Smart Car - Pawlik Automotive Repair, Vancouver BC

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2014 Electric Smart Car Maintenance Service and Brake Repair

Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert, producer of The Pawlik Automotive Podcast and video series, and of course, we're here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, 38 years servicing and repairing, maintaining cars in Vancouver, BC, Canada. And 20 time winner Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. How are you this morning Bernie?

Bernie: Doing very well. I was smiling when you mentioned the 20 year Best of Vancouver. It puts a smile on my face.

Mark: So today's victim is a 2014 Smart Car, which is an electric. It had a maintenance service. What was going on with this vehicle.

Bernie: So this vehicle came to us. It was due for maintenance service an also the owner had a complaint that the air conditioning wasn't working on the vehicle.

Mark: As an electric car what sort of regular service might this car require?

Bernie: Well there's not a lot. Obviously an electric car there's no oil to change. It does have a cooling system, but that requires very little service. And really, I mean there's a cabin air filter, brake fluid the flush once in a while. But the key part of a service once a car gets on a little bit in years is to inspect it and really on an annual basis. It's important to look over the vehicle on an annual basis. You never really know what's going on underneath the car unless there's a puddle of fluid of some sort or something's creaking for grinding. Of course that's the time to definitely have service. But on an annual basis have vehicle inspected. That's kind of the key part of our maintenance service on these vehicles.

Mark: So did you find any repairs that needed to be done?

Bernie: Yeah, so we actually found some issues with the brakes. And these are actually kind of applicable to all electric and hybrid vehicles. But yes, the front brake pads were basically seized in the, where the pads slide in the caliper bracket, they were basically seized up. The rear wheel cylinders were leaking some fluid. So there was some service and repairs required.

Mark: So don't brakes just last forever on electric and hybrid cars due to regenerative braking systems?

Bernie: Well yeah, I mean that's kind of the impression that we're led to believe. And the truth is they do. The actual usage of the brakes is far less than in an internal combustion engine car. Especially an internal combustion car with an automatic. I mean traditionally cars with standards with brakes have lasted substantially longer. Sometimes twice as long as cars with automatics. So we're kind of used to that kind of high wear of brakes. But with a hybrid or an electric vehicle there's regenerative braking. And that is basically the electric motor is used to actually slow the vehicle down. And actually in some hybrids, they actually switch the gasoline motor on to slow the vehicle down too, which is an interesting bit of technology. But anyways, this is a pure electric vehicle so the electric motor will do that.

But one thing that it doesn't prevent is corrosion from road salt and rain and the elements that basically attack brake systems as they do on any vehicle. So what happens is over time rust will build up on the caliper slider pads or the caliper slider pins will start to seize up and they need to be serviced. So doing a routine brake service on a vehicle like this, on a hybrid or a pure electric vehicle, is really critical to actually maximize the life of the brake pads. And in the case of this vehicle, the rear wheel cylinders were also leaking. This is kind of unique. It has drum brakes on the back. The brake shoes, by the way, look like brand new, but the wheel cylinders were leaking some fluid, so they need to be replaced.

Why don't we have a look at a couple of pictures here. Yeah, so there's a nice, cute little electric Smart Car. I'll just look at a few other pictures. Sometimes I take a few pictures for the sake of interest, but some cute little badging on this vehicle. You can tell it's an electric car.

I'm going to get right into the brakes. And unfortunately this, of all the pictures I took that should be clean and sharp this is not a very good picture. And I didn't realize until I edited it this morning. But you can kind of see enough information with this picture. Our technician, Chris, is holding the, is holding the brake caliper bracket with the brake pad basically seized in place. And you can see a lot of rust here. This is really where a lot of the problem was with this vehicle. You can see a lot of rust. This should be basically rust free metal and when we do the service we have a sandblaster. We actually sandblast all the rust off of this and lubricate it with a special brake pad lubricant so the brake pad moves freely. In the case of this vehicle because the pads have worn unevenly, you can see it still has a fair bit of meat on this pad, a lot of pad material. But the others were worn quite a bit more and there was a lot of rust developing on the calipers because they weren't contacting properly. Sorry, on the brake rotors. So we did new pads and rotors on the front and then completely serviced this area.

Also again, way out of focus, but this is a caliper slider pin and there's a, there's some lubricant inside here and we take that apart, clean and lubricate that as well. And this is an area where some moisture gets in. It will rust and cause it to seize. Again, if you leave it long enough it will actually, you'll need to replace the whole caliper. So, that'll cost you a little more money.

Just looking at a few more photos here. We can have a look at some of the electric drivetrain on the vehicle. So this is an under view of a, of the engine where the gasoline or the diesel engine used to be. This is the electric motor right here. And this is the final drive, the differential unit because it is not a transmission, but this is where the transmission would be. The housing looks kind of like the, you know kind of like the, a transmission housing.

And this is the a, again, there's actually, there's fluid to be inspected and serviced. There's, it's got the gear oil type of fluid in here. Again, you can see the electric motor over here. They've just taken the Smart Car, essentially it's the same, it's a large part the same as the internal combustion engine model and just adapted it for an electric drive. And it actually fits in quite nicely back here.

Here's a top view when you open the engine cover. This is an electrical inverter type unit I believe. The orange cables on an electric car basically signify the high voltage system. So they're clearly marked. You know it's an area, when servicing the vehicle you've got to take a lot of caution.

There are some coolant hoses here, by the way. As I said there is a cooling system, but it's nowhere like an internal combustion engine cooling system. And this here is the air conditioning compressor. So it actually takes up a fair amount of space in the engine compartment. And you can ... Of course, it's electrically driven so there's a high voltage wire to that unit as well. And there's our picture show for today!

Mark: So was there any other service that needed to be done other than the brakes?

Bernie: We flushed the brake fluid. It was due and of course made sense to be, made sense to do with the brake work we'd done. Really nothing much else at this time. Currently has 53,000 kilometres. It's driven very little at five years old. So that's 10,000 kilometres a year. Still in really good shape otherwise. But the air conditioning system was something that the owner originally brought the vehicle in for, but the brakes became a priority repair. So he chose to leave the air conditioning for now. And I'll be a, no doubt a discussion of a future podcast.

Mark: So is part of the reason that the brakes were that rusted is, you know, obviously our environment here, but also just the car hasn't been driven that much?

Bernie: Yeah, absolutely. Yup. Exactly. And the car hasn't been driven a lot, but obviously it's been outdoors. I mean if the car had been never driven in the winter and stored indoors the brakes last longer. It's partially a climatic thing. I mean if you lived in Arizona, for instance, you don't need, you still should service your brakes, but you're not going to be experiencing the same issues as you are somewhere, you know where, in Vancouver you know we get a fair, a lot of rain and a little bit of snow. And if you're in eastern North America, you know, Canada, U.S., where you get a lot of snow and salt, road salt, you're going to have even worse issues. So servicing the brakes is going to be an even more critical item.

Mark: You mentioned the air conditioning. Did you find the problem and diagnose-

Bernie: We didn't actually do anything with the air conditioning at this point. The owner had opted not to do anything with it. Actually service, diagnosing the air conditioning on this is a little more complicated than your average vehicle. The air conditioning service ports are kind of buried under the, I guess I'll call it the hood, the front piece. These cars, you know the engine, most of the business is in the rear end, but the front hood clips off. But the actual air conditioning ports where we hook up test equipment are, and refill and recharge the system, are very difficult to get to. So it makes for a more expensive service than your average AC system. And of course because it wasn't working there's likely a leak of some sort that needed to be diagnosed. So we left that one for now, but as I said, we'll be doing a pod, undoubtedly a podcast on that in the future.

Mark: And how are these smart electric drive vehicles for reliability?

Bernie: I would say overall good. And I say I would say because we don't service a lot of them. There's not a lot of them around. As far as I know they don't sell them in the U.S. so it's more of a Canadian only model, or elsewhere in the world. So they're not an entirely common vehicle, but it's pretty ... I mean so far there's really nothing that's gone on with this vehicle in this amount of kilometres. This kind of brake work is normal. The air conditioning, I guess, is a bit of an issue. But other than that so far so good.

Mark: So there you go. If you're looking for service for your Smart Car and no matter what it's powered by, diesel, gas or electric, the guys to see in Vancouver are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to book ahead. They're always busy! Or check out the website, pawlikautomotive.com or YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair. Hundreds of videos on there. And of course, thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We appreciate it. And thank you Bernie.

Bernie: Thank you Mark and thanks for watching and listening.

2006 Smart Car, EGR Valve & Intercooler Replacement

Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local, we’re here with Bernie Pawlik of Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver; Vancouver’s best auto service experience. How’re you doing Bernie?

Bernie: Doing very well this morning.

Mark: So we’re talking about a Smart Car, something we’ve not really talked about before, a 2006 Smart Car, was this a diesel? What were you working on with this vehicle?

Bernie: This was a diesel, yeah, turbo diesel, sorry Mark.

Mark: Rarer version of this car?

Bernie: Well they most of the Smart Cars for the earlier versions, well they’re all sold in Canada, I believe they’re selling now in the US but for many years they were only sold in Canada so the earlier versions were diesels and then they started selling gas and I think they’ve gone back to diesel. I’m not sure on the newer models but all the older ones are diesel.

Mark: So what was happening on this car?

Bernie: Well this car came in with a couple issues, it had an oil leak, an engine oil leak, also had a check engine light on and the vehicle has been inspected at Mercedes, they’re diagnosed and the owner was told it needed EGR valve or and also a turbo intercooler so we did an inspection of the vehicle and verified that those in fact were the two issues that the EGR valve was stuck and full of carbon deposits which they typically do and the EGR cooler, sorry the EGR intercooler, losing my words here, the turbo intercooler was leaking oil.

Mark: So what did you notice with the car when you serviced it?

Bernie: Well basically those two items; there was oil dripping from it, from the vehicle and during our testing we were able to verify that the EGR valve in fact was not functioning. On further inspection we actually found that the valve was stuck so not repairable, not just due to excess carbon deposit but the actual valve itself had gone bad.

Mark: So this seems like it could be a little quite a bit of work on this vehicle, was it?

Bernie: It is a fair bit of work, quite, quite a few hours’ work to remove, there’s a lot to remove on these cars, and typically the engines are tucked into the back, very compactly. The bumper needs to be removed a lot of suspension components need to come off so you can get access to the, to the various parts; so a lot of labour just to get in there and get going on it. Unfortunately in these vehicles everything is just, it’s compact and everything’s put, put in very tightly but, yeah a fair bit of work but certainly reasonably straight forward once you get everything apart. I’m going to share a few photos, there’s our Smart car and there’s the EGR valve, so this is the old EGR valve where my mouse pointer, this is the electronic solenoid actuator section of the EGR valve and the actual flap is in this area here, so this piece was basically the motor was stuck internally so that’s why this piece needed to be replaced and then we have a look at the EGR cooler and there’s the old EGR cooler. 

Mark: Turbo intercooler, you mean, right?

Bernie: Sorry Mark?

Mark: Turbo intercooler?

Bernie: Turbo intercooler, I don’t know why I kept calling it an EGR cooler, we do so many EGR coolers, it’s the Turbo intercooler, thank you. This is, you can see a lot of fresh oil around this area here and then of course a lot of just dry, dried-up old dirty oil over here, so this part has been leaking for quite some time but it just got substantially worse over a period of time. So I believe I should be back, yes I am.

Mark: So what’s your overall impression of Smart Cars?

Bernie: Well, they’re not my favourites. I find their kind of tiny, you know, they’re a little small but if you want a small economical car, they’re pretty awesome. There’s a lot that does go wrong with these vehicles and they’re kind of finicky over time, you know things like the ignition, we’ve had issues with the ignition keys that don’t work. The transmission on these vehicles, it’s a manual, it’s an automatic manual transmission so things do go wrong with those, turbochargers, you know they’re not, you know, I look at different when we’ve worked on some that have quite high kilometers and seem to be pretty good but they’re a little bit hit and miss, they are a lot of things that do go wrong along the way and I think sometimes if you get lucky and take care of the car you can get a lot of kilometers out of it but there are a lot where you don’t get so much and they tend to end up with a lot of problems so you may end up spending a lot of that fuel savings on repairs; you know, unless you really want something small and easy to park and super economical there’s probably some better options out there but you know many people like them.

Mark: So there you go. If you are looking for service for your Smart Car in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112, to book an appointment or check out their website pawlikautomotive.com. Thanks Bernie.

Bernie: Thank you Mark.

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