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  • Technicians require Kaizen

    Posted on 13, July, 2017

    Technicians require Kaizen

    By Kathryn van der Pol

    Last month I wrote how we enjoy looking at classic cars, but not necessarily driving them. Modern cars are far more comfortable, especially when it comes to air conditioning, and they actually stop pretty quick compared to cars of the past. You don’t feel like you’re driving a boat going down the road or operating a tank when you’re trying to turn right.  Most importantly, a modern car won’t kill you if you crash, at least most of the time.

    So basically, I was writing about how much cars have improved. For a great example of this, watch this two-minute video showing what happens when a 1959 Chevy Belair crashes into a 2009 Malibu. 1959 Belair 2009 Malibu Crash Test.htm.

    Whether you are driving a ’53 Buick Special or a 2017 Buick Enclave, when the machine breaks down, you need someone you can trust to fix it. So, how can we possibly know everything on the ’53 Buick Special and the 2017 Buick Enclave?

    Answer?

    Training! The Japanese have a great word for this called Kaizen which translates as continuous improvement.

    In the past 30 days our staff completed over a 100 hours of training.

    Two Service Advisors attended six hours of training on BG products, which are lubricating fluids that clean, preserve, and enhance performance in seven major systems in your vehicle.

    Two ASE Master L-1 technicians attended four hours of training on Chrysler / Jeep products.

    Lastly, to ‘top it off’ Garage Gurus, a company owned by Federal Mogul Parts, brought two trainers from Kansas to our shop to teach a class on diagnosing modern steering-suspension concerns.

     

    Garage Gurus brought a van to our shop equipped with a wide-screen TV and their instructor discussed diagnosing modern steering and suspension concerns.

     

    Several of our technicians attended classes on brake diagnostics, engine performance, and diagnosing electrical issues three consecutive nights from 6:00 t0 10:00 p.m.

     

     

    One of our three of our ASE Master Certified L-1 technicians, Michael Nowlin is servicing a Ford truck.

     

    One of my service advisors attended a four-hour class on diesel maintenance for vehicles and trucks.

     

    I took one of our service advisors to VISION, our industry ‘s premier training program in Kansas City for technical and shop training. It lasted four days and attended classroom sessions on such things as improving communication with customers and technicians, creating more efficient shop operations, and using technology.

     

    Over 2000 technicians, service advisors, and shop owners attended Vision in Kansas City this year.

    Sybren went to Washington state for three days of management -training and visited shops in the Seattle-Bremerton area.

    And that’s not all.

    In addition to the outside training, we have weekly employee meetings.  Recently, we did a demonstration with our service advisors and showed them how carbon builds up on valves of all gasoline direct injected engines.  There is a new treatment available for that and virtually every car with gasoline direct injection (GDI) will develop problems and there are over 4,000 models with GDI engines. Seeing is believing.  Now our service team can truly advise our customers with confidence if their GDI engine develops issues.

    That, of course, does not include all the training that our technicians do for one another. After all, no one is teaching classes on how to rebuild carburetors these days. But our technicians help each other and coach each other, especially when it comes to something challenging, something built before they were born, or something truly unusual.

    Continuous learning and Kaizen is absolutely essential as cars and the world changes.  For us in the automotive industry, we really like to see how things work.  We like to take things apart and put them back together.  We think with our hands, and our hands are our best tools. We like to make things go.  We like to help people have reliable transportation and we want to understand the newest technologies that do that.  Bottom line?  We like to fix stuff. We can fix anything. We just happen to fix cars. Why?

    Because we believe that cars are key to our independence. 

  • Urgent Read This: Save The Texas Safety Inspection Program

    Posted on 15, May, 2017

    Here is a letter that Kathryn and Sybren mailed to the governor of Texas

     

    Dear Governor Abbott,

    My name is Kathryn van der Pol and my family owns one of the longest operating repair shops in Houston, Texas.

    Our business was established in 1946 and we have been doing safety inspections for a long time. We are writing to explain why we think you should vote NO to SB 1588, the bill that would end the Texas Safety Inspection program.

    First, I am going to describe three areas where current law is not stringent enough. Secondly, I am going to examine the arguments that Senator Huffines and others have used to justify its passage, and finally I have attached some photos.

    Under current standards for TSI (Texas State Inspection), there is no requirement to inspect suspension or the undercarriage of the vehicle. What the state standard does inspect is looseness in the steering wheel. A standard size 14” steering wheel on a vehicle only fails if it has more than three inches of play. Play means excessive movement before the wheel turns.  Groans and moans from the steering wheel do not fail a vehicle either. The effect of this means that citizens can be driving a potentially unsafe vehicle.

    The current standard for play in the steering wheel is not a “safety” standard; it is a lack of a standard. It certainly does not meet industry standards.

    The same is true of the tire standard. Under current law, while tires are inspected in the current safety program, the standard is so low we pass unsafe tires all the time. The State standard is that each tread must have more than 1/16” or 2/32” of tread to pass.  The industry standard is 1/8” or 4/32”. There is also a rule that states, “Any tire wear without tread wear indicators worn so that less than 2/32 of an inch of tread design depth remains when measured with a tread depth gauge at the lowest points in any two adjacent major grooves in the center or middle of the tire” (Sec. 20.29)* fails.  Why does this matter?  Two reasons: first, if two bald treads are not adjacent to one another, the tire must be passed.

    Equally important, when we pass a car, we are implying that not only is the car legal, it is safe for another year.  Under current law, the car that barely passes the State’s tire standard is not safe for a day. Tire failure is a leading cause of injury and fatality.  Tires blow out because they no longer have enough tread (4/32 or less), are under-inflated, are dry-rotted or have bulges. Most bulges are inside the tire and are not visible to the State Inspector since the undercarriage is not an item of inspection.  Manufacturers state tire rubber will last in most climates five to seven years. After that it becomes dry-rotted. Under current law, the age of a tire is not an item of inspection, although the date of manufacture is etched into every tire, meaning a Texas state inspector could check the age of the tires on the vehicle.

    Finally, the brakes under current law can be bad and/or squealing and still pass. Current law states, “All vehicles so tested (in the brake test area) should be driven at a speed of 20 miles per hour and the vehicle must stop as indicated by the stopping distance chart.” (20.04.5)* For a passenger vehicle carrying less than ten people, that distance is 25 feet.  This is a minimal stopping standard. In addition, there is no required visual inspection of the front pads. So, brake pads could be almost metal to metal as we say in our industry, meaning that there is less than 1mm of pad material. There is no way that reasonable people would say that the vehicle is “safe” for another year. Yet the car with thin or almost no brake pad material must be passed. The industry standard to replace brake pads is at 4mm.

    There are many other items of inspection that I have not mentioned. The standards for these other items are also egregiously low.  However, these three issues should make the point that if we take vehicle safety seriously in Texas then the standards should be increased rather than eliminated.

    Now, I would like to discuss the reasons why the justifications for SB 1588 is based on faulty logic.

    One reason given is that most other states have eliminated this program because Federal law no longer requires it.  While this is true, why is that a good reason to eliminate the program? While growing up, were you ever told, “Just because all the other kids are doing this, doesn’t mean you should?” 

    More seriously, some have also stated that there are studies that show that the safety inspection programs have no measureable effect on reducing automobile injury or fatalities.  When standards are as low as ours, that conclusion would be dictated by common sense. So this reason is also not a logical reason to end the program.  If you research tire studies and current law suits against repair shops for failing to identify faulty tires, you would conclude that a safety program that actually required 4/32” might help reduce fatalities and injuries on our Texas roadways.

    Another reason that is given to support SB 1588 is that it will save millions of man hours for people all over the state because they won’t have to get their car inspected anymore. This, too, is faulty thinking. People will still have emissions inspections in the major metropolitan areas (Houston/Galveston, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth and El Paso), so they are not going to save any time and that is a large percentage, if not, a majority of the population. So, that’s not a good reason either.

    Finally, SB 1588 stipulates that DPS officers will be trained so they can pull over motorists for safety vehicle violations. Currently, DPS can pull over anyone driving an unsafe vehicle. The proposed law makes clear that the safety standards for operating a vehicle in Texas remain in effect. However, if this law passes and it becomes public knowledge that law enforcement will be trained to fill in the gap for a lack of safety inspection program, I don’t think that stopping a citizen and ticketing them for safety issues is going to be popular with the public.  The taxpayers are not going to save money either. The $7.00 that is currently the cost of the safety inspection will be added to citizen’s annual registration fees and applied to training DPS officers on safety standards.

    While an officer should pull over a motorist if the car is a hazard to the driver and other vehicles, there are many items of inspection that just are not going to be visible to a DPS officer.  Whether it is a torn wiper blade or worn out tires or brakes, these are not visible on a moving vehicle.

    I don’t know what the real reason is why this bill has been proposed, or why the Senate waived the customary three-day waiting period, but I hope I have persuaded you to VETO SB 1588 should it be approved by the Texas Legislature and to consider higher standards at least for tires.

    Kind regards,

     

    Kathryn van der Pol, President
    Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage
    Friendly & expert service since 1946

    Recipient of the 2013 BBB Awards for Excellence
    Voted 2012 Best Mechanic in Houston by The Houston Press

     

    Secretary, Automotive Service Association TEXAS

     

    *Rules & Regulations Manual for Official Vehicle Inspection stations and Certified Inspectors.

     

  • Classic cars are Great to Look at, but be Glad We Don't Drive Them Anymore

    Posted on 30, January, 2017

    Common Car $ense

    By Kathryn & Sybren van der Pol

    Classic Cars are Great to Look at, but be Glad We Don’t Drive Them Anymore

    This past weekend was our 7th Annual Oldie & Goodie Car Show. We had over 25 cars and the public really enjoyed seeing the wide variety of cars and trucks. The oldest vehicle was a 1932 Model A. And we even had a classic Harley.

    I found myself comparing these cars to what most people drive today and discussing with Sybren the general evolution and improvements that car engineers have made over the past 80 years.

    Did you know that the lifespan of an average 1930s vehicle was less than 80,000 miles? Even 30,000 miles was considered a high mileage vehicle. In those days, people drove very little. The Great Depression was in full swing during the entire 1930s. This was a time when there was massive unemployment, soup lines, homeless wandering the countryside, and the dust bowl. People did not have much beyond the necessities, and most cars were not designed as the luxury mobile that they are today.

    During the first few years of the ‘40s, the United States did not produce cars at all.All car factories were retooled to manufacture war materiel for the fight against the Nazis and Japanese. Even rubber and shoes were rationed! When cars were put back in production in the late 40s, they utilized pretty much the same technology from before the war until the end of the decade. For example, Ford didn’t design a new car until1949!

     

    So, cars really advanced in the 1950s, right? Well, no they didn’t. Their shape certainly changed, but they still used the basic engines and transmissions of the 1940s. The metals and paints did not stand the test of time either, and rust was a major problem.  Below is a receipt from our shop in 1954 on a truck. To replace brake pads was $6.80. To replace a rusted funnel for the oil tube was $2.50. Autostates aren’t even used anymore.  Try to google it, and you won’t find it. Now, that’s amazing.

    This receipt also from 1954 shows a tune up costs $17.79 including a $1.10 tail light lens.

    Car engineering and design took a major leap forward in the 1960s. New engines and transmissions were designed; new suspension was invented that created smoother rides; and working air conditioning set a new standard.

    Controlling pollution became a theme of the 1970s cars. Unleaded gas replaced leaded fuel and catalytic converters were mandated. So, now cars had better engines, transmissions, rode better, were air conditioned and were less harmful to the environment.

    In the beginning of the 1980s, you may remember this was a time of high inflation, the economy in the 80s in Houston was in the tank because the price of oil had collapsed. All the car manufacturers were suffering, and they pretty much built universal crap. Cars still didn’t last much past 100,000 miles. This was when Lee Iacocca saved The Chrysler Corporation by building the K car. That car was nothing but trouble for the poor souls who drove them, but it saved Chrysler.

    Even the lubricants were poor by today’s standards. If you were to put the oil developed in the ‘80s into a modern car, it wouldn’t make it to the next oil change. Yet somewhere in the mid to late ‘80s, another big leap forward occurred for engine longevity and that was fuel injection. Instead of carburetors, cars had little injectors that sprayed the fuel into the cylinders. This allowed more efficient burning of the fuel-air mixture and eliminated the rich running mess of a carburetor. 

    So by the 1990s, manufacturers started to improve the paints and coatings and creating lighter weight vehicles for more fuel efficient vehicles. 

    Of course, today we are in the age of computers, where cars are more complex than the Apollo that landed on the moon. Cars talk to you; they play your cell phone through the speakers; they provide codes for technicians to help pinpoint part-failure; they have adaptive cruise control and navigation systems; and, pretty soon, you the driver will no longer be needed or wanted to man the wheel. (See my blog from last week about Driverless Trucks). Much of the fancy technology that you see in today’s high end vehicles has been developed to create the future driverless car.

    But because cars, engine oils, and other lubricants have improved so much, it is not uncommon for an engine to have 200,000 miles on it. In fact, most people should expect to get to 250,000 miles out of their Fords, Hondas, Chevys, and Toyotas. Trucks are good for 1,000,000 miles. Of course, all this is based on performing preventive maintenance and using good quality oils at a sensible frequency. I drive a Ford Fusion, and I have had no engine or transmission work performed, and still have the original brake pads at 155,000 miles.

    Sybren likes to joke that he would love to have a bunch of 1980 models running around. “Do you know how much work we would have?  We would be replacing spark plugs every 15,000 miles and brake pads at every 25,000!  In those days, you considered lucky if your brake pads made it to 30,000.”  I am sure you as the consumer are glad not to be driving a 1980s mobile.

    Here is a photo of one of those 1980s invoices from Adolf Hoepfl Garage. Note the price of spark plugs ($30.80 parts and labor), a state inspection ($10.00) and the price of an oil change ($12.50). The total bill in 1989 was $454.59, a hefty bill for those days. You can see the main expense was the price of a mass air flow sensor ($310.00).  What’s fascinating is that some mass air flow sensors are less costly today than 30 years ago!

    So, while the old cars are great to look at and great reminders of our history, modern cars are much safer, run better, ride better, are more fancy, more durable, less likely to rust, and will outlast their classic counterparts. Now, if only they could look as great as these beauties!

    1965 Oldmobile Cutless owned by Tomas Yelverton.

    Joe Gonzalez won the Grand Prize in our 2017 Oldie & Goodie Classic Car Show with this 1957 Bel Air.

     

  • Driverless trucks treading our highways soon

    Posted on 23, January, 2017

     

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

    Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, taken from the book I, Robot (1950)

    What will shock many people is that within five years we may see 18 wheelers with no one at the wheel driving along our highways between cities.

    The technology for driverless vehicles, which are in reality just giant robots, is speeding up, and the first convoy of this technology will likely be big trucks. Why?

    Experts like Daimler Mercedes claim driverless vehicles create safer travel conditions for other vehicles, will be more efficient both in terms of personnel cost, wear and tear on the truck. One way that trucks will save money is that they will be able to draft off one another to save fuel, one of the trucking industry’s biggest expenses. They already have a verb for this type of drafting.  It is called platooning. See the photo below.

    Initially, when we see the first generation of trucks, don’t expect them to drive the speed limit. They will probably be designed to go more slowly. The optimal fuel economy for large trucks is around 45 mph.  The reason trucks don’t drive that slowly right now is because truck drivers are regulated in how long they are allowed to drive, and many are compensated to make or beat a deadline, by being paid by the mile. So, they just speed along.

    Ryan Petersen, the CEO of Flexport, a national transport company, recently wrote for Crunch Network, “Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

    Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.”

    Mercedes is one of the leaders of this truck technology and has already utilized driverless trucks in Germany and the Netherlands. Daimler says these trucks are safer than conventional trucks because the computers have faster reaction times and better “senses” than human beings. Daimler says that human drivers have a typical reaction time of 1.4 seconds, but these wirelessly connected trucks brake in less than 0.1 second. To make the journey even safer, each automated truck has a driver ready to take the wheel if necessary—at least for now.

    A year ago more than a dozen large driverless trucks traveled in platoons leaving from Sweden and Southern Germany to Rotterdam. They were produced by six different manufacturers:  DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.  They arrived safely without incident.  In this event, the trucks had drivers, just in case.

    Now for some fun facts. What you may not realize is that most vehicles on the road today are already equipped with basic driverless vehicle technology. One advance is the adaptive cruise control (patented in 1990 by General Motors) which automatically senses vehicles travelling in front at a slower speed and instructs the car to reduce speed. The way it does this is through a radar system in the front grill that measures the speed of the vehicle in front. 

    Adaptive cruise came out at in the early 2005 models on high-end vehicles, but it is now a common feature on most new cars.

    Another technology that has been around for years that makes driverless vehicles and trucks a possibility is the ABS system. The Anti-lock Braking System is a secondary braking system that is activated in dangerous slick road conditions. It prevents your car or truck from sliding when you slam on the brakes. It helps a driver who is less skilled control the car in those terrifying driving conditions, but it also is an important step to the driverless vehicle. So, driverless vehicles may be safer in many respects than human driven vehicles.

    So, that brings us to the next question. Will driverless vehicles have personalities?  Think of all the driverless cars from the movies: Herbie in The Love Bug

             

    Or, who can forget the adventurous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

            

    Crime-fighting Kit from Knight Rider

            

    or God forbid, the demonic Christine

           

     

    In case you were wondering if there was ever a driverless truck movie, there were at least two.

    Dennis Weaver starred in a 1971 film named Duel where a menacing 18-wheeler tailgates him in the Southwest desert. A young Steven Spielberg directed.

            

     

    Another driverless truck movie was produced in 1986 based on the Stephen King novel titled Maximum Overdrive. In this horror film, machines are zapped by an outer space phenomenon that imbue them with terrible destructive abilities.

            

    So what will the real driverless trucks be like? Just mobile smart appliances with no personality?  Will they be unfailingly polite like R2D2? Or will be able to be hacked and become demonic like the truck in Duel? 

    Hopefully, all this technology will be built to observe Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  

    No matter what, when driverless trucks or cars hit the road, the technicians at Adolf Hoepfl Garage will be able to fix them.

    Just get ready! As Volvo says The Future is Ahead of You.

     

     

  • Ben Franklin's Birthday!

    Posted on 16, January, 2017

    A little known fact is that tomorrow, Tuesday, January 17, is Ben Franklin’s birthday.  While most of us know he is one of the Founding Fathers, many people may not realize his importance to car science.

    Franklin was the first American to be admitted to the British Royal Academy of Science for his work on electricity.  We all have heard about his famous kite experiment where he nearly killed himself flying a kite during a thunderstorm. He tied a key to the end of his string to show that lightning was nothing more than a super powerful electrical charge. In doing this, he demonstrated that when the kite attracted the lightning, the electricity traveled through the string and shocked him with the key.  Pretty crazy.

    This is the same guy who invented the lightning rod.  This invention was so popular in Europe among the people that Franklin became the most famous of all Americans before and during our war for independence.  The lightning rod saved many churches, civic buildings as well as homes from deadly fires throughout France, Italy and elsewhere. The lightning rod saved buildings because it was attached to a wire that ran to the ground (called a ground wire), so when the electricity hit, instead of the building, it hit the metal rod and travelled to the ground, preserving the building. Because of this invention, many scientists, who were also devout Christians, held Mr. Franklin in the highest esteem.  Retailers sold images of Mr. Franklin that even the average Frenchman could buy and they displayed his portrait proudly in their homes.  French aristocrats were so taken by Mr. Franklin that they persuaded the King to support the American cause against the British.  This was really at the king’s own peril and even that of the aristocrats because the American cause was about overthrowing monarchial power.  The great truth is that Ben Franklin’s kite helped Americans beat the British because we couldn’t have defeated the British army without France’s military aid and funding.  They were eager to help because they loved Ben Franklin and might I add they hated the British, too.  The great irony is that by the French king supporting a republic, he sowed the seeds of discord among his own people who yearned for greater freedom and planted his own destruction.

    Getting back to the science!  How did Ben Franklin figure out that he could prevent building-fires with a lightning rod?  First, he stood on the shoulders of many great scientists before him.  His scientific predecessors, all Europeans, had been dabbling with electrical science for more than 150 years.  At the time of his own experiments, electricity was considered a fluid.  That’s why we say electricity “flows.”  Franklin’s contribution proved that electricity was not a fluid, not a gas, and not a solid. Electricity was a gathering of charged particles that could be stored and released.

    Ben Franklin is important to cars because he invented terminology that we all take for granted.  He coined the terms “battery,”  “positive” and “negative” charge.

    So the next time your car starts, remember  to thank Ben Franklin for your working battery and see to it that  you keep your positive and negative cables and terminals clean so that your  battery receives  a proper charge!

    In honor of Ben Franklin’s birthday, we are offering a free battery check and an oil change at $17.91.  The price corresponds to the year that the Bill of Rights was passed by Congress.  Ben Franklin was the oldest of the Founding Fathers to sign the Bill of Rights at age 81. He died a short time later, before seeing the precious document ratified. 

    Did you know that one of the early versions of the Bill of Rights was on display at the Museum of Natural Science earlier this month?