plan on breaking this up in to two posts. Lets tackle the first 5, or would that be the last 5? The part in quotes comes from the original post. My thoughts are under that.

No.10 Replacing spark plugs prematurely

“In your father’s day, spark plugs had the lifespan of a housefly compared to their modern counterparts. Open your owner’s manual to see for yourself and you might discover that you drive a car with 100,000-mile spark plug replacement intervals. Even if that’s really only feasible under the most gentle of operating conditions, you see our point: Don’t get talked into premature replacement unless there’s a legitimate need to address a drivability issue. Then, ask to see the culprits. Plugs often have telltale visual signs when something’s amuck.”

I mostly agree with this one. If there is a replacement interval be sure to replace them. I would not wait much longer. If you do have a drivabilty issue, most mechanics will tell you to do the maintenance before making a repair! The problem is now you have to pay diagnostic charged.

No.9 Engine treatment

“This mechanic scam often comes up at oil-change joints, but it’s also at some repair shops and they’re on store shelves too. The pitch is that by adding just a little of the product to the oil, the engine will run like new. Between our own testing and the expertise of some techs, results are mixed. They may not necessarily harm your engine, but the benefits, if any, seem minimal and temporary at best. If the idea is to quiet noisy lifters, for example, you may have bigger issues not to be ignored.”

This one I am part of the “mixed” crowd they are talking about. If they are referring to the can you add when changing the oil, then I think they might be right. That being said, I add a can with ever oil change I do on my car. There is a brand called Lucas that I have used and it works really great to quite down lifter noise. I would say though that most of the things you see at Walmart is junk. If they are referring to an actual engine treatment done by professionals. I totally disagree. There have been some issues with 1.8t Passats. The oil can sludge if not properly maintained. We have a chemical treatment that we do to the engine that works wonders. The treatment, along with some hand cleaning, can take a noisy engine and make it sound great in a few hours.

No.8 Unnecessary upgrade to synthetic oil

“Whatever your opinion on the last mechanic scam, you can’t discount the benefits of the original engine treatment: regular oil and filter changes. When done as recommended by your car’s manufacturer, you’ll probably avoid needing miracle cures altogether. Just don’t get scammed with an unneeded upgrade to synthetic oil. Although synthetic definitely won’t harm your engine, there’s no point in using it in the 200,000-mile car you’re going to replace soon either. Finally, while most of us will benefit from using the more expensive stuff, don’t let them gouge you on the cost.”

I totally 100% agree. If you have seen any of the interviews I have done in Behind The Wrench, you can see that every mechanic agrees! The one thing I will add is that the price of regular oil and synthetic oil is not that much. In fact, at my dealer synthetic is cheaper. We buy synthetic in such huge amounts, that we can sell it a little cheaper than regular. Just make sure you are using the correct oil.

No.7 Replacing air and/or cabin filter prematurely

“Here’s another scam seen frequently at the McOil Change places. The mechanic has grim news to report: It’s your air filter, and it doesn’t look good. Maybe the cabin filter too, and that’s important to maintain healthy air inside the car. Right. A guy looking like Kid Rock with missing teeth and cigarette breath is lecturing about health. Anyway, the good news is he can replace both right away. Ask to see them first. If you can’t see daylight through them or they’re obviously dirty, only then do you consider proceeding.”

You can ALWAYS ask to see the filter. If they refuse to show you, then take your car somewhere else. I think this is something that most people can do themselves. I recommend replacing your cabin pollen filter at least once a year. It can grow bacteria, and make your car smell nasty. Also, if you live in the southern US, we get horrible pollen, no need to keep breathing that stuff.

No.6 Transmission treatment

“Tranny servicing isn’t just a section on Craigslist, it’s something you’ll need to explore on your car. It’s also a source of mechanic scams. For too many people, too little attention is paid to the transmission. Beyond when to put it in park, reverse or drive, no conscious thought is given until there’s a malfunction. So, avoid pour-in services claiming to calm fears and extend service life, as they’re not a lot different from the engine treatments we addressed earlier. For most drivers, sticking to fluid and filter changes at recommended intervals is the best practice.”

I think they said it best. The good thing about working for VW is, you can’t just add stuff to the transmission. I guess when it comes to these types of treatments, there is really no such thing as a “mechanic in a can”.

No.5 Premature cooling-system flush

“The idea of a cooling-system flush itself isn’t truly a mechanic scam, but selling it prematurely is in many cases. Let’s say your coolant tests in the acceptable performance range, but you’re at the manufacturer’s recommended change interval. While you could just have the drain and refill done, a little extra time and money can buy a full cooling-system flush. Why not splurge on this car colonic? Unless the manufacturer recommends it or the existing coolant is seriously ineffective or contaminated, it’s just flushing money away.”

Ok, this is where we start to have different opinions. They said do not do the coolant flush “prematurely”. To me that means before it’s needed. Well, isn’t that EXACTLY what preventative maintenance is? Don’t you want to remove the contaminants before they cause damage? Now if premature means at 10,000 miles, yeah, that is not needed.

In fact this is where I differ from the manufacturer too. Some cars say they are a “life time” fluid. Well call me crazy, but how is that possible? All fluids in your car have 3 major functions,

  • Cool
  • lubricate
  • hold contaminates

The more contaminates it has, the less it will lubricate, the less it lubricates, the less it cools, and so on. Removing the contaminates before there is a problem is much better advise than saying “unless the manufacturer recommends or it is seriously contaminated, your flushing money away” What might be better advise is, make sure you have your coolant checked, if they recommend a flush ask to see the coolant.

What do you guys think? Be sure to read the whole post on Askmen.com. Come back tomorrow and we will talk about the rest of the scams. Do you have a scam you want to ask about? Post it in the comments below, I like confirm/debunk stuff! Also, be sure to signup for email updates, you will get updates before anyone else!

I am REALLY sure that someone will be pissed off at me for writing this post! This story will be a great example of cheaper is not better, and how important it is to have a mechanic you can rely on.

I got a text from my little sister Ashley. She asked my “how long is it ok to drive without that big plastic piece underneath the car?” I may have said it before, but she drives a really nice 1999 VW Passat wagon. Her car has a plastic shield, or belly pan, under the car. It covers up the oil pan and prevents things from getting up into the engine. Her car will run with out it, but it is something that needs to be there.

This is a picture of a good belly pan. When this falls off, it's $200+ down the drain, or down the highway 😉

So, I get the text, and text her back, “What happened to your belly pan”. She tells me that she took it to a place to get the oil changed that was not the dealer. The later then belly pan fell off while she was driving down the highway. The bad part is, the pan is totally destroyed.

Trying to be a good brother, I called the place and talked to the service manager. He was polite enough, but I could tell that he had no interest in dealing with me. I also called the local VW dealer. Basically the same treatment, but I was able to get the information that I needed. It turns out the cost of a new belly pan and related hardware was about $230.

The manager from the quick lube called her back and told her that they would pay up to $50 for a replacement belly pan, leaving her with a $170 bill. So far she has be out about 2 hours of her time, $35 for an oil change, and add on $170 for the belly pan. When I asked her why only $50, she said they told her it was held on with zipties and it was already damaged. That might be true, but why didn’t they tell her that when they were servicing the car? Not only that, but I have used zipties to attach belly pans, it works REALLY well.

This is Ashley's 1999 VW Passat wagon.

After some fighting, she got her belly pan replaced. It took several phone calls and I think her and her dad had to go down there, but it is fixed. She learned a few life lessons with this experience.

  1. Cheaper is almost never better. I still learn this one from time to time.
  2. There is a difference in getting your car serviced at a good dealer vs anywhere else.
  3. The people that work on your car better know what the heck they are doing
  4. Wasting time to try and save money is a bad choice.
  5. If a place does something wrong, YOU have to fight to make it right. Do not let someone walk all over you.

Well Ashley, sorry you had to be the topic of this post, but I thought it would be a good story to help everyone out. I am really glad you got your car fixed, and to quote her, “I know that now. First and only time I didn’t/wont take it to the dealer”.