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lou's garage

All technicians know this moment well. It’s the moment when you are just about to fall asleep and suddenly your brain explodes with the thought – did I tighten that brake caliper bolt on that customer’s car today?

Every experienced technician has their own process of double checking their work. Mine is to place bolts into their location, start threading them, but to leave them completely loose until they are all in place. Once I’m ready, I tighten and torque all the bolts and only then do I move on. After all the tasks are completed, I start my double check procedure, which is to physically place my hand on every bolt that I previously removed and try to loosen it by hand. If it is physically tightened, I know it is good and can complete the repair. It is this strict procedure that allows me to be able 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 that I have done countless times over the years. The only problem was this time I put one of the bearings in backwards. The moment I ventured on to the roadway for my test drive, the antilock brake warning (ABS) indicator illuminated on the dash. I knew immediately what I had done wrong and berated myself for the rookie mistake. Many wheel bearings have a built-in ABS reluctor ring, which is half of the wheel speed sensor system used by the ABS system. The ABS sensor measures wheel speed and this reluctor must be adjacent to the ABS sensor. By placing the wheel bearing in backwards, the sensor had nothing to read. I was in a rush trying to satisfy the customer’s timetable but ended up costing myself double the time to correct the problem.

Now I must admit that as the owner of my own shop, I don’t often have to put a full day in on the floor anymore. So it’s these times that keep me humble - where I attempt to flex my mechanic muscles, fall on my face and ultimately realize just how rusty my skills have become.

But I always tell the young apprentices that have worked for me that anyone can fix a car. But can they perform under constant scrutiny and on an unforgiving and relentless schedule? Most dealerships and franchise shops still work under a system called the flat-rate system. It’s a system that dealership owners and service managers still believe weeds out the slower technicians. If you are slow and thorough, you make far less per year than the speedy, sometimes careless technician working beside you. It is an archaic system that needs to be updated and/or replaced. Even if you are getting your car repaired at a shop that does not use this flat-rate system, the pressure to be fast still exists, because your customers are always usually in a rush to get somewhere. Remember the next time you are demanding your car back early, what you are truly asking of your technician. There is a business axiom that comes to mind. You can have any two and only two of the following: good, fast and cheap.


Your automotive questions, answered

Lou,

Do auto technicians working for a dealership get a commission for extra work they suggest on a vehicle in for a basic service? I’ve had a couple of situations at my local Honda dealer, where the technician servicing my vehicle has recommended a brake job. In each case, I have checked myself and found that the pads and rotors were in good condition and had plenty of miles left on them. In another situation, I was told that I needed new tires. I asked the technician to show me and the first thing I noticed was that he was measuring the tread to the top of a wear bar. Another technician agreed with me that the tires were in good condition.

Thanks,

Norm

Dealer technicians do not typically receive commission. Many years ago, prior to my time, they did. But that practice became too controversial to sustain. Now, the service writer/advisor is the commissioned employee.

Yes, dealers as a whole seem to recommend brakes early. Here is a relatable story on this subject. A half dozen years ago, we inspected the brakes on a Honda Civic that a dealer had just recommended a brake replacement for. The brake pads still had 40 per cent of the friction material remaining and after thoroughly inspecting the brakes, I took the car for a lengthy test drive and noted no deficiencies in the vehicle’s braking performance. Since the brakes were well above the minimum provincial safety standards, I indicated to the customer that they didn’t need a replacement at that time.

Two weeks later that same customer rear-ended another vehicle and, of course, I received 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 the brake parts be removed from the car and supplied to a third party for an independent inspection. Nothing ever came of that supposed lawsuit, but it left me stunned because I had known the customer very well prior to the incident.

It’s situations like these that explain why dealers err on the side of caution when dealing with brakes, though most go too far, in my opinion.

Is it being greedy or is it being over-cautious? Is it easier to deal with an angry customer asking why they need a brake job, or a lawyer contacting them looking for service history to support their client’s case? Driver skill is a touchy subject. Many drivers are in denial after they cause an accident. Anyone or anything other than their driving skill is at fault.


We recently completed a 14-day road trip across the country with a 2018 Lincoln MKX. Starting on day nine of our trip, we would wake up in the morning with an almost completely flat battery - only enough juice to unlock the doors and open and close the trunk once. We needed a boost every morning. But throughout the rest of the day (after stopping for lunch, gas, etc.), it started no problem.

Someone mentioned having too many things plugged into the cigarette lighters, and the battery not charging, but I can’t imagine that would have such an impact - we had a couple of cell phones plugged in all the time, plus some other small items plugged in occasionally. Plus, it was only a problem overnight, not when the engine was warm.

Yet, after the trip was completed, it starts up in the mornings without a problem. What gives?

Renzo I

I assume when you say all the time, that you mean items were left plugged in overnight. A quick online search indicates that the power outlets on many newer Ford products remain active all the time. Also, newer vehicles have a much higher static battery draw when sitting unused to keep the memory alive for the multitudes of onboard electronics. So yes, it is possible that a couple of cell phones and your other items could drain a battery overnight considering that your battery is at least three years old.

The amount of energy required to power the radio, lights and other electronics is around 5 amps, while the amount of energy required to start the vehicle is around 200. As a battery ages, its reserve capacity also diminishes, which would also support the reasoning as to why there was just enough left-over battery power to unlock the doors, but not enough to turn the engine over.

Get your battery analyzed with a newer battery tester as used by professional shops and you will likely find that battery life, while not labelled as totally depleted, shows that it is at least 50 per cent expired. Also, open up your owner’s manual and go to the power outlet section. It will likely indicate not to leave items plugged in overnight.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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