Monday, November 28, 2016

Trustworthiness Versus Credibility in Auto Repair


A lot is said about trust in the context of auto repair.  While trust is important, I think it’s often confused with credibility.  Consider this common scenario:
A motorist drives into a shop for a diagnosis of his check engine lamp.  The car runs fine.  After an hour of testing, the service advisor tells the car’s owner that the problem is actually inside the engine, in the timing chains and gears, and it’s going to cost $5,500 to repair.  The car is still running ok for now, he says, but if the problem is not repaired the car will not pass state inspection, and will eventually suffer greater damage.




The service advisor says he knows that’s a lot of money, and a big surprise.  But he’s seen that same issue before and it’s actually happening to a lot of cars like his as they get over 100,000 miles.  This, by the way, is a real example on Mercedes V6 cars.

Hearing that, what does the customer do next?  It’s a much bigger expense then he expected.  The customer might say he wants to seek a second opinion, or he might just schedule the repair.   What he does will not have much to do with trust.  It has everything to do with credibility.

From a client’s perspective, a trustworthy mechanic is one who does not lie to them.  A credible mechanic is one they can count on to give them the correct answer.   For a business to enjoy maximum success it must be both trustworthy and credible.

Investigative television shows have traditionally been fond of filming “stings” where they try to catch dishonest service personnel recommending parts cars don’t actually need.  While that can be a result of dishonesty it is more often a result of incompetence or even different service standards.

For example, when a car comes in with a complaint of unstable steering, an incompetent advisor may recommend new shocks.  In fact, the car has worn out control arms and he didn’t see that.  He’s not dishonest; he simply wrong in his diagnosis.

In my experience technical competence is the biggest problem facing our industry at all levels.  That speaks to the importance of credibility.  What makes a repair shop credible?

Long term clients decide a shop is credible based on long experience, where the advice they are given proves correct over the long haul.  Clients who are referred start with a presumption of credibility because their friends say things like, “I’ve gone there 10 years and they are the best.”

How does someone who does not have a personal referral choose a credible shop?  Most people today turn to the Internet.  Imagine a new client is standing in the waiting room of Shop A, and he just heard the news in my example.  What would assure him the shop is credible?

He’s driving a Mercedes, and the service advisor just said his problem is showing up in other cars like his.  Looking in the parking lot, he sees 10 other Mercedes cars like his own.  That speaks to credibility.  What about the Internet?  If the service advisor said something like, “If you Google E350 timing chain problems, you can read all about the issue on your car.”  Would that increase credibility?  Probably some.

What if the service advisor said, “We fix those timing chain issues fairly often, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.  Would you like to see some photos of a job we just did, so you can understand what we do and why it costs what it does?”  In my opinion, that would increase credibility a lot to a stranger.

What if the service advisor said, “Are you a member of the Mercedes Club?  I’m a technical advisor and long time member, and we just hosted a tech session where we talked about this very thing.”  That too would increase credibility.

In the examples above I hope I’ve shown that credibility is actually a bigger deal that trustworthiness.  As indeed it should be.  Straight-out liars are not too common.  Insufficiently skilled and incompetent auto service personnel unfortunately are.


What else would make a repair shop credible to a new potential client?


John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent BMW/MINI, Mercedes, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What do worn brakes look like?

I am often asked what worn brakes look like, when looking through the slots in the wheel. Can you tell from outside, or does the car need ot be put on a lift and have its wheels removed. Here is a rule of thumb. Look at my finger pointing to a brake pad in the photo below.

 

In that photo you see the shiny brake disc, the frame of the caliper, and the outer pad.  The pad consists of a metal plate with friction material laminated to the backing.  The rule is: the thickness of the friction material must be greater than the thickness of the backing plate.

The reason for that is heat insulation.  If the pads wear down to nothing there is no longer any insulation and the heat of braking will transfer from the rotor, to the backing plate and from there into the pistons and fluid.  If the fluid gets too hot it boils and you lose your brakes.


This photo shows the same pad and caliper seen from behind.  The thing in the center is the wear sensor, which as you see is in contact with the rotor.  That put the brake wear light on in this car.  IN some European cars the light has to be reset with a test tool even after the sensor has been changed.

Other cars - like BMW - also calculate how many miles the pads have run and they will light the warning based on mileage even if the pads are good (for example, if someone replaced them without a reset)


John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent BMW/MINI, Mercedes, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Value of Oil Filtration

Everyone knows that oil filters are supposed to trap particles that might otherwise damage the engine.  



In a modern engine the passages that carry oil to the bearings are typically between one-tenth and one-quarter inch in diameter, which means that a good sized chunk of debris or sludge may block them.  The clearances between rotating parts like the crankshaft and the bearings is generally no more than a few thousandths of an inch.  That is tight enough that a grain of sand can get jammed in there and do considerable damage.

The filter is a modern engine’s protection against that. Nowadays the oil filter is immediately downstream of the oil pump, so the filtering happens before the oil reaches any bearing surfaces. All the oil that passes through the pump should pass through the filter, which is why today’s systems are said to have “full flow filtration.”

Most of the time the particles trapped by the filter are invisible but in this example the benefit of the filter is obvious.  The car in question is a 2008 Mini Cooper S.  Like many of its brothers this Mini had a problem with the timing chain and guides.  In this particular car the plastic guides were broken by the chain, and they landed in pieces in the sump.  The car was repaired with a new chain kit, but some pieces of plastic remained hidden in the sump.

Five thousand miles later this was the result. The bits of plastic that were left behind pushed through the oil pump inlet screen and passed through the pump gears.  Then they flowed into the filter, where they were trapped and held.



The filter looks scary, but the simple fact is, it did its job.  If this car had not had a filter - or if it had a cheap aftermarket filter that ripped – this engine would be toast today.  As it is, a new filter and fresh oil sent the car on its way.





Oil filters need to have filter paper or felt that is fine enough to catch the smallest abrasive particles yet strong enough to resist penetration by larger sharp-edged objects.  I hope you can see from this example that a good oil filter is all that stands between you and a $10,000 engine replacement.  Given the minimal cost of a OEM-grade filter, this is not an area where it pays to cut corners.




John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent BMW/MINI, Mercedes, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thoughts on Concours Judging

At this year’s national meet of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners I saw the collision of modern day repair practices and the standards judges apply on the show field.  It’s worth thinking about this because similar situations can be found in any car line and they will only become more common with time.



The problem is becoming more acute thanks to technological shifts in the car industry.  Fifty years ago, cars were mechanical things with simple electrical systems to provide lights, ventilation fans, and other essentials.  Today’s cars are collections of computers tied together with data buses controlling the electro-mechanical subassemblies that move us, stop us, and keep us entertained and comfortable.

As automotive technology evolves the car manufacturers are left with less and less ability to support vintage models.  Yet the vintage cars are important because they are a part of brand identity, and often owned by affluent enthusiasts who buy new cars and influence other enthusiasts.

What happens when the professionals who keep our vintage cars on the road run up against the desires of others in the field to “preserve them the way they were built?”  In one of the 2016 RROC meet’s technical sessions I listened to Mr. John Palma talk about fixes he had developed to keep our cars on the road. For some the factory had abandoned support for low demand parts.  He found new solutions when “proper” parts remain available but the costs don’t make sense for most owners.  Finally he described original parts that were deficient, and he has devised a better widget for those cases.

Mr. Palma is one of our Club’s most esteemed technical consultants. He’s spent much of his life practicing the craft of Rolls-Royce and Bentley service, and his work is widely admired and respected.  Yet I was troubled by the idea that innovations like he presented might be divisive on the show field even as they are obvious functional improvements.  For example, he talked about a gear reduction starter they had devised to address the perennial cranking difficulties experienced by some cars.  That starter has become the go-to part when someone needs a RR/B starter, and good strong operation is their #1 criteria.

That said, it looks quite different from the original starter.  You might say the Palma starter is made for superior function, not correctness of style.  If you want style, there are shops that can rebuild your old RR/B starter and make it as good as it can be.  They can also make it look 100% correct, even if the best it can do technically is only 70% of what Mr. Palma’s unit does.

Clearly Mr. Palma’s starter is a hit with those who want reliable starting.  What about the people who show their cars?  And more important, what about the people who judge the show cars?

The RROC has all the judging sheets and guides on the website. The judges are available to answer questions.  In fact, the acceptability of an improved starter was even raised on the club forum a few weeks before the meet.  The consensus was that the club has two classes of show cars, and they should treat issues like this differently. Touring cars are those cars that are actually driven by their owners.  On a touring car, sensible functional modifications like a Palma starter should be acceptable.   Whether they actually are acceptable is another matter, and  varies from club to club and even judge to judge.

Then we have the second class of show car. Pure concours cars are not restored to be driven.  They are prepared to match as closely as possible the new vehicle as it left the dealership however many years ago.  A starter upgrade that was developed 50 years after a car was manufactured is not acceptable in a concours car.

This dichotomy shows the direction cars clubs must evolve toward.  On the one hand, they want to support people who actually want to drive and enjoy old cars.  Some of those people will limit themselves to maintenance and improvements like the Palma starter.  Others will want to add modern conveniences, like air conditioning, Bluetooth music streaming, or navigation.  How do welcome those folks to the show field?  Do we say the touring group encompasses all such variations?  What then are the judging standards?  Should any modification be ok, as long as it's tastefully done, and we limit our judging to workmanship?

We can't forget the people who want to preserve old cars in their original form, to the extent possible.  Some of those people see vintage cars as works of art, to be admired but not driven.  Other preservationists want the cars to look original, but they embrace the inclusion of modern technology as long as it’s invisible. I can understand where they are coming from too.

Most concours judging sheets focus on what you can see without disassembly.  That means a better starter would be ok, as long as it’s in the original case, or hidden from view.  The engine could be rebuilt with improved modern internals, as long as the exterior looked unchanged.   The strict preservationists and the internal modification group can co exist, as long as their cars look stock and original.

There's also a question as to what constitutes "original."  Take the caps on the tire valves as one small example.   Many dealerships have accessory departments with ten or even twenty different caps.  Are we to mark down a car for "non original caps" when the original buyer made such an accessory choice?  Some judges say "it's ok if the owner can show the accessory was fitted at the dealer when delivered."  But what sense does that make, to allow a dealer-fitted cap while rejecting the same cap purchased from a catalog six months later.

What do the people want?  That is a good question.  Older club members (in my experience) tend to favor originality and focus on details.  Younger club members often focus on function – which is usually improved with new technology – and they want to have fun with their cars more than just looking at them.

We talk about the need to bring younger people into our car clubs.  Are our show standards standing in our way?  Might we change them to attract younger members?

I don’t propose an answer so much as raise the question.



John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.



Sunday, July 31, 2016

Using a closed trailer to move collector cars

Are you thinking about a closed trailer to move your collector car to events?

The first question to ask is:  Do you have a vehicle that can haul your pet car in a trailer?  If you want to move a full sized car it’s going to weigh 4-5,000 pounds, plus a similar weight of trailer and gear.  In total you will have a towed load near 10,000 pounds. Even little cars weigh more than you think.  A vintage MINI or a small racecar is a 6-7,000 pound load in many cases.

That kind of rig is best pulled by a full-sized 2500 or 3500 pickup with the biggest possible engine (this means your rig will probably get all of 10mpg if lucky).  If you don’t have a suitable tow vehicle you may consider renting.  Outfits like Penske rent late model 2500 trucks with tow packages.  Professional haulers will use even bigger rigs, with gooseneck or fifth wheel couplers. 



We use a 24 foot trailer, which gives about 6 feet of storage and work room in front of a large car.  Others prefer 28 foot trailers for even more clearance.  If you’re moving full size cars like Rolls-Royce or vintage American iron things will get really tight in anything smaller.  

If you buy a new trailer it’s probably going to come with a basic ball hitch.  Most professionals I know use a load distributing system to shift some of the tongue weight to the front wheels of the tow vehicle.  Sway dampers are another common addition.  The trailer needs a jack at the front to uncouple it safely, and it’s smart to have jacks in the rear so you can load and unload without being hooked to the tow vehicle. 

The most important thing to remember when you load the car is to drive it far enough forward that you have a decent weight on the hitch, but not so far forward that too much weight is on the coupling.  A good rule of thumb is that the tongue weight should be about 10% of the trailer weight.

With a 10,000lb load that means a tongue weight of 1,000 pounds or so.  It’s important to make sure the hitch and coupling are both rated for that weight.  If you have a late-model 2500 or larger truck with factory tow package it’s likely to use the commercial 2.5 inch square system, which will handle that no problem.  Older vehicles may be challenged.

You can check your tongue weight with a tongue weight scale (available from an RV dealer) or by weighing the rig on a commercial scale. If your tongue weight is too high you can reduce it by moving the car back in the trailer, but don’t move it back too far.  Low tongue weight is the main cause of instability and sway in trailers.  If you’re using a weight distributing hitch you should look at its instructions to level the truck now.  Don’t forget to grease the hitch balls and pivots too.

Once you’ve figured out where to position the car in the trailer for proper balance the next step is to tie it down.  If you’re doing this for the first time, you might want to mark the positions of the wheels and unload the car, because you will need to add tie down points. 

There are two good choices to tie the car to the trailer.  Either tie the wheels to the trailer floor, or tie the suspension to the floor.  In both cases, the tie downs leave the vehicle free to move up and down over bumps.

If you tie the vehicle down by the body with short up and down straps (the way cars were secured on multi car carriers for decades) they will be slamming the straps every time the bounces up and down, and eventually something will break.  The only way to avoid movement over bumps will be to cinch the car down so tight the suspension is fully compressed.  Few people move cars in single car trailers that way today because the risk of damage is too high.

We use two methods to secure cars.  The first is called  e-track, and it’s similar to the l-track used in airplanes.  We have tracks running front to back along the floor of the trailer, and the car is driven in atop them.  We put heavy rubber chocks in front of the wheels and then snap e track straps into the floor behind the wheels.  The straps pass over the wheels to a loop in front of the tire.  The strap stretched forward to a tensioner latched into the track just in front of the car.



In the rear we put loops of strap around the rear axle braces, and hook straps from there to rings that are set into the trailer floor.  Those are our principal means of keeping the car in place on heavy deceleration.





To do that job, it is important that the rings and e tract be secured with nuts and bolts through the trailer floor and frame.  If you buy a trailer “set up” I suggest you check this carefully because many people install tie down points with sheet metal screws or even wood screws and those weak attachments will rip out under stress!



Once the car is safely tied down it’s time to think about what else you’ll need to bring.  One obvious thing is a spare tire.  Our trailer has four tires.  If you run over something that damages one tire, it’s likely to damage both.  For that reason we carry two spare tires, tied down to more e-track in the front of the trailer. 

What about changing the tire?  To do that you will need to get a jack under the trailer axle, and the jack must be strong enough to lift a loaded trailer.  I carry a 3.5 ton floor jack from our shop for this purpose.  You might look at that jack in the trailer and think it’s overkill but I assure you the tune would change as soon as you faced a flat tire on a dirt roadside with something less.  We keep a tool box in the trailer with a battery powered impact gun and hand wrenches for the wheel lugs and all the hardware on the trailer and hitch.  We also carry a few spare lug nuts.

PRO TIP: Make sure your jack will fit under the trailer if both tires on one side are flat, and make sure you have enough spares to change out a side (usually two to three tires)



I really encourage you to test your tools for this at home, to be sure you can actually change a tire at night by the side of the road.  That is no time to discover your lug wrench isn’t strong enough or the jack won’t lift the trailer.

Before driving off you should check the tightness of all the hardware on the hitch and tow rig.  Check the wheel lugs and check the pressure in the truck and trailer tires.  In most cases the trailer tires will be inflated to the pressure stamped in the tire sidewall.  Follow the recommendations in the owner’s manual for the tires on the truck.

Check the trailer brakes and the brake controller.  Any closed trailer should have electric brakes.  One tip – if the trailer starts to sway when you’re on the highway you can often damp it by touching the trailer brake while the tow vehicle coasts.  Applying the tow vehicle brake in that situation may make your sway worse.

What if a tire goes low?  A low tire may mean a leak, and for that you can purchase liquid stop leak.  It’s an aerosol that partly inflates and plugs a leaking tire at the same time.  It’s often an effective temporary repair for nail punctures and similar damage.  Some people carry battery powered compressors to pump up tires, but I find them unacceptably slow. We also carry a 12 gallon tank of 125psi compressed air that can quickly inflate tires on the tow rig or on the vehicles we are towing.

TIP:  Carry an infrared thermometer in your truck and shoot the temps on the tires at every stop.  Trailer tires should be even 100-140 degrees in temperate weather.  A higher temp usually means low air or damage.  The truck rear tires may run a bit hotter unless you have duel wheels, which will probably be cooler

You would be wise to pack a set of flares in your tool box, along with 4 chocks for the trailer and truck wheels.   The list of other tools you may carry depends on your abilities.  In addition to hand tools we pack several battery powered lights and lanterns that are essential for any repairs at night.  We carry Milwaukee M18 battery powered lights and impact wrenches.  They make a really nice blower whose power rivals that of a small gas leaf blower.  We use it to dry cars after washing, and to blow dust off the paint or out of the interior.  You can find similar tools from Makita and other makers – battery power has really taken over!

We pack a big co2 fire extinguisher, as well as a dry chemical unit in the cab of the truck.  If you have to put out a fire in a collector car co2 or Halon gas is what you want because it’s won’t leave nasty residue but you need a big extinguisher to do the job.  They are expensive but worth in, for damage avoided.

When you get to the show you may end up parking the trailer and driving off in the truck.  If you do it will be smart to lock the trailer against theft.  We use high security padlocks on the rear door, a quality dead bolt latch for the side door, and a lock on the coupler.  When the trailer is hooked to the truck we lock the hitch to the vehicle and we lock the release pin on the trailer.

With all that preparation we hope to get our cars to the show fields in the same pristine condition they were in when we loaded.  If it doesn’t, our trailer carries polish, towels and other cleaning supplies for on-field touch up.  The battery powered air gun is a great help.  We usually carry some lightweight drive-on ramps too in case anything needs attention on the ground.  And speaking of the ground – don’t forget a foam pad (like a yoga mat) or at least a big beach towel to lay on when you hook up under the car, etc.

Before you set out, I suggest gathering the registration and insurance documents for the truck, trailer, and show car in one place, in case you get pulled over.  Better to discover any problems now so you don’t end up in a country pokey later.  Make sure registrations and inspections are all up to date and your loaded rig is not over its registered weight limit.  Check carefully for any potential violations on either the truck or the trailer.

With all that, I hope your towing and showing experience is a good one.  See you on the road!





(c) 2016 John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.