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I have mentioned before about getting an second opinion on car repair needs. I stand behind that advice for sure. There are times where taking your car multiple places is a bad idea regardless of cost. There are also times where saving a couple of dollars is not worth the time and trouble.

A customer brought their car in for my dealer to diagnose the MIL. One of the team leaders in the shop diagnosed the MIL as a failed control solenoid. The customer declined the repair. A few days later she brought the car back. She was mad at us because we “misdiagnosed” her car. The tech that first looked at the car took another look at it. He found the solenoid he recommended never got replaced.

It turns out the customer took the car to another mechanic. The mechanic replaced the wrong solenoid. We told her she still needed to have the solenoid replaced. She blamed us for the mistake. I am not sure where the lapse was. We told her the name of the part, gave her a print out of the fault, and even gave her the part number. To me, that seems pretty cut and dry.

That customer declined the repair again. Since a few weeks had gone by, we assumed that she had gotten her car fixed. Well the dealer received a letter from the customer. She informed us that the solenoid didn’t fix her car. She took it to an Audi tech and he fixed it for $5. In her letter she explained how we cost her over $700 that she didn’t need to spend. Of course she wants her money back for the diagnostic fee.

This puts everyone in a really tough situation.

  • The initial repair shop
    It puts the initial shop in a strange spot. If the initial shop makes the repair, and it doesn’t fix the car, they have a chance to test the repair. If the they didn’t get it 100% right, or there is another issue, they have a chance to make it right.
  • The shop making the repair
    When a customer comes in and says, “I need this part replaced” I get nervous. I usually don’t know the back story behind the repair. Generally I get something like. “The guys at AutoZone said it was bad”. I am not a big fan of getting put in that situation.
  • The Customer
    Odds are the customer still spend more money doing this. Plus the time and gas to take their car to multiple shops. The goal of saving a few bucks is generally goes right out the window. It seems to leave customers feeling taken advantage.

This is just another reason to make sure you find a mechanic, and stick with them. Even if your mechanic gets it wrong, they have a chance to make it right. Just remember that spending a bunch of time, and effort to save a few bucks is rarely worth it. I have learned that lesson so many times it is not even funny!

Shop Shots auto mechanic pictures

Hi everyone! It’s Wednesday, so that means I am taking you inside an auto shop with Shop Shots! These pictures come from the shop that I work in . The pictures might not be cars that I am working on, but they are all real. Let’s do this!

Shop Shots auto mechanic picturesFrom time to time I find something gross. This is one of those times. This is a car that the guy next to me was working on. I walked over to check on what he was doing. I noticed a fair amount of oil under the intake manifold. The crank vent pipes tend to break on the 1.8t engines. I grabbed my flashlight to get a better look.

I happen to notice this little dead mouse. It looks like he was there for a while. The guy working on the car freaked out a little. It was kinda funny. Usually I am the one to get freaked out by stuff like this. I guess since I don’t have to work on that car, it was not as big of a deal. Poor little guy.

Shop Shots auto mechanic picturesOn a much less disgusting note, nothing died in this picture. This is the guts of a fuse panel. The customer brought her car in with some lighting issues. I found a fuse that was melted. It is something that I have seen a few times before. Thankfully, I had seen it before. This issue kicked another techs butt. I had the benefit of remembering his struggles, so I didn’t have to.

I wanted to see if there was an identifiable issue with the fuse block. I found the damage, but no culprit. I expected to see evidence of water intrusion. Not so much. Still I like to see what is going on inside the magic boxes. 😉

Shop Shots auto mechanic picturesThis is a shot I took of a screen in Guided Fault Finding(GFF). GFF is part of VW’s scan tool software. There are times when a really funny screen pops up, and this seems to be one of them. Please allow me to clarify what this is saying.

  • If the customer complains about this issue, treat it like it is a problem.
  • If there is a TSB or other repair information, follow what that says to do
  • If the first two things do not apply, don’t worry about it. There is nothing wrong

I love finding gems like this! HA

This falls under the “you gotta do what you gotta do” category. I actually borrowed this picture from my buddy on Twitter Jeremy. All I can say is Vise grips saved the day! I hope this is a temporary fix. If not they are asking for trouble, but it is still really dang funny!

Well that wraps up another week of Shop Shots. If you have any pictures that you want to submit for shop shots, just contact me! Also if you want to show case your car drop me a line! Oh, I hope that I didn’t gross everyone out too much with the dead mouse. 😉

Snap on Auto Mechanic's wrench

Even if you are not a professional auto mechanic everyone should have some basic hand tools. But how do you know what tools to buy? Do buy the least expensive stuff you can find? Or save up and get the high end tools? Like every good question, the answer is, It depends.

There are many things to consider when shopping for tools.While price is usually the first one everyone considers, it is generally not the most important.

When to buy the good stuff

When it comes to tools for work, I generally buy the good stuff. I have a definite preference to Snap-On tools. I do own other brands. I have found that they make a great product, and the tool rep is top notch. The tools I always buy top of the line are

Snap on Auto Mechanc's wrech

Not upgraded wrench

    • Things I use all the time.
      Sockets, box wrenches, ratchets are things I generally buy the best I can.
    • Tools that repair damaged fasteners.
      If I am using tools from my “Uh oh drawer” I only want the best. Never cheap out on these tools If you are repairing something damaged, you need to make sure the tools are top of the line
    • Delicate work.
      When doing work on delicate parts, like dash work, you want great quality. Anytime a tool can damage the surface, use high quality stuff!

      Snap on Auto Mechanc's wrech

      Upgraded Snapon wrench

    • Seized or rusted fasteners
      These can be a pain in the butt to work on with the best quality tools. Try doing these jobs with lower quality stuff, and your in for a world of hurt. Seized tie rods are my favorite example. I had a cheaper wrench from Craftsman. Every time I would break a tie rod loose, the wrench would slip and damage the tie rod. I upgraded to some high dollar Snap-on wrenches, and never had it happen again. Sure I paid a premium for the Snap-on wrench, but it saved a ton of headache.
    • Precision tools
      When it comes to measuring, don’t cheap out! Especially when it comes to small measurements. Low torque fastener are a great example. If your cheapo torque wrench is off by 20%, it can mean the difference between a properly tightened bolt, and a damaged cylinder head. Or it can mean a cheap dial indicator that falls apart when measuring something and all the parts fall into the engine. Lucky for me they fell all the way down into the oil pan. talk about a heart attack!

When to save some money

I will be the very first to admit there are times when you don’t need the top of the line tools. I have some tools that I paid next to nothing for and I still use. Here are some times when saving some cash on tools is just fine by me.

  • Rarely used tools, NOT listed above
    If you have a tool that gets used once or twice a year, not need to spend a ton of money. As long as it does not fall into one of the groups listed above, your good to go.
  • Dumb Tools
    Dumb tools are things like hammers and pry bars. I get most of my hammers from places like Harbor Freight. The 3lb sledge hammer I got there 8 years ago still hits things just fine. As far as pry bars go, I still buy Craftsman, but they put them on sale all the time. Usually for 1/2 off.
  • Modifying tools
    If you have plans or need to modify a tool, don’t spend a ton of money. When I buy stuff I know I will have to modify, I get the cheapest I can find.

Now this post is not meant to be a Snap-on commercial. They are just the tools that I buy and I like. At my house I use Craftsman, Stanley, and that brand Home Depot sells. Since I only work on my cars at home, the fear of damaging something is not really there. Plus I don’t do a lot of wrenching at my house.

It really all boils down to this. For most all your tools, buy the best tools you can afford. Cheaping out on everything will mean you get to buy things again(not in a good way). On the other hand, there is no reason to buy all Snap-on or Matco tools. Well, I guess if you were that person that hit the big lotto you should. But since that is none of us, use good judgement.

What about you? What is “YOUR BRAND” of tools? After reading this, I am sure you know that at work I prefer Snap-on. At my house, I save some money, but still get a good product. I really try to stay away from junk tools like Alltrade and other stuff like that.

Humble Mechanic Logo

We have talked about “Dealership repair vs Aftermarket repair” many times before. One thing that I didn’t touch on is the “Right to Repair” issue. This is legislation aimed at forcing auto manufacturers to provide more repair information and tool to the aftermarket. This is going beyond the how to information.

Based on the legislation, it seems that “Right to Repair” is trying to get information on the control modules in the car. You can read the legislation here. This comes from the “Right to Repair” site.

While the problems experienced by independent technicians are wide ranging, the following are three major issues now faced by independent repair shops in attempting to obtain the information and tools needed to work on today’s and tomorrow’s vehicles:

  • Codes needed to reinitialize vehicle computer systems are not made available. Independent shops often are able to perform many repairs only to be stymied at the end when they cannot obtain the code to reinitialize the vehicle’s computers and thus complete the repair. Absent entering the code, in many cases the car owner would not be able to restart the car following the repairs.
  • Information provided to new dealers is more effective than what is provided to independents. A great deal of diagnostic and repair data is provided to car company franchised dealerships over “hotlines” that are not accessible to independent repair shops or consumers. Information available through these dealer-only networks provide valuable diagnostic assistance for hard to solve problem and might also have information regarding safety related repairs that need to be completed, but which an independent shop and car owner might not be aware of until a technical service bulletin or recall is released, a process that can take months if not years.
  • The growing use of telematic systems by car companies will permit critical marketing and repair information to flow wirelessly using cell phone technology to the dealer, leaving the independents out of the loop. While telematics will provide extensive benefits to car owners, it also will be used by car companies and their dealers to tie the customer to the dealer long after the new car warranty has expired.

As I see it, the aftermarket wants to have full access to all of the control modules and their information. Anything from coding modules, to advanced diagnostics. It will also include the information that we get from VW technical help line.

The truth is, most of this information is already out there. Think about all the information that is in repair manuals like Alldata, Chiltons, Mitchell and so on. Most if not all of the information needed to repair modern cars is out there. It is just a matter of PAYING for it.

We can take VW for a great example. If you buy VCDS (an aftermarket diagnostic software for VW and Audi) you can do just about everything with anything we can do with the dealer scantool. You can also buy the rights to adapt new keys and control modules. That would allow anyone to perform just about repairs on VWs. Like I said, the channels are out there, it is just a matter of finding and paying for them.

So what is the solution?

Well, to me the solution is really easy. If an aftermarket wants to play, they need to pay. It might be a matter of buying the proper diagnostic equipment and tools. The funny part about that is, it will increase the cost of doing business with an aftermarket shop. Tool and repair manual companies can have the information available shortly after a new car comes out. Well within the warranty period. If an aftermarket shop wants to do advanced electrical diagnosis, then it is up to them to buy the proper equipment.

What would happen if car makers were forced to GIVE the information away? Would it give you more options on getting your car fixed? Yep! Would, at some point, raise the cost of buying that new car? Maybe.. Remember that the costs will always roll down hill to the customer. I don’t care what side of this you are on, NO ONE can argue that.

I will be keeping my ear pretty close to this one. With that said, what do you guys think? Do dealers have “unfair” advantages? Please keep in mind the word “UNFAIR”. I really would like to know your thoughts on this.. Post it up in the comments.

Humble Mechanic Logo

This is a question that I get from people that I meet. It usually goes something like this.

Oh, you are an auto mechanic. Well, I don’t know anything about cars. How can I tell if a mechanic is ripping me off.

I feel like, as a women, I am always getting taken advantage of when I get my car serviced. How do I tell if a mechanic is ripping me off.

They are basically saying that they are scared. Scared that they will get taken advantage of. The truth is, there are many people that know very little about how cars work. That is okay, but I want to make sure you are confident in your car maintenance and repair choices.

Here are some actions you can take to be sure you are not getting swindled into repairs you might not need. Oh, before we get into the meat of this, I need you all to know about getting ripped off. I don’t think that women get ripped off more than men. I think it is a customer that lacks the knowledge and confidence about their car that gets taken advantage of the most. I have seen guys get taken to the cleaners just as much as gals.

Show me the goods
Asking to see the problem is the best way to avoid the “did I really need that” feeling. Even if you know nothing about cars, ask to see the issue. You will be surprised at how easy it is to see a worn tire, or a ripped wiper blade when it is staring you in the face.Take this situation for example.

You bring your car in for an oil change. The service advisor tells you that you need to replace 2 tires.You ask them to SHOW you why you need new tires. The advisor walks you back into the shop and shows you this tire.

bad tire on a Volkswagen
You don’t have to know anything about tires to know this is not safe. See the impact that looking at an unsafe tire vs just me telling you? You might not be happy about buying tires(I know I wouldn’t be) but you know they are needed. If the mechanic or service advisor can’t or is not willing to show you what is wrong, think twice about the repair.

Do I NEED this repair
I know it seems like a very simple question. You might feel like “they” will always tell you the repair is needed. Yeah, that might be true, but not as much as you might think. Asking the question can help you find out if the repair is NEEDED vs RECOMMENDED.

  • A needed repair is one that will make lead to a safety issue, or cause further damage to your car.
  • A recommended repair is something to consider, but may not be vital right now.

If you NEED to make a repair, then you might just have to bite the bullet and do the repair. If the mechanic or service advisor says they recommend the repair. You might be able to skip that repair.

Check your owners manual
This is a great tool when it comes to maintenance. Does your owners manual say you need a transmission service at a specific interval? If it does, you need to get the transmission serviced. If the mechanic recommends it, ask why. Ask why THEY recommend it, even though it is not in the owners book.

Now, if the mechanic shows you that the transmission fluid is dirty, you might want to think about the service. If they say something like

Well we just recommend it.

I would probably steer clear.

Get a second opinion
If you have exhausted all the other possibilities, there is always this option. If your car is drivable, you can get a second opinion. Even if it means calling a friend, there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. Getting a second set of eyes on an issue can help you feel better about a repair.

I do have a few issues with getting a second opinion. I worry that the second place will not be as good as the first. You will need to make sure the second opinion know what the heck they are doing. I would hate for the second opinion to be wrong.

The biggest advice I can give is BE CONFIDENT. You don’t have to understand how a timing belt works. But if you ask questions about the repair, it will generally expose a dishonest mechanic. If the service department has the answers to your questions, and can show you the issues, I say go for it. You might not love having to make the repair, but at least you will not feel like you get taken advantage of.

I just wanted to remind you guys of the “SEARCH” box, it is just above the subscribe box on the right side. If there is something you are wondering about, type it in and check out some posts where I covered it. If you can’t find it, contact me and I will make it a post topic!

Of all the posts, I think this is one worth sharing. I want to help teach everyone how to be confident when it comes to maintaining and repairing their cars!

I think that it is important to take a step back and cover the basics. I get caught up in a very technical world, with people that know the terms I use. I don’t want anyone to feel like what I am saying is over their head. So today I will give you guys some really common terms your auto mechanic might use. You might not need to understand how these things work, but knowing the terms will can help you make better choices with your car.

Engine block

This is the lower part of the base engine. It houses the pistons, and the crankshaft. It may also have other parts like an oil pump, a water pump, and maybe a balance shaft. Some folks also call this the “Bottom End”. It is generally referred to that way when talking about noises. On older engines, the block may have also contained the cam shaft. I say older, but the 3.8L Routan still has the cam in the block.

Cylinder Head

This is the upper part of the base engine. It can contain the cam shafts, valves, rockers(not the music kind). Most newer model cars have an adjuster in the cylinder head that can change the cam shaft timing. Don’t worry about that just yet, we will get there.

Crank shaft

Located in the engine block, this hunk of metal moves the pistons. It takes a rotating motion and converts it to an up and down motion. At one end, the trans mission bolts the the crank shaft, the other end generally drives the serpentine belt.

Cam Shaft

The cam shaft is also responsible from turning a rotational motion in to an up and down motion. The cam will rotate causing valves to open or close. This is what allows air to enter the engine, and forces air out of the engine.

Timing Belt

This is the belt, or chain, is what connects the CRANK SHAFT to the CAM SHAFT. One of the most important parts of an engine. If the timing belt is not “TIMED” properly, you will get pistons and valves in the wrong place, and the wrong time. Usually resulting in internal engine damage.

Serpentine Belt

This is also called an accessory belt, or belts. This belt is what drives the vehicles accessories. Things like the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and (if you are luck) a super charger. If this belt breaks, it most likely wont do internal engine damage, but it can leave you stranded.

Water Pump

Like many things on cars, this does what its name says it does. It pumps water, well actually, coolant. The water pump pushes water through the engine and pulls heat from it. When it hits the radiator, it exchanges the heat with and cools down. Then back to the engine to start over

Thermostat

Going along with the water pump, the thermostat helps regulate engine temperature. It will “hold” coolant from flowing to the radiator. It does this to heat the car up. It would take forever to get your car to operating temperature with out a thermostat.

Radiator

Located in the very front of your car, the radiator is a big heat exchanger. The hot coolant that flows through it, is cooled by air passing by it. Air is directed through the radiator and pulls the heat away from the coolant.

Heater Core

This is almost the same as a radiator. The only difference is the location. This is located inside the vehicle. Air is blown across the heater core, but instead of flowing into the engine bay, it flows into the cars cabin. The heat pulled from the heater core heats the air and is then directed into the cabin. The heater core is the reason you can stay toasty warm in the winter time.

Brake Booster

We have talked about brakes before, but I don’t think I have talked about the booster. The booster assists the driver in pressing the brake pedal. With out a booster, it would take tons of force applied to the brake to make the car stop. Well maybe not actual tons, but descriptive tons. It works by using engine vacuum to pull a diaphragm. and spring set. This set will provide the assistance you need to help press the brake pedal. You can feel the assist by doing this.

  • Stop your car, then shut it off
  • Press the brake down, you will still feel the assist.
  • Press the brake a few more times, you will notice the pedal getting harder to push.
  • After about 4 times of pressing the pedal, it feel hard as a rock. THAT is what no assist would feel like.

There are so many dang systems on cars that it will take a while to talk about them all. Some parts are easy to explain by writing them. Some just don’t make sense that way. I am trying to build a collection of parts so I can show you guys what the look like. Much like the video I did about a Volkswagen Clock Spring. If you have a car part that you want to know about, post it in the comments. The parts I can’t show you how they work are things like Airbags, ECMs, and other “magical” things. 😉

Also, sign up for the email list. You will get updates about new posts before anyone else! VW is dragging their feet on something, but as soon as they get on the ball, I will have something special for everyone, but the folks on “the list” will get 1st dibs.

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Hey folks! I want to first apologize about no post yesterday. I really hate the days where I don’t get a post out for you. Today I want to explain what a bad day for a mechanic looks like. I really what you guys to understand that I am NOT bitching about my job. I have committed to be 100% open and honest with everyone. That means that you get to hear the good, and the bad!

This is what a rough day looks like.

After doing a few easy jobs I pulled in a 2011 GTI. The concern was that the fans would run for a long time after shutting the car off. Depending on the length of time, this can be normal. I pulled the car in the shop and sure enough the cooling fans were running full speed even with the key off. The car had been sitting for a few hours, so i knew the engine was not hot enough for the fans to be on.

One thing to note, the check engine light was on. The customer made no mention of the light. On the surface that might not seem like an issue, but it puts me on a high alert. If they didn’t say anything about the light, what else are they not saying. Again, this might not be an issue, but I usually wonder why nothing was said. I guess another point would be, why didn’t the service advisor ask about a check engine light.

After some initial checking, I found that the car had a code stored in the engine computer for the fan, and for another emissions part. Since I was looking at 2 different issues, I had to start somewhere. I started with some very basic diagnosis, checking fuses, checking grounds, the battery. Didn’t really find an issue. I will save the boring “how to” of all the checks that I did, but lets just say, I checked a lot of stuff.

During some of the tests, I noticed that some things were not right. The ECM has tamper proof bolts from the factory, this car had regular bolts installed.The wiring harness looked like it had been tampered with. We had no luck getting a hold of the customer to find out if anyone had looked at the car. I removed the ECM and found that the wires had damage to the outer coating. It looked like someone had poked holes in them to test. This is a HUGE no-no especially on small wires. Now all the red flags were flying. It was time it figure out what the heck happened.

I checked the cars history at the dealer. It only had 1 service completed there. Then I checked the history at VW. It had 2 repairs that were NOT done at my dealer. We can only see what parts were replaced in the VW history. It turns out the ECM(engine control module) and the BCM(body control module) were both replaced about 2 months ago. ~The BCM controls almost everything non-engine in the car. It is a very important module.

So, that explained why the bolts were wrong and the wires were messed up, but didn’t help with the issue. We called the dealer that replaced the parts, they simply said it was because the car would not start. Back to diagnosing, I started checking into what was done at the other dealer. That lead me to checking the ECM coding. VW modules have different “programming” based on equipment. This ECM has what is known as long coding. It is 7-10 bytes, each has 8 bits. The 8 bits are represented by 2 characters(confused yet?).

The ECM installed in the car did not match the the number of bytes that is had when it was built. It might sound like a bad thing, but now I have something to go with. It was time to call VW technical help line. It is what we use when we need more help fixing cars. I wrote a post about what happens when a mechanic can’t fix your car a while back. It talks more about tech line. 😉 I called the folks at VW. After going through the basics, I told them what I found with the coding. I was on hold for about 10 minutes. The guy from tech line came back and said, “Forget about the coding, if you had looked at the part numbers, you should have known they were different”. Basically telling me I should have known it was fine.

He gave me some some things to check, and got rid of me as fast as possible. It was the classic, “Get him off the phone because I don’t want to deal with this problem.” The best part was, the test he gave me made NO sense. It would be like testing the battery to figure out why a tire is flat. After an annoying conversation with tech line, I decided to repair the bad wiring and go from there. During the entire time of working on this car, I could not shake the feeling that the ECM was the problem. There are times when it is cut and dry the module is bad, but MOST of the time it is a dice roll.

After fixing the wires, I was pretty much back to square 1. I loaded up the repair manual and spent some trying to find the common issue. VW repair manuals are populated by VIN. They should be specific to the car. Wanting to make sure I had all my bases covered, I started doing more wire checking. As I am looking at the wiring diagram, I find wires missing.

TADA~ wires are missing. Wait, how can wiring be missing? It turns out, the wiring diagram for that car is WRONG!!! The car was built 10/10, but the wiring harness must have come from the future. The diagram matched a car built 12/10. Thanks wrong information. Now with the proper information, I found that ECM was not sending the signal out properly. Ordered 1 ECM. I will update when the part comes in.

So what lessons can we learn here?

  • Well, I know I could have shaved some time off this diagnosis, by focusing on 1 issue at a time. I was sort of all over the place with it.
  • There are times when information is WRONG. (I am still mad about this)
  • checking history is important
  • Go with your gut. This is the most important part of the whole list!!!

Well, there you have it folks, a tough day for a mechanic. YIKES! Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I prefer twitter, but I am on both a fair amount. I wish that FB would fix their mobile interface.

If you want me to stop complaining about fixing cars, click one of the share buttons below. That will show me 😉