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Does my car really need a brake service
Does my car really need a brake service

My wife found this brake pad in the parking lot of her work, someone waited too long.

We are continuing in our car service series. This week I want to talk about the brake job. There are a lot of variables that go into making a choice on replacing brakes. It is not always a cut and dry choice. Let’s first break down the common types of brake jobs. Then I will give you some advice on deciding if you need to perform a brake job your car.

Types of Brake Jobs
Saying “I am replacing the brakes” is a very generic term. There are several ways that we can replace brakes.It all depends on the condition of the brakes. Here are the most common types of brake jobs I do

  • Brake pads only
    This is only replacing the brake pads. This is generally the cheapest way to do a brake job. We call this “pad slapping” the car. I do not prefer this type of brake job. It is not a bad thing. I just think you can do a more thorough job. 
  • Replace the brake pads and rotors
    This brake job is where we replace the brake pads and the rotors(duh?). This is a much better brake job than just replacing the pads. Replacing the rotors will give the pads a fresh surface to seat. It can also help reduce brake noise. The only issue here is, rotors can be expensive.
  • Replace the brake pads, resurface the rotors
    This is the way I prefer to do a brake job. With this type of brake job I replace the brake pads. But instead of replacing the rotors, I resurface them. That is where I put the on a machine called a brake lathe. Then we remove a very small amount of metal from the rotor. It makes for a nice clean surface. This is also called turning, or cutting the rotors. There are times where resurfacing the rotors is not an option.

Like I said, resurfacing the rotors and replacing the pads. It is a better overall brake job, and cheaper than replacing the rotors.

What happens if I don’t replace them?
Like most car repairs, the longer you wait, the more it can cost. If you wait to long, the rivets in the pad will impact the rotor. That may mean resurfacing the rotor is not an option. The rotors will have to be replaced.

In extreme cases more damage can occur. I have seen calipers, the part that pushes the pad in to the rotor, be destroyed. The thinner the pad gets, the further the caliper pushes the pad. At some point the caliper will over extend and fail. This is not only very costly, but VERY dangerous. Remember when dealing with brakes, safety is always a big concern.

How do I know if I need the service?
On many modern cars we have a warning system. There are warning lights to tell us when the pads are getting thin and need to be replaced. Some cars have “squealers”, that is a small strip of metal that will hit the rotor when the pad gets thin. It causes a really loud and obnoxious squeal.

While these warning systems are a good thing, I don’t rely on them. Most cars only have warning lights that monitor the front brakes. That leaves the rear brakes unmonitored. The squealer warning works great. That is until the customer says something like “My brakes have been making a noise for about a year now”. Trust me, that stuff happens.

Does my car really need a brake service

This car would need the wheels removed to check the brakes

The right way to check the brakes is to remove the wheels and do an inspection. Some wheels allow you to see the brakes pretty clearly. Taking the wheels off is the best way to check the system. Here are some of the things you want to check.

  1. Thickness of the pads. Be sure to check the outside and the inside pads. Many cars will wear the inside faster than the outside.
  2. Look at the rotor. Check it for grooves like a record would have. Look at the color, if it is turning blue, you may have an issue. Also look at the edges, if there is a big lip on the outer or inner part of the rotor, you may have to replace them. Turning the rotor too thin will cause a brake vibration.
  3. Make sure there is no leaks.

So, do I really need this service?
You may not actually need this service. VW says that the minimum thickness is 2mm for the brake pads. That is really thin. I would not want to let my brakes get that low. If you do your own brake inspections, you have to use your best judgement. If your mechanic is recommending that you get a brake job, here are the things you need to ask.

  • How much pad is left?
    This will give you an idea of how thin the pads really are. Plus it will give you some confidence that he actually measured them.
  • Will them make it to the next service?
    This is the big one. That question should tell you if you need to do it today, or if it can wait.

One other piece of advice. If you are on the fence, get the brakes done. Please don’t mess around with the system keeping you from crashing in to another car.

When I recommend brakes I use the “will they make it to the next service” rule. Either way, I tell the customer. If I don’t think it will make it, I will let them know.

If you are interested in some of the other “Does my car really need this service” posts, you can check them out here.

If there is a service you want to know more about, post it in the comments, or just contact me.

Painting markes on a timing belt
Common Rail TDI Timing Belt

This is a TDI timing belt

When I started this series, this was the service I had in mind. Of all the maintenance that a car needs, this one is vital. In fact, I think I could just have the post of one word. YES! I would not do that to you guys. You need to know why you need a timing belt. Like most of the “Does My Car Really Need This Service” this goes beyond a VW. It will apply to all cars.

What is a timing belt.
A timing belt car be a difficult thing to understand. Like I have said before, you don’t need to be a car expert to understand your car. A timing belt keeps your engine “timed”. It keeps parts in the top end, from hitting parts in the bottom end.

Think of it like gears and a chain on a bike. With out the chain the gears wont move. A combustion engine needs it’s gears connected too. Imagine if your bike’s chain broke, you would not be able to pedal. The timing belt is just as critical.

Some cars have other things that the timing belt does. Most VWs run the water pump off of the timing belt. Some of the TDI engines run a fuel pump with the timing belt. I have seen oil pumps, distributors, fuel pumps, water pumps, balance shafts by the timing belt.

How can the timing belt break?
Before we can talk about what timing belt failure means, we need to talk about how they can fail.

  1. The belt breaks apartvw Timing Belt damage
    This is where the belt separates, like undoing your belt for your pants. I don’t think that I have seen a belt do this, but it’s possible.
  2. The teeth sheer come off the belt.
    The belt is “toothed”. That is how the belt turns the gears. I have seen many many timing belts with teeth missing from the belt. This can be the result of a worn belt, or the next way a belt can fail
  3. Seized, or failed component in the belt circuit.
    There is also parts that keep tension on the belt. If a tension fails, it can cause the belt to be too loose. That can cause the belt to skip and become out of time. If a component seizes, it can rip the teeth from the belt.
  4. Outside influence
    I have seen a few timing belts break due to outside influence. Whether it is damage from a wreck, or a bolt came out of the engine. Outside influence is bad news. Check out the picture above.

What happens if it breaks?
The phrase “Possible catastrophic engine damage” is what I like to say. I have seen a few different things happen when a timing belt breaks or the belt circuit fails in some way(see above).

  • Nothing, but the belt breaks
    This is rare. I have seen timing belts fail, I put a new belt on and the car ran perfect. One of the guys in the shop had a PD TDI that had no teeth on the belt. Somehow there was no engine damage. In cases like this, you need to replace all the parts on the belt circuit.
  • Catastrophic engine damage
    When a belt fails, this is the worst case scenario. This is when parts in the top of the engine, the valves, crash into parts in the bottom of the engine, the pistons. If this happens it can cost a few thousand dollars to get repaired. It’s a lot of labor, parts are expensive, and you still have to put a new timing belt on the car.

How to check a timing belt
This can be a difficult thing. Timing belts are generally covered up to keep debris out. This can also make it hard to check your own belt. If you can get to the belt, you can do a little checking.

  • Look for cracks
    Check the belt for surface cracks.

    Timing Belt with out teeth

    This is a timing belt missing all the teeth

  • Belt deflection
    Basically see if the belt is loose. This can be tricky. Find the section of belt that has the furthest distance between gears, or tensioners. Some belts have a spec, generally it is twisting the belt ~90 degrees.
  • Listen for noises
    When tensioners and rollers go bad, they can make noise. They don’t always make noise. If they do, it is time for replacement.
  • Check for leaks
    Leak, from a belt? Well not exactly. However leaks from a water pump, or an oil leak can damage the timing belt. If you have a belt that is saturated in oil or coolant, it’s time for replacement.

How is a timing belt get replaced
This really depends on what car and engine. On 1999-2005 Passats, the front end comes off. Golf, Beetle, and Jettas are done by removing the engine mount. Some cars like the Touareg and Phaeton is just a matter of taking the fans out to gain access to the belt.

Some engines have special tools to hold the engine in place. Others have various markings that get lined up. I prefer to line the marks up on the engine and paint my own marks on the belt. It just makes for a little insurance when doing a big job like a timing belt.

Painting markes on a timing belt

This is how I paint marks on a timing belt

So, do I really this service.
This is a service that you can’t afford to pass on. If you wait, you are really run the risk of an expensive repair. Yes a timing belt replacement is expensive, but you can do 3 or 4 timing belts before having to pay for a cylinder head repair.

I replaced my belt on my Passat about 20,000 miles before it was technically due. Please check your owners book regarding your timing belt. Then do it 10%-20% before that. Better 20,000 miles early than 1 mile too late. Timing belts are no joke.

Enjoy this post? Go ahead and consider sharing it. All you have to do is click one of the little buttons below. Remember that this applies to almost every car, not just Volkswagens. I really do appreciate it when you share the posts. 😛

Shop Shots VW Battery Corrosion

Hey everyone, I am back and all fired up. I know that I missed a few days worth of posts, and for that I am sorry.

If you are a new reader let me give you a rundown of what Shop Shots actually is. As you might imagine, auto mechanics see some interesting things. It can be anything from a wrecked car, something that broken in a strange way, or something weird a customer had in their car. I can’t tell you how many times I have found pot in a customer’s car. This series is a way for me to share what I find in the shop. Think of it as a behind the scenes look into a VW service center.

Shop Shots VW Battery CorrosionThis is a close up shot of a VW battery. The “growth” on the terminal is corrosion. It can be caused by a leaking battery. Heat tends to aggravate the situation. This is not a good thing to have built up on your battery. It can cause issues with your vehicle. Modern cars are very very sensitive to low voltage.That means when the battery gets worn out, it will make the car do strange things. The most options a car has, the more important proper battery voltage it.

Be careful around this stuff. It is a product of battery acid. It will burn your skin, and eat holes in your clothes.

Shop Shots broken VW glassThis is a picture I put together with a really cool Iphone app called PicStitch. It lets you frame and combine pictures. This is a picture(s) of a broken rear side glass on a Jetta Sport Wagon. The picture on the lower right shows the impact point. I am not sure what hit it, but no doubt something did.

I tried really hard to get a cool shot. One that showed the entire window, but still close enough so you could see the break. No such luck. The picture on the top right is from the inside out. There is just something so cool looking about broken safety glass. Oh and that is what a $400 piece of glass looks like.

Shop Shots VW Coolant LeakThis is a perfect example of preventative maintenance. This is a picture of the crankshaft gear on a 2006 GTI. The customer was in for his 120,000 mile service. That is a pretty big service. It also happens to be the mileage that the timing belt is due. I recommended the belt to him because it was at the proper mileage.

When I took the lower timing cover off, I noticed a slight pink trail. That is a dead giveaway that the car had a coolant leak. That is a free tech tip. If you see a crusty pink trail on your VW or Audi, just follow it and you will find your coolant leak.

The leak was coming from the coolant pump. With only the intention of replacing this pump as PM(preventative maintenance) I was also able to make a repair. At some point this pump would have needed to be repaired. Glad it was before the customer was stranded with a severe leak.

Shop Shots Humble MechanicOkay today your are getting a bonus Shop Shot. I was working on this Passat yesterday. It was a 2012 and in for it’s first service. When I popped the hood, I noticed something sitting on the cowl right by the wiper blades. Well, it turned out to be a pack of playing cards. How in  the world did a deck of cards get there? The world may never know.

That will wrap up another volume of Shop Shots. I am out of the shop today doing errands and heading out to Sears to exchange some broken tools. I might even get my wife’s truck detailed. Hopefully it will be a surprise. Don’t forget that to swing by and like the Facebook page. I do post a few things over there that don’t make it to the blog. 🙂

Humble Mechanic Logo

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. 😉

WOW, Wednesday always seems to come around in the middle of the week. What’s the deal with that?(you have to say that like Jerry Seinfeld) I have actually been out of the shop for a few days. My wife and I are taking a little road trip. So, I am going to be really selfish on this Shop Shots. I know I know, I should not be selfish. I still think you guys will like this weeks Shots!

MK3 Jetta wiring Humble Mechanic automotive service picturesThis is what a complete body wiring harness looks like. Never mind the seatbelt mixed in. This harness came from the 1998 Jetta that I picked up. This must be about 40lb of wires, connectors, fuses and tape. I was not sure what I would need for the engine swap, so I took it all. Basically every connector that is not the engine. Every light, button, airbag, and switch is on this harness. Replacing this harness might be one of the worst jobs a mechanic has to do.

Auto Mechainc's Tool BoxThis is a picture of my tool box at the house. YES I know it is a total disaster. I keep my work box really neat and organized. For some reason, I just can’t keep my box at the house straight. I think it is because I wont buy the organizers for it. This is actually the box I started as a professional mechanic with. It lasted about 2 years before I ran out of room.

I took a picture of it because I might be trading it. A buddy of mine has a yellow Matco box that I would like. So I might trade it for a tool cart, then trade the cart for the yellow box. I must admit, I will be a little sad to sell this box. I need to figure out how to save a few of the stickers that are on it.

Removed the dashboard from a MK3 JettaAh yes, back to the donor Jetta. When you remove an entire wiring harness, most of the interior needs to come out too. This is what it looks like behind the dash board of a car. I have seen so many cars with the dash out. It makes me cringe every time. I don’t dislike doing dash work. It is just not my favorite. I think that I have stipped all I can from this car. It will be given a proper send off. It has been smashed and abused it’s entire life. I am the 7th owner. It has been totaled twice. Now she has donated organs to help another car live. Thank you Jetta for your sacrifice.

Fender bender, auto mechanic shop shotsGRRR. This is a picture of the rear bumper on my Passat.(please ignore the chicken legs in the reflection) We got rear ended last week.

We were coming home from seeing Batman. This very bad driver in front of me basically cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes. The guy behind us didn’t stop. He hit my poor Passat. We pulled over and the guy that hit us took off. No one got a ticket, even though the lady that cut me off should have.

Maybe I should do a post on what to do if you are in an accident. Odds are, the bumper will need to be replaced. Ugh!

Well, thanks for checking out another round of Shop Shots. I will be out of town the rest of this week, and into early next week. Be sure to stay tuned. I will be doing some fun posts from the road!

Failed VW Gas Cap automotive service

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Wednesday, and checking out some behind the scenes action of an automotive service department. This week, I actually have 2 reader submitted Shop Shots. If you want to submit a picture of your car, or some other cool car shot you have, just email it to me Charles(at)humblemechanic(dot)com. Okay, let’s do this!

Failed VW Gas Cap automotive service

Okay, you might be thinking that nothing is wrong with this picture. If you look closely at the fuel filler neck, you can see a white cap. If you drive a VW, then you know that is not the right cap. This was actually sent to me by a reader who works at another VW shop. The customer came in saying that the MIL was on. It turns out, a foam coffee cup will not properly seal the fuel system. I know it is hard to believe. 😛

Poor Amp Install Autotive ServiceThis is a car audio amplifier, installed in a Mustang. The person that installed it used shrink rap to hold it in place. My guess is that this is a temporary fix. I hope so anyway. The best part about this picture is the guy that installed this is a professional car audio guy. He does some really top notch work. This is his personal car, so I wont give him too much of a hard time. To be honest, this is still a pretty good install. I have seen worse, much much worse.

Paint work on a VW Beetle automotive service

At first glance you might not find anything wrong with this beetle. Take a really close look. In the middle of the picture, you can see red. The left side of the picture is white. Hum, strange isn’t it? The outside of this car is white. When we opened the hood, we found that the hood, and firewall is red. Since the car came from a body shop, it was a dead giveaway as to what happened. The body shop basically “cut and pasted” a red Beetle onto a white Beetle. Then they painted the outside white. Also, those screws on the far left should be black. This is one of the worst “repair” jobs I have ever seen done by a professional shop.

The sad part is, someone will buy this car. They will feel like they got a great deal. Then they will have problem after problem, and blame the car, the mechanic, or VW. This is why you NEED to have a car checked out by a professional BEFORE you buy it..

Take care of your mechanic with donuts

Donuts? I know it seems really random to have a “Shop Shot” of Donuts, but hang in there. A customer brought these for me last week. I have been working on her car since early 2004. She is a really awesome customer, and totally hooked up the donuts for us. I know I said it before, but bribery will get you everywhere. So never hesitate to bring a treat for your mechanic. Or anyone else really! 😉

Do you have an idea for a post? Is there a car question burning a hole in your brain? You can fill out the Contact ME form and ask away. Or, just post it in the comments below. Otherwise, you have to read what is going on in my mind. That might be a scary thing 😉