Blog - Pawlik Automotive Repair, Vancouver BC

Why Transmission Flushes Make Sense

Most vehicles are equipped with automatic transmissions, a very complex piece of equipment with hundreds if not thousands of parts, all of which rely on the transmission fluid to keep it operating properly.

Automatic Transmission

The fluid performs many tasks, from controlling and operating clutches inside the transmission to providing lubrication to the moving parts as well as cooling the intense heat generated inside. So critical is this fluid, that without it, your transmission will simply not work and your car will not move.

Flushing and servicing your transmission fluid is a relatively new service (20 years ago it was rarely done).

So why do we do it now?

Because modern transmissions keep getting more complex, are packed into tighter spaces and are made with lighter-weight materials which are often less durable. For many years 3 speed transmissions were the norm, then it became 4 speeds, now it’s 5 and 6 speeds with some manufacturers offering up to 10 speeds.

With these increased number of speeds, complexity just keeps growing and along with it come astronomical repair costs. If you have one of these 5 and up speed units that need replacement you could be looking at a $5,000 to $10,000 bill, and maybe more.

Routine maintenance, which consists of flushing the fluid and replacing the filter (if equipped) is an economical way to give your transmission its longest life. Many manufacturers recommend replacing the fluid, usually at around 50,000 kilometers. There are however, a number of manufacturers, mainly European who do not recommend replacing the fluid ever: it is supposedly “fill for life”.

Why would this be?

Most of the rationale behind this is that many of these transmissions use high quality synthetic fluids which are very durable and will maintain their lubricating properties indefinitely. Consider though, that inside these transmissions they still have components that wear and their fluid becomes just as contaminated as the fluid in any other vehicle. Over time, worn particles are being pumped through the transmission, increasing wear every time you drive.

It therefore makes sense to flush these fluids also. As long as the correct fluid is installed and the level is proper, only good can come of doing this.

It must be remembered that vehicle maintenance schedules are created by the engineers who design the vehicles, and while they are reasonably good on paper they may not always be good out in the field.

Also to be remembered is that the auto manufacturers are in the business of selling new cars, so while reliability is important it is only important for so long. The bottom line is that routine fluid replacement leads to longer transmission life which will keep lots of money in your pocket.

The Two Models of Vehicle Ownership

There are two paths to take in vehicle ownership.

The first path I’ll call the Manufacturer/Dealer model. On this path you buy or lease a new car every 3 to 5 years and follow the bare minimum of the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.

The second path is the Long-Term Ownership model. On this path you buy a new or slightly used vehicle and plan to keep it for 10 or more years. While following this plan, a more rigorous maintenance schedule is performed.

What Are The Pros and Cons to Each?

Pros on the Manufacturer/dealer path include very predictable costs, an almost new vehicle all the time, and high reliability. Cons are costs: ongoing monthly payments and higher insurance costs, lack of freedom around unlimited mileage and vehicle modifications (on a lease).

Pros on the Long-term ownership model are lower costs; once the car is paid off, there is only maintenance and repair costs and insurance rates are lower. Cons include some unpredictability of cost due to breakdowns and slightly less reliability as the car ages: both of which can be minimized with excellent routine maintenance.

It is very important to know which path you are on because this will affect your choices when it comes to maintaining your vehicle.

If, from the moment you buy your car you know that you want it to last a long time, then your choices of maintenance will evolve around keeping your car in the best shape possible. These will include routine oil services, routine fluid replacements, and regular inspections to replace components before they wear and damage other parts, creating further costs and breakdowns.

Those are your two models. Which do you follow?

What Does It Take To Do Great Diagnostic Work?

Through the time of owning your vehicle, you may experience it running poorly, or a warning lamp may illuminate on your dash saying check engine or ABS.

When one of these concerns occur, a diagnosis will be required to find the cause. While under the manufacturer’s warrantee the manufacturer will pay for the above concerns to be diagnosed and repaired; however once that time has expired, you are responsible to pay the cost of repairs.

Having a trusted shop to properly diagnose and repair your vehicle is critical.

Many of your instrument panel warning lights like the check engine, ABS or air bag lamp all involve very complex electronic and mechanical components. Finding the exact cause for the failure is critical if the repair is to be done properly and for the least cost. Similarly, drivability concerns such as poor engine performance, transmission shifting problems, lack of acceleration, engine misfire or ABS braking problems also involve these complex electronic and mechanical systems.

Due to this complexity, you want to trust your diagnosis and repair to a competent shop. A shop that has high quality scan tools, a lab scope, highly skilled technicians and up to date repair information. While most diagnostics go smoothly, some can become very complex and to find the cause can take every piece of equipment, all the best repair info and the minds of more than one expert technician.

Did you know that many shops and dealerships do not do proper diagnosis?

While dealerships usually have fabulous scan tools, their diagnosis may be limited to scan tool data and then a best guess of the problem based on that data. Dealerships usually pay their technicians a flat rate and this can lead to a quick and possibly incorrect diagnosis.

Some independent shops and some chain/franchise shops (tire stores for example) do not have the proper diagnostic equipment or the skilled technicians on staff. Their diagnosis can be incorrect or lead to unnecessary parts being replaced.

How will you know whether a shop is equipped to diagnose your vehicle properly?

Ask them a few questions: Do you have skilled diagnostic technicians? Do you have proper diagnostic equipment for my make and model? What will diagnosis cost? (Cheap price is probably not a good thing!) Do they guarantee their diagnose and what are they guaranteeing?

Please do know that to properly diagnose a concern may involve several procedures, along with parts replacement to solve the cause of your concern. The actual procedures and time required will be unknown until the process is started. The shop that you deal with needs to inform and educate you of this and communicate clearly with you every step of the way.

The Challenges of Air Conditioning Repairs

Air conditioning problems occur from one of two areas: the first and most common are mechanical problems and the second are electrical.
Vehicle Air conditioning system
While we attempt to accurately diagnose your air conditioning concerns first time around, using state of the art equipment and skilled technicians, due to the nature of A/C systems this is not always possible.

Generally speaking, electrical problems, once found and repaired give little problem later. Mechanical concerns however are another matter.
The mechanical components of your A/C system include: the compressor, accumulator or filter/dryer, evaporator core and condenser. These parts are all connected by hoses and lines.

Contained within the system is the refrigerant: a special fluid that can change its state from gas to liquid and in so doing, cools the inside of your car.

Leaks are the most common mechanical failure; however compressors will fail and blockages can occur in many areas of the system. Finding leaks and blockages can be time consuming and may require multiple diagnostic procedures, which may include multiple repairs.

It is impossible to be 100% certain of any A/C leak diagnosis due to several factors. These include hidden components such as the evaporator which is contained inside a box under the dash; or leaks that will only show up when the system is fully charged and operating. And sometimes, a leak may only occur when a vehicle hits a bump.

To ensure that we find your problem as efficiently as possible here is a brief outline of the tests that we do:

    Our diagnostic procedures start with a refrigerant identification to be certain that the installed refrigerant is either R12 or R134a. All other types of refrigerants and contaminated refrigerants must be properly disposed of.

    If the refrigerant passes identification then we test system operating pressures: if the pressures are low, there is likely a leak in the system. The refrigerant will then be evacuated and leak diagnosis will follow.

    We utilize several methods for leak detection: nitrogen gas, UV dye, electronic leak detectors & ultrasonic leak detection. Most leaks will be found with these methods however some leaks are very difficult to find due to specific conditions mentioned above (the evaporator for example, which is encased in a box under the dash on most cars).

    If leaks are found we will repair them, refill the system, reinspect for further leaks and if none are noted and the system operates as it should we will return the car to you.

From this, we provide our 1 year/20,000 km warrantee on the components we have replaced and repairs to the leaks that we have found. We cannot be certain that further problems and leaks may not be present: these may show up days, weeks or months down the road. As we always add UV dye to your system this may assist in us finding future leaks.

Further areas of mechanical problems are blockages in your A/C system. These may not be evident until all leaks are repaired and the system is fully recharged and tested. If system pressures are too high or low and/or interior cooling is inadequate, further diagnosis will be required.

As you can see, A/C repairs can be simple or complex, and sometimes require multiple diagnostic and repair procedures. You may perhaps wonder, why not just change the whole system and be done with it? While that is possible, it is cost prohibitive as the air conditioning system consists of many parts distributed throughout your vehicle.

Shocks and Struts

Shock absorbers, or shocks for short and Macpherson Struts, or struts for short are vital components of your vehicle’s suspension system.

To understand the value of these parts, lets look at how they work. All vehicles have a suspension system, which allows the wheels to move up and down independently from the car’s body and frame. Without suspension, every bump in the road would shake and jar you so harshly that walking would be a better alternative than a ride in your car.

The suspension system starts with your wheels: these are attached to your vehicle’s frame with a steering knuckle and a control arm(s); a spring is incorporated to isolate movement and finally a shock absorber to dampen the spring’s bounce. If you have ever driven in a vehicle with worn out shocks you will experience a sickly feeling that comes from excessive spring bounce.

The Macpherson Strut Suspension is a simplified type of suspension system which eliminates the upper control arm and incorporates the shock absorber inside a long tube (strut) along with the spring. While it reduces the number of components, when it comes time to repair, it costs more due to more expensive parts and a larger labour process.

Shocks and struts perform many other critical functions, and while it is obvious when they are fully worn out, replacing them before that happens is critical for safety and to save your money. Many times worn shocks will cause your tires to wear in unusual ways, often damaging tires with otherwise good tread.

Poor shocks also cause your vehicle to dive when braking and this results in longer stopping distances and premature wear to your front brakes. So while replacing shocks and struts may seem unimportant, there are many good reasons to replace them in order to maximize your safety and save your money.

The Business That We Are Really In

As an Auto Maintenance and Repair Shop, the business that we are in is:
Saving You Money.

How so?

That may not seem to make sense, when every visit to your auto service shop takes money out of your pocket. Here’s how we save you money: by keeping your car in great condition.

By doing this, you avoid the expense of a new car. A new car costs money, usually thousands of dollars a year in payments, or if you pay cash, money that depletes your bank account.

The average Canadian car owner spends around $1500 per year to maintain their vehicle. This is an average and the amount will be higher as a car ages. Even if you spent $2000 per year that is half of what you’d pay for a new car.

While it may not be as attractive to spend money on repairs verses buying a new car, consider that the maintenance/repair option leaves money in your pocket; money that could take you on a nice holiday; money to invest to make more money, and so on.

Just remember that car ownership costs money no matter which way you go, and properly maintaining a used vehicle is usually much more economical. As an Auto Maintenance and Repair Shop we are here to help you save your money.

What will you do with the money that you save?

Sticking Gas Pedals

While Toyota is taking a great deal of heat these days for it’s sudden acceleration or sticky accelerator problems let’s put this issue into perspective.

For certain, this is a serious concern, and one that warrants immediate correction. The issue though, is not unique to Toyota. The US NHTSA (National Highway & Transportation Safety Agency) has investigated complaints of this concern for many years from other manufacturers such as Ford and Chrysler.
Sticking Gas Pedals

Through the years I have serviced several cars that have had sticking accelerator pedals: sometimes due to a sticking throttle cable, other times due to a floor mat that holds it down.

While the cable usually requires a shop to repair it, a floor mat caused acceleration problem can be prevented by the car owner. Take the time to be sure that you have only one floor mat on your driver’s floor and that it in no way interferes with the movement of your gas, brake and clutch pedals (if equipped).

Toyota’s problem is different from a simply badly placed floor mat and may well be an electronic issue. How many cars have had the problem? Complaints for Toyota’s concern are approximately 2600 occurrences. There are 43 confirmed deaths with speculation that the real number may be 100.

Interestingly, the NHTSA has fielded 3526 sudden acceleration complaints from Ford vehicles in the past, but there has certainly been very little press about that. Toyota will certainly need to address the concern and it is. After Audi’s poorly handled foray into a similar issue in the 1980’s, where they blamed the drivers, at least Toyota is doing something about it.

As a vehicle owner you must always be prepared for your gas pedal sticking, no matter what kind of vehicle you are driving.

Though it is very unlikely to ever happen, what do you do if you find your car suddenly accelerating?

First off, shift into neutral or press in the clutch on a standard transmission, then shut off the engine; or shut off the engine by turning your key backwards. If your vehicle has a start/stop button, hold the button down until the engine stops. This may take a couple of seconds on this type of vehicle so a shift into neutral is the first step.

Be prepared, and think through your action so that, should you have a sudden acceleration, you are ready to stop.

Extended Oil Change Intervals

In recent years, many vehicle manufacturers have extended their engine oil change service intervals. There are several reasons for this:

    1) Modern engine oils offer superior lubrication.
    2) Environmental concerns about waste oil.
    3) Many manufacturers are offering no cost maintenance when the car is new, and that now makes oil services an expense to them.

While modern technology has brought us superior oils, it has also created very high tech engines featuring dual overhead camshafts run by timing chains, four or more valves per cylinder, and low tension piston rings, all built with very tight clearances.

Twenty years ago, these features would have only been found in a Ferrari or Lamborghini!

The consequence of not changing your oil frequently enough can be devastating to many of these modern engines: miss one oil change and you could eventually be in for very expensive repairs.

Some European cars feature very long oil change intervals: as high as 25,000 kilometers. I can say from personal experience that oil with that mileage on it is very contaminated and definitely not as effective as it should be. What happens in many engines, when oil is left too long is sludge build up occurs. The sludge will eventually block oil passageways and starve components of lubricant, causing them to wear quickly.

After undertaking intense technical research I have found that there is a huge variance of opinion amongst the experts: some say that changing oil every 10,000 kilometers is just fine while others state that anything over 5,000 kilometers can cause accelerated engine wear. In my own experience, along with the information that I have gathered, there are some engines which can tolerate long oil change intervals and still operate fine: they can in fact handle abuse.

Other engines however cannot tolerate any abuse and will die an early and expensive death.

As cars are always changing, with new engine designs continually being introduced, how does one know which engine can take abuse? You don’t: so unless you want to experiment and perhaps end up spending a great deal of money… it is best to keep oil change intervals at around 5,000km for most cars.

The exception – some with large capacities and synthetic oil can go longer.

Testing and Replacing Your Battery Before it Fails!

Sudden battery failure can be a major inconvenience, leaving you scrambling to get your car started.
It always seems to happen just when you really need to get somewhere!

Fortunately there are ways to prevent it from happening and that is with routine battery testing, which is best done at least once per year.

Five years is usually considered old for a battery, though some do live longer. With proper testing, the state of health of the battery can be determined and if it is poor, you could choose to replace it for two reasons: one: with poor health it is likely to fail soon and prevent your car from starting; two: a weak battery puts a strain on your alternator, the device that recharges your battery while the engine is running.

An alternator can be expensive to replace so maximizing its life will reduce your repair expenses.

Will routine inspections of your battery prevent you from being stranded?

No, batteries can die suddenly and alternators wear out naturally, but overall, by performing routine inspections on these components you will save money and reduce stress.

Let's Discuss Your Vehicle...

In order to provide an estimate, a diagnosis is the next step!