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Hey everyone.Today I want to talk about the strange things auto mechanics do to find issues with a car. This video is one of my all time favorite automotive sketches.


Thanks to Kids In The Hall for such a funny video!

In all reality this type of thing happens a lot. Granted we don’t paint a car to try and figure out why it doesn’t start. Mechanics do get stuck and sometimes “trying it now” is the only thing you can do.

What a mechanic does when they get stuck really defines what type of mechanic they really are. From my experience, there are only a few things that mechanics do when they get stuck.

  1. Whine
    This seems to be the most common thing to happen when a mechanic gets stuck. It is really easy to get caught up in “whine mode”. It gets you no where.
  2. Ask around until you find the answer you want
    This is what generally follows whining. This one drives me insane. I worked with a guy years ago. He was not a very good mechanic. That is not a huge deal. We can fix that with training. However it got to the point that no one would help him. If he got stuck, he would ask everyone in the shop what they thought he should do. He would ask until someone either helped him, or told him what he wanted to hear.
  3. Quit
    Thankfully this is something that does not happen that often. In fact I have only seen it happen 1 time. One of the guys in the shop was putting cam adjusters in a W8 Passat. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but he just up and quit. In the middle of the job. That left one of the other team leaders in the shop to finish the job. Not cool!
  4. Try it now
    This is what seasoned mechanics do. When you are stuck on fixing a car, you have to do something. There is no possible way to fix a car by doing nothing. That could be anything from rechecking something you already checked. It could be whacking something with a hammer, and everything in between. Some times you are a luck auto mechanic, and sometimes you are not. But powering through the problems is really what makes a top level diagnostic mechanic.

Getting stuck on weird problems is part of the job. It will never go away, no matter how cars are built. It doesn’t matter what year, make or model. It does not have to be a VW to have crazy electrical issues.

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You have heard the horror stories,

I took my car to a mechanic and they broke this part.

Today I want to dive in a little deeper into what goes on behind the scenes when a mechanic breaks something. Generally you read about the situation from a customers point of view. That is the one that counts. But it is not all hearts and flowers from your mechanics point of view either. I am sure that the owner, or dealer is not too pleased. Basically it is lose lose all around.

When I had first planned to write this post, I was going to tell you all a story about something that happened to another mechanic in the shop. As luck would have it, I broke something yesterday, and I want to tell you guys about it.

I was replacing a front differential in a 2007 VW Touareg. This is a job that I have done before, but not something that I do often. Replacing this part takes a fair amount of finesse. There is about 5mm of extra space needed to remove the part. It’s a hard job, just one that needs care.

Just about the time I had the differential out, it slipped just a hair. Next I see a connector swinging near the steering rack. It seems that when the differential slipped, it hit the connector on the steering rack, and broke it. Now just a broken connector is not a big deal. I can totally fix that. The bad part is, the part that broke is part of the steering rack.

I got to a good stopping point and evaluated the damage. Knowing how VW builds parts I was pretty worried. I got with one of my parts guys and we confirmed my fear. The part I broke was not a spare part. Even though I could remove the part, it is not available separate. We even emailed VW parts headquarters with no luck. 🙁

So what happens next? Well, first things first, I get to go and tell my boss that I potentially damaged a $1000 steering rack on a Touareg. I don’t break things that often, but when I do I go big. That is the part price only. After the shock of possibly buying a $1000 part pasted, we brain stormed on an alternative.

  • Repair the part
    This was built into another part. I tried to find a way to make a repair, but no such luck. It was just a mass of copper inside the sensor. Repairing the part is a no go
  • Shop aftermarket
    We spend a good amount of time trying to find just the part I broke. Unfortunately there was no luck in this department either
  • Just get a new one
    This is definitely the easiest option.  But we are not talking about a $10 part. This would require a little more thought that just “Go order it”
  • Junk yard part.
    Odd are this is the route we will take. It will save a ton of money over a new part. This can be a slight dice roll. It may take a few tries to get a good part.

Once we have a solution for the part, someone needs to install it. Since I am the lucky one that broke the part, I get to install it. One of the worst parts about breaking something is having to install it for free. When a mechanic breaks something, they have to replace or fix it. The bad part is they will not get paid for it. That is only fair, you break it you fix it. Only seems fair right?

 So let me just sum up how much breaking stuff really stinks, 

  1. Customer is not happy, and may be with out their car for a while
  2. Service department might be buying a really expensive part.
  3. Not only will the mechanic have to replace/fix the part for free, they feel really bad about it.
This doesn’t even go into what happens when a mechanic is shady and “fixes” things. That I will have to save for another day. 😉
If you are an mechanic in training, or still fresh, don’t worry. These things happen, I don’t care how good you are. Even the top techs make mistakes. Remember “A Bad Day For A Mechanic“? It can and will happen to anyone!
Volkswagen Reliability

Happy Monday everyone. I hope that you enjoyed the first week of the NFL season. If you are not much of a football fan, I still hope you had a great weekend.

Today I want to answer a question that I get all the time. This question comes from a lot of people. But the first person that ever asked me this was my wife.

After you take something apart, how in the world do you remember how it goes back together?

Well, like all great questions, the answer is “It depends”. There no 1 sure fire way that mechanics remember how to put a car back together. We are all different, and the things that I do might not work for someone (or anyone 🙂 ) else.

Start Smart
It all starts with taking things apart in a smart way. For me, that means I take my time. Each part that comes out, gets placed in order.I usually place my parts right to left. I also keep the bolts with the part. For example, when I take off an engine pulley, I keep the bolts in the pulley. That way I don’t have to worry about getting bolts switched around.

Good Labeling
The first time I did a cylinder head gasket I labeled every part. I used masking tape to mark where every part went. Every hose, every connector got a little strip of masking tape so I knew where they went. Well as you might expect, the boys in the shop spent a few days busting my chops about it.

Now that I have some years under my belt, I would probably joke around with a new guy about that too. All kidding aside, that is a great way to make sure things get put back where they belong.

Take A Picture, It Will Last Longer
This is something that is a fairly new idea. When I started working for VW no one had a camera phone. Now, I know some old timers are saying “They didn’t even have cell phones when I started working on cars”. That goes to show how technology as advanced in the last few years. Now I can snap a crystal clear picture of something before I start. That is something not even a factory repair manual can provide.

Volkswagen Reliability

This is a great example of taking things apart in groups

Removing Parts Together.
The easiest way to remember how to put something back together is, not taking it apart. So what do I mean?If you are removing an assembly, that has parts attached, leave the parts attached. If I am replacing a front brake rotor, I will just undo the caliper and leave the brake assembled. This feeds into my “do as little as possible” mindset.

Those are some of the things I do to make putting things back together go a little smoother. Okay, I am gonna let you all in on a couple of little mechanic secretes. There are a few cheats that we have that most people don’t know about. These also help mechanics put things back together

  • Most electrical connectors are different. This will help mechanics from getting connectors switched around. Warning~this is not 100% of the time.
  • Things want to go back together right. This is especially the case with wiring harnesses. When a harness sits in the same place for years it develops a memory. That makes it really easy to install it in the proper place
  • Manufacturers are consistent. VW tends to use a few different versions of fasteners. Even though there are a million bolts in a car, there might only be 50 different ones. From there, you can generally tell what it does by the size of the bolt. A bolt that holds the suspension, will be different than the bolt that holds the radio in.
  • We forget sometimes. There are times were I just forget where something goes, or how it goes. When that happens I have the luxury of a lot full of Volkswagens. Yep, there are times when the only way to get it done is to check another car. This is where I totally feel for the mechanics in the aftermarket, they don’t have that advantage.

Well, I hope that answers the question for all of you. We all have our own little tricks to remember things. It takes a long time to hone that skill. But if you are a DIYer just make sure you keep everything neat, take a lot of pictures and label everything!

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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!

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This story comes from deep with in the Humble Mechanic customer service files. Okay this is actually something that happened yesterday. 😉

From time to time I like to share with you guys a story about doing the right thing. Service departments get a bad rep so when something good happens, I feel like I need to scream it.  I need you guys to understand a couple things about these type of stories.

  1. I am in no way bragging. Do not take this as a “look what I did” type of post.
  2. I want you all to take something away from this. I hope you will use this to do something good for one of your customers.

I had looked at a customer’s air conditioning system about a month ago. When I looked at it the first time, I found the a/c compressor was failing. Her car is a 2007 GTI with the 2.0t FSI. The compressor on those cars are a common failure point. I was able to get the a/c working better, but he system was failing. The estimate that I gave was about $1500 or so. The repair involved replacing several components and cleaning all the lines. As you might imagine, the customer declined the repair. $1500 is not pocket change. Plus the a/c was working much better, so she decided to hold off.

Fast Forward to yesterday. The customer had made an appointment to get her a/c replaced. She came in and we chatted a little. It turns out, her a/c has been working great! Her and I went over the pros and cons of making the repair vs not making the repair. I explained to her how not making the repair was really up to her. If she did wait, it would not cost her any more money. The parts were already failing. The repair I quoted would fix the car no matter how bad the a/c failed.

She again opted to wait on the repair. Now, here is what that cost me. It cost me about 2/3 of the day’s pay. Talk about a bummer for me. It was the big job that I had planned to do that day. The good part is, I was able to make the time up with other work.

Here is the real reason I am telling you all this story. I earned something with this customer that is far beyond the 7 hours pay. That is 100% trust. Think about it. I just told a customer she didn’t need a repair. What mechanic, or anyone in a service business does that? Someone who really gives a crap about their customers and their good name. It shows my customers that no matter what I will do right by them. That my friends is what it is ALL about!

If you are not doing right by your customer you are WRONG! I like to use these 2 little sayings from Gary Vaynerchuk  “It is about legacy, not currency” and “It is about running a marathon, not a sprint”. It is hard to argue with that!

I hope you guys can get a little something out of this post.The customer service part of my job is something that I take very seriously. I hope that all of you do too.

If you liked this post, please consider sharing it. It takes just a second to click one of the buttons below. See, wasn’t that easy? 😉

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Back when I was in automotive tech school, I had a vision of what being an auto mechanic would be. When I got into the “real world” of being a mechanic, I found things to be very different. Not in a bad way, but different.

I can remember thinking this job would be all fun and working on awesome cars. Fixing cars like clockwork, and never wondering if the repair would be right. I never even thought that a car would come back not fixed properly, or that I would accidentally break something on a customers car.

Here are some of the things I never expected to be, as an auto mechanic.

Life Counselor

I was talking with my boss the other day. He really put the life counselor part of the job into prospective. We are working with the second most expensive thing that most people will ever buy. It is not uncommon to see repair bills over $1000. If you are not rich, or crazy spending that type of money is not a light choice to make.

Now consider there are times when a car is not worth fixing. I have had to help several folks make the tough choice to sell or trade their car and buy a new one. That is not something anyone should take lightly. Like I said, it’s the second biggest purchase most folks will ever make.

Then there are the times where a mechanic has be give the confidence back to the customer. If you have ever been stranded because of a car breaking down, you know what I mean. You loose confidence in your car. You think that piece of junk is just a piece of junk. Even if it is a small repair, it can happen. Part of my job is to help customer through that and love their car again!

Teacher

This came as less of a surprise, but I didn’t expect it to be all the time. I have talked about how I training newer techs before. What I mean here is teaching other people how are not techs, about cars. I get to teach customers about their cars. I get to teach the service advisors about very technical things, even if they are not technical. They are usually the ones that have to explain issues and repairs to customers. So if the advisor doesn’t understand, how could a customer? Then there are sales people. Ugh, I will leave that out. Actually, I am just messing with them. I enjoy most of the sales folks we have. Plus, I sold cars before so I understand them better than most. I just enjoy giving them a hard time. 😉

A Master Guesser

In training, be it tech school or continued, a tech tought to fix cars. They tell you that you will always be able to identify problems, and find the solutions. You are lead to believe that you will always have a “smoking gun”.

I can tell you this is not the case. Yes many times you find a problem and can be 100% sure that it is the right repair. There are many more times where you have to rely on what you have seen in the past. Then there are times when you have no other choice, than to roll the dice.

I never expected that. I thought mechanics always knew exactly what the problem was. It is kinda like a doctor practicing medicine.

I would say that those are the big three on my mind right now. There are some little things that I can think of that were very different.

  • I never expected my pay to be so controlled by someone else, that is not the customer. All the hours funnel through the service advisor.
  • I never expected that tools were so expensive. I use to think that Craftsman was outrageously priced. HA, I love buying Craftsman now.
  • I never expected to have so much customer interaction. It is definitely a fun part of my job.
  • I never expected the ups and downs with work. I thought is would be a steady stream of cars. Truth is, sometimes your are slam busy, and sometimes you are just hanging out.
  • I never expected the amount of continued training. I am not sure why, I should have seen that one coming. It is much more than a couple of classes every year.
  • I never expected the amount of information car companies send out. It feels like there is a new TSB, or tech tip, or recall every day. It is the thing I struggle with the most in my job.
  • I never expected to need a 2nd elbow. There are some of these dang bolts that are really hard to get to and a second elbow would really help. That and magnetic finger tips that I would control the magnets with my mind. That would be cool!

Well, I hope you all enjoyed the post today. I have enjoyed looking back over the years of working on cars. Seeing the way the industry works vs the way I thought it would work. I hope that I didn’t scare you guys that are in tech school right now 😉 This industry can be awesome, once you learn it!

Don’t forget you can connect with me on all the cool media sites. I do post some things to Facebook and Twitter that don’t make it to the site. Just click on any of the boxes, or Chiclets, on the right ~>

Shop Shots Automotive serivce pictures

I feel like I have been posting  a lot of car pictures lately. But hey, pictures are fun right? I dug deep into the archives for some good pics today.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesBOOST!!! This is a close up picture of a turbo charger. This is the side the exhaust bolts to. Turbos chargers are pretty easy to understand.

As exhaust gas exits the engine, it turns this little wheel. This wheel is connected to another wheel called the compressor wheel. This compresses the air coming into the engine. When the air is compressed, more air can fit into the cylinder. More air into the engine means more fuel can be used. More air+more fuel is more power!

This particular turbo is bad. the wheel came loose. It made one heck of a noise when boosted was built. Then is just stopped working all together.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesWhat you are looking at here is a coolant flange. This is actually the coolant flange that I replaced on my Passat 1.8t. This is a pretty common things on most 4 cylinder VWs. The issue generally comes from engine oil.

How can oil make a coolant leak?

Excellent question. Generally what happens is oil leaks onto this flange. The oil will seep onto the seal. This will cause the seal to expand. This will eventually cause coolant to leak past the seal. This is one reason to not put off repairing an oil leak. It can cause a coolant leak too.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesIt has taken me forever to find this picture. I know the quality is just awful. It was taken with my BlackBerry from years ago. We had a really bad storm at the dealership. It knocked over a few big trees and caused a ton of hail damage. This is an Accord that got totaled! The weird thing is, they put the tree back up. It is still standing today.

The other strange this is the damage that we had. There were 300+ Hondas that had hail damage. Plus the 3 or 4 that got totaled from this tree. We had 4 VWs that had hail damage. What does that say about the build quality of Honda vs Volkswagen?

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesI was going through the setup for our new VW diagnostic software. When these type of updates come out, I found it VERY necessary to follow the process step by step. This is a the list of our current scan tools. My dealer has the 5051B, and 2 6150 laptops. This is the first I have heard of the 6160 tablet. I can only assume that VW is coming out with some type of Ipad like device. How cool would it be to have an Ipad as the vehicle scan tool?

It also makes me wonder what the price point would be.Generally our scan tools cost a fortune. The 6150 laptop costs about $5000, and that is without the test equipment box. That is another $6000.

Well that wraps up another volume of Shop Shots in the books. I do need a little help from everyone. The help I need is pretty simple. I just need everyone to answer this question.

What do you buy for you, or your car online?

Tools? Car parts? Car wash stuff? I want to put together a little discount club for everyone. I want to make sure that I can include the things you guys want, or already buy. Just with a discount. Help me out everyone. I want to make this a really great program for you guys.