Welcome to Flying Dog's Import Automotive Blog!

Why A Simple "Check Engine Light" Requires Expert Care

Posted by Greg Minnick on Wed, Sep 02, 2015 @ 03:00

An example of what goes into fixing your check engine light:

We had a Nissan in that ran poorly and had a P0300 code which is a non cylinder specific misfire code. This code could be caused by any number of issues, some of which could be related to compression in the engine, an ignition misfire, a lean or rich running engine to name a few. This type of code in particular requires some skill and experience to resolve. I was working with Scott Hughes on this one; here's how we went about testing it.

the-story-of-one-check-engine-light

When a powertrain code sets, it will set freeze frame data. This data lists some of the most critical sensor and data values and the freeze frame is what this data read at the time the fault set. I like to check fuel trim data, which shows how the computer compensates for an imbalance in the air fuel mixture. I found the fuel trim for bank one of the engine was seeing a lean condition and adding fuel. Bank 2 was reading fairly normal. At this point we can feel pretty comfortable ruling out something that would affect both banks of this engine, such as a mass air flow sensor.

I next checked the current fuel trim values at idle and 2500 rpm. Fuel trim here was switching from centered to adding fuel and was doing this at both idle and 2500 rpm. By watching how fuel trim is affected by different engine conditions and using past experience and knowledge, you can start to rule out possible faults.

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Next we decided to get out the digital storage oscilliscope. The scope we use is made by Pico and is laptop based. This allows you to connect to components and look at them electrically. There is a definite learning curve to this, both in interpreting the patterns and learning to hook up and set up the equipment. I decided to current ramp the fuel injectors. This technique uses a low amp probe to look at the current signal in a circuit. Scott consulted a wiring diagram and found the fuel injectors were on their own fused circuit, so we were able to tap in here. We adjusted the scope to look at several patterns and found one that was definitely not like the others. This occurred every sixth pattern. We've found a bad fuel injector. This engine is a V6 with an intake plenum that covers three of our fuel injectors, so now we have to find which injector is our faulty one. We connected another lead of our scope to measure voltage at an easy to reach injector. We chose cylinder number two. We then set our scope to trigger off of this cylinder. Now we follow our firing order starting with our #2 cylinder trigger and count to the bad current pattern, which happened to be cylinder 3.

If you happen to encounter a "Check Engine Light" on your vehicle be sure to consult with an expert.  A simple check engine light always requires an expert evaluation. 

Topics: Check engine light

Sometimes a cheap brake job costs a lot more!

Posted by Greg Minnick on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 @ 10:00

We had a Volvo in a while back and when I drove the car into the shop I noticed that the brake pedal was very difficult to operate as there was no power assist for the brake system. I did a quick visual inspection and found a portion of the brake vacuum tubing damaged. Engine vacuum is a critical component in making your brakes work properly, and with this damaged line, there was quite a bit more foot effort required to stop the car. We asked the owner about this and found that the car had been to another shop and quite a bit of work had been done in an attempt to fix this to no avail. The next recommendation was to replace the brake rotors as it was felt that the rotors were glazed.

cheap-brake-jobs


Other common issues of carelessness we see:

  • Sliding parts that don't get cleaned and lubricated. These parts are much more likely to seize and cause premature brake failure.

  • Brake pads and don't move easily on the pad bracket, causing brakes to drag.

  • Cheap rotors with too much lateral runout (side to side movement) which causes brake pedal pulsation several thousand miles later.

  • Brake caliper dust boots that aren't returned to their proper position when pushing the piston back into the caliper. The boot then gets caught between the piston and the brake pad and gets torn. Moisture gets inside and causes the piston to rust and the caliper to seize.


    your-braking-system

Topics: Brakes, brake job, cheap brake job, brake pads, brake rotors, brake calipers

Car Repairs & Service: Necessary Vs. Suggested

Posted by Greg Minnick on Mon, Aug 03, 2015 @ 04:54


Every time a customer visits we ask ourselves: what repair and service is mandatory in order to keep their import car in great shape, what's suggested but not immediately necessary, and how will this service benefit our customer?

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For instance, we know that basic services like maintaining fluid levels, regular oil changes, windshield wiper blade replacements, and wheel alignment services are important for all import cars whether it's a reliable Honda Accord or an ultimate driving BMW.

If the engine temperature warning light is on and it needs to be diagnosed. That falls under "mandatory" because an overheating engine and the systems that monitor it failing can lead to major repairs down the road.  Other examples of mandatory, even if there are no current symptoms to the driver, are suspenion components.  Ball joints and tie rods with excess play that do not meet minimum specifications can be unsafe.  

Waiting for the engine to melt down, or a ball joint to break are clearly NOT in the best interest of anyone.

But, what about those mid-level, non-acute, services and repairs like a constant velocity joint with a torn protective boot.  Though the C.V. Joint is functioning within manufacturer specifications, the grease lubricating it can escape the torn rubber boot.  Debris can also access the joint.  The torn boot can lead to premature failure of the joint.  

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In those cases it's time to look at all the costs and benefits. Is this in our customer's budget right now? Can this wait until it is in the budget, or should we look at other options?

The most important part of the cost/benefit analysis when fixing import cars is, we think, having an open and honest conversation with our customers about the best option and the best way to make it happen.

We may know what options exist, but in order to know what's best for the customer we need to do what we do best-- speak with our customers.  Our strategy is to be an advisor during the car repair & service process.

Topics: Preventative Maintenance, Import Car Repair

Catch Pothole Damage with a Foreign Car Inspection

Posted by Greg Minnick on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 09:46

Undercar Inspection

Drivers of import cars wince when they hit potholes. That is my observation driving in the company of countless European car owners, like those who own firm-on-the-road BMWs. Actually it is a good instinct to perceive bad road conditions as a risk in any season for luxury foreign cars, even for those owning higher-riding Lexus SUVs. Yet I have noticed that once a car keeps going, apparently handling a pothole peril, the driver relaxes, forgetting the possibility of harm to the car—after all, the sensitive foreign car is still performing, having survived the “ooch” factor. Subarus, for example, are designed to handle rough terrain. In reality, however, that initial instinct a driver has about the danger a pothole poses is accurate.

Imported cars can and do suffer serious consequences from the unexpected hits to potholes and other rough road hazards. Foreign car owners may not realize their imported cars need service or repair. Even when there's no indication, maintenance checks preserve long-term foreign auto performance, which is my philosophy about repairing and servicing foreign cars. It's why I'm offering this type of inspection currently to foreign car customers.

Potholes can be struck unseen during inclement weather and can simply be unavoidable in construction zones, too. Depending on a European import's speed and the depth of a pothole, impact with potholes can dent wheel rims. These road nuisances may throw off the alignment even if there is not a strong pull in the steering; yet the result of minor alignment issues can be uneven tire wear. Minor foreign car repair keeps the whole car in good condition; in this case, tire rotation prevents the long-term situation of buying new tires unnecessarily.

Poor pavement conditions seem worse in the summer as all the cracks and evidence of the previous seasons' harshness of nature are visible. Besides potholes, rough pavement from Michigan's varying weather and seasons, including that fifth construction season and its sometimes off-road detours, also causes wear and tear on cars that drivers may never notice.

While sophisticated technology is standard in foreign cars today (and I continually learn to keep myself and technicians in front of the latest technological aspects of import auto repair and service), damage from seasonal wear, like rust, or cracks from hitting potholes does not trigger a service light notification. Often there's no noise to indicate a problem either. The best way a foreign car owner can be aware there might be an issue that could cause more serious damage to an imported car's optimum performance down the road is for a certified mechanic to look under the car.

Free Tire Quote

Catching and fixing small problems from a visual check, like seeing a cracked protective boot, can keep rust at bay. Rain water that passes through cracks in any season feeds rust growth and its spread throughout the year, affecting the premature wear to tie rods and ball joints. Another problem that can be evident from looking under a foreign car is the extent of wear on brake rotors. This can be crucial for VW cars since their braking surfaces can be as small as 1 and ¾ inches by 3 inches. Rust and its consequential pitting may cause a quick decline in braking performance, including an extended stopping time.

Passionate about foreign cars, I like to see them safe and performing at their best. It's why I'm offering an under car inspection this summer to customers' foreign autos. I want their warm weather driving travels to be safe and their cars to be healthy and avoid more serious repairs in the long-term. I do look under my own cars, like my Audi A4, and I recommend it for all foreign cars. The under car inspection at Flying Dog Garage is $23.95 and includes suspension, exhaust, steering, tires, and visual brake check. Just mention the special when scheduling an appointment or when arriving. If you've been in recently for your foreign car's service, chances are good we already did this inspection.

Flying Dog Garage, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, specializes in foreign auto repair and service. Owner Greg Minnick honors the active role he hopes customers take in preserving their foreign luxury or sports car's optimal high performance by telling customers what they need to know so they can make informed decisions about their imported car. All mechanics are certified and experienced in foreign car repair and up to date on the latest technology, continually keeping current under the proprietor's dogged passion for and pursuit of foreign auto knowledge. Both manager and doer, Greg is often practicing and teaching what he knows in the garage...under an imported car or its hood.

Topics: Brakes, foreign, auto repair Kalamazoo, suspension, exhaust, damage, potholes, inspection, bmw, lexus, subaru, VW, steering problems, rust damage, Check engine light

Introductions: what makes a foreign car repair junkie tick.

Posted by Greg Minnick on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 @ 11:13

Greg Minnick

I thought I'd start my blog with an introduction. My name is Greg Minnick and I'm passionate about fixing cars. Particularly foreign cars. I've always had an insane desire to take things apart and figure out how and why they work. I also love to learn new things, and when you work on cars every day, there are always new things to learn. I have the ability to read a book or technical manual and learn how to do something from what I read; my wife tells me that's unusual. I also have the confidence that I will be able to tackle a new job and that my past experiences, current skills and insatiable desire to learn will get me through the job successfully.

My path has been fairly unusual, compared to most technicians. I started with small repairs on my parents cars, and then my cars. I've taken a few night classes but never completed an automotive technology program. Then, I held a variety of odd jobs including a few years working as a bike messenger in Washington, D.C.. I worked as an auto glass technician, and really enjoyed the work, as I was very good at. Auto glass was something that required a good bit of skill to make the job look perfect. The greatest compliment in that job was, “I'd never believe my windshield had been replaced if I hadn't just watched you do it”.

Desiring a new challenge, I started working on cars professionally at a Honda dealer in Athens, Georgia. I then landed a position at RBM of Atlanta, a large Mercedes dealer. I started in an in house apprenticeship program, which was a highly competitive program to get into. RBM was a great place to learn. They have high standards for work quality and they would let you try any repair if they were confident in your skills. I received a very well rounded skill set from working there.

My wife and I ended up in Kalamazoo, and I went to work at Foreign Car Services. Here, I gained experience in other car brands. Again, my joy of learning new things served me well, as it can be a bit of an adjustment going from working on one brand of car to multiple brands. I also got to learn about rust, as we didn't see much of that in Atlanta.

I hope to accomplish a few things here. Automotive repair is a field with a lot of technical knowledge needed. The complexity of cars is increasing rapidly, and the days of the less than intelligent mechanic being able to flourish are long gone. The auto repair industry also has a less than stellar reputation. Unless you have a recommendation from a friend or coworker, you have very little to go on but blind faith. You pick a shop at random or by cheapest price, you drop your car off with a problem and hope it comes back fixed and in one piece. It may very well work out just fine. But sometimes hijinks ensue. Or things don't turn out as planned. There are some shops out there with a desire to rip you off, or give you the bait and switch, but in my opinion there is a lot more incompetence, poor communication, bad luck, technicians having bad days, vendors failing to deliver parts, an unexpected rusted and now broken bolt that derails the whole repair process, etc. that conspire to make your auto repair experience far from tolerable.

I hope to be able to educate you a little about how your car works and how the auto repair process works. I hope that you'll have a new respect for automotive technicians, as many of them are very intelligent, hard working individuals, who sometimes have to give up their evenings and weekends to study and stay current with a rapidly changing technology. And I hope maybe I can make you smile or laugh along the way. And I expect that I'll get to learn some new things from the questions and comments you may present me with. I'm always ready to learn something new.

 Best wishes,

Greg Minnick

Topics: Introduction, about Greg Minnick

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