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Protect Yourself from Catalytic Converter Theft

Hi, it's Mark from Top Local, we're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 21 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. How are you doing this morning, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So a bit of a controversial subject these days. Very frustrating for a lot of folks. How do we protect ourselves from catalytic converter theft? What's going on? 

Bernie: There's a lot in the news about catalytic converter theft these days, it seems to be on the rise. And it's been going on for a long, long time. And catalytic converters have always had some value as scrap metal. They're filled with precious metals. And so it's a good way for a thief to make a quick buck by removing a catalytic converter from a car. But the price fluctuates. And a catalytic converter generally have three precious metals, platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Rhodium is extremely valuable at the present time. So catalytic converters are worth a lot more money these days. 

Mark: So are there specific vehicles targeted? 

Bernie: There are. So the vehicles are targeted based on one, on ease of removal. And second, on the value of the catalytic converter. And Toyota Prius's, a lot in the news about Prius's. There's a lot of areas, not around Vancouver that I've heard, but certainly in California, Oregon, a lot in England where people have, this is what I hear in the news, and it's probably a lot of other places, but Prius's seem to be targeted very highly. 

Mark: And why? 

Bernie: The catalytic converter in a Toyota Prius, it’s valuable because it has a lot of precious metals in it. To achieve the low emissions that Toyota sets out to achieve, they pack the converter with a lot of precious metals. The more precious metal that you put in the converter, the better it actually works. You can buy a, you know, in the past you can go to an auto parts store and buy an  aftermarket replacement catalytic converter. I mean they used to have converter there. They still do, you know, it's $100 to buy a converter. Whereas the dealers, you know, a converter may be $1,200. Just giving, you know, round examples. And the Toyota Prius ones are substantially more money than that because of the precious metals. But the cheap hundred dollar converters, they barely have any precious metals in them. They didn't have to just have enough that you'll get you through an emission test. And fail within a year again. So they're not very good. Factory converters, they all have, you know, very high precious metal loading, but Prius's are exceptionally high. 

Mark: So catalytic converter, basically it's taking the pollutants, certain pollutants and those precious metals are actually bonding those pollutants and keeping them inside of the catalytic converter rather than shoving them out this tailpipe. Is that kind of a rough approximation was happening? 

Bernie: Actually, no, it doesn't work that way. And I'll be honest, I'm not, I can't tell you exactly, but what happens is as the exhaust flows past the hydrocarbon NOx and carbon monoxide, or actually converted to CO2 and water, and  that's basically how it works. As these gases pass the metals and the heat, there has to be heat and the reaction, it creates a chemical conversion. So that's basically what happens. So you know, as much as we hate CO2, coming out to the air, catalytic converter actually puts more CO2 out because it's actually taking those harmful pollutants, hydrocarbons, NOx, and carbon monoxide, and converting to the carbon dioxide and water. So, I mean, the water's good, but the CO2 is certainly is not, but you know, higher CO2, it's better combustion. But that's basically how it does it. So, catalytic converters they don't really wear out. I mean, they're supposedly last a lifetime of the vehicle, but they do fail eventually. And usually it's due to the, I mean, sometimes they can get overheated and damaged, but a lot of times the catalyst material just gets coated over by crap, you know, in the exhaust. And eventually it just isn't as efficient. But generally, even an old catalytic converter still has all that precious metal generally stays intact.

Mark: So isn't it difficult to get a catalytic converter out of a car? 

Bernie: Well it is, usually but there are some vehicles that are easier than others. Trucks, for instance, they sit higher, so someone can crawl underneath. Thieves cut these things out. It's easier nowadays because there's so many portable power tools, good battery powered tools. So with the reciprocating saw, you can just get underneath there with a metal blade in a matter of a minute or two, cut the catalytic converter out. So trucks are a good target because they sit high. Prius's of course, don't sit high, but they're highly valuable. So thieves that, there's a video you can watch on YouTube, couple of crafty guys in England pull up beside a Prius. They jack the vehicle up. One guy crawls underneath, I think it's like 90 seconds or something. They pop the vehicle down. They're gone with the catalytic converter probably, you know, make them three to 400 bucks in scrap metal, and that's a pretty good, a pretty good haul. I'm not giving anyone any ideas, you know, it's a pretty, you've got a couple of those a day. You could make a pretty good living till you get caught. 

Mark: Hopefully sooner than later. So how can I prevent my catalytic converter from being stolen? 

Bernie: Well, there's a few items, a few methods. I mean, first of all, if you have a locked, you know, a garage that you can park your car in, preferably in a private residence, that's probably the safest place. But I mean, second would be, you know, if you live in an apartment complex or something, that has shared parking, you know, an underground parking lot would be a good spot. However, people can get in. They do break into those kinds of places. So, you know, it's not a hundred percent safe, but it's better than the alternative.

You know, one, one thing to avoid is dark streets where there's no traffic at night. You know, I, my shop’s in an industrial area and down the road from me, I've had actually a couple of neighbours who've had a catalytic converter stolen off their vehicles because it gets dark down here. There's really no traffic, and it's a perfect place for a thief to do something. So if you're on a busy, busier road was more traffic, that's a good preventative. The other thing of course, is you can make things and there's a protective shields available. 

I'll just share a photo here or two. 

We had a customer come in awhile ago with an old, it was an older Toyota pickup truck, four wheel drive pickup truck had a bit of a lift on it, so this would be an a really easy vehicle to take a catalytic converter out of, but this person had a, I don't know, when had a customized catalytic converter, protective shield put into it. The red arrows kind of point to the shield, which is, I shouldn't say shield. I mean it's all a steel bars, but with a reciprocating saw, even if you did actually manage to reach it and cut the pipe, you'd never be able to sneak it out past this area. So really well thought out item. 

Now, here’s another view of it from the front. Again, with the protective pieces in the way. The one thing about this, it's of course it's a bit of a pain is if you ever have to do any repairs and remove this, you're going to have to cut this piece off and cut it apart to get it out, but it's not something in the course of normal automotive repair that you need to remove this, but there are times when you would, so that would cost you some extra money. But I mean, really a pretty cool creative solution. If you don't want to go this kind of route of customization, there are items available. If you look online there and we'll put some links, for a couple of products. We've never used them, so we can't personally endorse them, but some interesting ideas.

There's a company that makes shields, specifically for Toyota Prius's. I think they're stainless steel and they bolt in underneath the vehicle, which is good. I mean, it's not like a thief couldn't remove them, but any deterrent helps. If you have two Prius's one with the shield one without it, they're going to go with the one without it.

So that's one item. There are some wire cables that, basically clamp up to your exhaust pipe. These are like steel, hardened steel wires. Again, it makes it very difficult for a thief to cut the converter. Again, thieves want to do stuff fast. They want to do it quick, and if they can't do that, then they're going to move on to the next thing.

There's also one that's even more interesting. It's some steel cables attached to the exhaust pipe, they run down the length of the exhaust pipe from the front over the catalytic converter and it comes with an alarm. And you have a fob, you can set it. It's actually not very expensive, surprisingly, but there there's a fob and it has, I think 110 or 120 decibel siren that sounds and is supposed to set up underneath, and of course, blow the thief's ears out while we're in the middle of cutting the converter and scare them away. But it also has some, you know, if they happen to break the siren off or whatever they do, they, it has some protective wires again.

Steel wires that just slow the process down. So that's another one I thought was kind of an interesting idea. Although having the idea of having another fob to, you know, to arm your vehicle for a catalytic converter theft seem a little, it seems a little extreme to me. Like it seems like a lot of work, but I guess if you live in an area where that happens, it might be an option. So those are a few items. As I mentioned, we'll put some notes in in the end. 

Mark: So this is an item that you've had to replace far too many times already. 

Bernie: Yeah. We've done quite a few. It really varies what the price of precious metals. Sometimes when the price goes down, you know, then the level of theft goes down. But you know they talk about you know, it's often talking about the ethics of scrap dealers. I mean, you got a couple of guys walking in, Hey, I got this catalytic converter. I mean, why are they not calling the police or checking credentials? They're supposed to do that kind of thing. For some reason they don't, or people get away with it somehow. We've sold lots of catalytic converters to scrap metal dealers over the years because we don't do that many anymore. But, you know, and when we used to have Air Care, like emission testing in Vancouver, you know, catalytic converter replacement was a pretty common thing we do. You know, we do it occasionally. So we'd have scrap metal dealers coming by buying converters, and some of them, you know, go for a fair chunk of money, but not what they're going for today. Some of them are really high valued. 

Mark: So there you go. If you need to protect yourself, the guys to call in Vancouver, Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. They can only help you in Vancouver. If you're somewhere else, cause we know this, a popular subject worldwide, you can check out the links that we have below in the show notes or on the blog post on the website. Of course, if you're looking for more information on repairing your make or model of car, or for a specific kind of issue that you're having, you can check out the blog posts over 640 on the website. Or on our YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We really appreciate it. Give us a review on Apple iTunes or Spotify and thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you Mark. And just one other thing I want to add in the end. Your car insurance may pay for that, if your converter’s stolen. So just something else to look at. This is know little bonus tip for listening to all our credits at the end of the podcast.

Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft - check out these links for more ideas!
https://www.catstrap.net/
http://www.catclamp.com/
https://capcitymuffler.com/what-is-cat-security%E2%84%A2

When Does It Make Sense To Own A Diesel?

Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Top Local. We're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver and we're talking cars. How are you doing this morning, Bernie?

Bernie: Doing very well.

Mark: So one question that we've encountered quite a bit is basically people buying diesels when it's the wrong vehicle for the use case. So when does it make sense to have a diesel?

Bernie: Well, I think there's a couple of criteria that it makes sense to have a diesel. I'm thinking about some of those wrong things. I've had a number of people in the past who've bought like a... I'm just going to say Ford, I'm not picking on Ford, but they bought some Ford diesels that had been less than reliable. After spending thousands of dollars month after month to fix one thing after another, the thrill and the concept and the idea of having a... I'm going to say a, macho diesel, just wears off really fast and I see them coming back with a Ford F-150 gas powered, something a lot more sensible and what they need. We've also had a number of clients who own European vehicles, Mercedes in particular, where the the engines get carboned up or stuff happens, very expensive repairs and really, a diesel wasn't the right vehicle for them.

So when does it make sense? It makes sense to me for a couple of reasons. If you're going to buy a truck, it makes sense to buy diesel if you're hauling heavy loads frequently that's either in the truck or trailering them. If you're buying a car, it makes sense of you're driving long distances, but not short little start and stop distances. So those are really the main criteria to me of when it makes sense.

Mark: So why is that?

Bernie: Well, diesels need to warm up. They need to run hot and they take a while to warm up even with modern technology and they try to warm it up faster, a diesel takes a long time to warm up. Generally, the mass of a diesel engine, the actual engine block, is much more robust than it is on a gasoline engine because compression in a diesel is very high. The engine has to, it's a combustion, sorry... A compression ignition engine. So it has to compress the fuel, which will then explode at a certain pressure and temperature, but that requires a much more robust built engine. They're heavier, they're bigger and so they require a lot more energy to warm up.

When they're not warmed up, with modern emission controls on vehicles, which are required and they make a big difference in terms of the air that we breathe and the quality of the diesel engine, you can hear it from 10 blocks away and it's much more pleasant to drive because you actually really can't hear the engine rattling away. With all those items in place, it sends a lot of soot and particles back through the engine, they recirculate and things tend to plug up unless the engine's really hot. Then it tends to work really well. Also, a lot of modern emission equipment, like particulate filters require the engine to reach a certain temperature and highway driving is good for them because that tends to burn off the particles.

Mark: So the filters actually heat up and disperse the particles, burn them, and then re-burn them again so that they're coming out of the tailpipe more clean.

Bernie: Exactly. Exactly. They call it a filter. It's not really a filter. It's more like a storage. It's like a storage trap and then things are burned off at a later time.

Mark: One of the things that people do, I know for a fact, is take off all the emission equipment. Does that solve the problem?

Bernie: Well, it certainly solves a problem, a lot of problems in terms of carbon buildup and things plugging. It solves it for you personally, but it doesn't really solve it for the general public. Diesel soot is a known carcinogen. It's very bad. They're very tiny little particles that get in the lungs. A lot of people die from it. They don't drop dead. It's not like having been shot by a gun, you're not going to die instantly. It's a slow process, but it's a big thing. As annoying as a lot of these things are, and I can see why people remove them because the solution of not having it makes a big difference.

There's a lot of diesel trucks that used to get fantastic fuel economy. They put the emission equipment on, the fuel economy drops by 30% or 40%, you remove it, you're back way up to having an economical vehicle. But really, what makes our air in our cities good to breathe is all these emission equipment, even on gasoline engines. I always think that whenever I see an old car drive by and I can smell the stench of the exhaust, I go, "Man, I can't believe when I grew up that all cars were like that." We've done a fantastic job in terms of making gasoline powered cars really, really clean, still lots of CO2, but that doesn't smell and stink and cause at least the ground level pollution that we're used to.

It does make a big difference. Things can be removed, but it's better not to. My whole idea with this podcast is consider before you buy a diesel. Do you really need one? Because they do cost an awful lot more money to fix too. I often think all the money you save on fuel, you're just going to end up spending in ours or someone else's repair shop fixing things. So it's an important thing to look at. Consider is this the right vehicle for you because for some people, a diesel absolutely makes a lot of sense.

Mark: I guess there's a couple of other issues there. Diesel particulate in terms of it's detriment to human health is measured in parts per billion, which is incredibly small. Something over 20 parts per billion. Anything over that is detrimental to human health and there's tons of research on this now. There's literally diesel engine's soot is accounting for millions of deaths worldwide every year. This is not speculation. This is a fact. They can show it when cities like London, for instance, banned diesels from the downtown area, their air quality goes up pretty drastically, but it's also illegal isn't it? If you take that stuff off it is.

Bernie: It is. Yeah. It is illegal to do it, whether you're going to have a cop knocking on your door, probably not. Lots of people do it and I don't. We live in Vancouver, Canada, so they're not so many stringent standards. I don't know. I know California, you actually have to have your vehicle emission tested. Around here, you don't. We used to have it. We got rid of it. The air still seems pretty clean, but you can be a lot looser with your standards around here now. Honestly, does it really matter if you live out in some small town or in the middle of nowhere and your diesel puts out some particular? Not really, but every tight thing where you get more concentrated and lots more trucks and people around, it makes a huge difference really fast.

Mark: So there you go. If you're going to buy a diesel, what's your use case? Are you hauling a lot of heavy loads? Are you traveling long distances? A hundred kilometres, 150 kilometres kind of round trip every day, then maybe a diesel makes sense. Other than that, driving around town in your big 4x4 and not ever using it to haul stuff, probably not the best use case. It's costing you a lot of money. Is that a fair assessment?

Bernie: Absolutely. One thing, we actually didn't delve into too much there was car. We did just touch on it briefly, but I think a lot of salespeople do a disservice to their customers by selling them a diesel vehicle when they're really, again, they should be asking, "How much driving you do at this vehicle." This is something you've got to ask yourself if you're going to buy a diesel car or a SUV, I'm thinking like a Mercedes type of thing. There's a lot of ML320s and 350 diesels around. There's just a lot of them in our area. So many people don't buy them for what they need them for. They really should be buying the gasoline version. I think the salespeople really do a disservice by not asking, "What's your usage?" They're just, "Oh yeah, we've got this diesel. It's got great fuel economy," and people just buy it. Then a few years later, the engine's toast or things are plugged up and they're spending thousands of dollars to fix things they wouldn't have had to do. So just something to look at.

Mark: It's not an around town vehicle unless you're hauling stuff basically.

Bernie: Exactly, exactly.

Mark: Go electric. Anyways-

Bernie: Yeah, that's becoming an option if you just need short commutes, electric might be a-

Mark: Far better option.

Bernie: Yeah.

Mark: So there you go. Pawlik Automotive. If you want honest truth about your vehicle and what kind of vehicle to buy, maybe give Bernie a call: (604) 327-7112. He's looking dismayed. I've just offered free advice, but he will. They're friendly. They'll help you out. Quick conversation will ease your mind about buying the right car. Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them, again at: (604) 327-7112. Again, that's for booking appointments. They're busy. You got to call and book ahead. They're 21 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver and PawlikAutomotive.com is the website. Check out lots of articles and videos on there about all makes and models of vehicles and repairs of them all. And of course, thanks so much for watching and listening. We appreciate it. Click the subscribe button on your favourite podcast app. We appreciate it and thanks, Bernie.

Bernie: Thanks, Mark. And thanks for watching. We really appreciate it.

Pawlik Automotive on Premium Fuel

Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert here, producer of the Pawlik Automotive Podcast. We're here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik and we're talking cars, or in this case, fuel. How're you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So, on this fine Vancouver morning where we're looking at fuel prices of over $1.50 a litre, for those in America, what is that? We're at six bucks gallon. Yee-hah. Should I use premium fuel? 

Bernie: Very good question. The one simple answer is if your car requires it, then use it. Otherwise, you've got a lot of options. 

Mark: So what's the difference between premium and regular, or even mid-grade fuel? 

Bernie: The main difference between the fuels is the octane in the fuel. The purpose of the octane is to reduce engine knock and engine knock, if you're not familiar with it, if you've ever been in a vehicle with a knocking engine, basically when you accelerate, there's this knocking, kind of rattling sound that occurs inside your engine. It's very serious. If it just does it a tiny bit, not a big deal, but it can if it's severe, it can actually crack the pistons in the engines, which is extremely expensive. It'll destroy the engine. So having.. Preventing knocking is critical. There's a lot of things vehicle engines do to prevent knocking besides the fuel, but the primary reason to use premium is for anti-knock. 

Mark: What could happen, I guess, you've already talked about it really, what could happen? Are there any other issues that could happen if I use, or don't use premium when I should be using it? 

Bernie: Yeah. Really, the main issue is the engine knocking. Basically, it can break the pistons if it's severe enough. That's really the only thing that's critical about using premium fuel. 

Mark: Yeah, so basically it's going to wear your engine out a lot sooner because it's knocking. You might not notice it all that much other than the weird sound but your vehicle isn't going to last as long. 

Bernie: Exactly, precisely. That's exactly right. The good news is you can hear it so you'll hear if you're actually doing the wrong thing, which is great. 

Mark: Maybe we just define what engine knocking is. 

Bernie: Define it? 

Mark: Yeah. 

Bernie: What it actually is physically is it, with the way an engine works is that there's a compression stroke and the piston moves up. It's got fuel and air in the mixture. It compresses it. When it's at the right optimum time, the spark plug is supposed to fire that, explode the mixture, and the piston flies down. That's what gives you power in an internal combustion engine. An engine knock, what occurs is that as the fuels being compressed, the actual fuel will explode before the spark plug fires. So what will happen is it'll explode, then the spark plug fires. There'll be two flame fronts that knocks everything around in the engine in a way that it's not supposed to. And interestingly enough, as I'm saying this, if you notice a diesel engine makes a loud and rattle, well that's what a diesel-- It's a compression combustion engine. That's why diesel engine makes a loud-- Makes such loud noises. You don't want your gasoline engine to ever sound like diesel. That's kind of-- If it sounds like a diesel you've got a severe knock and pinging problem. 

Mark: That's causing a lot of stress on the bearings and the crank shaft and all sorts of things, valves et cetera. 

Bernie: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. Severe stress’s inside the engine. 

Mark: Don't some people use premium fuel just because they think it's better for their car? 

Bernie: Yeah. There's a lot of people. I think there's probably less now-a-days with the high price of fuel, but in the past there was people who would think, "Yeah, I want to do something good for my car." Maybe these are more the car enthusiasts type people, but I want to do something good for my car, I'm going to put the best grade of gas in. There's really no advantage to doing that. I mean the only real difference is the octane compound. There was a time when, I think, premium they used some better fuel cleaners and stuff in the fuel. But, now-a-days if you go to a name brand gas station and you but their regular, it has the same level of detergents and cleaners in it as the premium. The only difference is the octane. There's really no-- You're really not doing your car any sort of favour by going up to premium. 

Mark: Again, we've covered some of these questions. Using premium in my car that's not designed for premium, or doesn't need premium is no benefit? 

Bernie: Not really, I will say that there was a recent study, and you can look at it, find it on the Internet. It's by American Auto Association. They did a very thorough study. They took several vehicles and they did some extremely rigorous testing using premium and regular fuel to see what the differences were. There were some. Some vehicles benefited. There was a bit of improvement in gas mileage. Some had little bit of a power improvement. Some lost power. But mostly, I mean for the most part, there was a slight benefit with premium, but when you add the cost, which is actually substantially higher in Canada than it is in the US, the differential, price differential. It really, when I looked at it, it isn't worth it unless the vehicle requires it. I guess I should say what vehicles require premium. Well, if you-- I'll just show you, just do a real quick picture here. This is a German car, performance vehicle. You pop the gas cap. It says premium fuel only. These are the king of things where you really, you don't want to be using regular. Any vehicle that has a super charged engine, you definitely want to be using premium. Just the way these engines deliver so much power and so much speed and one knock could blow everything up. You really don't want to compromise anything in that area.  Same with a lot of turbo charge engines. But a lot of-- A lot of engines are tuned to use either one so it's really important to know what the manufacturer recommends and go from there. 

Mark: Is there any other things? Is it just the engine speed or increased pressure from either the turbo super charger, are those the main reasons why you need to have a premium fuel? 

Bernie: Exactly. I mean it's just with in an engine that fills its own-- With a super charger or turbo charger, you're basically filling the cylinder with a pressurized air. It just creates a much more explosive, for lack of an easier word, a much more explosive mixture. That's what gives it so much extra power and efficiency as well. Yeah, that's where you need more octane to prevent that because again, the temperatures inside the cylinder get higher. That's where it can create the knock, a pre-combustion issue. 

Mark: Sure. We've covered a lot of ground. Can you kind of summarize everything here?

 Bernie: Yeah, so I'd summarize. If the vehicle absolutely requires premium, if you have a really high performance vehicle, use premium fuel. Otherwise, what I would recommend you do is see what the owner's manual recommends. Then you can try, if it says recommended premium fuel, because a lot of vehicles say recommended but it's not required. Try using mid-grade or regular. 

Here's how you do it. Basically, you put in a tank of regular, you drive the vehicle. Make sure you don't hear any knocking and pings, sound like-- Your engine doesn't sound like a diesel engine when you accelerate. If you don't hear that and the performance feels good otherwise, just go with regular. It's fine. If you hear a bit of a knock and ping, go up to mid-grade, try that, see how that works. If you still hear a rattle, then go with-- Then you'll need to stay with premium. But that's an experiment you can do. It's good to buy gas at a place-- There's a rating of gas called top tier. You'll find it at a lot of service stations, again, better name brands stations. There are certain additives and detergents that help clean your combustion chambers and fuel injectors. These are recommended by a lot of the major manufacturers as being the best fuel. Use a top tier fuel of any sort. Then just use whatever you can, I'd say, "Get away with." That'll be your most economical way to drive. 

Mark: So there you go. If you're looking for service, maintenance or you've got a problem with your vehicle in Vancouver, the guy to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. Book ahead, they're busy or check out their website, PawlikAutomotive.com. We also have a YouTube channel, Pawlik Auto Repair, where there's hundreds of videos on there and our new Podcast. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks, Mark.

Expensive Clutch Replacement Is Now Common

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.

New Dual mass flywheel, The springs and hardware in the center are part of the dual amss system.

New Dual mass flywheel, The springs and hardware in the center are part of the dual mass system.

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.

Are European Cars More Expensive To Repair?

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.

Valve train on Cummins Diesel. The wooden “pushrods” are a tool to hold up the tappets while the camshaft is removed. Another thoughtful repair procedure courtesy of Cummins.

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: some Japanese cars also feature very pricey repairs. Also 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!

Buying The Right Vehicle Can Save You A Fortune

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).

1997 Toyota 4Runner Limited: Rugged, Luxurious & Durable

1997 Toyota 4Runner Limited: Rugged, Luxurious & Durable

BMW X5. Luxurious, Impressive, Problematic & Expensive

BMW X5. Luxurious, Impressive, Problematic & Expensive

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.

Is Premium Gas Worth The Extra Cost?

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.

Premium fuel (91 octane) at 14 cents more per liter is usually not worth the extra cost over regular fuel (87 octane).


Are Electric Cars All They Are Cracked Up To Be?

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!

Electric wheel motor unit as found on a Brabus Mercedes sedan. This vehicle has 4 of these motors, one on each wheel creating a whopping 2100 ft/lbs of torque. This is the future of the performance electric car market. This particularly vehicle as yet has no price tag and is largely experimental but the technology will be with us sooner than we think.

Why Change an Expensive Assembly When a Few Bearings Will Solve the Concern

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.

The inner moving components of the angle gear unit. The arrow points to the worn pinion bearing. The angle gear unit is a very simple mechanical device: these are the only moving parts.

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.

Why You Should Fix Your Misfiring Engine Immediately

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.

Broken pieces of the front catalytic converter substrate, some of which were found inside the rear catalytic converter. Note that some of these pieces at the top are melted.

EGR valve that blew apart from excessive exhaust system backpressure.

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