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When it comes to your transmission don’t be penny wise and pound foolish

Cut away of a transmission

One of the most expensive and complex systems in every vehicle is the transmission.  To replace one, it is not uncommon to spend $3000.00.

Did you know that it has well over a 100 moving parts? That some have over 200 moving parts? And did you know that all those moving parts are completely invisible from the oustide? They are hidden in a large HEAVY case that is bolted into your power train.

There only way three ways to check a transmission:

1. How does the vehicle shift?

2. What is the condition of the fluid?

3. What do computer diagnostics say?  (on newer vehicles)

If there is something is terribly wrong, there is no choice but to pull the transmission out of the vehicle, a four hour labor intensive job in most cases, take apart the transmission and visually inspect it.

So, how do you keep this machine in good working order so you don’t have to worry about this?

The best and easiest way is to change the fluid every 30,000 miles, and change the filter in the transmission pan (if it has one).

There are two ways to change the fluid.  One is from the top of car and the other is from the bottom.

Most transmissions hold 16 quarts of either reddish or golden fluid.  When the transmission fluid is drained from the bottom, only about 1/3 of the old fluid is recovered because most of it is in the front of the transmission in a large doughnut-shaped part called a torque converter. So, we drain about five to six quarts old fluid, add five or six quarts of new and change the filter.  If you’ve faithfully serviced your vehicle’s transmission since it was new and drained your fluid every two years, this probably works. It is also the least expensive of the two methods.

The torque converter is located in front part of the transmission and has its own case inside the transmission case.

When the fluid is changed from the top of the motor, we call it a flush. So what is actually a flush?  It is like hooking your transmission line to a special wet vac.  The flush machine sucks out all the dirty fluid and it can recover most of it.  Then it runs a cleanser through the system to get rid of residue and contaminants that have probably built up.  Then we add 16 qts. of  new fluid with special conditioners and preservatives. The products we use, called BG Products, come with a lifetime warranty to your transmission if you flush it before 75,000 miles and every 30,000 miles thereafter.

Conditioners and preservatives make the fluid more slippery and last longer. Remember, what is the job of transmission fluid?  Just like oil for your engine, transmission fluid is lubrication for those 100 to 200 moving invisible parts inside your transmission case.

Most vehicle owners need to do transmission flushes because they haven’t serviced the transmission on a regular, faithful basis even though they may be very good about changing the motor oil.

If you have a filter at the bottom of your transmission pan, a flush does not include a filter change, that yet it still needs to be done. You can either have it done at the time of the flush or at another time. For example, one year do the flush and the next year change the filter.

Now it’s story time. Last week we had a customer at our shop whose vehicle’s transmission fluid was black.  She had been in here a year ago, and at that time her fluid was black. She didn’t want to change it then, and she didn’t want to change it now.  Now it was really black and thick. Why wouldn’t she change it?

Well, because her friend told her that if she flushed the transmission, it would stir up all these contaminants resting in the bottom of her transmission pan and wreak damage on the 100 to 200 invisible moving parts. Is this true?

Well, let me start out by saying that black and burnt fluid lubricates like water, not like oil. So, is it doing its job of lubricating the transmission? Hmmm….

What happens when you leave thick, black fluid inside the transmission?  Well, in addition to all those moving parts not being lubricated properly, imagine clutches and seals. The clutches are flat paper cork rings that transmit the power that make the car go.  The seals are mostly rubber. What do you think happens when black fluid that’s not slippery circulates?  It corrodes the clutches and seals. As the clutches become friable, little pieces break off and get into the fluid.  The seals get hard. Over time, there will be a lot less clutch material between the metal parts and once metal starts touching metal, all hell breaks loose with the transmission.

So, is there any truth to the concern of her friend?  The answer is that if the transmission is damaged, it’s damaged. A flush will not cause any damage that has already been done.  So, the only question remains: Are you taking care of your vehicle’s transmission?

Classic Cars Connect People to People

It’s been too long since I have updated this  blog.  Life has been so rich and full that finding quiet time to concentrate and reflect has not materialized–or evaporated– before I could set my little self down. I hope that you, happy readers, are also enjoying life in these full summer days.

Recently, we held our first car show.  Our Facebook page at Adolf Hoepfl has tons of photos. Go to  www.facebook.com/adolfsgarage or to photographer Wayne Sandlin at www.pbyd.com (Click on Events and Password is carshow.)

The oldest vehicles entered dated from the 1930s and went up through 1972. We had three Volkswagons from 1957 to 61, a beautiful 1966 Thunderbird,  and a candied apple red 1956 Chevy Bel Air.  All these cars were works of art.  Just gorgeous to behold.  And at our shop which is pretty old-timey (built in 1946), they looked like they belonged there.

In fact, Eugene, the former owner of our business, came with his wife, and it set me to thinking.  He worked on ALL of these cars when that was all people had to drive.   Now we consider them treasures.

We had over 200 people enjoying our American car history, swapping stories, eating BBQ, chili dogs, listening to Blue Grass in 100 degree heat.  When we planned this event, I had no idea how much joy we would bring to auto enthusiasts. The man with the Thunderbird just told me the other day that ours was the first show he had ever entered.  I was so honored because his car was truly beautiful. It was a privilege to have all these fine people and cars at our shop.

It makes me wonder. What will we treasure 50 years from now?

The miracle of A/C

I have discovered that I am a car expert by default. This is because I have been married for more than 30 years to one of the most knowledgeable automotive technicians in Texas.  That’s a pretty bold claim, but I can support it by the fact that automotive dealers and customers in other parts of Texas have towed their vehicles 100s of miles so my husband could fix them. For the next couple of weeks, I want to write about A/C systems.

Air conditioning, next to the car actually starting, is probably the single most important feature to drivers–at least in Houston. I have known people to put A/C repair ahead of front end work and power steering.  It’s very important and can be expensive. Why is that?

Well, A/C is a complex and complicated system.  The refrigerant that’s inside your sealed A/C lines must go from a high pressure gas to a liquid and back to a low pressure gas in order for your car to cool.  Each droplet of refrigerant changes its state three times in less than a second!  In addition, the A/C system must have the proper amount of refrigerant and special oil in order to cool properly.  Over time A/C systems can lose refrigerant through the seals, or a poorly sealed system can absorb moisture and air causing a loss of cooling power.

In modern cars, the amount of refrigerant is so small that even a 5% loss will mean that your car will not cool when it gets really hot.

For example, new Nissans have only 14 ounces of refrigerant.  If the system is 5% low, that is .7 ounces, the driver will experience a loss of cooling power in our Houston summer. If the system is 10% low, the A/C compressor will run hotter than it should and wear out more quickly.

Even though most modern cars may have 32 ounces of refrigerant, running the system three ounces low could shorten the lifespan of your equipment and will not keep you cool on our hot days.

This is why an A/C check is so important.  We identify what type of refrigerant you have.  We check the cooling system for leaks.  We look at your cooling fans and fan clutches.  We look at the compressor and make sure there are no missing bolts, hardware, etc. We check for blockages to air flow, leaves over the evaporator (under the dash).  We check for smell, temperature, and that your fan speeds work properly.  We also check your drive belts, pulleys, tensioners, and we make sure that electrical connections are not loose, burnt, broken or corroded.

Then we add some fluorescent dye to your system.  That way if you have a slow leak, we will be able to find it with our ultraviolet light tester.

A/C checks are reasonably priced and can save you lots of dollars and sweat!

Car Talk’s Garage Buried by Snow

Recent record snow falls in the East coast reminded me of my one and only snow experience. It’s a car story.

On December 8, 2003,  I was stranded in Cambridge, Mass. by a record snowfall brought in by a Nor’easter.  It cancelled 335 flights, one of which was my ride home.  With Logan Airport shut down for 16 hours, unable to return to Houston,  I decided to use my “free” day to search for Click and Clack.  You know Car Talk’s garage? I had no idea what an adventure I was getting myself into.

But before I tell you the story, I have to show you this picture.  The night of the storm, a limosine pulled into the hotel and a beautiful bride and groom dashed from the wintry outdoors. I just happened to catch this image with my Kodak.

Dashing between snowflakes, here comes the bride.

Okay.  Back to my car story.

I knew from talking to a guy from the airport that Click and Clack’s shop was called the Good News Garage.  The fellow had taken his car there once but he didn’t remember where it was.  He remembered that their real names were Tom and Ray Maggliozzi and that Ray ran the shop.  I asked him what he thought of  Ray.  He said that he felt like the guy was honest, but, surprisingly, unable to fix his car. I found that hard to believe.  Next to my husband, Ray was the God of the Automobile.

I set out early in the morning on foot. The snow fell so fast and was so deep that few streets had been plowed. Snow drifts taller than six feet towered over me, but these icy walls did not daunt me. With temperatures in the mid-20s, I set out on foot armed with my Kodak Max, purse, and cellphone.

The doorman at the MIT Hotel where I was staying told me that Click and Clack’s shop was at Pearl and Decatur about a 45  minute walk.

When I arrived to Pearl and Decatur, there was no Click and Clack Garage. I spoke to a  rosy-cheeked guy who was shoveling snow off his driveway. He  told me to go to Tudor off Brookline to find their shop.

I get there.  I look around. Again, no garage. Just the Massachusetts Electric Store.  I go inside and ask the owner. He had no idea where Click and Clack worked their automotive magic.   Together we tried to find their address on the internet.  No luck.  Can you believe it?  We’re talking about Click and Clack who have been on the radio for a 100 years. How can their garage be so well hidden?

So I leave and soon spot two bearded guys wearing baseball caps, and I think maybe they would know.  They told me to walk further down Brookline.  As I head that way, I’m  careful  to step into  the footsteps of those who had walked before me so I wouldn’t get snow inside my boots.   I’m now wondering whether I would have been better off staying at the hotel and looking at the snow rather than wearing it.

Car in snow.

That’s when I ran into Joe. He was driving a Chevy pick-up, and it was the first moving vehicle I had seen that morning.  It was hard to tell where the cars were as most were so  buried they looked like miniature hills or large camel humps.  Joe  asked me where I was going, and I told him I was looking for Click and Clack’s Garage.  “Oh!” he says, “I know where that is.  I can take you.  It’s just a few blocks around the corner.”

I didn’t hesitate. I hopped in.  It turns out that Joe knew Ray Maggliozzi.

So after talking to five people and hitchhiking with a stranger, I finally arrived.

The garage itself was an oldtimey brick building probably from the 1920s or older.  I walked into the garage and met a friendly guy,  but he lacked the Tappett sparkle.  I asked him  if Ray was in.  He was not.  What a let down!  I was polite, but what I really wanted was to  say was, “Hey!  I came here from Houston, Texas.  I walked  for miles in two-foot deep snow after one of the worst snow storms in Boston history and had the dickens of the time finding you.  I risked my life by hitching a ride from a perfect stranger, and now you’re telling me that  Click and Clack are not even here?”

That’s life.

But where is the garage, you ask?

Well, if I told you, you wouldn’t have nearly the fun that I did.  At least, now you know where not to look.  However, I did take a picture for you. And,  if you decide to drive there, I have some car tips about dangerous weather.

The Good News Garage

 Car tips for driving in Dangerous weather:

1. Stay home!  Is it really worth it to get out?

2. Make sure your car is road worthy.  Make sure your tires, your windshield wipers, your washer bottle, your coolant are in good condition. You don’t want to be stranded.  When weather is terrible, most people stay home (see #1), so you may be not only stranded but isolated.

3. Have your cell phone, charger, and carry an emergency kit with you. Costco, for example,  sells an inexpensive car emergency kit with food, water, thermal blanket, flashers just in case you are stranded for several hours.

4. Make sure you have a good battery before you head out. Any good shop will be able to test yours for a nominal fee .  As the Tappett brothers say, “Get the meanest, ugliest battery that will fit in your car.”

5. Make sure your coolant is a 50-50 mix. That’s 50% coolant to 50% water.  Too much coolant can be as bad as too little.  The freezing temperature of coolant is reduced when it’s at a proper mix and that’s a good thing.  You don’t want your engine coolant freezing.  It goes without saying that you should fix any coolant leaks before you head out.

6. Make sure your gas  tank is full.  If you get stranded in the freezing cold, keep your engine running as a source of heat.  If you’re caught in a snowstorm of the century, make sure your tailpipe doesn’t get buried in now.  Get out and brush snow away periodically.

7.  If you’re in snow country and have to drive in snow, you need snow tires.  If you’re in an area that also needs tire chains, keep them in your trunk, but know how to use them before you need them.  Practice before you are knee-deep in the white stuff, in the dark, tired, cold, and hungry.  These things always happen at the worst possible time.

8. Finally! Some words of wisdom from the Tappett brothers themselves!

“Even with good coolant, snow tires, stability control, all-wheel drive, and the bag of Doritos in the trunk, keep in mind that driving in snow, sleet, and ice is very treacherous. And even if you maintain control of your car, not everyone else will. So don’t ever get lulled into a false sense of security. Do everything slowly and gently. Remember, in the snow, the tires are always just barely grabbing the road. Accelerate slowly and gently, turn slowly and gently, and brake slowly and gently. To do this, you have to anticipate turns and stops. That means what? Going slowly and leaving and leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars. Rapid movements lead to skids and loss of control. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottoms of your feet – step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don’t break the eggshell.

“If you’re nervous about driving in winter, consider spending some time practicing. Go to an empty parking lot and try sending the car into a little skid on purpose. Slam on the brakes, then practice turning into the skid and see what happens – and practice until you’re comfortable regaining control of the car. Doing this in a large, empty parking lot (preferably without light poles) allows you the luxury of skidding without ending up flat on your back, looking up into the eyes of seven different EMTs. The more comfortable you are maintaining control and regaining control, the better a winter driver you’ll be. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget your laptop computer with the cellular Internet connection so you can kill time here at Car Talk while you’re waiting for the tow truck

Winter driving presents a number of challenges to both you and your car. Cold weather tests the limits of your car’s mechanical abilities. Treacherous driving conditions test your abilities as a driver.

The consequences can be very dire. You could end up sliding towards a guard rail wondering if your affairs are in order, or, as Dave Barry would say, stuck on a deserted road and then passing through the digestive system of wolves. It pays to be prepared. What can you do to get ready for the snow and sleet-covered roads and dipstick-freezing temperatures? Plenty!”

Thank you, Click and Clack!

So that’s my one and only snow-car story!

Kathryn van der Pol, great admirer of Tom and Ray Maggliozzi, aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

If you want to visit Car Talk’s website, here you go.  http://www.cartalk.com/index.html

How We Helped the Tallest Man I Have Ever Met with his Broken Spark Plug

February 5, 2010 2 comments

Seven foot two inch customer brought in his wife’s Ford Expedition with a seriously bad problem.

He had a broken spark plug in his motor.  How did this happen, you ask?

Another shop was performing a standard tune-up and broke plug number four in the back where it’s hard to reach.  It was an accident, of course, but the bad thing was they couldn’t figure out how to get it out of there. So, customer had it towed to us.  Did I say he was 7’2″?

The sure fire cure would be to dismantle the head and knock out the plug.  However, that it is very costly because of the 15 hours of labor involved. The challenge was could we find a cure that was far less expensive?

We said we would give it a try.

Upon first inspection, we made another sad discovery.  The customer hadn’t even needed the plugs.  He had a bad coil, not bad spark plugs.  His vehicle had 60,000 miles and his plugs were rated for 100,000.  So why had the previous shop changed the plugs?

At the customer’s request.

If it had been us, we would like to think we would have advised the customer to hold his horses on the plugs and  let’s find the real problem.  I am trying to be humble here.  Of course, I really think we would have found the problem which brings me to a concern about some auto repair shops.

Many shops will do exactly what the customer requests.  Sometimes it’s a way to make money; sometimes it’s out of ignorance.  But, whatever the case, this is a bad policy.  People pay us for our expertise.  That shop should have paid attention to the car and unfortunately for them, when they didn’t, the Ford  went from being a pain to a nightmare.

It wasn’t easy for us either.

It took us three different experiments to finally extract the plug.

Ford makes a special spark plug extracting tool kit.  Part of the process involves using an adhesive on a pin and attaching the pin to the broken plug.  Then when the adhesive has dried, using a tool that slips over the pin which has a square head and twisting it until it pulls out.  The adhesive that came with the kit, called Loctite, dried in about two hours.  We tried to remove it.  No luck.  The pin broke away from the plug like snapping a stick in two.

We needed a better adhesive.  So attempt number two was to use JB Quick.  It dries in about four hours.  That didn’t work either.   Hmm… Now we’re in day 2.  The customer wants his car.  We’re talking to each other, talking to other shop owners, dancing, fuming and cussing a bit around the vehicle, but we did not give up.  If we failed, the customer was going to have to spend over $1200.00….

Finally, we resorted to some old-fashioned Texan ingenuity.  We used regular JB Weld which takes 13 hours to cure and is messy to work with. This meant the customer had to wait another full day–and so did we.  But, it worked!

Sometimes you have to be smarter than the average bear or the average expert. You have to have faith in yourself.

At Adolf Hoepfl Garage, we take pride in being able to solve super-tough problems.  Needless to say, our customer was happy.  Thank goodness!  He is, after all, the tallest customer I have ever had the pleasure to help.

One Thing Always Leads to Another

Our Anniversary Bench

Three years ago, a customer named Lorine came in to have her car worked on, and we started chatting.  She told me about a great cafe  inside a historic hotel in Blessing, Texas.  The hotel was established  in 1906 when the town of Blessing was a major train stop. She went on and on about the home cooked food, the atmosphere, the friendly people, and my mouth was watering just to hear her talk about it.  Our 29th wedding was coming up and my husband and I decided that would be a fun thing to do.

So, on June 3, 2007, off we went to Blessing, Texas.  For some reason, we left late, probably because of something at the shop so we didn’t pull into the parking lot until 2:05 p.m.  For those of you who wonder where Blessing is, it’s not far from the coast between Victoria and Palacios, Texas.  It’s really in the middle of nowhere, and it’s a very small town. We found the hotel easily, walked in, and an elderly lady wearing a large white apron said, “We just closed five minutes ago.”

The Blessing Cafe and Hotel

By this time, we were hungry, and I was devastated. It’s our anniversary and THE PLACE we had picked to celebrate was closed.  I could feel the tears welling up and big fat lump rising in my throat. This was supposed to be a blessed occasion, and I didn’t feel blessed.

What to do?

The lady was nice enough to let us look around, but we left because we were in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday with  no place to eat.

Palacios was less than an hour away and it was the only city anywhere on the map. So off we headed in a stony silence.

Fortunately, we found a nice seafood restaurant and had a good meal.  Then we decided as long as we were there, we might as well look around Palacios and see what there was.

Off the main road was a shop called Texas Furniture owned by Glen Barnette.  When we walked into to his work shop, Sybren immediately noticed that Glen was building model airplanes, the kind Sybren used to fly in his teens.  So he and Glen hit it off right away.  While they’re talking up a storm like they’ve been friends for 50 years, I noticed Glen’s cabinets, tables and chairs, a model of an Australian house Glen hoped to build one day, and I remembered that we had wanted a bench for our customers to sit on outside while they were waiting for their ride.

I had a paper towel in my purse, and I sketched out what we wanted.  A big oak bench that could seat five, with cup holders on each end, curved legs and most important, a Texas Star centered in  the back.

Glen said he could do it, and it would take about a month and a half.  We left a deposit and drove back to Houston, much happier than when we left Blessing.

Six weeks later, we drove back to Blessing.  Got there at 11:30 a.m.  We loved the meal.  It was every bit as good as Lorine promised it would be.  Then we headed to Palacios and picked up our beautiful anniversary bench.

Food is served on antique stove tops.

When we brought it to the shop, we realized that it was too nice to set outdoors without a plan.  So, for several months it sat inside one of the bays while we tried to think of how we could use it without it getting stolen, getting ruined, or being a hassle. Nothing came to us, so it just sat there gathering dust.

Then one day, one of our customers let us know that one of the two chairs inside the waiting room was broken.  Someone too heavy had sat in it and bent it out of shape.

We had to have a replacement right away.  We often have customers who wait and they had to have a place to sit.  Then we remembered!  The bench.  We took out the chairs and lo and behold, the bench was a perfect fit.  It was meant to be.

Sometimes, when all the customers have left and we’ve closed the shop, we’ll sit on our bench and hold hands.  We now know how blessed we are.

Our Anniversary Bench

Rain Brings Memories of Flood

It’s been raining off and on all day today.  This reminds me of  how I used to worry every time it rained.

Will the shop flood?

Our business is not in a flood plain, but it’s situated at a low spot where Shepherd’s inlets clog easily.  We had them cleaned out about seven months ago, and so far we haven’t had any rain in the shop since.

In the past, our shop flooded a couple times a year.  At the first sign of water coming into the shop, I would make a beeline to the closet and grab my galoshes.  I would pick up any boxes with parts and get everything off the floor.  I even bought special bed risers from IKEA  for our waiting room bench.  It’s our anniversary bench and I didn’t want it ruined.

When it would start to rain really hard really fast, our technicians dropped what they were doing, grabbed  push brooms and prepared to shove water out the bay doors.

The water would first seep, then pour into the parking lot as cars whizzed by.  The fact that the street was virtually invisible did not deter motorists from plowing ahead at the highest possible speed.  Soon, car-generated waves would roll into the shop.  It also flooded  from the rear when the side street went under water.

When the flooding began, we established a rhythm: a wave rolls in; we push it out.  One or two men would be stationed at each bay to repel the water.

Another tech would grab the sandbags that our founder Adolf  Hoepfl had set aside for this purpose and pile them in front of the office door.  If the rain was really bad, we would use a pulley and hoist the state inspection machine out of its hole in the ground in order to keep it dry.

When it was over, we set up giant fans all over the place to dry out the floor when it was all over.

I am so glad that doesn’t happen anymore. That was a lot of work.