Change is a constant and on vehicles there are always new advances. One rapidly advancing area is in automotive lighting with the biggest change being a move away from filament bulbs. This technology has illuminated every corner and interior of cars since cars were invented (with the brief use of gas lamps in the very early years).
The latest technology is xenon headlamps and LED lamps. Many new vehicles, especially in the high-end market sport much of this technology.
The difference of 50 years: the VW has tiny taillamps typical of the early 60′s while the 2012 Audi’s are large and typical on modern taillamps.
Have You Noticed How Well Lit New Cars Are?
Compare this to a 50-year-old VW Beatle with 6 Volt electrical system. You could barely see the VW’s taillights and the road illumination by the headlamps was one 10th of what xenon and LEDs provide. There are many benefits to these new lighting technologies: they are much brighter, use far less electricity, and in the case of LED lights switch on instantly which, when being used in brake lights, provide a significant safety advantage.
LED and xenon lamps are much more durable than their filament predecessors however they cost substantially more to replace. Xenon bulbs can cost over $200 while many traditional headlamp bulbs cost in the $10 to $20 range. LED light assemblies will rarely need replacement because they have so many individual LEDs however they will be very expensive.
Perhaps as they become more common, less expensive options like re-manufactured units or repairs may become available. In spite of these extra costs overall the advantages of better illumination, lower power consumption and increased longevity are very worthwhile.
Xenon and park light bulbs for BMW X5, both provide intense illumination but are very costly compared to old school bulbs.
Your car’s brakes rely on brake fluid to transmit the force that your foot applies to the brake pedal to each wheel’s brake. Occasionally a brake system will develop a leak and if left unchecked for long enough this can cause some serious safety concerns. Fortunately modern cars have a warning light which illuminates on your dash when the fluid level drops too low.
Recently we serviced a vehicle with the dash warning lamp on. We inspected the fluid and found the level very low. Upon performing a brake inspection we found the left brake caliper leaking, and further inspection revealed something more interesting and potentially very dangerous: the inner brake pad soaked in fluid was disintegrating. This could have crumbled apart upon hard braking and caused a serious inability to stop. Fortunately we caught this in time, repaired it and made the car safe. While it is normal for your brake fluid level to drop over a long period of time you should have your brakes inspected at least yearly to be sure that the system is safe.
Brake pad damaged by excessive brake fluid soaking: arrows point to the disintegrating pad material
Slowly, very slowly, electric cars are making their way into the market place and onto our roads. The other day I saw a Chevrolet Volt proudly displaying a bumper sticker that read “I burn electrons” and it made me pause to reflect about electric cars. For some time I’ve thought about electric powered cars and know that undoubtedly they are the way of the future. With fossil fuel resources continuously being depleted and the atmosphere’s chemistry being perhaps critically altered we have no choice but to change the way our vehicles are powered. Electric vehicles offer so many advantages: few moving parts, minimal maintenance, no oil changes and high torque. Very low energy consumption at idle is a particularly compelling benefit for both one’s wallet and our atmosphere.
But are electric cars all they are cracked up to be? There are some serious issues to consider. Perhaps the biggest is that while the “I burn electrons” bumper sticker is cute, it is untrue. Electricity is not an energy source but a conveyer or currency of energy (the same is true for hydrogen). Electricity must be created from an energy source therefore electric cars really “burn” whatever creates that electricity. Currently in the US, half of the electricity comes from coal, a fuel far dirtier than the oil that electric cars so happily no longer burn. In BC we are blessed with clean hydropower but we have few rivers left to dam and dammed rivers have huge environmental consequences.
What will happen when all cars are electric? Where will the extra electricity come from? Sure, at this time, one can happily plug in their electric car without overloading the grid, but at some point this will no longer be possible. Cars and trucks use enormous amounts of energy; if every vehicle were suddenly electric we would not be able to power everything.
Another area of concern is the tax revenue from gas sales. Some portion (though arguable not nearly enough) of gas tax is used for road maintenance. How will roads be paid for when increasing numbers of cars are electric? Will it be reasonable that gas and diesel powered vehicles subsidize electric cars?
While I’m all for the potentially clean future that electric cars provide it will certainly shake up my industry: auto service and repair. I can imagine that in the fully electric car future that only 1/3 or 1/4 of today’s auto service facilities will be needed. Many repairs that currently keep us going will no longer be required: oil & coolant leaks, emission system repairs, oil changes, fluid flushes and tune-ups just to name a few.
Electric cars currently have a very limited market: they are very expensive to buy and their driving range is severely limited, making them a choice only for drivers who use their cars for short trips. This is where the Chevy Volt is great: because it also has a gas engine it makes the vehicle useful for long trips.
Where I believe the electric car will shine is when we create our electricity (and we will need a lot of it) from a clean source. That won’t likely be from solar or wind, though they will play a part. Most likely it will be nuclear, and while it isn’t trouble free it’s clean, global warming free and tremendously powerful. This puts the whole electric car debate into a bigger picture: not only must we make the vehicles, but we must simultaneously change our infrastructure, and that will be a big challenge.
There are many forces that conspire against this change but overall it will be worthwhile. Just imagine a world where electricity is created without burning something that creates CO2 and where cars run on electric motors. Our cities will have clean air and the stench of vehicle exhaust will be non-existent. Now that’s an exciting future!
Electric wheel motor unit as found on a Brabus Mercedes sedan. This vehicle has 4 of these motors, one on each wheel creating a whopping 2100 ft/lbs of torque. This is the future of the performance electric car market. This particularly vehicle as yet has no price tag and is largely experimental but the technology will be with us sooner than we think.
We recently serviced a defective angle gear unit on a 2003 Volvo V70 AWD. The angle gear unit is an important component of the Volvo all wheel drive system: it is a simple assembly that transfers power from the front transaxle to the driveshaft and transfer case unit in the rear. Inside the angle gear unit are two shafts both with 45 degree bevel gears. Each shaft has two bearings supporting them, allowing them to spin freely.
Our client came in concerned that the dealer had quoted her over $3000.00 to replace the unit and was wondering if there were less expensive options. After road testing the vehicle we concluded that there was likely only a worn out bearing inside the unit. Unfortunately there were no separate bearings or gears sold for the angle gear unit; it seemed our only option was to buy a completely rebuilt unit from Volvo and if this was the case our price would have been about the same as the dealer.
Determined to find a better priced solution it seemed a good idea to dismantle the angle gear unit, inspect it and see what damage was present. We did that and found one severely worn bearing on the pinion shaft. Normally when one bearing is bad it is best to replace them all as the others will likely wear our soon. Through a bearing supplier we were able to find all the bearings to repair the unit (there are four in total) however we spent a great deal of time trying to find the main pinion bearing as this was a highly specialized type of bearing.
The inner moving components of the angle gear unit. The arrow points to the worn pinion bearing. The angle gear unit is a very simple mechanical device: these are the only moving parts.
It’s very frustrating when an easily fixable item has no parts available. There is no earthly reason why Volvo could not be selling bearings for the angle gear unit as they sell bearings for most every other part of the vehicle. In the end we completed the job for under $2000, taxes included and the angle gear unit performed marvelously. It was only by our determination that were able to find the right parts to do the job. Whenever we can we will replace the basic parts, like worn bearings to save you money.
A misfiring engine is a very serious concern that demands immediate attention, unless of course you prefer to spend thousands of dollars on your car repairs.
What is an engine misfire?
It’s easiest to explain when you understand how an engine works. An internal combustion engine has several cylinders which continually fire in sequence creating a smooth flow of power and this propels your car. When the firing sequence is not smooth the engine has what is called a misfire. There are many causes from a bad spark plug, ignition coil, fuel injector or engine valve just to name a few.
When a misfire is present you will notice are several things: first the engine will shake or shutter either at a constant speed or when accelerating, and your check engine lamp may come on. Often the check engine lamp will blink and this indicates a catalyst damaging misfire. This is something to take very seriously and have repaired quickly.
When an engine misfires, a cylinder’s worth of raw, unburned fuel is exhausted through the catalytic converters and out the tailpipe. Any raw fuel in the catalytic converters quickly overheats them and leads to their destruction. If misfires occur severely then damage occurs quickly. If misfires are subtle, then damage may not occur for a year or two. When damage does occur expect to pay a lot to fix it. Most modern vehicles use what are called close coupled catalytic converters because they are integrated with the exhaust manifold and tucked up tight to the engine. On a V6 or V8 engine these are usually followed by another catalytic converter further downstream.
Over the years we’ve seen many vehicles that have experienced misfire concerns, fixed them after the vehicle was driven too long and then had the car return a few months later with either plugged exhaust and/or the check engine lamp on with a catalyst inefficiency code. It’s very predictable!
Recently we repaired a V6 equipped 2003 Ford Escape that had a couple of defective ignition coils that were causing a severe misfire. Several months passed and the vehicle returned with a plugged exhaust system. So severe was the blockage that it caused the EGR valve to blow apart. We dismantled the exhaust system, performed an inspection and found the front converter had partially melted, broke apart and sent particles to the rear cat, plugging it. After replacing these 2 cats and the EGR valve the engine’s power was restored but a further major exhaust leak was present from the rear exhaust manifold. Final repair bill: $3600 taxes in. Ouch! This happens more often than you think.
The good news it that it is completely preventable.
If your engine ever misfires get it fixed right away and save your money.
Broken pieces of the front catalytic converter substrate, some of which were found inside the rear catalytic converter. Note that some of these pieces at the top are melted.
EGR valve that blew apart from excessive exhaust system backpressure.
Saving money is always a good thing; however when it comes to auto repairs be cautious because often along with low price comes inferior quality. We always strive for the highest quality at the best price and are very pleased when we can take the time to do a great job and save our client lots of money. Recently we did just that.
The vehicle serviced was a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 3 liter Mercedes turbo diesel engine. While quite rare in Jeeps, it is common in various Mercedes vehicles and Sprinter vans.
Our client’s concern was a severe lack of power and the check engine lamp on. After diagnosis we determined the turbocharger to be defective. This vehicle uses a very complex variable geometry turbo which incorporates an integral electronic actuator. The actuator was the defective part but unfortunately was only available with a new turbo assembly. Rebuilding was not an option so it appeared that we were stuck to the dealer. Our client had already been to the Chrysler dealer where they also diagnosed the turbocharger as the problem. His quote was over $8000 installed. They were also not too reassuring as they stated that the engine computer could also be bad and substantial extra costs could be involved. We confirmed that only the turbo was defective
Brand new turbo assembly, the black box near the bottom is the actuator unit which controls the variable geometry mechanism.
Our first phone call to the Chrysler dealer was a shock: the turbo assembly was over $6000 for a new unit. We spent some time looking at options: Mercedes dealers and ordering through a US Chrysler dealership and while these reduced the price it would still have run him around $7000 installed. After more digging we were able to purchase a new turbo directly from the manufacturer for under $3000. This is an exact original replacement part. Installed with taxes, his bill came in at under $5000, substantially lower than just the turbo from Chrysler.
After replacement the engine ran great, the check engine light was off and full power was restored. So sometimes low cost and quality do go hand in hand and when we can deliver high quality at a low price we will.
Shocks and struts are a major component of your vehicle’s suspension system and work hard to keep your vehicle firmly gripped to the road. Though they generally last a long time they are a commonly wearing component on every vehicle. Unfortunately as a car ages and repair costs escalate shock and strut replacement often gets put on the back burner compromising the safety of the vehicle and wearing out other components. Lets look at what shocks and struts do, what goes wrong with them and what the consequences of not replacing worn ones are.
First off shocks and struts are both similar and different. They are similar in that the strut contains a shock absorber inside, the difference is that the strut forms the upper portion of the suspension geometry and incorporates a coil spring. As you might guess by this description struts are more expensive to replace. The part costs more along with extra labour. Shocks and struts can be found on the front or rear suspension of a vehicle.
Shock absorber on left, Strut on right. Note the added complexity of the strut
The purpose of the shock absorber is to stop the oscillation of the vehicle springs. Without them your car would continuously bounce on bumps and your ride would be extremely uncomfortable. Handling and braking would be severely compromised.
When shocks and struts wear you will experience a bouncy ride and along with this comes reduced stopping distance. This is perhaps the most important reason to replace worn out shocks and struts. Studies have found that worn shocks reduce stopping distance by 12 feet from a 100km/hr panic stop. That could make the difference between hitting the car in front of you or not. Cupped tire tread wear is another result of worn out shocks and struts and often this wear occurs when you cannot feel the usual bouncy ride associated with bad shocks. Many a set of good tires has been ruined adding expense to one’s auto service budget. Another casualty of worn shocks and struts are prematurely wearing front brakes. This occurs from too much vehicle weight transfer to the front wheels when braking.
Leaking shock absorber on 06 Honda Civic
Severely cupped tire tread. The yellow arrow points to high tread and the red arrow points to low tread. This causes loud road noise.
Many shock manufacturers recommend replacement at 80,000 kilometers. In my opinion this is excessive as they often last substantially longer on many vehicles. The best way to determine shock and strut condition is to assess vehicle ride on a regular basis along with a visual inspection of the suspension and tires.
While replacing shocks and struts can be an expensive service, the excellent ride, enhanced vehicle control and improved stopping distance make it more than great value for your money.
The Ford 6 liter diesel engine is fraught with numerous problems however all of these can be overcome. In this video we will show you what we feel is the ultimate repair solution for the 6 Liter: repairs that will keep the engine performing reliably for years and years.
Many of the 6 liters problems stem from the design of the engine and oil cooling systems. This engine uses a unique system in which the engine oil cooler is mounted inside the V of the engine. Here coolant flows through narrow passageways which eventually plug up causing coolant flow restrictions and excessive oil temperatures. From here coolant flows to the EGR cooler which, due to its narrow passageways also tends to clog. Excessive coolant temperatures eventually lead to head gasket failures and even a destroyed engine if left long enough.
For the truck shown in this video, the owner wisely chose to do the ultimate repair job; a repair which eliminates all the weaknesses of the 6 liter engine. This includes cylinder head studs to prevent future head gasket failures, a Bulletproof EGR cooler plus the bulletproof remote engine oil cooler system. A number of minor but nonetheless important upgrades were done during the procedure including new oil stand pipes and STC fitting on the high pressure oil pump.
Let’s get started:
First step is to remove the bumpers and accessories from the front of the truck then disconnect all items necessary to remove the cab from the vehicle. This includes evacuating the A/C system, draining the coolant, disconnecting the steering column, brake lines, coolant and heater hoses, wiring and much more.
Once the cab is raised the engine is readily accessible and a pleasure to work on.
Stripping the engine down is our next step and the next few photos reveal just that, with the heads, oil cooler assembly and high-pressure oil pump removed.
The many dismantled parts can be seen in this enormous layout.
Next steps include cleaning components such as the block deck and cylinder head surfaces along with the oil pump cover and all of the many bolts and miscellaneous parts.
We are now ready to put things back together:
The high-pressure oil pump is reinstalled along with a new and improved STC fitting. On occasion the old STC fitting would break and when this occurred would crack the back of the engine block.
Following pump installation, the cover is installed and tightened down.
We next move onto installation of the Bulletproof remote oil cooler adapter: this is a complete assembly that bolts in place of the engine oil cooler and cover.
Cylinder head studs are installed, then head gaskets, then cylinder heads. Heads are torqued to spec. During head installation, fuel injectors are reinstalled with new seals, along with rocker arms and bridges.
Covering the valve gear sits the high-pressure oil manifold and installed along with this are the upgraded high-pressure oil standpipes. The original designed pipes and seals would fail resulting in a loss of oil pressure and an engine no start.
To ensure an easy start up the oil system is primed until oil flows from the manifold test port.
We’re now onto installing valve covers and the turbo stand
Next is the Intake manifold along with a Bulletproof EGR cooler, this component has been rebuilt to eliminate the causes of failure in the original cooler. Check out the differences between the Bulletproof’s large tubes and the original’s thin tubes: the durability looks very evident.
Some next installations include the oil and fuel filter adapters and plumbing. Because we are using the Bulletproof oil cooler system the original oil filter is no longer used.
Next comes the turbocharger, the FICM or fuel injection control module and the remaining wiring, hoses and sensors.
Here’s how it all looks from front and back, fully assembled and awaiting the cab to be remounted.
With the cab back down we can now work on installing the rest of the Bulletproof oil cooler system which includes first relocating the power steering cooler near the bottom of the radiator. We next install the cooler, pipes and hoses.
The remote oil filter is mounted behind the left front bumper bracket.
Final assembly requires reinstalling and reconnecting all other under hood components, then filling the cooling system, recharging the A/C and we are ready for start up.
After a successful start up, warm up and inspection for leaks our 6 liter Ford truck is ready to go for many miles of trouble free operation having had all major original design flaws corrected.
Studies have found that drivers over 45 years old are far more proactive with car maintenance than the younger generation is. Why would this be?
I would say that a couple of factors are at play.
1st: the older generation has grown up with cars that required more routine maintenance than today’s generation of cars. Cars of 30 years ago required annual tune-ups just to keep the engine running properly.
2nd: as people gain more life experience with age, they experience the consequences and costs of neglect and many know that maintenance does in fact save money and reduces stress.
A typical car owner’s manual maintenance schedule
For younger drivers it is essential to know what your car or truck needs for maintenance. The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, which is part of your owner’s manual, has this list.
There are also additional services that are not shown in the manual that can greatly enhance your car’s life and save on overall vehicle operating costs. To be properly informed, read your owner’s manual and find a shop that you trust to advise you on the proper maintenance to keep your vehicle running trouble free. A good maintenance routine will save you money and the stress of an unwanted breakdown!
VW TDI diesel engines have been around for two decades in several evolutions: distributor type and common rail injection. They are fabulous engines and have always been state of the art, featuring quiet operation, lots of power and acceleration, and best of all their fuel economy allows a trip from Vancouver to Calgary on a single tank.
Maintenance is relatively simple requiring routine oil and filter changes, fuel and air filter changes and rarely, timing belt replacements. Reliability of the engines is excellent however there are a few concerns that occur from time to time. Glow plugs and glow plug system failures occur from time to time.
One other concern is clogging of the intake manifold which happens commonly on late 1990 to early 2000 Jettas and Passats. Over time the EGR valve, located in the intake stream allows fine soot particles to build up, eventually building up so severely that air flow is restricted. It can become so bad that the engine has too little power to pull the car up a hill.
Partially blocked intake manifold. Surprisingly, in spite of being 50% restricted this engine still had plenty of power. Soon it will suffer from severe power loss.
When it becomes this sooted, the intake manifold must be removed to do a thorough cleanout. In exceptional cases the cylinder head must also be removed and the head dismantled to clean the valves. Obviously it makes sense to service the intake before blockage becomes severe.
At 100,000 kilometers it makes sense to remove the EGR valve and inspect for deposits and at this point clean them if present. From that point on, reinspecting and cleaning if needed every 50,000 kilometers will ensure a reliable and trouble free TDI experience; just be sure to replace the timing belt every 150,000 kilometers.