It is hard for me to put myself into the general consumers shoes sometimes when it comes to auto repair. I understand all the reasons why people do it themselves, but as technical as cars are today, we struggle as professionals so I know it is hard for the DIY person out there. The part about the DIY crowd that I love and can absolutely appreciate is the right of passage many adults pass down to their youths. My kids love to help me work on stuff. Even though some of the things I work on are far above their heads, I always find a way to include them in the build or repair. I always want them to have that fire. The best part about DIY is that it creates a level of respect for the work, the project and absolute appreciation for the finished result. The first endeavor into the DIY stratosphere seems scary and exciting all at once. The thrill of being on your own and the fear of making a mistake. Think about this, when you have your child, nephew, whoever, help you, you are teaching them a lesson they can get almost no where else. They are engaging in procedure, measuring, fine motor skills, blue collar work, cleanliness, and attention to detail. What an amazing lesson. The appreciation for the work shows them that they need to take care of things and it creates and appreciation for the vessel. I think back to my childhood and helping my dad and the guys around the shop. I always took great care of my trucks. I never missed an oil change, always washed and waxed, and kept the interior shining. It was just an inherent aspect of working on the car and appreciating it. When I am with my kids and we are doing projects around the house, I work to teach them respect for what they build and they eat it up. They are so proud once we are done. The pride and accomplishment is the blessing that DIYers get from doing the work. I hope you are blessed with that gift, and if you haven’t been yet, take a small leap and change your air filter or cabin air filter or wipers. You will be amazed at how dirty they are and you will feel much better after you change them.
I admit to being a bargain shopper. There were a few lessons in life that taught me about quality. The first time I installed a stereo system in my truck, I thought I had hooked something up wrong when in fact I simple cheaped out on the speakers. Eventually I came to appreciate nice clothes that would last more than a year. Ironically brakes are in a similar boat. Most people would say, “A brake pad is a brake pad.” Your mechanic might even tell you that, and that statement could not be farther from the truth. You may be familiar with certain brands you have seen over the years and think, “I have heard that name so they must be ok.” Again this is a falsehood. The truth is, cheap brakes should only be put on cheap cars. Brake pads are made up of certain a certain formula of a binding material and brake material. Each manufacturer has a different recipe and each claims there’s is better when most are just in it to make the pad as cheap as possible and get as much mark up as possible. Who cares, the shop selling it has to warranty it right? Well here are the nuts and bolts of the issue. Many cheap brake pads have material issues and fitment issues. The pads are not molded properly and can cause the pad to stick in the slide causing a hum or vibration squeal. Also most cheap pads do not come with new hardware, leaving you to use the old worn out clips which also can cause noise and wear issues. Now, if you have a nice car and you want a quality pad which feels good on the pedal and won’t make noise, you should look at an OE brand like Akebono or Textar. Both are high quality pads that seat and wear nicely. Furthermore when buying a brake rotor, purchasing a coated rotor will help with noise, vibration and rust mitigation. Spending a little more on you brakes will not only keep you from hearing noise issues, but your brakes will last longer. Even wear and a quiet ride are what sets a good brake job apart from a bad one. That being said, if your car is 10 years old with high mileage, you might consider going the cheap route. It is important to note that when installing cheaper parts, check for proper fitment. It may be necessary to trim a tab on the pad and clean or replace the pad hardware. Generally after a brake job the pads will not make noise until they seat into the rotor, so if your vehicle makes noise when you pick it up, that would usually be an indication of an improper install.
The vehicle is torn down and additional repairs are recommended. Often times when tearing down a vehicle you will be able to spot damage that is not able to be seen when the vehicle is still assembled. Below are some pictures of damage found during the blueprint process.
You can see the inner structure behind the grill on the left picture is damaged.
In the right picture tear down shows a kink in the front part of the frame behind the bumper support bar.
Both of these issues are researched and added to the supplemental estimate which is an estimate created after the preliminary estimate. The research portion is important. It is vital that you check the OEM procedures for replacement on all parts, but especially structural components such as a frame. The insurance company wanted to pull and repair the frame shown above. Toyota recommends replacing the frame. In the end the OEM procedure must be followed or the repair will be incorrect and unsafe in the even of another collision.
After the Blueprint and Supplemental estimate are complete, the parts are then sourced and ordered. The parts are checked for quality and correctness as well as fitment upon delivery. This allows the shop to verify the part as good and schedule the repair more accurately. We generally do not start on a vehicle unless all parts are collected to prevent stoppage in workflow. This also allows us to get the vehicle back to the customer quicker as well as allows for a better quality repair when you do not have to start and stop repeatedly.
It is important to understand the difference between aftermarket and factory parts.
Aftermarket parts do not fit as well as factory parts
This can cause large gaps where panels meet as well as other fitment issues.
Aftermarket parts can be thinner material as well
Factory parts are higher quality
Fitment is much more accurate with factory new and even used parts
Factory parts generally cost more and the insurance company will not always cover a factory part.
You may consider paying the additional out of pocket for a Factory new part during the repair.
The general first stage of repair is the frame shop
The Frame shop will help straiten areas that need to be pulled to make sure the car measures correctly.
Many cars these days do not have traditional frames
IF your vehicle does have frame damage it is best to ask how the repair is being done and make sure OE procedures are being followed.
The second stage is the Body Repair portion.
Exterior panels being repaired or replaced are worked on here.
A panel being replaced may need to be cut out and welded back on.
Make sure your insurance company is not installing a used panel
Once the panel is installed or repaired it must be prepped for paint and this may include some body filler and sanding.
The vehicle is primed and prepped for paint
The vehicle is then masked off and the paint shop lays down the base coat and clear coat.
Final Assembly and Delivery
After the vehicle is painted often times assemblies have to be rebuilt and installed on the vehicle such as doors and bumpers. This is also a time any paint imperfections are handled as well. Once the vehicle is assembled it is cleaned and detailed. A quality control checklist is performed and the vehicle is taken on a final test drive to make sure all modules are reset and driveability is rechecked.
All in all this is a basic overview of the repair process. There is a significant amount more work that goes into repairing the vehicle. The research and repair process are very important for a quality repair. It unfortunately is very easy for shops to cover up sub-standard work. Often time a shop may have to blend the paint to ensure a quality match. Additionally certifications in the collision industry are very important and also telling. I-Car certifies shops and provides solid industry training that keeps shops who are I-Car Gold Class on the leading edge. Lastly a reputable shop will offer a lifetime warranty on the repair and paint. When looking for a good shop, make sure they are reputable, certified and over all, trustworthy.
Wheels-Add some new wheels. When modifying your ride the first thing many consumers look to do is upgrade their wheels. This could mean going to a larger rim and tire set up. With websites like Vision Wheel, Fuel Wheels, and Wheel Fire, you can easily choose your vehicle and see what it would look like with a new set up. In addition to his make sure you understand offsets to give you the width and stance you like that will set you apart from the field.
Wrap or Paint-We get calls all the time asking about the price of an all over paint job. The cost to paint an entire car is generally outrageous. Vehicle wraps have become much more popular due to this. Unless you are adding strips or fixing damage paint may not be an option. A wrap offers a significant amount of color and image options that give you a one of a kind look. A full vehicle wrap is more affordable in the $3000 range and the best part is, it isn’t permanent. When getting a vehicle wrap it is best to find a qualified installer and perhaps check out some of their work before hand to make sure the quality is there. Companies like Dream Wraps USA are top of the line and have done a wide range of work for normal consumers and super car owners. Additionally you don’t have to wrap your whole car. You can simply wrap some accents like grills or door handles to achieve the style you might be looking for.
Accessories-Adding accessories can make your car look sleek and stylish. Whether it be simple air deflectors or even replacing a bumper to make it look tough, you can change the setup of your vehicle without deviating too much from stock. In addition you can add a lift leveling kit on a truck for about $300 that will give you some clearance for a little bit bigger tire. You can also add a lift for a bit more money. Many cars have the ability to add lowering springs and coil overs. This will tuck the wheel up in the fender well a bit more. Make sure you have the vehicle aligned in either case so you don’t wear out the tires. Also be aware of the tires rubbing hard parts when turning. Rough Country sells a wide array of upgrade and accessories for trucks while Air Lift is a leader in suspension upgrades for cars.
Detailing- Detailing consist of much more than simply washing and vacuuming out your car. Detailing involves using a clay bar to remove debris stuck in the clear coat of your vehicle as well we buffing and polishing to remove light scratches and imperfections like swirl marks. You are then in the method known as paint correction. Making the clear coat pop like the day it was new is a talent. Finding a detailer that performs paint correction and protection is one way to set your vehicle apart. A deep clean and detail can go a long way. You can check out places like Ceramic Pro to find a detailer near you.
Window Tinting and LEDs-Adding tint to your windows can look cool and it can help preserve your interior as well as keep it a little cooler during the summer. There are numerous types of tints that can add a unique look to you ride. Also LED lights are much more popular these days. Whether it be light bars or simply replacing headlights, fog lights or tail lamps, you can add a new look without breaking the bank. Most replacements are plug and play with some needing to be wired in. Adding a light bar is a little harder as it needs to be hard wired but they can be useful for hunting and offroading as well as other outdoor activities.
When Deciding how to upgrade your vehicle do your homework. Cheap is not usually best. Make sure you are using quality parts. If you are doing the work at home you can easily get stuck because the cheap part didn’t include everything you need. Before you start, lay the parts out and double check that you have everything. Then, let the fun begin.
It is that time of the year when many motorists wonder if they need to let their vehicle “warm up” or idle before driving. In fact, today’s modern cars are ready to drive in cold temperatures without excessive idling, says the Car Care Council.
The idea of idling before driving dates back to when cars were built with carburetors. With new fuel-injection technology, complex computer systems and thinner synthetic oils, drivers don’t need to warm up their cars before hitting the road.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “When a car idles for more than 30 seconds, it has several negative effects, such as increasing air pollution unnecessarily, wasting fuel and money, and causing excessive wear or even damaging a car’s engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and the exhaust system. Contrary to popular belief, idling isn’t an effective way to warm up most car engines.”
“Unless you are trying to defrost the windshield or warm the interior of your car, idling is not required for today’s vehicles,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “In most cases, idling longer than 30 seconds is unnecessary, even on the coldest days. The best way to warm up your car’s engine is to drive gently at the start. Remember, a vehicle gets zero miles per gallon when idling and the result is lower fuel economy and wasted money.”
The landscape of the auto industry is changing dramatically. It seems to be a very up and down flow of change and innovation. With changes in laws and regulations, fuel consumption continues to be a battle all over the country. That being said, things like CVT transmissions and 8 to 10 speed transmissions are becoming more prominent. The automatic transmission has been around forever, but it is also more important than ever to change the transmission fluid regularly. We have had so many vehicles come into our shop with only 80k to 100k miles on them and the transmission is already shot. Chevrolet SUVs are a major culprit. Also the vehicles like Nissan with CVTs are another. The main cause of failure is lack of maintenance. These vehicles are very sensitive to oil pressures and friction. Both of these issues can be mitigated by fresh fluid exchanges and flushes. It is best to check the manufactures recommendations, but most recommend fluid exchanges between 30k and 50k miles. This is the one service I almost never waiver on. The main reason is that these transmissions cost upwards of $4000 with some going to $7000. Used parts is not an option for replacement on many new cars. The reason being is that used transmission may have been neglected as well as have common issues that have not been updated by the manufacturer. You might think that shops make more money selling new transmission, but unfortunately, they make far less. Margins are very low on reman and new engines and transmission. So all in all, the best case scenario to save you big bucks and make sure your vehicle last for a long time is to change the transmission fluid regularly. Oh….and change the oil very regularly too in the engine. You can find that in a previous post.
One of the pillars of our business is honestly. I may not fix you car, but I will always be honest with you. If you are a good, moral businessman, you will have a CHANCE to succeed. If you are not a good moral businessman, you will have NO CHANCE to succeed (Except in this industry……). This week we had a gentleman come in with a car we had previously worked on. He had it at another shop and they told him it was leaking from a previous repair we had performed (Was in for a coolant leak at the intake manifold). After we raised the car up and inspected it, we noticed numerous oil leaks. It did have a very slight oil leak from a gasket that we had replaced. I could have easily acted like that was not an issue and sold the older gentleman a bunch of work. The scenario is that the car is drive about 500 miles per month. In the inspection we found the vehicle had an oil cooler leaking, oil pan and rear main seal leaking, causing a drip. When I spoke with the gentleman, I told him the repair we performed also was leaking slightly. At this point he was not upset but he asked for a refund on the repair. So here we find ourselves at a crossroad. The vehicle came in for a coolant leak and we repaired it correctly. With that repair we do have to remove and replace some gaskets that can leak oil and this is where the very small leak was coming from. So in that moment I said “Yes”. I offered to fix the leaking gasket but that would not have fixed the other leaks. He was pleased and obviously relieved. I gave the gentleman a check for $827, and he asked me what he should do. I gave him this scenario: If you had come to me, and we had not done any previous repairs, we would check the vehicle and recommend the necessary repair from severe to not severe. The oil cooler leak is the most severe and it is not an expensive fix. I would repair that and have someone clean the engine. After that you can monitor the other oil leaks. I asked him to take the money I refunded him and have someone do the other repairs first. The refund for the repairs we did was absolutely minor and a non issue at the time. If someone takes your money to repair the work we had done, this would not fix his oil drip problem. I looked him in the eye and said, “we may not fix your car this time, or ever again, but I told you I will always be honest and tell you the truth.” He shook my hand and said “Thank you very much, I appreciate that.” The unfortunate thing about auto repair is often times you can go numerous places and get numerous different answers. Training in this industry is weak at best. The best thing you can do is trust the person you take it to, whether that be the shop owner, manager, tech or adviser. The sad truth may be that this man will go somewhere and pay money for something that is going to take care of his ‘problem’, and he will spend a significant amount more than if he had let me help him. All in all, the customer in his position was happy. I was upset but also content that we seemed to make him whole and did so without any push back or arguing. When considering your repair, if you are in a situation, such as a warranty or safety issue, think about the entire scenario. There are shops out there that will intentionally try to make other shops look bad to make themselves look good. It may be best to get a third opinion. I gave the gentleman a referral to 2 shops that I also trust and know won’t take advantage of him. I hope it all works out and I hope it always works out for you as well.
By now we have all seen a Tesla or Prius on the road. These are the most common Hybrid/EVs in the US. With the release of the Model 3 Tesla now owns over 50% of the US market for Electric vehicles. These cars are quite impressive from offering auto-pilot to updating overnight giving you up to date user experiences, these cars seem futuristic in an industry that is not as advanced as many would like. Electric vehicles have limited range and must be charged frequently. Hybrids on the other hand still have gas generators and can go until the next fill-up giving you and unlimited range provided you can find a gas station. There are plug in hybrids that have a chargeable battery as well as a generator. The EV market however currently has a large hill to climb. With low fuel prices there is little incentive for folks to buy EVs. Additionally Americans like fast, big cars and trucks. So that doesn’t exactly fit the green narrative. In rural America, an EV simply would not be a viable option. As a matter of fact, Tesla in its self props up the numbers of EVs dramatically. Tesla is not a mainstream, affordable brand yet. Their Model S and Model X are well over $50,000. The Model 3 is more affordable but fairly new to the market. People don’t generally buy Tesla’s because they are Green, they buy them because they are sexy. This is interesting though. Elon Musk created this brand to change the world. His goal is green energy and transportation. What he has done is made the car luxurious, fast, and advanced so regardless of the price tag, people will buy. The car fits into the American car owner narrative. The point here is this, currently the power that supplies your hybrid/EV is still coming from a power plant. We are essentially shifting the point at which the ‘pollution’ is created. The energy to produce these cars comes from a factory which is also a huge power consumer. Thus the energy used to create these cars offsets the energy savings these cars produce. The only true advantage to you is fuel cost savings. When politicians talk about green cars they are missing the point. First, the solution is clean energy which would start with nuclear power. Second green factories would advance the narrative of energy savings. Using renewable products and solar power among other things would be the start, however recycling and solar are both still quite expensive, which in turn will add cost to the price of your vehicle. Lastly the end effector would be the car. The battery technology needs to advance to quicker charge times and longer ranges. Both of those factors effect life and longevity of the battery. So when considering all of the factors, these cars are making great progress. We can all agree that we would like to see green energy advancements in our world. But when considering a car, perhaps it is best to do your research and decide which vehicle is right for you. It could end up saving or costing you a significant amount of money in the long run.
Your vehicles steering and suspension typically deteriorates slowly over time and can be unnoticeable until you hear that rattle or clunk. The parts that typically fail include ball joints, tie rods, struts, shocks, springs, control arms and stabilizer links or sway bar links.
Ball Joints/Tie Rods:
Imagine yourself holding a baseball tightly, but over time your grip loosens and the baseball falls out. This is similar to how a ball joint and tie rod work. Its a ball in socket joint and they wear out causing looseness and sometimes catastrophic failure where the joint comes out of the socket. Your tie rod is the steering rod between your rack and pinion and the ball joint is the pivot point between your axle/control arm and wheel assembly. The easiest way to spot issues with these parts is abnormal tire wear. That would be a lot of tread on one side of the tire and a little tread on the other side. So something as simple as walking to your car and looking at the wear on your tires can save you some time and money. In worse cases you may experience a clunk or rattle when turning, hitting a bump, or pulling in and out of your driveway.
Your strut and shock are fluid filled reservoirs that when compressed release back slowly. This eliminates what would be your tire bouncing like a basketball and it counter acts the reactive force of the spring in your suspension. The difference between a shock and a strut is that the strut has a spring built into it and the shock is a stand alone part. Usually you will hear a clunk when hitting a bump when your strut fails. Struts and shocks are not a huge safety issue when they fail. Struts and shocks help your tire maintain traction better when they are functioning properly, again eliminating the basketball effect. This gives you better ride comfort but most importantly allows you to brake more effectively because of the added tire to road/surface contact. So replacing your shocks and struts is a safety issue but can be repaired without a catastrophic event.
Stabilizer Links/Sway Bar Links:
These little links are basically rods that connect the strut or suspension to the sway bar or stabilizer bar. Without going into all of the great detail of the Corvair and the issues they had that led to the invention of the sway bar, basically this bar eliminated the “boat feeling” or excess sway and helps stabilize the vehicle. These links have rubber or plastic bushings in them that wear out and need to be replaced over time. This is the most common clunk, rattle or consistent repetitive drum type noise in a vehicle. They tend to rust and break as well from the constant up and down motion cycles they are subjected to.
Some vehicles, mostly bigger trucks have heavier duty suspension so parts like, pitman arms, idler arms and drag links are more common in these applications. With heavier vehicles you need heavier parts and the idler arm and pitman arm serve as pivot points off of the steering gear box which your steering column attaches to and drives. A drag link is an additional tie rod that connects the additional moving parts in this type of system. All should be checked for play or looseness and often times these loose parts can create excess back and forth play in a steering wheel that the drive can feel when driving. Your vehicle may want to wander or the wheel might have extra slop in it. Additional to your suspension, a loose hub bearing or wheel bearing can cause a humming noise and abnormal tire wear as well.
FOR THE DIYer:
To properly check for these issues you should lift the wheel up you are concerned about an inch or two off the ground. Try to allow the suspension to remain unloaded so choose the frame or a pinch point as the lift spot. First grab the sides of the tire and shake it back and forth as if you are trying to turn the wheel. If there is any movement, this can give you an idea that there is play in a tie rod or steering issue (Pitman, idler, drag link as listed above). Once you have done that grab the top and bottom of the wheel and do the same. This can indicate a worn or loose wheel bearing or a really loose ball joint. Lastly put a pipe or pry bar under the wheel as a lever and pull up and down on the end. This will show you the amount of play or looseness in the ball joints. If there is a clunk or excessive movement you should consider replacing the ball joint or control arm assemblies.
Finally the shocks and struts are recommended to be replaced every 50-70k miles. That is a good rule to follow. Most people wait until they hear noise or see fluid leaking from the shocks and struts, but they are a general maintenance item and should be considered if not done by the 100k mile mark.
All in all that gives you a good overview of diagnosing a rattle, clunk or pop. Stay safe out there!
We have all been there, our brakes start to squeak and we automatically think we need to have our brakes checked or replaced. That is not always the case. When we have brake issues come into our shop we always ask is it a squeak, squeal or grinding noise you are hearing usually with impressions of the noise to follow. That being said lets dive in to what we should do and how we can drive the situation.
First, lets address the squeak. This noise can be caused by a number of factors. A squeak can develop over night. In many cases a squeak can be simply rust build up on a rotor after sitting overnight or after a few days of rain. Your rotor mostly bare metal especially where it contacts the brake pad and a short park in the driveway can cause it to rust from moisture in the air. This is not a safety issue and most likely you can drive on. A squeak can also be caused by the material in the brake pad itself. Brake pads are organic or ceramic and semi-metallic. The binder or compound that holds the ceramic material together can glaze and heat up causing a squeak. Also semi-metallic pads have little pieces of metal that can cause noise issues and even a squeal at times. Semi-metallic pads are also known to emit a fair amount of brake dust that usually covers your wheel so that can be a clue of what kind of pad you have on your car. Generally the part number will have a C for ceramic or a M for Metallic on your last invoice. Most passenger cars have ceramic and some SUV and light trucks still use metallic. The best way to mitigate the noise issue is to put an OEM equivalent brake pad and rotor set on the vehicle. If you do not use quality parts they will probably make some noise. In addition to all this, when having your brakes serviced, new hardware should be used. These are shims and noise clips that should be lubed and properly installed. Most DIY folks can do brakes but it does take some consideration and talent to make sure they are lubed properly and don’t make noise.
Pro Tip: A warped brake rotor may not cause noise but it can give you an uneasy feeling of shaking or vibration. Generally a warped front rotor will cause the steering wheel to shake when braking while a warped rear rotor will cause the brake pedal to pulsate. Knowing this information can save you a lot of time and money. A severely warped rotor can be a safety issue but if it is a slight pulsation you feel you are most likely safe but should continue to monitor the situation. The rotor warps from heat and can be an early indication of a sticky caliper or a driving habit that might need to be changed.
Secondly your squeal can be caused by your brake wear indicator. On many new cars you have a brake pad sensor that will tell you its time to change your brakes but some older vehicles have a steel tab that contacts the rotor and causes a long drawn out squeal for the entirety of you pushing the brake pedal. If you are experiencing this it is a good time for a brake check. If it is a short pulses and goes away after a second it could be one of the issues listed in the first part. If you are unsure you it may still be a good idea to have them checked.
Lastly the grind…If you notice a grinding noise that is loud and pronounced, that is probably an indicator of a major failure. Either the pad material is completely gone or perhaps a caliper has locked up and caused the brake to remain on which caused premature failure. Either way this is an immediate issue that needs to be resolved. This is a huge safety problem. If you are able to see through your rim, you might notice a scored or extremely rough looking brake rotor. This is an indicator of brakes grinding. The fortunate aspect is depending on if a caliper is seized you may not have any more damage or more expense than if you had replaced the brakes preventatively. This for sure would mean you have to at least replace your brake pads and brake rotor.
Pro Tip: A sticky or sticking brake caliper can be evident by the car pulling to one side or the other. If when you brake the steering wheel wants to pull out of your hand you may have a sticky front caliper. If while braking the car wants to wander to one side it may be the indication of a rear brake caliper sticking. The more you know…..
All in all keeping track of your vehicle noises is important. If you can be in tune with your vehicle that is the number one way to mitigate major issues. Your cars parts generally deteriorate slowly so issues can be subtle and unnoticeable, however knowledge and planning for these issues can go a long way. So next time you get your tires rotated. Ask the shop how your brakes looked. Its a free visual inspection you should be doing with each rotation.