Routine Checks Uncover Potential Repair Issues and Ensure The Delivery Of A Safe, Reliable Vehicle To Your Customers
If your shop is like ours, you’re not seeing the same amount of “broken” cars as you have in the past. That’s not to say our bays are empty, but, these days, the work comes more so from recommendations made as the car is being serviced, than from the customer finding us when needed. The trick is getting the customer in the habit of bringing the car in at the recommended intervals where potential problems can be identified.
The modern vehicle is so reliable that it’s easy for owners to start taking them for granted. They receive constant reminders from the carmakers and the mass merchandisers on why they should be performing these services and promoting they’re willing and able to handle the work. While an independent shop can’t match these marketing budgets, we can benefit from those efforts by never missing an opportunity to let our customers know that we are more than willing to handle any maintenance their car requires.
This month, we’ll take a look at routine services on a Mazda3 and some of the more common problems that may be uncovered as they are performed. Our shop has always subscribed to 30,000-, 60,000- and 90,000-mile major service intervals with oil changes and inspections at a maximum of 5,000 miles. That may not exactly match the factory recommendations, but it works well for our customers and us, and covers all of the recommended services.
For this article, we’ll be looking at a 2006 Mazda3i. We won’t spend much time on performing routine maintenance services, as we should all be familiar with the nuts and bolts of the job. The most important thing to ask yourself is, why are you doing this service? Sure it’s important to get fresh fluids and filters in the car, and a set of spark plugs has to make it run better, but, chances are, your customer won’t notice it.
As a shop owner, I always remind my techs that they’re doing a preventive service, which means it’s important that all the steps are taken to prevent any problems for the next 30,000 miles. This starts when you walk up to the car to bring it in the shop. Do the locks work OK, does the driver’s door need lubrication, and if it does, you can bet the others also need some attention.
The inspection continues as you start the car, making note that the warning lamps come on and go off as expected, and whether the battery did crank over as expected? A diagnostic test ride is a good idea with any vehicle, but with the Mazda3 it’s even more important.
While on the road-test, be aware of wheel bearing and sway bar-related noises, as well as other problems that may not be evident on the lift. To me, it’s pretty simple; a car that has left my shop after a service should run well, not make any unidentified noises and go smoothly down the road. The diagnostic road test is the most efficient way to get it done.
While the vehicle is on the lift, shake the front end to check the suspension and steering components for wear; on the higher- mileage Mazda3s, we’ve seen some ball joint wear. While the joints are readily available, a replacement lower control arm is usually the best way to go.
None of us should have a problem diagnosing a loose sway bar link or mounting bushing. With the road-test, you already know if that distinctive knocking noise is evident. The thing to keep in mind is it doesn’t take much movement to result in a big noise, but it can sometimes be a bit tricky to find the play, especially if the wheels are hanging on a frame-contact lift. Put a wrench on the sway bar side of the link, applying up and down pressure, and it will be easy to feel any play. When it comes to replacing the joints, removing the nuts can be challenging. The idea of holding the stud with an Allen socket as the nut is removed sounds like a good idea, but it rarely works in practice. We have found it easier to pry apart the ball and socket of the joint allowing you to get locking pliers on the ball.
Did you hear a wheel bearing noise on the road-test? When you put the car on the lift, you stopped halfway up so you could shake the wheels. This is when you would have noticed any play in the bearing or hub. At the same time, you spun the wheels listening for any unusual noise or dragging. If you have a bad rear bearing, you will be able to hear that familiar low-pitch growl. That may not be the case in the front. You may have to drive it on the lift to pinpoint the problem. Little more than a mechanic’s stethoscope and good safety practices should be required.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of installing the bearing, Mazdas will present no special challenge. Just be aware that the ABS encoder (tone ring) is embedded in the wheel bearing making it directional, whereby the magnetic seal goes toward the inside. Otherwise, use good work habits, and be careful with the ABS sensor.
As we rotate the tires, there is no better time to inspect the brakes. Now that we’re through with the inspection process, you can go ahead and take care of the rest of the service, or it may be time to make some estimates and contact the customer to make a plan on how to best spend the dollars they have available.
I guess it would depend on your shop’s philosophy, but I believe that because the customer brought the car to us, he or she expects us to return a vehicle that will deliver dependable and safe operation. I don’t ever want to be in the position where we’re returning cars with fresh fluids and filters, along with a note on the invoice saying it needs brakes and a ball joint now. I find it better to talk to the customer and determine what their budget can handle and how to best fit this additional work into both their and the shop’s schedule.
I always figure the customer brought the car to our shop because they expected professional service. To me, letting them know that the car needs additional work is part of that service and, by letting them know early in the process, it gives us the opportunity to take care of this work that is more critical than the routine service they expected.
On the other hand, if the vehicle doesn’t need additional services, it’s on the lift and you can proceed with the scheduled service. Like the other work we talked about, routine Mazda service won’t present any special challenges and there is plenty of information available.
One area that can present some challenges, however, is the cabin air filter. In order to get to the filters, it’s necessary to remove the fuse/junction block located under the glove box. While you’re wondering why the engineers would take this route, don’t take your frustration out on the connectors as they are removed and installed. Being that you’re working near one of the main junction blocks, carelessness here could result in all kinds of electrical problems.
It’s certainly easier to prevent these problems, than it is to repair them. It sure won’t hurt to make checking the lamps and electrical accessories part of the final road- test. The only thing worse than knocking out the power windows is delivering the car that way.
UNDER THE HOOD
The remainder of the service is straightforward. Be sure to use the recommended oils and bleed the cooling system, all the while keeping your eyes open for additional problems or that little something that will let the customer know you’re looking out for their best interests.
Like I said earlier, the customer may not notice that the filters are new and the spark plugs are fresh, but you can be sure they’ll notice if the door no longer crunches when opened, or that the wind noise is gone since you adjusted the door. These are the little things that will set your shop apart from the others; they take only a little time, but they pay big dividends.
My advice is to remind the experienced and, more importantly, the less-experienced import specialist techs, how important routine maintenance is to both the shop and the car owner.
Routine services are often assigned to young techs to get them some experience. I agree with that, as long as their mentor has the ability to keep an eye on them to ensure needed services aren’t overlooked. Where these young techs have an advantage is with the new technology and being able to navigate the internet with ease. I mentioned that the cabin filter on the Mazda could be a bit tricky. On jobs like this, the internet and YouTube are some of the best tools in the box. The young guys know those tools well, and, as shop owners, we should encourage they get used to their advantage.
Sidebar: Keeping Track of Intake Air
The most common failure we see on Mazda models with some miles on them is a torn air intake hose between the airflow sensor and the throttle body. The usual complaint is a big stumble or stall on initial acceleration. As the engine torques on the mounts, the crack in the hose will open, allowing unmetered air into the manifold, while, at the same time, reducing airflow through the sensor. Of course, when the engine stumbles, the crack closes, allowing the engine to accelerate, repeating the entire process. Many times, the customer will mistakenly think the transmission is the problem.
Although it’s simple to diagnose with a visual inspection, I’ve seen some good technicians tricked by this one. These hoses become hard and brittle over time, and you may not find the fault simply by squeezing the hose. Be sure to inspect the hoses closely for cracks that won’t be obvious, but will become evident when the engine is loaded against the mounts.
Another common issue is a poor idle condition as well as a check engine light for a system lean at idle along with evap codes. As with any fuel trim code, your first step is to look at the fuel trims on the scanner. At this point, we should all know we’re looking for single-digit numbers on either side of zero. If you see a short-term number near 20 (if it doesn’t say negative, like -20 for example, it’s a positive number), you know the computer is adding fuel, based on what it takes to get to the air/fuel ratio the ECU expects to see as reported by the 02 sensors.
Your first thought might be that the codes are unrelated. But, if you think about what can make the engine lean as well as cause an evap leak, you’ll be looking at the purge valve, and on Mazda you would be dead on. What can make this a bit tougher is the fact that the purge solenoid can be intermittent. In that case, the freeze-frame data becomes even more important; again you’re looking for a high short-term fuel trim.
If the car is running well, it will be interesting to compare the live data number with the freeze-frame data. I suspect the current number will be closer to (or crossing over) zero. While the freeze-frame number will be in the 20s, when the purge valve is removed, look closely for pieces of charcoal from a failing canister.
This next issue is another vacuum leak issue that can be hard to diagnose because of its location. There have been reports of the PCV hose failing, and what makes this hard to confirm is that the hose is located under the intake manifold. Your best bet is to introduce some propane under the manifold to see if it’s picked up. And, the best way to access the hose is to remove the intake, so be careful with your estimate.
It’s also not unusual to see these four cylinders develop a vacuum leak at the manifold. This lean code will usually be accompanied with a misfire code, giving you a good indication of where you should be looking.