Friday, December 16, 2011

9-3SS stuff

Some real fun stuff lately. Broken balance shaft chain tensioner on the 9-3SS. First one I've seen but apparently it's becoming a huge problem.

Also, I needed to trace an electrical issue in the trunk lid of an '05 9-3SS today, and found the harness to be made of wires of the identical colour. Wonderful to try and isolate individual wires from beginning to end...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Death By Sludge

Another post highlighting how serious and costly oil sludge can be. This is an oil feed banjo bolt for a GT1752 turbocharger out of a 2002 9-5. Turbo died due to oil starvation from sludge. $1,400 bill.

Friday, September 30, 2011

New Shop Open House

On Thursday, October 6th, from 5:30PM till 9:30PM, I will have the doors of the shop open and invite Simply SAAB customers and local SAAB owners to stop by and check out the new shop. I will be doing free Tech2 scans and providing refreshments.

Hope to see you then.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stupid Mistakes and Essential Tools

Working in the new shop has been awesome. Things are way too busy still, and I'm still here at 10pm after getting here at 8am this morning.

Slipped a wrench today and cracked the windscreen on a customers 9-5. I felt pretty bad about it, but it was almost unavoidable due to the location of the stuck bolt. I immediately offered to cover it and my expense. Learning to eat your mistakes is one of the hardest parts of business.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An exciting time!

All moved in to the new shop in Highland Park. New address is 1315 Washington Blvd. 15206. The shop and waiting area are around 3,000sqft, quite an upgrade from my previous locations. I can fit 5 cars in here no problem. I WILL be here at least three years and should be able to grow at this location quite easily. Still need to get the lift and compressor installed, but I'll get to it soon enough. Everyone that has brought their car by so far has seemed to be impressed, so that always helps to make you feel better after what feels like three weeks of doing nothing but signing checks! Finally got a credit card reader as well, so that should make for easier and smoother payments for everyone.

Considering having an open house here in the next week or two, invite everyone on the customer email list to come by and check out the new place and offer a free check over and Tech 2 scan. Now that's a price no one could complain about :)

Some photos of the new shop:

The waiting area before it was furnished:

Work station with benches I made from cabinets. The TV is just there to use to display parts diagrams and open WIS instructions from my laptop, I promise!

Also wanted to share this great article that was posted by a technician on an automotive blog I follow. It's a long read, so its understandable if you'd rather skip it.

"As a mechanic, I never like delivering bad news to a customer; it's not one of my favorite parts of the job. I don't like telling a customer their 5-year-old heavy-duty truck needs $1,600 worth of brakes, front coil springs (because they are broken and dangerous), tires, ball joints, tie rod end and work to pass state inspection, but I must if that's the case. I don't like telling the single mother that her car needs tires because the ones she has now have metal cords worn through the edges and are about to blow out, but someone has to tell her there's a problem. How many customers check the inner shoulders of their tires? How many remove their wheels every week to check out their brake specs? Very few. And that's why I have a job.

Nobody wants to come to a mechanic. They are there because they HAVE to be. Very few people maintain their cars, let alone repair them if there is a problem. That's why many states have state inspections. Now let's be clear here: I'm not the kinda guy that goes looking for spiders. I know the difference between 5/32's of tread and bald. I can reasonably judge at what point a given customer is going to need those rear brake shoes replaced. I can sleep at night, because my living is honest and straightforward. If it's dangerous, I say so. If it's not, I tell them. If they have time before a repair is needed, I let them know. If mechanical trouble is looming on their horizon, I tell them they may want to make a decision soon.

Our shop is very well established in most every way, but this week I pretty much got called a cheat by a newer customer who doesn't know us. Straight to my face. After delivering the bad news concerning the aforementioned 5-year-old heavy-duty truck needing so much work he pretty much shot the words "BS" and "I don't believe it." That's fine. I guess if I had a 5-year-old pickup truck that seemed to drive fine, (mind you, it didn't) I'd be pretty upset too at a mechanic telling me I was on the hook for $1,600 worth of work, none of it warranty. What's worse, if it doesn't get the work done, it doesn't get a sticker for the state. Mr. Officer keeps CLOSE tabs on that around here. of course, this fine gentleman waited until last minute — that is, Aug. 30 — to get his inspection done.

Owning a car is a privilege, and sometimes you gotta pay to play.

As they say, "the proof is in the pudding." I'm pretty sure he got bad news from a shop before me because he didn't go storming out when I broke it to him. Rather, he demanded proof. I actually LOVE it when a customer does that, because I love to be vindicated of any accusation they make against me. Vindication that I don't have to rub in, because the problems with their vehicle are so straight up it's in your face when inspected. Totally proveable, totally valid. All the more reason to be straight.

I showed Mr. C his busted coil springs, ready to slip off their perches and cause a severe control issue or tire blowout. I showed him the tires that were down PAST the wear bar (illegal here and actually citable) and almost bald. I took the brakes apart and showed him where his pad backing had ground into his rotors (he didn't hear a thing; I heard it immediately) and even showed him the specs with a micrometer that proved his rotors were already undersized and uncuttable. I even bolted on his wheels and proved that his ball joints were so bad they needed replacement, and backed it up with factory specs. Mind you, I did this all on my own dime in good faith. As satisfied as he could be that I wasn't lying, and a bit miffed at a new truck needing so much, we hit the office. Then it came to pricing, and every part and charge was called into question. My labor rate (which is actually slightly below the area average), my parts, every little thing called into play. I charge too much. I'm ripping peeps off.

See folks, it's OK for a dentist to make $1,000 an hour. Nobody bats an eyelash at that because we have insurance that could pick that up. No one cares that a family practice doctor can bank $200 off of one 15-minute visit, and forget the fact he or she gets major kickbacks and perks from pharmaceutical companies that pretty much cover their office overhead. It's A-OK for a CEO to make millions of dollars by closing American factories, blowing American workers' pensions and shipping our jobs overseas because it's cheaper to pay some kid in a sweatshop in Burma half a cent to make a product, then ship it over here. After all, we expect that from them, it's what they do. No problem, but this jerk mechanic wants to charge me how much to repair my car?

It comes down to this: I have costs too! I have thousands of dollars worth of hand tools — just hand tools — that I have to buy in order to even service vehicles nowadays. That does not include the $10,000 scanner I have to buy to repair generic OBDII systems, and that I have to update every year. It doesn't include the money I have to pay out of my own pocket to buy special electronic tools in order to diagnose and repair today's cars that are six times more complex than the space shuttle. It doesn't include the subscriptions and dues I have to pay to the parent companies so I can have access to technology, information, and special computers in order to remain competitive. It doesn't include the 6 lifts I have to service and repair if they break. Forget the schooling I have to pay for, forget the ASE's I have to get, forget the fact that every ounce of electricity that comes into my shop has a price tag on it, not to mention the water, gas, chemicals, special tools and equipment, supplies, uniforms, heat, benefits, mechanics' wages, staff, office stuff, advertising, maintenance and shop and grounds upkeep. All those things don't come for free, nor cheap. The owner has to write a check for each and every one.

Folks, that stuff has to get paid for. Someone has to pay for it. I don't like telling the customer that they're the ones who have to pay for it, but let's be real here; it's business like any other business. The consumer supports the industry. Thus the reason football is a billion dollar industry. So is music and entertainment. I don't work for free. Why should I? No one feeds my kids for free. My kids don't go to school for free. My clothes aren't free. My cars break, too. My house wasn't given to me. Heck, my entertainment isn't even free. In reality, when you consider the "cost of business" increases within the industry over the past 30 years, mechanics should charge nearly $300 an hour for the amount of tools, specializations and overhead involved. We don't. Why not? Because there's no health insurance for cars to cover that cost. That comes out of the owner's pocket, and most of us in the industry respect that such costs would break your back, and in turn break ours.

All said, if you own a car, you are going to pay money some way or another. Be it in maintenance for your 2011 model (still gotta change the oil!) or repairs and upkeep on your '87 Celebrity. It's part of car ownership that no one likes to address; we address it because we have to at that time. Owning a car is a privilege, and sometimes you gotta pay to play. After all, if it was cheap and easy then anyone could do it.

So just remember, if you get handed a bill for some serious cash to fix you car, the likelihood is the mechanic isn't trying to rip you or trick you, he's just trying to keep the doors open and put food on the table. That's what he's paid for. If you're looking for a cheat, turn off your reality TV and look at government and big business. You should be more worried about that anyway!"

Hope everyone is doing well. See you soon (well, hopefully not, because that means your car is broken, right?!?).


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

9-3 Brake Master Cylinder Failure

Oil and some rubber just don't mix. This is what happens the vacuum pump fails on a OG9-3.

The function of the pump is to give power brake assist on the automatic transmission cars. Manuals do not have the pump. The pump is driven by the engines exhaust camshaft. A diaphragm inside the pump fails and allows the engine oil inside the cylinder head to be pumped in to the brake booster. The brake booster gets to the point where it either overflows into the engine or leaks into the master cylinder. If caught early enough, only the vacuum pump needs to be replaced (to the tune of about $275), if left be for too long, the master cylinder and brake booster need to be replaced as well, as well as the vacuum line that connects the whole works ($450 for the booster, $600 for the master, $45 for the line, and about 3 hours of labor @65/hr).

Perfect example of how an issue that starts small can really pile up and cost big money. If something feels off, get your car looked at!

New master cylinder in the background, old in the foreground. See the swollen seal? That's the effect oil has on the rubber seals of the master.

Take care,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Busy, busier, and busiest.

Things have been insanely busy lately. A bigger shop and an employee seem imminent. Biggest thing about Pittsburgh is trying to be centrally located to everyone, which also means being in the middle of traffic and high priced real estate.

Looking at a new shop in Oakdale soon. Is that too far out for you? Is it less convenient? Would love to hear my customers feedback on this. Will probably send out a mass email to my client list asking for opinions.

If I stay central and get the size shop I really need, labor rate will also have to increase, which is something I really don't want to have to do.

Feedback appreciated.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Only two new tires? Always on the rear...

Had a discussion with a customer today who only needed two new tires. If putting two new tires on a vehicle, they should always go on the REAR. Sounds like fuzzy logic, but this cheesy Youtube video will help make the point:

Friday, May 27, 2011

9-3 SS Headlight Wiring

A common problem almost since new on the early 9-3 Sport Sedans with halogen headlamps is that the wiring for the headlamp bulbs degrades and falls apart. Saab makes a kit to fix this. I installed one today, here's a pic:

The result is a professional repair near as good as the original factory wiring.

A nice and affordable fix for an unforeseen problem. The kit is about 15 bucks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I changed a DI today. It was on a 2002 9-3. With 17,000 miles on it. Awesome.

These are the blog entires you get when I have lots of work to do. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The worst head gasket leak I've ever seen.

Not much to say here. The picture speaks for itself. The only reason the car was brought in was because it could not rev above 2,000rpms without misfiring. Reason being the oil leak from the head was so bad it saturated the Cranshaft Position Sensor harness to the point of failure.

I should buy stock in parts cleaner.

Monday, April 25, 2011

9-3SS/SC Comfort Opening Feature

The comfort opening feature on the 9-3 is pretty cool!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

9-5 Automatic Transmission Mounts and 9-3SS Front Wheel Bearings

I've been working a ton lately, and haven't been so motivated to take pictures of everything because I have so much to do. Here are some things I worked on in the past week that you might find interesting.

Also, my DSLR has been staying at home lately, so the photos are from my Iphone... sorry.

9-5 automatic transmission torque arm mounts go bad, and allow the engine/transmission to jump badly when going from Park to Drive, or Reverse. The stock SAAB replacement part isn't of good quality at all and fails almost immediately. I've been experimenting with a polyurethane replacement.

This photo shows the slack that develops in the stock bushing. It is easily compressed with just one finger. This is where the "jarring" comes from

This is the polyurethane replacement. The snug fit and firmness of the polyurethane insures no more "jarring," but does transmit a bit more engine/transmission vibration throughout the car.

Overall I was pleased with the results. The jarring was gone, but the car definitely vibrates more at idle when in gear and with your foot on the brake. I think the new mount exposed some weak subframe bushings in the 9-5 in question, as the 02-06's are known for having bushings that badly wear over time.

I also changed my first wheel bearing on a 9-3 Sport Sedan this past week. The car was an '03 and had a bad droning/grinding sound when moving. The customer had new front brakes installed around the time the noise started, and the shop had just done pads, so I thought the sound was coming from the pad riding on the lip of the old rotor, so we did the rotors and new pads first to no avail. Rotated tires front to rear to eliminate that as an option, and the sound still persisted, so a bad wheel bearing it was.

Not that bad of a job I suppose, you can use air tools on it all so that helps. All the bolts are of the E-Torx style, so don't try that one at home unless you've got a set that has a 18, 22, and 24 in it.

New 9-3SS Wheel Bearing Assembly w/ Integrated ABS Sensor vs. Old

Front hub dissembled and wheel bearing assembly removed. Note the oil in the middle right of the photos? More on that below.

As soon as I jacked the right side of this car up I heard a consistent dripping sound. Started investigating and the power steering fluid reservoir was overflowing. Turns out the seal in the power steering pump, which is run off of the engine camshaft, has failed and has pumped motor oil in to the power steering system. After some reading, it turns out this is fairly common on the older ones. The customer is returning next week to replace the pump and have the system flushed with the SAAB specific CHF fluid.

Hopefully this bad Pittsburgh weather will break and we can all start enjoying spring soon as well.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

So, Why Saabs?

No pictures, no technical writing, just words here.

The reason I'm writing about this is because I've fielded the same question from every new client I've worked for since I started here in Pittsburgh. "Why SAAB's?," they always ask. I usually just reply with something like "They're all I know."

Mechanically, they really are. Sure all engines and such work the same and the technology that ran the first Model T ford is still present in the function of the modern engine, but there sure has been a lot of other stuff bolted to/around it since then.

I've been thinking about this question to myself more and more lately.

Specializing on a niche gives me a lot of satisfaction. Sure, I like SAABs and they're basically all I've ever driven, but I certainly don't "love" them. They're great value for the money and dollar to dollar you'll never own another car with as many features as your SAAB, which makes them a tempting buy, but at the end of a day, it's just an organized structure of bolts, wires, fabric, and metal.

I'm very much not your average mechanic. While I've been fascinated by mechanical things my entire life, I never really planned on having a trade skill as a profession. I have a Bachelor's in Political Science from West Virginia University, and had full intention of completing law school... but the modern cubicle/desk lifestyle seemed so un-fulfilling. Daunting repetitive work that's all part of an information based economy that can easily be transfered or phased out... no thanks. I take comfort in knowing that you cant turn a bolt over the internet, so the trade skills are safe. Most of my friends I graduated with are realizing now how generalized and unmarketable their college-acquired skill set really is, and the outlook doesn't seem to be getting any better.

I can't imagine life without the day to day joy of physically fixing or creating something with your own hands. Hearing an engine start after fixing a tow-in, or fixing a problem that's been bugging people for years in only a minute or two... that kind of satisfaction I just don't get anywhere else. Joke about plumbers cracks and people who have jobs with names on their shirt all you want, but they probably have a much more prospective and lucrative job market than someone with a four year degree.

Every other mechanic seems to view a SAAB as a problem, whereas I always viewed it as a challenge. I like challenges. I pretty much live for them. I race bicycles for that reason as well... and I enjoy the hardest races the most, because anyone can do the easy ones. I see a lot of botched jobs that come in that are obviously done by someone that either doesn't care about the quality of their work because they know as long as the cars rolls out the door they're going to get paid, or they just no longer have a desire to get any better at their job and learn something new. Sometimes, I think they just cannot think outside the box. Some SAAB stuff is kind of "quirky," but would make sense to any average person with mechanical knowledge if they would just change their perspective a bit and take the time to look at it from a different viewpoint.

I do find it upsetting, because this kind of stuff is what drives people to sell their cars. Owners are forced to believe that SAAB ownership is just a problem or an inconvenience simply based on the ignorance of those who they are having work on their car. Often, by the time people find me online or get a business card, they have already dumped so much in to their cars at places who had no clue what they were doing or overcharged them to the point that they feel they're in too deep to invest in the work I suggest that the car actually does need to get it running reliably.

I'm getting so much of a workload now that I'm going to have to start being selective about who I work for. If your interest is solely fixing your car as cheaply as possible and you want something for nothing, find another guy, I'm not interested. Maybe I didn't give you the cheapest quote you received for a job, but I bet they're not using genuine parts or they're cutting corners somewhere else. I'm way cheaper than the dealer by a long shot in every way for better quality work and the same parts, and I'm not going to get any younger or live any longer because I'm taking time to work on your car, so I have to make it worth my time at a price that's fair to me and you... and I've found that most people have absolutely no problem paying it because they know they're getting high quality, warrantied work.

This is why I don't work for used car dealers... for the most part, they always want something for nothing and to bandage a problem to pass it on to the poor person who's getting stuck with the car. I feel so, so bad for those people.... but everyone falls victim to the quest for the $ I suppose. The used car world is full of snakes... deal with people, not dealers. Not saying that means you'll get a better deal or a better car, but individuals have consciences, whereas dealers just have money invested.

If you're honest, do good work, and have reasonable prices, the work will come, nothing to worry about there. And if all you care about is cheap... well sometimes there's a price you pay for the price you paid. See you when you get towed in.

I do good work, and I have made a lot of happy clients here in Pittsburgh. I don't know how long I'll do this or if it's my career, but as long as I have a desire to get better and faster at what I do, I'll still be turning wrenches tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who has been so easy to work with and has left me good praise online and via word of mouth. That kind of true marketing is invaluable to a small business.

So.. that's "Why Saab's?."

Take care,

Oh, and another take on it:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-Robert A. Heinlein

Engine/Transmission mounts

Is your SAAB feeling shaky... as in, constant vibrations or clunking on acceleration/deceleration? Engine and transmission mounts commonly fail and collapse after 60k miles and make the car feel like it's running extremely rough. It's amazing what a difference changing them can make. Below is a picture of an automatic transmission mount I changed in a 1999 9-3 today.

Notice how the one is torn? This allows the transmission to literally jump up and down when the car is shifting or accelerating, though it cannot fall out as the design is made to cradle the part of the mount that bolts to the transmission. It's amazing how much better and smoother a car drives once one of these mounts is replaced.

I check them all when doing and initial consultation.

Have a good weekend,


Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Sludge!

Just dropped the oil pan on a '02 9-3 with an oil pressure light on. Mmm mmm Sludge.

The sludge pile under the oil pickup screen (removed)

And the pickup screen:

Post Cleanup:

Update your crankcases and change your oil with Mobil 1 synthetic, and you can usually avoid this problem.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

A botched 9-3SS brake job -or- one more reason why you should always have a SAAB specialist service your SAAB.

I recently got to observe a pretty amazing site... a front brake job on a 9-3 Sport Sedan that had been completely botched in just about every way.

Client stated brakes were soft, making noise, and not stopping well. Front brakes had been "replaced" by a local generic automotive repair shop. Client took the car back to them on two different occasion stating the above issues and overall not being pleased with the work.

The findings were pretty amazing.

Firstly, the shop had "turned" the brake rotors (a process of removing metal from the rotor to create a flat surface). I NEVER do this or recommended it, as replacement with original SAAB parts is a much better option for the same amount that most shops charge for their "turning" service. The rotors had been cut way below their minimum thickness, and had about half of the braking surface removed. Once the pads would have worn down near their replacement point, the brake pistons would have overextended and blown out, causing a loss of front brakes (which provide about 80% of the cars stopping power).

Stock rotor vs. the turned rotor on the car

Now, on to the pads. The pads used were incorrect for the car. The car was a 2003 9-3, which is a tough year to order parts for. In 2003, the sedan version of the car was different from the convertible version of the car. The convertible was the older body style, with different brakes. The issue is that the difference is slight, so if you receive the wrong parts, it seems as if they will install... because they will, but they are completely incorrect!

The pads on the earler 9-3 (which is what was installed on this car) are too large and will rub the caliper, inner hub of the rotor, and bind when the piston trys to compress them. Here's what it looked like when the wheel was taken off:

1: The rattle clip retainer is missing
2: The pad is rubbing the inner hub
3: The pad is not making full contact with the rotor
4: They put some kind of grease on the back of the pad to make it work?

I was pretty amazed at this point. It would have been one thing for them to do the job and send it out thinking it was okay, but the client took it back TWICE to complain about issues with it and they still looked at it and said it was OK!

Things got worse, though. After taking it all apart and removing the pads, it was immediately apparent that something more was very wrong. The pads binding had caused the pistons that push the pads onto the rotors had cracked on both sides due to the binding of the incorrect pads! I can't stress how dangerous this was to be driven. The brake fluid was leaking out from behind the pistons and failure was imminent.

Cracked brake caliper piston

After reassembly with all new and correct parts the brakes work and feel great. I just wanted to put this up as a reminder to everyone... make sure you know who's working on your car. Most inspection stations fail cars on brakes and exhausts, then try to sell them to the customer because that's how they keep their doors open. I'm not saying I'm perfect, but I would have easily caught this before I ever installed the new parts. My cost for the job with all new parts was also less than what this shop charged her... just something to keep in mind.

All done

Take care,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crankshaft Position Sensor Replacement, 900's, 9000's, 9-3's, and 9-5's

Some issues have classic symptoms that throw up a red flag right away when a client is describing them. "The car wouldn't start after I shut it off for a few minutes, but would start right up if I let it sit for an hour" is classic Crankshaft Position Sensor failure.

This little sensor is mounted on the front of the engine on turbo SAABs from 1994 and up. It's job is to tell the engine management system the angle of the crankshaft. Essentially, it's just a magnet that corresponds a pulse from a trigger wheel mounted on the crankshaft. However, without the signal, the car doesn't know what order to ignite spark or fire the fuel injectors, therefore leading to a no start condition.

Sometimes the sensors just fail and have no visual signs of wear, but on the car I was working on today, this was not the case.

Old, broken wiring harness vs. new sensor.

Oil from an oil leak at the cylinder headgasket soaked the sensor harness, causing the rubber to swell and eventually rupture. Heat from the turbocharger also aids in the degradation, though there is a metal heat shield over the sensor to prevent this. If this was a clients car, I would have definitely caught it in the consultation, but this was an out of state tow in that broke down locally and had the car towed to me.

Where the sensor mounts, if you look hard inside the hole you can see the trigger wheel the sensor reads its signal off of.

Easy enough job to do. A common failure that can leave you stuck and stranded... no bueno.

I'm getting out of the cold and heading to Florida for a week on a bit of a vacation. Heading to the Rolex 24hrs of Daytona race on Saturday/Sunday. See "Yinz" later.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cabin Air Filter Replacement, All Saabs

For whatever reason, most of the cars I see have never had the cabin air filter replaced. Maybe Wright and Cochran are skipping them in the major services they're doing, or clients are being naughty and skipping their scheduled maintenance!

The filter does exactly what the title says it does, filter the outside air that flows into your car. All the air you and your family breathe with the windows up passes through this thing, so it's important to make sure it's working properly. The units I use also have a charcoal residue built in to the filter which eliminates outside smells from coming into the cabin!

I change it on almost every major service I do, and here's why:

Old filter v. new, on a 7yr old car with 91,000 miles.

This is a picture taken by head technician Anders at Swedecar in California showing how clogged up the housing around the filter can get. The cowl cover that typically covers the filter is removed in this photo. Anders reported that by clearing out the housing and replacing the filter, the customers air conditioning temperature dropped by almost 10 degrees!!!

Have you had yours replaced?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We're on The Facebook!

Like Simply SAAB on Facebook!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SAAB VIN Decoder

A neat little tool to use. Enter your VIN below and it decodes it for you.

Saab VIN Decoder

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Everything In Its Place

Organization is half the battle... but today, I won the war.