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lou's garage

Lou Trottier's new plasma metal-cutting table in action.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

While my main source of revenue is owning and operating a retail automotive repair shop, it really only exists to allow me to pursue my true passion, which is fabrication and restoration.

Although we’ve had to temporarily hold off on the Puma EV project car I mentioned last week, I have just received a new tool in the shop that will aid with that build when we get moving on it again. It’s a computer-controlled plasma metal-cutting table made by a company called Langmuir Systems in California. (Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation from Langmuir Systems for this mention).

A metal-cutting table uses the same computer-controlled technology used in 3D printers and moves it into the metal-cutting environment. Where 3D printers are additive devices – in other words, they add material to create a piece – a cutting table removes material to reveal your piece. Plasma cutting uses accelerated streams of plasma directed at electrically conductive material to effectively cut through them. Combine a small plasma cutter with a device that can move the cutting head in an exact tool path, and a whole new world opens up for the hobbyist. It was only a few short years ago that such capability was only available to large production facilities that could afford these machines.

The tool I own is Langmuir Systems’ entry-level machine, which comes with a cutting surface area of approximately 0.65 square metres. I added the company’s optional water table to capture dust particles and contaminants. The plasma-cutter manufacturer’s literature claims that their machine can cut steel up to 16 mm thick. The company refers to this product as a personal CNC plasma table, and after spending the necessary hours assembling the machine, I can understand why. The translation I have deciphered from their advertising is that I’m never going to be able to launch a full-time business cutting out metal parts using this device. But who cares, I’ll be gentle with it. It’s a fantastic piece of machinery for its price point.

The first piece designed using the new Langmuir cutter.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

The first piece I designed and cut out was a small sign for my Ferrari Project 308 rebuild series, cut from 16-gauge sheet metal. You would think that designing two-dimensionally would be easier than designing three-dimensionally for a 3D printer, but my simple piece took many hours due to the machine’s quirks and minute setup adjustments. Hopefully I will graduate soon to more complicated designs and parts. One of the first useful pieces I intend to fabricate is a two-piece adapter plate that will allow me to mate the Nissan Leaf electric motor to my Puma transmission. From there it will be used to build battery boxes and multitudes of other brackets for our project Puma EV.


Your automotive questions, answered

I have a 2016 Toyota RAV4, which currently is being stored in my friend’s garage, and no one is driving it. My friend has been starting the engine every 2-3 weeks and keeping the engine going for 10-15 minutes. Someone has said it is a wise thing to do, however I’m not sure about it. Could you please clarify that for me? My friend says the car’s battery is almost dead now. The car might be standing there for another 6-12 months. What is the best way to store it? Does the engine have to be on, or can they just forget about it? I would really appreciate your help. I don’t know much about this subject.

Dorota

If this was a situation where you were preparing the vehicle for an extended rest period, I would have some suggestions for you. However, being midway through your storage period will result in another answer. Basically, now that you are here, just leave it. In other words, stop asking your friend to run the engine for 10-15 minutes. Vehicles need to be driven for there to be a true benefit. Unless your friend can get it on the road for an extended drive, sitting and idling is doing nothing other than contaminating the oil with unburned fuel and putting excessive moisture into the exhaust. Your choices are to instruct your friend to take it out on the road for at least a half-hour drive, or to just let it sit and deal with the aftermath once you are ready to return it to service. If the latter is the only answer due to a lack of insurance, then get it towed when you are ready, have the battery replaced and have a full vehicle inspection done by a professional, so they can check the car’s brakes, tires, suspension and replace any necessary fluids.

Hi Lou, maybe you can assist me. I have a 2010 Audi A4 that I purchased from the U.S. 10 years ago. It is now showing signs of rust originating under the paint in four areas that are well-documented. The previous body-shop representative from the local dealer even pointed out two areas that I was not aware of. The car has not had any previous body work done in these areas. The car has a 12-year rust warranty. The new body-shop manager contacted Audi Canada and stated that because the car originated in the U.S., Audi Canada is not responsible for the warranty and that I should try a dealership in the U.S. The previous body-shop manager that I discussed this with told me Audi would pay a percentage of the repairs and that it would likely cost me $1,600. It appears I am out of luck. Can Audi be selective about their warranty repairs? Thanks for any insight you might have.

Desmond R, Ottawa

Pre-COVID-19, multitudes of buyers both north and south of the border were always trying to exploit dollar differences by cross-border shopping. The strength of the Canadian dollar compared to its U.S. counterpart has always dictated which way vehicle imports and exports flow. Regardless, one way manufacturers discourage cross-border shopping is by limiting warranty repairs to vehicles purchased in the same country as the original sale. Not all auto manufacturers have these policies, but European car companies whose vehicle depreciation is higher in the USA see more people looking to take advantage of this. The politics of all the American versus Canadian manufacturer counterparts is designed to protect each other’s market.

My thoughts are that with the borders being currently closed, Audi Canada may be open to hearing your argument that you are unable to visit a dealer in the U.S. Give them a call directly; it’s worth a shot.

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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