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I am a pretty big fan of people doing their own maintenance. I think it is important to understand at least the basics of the car they drive. All of that stuff goes out the window when DIY goes wrong.

We have talked before about DIY. There are several things that you need to consider when it comes to DIY verses paying someone to make a repair.

  • Price
  • Time
  • The proper tools
  • Know how

Those are just a few things you need to consider. You can read more about it at “Should you make a repair, or pay a mechanic?”

This is when a customer SHOULD NOT have done their own work. A mk4(1999.5-2005) Jetta was towed into the shop. I was not the one working on this car. I happened to catch one of the other techs pushing  a car in the shop. That is not really such a strange thing, but he was pushing it weird.

When I walked over to see what the heck he was doing, he told me the car had no brakes. I laughed and said “yeah right”. We got the car on the life, and sure enough, the car had no brake pads in the rear. With the wheel off, this is what we found

Failing VW rear brakes Yep, that confirmed it, no brake pads. The story that I got was, the customer tried to do a rear brake job. They took the brakes apart and even resurfaced the rotor. When it came time to reset the piston on the caliper, they realized they didn’t have the right tool.

On many modern cars, the rear caliper needs to be twisted back to reset. VWs are are the same way. There are ways to improvise the special tool. Before I knew anything about cars, I tackled the brakes on my Acura. I used a pair of pliers to twist the caliper back. It was a real pain in the butt, but it did the trick.

This is the back side of the caliper. The round part, piston, is what pushes the brake pad into the rotor. The piston is protected by a rubber boot. It keeps debris from getting into the caliper. As you can see this boot is ripped.

Let’s recap this DIY repair. If the customer would have brought their car to the dealer to have the pads replaced, and the rotors resurfaced, they would have paid about $270(that is just an estimate). Instead the customer paid

  • A bill to have the car towed to the shop
  • The time for us to pull the brakes apart and inspect the damage
  • Parts and labor to rebuild or replace the calipers.
  • Several days with out a car

This is a classic example of DIY not being worth it.

I hope that we can all learn something from this. I learned that trying to stop a car, even when pushing it, is really scary to try and stop.

I posted last week about upgrading the email service I use. That is currently on hold. There were a few things that I didn’t really like about the service I was going to use. I still plan on upgrading, it is just a matter of time. All that being said, make sure you are on the email list. I don’t spam or sell the information. That would be lame!

Today we are going to talk about a bit of a sensitive topic.

Should a repair shop be able to keep your car if it is unsafe?

Let me set the stage. A customer brings their car into the shop. The mechanic takes it on a short test drive, and finds the brakes barely work. After inspecting the car, the mechanic finds that the brakes are leaking fluid. This prevents the brakes from engaging. It is only a matter of a few miles before the car will loose all braking.

As you might guess, this is a very serious situation. I don’t think that I need to go into detail about how not having brakes is a bad thing. Not only does it endanger the driver, but all the other drivers on the road. Now the words that scare everyone come out of the customer’s mouth “I am not going to fix the car”.

Okay, we have established the fact the car is 100% unsafe. We also know that the customer is not fixing the car. What happens next?

The Shop Attempts to Keep The Car
What were to happen if a service station attempted to keep a car. I don’t think it would take very long for the situation to escalate. I am sure that law enforcement would get involved. Laws do very from state to state, but I could not find any state that said a service shop could keep a customer from there car. In fact I seemed to find the opposite. Shops can not get in the way of a customer taking their property. It is really that simple.

The Customer Takes The Unsafe Car
This is a very serious situation. Best case the customer gets the car home and parks it. Giving them time to get the car repaired. Worst case, the customer gets into an accident. You can fill in the blank on how bad that could be.

From a service department prospective, this is a HUGE liability. If that customer were to get into an accident, the blame would be immediately be focused on the service department. It would go something like,

I was just at the service place. They didn’t tell me that it was unsafe. I don’t know anything about cars. I trusted them to keep me safe.

The customer has a point. They do trust the service department to keep them safe. However, the customer the one that makes the choice to repair or not to repair.

In a perfect world, no cars would ever break. If they did break, everyone would have the time and money to fix them. So how does a shop handle a situation like this? If after informing a customer of the severity of the situation, they decline the repair. The shop will add a special note to the customers repair order stating the issue and the car in “UNSAFE”. Some refer to this as “red tagging”. The customer will then have to sign saying they understand.

What do you folks think? Should a shop be able to keep an unsafe car from leaving the lot? Or would shops use that as a “scare tactic” to strong arm customers in to paying for repairs? Post up your thoughts in the comments below. This is one that a strong case can be made on BOTH sides.

Don’t forget the enter the contest to win a Snap-On magnetic tray. All the details are listed at the bottom of yesterday’s Shop Shots post. I will pick a winner on Friday 10/05/12 in the evening.

Volkswagen brake fluid service

I get this question, all the time. If comes in several forms, but all boils down to to this,

Does my car really need this service?

Today I want to talk about Brake Fluid. It can often be over looked. Flushing it will not get your better gas mileage. It wont make your neighbor come over and ask if you just detailed the car. That does not mean that you can just pass on doing it.

Why would it need to be changed?
Like most fluids in your car, brake fluid has a service interval. If you drive a VW, it is every 2 or 3 years. Please consult your owners manual for the proper service interval.

Volkswagen brake fluid service

This is what your fluid should not look like!

The fluid in your brake system is vital to proper brake operation. The fluid in the system moves pistons which push the pad into the brake rotor. When that happens your car stops 🙂

If dirt or other contaminates get into the fluid, it can change the behavior of your cars braking. The biggest enemy to brake fluid is moisture. Brake fluid is hygroscopic. That means it absorbs and holds water. This is a good thing in a brake system. It will all but eliminate brake lines rusting from the inside.

There is another reason that moisture is bad in your brake lines. Water can boil. If the fluid in your brake fluid boils, it can engage the brakes, or change the way they behave. In the right climate that water can freeze too.

Phoenix Systems Brake Fluid Test Strips (100 / Tube) - PHOFASCAR-1-100

Brake fluid test strips

How do I check the fluid
Checking the brake fluid is pretty easy. All you have to do is open the reservoir and look inside. That will give you a basic idea of what the fluid looks like. That may not tell the entire story. You can not see how much moisture is in brake fluid.

Something like these brake test strips work really well. They are pretty expensive for most people. These come in at about $70. Since you can get your brake fluid serviced for ~$100-$120 it seems silly to spend $70 to test, then another $100+ to replace.

When I inspect brake fluid, I really focus on the color. New brake fluid is clear with a yellow tint. As it ages it turns green, then brown. If your brake fluid is brown you are in bad shape. When I checked the fluid in the Cabby, it was really thick and brown. Not a good thing. I have a feeling that it will take a lot of cleaning to get the lines right

How is the fluid replaced?
At work, we have a really great machine to flush brake fluid. The fluid in the reservoir gets vacuumed out. Then we ‘push’ clean brake fluid through the system. Each brake has a bleeder valve that we open and allow the fluid to flow. I let it flow out until the fluid coming out is clean, then just a little longer. You can also check out the post I wrote about Servicing Brake Fluid. It was my 2nd post on the site so it’s not great, but the information is spot on.

So do I really need it?
I would have to say yes on this service. This is one service that really can cause some safety issues, and costly repairs down the road. Check with your owners manual to see when your brake fluid is due for service. If you don’t have your book, call your local dealer and ask them. If you have never had your brake fluid serviced, get it serviced, or DIY.

From time to time, I give you guys some information that is really worth sharing. I think that this post in one. Every car has brake fluid, and all brake fluid needs to be serviced. Make sure that you get yours done when it needs it!


Humble Mechanic Logo

I know that I have mentioned before, I try and spend time reading people’s posts in forums. I want to get the unfiltered opinion of how customers feel about their car. Sadly it almost always focuses on broken cars. I am actually fine with that. I get to hear about issues that I might otherwise not hear about.

There does come a point where I get really frustrated. It generally comes from statements like

My car is broken and it is only a year out of warranty.Then VW only offered me $1000 extra for a trade in.

Now, let’s break down that statement a little bit.

  • My car is broken
    Yes, all cars will break at some point
  • It is ONLY a year out of warranty
    Fact, it is out of warranty
  • VW offered me $1000 extra
    The manufacturer is offering to help

Let’s take just about any other product and see what you would get a year out of warranty.  A few years ago, the A/C in my house went out. It was just 4 months after the warranty went out. They told me that They would send someone out to give me a quote. They also said because I was out of warranty there was nothing that they could do. Believe me I pushed the issue as much as possible.  That repair set me back about $2500. Try holding out on fixing your home A/C in the middle of July. That ain’t happening. Would you be happy about making that repair? My guess is no(I was not).

So what is the point? There is a term called Mean Time Between Repairs. That basically means that failures are very predictable. In a machine with thousands of moving parts and millions of circuits running everything from safety systems to interior lighting, is it a shock that things will fail?

Then there is also the old saying “Never buy the first year of a model”. I am sure if you asked anyone that owned a 2004 VW Touareg this would totally agree. That is actually how my wife and I got our first dog. The customer had a 2003 Beetle Convertible. She works in dog rescue and was in the shop all the time with her Beetle. She was fostering a beautiful little brown dog named Brighton. Now that little girl is my FooDog.

Fast forward to the 2012 Beetle. VW is having issues with the windows. They are hitting pinch protection and not closing properly. It is a completely frustrating thing for customers. Having to screw around with the buttons until the window closes properly.

My overall point is this. Your car will break! It is that plain and simple. It might break under warranty. It might break 2 days out of warranty. If it is a reasonably time after the warranty, the manufacturer should help you out. But at some point your warranty will end. As much as it stinks, it will happen. Even if your warranty was 150,000 miles. At some point you will have a repair to make. The only thing we can do is prepare for it, and bite the bullet when it comes.

Oh, one last thing. Don’t think that I am saying manufacturers don’t have their part to play.

 

Volkswagen Immobilizer Key

This situation happens about once a month.

Volkswagen Immobilizer Key

This is where the reader coil is located, just around the key hole.

Customer calls in saying they lost the key or keys for their VW. We tell the customer they will need to show proof they own the vehicle. Then they will need to have the car towed to the dealer.

Once the key comes in, we will have to program the new key to the car. The cost of a new Volkswagen key, remote, and programming is about $300.

So why the heck does getting a new key for a Volkswagen cost $300? My guess is the little mechanism that lets the key flip out is made of some top secrete element. Maybe a derivative of Turbonium? Okay, obviously that is not the case. Before we talk about why it costs so much, let’s talk

about how the system works.

Immobilizer

All VWs, and most every other newer car, are equipped with an anti-theft device that will prevent someone from “hot wring” the car. Volkswagen calls this system the Immobilizer. The car must see an authorized key, or it will not start. Well, on a VW, it will start and immediately shut off. ~FREE TIP, if your Vw start and shuts off right away, odd are you have an issue with the immobilizer system.

How It Works

There are 3 main components to the immobilizer system

  1. The vehicle’s key

    Volkswagen Immobilizer Key

    This is what the actual transponder looks like

  2. A “reader coil”
  3. An “evaluation unit”

The vehicle’s key has a chip inside of it called a transponder. It looks like a glass tic-tac. When you put the key into the ignition, the “reader coil” will energize the transponder in the key. Then the transponder will send a code back to the coil and on to the evaluation unit. If everyone is authorized, the evaluation unit will authorize the vehicle to start. If not, the car will start, or it will not stay running.

The Cost

Now that we know how the system works, let’s get into the cost. Anytime there is electronics in something the cost will go up. These new keys are not like the old ones you could get cut at the local Ace Hardware. Also, most newer keys have the keyless entry remote built into it. That will bring the cost up.

The keys and remotes also need to programmed to the car, adding a little more to the cost. That requires the vehicle to be at the dealer. When I program keys, I have to hook up the VW scan tool. Then we go online and retrieve the proper coding for the car. I don’t get to see the code anymore, it is loaded right into the car. Each key for the vehicle will need to be programmed to work properly.

Is It All Worth it?

Is going to all this trouble to prevent vehicle theft worth it? I think so. It will deter amateurs from stealing cars. But let’s face it, if someone really wants to steal your car, they will steal it no matter what you do.

I also have another tip. The keys that you find on Ebay, or that weird store in the mall are JUNK! I would say that ~95% of the keys that customers bring in to be programmed do not work. It stinks for them because they don’t really save any money. It usually ends in the customer paying twice for programming, or buying a key from the dealer anyway. Just be cautious when dealing in non factory keys.

If you remember what “Turbonium” is, post it in the comments. I am wondering if everyone knows what it is.

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

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..