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Auto repair lessons learned in a minute

Thursday, August 1, 2019 - 07:00
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As I write this, I'm in the process of producing our 20th "Mighty Minute" — a video tech series sponsored by our good friends at Mighty Auto Parts. Each video is limited to four minutes in length and those of you who know me, know that it has been a challenge to stay under that limit especially as I dive into each topic and learn more about it.

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The neat thing about this series is the foundational content it is made of. We rarely, if ever, get into the advanced stuff here because the series is produced to help techs who are just getting their feet wet. They are also designed to help techs explain, in simple terms, why a recommended service or repair (related to that week's topic) is needed.

Along the way, I get the chance to interact and learn from experts in each topic. So far, I've produced videos (all of which can be seen on our Motor Age YouTube channel) covering serpentine belt service, cooling system service, brake service, A/C testing and leak detection and more. While I thought I knew enough to easily produce four minutes’ worth of video, the experience has shown me that I, even after 40+ years in the business, can still learn something new.

Allow me to share with you a few lessons I've learned. Who knows? You may learn something too!

The importance of the serpentine belt

I'm just as guilty as I think many of you are when it comes to checking the condition of the serpentine belt. I take a look to see if there are any visual indications of wear and maybe even give it a tug or poke to see how tight it feels. After that, and if it isn't making any noise, I'm done!

But I learned that the serp belt plays a vital role that I'd been overlooking. It is responsible for funneling power from the engine to all the accessory drives connected to it; the alternator, the power steering pump, the air conditioning compressor and sometimes, the water pump. Any slippage that occurs between the belt and its pulleys generates excessive heat and that can occur even if the belt is running quietly.

One of the least expensive tools you'll ever add to your tool box, the serp belt gauge is the best way to properly verify a belt's condition.

This excessive heat is passed on to these components - to their bearings, specifically - accelerating the wear and leading to premature failure. What's costlier? A new belt and tensioner or a new alternator or A/C compressor?

I also learned that belts made for the last 20+ years can be worn out yet show no visual signs of damage. The only correct way to inspect them is through the use of a belt gauge, a small plastic gauge that every major belt manufacturer makes a version of. If you don't have one, ask your parts house. I'm betting they have a whole box in the back!
 

With the tool square and perpendicular to the belt, you should see light between the gauge and the top of the belt ribs. The belt on the left (2A) is serviceable. The one on the right (2B) is not.

Clean air for the engine

Dirt is a major enemy of the engine. When you consider how small the clearances are on today's powerplants, even the smallest visible dirt particles can cause major wear and tear if allowed in. So how do you know when the air filter on your customer's car needs to be replaced?

The answer I got was surprisingly unsatisfying. Ford, on some of their vehicles, used an airflow gauge to help determine when the air filter was restricted to the point of requiring replacement. And the engineers I spoke with told me they determined replacement by using expensive scales to actually measure the weight of the filter. Not very practical for every day, in the shop, use!

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