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Ok, before I get into this story, everyone needs to know a few things

  1. I am not blaming the tech working on the car
  2. I am not blaming the customer completely
  3. I am not commenting on DIY vs Paying someone
  4. I am only telling the story of what happened.

A few weeks ago, a customer brings in their 1999 VW Cabrio. They had a long list of concerns with the car. As you would expect with a car 13 years old.

  • Issues with the door locks
  • Noise while driving
  • vibration when braking
  • Car will not start, like the battery is dead
  • Air conditioning is not working

The tech working on the car is a pretty good tech. I know he is not a fan of the Cabrio, but he still knows what he is doing. He diagnosed the customers concerns, and ordered some parts. The initial repair was about $2800. The a/c compressor was bad, the pump for the door locks was bad, it needed brakes, a wheel bearing, and a battery.  The customer made all the repairs, but decided that they could get a battery cheaper so they declined replacing it.

The car sat for a few days before the customer came to get it. When they did, we had to jump start the car so they could leave. As far as we knew, everything was good. Two days later, the Cabrio got towed into the dealer. The customer concern was the car would not start. The customer said they replaced the battery, but the car would not start. We found it odd that the car started, but it just required a jump.

We did some basic tests and found that we could power the starter and get the car to run. This left us pretty confused about the whole situation. Having a bad feeling, I had the advisor call the customer to ask them if they had any issues installing the battery. My gut feeling was they had hooked it up backwards. Sure enough that is EXACTLY what happened.

The customer hooked the battery up backwards and attempted to start the car. You don’t need to be an expert to know that is a bad thing. We are still working on finding all the things wrong with the car. So far we know that

  1. The generator is fried
  2. the alarm module is bad
  3. the instrument cluster is bad
  4. Several fuses were blown

With knowing all those things are wrong, the car still does not start. I think it has to do with a part number change in the module that controls the alarm. We are waiting on VW parts line to verify. Dealing in a car that is 13 years old can be tricky when it comes to modules.

It put the story into a simple perspective

  • Customer paid $2800 for repairs
  • Customer declined replacing battery at the dealer
  • Customer installed battery wrong
  • Car was towed in
  • Car needs $1800 more work to replace damaged parts.
  • The customer saved ~$50 by replacing the battery themselves
  • Car is worth $3500 at best

Now the customer is over $5000 in on a car that is worth much less. I am not really blaming the customer, but I think that they made a really poor choice. Trying to save $50 will cost them over $2000. Plus all the time not having the car. I will be sure to keep everyone posted when we find all the rest of the issues.

I really hate having to tell stories like this. It is lose lose. The customer is losing for obvious reasons. The dealer is losing because it looks bad for us. The tech is also losing big time. So far all the extra checking and work have been free. He got paid to replace the generator, but that is about is. I would guess he had about 6 hours more in the car, that he is not getting paid for. Bad news no matter how you slice it.

Tomorrow I will try and get a full “Luv a Dub” update. Things have been slow going on it. I have been super busy, so that leaves little time for the project..

VW TDI Timing Belt

Hey everyone, it’s Wednesday so we are rocking the Shop Shots today. I don’t really have much more to say, so lets get into the pictures!

Jetta 02 sensor failureWhat you are looking at here is a deceptive little trick. This is a picture of an Oxygen sensor(red arrow). That sensor monitors the efficiency of the catalytic converter. The box that is installed in the pipe(blue arrow) is NOT a factory part. This is a trick that people use to fool the ECM. When a catalytic converter fails, it will turn on the MIL. To bypass the MIL people will install this box or some other device that pulls the O2 sensor further out of the exhaust.

This makes the ECM think that everything is working properly. Sadly, it just means the car still fails a state inspection. A lot of tuners do this to there car. They remove the cat, and install one of these. Hey, it is cheaper than replacing a cat right?

VW TDI Timing BeltOne of the guys in the shop was at training last week. I asked him to snap a few pictures for me. He sent me this one of a TDI engine. This is what a TDI Common Rail looks like. You are actually looking at the timing belt circuit. As you can see, there is a lot going on in there. If you follow the belt clockwise, starting at the big gear on the top, you have

  1. Cam Shaft, must be properly timed
  2. Little roller to keep tension on the belt
  3. High Pressure Fuel Pump, must also be properly timed.
  4. Big relay roller. This just redirects the belt on to the next gear
  5. Water Pump, this is not timed, and one of the more common failure points
  6. Crank Shaft Must also be properly timed
  7. Small roller, another roller to keep the belt where is needs to be
  8. Tensioner. This does what it’s name says. It keeps the belt properly tensioned. The tensioner might be the most common part to fail in the circuit

There is so much happening in the belt circuit. This is why, unless you are really handy, I recommend leaving timing belt jobs to the pros.

Broken VW Timing Belt almostThis picture is courtesy of the luckiest customer of the day. I pulled this car in to do a 100,000 mile service. That is like a mini tune-up, with a full list of inspections that we do. As part of the service, I checked the timing belt. When I pulled the cover back, I noticed that the belt was replaced. I started to put the cover back on, but found that something was not right.

I took the cover all the way off, and found this bolt was not tight. This bolt holds a cover on. Lots of techs will remove the cover when they replace the water pump. I prefer just to move the shield a little and not touch that bolt. If for some crazy reason I need to remove the bolt, I make sure it gets some thread lock before I install it.

I put my magnet on the bolt, and it just came right off. There were no threads holding the bolt on. This customer was one good bump away from that bolt falling into the timing belt. I have seen engines destroyed for that exact thing happening. It not only will shred the belt, but punch holes in the bottom end of the engine.

When we told the customer what had happened, they were thankful. I don’t think they really understood how close to disaster they really were. Lucky Lucky Lucky!

Well, that raps up another round of automotive service pictures, more commonly known as Shop Shots!

Don’t forget to chime in with your thoughts. On this or any post really. The more you guys add, the better we can make the posts. Also, I am still looking for other folks in the auto industry for Behind The Wrench. If you know someone that would be awesome, just contact me!



Lucky Mechanic

Yesterday we talked about what it takes to be a top level, Master mechanic. One thing that I left out was LUCK! Yep luck. Yes a good mechanic needs to have top notch diagnostic skills. But it never hurts to get lucky. I thought I would tell a few stories about getting lucky fixing cars.

A 2004 Passat wagon came in for the radio cutting out. It had been around and around the shop. The radio had been replaced several times, the amplifier had been replaced and rewired several times. The radio would only cut out once every few months. Like many times when a problem is sporadic, it never messed up at the shop.

When it got to me, I spend about an hour messing with it. Checking this, testing that. Looking at all the work that had been done to the car. Finally, and very frustrated, I flopped down in the back seat. The radio cut off. I stood up, and the radio came back on. YES! I found something. It might have not been the problem, but I was able to duplicate the customers concern.

I pulled the bottom of the back seat up. There was a nicely wrapped wiring harness that ran right under the seat. I pulled the harness up, and the radio came back on. It turns out that a small part of the body of the car was rubbing a wire. We never found it because we never had anyone riding in the back. It was something that the customer did not put together. A quick wiring repair and she was good to go!

I guess me getting mad at the car paid off. This next one happened to the guy that works next to me. It also happened last week. This is one of those weird electrical issues that we see from time to time.

The customer’s concern was the headlight was not working. The tech pulled the car in, and found nothing. All the lights were working. He checked all the faults in the vehicle and found several faults for lighting.

Next he disconnected the module that controls most everything in the car. That really made the car mad. Now all the things the customer told us started happening. It was not just the headlight, ALL the lights were going nuts. Some lights on, some lights really bright, some only half lit.

After diagnosing the car a little further, checking ground connections, fuses and so on, he had no answer. We chatted about the car for a while and didn’t come to any answer. He was pretty frustrated, and I didn’t blame him 1 bit.

While we were talking about the car, I started whacking the fuse panel with the butt of my flashlight. All of a sudden, the lights came on. Poof, just like magic. Not really sure which fuse or relay made the car happy, I started whacking again. This time everything worked fine. We turned the car off and let it sit for a few minutes.

When we turned the car on, the lights were off. I started whacking the fuses again and BAM, found it. We pulled the fuse and found that the fuse was burnt on the backside. Technically, the fuse was good. The issue was the fuse block. It was slightly melted causing the fuse to lose contact. Another easy fix, but a hard problem to find.

So you see, there are times where being lucky is good. Sometimes stumbling onto a problem is just as awesome as actually diagnosing the problem. Fixing a car is fixing a car, for the most part, I don’t care how I find it.

What Exactly Is A Master Certified VW Mechanic

Hi folks! I hope you all had an awesome weekend. Summer is here in full swing. Glad that I work in a shop that has A/C. 🙂

Today I want to talk a little more about what it takes to be a VW Master Certified Auto Mechanic. I was having a conversation with a good buddy of mine. He was asking me about being a certified mechanic, and what that really meant. I went on and on about how mechanics get to that level. He said “dang man, that is a lot of training, you should talk more about it.” So that is what we are going to do!

It takes over 520 hours of advanced classroom training to become a Volkswagen Master Technician

That is over 65 training days. I can tell you that it takes so much more. I started with VW by attending a training program. It 11 weeks of highly specialized VW training. I spent all day learning the “unique” way that VW cars are build, maintained, and repaired. It was a pretty tough program, 8 hours a day in class and 2-3 each night of homework. I think we only had about 14 guys finish the training. That gave me the basic level of certification, in addition to “Electrical Specialist”. That was all before a stepped foot into my current dealer job.

VW Master TechnicianEach one of these courses is instructor lead. So for each class, I would have to make a 360mile road trip. Like I said, coming out of VW academy I had all the core classes, all electrical classes, and a few of the other ones. Well, all but Routan, there was no Routan back then.

As you can see, getting all of those classes done is no small task. After the classes come the Master Technician Assessments. They consist of 50(i think) multiple guess questions. Closed book no cheating, either you know it, or you don’t. They are probably the hardest test I have ever done. I still don’t know how the heck I passed them. The first time, I failed all 5. After some hardcore studying, I passed all 5!

That just covers the “scholastic” part. The real world part is where a Master Tech is made. Years and years of getting my butt kicked by cars. Having to “just know” so many things that are not in any book, or manual.

For the folks that think that being a mechanic is an easy job. Take a look at the chart, you tell me if that looks easy 😉

One more thing, I posted this to Facebook, but here it is all official. Saturday marked the 1 year anniversary of Humble Mechanic. I am so excited to see what the future holds for this site. It is not always easy, but it IS always worth it! So thank you to everyone that has visited the site, posted a comment, like a post, retweeted something, emailed me, and so on. I really appreciate each and every one of you.

Volkswagen Routan Tranmission Problem
VW Routan Transmission Problem

This is how far down the transmission was disassembled

I have posted a few pictures of this battle over the last few weeks. The guys of a automatic transmission, and the VW Routan downed for several weeks. Now the the car is finished, I can tell the whole story. Some of the details are a little fuzzy. I was the 3rd mechanic involved, and most of the information I got was well beyond second hand.~Oh, and the names have been changed to protect the innocent~

In mid April, a customer brought their VW Routan in for service and a few concerns. The mechanic that got the job is one of the senior level guys in the shop. I think that he has more experience working on cars than anyone in the shop. On top of that, he is a really smart guy. I will call him Jim. The customers concern was the van would roll back while on a hill. Jim proceeded in the proper manner for diagnosing the vehicle. Attempting to duplicate, then making sure there was an issue. He test drove another Routan, and that one did not act the same.

Before proceeding with a transmission repair, Jim called VW technician help line. That is pretty standard when in comes to trans repairs. The guy at tech line advised him to remove the transmission, disassemble it, and try to find an issue. I am sure that Jim could not contain his excitement knowing he was about to remove, and disassemble an automatic transmission.

So far so good, but here is where the story gets crazy. See Jim, at the time, was on semi light duty. That means he would not have been able to remove the transmission. That job is about as far from light duty as you can get. The service manager shifted the removal of the transmission to another mechanic. Lets call him, Ted. Ted removed the transmission. He did an outstanding job labeling each part, bolt, and connector. That would make it easy for anyone to reinstall the transmission. As “luck” would have it, Ted went out with an injury about a week later. He is still out of work, but doing better. 🙂

The transmission is now on the work bench waiting for Jim to disassemble, and diagnose. This is not really a job that any of us in the shop do very often. On top of that, this is NOT a VW part. The transmission is a Chrysler part. Jim spent some time disassembling the transmission. At that point, I am not sure that he found a problem. I do know that he ordered some parts needed to reassemble and started the process of putting it back together.

I was off while when the reassembly started. I get a text from the service manager asking me to come in and help him out. I was not able to come in that day, but I was more than willing to help Jim when I got back to work the next day. When I come into work the next day, I find out that Jim is now out on medical leave. Due to the fact that I am the only certified Routan mechanic in the shop, I get the honer of putting it back together.

Just to recap, we have one mechanic remove the transmission, another take it apart, and now a third

mechanic to put it back together. No problem right? Think about it this way. Imagine a 10,000 piece 3d puzzle. Each piece fits both ways, you don’t really have a clear picture of what it looks like, and the only way to now if it is right, is to finish. No problem right? 😉

I take about an hour to evaluate the entire situation. I am trying to find the logic that Jim used to disassemble the trans. To he honest, I don’t think that he did a great job organizing the parts. He might be able to figure out what is happening, but few others would.

Volkswagen Routan Tranmission Problem

Here is the mess that I came into

As I start my journey, I have the following aids

  • repair manual
  • parts list
  • training book

Armed with as much information as I can find, I spend about half a day putting the guts back together. Finding that I had to order some more parts, the job was on hold for a few days. I came in on my day off the next week. I spent almost the entire day at work finishing assembly, and then installing the transmission. I was not able to finish the trans install, so I went in to work on my next day off to wrap it up.

I finished the install. Then started the car. Yay, it starts, things are looking good so far. Next I test reverse. Wheels roll in “R”. All of that uncertainty I had about the repair was starting to go away. I shift the van into drive. NOTHING. Wheels don’t turn. I shut the car off, thinking that if I just try again, everything would be fine. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t. I spent about an hour going over the things that I could see. Nothing jumped out and said “HEY YOU SCREWED ME UP”.

I had never felt as defeated in my career as I did at that moment. I had just spent my 2 days off plus half another day rebuilding this transmission, only to fine that I did something wrong. After a few phone calls, and a couple of other tests, I knew I was pulling the transmission back out. Our regional guy came out to help me out. We did some further testing, but the conclusion was the same. The transmissions was coming out.

I pulled the transmission back out of the van. Then took it back apart. As I Routan transmission problemgot to the point where I first start, we find the problem. 1 missing seal. 1 stupid seal missing. I was not really happy that I didn’t put that seal in, but I was glad to find a fixable problem. I ordered some parts, reassembled the transmission, and put the van back together. This time SUCCESS! all gears shift properly. The van drives great.

The van was in our shop for over 6 weeks. The customer was in another Routan for the entire time. As of right now, I think they are getting a new van. They were pretty awesome about the entire situation. I totally feel bad they were stuck in limbo for so long.

I checked the time that I had into the job. Over 30 hours of work time on this van. All things considered, I got paid okay on the job. I was able to get paid for both repairs. I am pretty thankful for that. I am really glad to put this job behind me. 🙂

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Dead Snake in a VW belly Pan Shop Shots

Time to get over “hump day” with some Shop Shots. All right, it’s time to get rollin~GTI button on a VW GTI


Check out the button on the far right. It says “GTI”. As you can imagine, that is not a normal button on a GTI. In this case, that “GTI” button was a push button start. Kinda cool right? I didn’t have a chance yo talk to the customer and see how he wired it up. It might have been a kit or something, I am not really sure. The part that I didn’t like was, you still had to put the key in the ignition. To me, it seems silly to have the push buttons start work that way. But hey, it is his car. I really do dig the button.

Dead Snake in a VW belly Pan Shop Shots


I was doing a service on a TDI this week. I started to take the belly pan off and a little tail peaking out. I could tell that whatever it was, was dead. Around the shop we were making bets on what it was. I am not an expert in creatures, so my guess was a gecko. When I took the pan all the way off, I found this little guy. Yep, that is dead snake. It looks like he was about a foot and a half when he was alive. That is the very first snake I have found in a car. As long as I don’t find any live snakes, I am good to go. 🙂

Damaged Engine Mount Shop Shots


Check out that picture framing. 😉 Lets start at the top left and more clockwise. The top left picture is a bolt hole in an engine mount. If you look carefully, you can see that all the top treads are missing. Compare that to the picture on the right. That is what a proper bolt hole looks like. Now check out the bottom picture. That is the bolt that came out. Here you can see some of the threads. When the mechanic removed the bolt some of the threads came with it. He didn’t do anything wrong. The threads were fatigued and failed. The bad part is, it cost the customer another $180, to buy a new mount.

I felt bad for the customer until I heard what she said about this. She told the service advisor that we were incompetent, and that other shops would have known this would happen. Well, here is the truth, NO other shops would not have found that before it happened. A bad shop would have rigged it up and never told her. We did the right thing, and I will stand behind that 100%.

CLick and Clack from Car Talk Shop Shots


When I heard the news that Click and Clack were not doing new shows I was pretty bummed. I love listening to these guys. The show is obviously less about car advise, and more about entertainment, but it had me listening for years and years. In 2008 my wife and I took a vacation to Boston. As luck would have it, Click and Clack were Emceeing a street fest in Harvard Square. We went to the festival and got a great spot. After the fest, I was able to sneak around the stage and chat with them for a minute. I am not really one to geek out over meeting people, but I was pretty dang excited.

Well, that wraps up the 20th edition of Shop Shots. I hope it helps everyone get through the mid-week blues. I know it does for me. Don’t forget to sign up for email updates. Just fill out the little box on the right side of the page. EASY! Oh, don’t worry about spam or any junk like that. I don’t do that crap.

It is the same old story.

This car is a great car that will never break. But you need to buy a warranty “just in case”

If you have ever bought a car, you know the pitch. You have sat in the finance mangers office with they tell you how much you “need” that warranty.

Something that you guys may not know about me is, I have said those words. Years before I was an auto mechanic, I sold cars. That is right, I was a used car salesman. I spent about a year selling cars at Carmax. It was my very first job in the auto industry. Not to toot my own horn, but I was pretty dang good at it. Much like my job now, I was always ALL about the customer. I will save that for another post. Lets talk extended warranties.

If you listen to Clark Howard, he will tell you “Never buy an extended warranty”. He says that on everything except a car. So should you buy an extended warranty? Lets look at some pros and cons.

Here are some good reasons to buy that extended warranty

  • Fixing cars can be very expensive
    Not only the cost of labor, but the cost of parts can be really high.
  • Cars are not getting easier to work on.
    It takes thousands of dollars of tools and diagnostic equipment to properly work on cars
  • Vehicles have more electronics than ever
    Most modern cars have 20+ modules. That can add big dollars to a repair
  • It can reduce the worry of owning a car
    Do we really need more to worry about? I know I don’t

Warranties are not all hearts and flowers

  • It can cost over $2000.
    That is a lot of money to add to the cost of a car
  • You might not ever use it
    There is a chance that your car will never ever break
  • Your repair might not be covered.
    No warranty covers everything. NONE OF THEM! I don’t care what the sales person says
  • There is fine print
    It is a contract, there will be fine print!
  • Like other things, may people think they are a rip off.
    There is a possibility.

Considering whether to buy a warranty is a big decision. Most people do not consider it until they are having to say yes or no. If I were buying a car today, I would most likely buy a warranty. Yeah, I can do all the work my self, but I like not having to buy parts. Here are the things I would consider when thinking about an extended warranty.

  • Do I have the money to make a $500-$1000 repair. I might not want to make the repair, but cars don’t break when it is convenient.
  • What does it cover? Buying an “exclusion policy” is the ONLY way to go. That is a policy that will tell you what they DO NOT cover. If it is not listed, it will be covered.
  • Does it cover consequential damage? Lets say the power steering pump goes out. This causes damage to the power steering rack. Will the warranty cover both parts?
  • Does it cover electronics. If not, PASS! No point in buying a warranty that does not cover electronics.
  • Is there a deductible? Many warranties have a $50-$100 deductible That is not a deal breaker for me. Just something to be aware of.
  • Where can I get the car serviced. Some warranties only allow you to get your car serviced at certain places. Again, not a deal breaker, but something to consider.
  • Will I have to pay out of pocket for the repair? The good companies will pay the repair place directly. No need for customers to pay, then hope to be reimbursed.

A better way to think of a warranty is like an insurance policy. Something to have in your pocket in case something goes wrong. I usually ask people if they are willing to put an extra $30 away for cars repairs. If the answer is no, then buy the warranty.

If you have any extended warranty questions, feel free to ask me. I have been dealing with them since 1999.

Do you enjoy the site, have you been able to learn something from reading the post, and comments here? It would mean a ton to me if you would consider sharing it. Really, it means a lot to me. 😀