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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    A four wheel alignment costs $75.00 on most American cars

    Only because there are a lot of idiots running shops who use the alignment service as a loss leader to try and gain a lot of the repair work. They price the alignment low, under pay their techs and hope the techs turn around and sell and install enough parts to turn a profit on the whole deal.

    I really like doing alignments, but cannot justify the expense of the equipment because of all of the ones who don't price it correctly.
  • A lot of alignment work gets botched, especially on the higher line cars. Some techs just don't know how to work outside the box.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    Replacing modules to diagnose a problem is really an acceptable troubleshooting techniques.

    There are a lot of people who think that way. Their idea is it's cheaper to simply have people try swapping parts instead of getting them the training that is actually required to diagnose, and then allow them to have the time to take a disciplined approach to utilize that training.

    We use it a lot in my line of work. But, what is not acceptable in the example you gave is charging the customer for those modules.


    So then who pays for the "used" part? (It was a new part right up until someone tried it, now it's used) I sure don't have the money to buy modules to put on a shelf and gather dust. The modules that the 4-Runner didn't need would have cost more than the entire repair.

    Once you've found that the problem is in the interconnects, the original modules should be replaced and not charged to the customer

    Totally impractical in our world. There are simply too many unique modules, and on top of that CAN vehicles now need to learn the VIN of the vehicle they are installed into in order to reduce theft value. The moment a module is connected to the CAN bus and powered up, it learns the VIN of the vehicle it is installed in, and that cannot be erased, ever. Try and move that module to another car and it will recognize the conflicted VIN, and at the least, the module will simply not function, at the worst, you could end up with a no-start security system failure.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    A lot of alignment work gets botched, especially on the higher line cars. Some techs just don't know how to work outside the box.

    Let's see, price the job too low, and pay a tech .8 hours to do it when the flat rate manual actually allows for 2.5 hours. Why should anyone be surprised that your not going to get what your not paying for.
  • Well you have to be kind of nuts to take your Porsche or Mercedes AMG to a chain store for an alignment. I don't think a Dodge Ram 3500 really cares which way its wheels are pointing, but a 997 Carrera 4S does.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 13,602
    I always figured that the tire stores (heck, probably dealers too) used alignments as a loss leader. Always something to find when you are poking around down there!

    actually, the stores near me offer the check for free. And I have had them come back telling me everything was in the green, and it did not need anything done.

    seems like most "normal" cars tend to hold an alignment pretty well. Some people never have then done.

    2013 Acura RDX (wife's), 2007 Volvo S40 (when daughter lets me see it), 2000 Acura TL (formerly son's, now mine again), and new Jetta SE (son's first new car on his own dime!)

  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,023
    Well you have to be kind of nuts to take your Porsche or Mercedes AMG to a chain store for an alignment. I don't think a Dodge Ram 3500 really cares which way its wheels are pointing, but a 997 Carrera 4S does.

    Exactly.

    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: 1,521
    Have you done any alignments in the last five years? (Did you ever do any on a regular basis, yourself?)

    It makes a big difference in handling and the feel of the ride on everything from the Porsche all the way up to big rigs.

    Well you have to be kind of nuts to take your Porsche or Mercedes AMG to a chain store for an alignment.

    I teach two alignment classes. The first one, within one year after the techs have started aligning cars, keep in m ind the better chains send their techs to training with the equipment manufacturer for a week when they are ready to start doing alignments. (Usually about five years into the trade)

    The second class is for techs that have been aligning cars for five years or more. After that class, along with their experience there isn't anything a dealer tech can or does do, that they cannot do as well. The question comes down to discipline and pride in workmanship as to whether they use everything that we show them. Keep in mind that techs constantly move in and out of dealers and chain stores looking for a shop that really values their skills.

    BTW, a GM four wheel steering truck is much more complicated to work on than a Porsche or AMG is.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    edited November 2012
    actually, the stores near me offer the check for free. And I have had them come back telling me everything was in the green, and it did not need anything done.

    "Just get it in the green"

    So you have a camber spec of +.5 and a tolerance of +/- .7. That means you could have one wheel at 1.2 degrees positive camber, and one at -.2. and the machine will show everything "in the green". That's 1.4 degrees side to side variation and for a car to not lead and handle correctly that needs to be less than .5 and ideally about .3 higher on the left side than the right side to compensate for road crown.

    If in the example I just gave you the right hand side is the 1.2 positive camber, and the left hand side is the -.2 you will have a car that pulls to the right, but again "everything is in the green". The trick is this might not be only a camber angle issue. Today, the cradle assembly could be pushed to one side and need re-aligned first , and then the tech would adjust the camber if necessary.

    What angle needs to be measured to prove whether that is the case or not? Exactly how is that measurement made? (They have to be very specific on that or else they need to sit in the second class that I (and others teach)

    Take that question to your alignment shop that does "free" checks. I'll post the answer sometime during the next two weeks. If someone thinks they know the answer go ahead and post it.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    seems like most "normal" cars tend to hold an alignment pretty well. Some people never have then done.

    I recall hearing claims like "hit one pothole and you knock it right back out of alignment" which I always took as an excuse for why the vehicle wasn't aligned correctly.

    Once an alignment is set and done correctly, the wheel should "line up with the dash", or be level while going straight down the road. I don't care if you go out and play the "Dukes of Hazzard" in the thing after that. If the wheel remains level while your gong straight down the road, then the alignment didn't change. If anything on the front end bent, and changed any of the angles, both sides of the car would have to bend exactly the same for the wheel to stay level, and be exactly where it was set during the alignment. What are the odds of that happening?
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    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. ">
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    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.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,358
    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: 17,358
    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: 6,023
    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: 17,727
    >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.

    This message has been approved.

  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,023
    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: 21,594
    $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: 17,727
    >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.

    This message has been approved.

  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,023
    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

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