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Preventative maintenance should prolong a vehicle's life, not shorten it

Friday, June 1, 2018 - 07:00
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Imagine laying on the operating table. There you are, the bright lights bearing down on you and focused on the thought of someone opening you up like a sandwich bag so he can rummage around in your innards. The last thing you remember is the anesthesiologist telling you to count backwards from 100. “100, 99, 98, 97…”, as the world turns dark as you fade off to la-la land.  

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You awaken some time later in the recovery room and the doctor stops in to tell you and your family that everything went well and you can expect a full recovery. But the doctor failed to follow the correct processes and an infection caused by that oversight results in your untimely demise just a few short months later. 

Not a pretty picture, is it? 

Ignorance is no excuse 
I’m sure the lawyer handling your family’s wrongful death and medical malpractice suit will be sure to tell that to a jury of your peers as he describes how the doctor’s negligence robbed them of the best years of your life. And while we don’t spend our days working on people, many of the lessons learned in cases like this do apply to us. 

Repair processes, just like the systems you’re working on, have changed over the years. Are you “doing it right?"

For example, I’m willing to bet that nearly everyone reading this works or owns a shop that offers oil changes to their customers. Now — and be honest here — how many of you grab the hose from the bulk oil container and fill every car with the same 5w30? Don’t be shy – I’ve worked in those shops same as you. 

I think by now that we all know the importance of using the right oil for the application, as well as the consequences if we don’t. We know from all the articles written, videos produced and training sessions attended, for instance, that using the wrong oil can cause a variety of problems in the variable valve timing systems used by so many OEMs, and that premature failure of the control solenoids could lead to costly repair bills down the road for our customers. But we also know that the problems won’t surface immediately, don’t we? Is that part of the rationalization for still failing to perform this most routine of services correctly? 

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As the title of this month’s column suggests, the whole idea behind preventative maintenance is to help the customer extend the life of their vehicle. The fleet (the statisticians’ choice of wording for describing the collective body of vehicles on the road today) is growing older, indicating two things. One, the OEMs are building cars that last longer than ever and two, consumers are taking advantage of that and keeping them on the road as long as they can.  

Longer, if they are properly maintained and serviced.

Training isn't limited to civilians. Here, I'm leading a class on air conditioning service and helping this group of airmen earn their Section 609 Certification.

That’s where we come in 
And it’s not just oil changes, guys and gals. It’s a host of preventative maintenance processes we do (or don’t do). Consider a few more examples. 

You’ve heard me harp over and over about the need to perform (in the least) a safety inspection on every car you touch for a number of reasons. You owe it to your customer because he or she is depending on your knowledge to keep their family in a safely operating vehicle. You also owe it to yourself, as failure to do so could result in a lawyer coming after you for failing to meet your professional obligations. Granted, you may win any lawsuit in the end, but at what cost to you financially and personally? And God forbid that someone is hurt or dies because a system you could have, and should have, inspected a day or so earlier fails due to what would have been an obvious fault. 

So, with all that in mind, can you honestly tell me you inspect every tire on every car that comes in? Do you adjust the tire pressures? Do you at least peek through the wheel to eyeball the brake pads? Are you sure that ALL of the brake lights are working? 

There is no excuse for not knowing the “right” way to service or repair your customers’ cars. Good training is only a mouse click or short drive away.

And when you do perform a routine repair, are you performing that repair properly? Consider a basic disc brake job. How do you clean the rotors after you’ve machined them? Are you cleaning them at all? For that matter, are you machining them properly, with the proper final finish? Or do your rotors' surfaces look like an old vinyl LP record? 

Recently, I did a few videos on another routine service – serpentine belt inspection. Neoprene belts haven’t been made for nearly 20 years now, but how many of you rely on looking for visual cracks or damage as the indicator a belt needs replacement? Do you have the proper belt inspection tool in your tool box? If you don’t or you’re not using it, you’re doing it wrong – period. 

All of the following have been simple processes, surely. Now consider the impact the same attitude towards performing a repair or service properly has on more complex systems. I saw a YouTube video, for example, where a supposedly professional technician was showing how to shortcut an ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist System) calibration using a printed target and a step ladder. Yes, he got the computer to accept the calibration BUT THE CALIBRATION WAS WRONG! The computer has now learned an inaccurate value that is going to drastically impact how that system (as well as any other system that uses the same camera) operates. And it’s a safety system! 

Checking the condition of a vehicle in order to prolong its life may require more than a quick visual.

I can come up with more examples if you wish, and I’m sure many of you have seen others you could share (and please do), but the whole point of my tirade is this – we are better, as a whole, than this. If you’re a tech working in a shop that handcuffs your ability to do a job properly, walk. There are plenty of opportunities out there where you can do your job the way you know it should be done — the way you want to do it. And if all of us who turn the wrenches adopt a “do it right or don’t do it at all” attitude, the shops that are doing less than the proper repair or service won’t have anyone to do the work for them. And that puts them out of business. 

And that’s not a bad thing. 

OK, end of rant. Thanks for listening! 

And now, for something completely different! 
OK, if you recognize the reference of that last subheading, you’ve got to email me at! It’s an old reference to an old comedy series that I know some of the younger crowd still enjoys. I’m really curious who gets it! 

But that’s not what I want to end this month’s column with. A few recent events have had me reflecting on a variety of things and I really wanted to share those thoughts with you.  

(Photo courtesy of Fran Haasch Law Group) What is your passion outside of work? For my wife, Chris, and me, it’s helping stem the tide of abuse against children.

You, faithful readers, are more than just professional automotive repair technicians and shop owners. You have other passions as well. For my wife and I, it is a passion to end the abuse of children in our world, a passion that led to our founding a non-profit devoted to that mission. For another of our team here at Motor Age, it’s a passion to offer hope to those contemplating suicide —  a final solution to what is usually a temporary problem. What is yours? Do you have one? 

If you don’t, get one. And I’ll tell you why. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will help you gain perspective on whatever life challenges you face than to volunteer in helping those that face issues so much more severe. I’ve had a six-year-old child show me the port used in her chemotherapy and share with me in excited tones how she’s finally completed the treatment. I’ve had sexual abuse victims who weren’t even teenagers yet hug me with a love that cannot be described, thankful that I was there for them when they were facing their darkest hour. I could share stories of abuse that you wouldn’t believe possible, yet they happened and are happening again even as I write this column. 

I’m not sharing this to win accolades or get pats on the back. I share this because we, as a community, need more people to take the time to act on the wrongs of this world. Somewhere inside each and every one of you is a similar passion and I want to encourage you to find a way to put that passion to action. The same internal drive that makes you a professional technician or successful shop owner can perform wonders if you let it loose.  

You can make a difference. If you don’t think so, remember that one mosquito in the room when you’re trying to go to sleep. It sure did! 

Again, thanks for reading.

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