Once upon a time clutch replacement was fairly inexpensive. But no more thanks in part to two factors: first is the advent of front wheel drive and all wheel drive; second is the change to dual mass flywheel clutch systems.
For much of the automobile’s history rear wheel drive was common. This made clutch replacement quite easy: remove the driveshaft, shift lever, clutch linkage, pull out the transmission and there was the clutch. On many cars and trucks the whole procedure could be done within three hours.
These days most cars are front wheel drive and this adds to the complexity of removing the transmission to access the clutch. In addition there are now many all wheel drive vehicles which require removing additional driveshafts and perhaps even the transfer case. Clutch jobs now require five to nine plus hours labour.
The other expense factor in modern clutch replacement is the advent of the dual mass flywheel. Once found only on diesel light trucks and exotic imports like Audi, Porsche and Mini they have become common place in many a vehicle. Even economy models like the Nissan Versa have this very expensive clutch system.
So just what is this system and why the expense? Unlike ordinary flywheels which are essentially a large precision machined heavy steel disc which lasts through many clutch replacements, the dual mass flywheel is two flywheels put together with dampening springs in between. Dual mass flywheels provide the advantages of: minimizing engine vibrations, easier shifts, smoother clutch engagement and overall smoothness in the vehicle. The dual mass’ disadvantage is that it wears out and requires replacement along with your clutch.
When it comes to replacing your dual mass flywheeled clutch expect a large bill. In addition to the normally priced clutch the new flywheel typically costs $500 to over $1000.
There is good news however because there is, in many cases an alternative to buying an expensive dual mass flywheel and that is a replacement clutch kit which eliminates the dual mass flywheel. Inside the kit is a conventional clutch with new solid metal flywheel. How well do they work? In all the replacements that we’ve done they work perfectly: you’ll never miss the dual mass setup.
As you can see, adding a dual mass flywheel clutch to an all wheel drive vehicle can result in an expensive clutch replacement, often exceeding two thousand dollar. So be prepared and use your clutch gently because now, more than even, you’ll want your clutch to last a long time.
One frequently failing part on many vehicles is the heater blower motor. Recently we replaced one on a 2006 Nissan Pathfinder. It was a relatively simple job and it cost our client less that $400. including diagnosis and taxes. I got to thinking that this was pretty reasonable when compared to some other vehicles: vehicles like a 2003 BMW 330i. We did one of those blower motors a while back and that job set our client back around $1300.
This isn’t uncommon for many a European car. Often the parts are significantly more expensive than the Japanese or American models. Then there’s the labour, they’re often constructed without much thought for simplified replacement. This tradition goes back a long ways. I remember Volvos from the 70s having very expensive heater blower motor replacements: so expensive in fact that most owners just lived without the safety and comfort of blowing air inside their cabin.
I’m not saying that just because a car is European that it is always exponentially more expensive to fix: no some Japanese cars also feature very pricey repairs. And some European cars can be reasonable, including Volvo. The heater blower motor on an S80, for example, is a much simpler and affordable job than the Volvos of old.
What it really comes down to is the thought from the manufacturer to make replacement simple. Oh, and also to offer reasonably priced parts!
I recently reflected on the long term quality of two different vehicles and just how much more value some vehicles present over others. If you are going to keep a car for a long time or are looking to spend minimal money on used vehicle repairs then buying the right vehicle is especially important. The two comparison vehicles are a 1997 Toyota 4Runner Limited and a 2003 BMW X5.
The 4Runner has 350,000 kilometers on the clock and still looks and runs like a new vehicle thanks to several factors: one, was a large service that we performed on the truck a few months back; two, was that the previous owners had taken good care of it; and three, this is a very well built, high quality, durable vehicle.
The BMW is in many ways the polar opposite: at 200,000 kilometers it drove OK and looked OK but had a myriad of problems. Colourful warning lamps lit up the display panel: “self leveling suspension fault”; “brake lining wear”; “rear bulb out”. Half of the radio display panel no longer illuminated. This is just a small list of what was observed from the driver’s seat. Some of these concerns are simple but others will be very expensive to fix. On top of this, X5s are known to have transmission failures around this mileage and engines develop very expensive to fix oil and coolant leaks (of which we’ve fixed many).
While the BMW is the fancier vehicle it is not so much more so than a 4Runner Limited. Clearly the 4Runner presents far greater value throughout its life, with a new purchase price less than 2/3rd of the X5. As the vehicle’s age the Toyota costs far less to maintain and has fewer breakdowns. While it may not impress the Joneses as much in the driveway, the Toyota 4Runner is the superior vehicle for the long term.
There are many other long term value vehicles that we will discuss in future posts.
In mid October the CBC ran a story about premium gasoline and how, for most cars it was a waste of money (http://goo.gl/G5qR4). They went so far as claiming that its use caused higher levels of pollution from the tailpipe than regular fuel. While I agree almost entirely with the statement that it is a waste of money if your car does not require premium I found the claims of excessive pollution to be dubious. I admit that I did not watch the TV program, however while looking at the website article the picture of the technical expert with his gas analyzer set off alarm bells for me.
I had some discussions with those in the know about auto emission testing and they confirmed my thoughts: that it is very unlikely that using premium fuel when the manufacturer does not recommend it is going to cause any noticeable increase in tailpipe emissions. The gas analyzer shown in the picture is a piece of equipment similar to one that we own at our shop and while it is highly precise it is not capable of reading the very low emission levels that modern vehicles put out with enough detail to make such a conclusion. Modern vehicles have very sophisticated electronics, sensors, computers and catalytic converters which control emission levels and the simple use of premium fuel verses regular fuel cannot be detected by this type of gas analyzer. My recommendations are: 1) Don’t worry about the pollution increases as they are negligible to none-existent. 2) If your manufacturer doesn’t recommend premium, save your money and use regular. 3) If you own a premium fuel recommended vehicle as I do you can run it on regular if the engine performs well and doesn’t knock and ping: mine works great.
Slowly, very slowly, electric cars are making their way into the market place and onto our roads. The other day I saw a Chevrolet Volt proudly displaying a bumper sticker that read “I burn electrons” and it made me pause to reflect about electric cars. For some time I’ve thought about electric powered cars and know that undoubtedly they are the way of the future. With fossil fuel resources continuously being depleted and the atmosphere’s chemistry being perhaps critically altered we have no choice but to change the way our vehicles are powered. Electric vehicles offer so many advantages: few moving parts, minimal maintenance, no oil changes and high torque. Very low energy consumption at idle is a particularly compelling benefit for both one’s wallet and our atmosphere.
But are electric cars all they are cracked up to be? There are some serious issues to consider. Perhaps the biggest is that while the “I burn electrons” bumper sticker is cute, it is untrue. Electricity is not an energy source but a conveyer or currency of energy (the same is true for hydrogen). Electricity must be created from an energy source therefore electric cars really “burn” whatever creates that electricity. Currently in the US, half of the electricity comes from coal, a fuel far dirtier than the oil that electric cars so happily no longer burn. In BC we are blessed with clean hydropower but we have few rivers left to dam and dammed rivers have huge environmental consequences.
What will happen when all cars are electric? Where will the extra electricity come from? Sure, at this time, one can happily plug in their electric car without overloading the grid, but at some point this will no longer be possible. Cars and trucks use enormous amounts of energy; if every vehicle were suddenly electric we would not be able to power everything.
Another area of concern is the tax revenue from gas sales. Some portion (though arguable not nearly enough) of gas tax is used for road maintenance. How will roads be paid for when increasing numbers of cars are electric? Will it be reasonable that gas and diesel powered vehicles subsidize electric cars?
While I’m all for the potentially clean future that electric cars provide it will certainly shake up my industry: auto service and repair. I can imagine that in the fully electric car future that only 1/3 or 1/4 of today’s auto service facilities will be needed. Many repairs that currently keep us going will no longer be required: oil & coolant leaks, emission system repairs, oil changes, fluid flushes and tune-ups just to name a few.
Electric cars currently have a very limited market: they are very expensive to buy and their driving range is severely limited, making them a choice only for drivers who use their cars for short trips. This is where the Chevy Volt is great: because it also has a gas engine it makes the vehicle useful for long trips.
Where I believe the electric car will shine is when we create our electricity (and we will need a lot of it) from a clean source. That won’t likely be from solar or wind, though they will play a part. Most likely it will be nuclear, and while it isn’t trouble free it’s clean, global warming free and tremendously powerful. This puts the whole electric car debate into a bigger picture: not only must we make the vehicles, but we must simultaneously change our infrastructure, and that will be a big challenge.
There are many forces that conspire against this change but overall it will be worthwhile. Just imagine a world where electricity is created without burning something that creates CO2 and where cars run on electric motors. Our cities will have clean air and the stench of vehicle exhaust will be non-existent. Now that’s an exciting future!
We recently serviced a defective angle gear unit on a 2003 Volvo V70 AWD. The angle gear unit is an important component of the Volvo all wheel drive system: it is a simple assembly that transfers power from the front transaxle to the driveshaft and transfer case unit in the rear. Inside the angle gear unit are two shafts both with 45 degree bevel gears. Each shaft has two bearings supporting them, allowing them to spin freely.
Our client came in concerned that the dealer had quoted her over $3000.00 to replace the unit and was wondering if there were less expensive options. After road testing the vehicle we concluded that there was likely only a worn out bearing inside the unit. Unfortunately there were no separate bearings or gears sold for the angle gear unit; it seemed our only option was to buy a completely rebuilt unit from Volvo and if this was the case our price would have been about the same as the dealer.
Determined to find a better priced solution it seemed a good idea to dismantle the angle gear unit, inspect it and see what damage was present. We did that and found one severely worn bearing on the pinion shaft. Normally when one bearing is bad it is best to replace them all as the others will likely wear our soon. Through a bearing supplier we were able to find all the bearings to repair the unit (there are four in total) however we spent a great deal of time trying to find the main pinion bearing as this was a highly specialized type of bearing.
It’s very frustrating when an easily fixable item has no parts available. There is no earthly reason why Volvo could not be selling bearings for the angle gear unit as they sell bearings for most every other part of the vehicle. In the end we completed the job for under $2000, taxes included and the angle gear unit performed marvelously. It was only by our determination that were able to find the right parts to do the job. Whenever we can we will replace the basic parts, like worn bearings to save you money.
A misfiring engine is a very serious concern that demands immediate attention, unless of course you prefer to spend thousands of dollars on your car repairs.
What is an engine misfire?
It’s easiest to explain when you understand how an engine works. An internal combustion engine has several cylinders which continually fire in sequence creating a smooth flow of power and this propels your car. When the firing sequence is not smooth the engine has what is called a misfire. There are many causes from a bad spark plug, ignition coil, fuel injector or engine valve just to name a few.
When a misfire is present you will notice are several things: first the engine will shake or shutter either at a constant speed or when accelerating, and your check engine lamp may come on. Often the check engine lamp will blink and this indicates a catalyst damaging misfire. This is something to take very seriously and have repaired quickly.
When an engine misfires, a cylinder’s worth of raw, unburned fuel is exhausted through the catalytic converters and out the tailpipe. Any raw fuel in the catalytic converters quickly overheats them and leads to their destruction. If misfires occur severely then damage occurs quickly. If misfires are subtle, then damage may not occur for a year or two. When damage does occur expect to pay a lot to fix it. Most modern vehicles use what are called close coupled catalytic converters because they are integrated with the exhaust manifold and tucked up tight to the engine. On a V6 or V8 engine these are usually followed by another catalytic converter further downstream.
Over the years we’ve seen many vehicles that have experienced misfire concerns, fixed them after the vehicle was driven too long and then had the car return a few months later with either plugged exhaust and/or the check engine lamp on with a catalyst inefficiency code. It’s very predictable!
Recently we repaired a V6 equipped 2003 Ford Escape that had a couple of defective ignition coils that were causing a severe misfire. Several months passed and the vehicle returned with a plugged exhaust system. So severe was the blockage that it caused the EGR valve to blow apart. We dismantled the exhaust system, performed an inspection and found the front converter had partially melted, broke apart and sent particles to the rear cat, plugging it. After replacing these 2 cats and the EGR valve the engine’s power was restored but a further major exhaust leak was present from the rear exhaust manifold. Final repair bill: $3600 taxes in. Ouch! This happens more often than you think.
The good news it that it is completely preventable.
If your engine ever misfires get it fixed right away and save your money.
Saving money is always a good thing; however when it comes to auto repairs be cautious because often along with low price comes inferior quality. We always strive for the highest quality at the best price and are very pleased when we can take the time to do a great job and save our client lots of money. Recently we did just that.
The vehicle serviced was a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 3 liter Mercedes turbo diesel engine. While quite rare in Jeeps, it is common in various Mercedes vehicles and Sprinter vans.
Our client’s concern was a severe lack of power and the check engine lamp on. After diagnosis we determined the turbocharger to be defective. This vehicle uses a very complex variable geometry turbo which incorporates an integral electronic actuator. The actuator was the defective part but unfortunately was only available with a new turbo assembly. Rebuilding was not an option so it appeared that we were stuck to the dealer. Our client had already been to the Chrysler dealer where they also diagnosed the turbocharger as the problem. His quote was over $8000 installed. They were also not too reassuring as they stated that the engine computer could also be bad and substantial extra costs could be involved. We confirmed that only the turbo was defective
Our first phone call to the Chrysler dealer was a shock: the turbo assembly was over $6000 for a new unit. We spent some time looking at options: Mercedes dealers and ordering through a US Chrysler dealership and while these reduced the price it would still have run him around $7000 installed. After more digging we were able to purchase a new turbo directly from the manufacturer for under $3000. This is an exact original replacement part. Installed with taxes, his bill came in at under $5000, substantially lower than just the turbo from Chrysler.
After replacement the engine ran great, the check engine light was off and full power was restored. So sometimes low cost and quality do go hand in hand and when we can deliver high quality at a low price we will.
Shocks and struts are a major component of your vehicle’s suspension system and work hard to keep your vehicle firmly gripped to the road. Though they generally last a long time they are a commonly wearing component on every vehicle. Unfortunately as a car ages and repair costs escalate shock and strut replacement often gets put on the back burner compromising the safety of the vehicle and wearing out other components. Lets look at what shocks and struts do, what goes wrong with them and what the consequences of not replacing worn ones are.
First off shocks and struts are both similar and different. They are similar in that the strut contains a shock absorber inside, the difference is that the strut forms the upper portion of the suspension geometry and incorporates a coil spring. As you might guess by this description struts are more expensive to replace. The part costs more along with extra labour. Shocks and struts can be found on the front or rear suspension of a vehicle.
The purpose of the shock absorber is to stop the oscillation of the vehicle springs. Without them your car would continuously bounce on bumps and your ride would be extremely uncomfortable. Handling and braking would be severely compromised.
When shocks and struts wear you will experience a bouncy ride and along with this comes reduced stopping distance. This is perhaps the most important reason to replace worn out shocks and struts. Studies have found that worn shocks reduce stopping distance by 12 feet from a 100km/hr panic stop. That could make the difference between hitting the car in front of you or not. Cupped tire tread wear is another result of worn out shocks and struts and often this wear occurs when you cannot feel the usual bouncy ride associated with bad shocks. Many a set of good tires has been ruined adding expense to one’s auto service budget. Another casualty of worn shocks and struts are prematurely wearing front brakes. This occurs from too much vehicle weight transfer to the front wheels when braking.
Many shock manufacturers recommend replacement at 80,000 kilometers. In my opinion this is excessive as they often last substantially longer on many vehicles. The best way to determine shock and strut condition is to assess vehicle ride on a regular basis along with a visual inspection of the suspension and tires.
While replacing shocks and struts can be an expensive service, the excellent ride, enhanced vehicle control and improved stopping distance make it more than great value for your money.
Brake repairs are one of the most common vehicle services. With so many shops doing them and such a variety of advertised ‘brake specials’ and prices how do you know if your brakes are being done properly and you are receiving good value for your money? Remember, cheap pricing usually comes with compromises in quality of parts and workmanship. Here’s what makes a good brake job.
It starts with a thorough inspection and that begins with a road test. The technician looks for brake pulls and vibrations when the brakes are applied and listens for noises. In the shop comes is a visual inspection of the brake fluid, looking for fluid level and quality of the fluid. The master cylinder and brake booster are visually inspected as are all brake lines and hoses. Wheels are then removed and brake pads and shoes are measured for thickness and evenness of wear. Brake rotors and drums are also measured for thickness and inspected for damage. Calipers and wheel cylinders are inspected for leakage and freedom of movement. Also visually inspected are ABS wires and proportioning valves and let’s not forget the operation of the parking brake. Other incidental but critical items safe braking are inspected such as wheel bearing play, shocks and struts and obviously loose steering and suspension components.
From the inspection an assessment of the brakes is made: which parts are in good condition and functioning well, and which items need repair now. A good shop will consult with you about how much you drive and where. This helps determine the urgency of repairs.
Let’s now look at repairs. A quality brake job involves not only replacement of parts but also thorough cleaning: caliper and pad sliders frequently get corroded and using a wire wheel or sandblaster to remove rust is essential. Hardware and self-adjusters for drum brakes requires disassembly and cleaning. After cleaning, components require lubrication with quality high temperature brake lubricants.
Quality of parts is very important to a successful trouble free repair: there are many grades of brake parts and using the best quality makes sense for longevity and the best stopping power. Cheap parts usually wear out faster; will cause squeals and other unwanted concerns.
Flushing brake fluid is a service often required with a brake job. Brake fluid absorbs water right out of the air and becomes contaminated. Many manufacturers recommend replacing the fluid every 2 years. When due, this becomes part of a quality brake repair.
After repairs, a thorough road test is done to be sure that your brakes are stopping your car as they should. Be aware that after many brake repairs you may find that your brakes make different sounds, the pedal feels different and there may also be odd smells and even smoke coming from replaced parts. All of these concerns should disappear within a day’s driving.