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Archive for April, 2009

Auto Car Service and Repair Tech Tips-Auto Belts-Auto Hoses Inspection-Houston,Tx

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Tech Tip: Belt and Hose Inspections

By Gary Goms

Although belts and hoses are still classified as expendable parts, their durability has increased to the point that many import shop owners and technicians are now neglecting to perform routine belt and hose inspections. From a historical perspective, belts and hoses have moved from a recommended replacement interval to an inspection interval. This means that, unless otherwise required, there is generally no recommended replacement interval for belts and hoses. The consequence of moving from replacements to inspections is that many shops are missing potential profits in belt and hose replacements.

Just recently, I had a 2001 Asian import come in for a check engine light issue that illustrates what is happening in the belt and hose markets. Because the import wasn’t a popular brand in my area, many shops had turned down the diagnostics. So, after working with a vacuum schematic, I found the cause for the diagnostic trouble code to be a clogged vacuum line.

Of even more concern was that the owner was ready to leave on a long trip with a badly cracked alternator belt. The vehicle had just been “serviced” and, in the owner’s mind, was ready for his long trip. That wasn’t the case, however, because the belt was ready to shred its way off the pulleys within a few hundred miles of high-speed driving.

Unfortunately, in their haste to sell wiper blades and fluid flushes, many quick-lube mechanics overlook expendable items like belts and hoses. Although replacing the belt wasn’t difficult for a well-tooled tech, it would have been difficult for any repair facility that didn’t have the metric wrenches needed to fit under a tight-fitting intake manifold and power steering bracket.

The A/C compressor and power steering belt also had to be removed before the alternator drive belt could be accessed. Years of corrosion made removing the A/C compressor belt more challenging than it should have been, and an even greater array of tools was required to budge the tensioning pulley from its corroded mounting. Perhaps this example explains why many quick-service facilities give hose and belt inspection a relatively low priority on their service menus.

Belt inspections aren’t difficult. The first clue to a bad belt, for example, is a belt squeal heard during engine start-up. The second clue might be a belt squeal heard during parking maneuvers or during an alternator load test. The last clue is the fraying and cracking associated with a worn-out belt (See Photo 1). A frayed belt might indicate a pulley alignment problem, so it’s important to include some diagnostic time for inspecting and possibly correcting pulley alignment.

Many import manufacturers promote standards that might include the number of cracks per inch present on the inside of the belt. In addition to whatever standard might be published, I inspect the outside of the belt for signs of glazing or pulley slippage. If the original part numbers and markings are still visible, all is well with the belt and pulleys. On the other hand, if the belt is glazed or frayed, an idler or drive pulley bearing might be seizing up (See Photo 2).In most cases, any belt running past 100,000 miles might be running on borrowed time. Of course, many belts do last longer because of the variables that affect belt life, including the amount of torque transmitted by the belt, underhood heat, and exposure to oil and atmospheric ozone.

If, for example, the engine has separate accessory belts, the alternator belt will tend to crack and harden first because the alternator is continuously laboring to operate accessories and keep the battery charged. The air conditioning compressor drive belt might be the next to fail in warm climates. Here again, if the compressor is overcharged or is seizing up, belt life will suffer accordingly. Hydraulic power steering pump belts usually last the longest simply because they transmit maximum torque only under demand. Last, separate water pump belts transmit very little torque and are the most likely to incur the least wear.

Many years ago, the average water-cooled import had only four or five hoses including the upper and lower radiator, heater inlet and return, and a water pump bypass hose. In most cases, the lower radiator hose had a wire reinforcement to keep the hold from collapsing at high engine speeds. Imports built during the past several decades may have a dozen or more small coolant hoses that perform diverse duties, like heating the throttle plate assembly or warming up thermostatic idle speed controls.

In general, the upper radiator hose on a conventional cooling system is the first to fail because it endures the hottest coolant temperatures. The lower radiator hose, on the other hand, may operate at lower temperatures and, thus, may last much longer. The same can be said of the auxiliary hoses, including the heater outlet and smaller-diameter intake manifold hoses that have minimal exposure to underhood heat.

Hose inspections are relatively simple if, when the engine is fully warmed up, we begin by looking for any unusual swelling or seepage around the connection point of the hose. If the sides of a hose feel mushy or spongy at full operating pressure and temperature, the hose should be replaced (See Photo 3).

Similarly, if traces of coolant leakage are found around a hose connection, the hose has hardened and will likely leak if it’s reinstalled. If the cooling system is depressurized and the hose isn’t wire-reinforced, the radiator hoses can be evaluated by squeezing the sides together. Again, the rubber should feel firm to the touch. If the rubber feels soft or spongy, the hose is a candidate for recommended replacement. If the hose is so hard that it has lost its elasticity, it also becomes a candidate for replacement (See Photo 4).

Let’s face it: Because of the complexity of modern cooling systems, hose access issues and today’s relatively higher labor rates, it’s tough to sell a complete cooling system hose replacement. In many cases, a complete replacement isn’t absolutely necessary because most of the hoses might be in good condition. On the other hand, if a component like a heater core, water pump, radiator or engine is being removed or replaced, the only significant cost to the consumer is the cost of the hoses themselves.Keep in mind that re-clamping an old, hardened hose brings with it a potential liability issue. If you’re the shop that reinstalled that old hose, perhaps you’re not pursuing what is called “due diligence” in performing a reliable repair. If an engine is ruined because the old hose fails, you may not be following due diligence principle, at least not in the eyes of some legal experts.

Economic times are tough, and it’s a demanding process to write an estimate for hose replacement that’s both profitable and competitive. Unlike other components, labor charges aren’t really an issue in many belt and hose replacements because belts and hoses must be removed to gain access to other components like a water pump, timing belt or the engine itself. Because the labor for belt and hose replacement is included in the replacement of another part in most labor guides, it simply doesn’t make economic sense to reinstall old, worn-out belts and hoses.It’s also important to emphasize to the customer how much more expensive it will be to replace the hoses at a later date when the issue of hose accessibility must be fully addressed. On some imports, accessibility issues might account for hours of additional labor time, not to mention the difficulty of performing a reliable installation within the confines of a tight engine compartment.

Last, remember that having good belts and hoses is a security issue for most drivers. While having good belts and hoses on the family’s “beater” car isn’t a primary issue for most, having those new belts and hoses under the hood of their primary transportation becomes not only a security issue, but also a dollars-and-cents issue if the vehicle is stranded on a long trip due to a belt or hose failure.

Auto Engine Repair- Car Engine Electrical Diagnostic Skills/Diagnostic Tools for Auto Service-Houston,Tx

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Tech Tip: Make Sure You Have the Tools and Equipment Needed to Service Today’s Electrical Systems

One day we are fat, dumb and happy using a piece of wire with a 12-volt bulb on the end of it to test things with. Now we are faced with deciding between using the 10 meg-ohm computer safe test light, the power injector or a logic probe complete with polarity protection, audible alarm, light and 20-foot memory cord. Geeesh! How did things get so confusing so fast? Progress my boy! That is the root of our problem here! As the cars and systems have gotten more and more complicated, so have the tools and equipment needed to work on those cars ….


Today’s professional technician is expected to be able to understand electrical theory, electronics, physics, as well as understand and interpret readings from complex electrical test equipment. Add to that volts and amps and ohms…OH MY!The good news is that there are some general classifications of electrical test equipment that can at least narrow down the choices to a more manageable number of tools to consider. There are generic system testers, there are specialty testers and there are diagnostic testers. These main three groups are a good starting place to think about the tools and equipment needed to test today’s modern automotive electrical systems.

Generic or general testers normally are designed to perform a range of tests or work on a variety of vehicles and systems. These testers might include such things as multimeters, battery load testers and voltage test lights. Again, the main thing about these tools is that they can work on different vehicles, and perform general tests on different systems.

This is the largest category of electrical testing tools and equipment. These tools provide the foundation for all the more complex testing that may be necessary later on. A technician will do well to start building his or her collection of tools here. The basics are still necessary even on the most complicated vehicles. The basics should include a 12-volt test light, a multimeter that is capable of performing a host of tests including the basics such as volts, amps AC and DC current measurement, diode testing, rpm, temperature and starter draw testing.

The meter should have overload protection via fuses, it should also be able to store min/max values on data, and meters that show a graphical representation are needed to perform many tests today. From here, a tech should consider a collection of ancillary items to support and complement the multimeter. These items might include an rpm inductive pickup, a K-style temperature probe and an amp clamp adapter (this allows for starter draw testing). Once these items are in place, make sure that the kit includes an assortment of test leads and extensions, back probes, clamps, etc. These items ensure that the technician can always hook his or her test equipment to whatever item is being tested.Another incredibly powerful tool is a power injector. These tools allow the technician to provide power to a component for testing. Most of these units have a ground wire available directly next to the power source. These tools are some of the best productivity tools in the current technician’s toolbox. These tools have features such as lights, audible alarms and polarity indication.

Specialty Test Equipment
Specialty testers such as oxygen sensor testers, ABS wheel speed sensor testers and fuel injection signal testers are designed to do one specific test. These tools are indispensable for verifying a diagnosis prior to replacing an expensive component. Many of these testers aren’t used every day, but on those occasions where you really need it, you will be glad you have it.

Diagnostic Test Equipment
This is some of the most expensive, complicated and powerful equipment and tools that a technician can purchase. The true value of this equipment is in the description. Diagnostic test equipment will actually provide the user with possible answers or diagnosis of what might be wrong with a vehicle. These tools are different from other test equipment in that they usually have the ability to receive, interpret and analyze multiple sources of data input.

One example of diagnostic test equipment is the latest generation of battery testing equipment. These tools are incredibly complex, they are using microprocessors and, in some cases, are performing multiple tests at one time to verify the condition of a battery. The early battery testers placed a load on a battery and then the user was left with making a decision based on the analog results of that test. Compare that with today’s testers, which are evaluating the battery on several levels including state of charge, voltage, amperage, percentage of life left, maximum potential power output and many other tests. This is just one example of a diagnostic tester used for electrical systems on today’s modern vehicles.Regardless of a technician’s knowledge level, picking test tools is not an easy task. Many times the testers that are available today are so complicated that even the professional sales and tool people can’t always know all the features and benefits of a specific tool or piece or equipment. The best course of action in those cases is for the technician to contact the supplier directly to learn more about the tool before making a buying decision. Another great way to learn about test tools is by attending seminars and continuing education programs. These are opportunities for the tech to see, touch and use the tool in a relaxed environment.

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