Auto repair shops are no exception – you can only get two good, fast and cheap, but not all three.
All technicians know this moment well. It’s the moment you’re about to fall asleep and suddenly your brain explodes at the thought: Did I tighten the brake caliper bolt on this customer’s car today?
Each experienced technician has their own process for double checking their work. Mine is to put the bolts in their places, start screwing them in, but leaving them completely loose until they’re all in place. Once I’m ready I tighten and tighten all the bolts and only then do I move on. After all the tasks are done, I begin my double-check procedure, which involves physically placing my hand on each bolt that I previously removed and trying to loosen it by hand. If it is physically tight, I know it is good and can complete the repair. It is this strict procedure that allows me to fall asleep at night.
But sometimes it’s not about leaving a bolt loose. Last week I was replacing the front wheel bearings on a Honda Civic, a repair I’ve done countless times over the years. The only problem this time was I put one of the bearings upside down. As I stepped onto the road for my test drive, the anti-lock braking (ABS) warning light illuminated on the dashboard. I immediately knew what I had done wrong and berated myself for the rookie’s mistake. Many wheel bearings have an integrated ABS ring, which is half of the wheel speed sensor system used by the ABS system. The ABS sensor measures the speed of the wheels and this reluctor must be adjacent to the ABS sensor. By placing the wheel bearing upside down, the sensor had nothing to read. I was in a rush to try and meet the client’s schedule, but ended up costing me double the time to fix the problem.
Now I have to admit that as my own store owner I don’t often have to spend a whole day on the floor anymore. So it’s those moments that keep me humble – where I try to flex my mechanical muscles, fall on my face, and ultimately realize just how rusty my skills have become.
But I always tell the young apprentices who worked for me that anyone can fix a car. But can they happen under constant control and on a ruthless and relentless schedule? Most dealerships and franchise stores still operate under a system called a flat rate system. It’s a system that dealer owners and service managers say eliminates the slowest technicians. If you are slow and thorough, you earn a lot less per year than the fast and sometimes careless technician who works by your side. It is an archaic system that needs to be updated and / or replaced. Even if you get your car serviced at a store that doesn’t use this package system, the pressure to be quick is still there, as your customers are usually always in a rush to get somewhere. Remember the next time you request your car ahead of time, what you are really asking your technician for. There is a business axiom that comes to mind. You can have two and only two of the following: good, fast, and cheap.
Your automotive questions, answers
Do auto technicians working for a dealership get a commission for additional work they suggest on a vehicle for basic service? I have had a few situations at my local Honda dealership where the technician who maintains my vehicle recommended brake work. In each case, I checked myself and found that the pads and rotors were in good condition and had plenty of miles left. In another situation, I was told I needed new tires. I asked the technician to show me and the first thing I noticed was he was measuring the tread to the top of a wear bar. Another technician agreed with me that the tires were in good condition.
Dealer technicians generally do not receive a commission. Many years ago, before my time, they did. But this practice has become too controversial to continue. From now on, the editor / advisor of the service is the mandated employee.
Yes, the dealerships as a whole seem to recommend the brakes early. Here is a relevant story about it. Half a dozen years ago, we inspected the brakes of a Honda Civic for which a dealer had just recommended a brake replacement. The brake pads still had 40 percent of the friction material remaining and after carefully inspecting the brakes I took the car for a long test drive and did not notice any deficiencies in the vehicle’s braking performance. As the brakes were well above provincial minimum safety standards, I advised the customer that they did not need a replacement at this time.
Two weeks later that same customer hit another vehicle and of course I got a phone call from them threatening to sue me, saying the brakes failed to stop them in time. Fortunately, I was quick enough on the phone to demand that all brake parts be removed from the car and provided to a third party for independent inspection. Nothing ever came out of this alleged trial, but it left me stunned because I knew the client very well before the incident.
It’s situations like these that explain why dealers err on the side of caution when dealing with brakes, even though most go too far, in my opinion.
Is it greedy or is it too careful? Is it easier to deal with an angry client who asks them why they need a bridle job, or a lawyer who contacts them looking for a history of service to support their client’s case? The competence of the driver is a delicate subject. Many drivers are in denial after causing an accident. Anyone or anything other than their driving skills is at fault.
We recently completed a 14 day trip across the country with a 2018 Lincoln MKX. Starting on the ninth day of our trip, we would wake up in the morning with an almost completely dead battery – just enough juice to unlock the doors and open and close the trunk once. We needed a boost every morning. But the rest of the day (after stopping for lunch, gasoline, etc.) it started off without a hitch.
Someone mentioned that there were too many things plugged into the lighters and the battery wasn’t charging, but I can’t imagine it would have such an impact – we had a few cellphones plugged in all the time, as well. than other small objects connected on occasion. Also, this was only a problem at night, not when the engine was hot.
However, once the trip is over, it starts in the morning without a problem. Which give?
I guess when you say all the time you mean the items were left plugged in overnight. A quick online search indicates that the power outlets of many new Ford products remain active at all times. Plus, newer vehicles have much higher static battery consumption when not in use to keep memory alive for the multitudes of on-board electronics. So yes, it is possible that a few cell phones and your other items will drain a battery overnight, given that your battery is at least three years old.
The amount of energy needed to power the radio, lights, and other electronic devices is approximately 5 amps, while the amount of energy required to start the vehicle is approximately 200. As a battery ages, its reserve capacity is also decreasing, which would also support the reasoning why there was just enough battery left to unlock the doors, but not enough to run the engine.
Have your battery analyzed with a newer battery tester as used by professional stores and you will likely find that the battery life, while not labeled as totally depleted, shows that it has expired. at least 50%. Also, open your owner’s manual and navigate to the outlet section. This will likely indicate not to leave items plugged in overnight.
Lou Trottier is the owner and operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. A question about maintenance and repair? E-mail [email protected], by placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.
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