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2008 Chevy HHR, Engine Replacement

Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local; we’re here with Bernie Pawlik of Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver BC. Vancouver’s favourite auto service experience, 16 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver so far as voted by their customers. How’re you doing Bernie?

Bernie: I’m doing very well this morning.

Mark: So we’re going to talk about a Chevy HHR, a real bit of an uncommon vehicle, this is a 2008; you did an engine replacement on, what was happening with this vehicle.

Bernie: Well this vehicle came to us, the owner of the vehicle experienced some engine issues. It wasn’t running well, the check engine light was on and it was running very poorly, quite roughly. Taken it to a GM dealer for a diagnosis and they told him the his engine needed to be replaced so he came to us for a second opinion on that.

Mark: So what did you find wrong with the engine?

Bernie: Well we found that the engine did in fact need to be replaced. There was no compression in number three cylinder and number four was a little on the weak side and also when you take the oil cap off there’s a lot of blow back, there’s a lot of pressure in the crankcase which, which would indicate something perhaps more serious than just, you can have low compressions from often it’s a bad valve but if you have like a lot of crankcase pressures it can be you know, perhaps it’s got a cracked piston or piston rings so, so the engine itself is definitely in very bad shape.

Mark: So what did you end up doing to repair the motor?

Bernie: So we put a used engine in the vehicle that was the most cost-effective repair to do on the vehicle, we removed the old engine and put a used engine in.

Mark: So how does a used engine compare with a new one?

Bernie: Well, cost is a huge factor I mean, you get this HHR, it’s not worth a huge amount of money at this point, it’s a nine year old, an almost ten year old vehicle, it’s a GM, it’s not, 150,000 kilometers, not worth a huge amount of money so a rebuilt, a rebuilt engine you know would probably cost somewhere around the $4,000 range just for the engine itself. We were able to get a used engine for about $1,200, low mileage, 70,000 kilometers so much more economical. The labour is pretty much the same to put a rebuilt or a used engine in but you know, used engine is certainly much lower price. Now a used engine is used so you know, there is a risk that we don’t know how it’s maintained so you’re buying something, there’s a definite risk to it, the warranty’s much shorter, usually a rebuilt engine is one to two years sometimes more on warranty, a used engine 90 days, so there’s a bit of a risk. We do lots of them and they tend to work out pretty well. Got a few pictures to share, while we’re at it, here’s our HHR engine, and actually I’m showing these out of sequence, but this is actually a back view, when you do an engine change in this vehicle you, you drop the engine and transmission assembly, it’s all held in and it’s called the cradle, it’s the front cross member, they built, they put everything together at the factory on this cross member and we basically when we do the engine job we just lower the whole cradle down with the engine and transmission and this is a view of the steering rack and this particular item here, I’m just pointing out, this is the steering shaft; what’s interesting about this vehicle, it has electric power steering which is a technology that’s pretty common for vehicles built in the last 10 years, some cars have it some don’t but it’s nice because there’s no hydraulic system, there’s no power steering hoses, there’s no power steering pumps, there’s a lot less, makes the job a little easier to do, a little less involved. There’s a larger view of the engine on, on the, this is actually a back view of the engine on the cradle still, this is the exhaust manifold we got the valve covers here, the transmission sits over in this area and then last photo to show you will be a front view of the engine, there we go, there’s a, there’s a front view of the engine sitting on the cradle again and there’s a number of accessories, things like the alternator that needed to be removed, transferred over but that’s, that’s generally what it all looks like on the . . . I think I close that, I think I’m back. So I can’t remember where we were for questions.

Mark: So what was the vehicle owner’s history with the car?

Bernie: Well that’s a good question, interesting question. He had actually just bought this vehicle and this could lead into a whole new hangout, but I’ve often said if you’re going to buy a vehicle, have it inspected because you never know what’s wrong with it and I asked what happened with it and he said well, we bought it and it had the check engine light on so obviously the price was probably a little cheaper, he said I figured it probably just needed some spark plugs. An expensive, expensive lesson in having a vehicle checked out beforehand because never make the assumption, I would always assume it needs the worst thing, if it’s something simpler the better but if you don’t really know get the vehicle inspected, I mean save money. I don’t want to talk about the bill for this job but you know, so there’s a lot of labour to put an engine in and also the catalytic converter was also damaged too because the engine had been running roughly for so long it damaged the catalytic converter so, you know a lot of expenses.

Mark: So how are HHR’s for reliability?

Bernie: I’d say they’re fair, and I won’t say fair, we don’t service a lot of them because they’re not the most common vehicle but this engine by the way is out of, came out of a Chevy Cobalt, so the drivetrain is very similar to a lot of other GM vehicles. They’re fairly reliable, not a lot goes wrong with them but you know, when you got a HHR was only a few years old with the actually exhaust, the exhaust pipe was cracked and leaking and needed to be replaced and just things like that strike me as not great quality but you know I’d say they’re sort of below average but not bad vehicles.

Mark: Inexpensive possibly.

Bernie: Sorry?

Mark: A little bit on the more inexpensive side?

Bernie: Yeah I would say, yeah. I mean, generally vehicles, American vehicles have always traditionally depreciated more than Japanese vehicles. I compare your Japanese, I mean European vehicles are more luxurious, they often start at a higher price, many of them depreciate very quickly as well but some of the Japanese for depreciation are the least, and American vehicles are definitely pretty high so you can get good deals on them. Just make sure if you’re buying a used one that it’s running right, have it inspected, and see if it’s worth the money.

Mark: So there you go, if you’re looking to get a new vehicle, a new used vehicle, a pre-owned vehicle then the guys to bring your vehicle in to see are Pawlik Automotive, they’ll give you a good idea whether it’s a useful buy or not or if you just need service on your vehicle, your check engine lights on, get it into somewhere so they can take a look at it, it’s not something to be driving around with it on all the time. Bernie Pawlik at Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them at 604-327-7112 or check out their website Thanks Bernie.

Bernie: Thanks Mark.

1997 Chevy Van – Complex Diagnosis

Chevy Van
Chevy Van

1997 Chevy Van

Today’s featured service was performed on a hardworking 97 Chevy Van with 260,000 kilometers. The vehicle serves as a carpet cleaning van, and consequently has a lot of engine run time due to operate the large carpet cleaning machine. Several driveability concerns were present with this van requiring two stages of diagnosis to return the vehicle to a good state of repair.

I consider this to be a complex diagnosis: complex because it takes the repair of one thing to reveal other underlying issues. Complex diagnosis is fairly rare and occurs about 5% of the time, but it happens almost exclusively with neglected vehicles. Our featured van was one such example, but not the fault of the current owners for they had just purchased the vehicle.

Let’s look at our featured Chevy van: as I mentioned this vehicle was recently purchased and while out driving to a job it lost power and wouldn’t climb hills well. They were able to drive it to the shop and we proceeded to perform diagnosis. On our road test it seemed likely that the lack of power might be due to the engine being starved for fuel. We connected a fuel pressure gauge and verified that the pressure was below spec. We also noted that the fuel pump volume was very low: the engine was starving for fuel and we traced this to a worn out fuel pump.

The pump was replaced and while at it we also replaced the fuel filter. This was found to be partially plugged. Here was the first sign of neglected maintenance. The pump failure was more than acceptable given the age and mileage of the vehicle however had the filter been changed sooner the pump may have lived a longer life.

After pump replacement the engine started right up and driving it was a treat: there was lots of power. The next day however the engine wouldn’t initially start but eventually did, and it appeared flooded. We assumed that perhaps the engine computer was injecting too much fuel with the pump now working properly. Engine computers adapt to different conditions and sometimes take a few days of driving to readjust.

Chevy Van

Modern gasoline fuel injection system diagram. Note the numerous sensors and components. All of these and potential failure items.

Going forward a couple of days the van had starting problems and we towed it back to our shop to rediagnose it. Our first test was to verify that our new fuel pump was not the problem and it was not: fuel pressure was good. Unfortunately the van started up after being towed to our shop so we had to drive it for a couple of days and let it sit until the symptom reoccurred. This added another level of complexity to the diagnosis: when a concern is intermittent we need to test the vehicle when the problem is occurring to be sure that we find the cause.

When the no start finally reoccurred we were able to trace the problem to worn out spark plugs and spark plug wires. Under certain conditions the spark plugs were not able to ignite the fuel. During the spark plug replacement we found the spark plugs to be an old design of Bosch Platinum spark plugs that were problematic. The plugs and wires were again an example of poor maintenance.

After this two part diagnosis and repair the van runs great, and I’d like to leave you with a two important points:

1- Most vehicle diagnosis is a straight forward procedure if you address it quickly after the concerns start. It is often more complex when left and the vehicle is neglected. Performing routine maintenance: replacing fuel filters & spark plugs at the recommended interval is critical and will increase vehicle reliability and reduce diagnostic costs. When buying a used vehicle there may be repairs involved to deal with the previous owner’s neglect. This is often found in a prepurchase inspection.

2- With a diagnosis like this it is very important to trust the shop that you are dealing with and be sure they are trust worthy. If you don’t understand why you have to do multiple repairs be sure they are able to explain what is happening. A car or truck is a very complex machine and many things can and do go wrong: sometimes simultaneously and at other times in rapid succession. Some problems, once repaired will reveal other underlying issues.

For more information about the Chevy Van click here

For more information about engine management systems click here

2003 Chevrolet Impala – Heater Core Replacement

Heater Core

Today’s featured repair is heater core replacement on a 2003 Chevrolet Impala, brought to us by a client from UBC, Vancouver.

Heater Core

2003 Chevrolet Impala

The heater core is a mini radiator that sits inside the heater box, under the dash of your car. It uses heat from the engine’s cooling system to warm your vehicle’s cabin. Failures of heater cores happen in two ways: first and most common is leakage; second is blockage of flow resulting in little or no heat.

When heater cores leak they normally soak the floor and carpet with engine coolant. You will also likely see steam on your windshield when you turn on the defroster and a strong odor of engine coolant will be present.

This is precisely what happened to our featured Chevrolet Impala. But there was more: the engine coolant in this car was in very poor condition and contained a lot of rust. Rust occurs from poor cooling system maintenance and/or using a weak antifreeze mixture with too much water. Part of our service on this vehicle was to do a thorough cooling system flush.

The sad thing is that once you have this amount of rust it is impossible to completely remove it without completely dismantling and cleaning the engine, replacing the radiator and heater core, and all the cooling system hoses and pipes. That is a horrifically expensive proposition so the vehicle owner will have to deal with a slightly compromised cooling system.

Heater Core

Heater Core removed from 2003 Chevrolet Impala. Note the very rusty coolant that was inside the core. This will be present in the rest of the cooling system.

We proceeded to replace the heater core and vacuumed and washed the coolant from the carpets. We flushed the cooling system and refilled it with fresh new antifreeze. Proper heat was restored and the cooling system will survive to keep the engine cool.

Heater core failure is not too common of a repair these days. It seems that American made cars have always suffered from more frequent failures; many Japanese and European cars will never experience a leaking heater core. The cost of the heater core is usually inexpensive but the labour on many vehicles car be very costly. Though it’s no guaranty, the best way to prevent heater core failure is with proper cooling system maintenance.

For more about the Chevrolet Impala click here

For more about heater cores click here



2003 Chevrolet Impala – ABS Wiring Harness Replacement

Chevrolet Impala

Our latest featured post delves into an ABS Wiring Harness Replacement on a 2003 Chevrolet Impala, brought to us by a client from UBC, Vancouver.

Chevrolet Impala

2003 Chevrolet Impala. A full size GM car that first came into production in 1958.

ABS brakes have been pretty much standard equipment for a decade. While there has been some argument over whether they are truly effective and offer better better braking than a seasoned, skilled driver, the fact that they are found on almost all cars and especially on all high end cars indicates that they are a worthwhile safety feature.

Sophisticated electronics make ABS brake operation possible. There are sensors at each wheel informing the ABS computer of each wheel’s exact speed. From this data the computer can adjust the vehicle’s braking in fractions of a second.

Obviously inaccurate data creates problems. The ABS computer also monitors the sensor’s circuit voltages and resistances and if something is out of range, it will switch on a dash warning light and usually shut down ABS brake operation. This doesn’t mean that your brakes won’t work: they will operate just like normal non-ABS brakes.

Our featured Chevrolet Impala came to us with some strange brake operation at low speed stops and the ABS  and TRAC warning lights on intermittently. Diagnosis found a trouble code for the right front wheel speed sensor. The sensor had been replaced recently at another shop but this had not solved the concern. We tested the sensor with a lab scope and verified that it was good.

Looking further at the wiring we found that the wiring harness to the sensor had been repaired with a butt splice connector. Butt splice connectors usually make a very poor wiring repair and one that can lead to many problems. They are ill-suited for repairs on sensitive electronic circuits. Good wiring and proper connections are essential to flawless ABS operation. This was the cause of our client’s concern. Fortunately a replacement wiring harness to the right front wheel speed sensor was readily available. After repairs the light stayed out and the brakes worked flawlessly.

For more about the Chevrolet Impala please view this link

For more about ABS brakes click here

Chevrolet Impala

Damaged ABS wiring harness. The red arrow points to the butt splice connector. The blue arrow point to the plastic sheathing over the wires, this was cut back for the repair. The plastic was also very hard and would not allow flexibility. This may have caused the wires to break in other places.




2001 Chevrolet Corvette – Oil Pan Gasket Replacement

Chevrolet Corvette

Wednesday’s featured service is oil pan gasket replacement on a 2001 Chevrolet Corvette, brought to us by a client from Marpole, Vancouver.

Chevrolet Corvette

2001 Chevrolet Corvette. Oil leak and lower oil pan

Oil leak repairs are a frequent service at our shop. Engines are especially prone to leaks from their many seals and gaskets. In all fairness, gasket and seal technology has improved incredibly over the years with most manufacturers having relatively leak free engines. However all good things must come to an end and sooner or later all gaskets and seals will fail; they just last longer than they used to. On the downside, engines are much more complex than they once were and this often makes seal and gasket replacement an expensive repair.

Our featured 2001 Chevrolet Corvette had under 100,000 kilometers which is relatively low mileage. At this time only the oil pan gaskets were leaking. After doing a diagnosis we found most of the leak, about 80%, coming from the lower oil pan gasket. This is a relatively easy and low cost fix. The upper oil pan gasket was leaking enough that it also warranted replacement: a much more complex and expensive repair.

Occasionally we find something interesting in the course of our services and what we found on the Corvette’s upper oil pan qualified as such. There was a crack in the pan’s gasket surfaced caused by a bolt that had been installed incorrectly. The bolt attaches the transmission cooler lines to the oil pan and a previous technician had installed too long of a bolt which cracked the pan’s surface. Fortunately we were able to repair the crack for no extra cost to our client.

Removing and reinstalling the upper oil pan involves first removing the front suspension cross member and supporting the engine in place.

The Corvette seems an anomaly for the Chevrolet line. While most Chevy cars are low to mid end cars the Corvette stands out as a unique high performance sports car. It has obviously worked well for GM as the car has been offered and sought after since it’s introduction in 1953.

For more on the Chevrolet Corvette please view this link

For more about the engines found in Corvettes and other GM vehicle view this link

Chevrolet Corvette

Damaged surface of upper oil pan, caused by installing too long of a bolt into pan

Chevrolet Corvette

Oil pan surface after cold weld repair




2002 Chevy Cavalier – Fuel Pump Replacement

Chevy Cavalier

Wednesday’s featured post is Fuel Pump Replacement on a 2002 Chevy Cavalier, brought to us by a client from Burnaby, BC.

Chevy Cavalier

2002 Chevy Cavalier

The Chevy Cavalier was for many years the top selling GM car; and for around 12 grand it was a pretty decent car. For that price, though, the Cavalier was basic transportation.

Early Chevy Cavalier engines were prone to blown head gaskets however they rectified this concern on later models.

Our featured Cavalier was towed to our shop with a no-start condition. After diagnosis we determined that the fuel pump had failed (this was our second fuel pump replacement this week, the other being on a Dodge Ram truck).

As is the norm in 2000 and newer vehicles, the fuel pump is part of the fuel tank module: a unit which simply slips in and out of the gas tank (once the tank is removed from the vehicle). The module contains the fuel pump, the pressure regulator, fuel gauge sending unit and on some models, a tank pressure sensor and the fuel filter.

With the pump replaced the Cavalier roared to life and ran great. The new pump should last for another 10 or more years. At one time GM products had very poor quality fuel pumps but this is no longer the case.

For most vehicles you can expect to get 200,000 kilometers out of your fuel pump, however some die sooner but many will last twice that distance.

For more information about the Chevy Cavalier click this link

For more about fuel pumps, mechanical and electric check out this link

Chevy Cavalier

Fuel tank module: fuel lines to engine run from the top of unit to the edge of the picture; the fuel pump is inside the plastic housing on the bottom; the black piece on the bottom is the fuel gauge sending unit float

2006 Chevrolet Uplander – M2 Maintenance Service

Chevrolet Uplander

Tuesday’s featured post is a M2 Maintenance Service performed on a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander, and brought to us by a client from Bridgeport, Richmond.

Chevrolet Uplander

2006 Chevrolet Uplander

Our Chevrolet Uplander, like all vehicles, requires maintenance to keep it reliable. At Pawlik Automotive our M2 Maintenance Service consists of a lube, oil and filter service along with a comprehensive inspection.

The comprehensive inspection includes: a lengthy road test to evaluate the vehicle’s operation; a thorough underhood visual inspection plus a cooling system pressure test and a battery and charging system test; a complete under vehicle inspection of steering, suspension and drivetrain components along with a detailed brake inspection. Tires are rotated if required. Door, hood and trunk latches, hinges and locks are lubricated.

The beauty of this inspection is the information gathered helps assess the condition of the vehicle and allows the vehicle owner to make plans on appropriate services needed now and in the future.

How often should this service be done? Every second to third oil change or every twelve to eighteen months.

The comprehensive inspection alone is a great tool to evaluate the condition of any vehicle and help you make decisions about the vehicle if you’re sitting on the fence.

Our Chevrolet Uplander was in very good condition. The owner takes very good care of this vehicle and it shows. I would also say that GM has improved this vehicle greatly from preceding models. The Uplander is the replacement vehicle for the Chevrolet Venture which was a very problematic vehicle. We had a client who brought a Venture to us at 50,000 kilometers needing $4000.00 worth of repairs. By the time they hit 100,000 kilometers the same $4000.00 in repairs were needed again. That was not a well built vehicle. This Uplander, at 90,000 kilometers has needed none of that work.

For more about the Chevrolet Uplander click here

Here’s a review on the Chevrolet Uplander

Chevrolet Uplander

Engine compartment of 2006 Uplander, featuring a 3.5 liter V6 engine.


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