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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    When I started doing alignments, I got the Hunter alignment machine guy to teach me how to use the quipment and figure the front ends out. The dealership that I was working at didn't send me to training, I went and got it myself. (The same applies to my electronics training, and quite a lot more of what I learned to do)

    So I started aligning cars. I studied a lot and learned the ropes the hard way like every technician had to.

    Chevrolet Cavaliers, Buick Skyhawks, (any GM "J" body) didn't have elongated holes for the strut to knuckle bolts to allow for a camber adjustment like the Celebrity, or Citation did. ("A" or "X" bodys). The official routine was to measure the front end. Take the equipment off if a wheel needed adjusted, remove the knuckle bolts and tilt the knuckle clear of the strut to ream the strut attachment holes out. Then the tech would re-assemble the front end and mount and re-compensate the heads. Then they could make the necessary adjustments. They paid about an hour a side "extra" on top of the alignment fee to do all of that.
    By design, the car was essentially a "toe and go" alignment.

    I did the first one, and of course figured that there had to be a better way. The next one I went to the body shop and borrowed the port a power with a duck bill attachment. I put the duckbill between the strut and body and put just enough pressure on it to hold it in place. Then I removed the lower bolt from the knuckle, and loosened the top bolt. By doing that I was able to use the port-a-power to move the wheel in or out depending on what I needed to do for my camber adjustment. Now I could I tighten the top bolt, remove the port-a-power and check to see if I was in spec. Now all I had to do was ream the lower strut bolt hole just enough to re-install the bolt and tighten it. It took me about five minutes a side to adjust the camber.

    The next couple of days, the service manager gave me one of these to do and of course I completed the whole operation in about forty minutes. He gave me another one, and the same thing, about forty minutes later it was done. The other three guys were taking over two hours to do the same job, and the guy who just started doing alignments was doing them in a third of the time. Do you know what he was thinking? He thought I was lying about adjusting the camber. This was before the days of the alignment machines that had printers. So he gave me another one and stood by the alignment machine and watched me do it. Do you know what he did then? He stopped paying us extra to adjust the camber on those cars.

    This forum is titled "A Mechanics Life", I have several thousand stories just like this one that will show people what it has really been like to do this for a living. I was making around $7.50/hr flat rate back then. Before my trick that alignment would have paid me about $21.00 to do if I had also adjusted camber both sides. After the manager saw how well my idea worked, it went back to $6.50 for the whole thing just like a toe and go. ">
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    edited November 2012
    "
    BTW, a GM four wheel steering truck is much more complicated to work on than a Porsche or AMG is"


    That wasn't my point though. My point was that setting up a high performance car requires skills and experience outside the limits of your basic alignment school. (note: I'm using the general "your", not referring to YOU). Even if you knew how to perfectly align that Dodge truck, you'd be totally lost working on a Porsche 4S unless you had a very good handle on vehicle dynamics. Let's call this debate "Classroom knowledge versus Life Experience".

    Anyone can be taught basic alignment, especially with today's equipment. This is not rocket science.

    My post was much more about the dedication and intellectual curiosity necessary to differentiate between a set of numbers in a book and actually taking a car out on the road and feeling what happens when you make various adjustments.

    Doc, you have made this very point yourself---a machine is only as good as the person using it.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    Now that you mentioned it, I have to wonder if companies like Aamco who made and sold millions of brake lathes are even in business today.

    Or, how about Sioux? Heck,almost every busy shop and a Sioux vlave machine and hard seat grinder.

    Who does valve jobs anymore?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    I once hired a guy who was working at a "well known" tire chain.

    He said that if the customer was watching them do an alighment they were to

    " Open the hood, bang on the fender, set the toe and let it go"

    He said they also would use what he called "show shims". These were those ultra slim shims that really did very little but when the customer opened his hood and saw those shiny new shims he knew that his car had been "aligned".

    No, I didn't hire him as an alignment guy!
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,575
    BTW, a GM four wheel steering truck is much more complicated to work on than a Porsche or AMG is

    Yet another reason why I source the lion's share of my vehicles from Hiroshima, Munich, and Zuffenhausen... :D

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • imidazol97imidazol97 Crossroads of America: I70 & I75Posts: 18,265
    >reason why I source the lion's share of my vehicles from ..., Munich,

    A friend is trying to get to the thermostat on a 315 BMW he's working on. Seems you have to remove the fan and housing to get to it... :grin. OTH, on my 3800 it's two bolts and I'm done in 10 minutes at most. :grin

    On the other hand I can't go around the large flyover on I70/I75 rated at 40 mph at 80 mph instead.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,575
    edited November 2012
    A friend is trying to get to the thermostat on a 315 BMW he's working on. Seems you have to remove the fan and housing to get to it... :grin. OTH, on my 3800 it's two bolts and I'm done in 10 minutes at most. :grin

    315? Do you mean 325i? What year? In most all cases the fan simply unscrews from the fan clutch(it's reverse threaded, BTW).
    My 2009 3er doesn't even have a thermostat, BTW.

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,008
    $20 rotors? Maybe on a go kart. Not on MY car, thank you very much. Are they made out of old Italian TV dinner trays?

    I replaced the front pads and rotors on my 2000 Intrepid around the 98,000 mile mark, and paid about $89 for the parts at Autozone. Never had any issues with them. Now, I did have to replace the pads again at around the 130,000 mile mark, so I only got about 32K out of them. But, I only got 39K out of the OEM pads that came with the car. So, I'm not complaining.

    FWIW, that car needed front pads at 39K miles, 69K, 98K, and 130K. It needed rears at 50K and 102K. It got totaled at 150K, so I dunno how it would've trended beyond that.
  • imidazol97imidazol97 Crossroads of America: I70 & I75Posts: 18,265
    >unscrews from the fan clutch

    325i. I took the your suggestion to him. That seems a lot easier than his plan! I appreciate your help.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,575
    I took the your suggestion to him. That seems a lot easier than his plan! I appreciate your help.

    Glad to help. I did mis-speak a bit. The fan clutch threads on to the water pump pulley. Here is a pictoral DIY article. He doesn't need the official BMW thin 32MM wrench; a bicycle shop should have a suitable(and relatively cheap) tool which will work. Just keep in mind that it is reverse threaded(righty-loosey lefty-tighty). Let me know if he has any other questions.

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    This tool kit works well.

    http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/GEARWRENCH-Service-Kit-2HLF3

    There is also this one
    http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200391518_200391518

    and this works great if you have a strong air hammer
    http://www.thetoolwarehouse.net/p-16120-lisle-43300.aspx

    As far as trying to remember which way the fan comes off, simply look at the pitch of the blades. The fan is going to be turned by the belt in the same direction that it must be turned to be removed, drag from the pitch of the blades would cause the fan to tighten onto the pulley if it were loose. So you simply have to "turn the blade faster than the belt is driving it" and you'll always be turning it the correct direction to remove it. As mentioned, some are left hand thread, while other cars are the conventional right hand thread.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    edited November 2012
    i couldn't replace one rotor that had the quality I felt comfortable with, for the price you paid for everything.

    BMW thermostat -- it's like everything else...the first time you do something, it takes forever, the second time, it's a lot faster.

    That's why when people ask me "how much labor to replace an X", I always say: "It's 4.5 hours book time for a mechanic, and it's two days for you". :P

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    Hey roadburner...

    Naturally if I don't drive our BMW for two weeks, the battery go's dead and that is the case right now.

    Is there a trick to hooking up a charger to the battery in the trunk where I cn disable the two trunk lights? I tried using duct tape on the button but it's way too strong. It looks like I'll have to pull out the battery unless there is a trick that I'm missing.

    Still trying to get is through emissions so I can e register it.

    Fun car but SO typlcally German!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    just pull the bulbs out of the trunk lights. How often are you in your trunk at night?

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    I thought of that too but they look tricky to pull out. I would just put them back in after teh batter is charged up.

    It was dark last night when I looked so I'll give them another look. I just thought there may have been a trick the shops use.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    well you could pull the wire off the push button switch and tape it up.

    OR

    If the battery charger cord were long enough, the trunk lid would probably close over that, no problem.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    I thought about slamming the trunk lid on the cord but I was afraid the battery wouldn't be able to vent.

    I have seen, first hand, car batteries explode and it isn't pretty!

    Goiing to go look at it now...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    Oh that's a point---venting---best to leave it open.

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  • fezofezo Posts: 9,360
    I have seen, first hand, car batteries explode and it isn't pretty!

    That's one experience I hope to miss. Definitely not on my bucket list.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    Before my trick that alignment would have paid me about $21.00 to do if I had also adjusted camber both sides. After the manager saw how well my idea worked, it went back to $6.50 for the whole thing just like a toe and go.

    :sick: So much for innovation.

    When innovation is not rewarded, the end result is that you don't have innovators.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,575
    I thought about slamming the trunk lid on the cord but I was afraid the battery wouldn't be able to vent.

    Sorry for the late reply, but two comments:

    1. The battery should be vented to the outside already if it is trunk mounted. A vent tube should be connected to the battery.

    2. There is a positive terminal located under the hood for jump starting; you can hook up the trickle charger there. That is what most owners do.

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,860
    edited November 2012
    positive terminal located under the hood for jump starting;

    Shoot, if I had known that perhaps I could have saved a guy from unpacking his trunk at a rest area last year when he was trying to get a jump in his BMW. It was pretty obvious he was on a long vacation - lots of duffle lying around.

    Since then I've learned that our Chrysler owning friend has her battery buried in the fender well, and her car also has the remote terminal deal.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    I managed to jury rig it with a 2X4 and it's charging now.

    Fezo, an exploding car battery can make an M-80 sound like a cap pistol.

    I had forgotten all about the terminal under the hood....duh! Next time I'll use that! Thanks for reminding me!
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    edited November 2012
    Oh that's a point---venting---best to leave it open.

    Don't those trunk mounted batteries like in the BMWs have a vent tube that passes through the fender to the outside? I think the one for my '87 '325 was that way.

    Ooops, didn't see roadburner's reply :blush: .
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Don't those trunk mounted batteries like in the BMWs have a vent tube that passes through the fender to the outside? I think the one for my '87 '325 was that way.


    They are supposed to, however many people improperly choose to install a cheaper battery and ignore the vent hose.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,575
    They are supposed to, however many people improperly choose to install a cheaper battery and ignore the vent hose.

    I know that Advance Auto, Autozone, and Interstate batteries come with a vent tube adapter if you are buying a battery size that is designed to fit a BMW(91, 48, etc...). The problem is -like you said- the nitwits who buy the cheapest battery that will physically fit in the tray.

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    My only concern with using the engine-bay jump start connection (I thought of that, since my MINI has one, too), is I'm wondering if the long road back to the battery will steal a fair amount of current away from that dinky charger. Sure, a heavy jumper cable, no problem, but pushing 1 amp through a 12 foot long connector cable might result in the charge taking a very long time.

    On the other hand, the slower the charge the better---so maybe it's not such a bad idea.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Sure, a heavy jumper cable, no problem, but pushing 1 amp through a 12 foot long connector cable might result in the charge taking a very long time

    You might want to re-think this.

    Would it take a long time tryin to charge a battery at one amp of current flow, why of course. But the resistance of that cable isn't the reason.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    edited November 2012
    Well it's tricky----the LENGTH of the wire most certainly causes MORE resistance, but the WIDTH of the wire causes LESS resistance.

    So how to calculate what's at play in this case?

    My only credible response is that I do know that the longer the cable, the more the resistance.

    I also know that he'd be much better off with silver battery cables than copper ones! :shades:

    So let's see here.....that would be R = P L
    A

    so what's your trick question?

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,750
    They are supposed to, however many people improperly choose to install a cheaper battery and ignore the vent hose.

    I think they guy who sold me the BMW did just that. I sure don't see a vent hose!
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