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Summer weather is just a few months away, and vaccines are now within grasp. Spring-like weather always brings cars into our service bays, but I do expect this year to look a little different. Because the pandemic has forced many to work from home, vehicles sitting for months unused is now commonplace. After these vehicles have their insurance policies reactivated, many owners are in for a surprise. Either the vehicle is not going to start because the battery is dead, or concerning noises will emanate from the brakes upon first drive.

Fortunately, a dead battery is a fairly easy fix and one that doesn’t need to be complicated at all. Smart battery-maintainers are just an Amazon click away and may save you the inconvenience of a tow and service visit. They can be had for as little as $30, with the fancy ones coming in around $150. Most maintainer instructions are simple; the red positive-charge clamp goes to the red terminal on the battery and the black clamp to the black terminal. The only time it can be a bit tricky is when your vehicle’s battery terminals don’t come equipped with an obvious red positive terminal. In this case, get a flashlight and look closely at the top of the battery for the + (positive) symbol and the – (negative) symbols. They will always be there. Hook up accordingly once you find them. If your battery is located in your trunk, you will have to get your owner’s manual out and find out where the battery boost hook-up points are.

If your vehicle has not moved in months, it is highly likely that the brake pads will have corroded to the rotors and frozen in place. When you first drive off, you may hear a loud click or thud coming from one or more wheels as the pads break free. This is not uncommon and may be the entirety of the problem. However, sometimes a small amount of brake-pad material remains stuck on the rotors. As the wheel rotates, a variety of noises may arise, from barely audible to scary-sounding, loud screeches. Some of these noises will go away naturally, though others will not. In a parking lot or quiet side street, test your brake-pedal resistance. If it feels normal, then cautiously proceed. Sometimes all that is required is to get some heat into the brakes and let them work a bit. Applying the brakes wipes the corrosion particles off the brake rotors, and the noises may quickly subside.

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If the corrosion has penetrated deeper into the brake rotor, however, it may not wipe clean as easily. If the noises persist, this situation will result in a service-centre visit. Your service provider will determine how severe the corrosion is and recommend a repair. Most of the time, all that is required is a four-wheel brake service. With this procedure, the technician disassembles all of the brake friction components, manually removes the corrosion, sands down the mating surfaces and lubricates all the appropriate points. If this still doesn’t fix it, the technician may turn to a more intensive solution and use a brake lathe to resurface the rotors. Lastly, there are also rarer instances where nothing fixes the noise and replacement is the only option.

Your automotive questions, answered

Hi Lou,

I recently received a recall notice for my 2015 Ram 1500 eco-diesel from Fiat Chrysler Canada. The notice contained very little detail as to why the recall was being issued and the scope of the changes other than to mention an upgrade in the vehicle’s emission-control software. I did some digging on the internet to find that FCA had settled a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. with the EPA and owners around the use of an illegal defeat-software code, which was installed in the vehicle to permit shutdown of the nitrous-oxide-control system when not being tested, similar to the VW issue.

I thought having a vehicle that incorporated a selective catalytic converter with urea feed would guarantee low nitrous-oxide emissions. I am now concerned that FCA may have installed a Bosch emission-control system, which is not designed for continuous operation, and that by updating the software to comply with EPA regulations FCA will be sacrificing the reliability and operating cost of my vehicle for their sole benefit of complying with Canadian/EPA emission laws. Further, what impacts will the change in software have on the performance of the engine and its fuel economy?

The class-action suit in the U.S. was settled with FCA paying all owners US$2,800 along with extending the vehicle warranty on all emission and drive components affected by the removal of the emission cheat. I am taken aback that FCA Canada would not offer a monetary and warranty settlement similar to what was arranged in the U.S. and instead are deceitfully enticing customers to install that possibly debilitating fix into their vehicles without providing sufficient information. This fix is solely for the benefit of FCA and their compliance with Canadian emission standards.

Pat B

The recall you are referring to affects 2014–2016 Ram pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees equipped with eco-diesels. Yes, from my research, it would appear that Bosch, the manufacturer of the emission-control system, did indeed install defeat software that was designed to shut down some of the emission controls when not being tested. What level of involvement Fiat Chrysler (FCA) had in this is unknown to me, but it should be noted that in the U.S. class-action settlement you refer to, FCA makes no admission of guilt.

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U.S. litigation is, of course, different than here in Canada. I am not an attorney, but as far as I understand it, the Canadian suit that was launched failed to meet the adequate level of proof showing that they, the plaintiffs, had suffered a compensable loss.

As far as your truck is concerned, I imagine it will operate as it was actually designed. I don’t believe there will be any noticeable difference to longevity, but yes, you may suffer slightly poorer fuel economy. I agree that you were misled as a consumer; however, right or wrong, that’s where it’s at.

I took my ’07 Ford Sport Trac to a Ford dealership to replace my rear wheel bearings. The mechanic broke the ‘wheel knuckle’ while trying to remove the old bearing. He said that it was rusted and “it happens,” but this potential problem was not discussed prior to his attempt to replace my wheel bearings. The additional cost to replace the broken wheel knuckle doubled the cost of the initial job. I’m very frustrated. I have found another mechanic to fix my truck but now will have to add a $300-$400 towing charge as it is not road-worthy/safe.

Paula T

I’m sorry to hear that Paula. But unfortunately, yes, sometimes these things happen through no fault of the technician, and it’s next to impossible to predict. And this brings me to the point where I have to make an uncomfortable admission: I shy away from working on older vehicles. There, I said it, and your story is the exact reason why. As any vehicle ages, the frequency of these mishaps rises significantly. However, I don’t mind taking care of older vehicles from my own customer base that I have maintained for years, because the relationship with the customer is already well-established. They understand that me and my staff are as gentle as possible, and if something similar happens, that we did our best to actually not be in this situation in the first place.

This strikes me as a customer-relations problem. The dealer should have done more to accommodate you and get themselves out of this sticky situation. They should have sourced a used knuckle for you, as I’m sure that’s what the second mechanic did. I would have never let anyone tow there vehicle away from my business and would have taken the loss, but that’s just me.

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

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