Customer Validation Sucks

Ages ago when auto parts were actually made of metal and not 99% plastic, companies spent the time to validate and test.  Parts were designed then test for fit, form, function, and durability (longevity).  Now with the demanding, instant gratification driven culture we continue to support companies who put garbage in the box in exchange for speed to market.

Stop it.  Bad suppliers, bad.

Customers are not the ones who should validate products.  From what I have found companies that actually make something (ie own factories) get this and do it right… Federal Mogul, Borg Warner, Behr, SMP, Hayden. Those that push the garbage of the world tend to only want the cheapest product as fast as possible to make a sale. These are the ones we need to be wary of; as support leads to more demand for garbage (Dorman, shame on you). The fix-it-later after someone complains is bad business and pisses off techs.

So what can you as a consumer do?  Simple.  No more parts with lifetime warranties. These are usually junk and retailers give you another turd in the box in hopes it’s “better” the second time. Another idea is to avoid parts that are ridiculously under priced.  The cheapest part is typically the first one to fail. 

When in doubt read ratings and do your homework.  It just might save some frustration.
P. Heffcac


Private Labels follow up

So a while back I posted about the dangers of private labels in auto parts stores and how it’s bad for the consumer. Here’s another issue that I recently learned about… Let’s just say the stakes are even higher. A little background; auto parts stores buy from part manufacturers (or importers which are just middle-men vultures… Yes you Dorman) and sell to you and I. They (should) buy quality parts and support manufacturers by not putting known junk on the shelf. Does that happen? 

No, it does not. 

Retailers push for the cheapest prices junk that will just barely pass minimum to maximize profits. But now there is an even worse evil out there. Direct importing.  Direct importing is where retailers (such as Advance for example) buy parts directly from an overseas vendor. 

I cannot express how bad this is. Number 1: the retailers don’t qualify the parts at all. They are relying on someone thousands of miles away to do the right thing and build quality parts. Number 2: warranty returns do nothing to improve or fix the line.  Calling overseas to ask them to make a change probably never happens meaning you get the same problems over and over again. Number 3: retailers set a bad example and show profits by doing so. The cheaper price allows for lower retail prices forcing others to move to this strategy thus forcing lower quality parts into the market as the norm. 
Take this with a grain of salt; plenty of products from China and other countries overseas are of good quality. It’s just time consuming to weed out the few bad apples that ruin the pie. Retailers need to remain in the retail game and let manufacturers that actually build stuff do the testing and quality analysis. 
P Heffcac

So ever been mad at a retailer?  I know I have… especially when I have a vehicle torn apart in my driveway.  If I have to wait or do a job again it frustrates me to no end.  Its one of the reasons I refuse to install anything purchased from a local parts house near me …. cough ZONE… cough… sorry.

So I found a website about people who just like me… they are pissed.  And they have taken to the web to share their bad experiences.  Now some you just know that the guy should have visited a shop before attempting the work that they were so those you take with a grain of salt.  Or they could have shot me an email for a quote… I don’t mind  😉

Oddly enough each major parts store gets their own little corner with stats.  This is where the fun begins.  Basically they all suck.  With O’Reilly and Zone tying for best position with a 2.3 out of 5… that is just sad.  Napa gets 3rd with 2.0, Pep Boys 4th with 1.9, and Advance and RockAuto at the bottom with 1.8.  Neck and neck for the participation award.  I’ll link each page for your own personal viewing pleasure at the bottom of my article.  Trust me… have a few drinks before reading; it will make it much more entertaining.  You’d think that RockAuto would have an advantage since they are all online, but no they seem to get dinged just as bad.  I have to give Pep Boys credit… their average loss is low (under $800) for someone who typically has service bays where work is done compared to the other parts suppliers.


P. Heffcac

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Variable Displacement Compressor

Worked on a German car this weekend (not my cup of tea, but paid work is paid work).  My buddy joked about the compressor short cycling.  I find it comical when my friends who know nothing of AC try.  I appreciate the efforts though.

His German car has a Variable Displacement Compressor. Basically there is no clutch to engage and disengage. The compressor is spinning anytime the engine is spinning. MACS has a technical breakdown here with some good explanations.

My buddies Jetta has an electronic solenoid on the back of the compressor that changes the angle of the plate inside. This increases the stroke of the pistons inside thus pumping more refrigerant. The benefit is the control module can push a variable amount as cooling demands. This helps save that 1/2mpg more the EPA demands. Another benefit is the lubrication is always getting moved around preventing slugging and seals from drying out.

That nice how it works, now the tough question.  How do you test it?  Most techs (on a normal system) will dump 12v+ to the clutch coil then watch the pressures. This system requires a special tool to engage the solenoid.  Because the solenoid is on the back side of a low mounted compressor it has a rough service life. So if the solenoid were to crap out, the compressor and cooling system are fine, they just can’t be controlled.  Your newbie in the shop will likely see the equal pressures on the gauges and throw a compressor at the problem praying it fixes it.  When it doesn’t he’ll probably blame the compressor manufacturer as poor quality in the box.

So 4Seasons has this new tester tool.  Turns out they were ahead of the curve by offering a way to manually force the compressor to full displacement.  Now you can bypass the module and harness and directly command the compressor.  This helps a tech rule out an electrical issue… Which as any tech knows not chasing an electrical problem is a huge $$$ saver.


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Engine Oil Coolers

Engine oil coolers are more important that you would think.  When most people think of an engine oil cooler they think of a big heavy duty truck (F350) towing and hauling.

Truth is modern cars don’t just push oil through their engines… they more or less chew it up and break it down.  Again I’ll leave the specifics about which oil brand/type is the best for discussion on the BITOG forums.

So what does this have to do with oil coolers?  Well Ford upped the 5.0L coyote motor to 8 quarts to help keep the engine cool instead of a large engine oil cooler up front.  They also mention that an oil cooler is recommended if you plan on track use… who buys a Mustang and doesn’t put the pedal down to the floor… really???  Ford did use an air-to-water cooler (see below – not mine just found a quick pic on Google) but those are pretty much useless.  Yes they do a good job of warming the oil up to temp with the radiator fluid, but at the track your radiator fluid is typically screaming hot.  Not good for your oil.

OEM Mustang oil cooler

Enter an external engine oil cooler.  Warm-up may take a little longer, but you can always use an external bypass until the temps come up.  A bypass works by short-circuiting the fluid path… basically the fluid short cuts around the cooler and goes back into the engine until it gets warm enough.  Then a spring closes off the short cut and the fluid now is forced through the cooler.  If you plan on any sort of track day an engine oil cooler is a must; its cheap insurance to help your engine oil keep your engine alive.  Those of you that don’t drive on a track but have teenagers at home – your car has seen more ‘track days’ than you think.  Even if you drive slow but live in a southern climate where the summers are a beating – go with a cooler.  110°F outside temp only compounds this problem further.

Many people see an engine oil cooler and think they can short cut with a transmission cooler.  WRONG!  Transmission coolers are designed for lower flow rates and should NEVER be used for engine oil cooling unless the manufacturer says its OK.  Most transmissions run in the 1 to 2 GPM range and use 3/8″ lines and fittings.  Engine oil coolers should have 1/2″ lines and fittings and a cooler to match the flow as well.  An engine oil cooler should support up to 4 or 5 GPM – much less will begin to restrict the oil flow.

P. Heffcac

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Power Train Cooling

Winter is here… Now’s the time to plan the upgrades for the spring.

Fluids perform at their best when they are fresh, clean, and cool.  The synthetic swap is a debate I’ll leave for the bitog forum gurus. Of course the next step is to keep them cool. ATRA (auto trans rebuilders association) released research showing every 20°F drop in fluid temp doubles its life span.

So where to start?  Transmission cooler is my suggestion.  Transmission repairs are costly and can be a nightmare if the problem is misdiagnosed or something else is missed.

So if you start looking around there are a ton of choices out there for transmission coolers.  So who do you choose?  And why?  For starters I wanted a cooler from a manufacturer, not some parts importer. Manufacturers that have their name on the cooler have more skin in the game.  Next I look for the age of the company. Appears Hayden has been in the game the longest… and they have a bad ass plate fin cooler at O’Reilly Auto. Sold.

Scan tool shows 170°F trans temp after some spirited driving (within the speed limit on the frontage road of course).

Next up, engine oil cooler.

P Heffcac

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Happy 2016 – Lube your window tracks!

Hope your Christmas and New Years went well.

Wife got me lumps of coal (literally Butterfinger makes a candy called this)… thanks honey.


Driving through the light display the local city puts on we get to the end.  Santa is handing out candy canes to kids that want them… so I roll down the back window and crunch.  Wife asks what happened; I know in an instant… cable is done and we now have a cold ride home with a window stuck in the down position.

So I stopped by AutoZone (on the way home) and went in to ask for the regulator and motor combo to swap out when I get home.  I get offered an ACI brand or Dorman.  Well I can’t stand whor-man (they are ok for nuts and bolts but that’s about it…) so I gave the ACI combo unit a shot.  I must say I am pleasantly surprised.  ACI has a longer plug wire and feels heavier.  The Dorman unit felt cheap in the store.  Try it – hold them both in your hands…  The store was going to have to order either one so I decided to save $25 and go with the ACI unit – glad I did.

Another example of why I run away from Dorman window motors/regulators is the inconsistency.  Dorman will have the same part number on 2 boxes of different sizes.  Seriously, go to the auto parts store and check out the inventory of combos.  Even the picture on AutoZone’s website is different than the picture on Dorman’s site.  Little things like these should be red flags.combo compare


In the end if I had been more liberal with the window track spray probably wouldn’t have been in this situation.  Learn from me – lube those window tracks next service.


P. Heffcac

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Electric Fan Conversions and AMPs

Electric fans are not all bad.  They are just a misunderstood technology.  I get asked all the time about stuff like the Taurus e-fan mod (or Lincoln Mark) for cooling different engines.

Lets start by saying yes electric fans can cool a vehicle when properly used.  That last part is key.  Not all fans are alike and most people do not get it.  You cannot just slap a pair of 12″ universal electric fans from you local parts store and expect them to cool your truck the same as the fan clutch that was on there.  Period.  No exceptions.  Shrouding is the first reason (see my older post about why shrouding is important – wont waste our time with more of that here) and the fan motor/wiring is the second reason.

OE manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands (millions over the years) in R&D to ensure proper cooling can be achieved with an electric fan.  What makes you think you can short cut this with 2x 12″ fans off the shelf?   OE manufacturers also go a step further and use heavy duty 4 pole motors with adequate wiring from high amperage relays and fuses.  More recently they have moved into using Pulse Width Modification (essentially the PCM supplies a ground to the system as the switch).  This allows for less amp spikes on the power side of things allowing for smaller wires and cheaper components to save a couple of bucks per car.  These universal fans and controllers at the parts stores are great for adding cooling, but should not be used as a primary source of cooling unless you know what you are doing.  If you see terms in this article you do not know or have to look them up then you likely DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.  Universal fans also have another draw back – they are a 2 pole design.  While economical and compact they are not designed for continuous use.  Most of the universal fans on the market are 2 pole.  Believe me; if someone manufactures a 4 pole fan they will market the crap out of it as being so… those that understand electric fans will recognize this advantage and jump all over it.  Powering the fan motors is another issue.

All fan motors have whats known as Locked Rotor Current (LRC).  As fan motors are energized a large amount of amperage is required to build an electrical field through the windings to get the motor turning.  Often times this amperage draw (although temporary) is much higher than the fuses/relays.  I have measured some amp draws as high as 90 amps for the OE 4 pole motors (similar to the Taurus fan).  There is no universal controller on the market (as I am writing this at the end of 2015) that will handle 90+ amps.  You’ll have to build you own setup with solenoids, relays, etc, to get the reliability you want.  Once a motor is moving the current required to push the motor along is minimal – this is where the amperage drops off.  Interestingly enough – look at fan ratings for current draw.  The ones that are lower are generally a more efficient motor or use better quality parts.  Cheap motors require large amounts of amps to do the same work – little tid bit to save you some $$$ down the road.


So after all that research, custom wiring, additional parts past just the fan and controller… how many miles will you have to drive around saving 2 mpg when a fan clutch is usually under $50?

P. Heffcac

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Cooling Issue? I’m your man…

Everyone has that “guy”… you know the one that you call for a specific something when you are in need.  No, I am not talking about the one that will help hide the body, but more so the one that you call when you have a question that you know they can answer.


Well I’d like someone out there to see if they can stump me.  Submit me an AC or powertrain cooling question and I’ll do my best to see if I can help work you through it.  Maybe I get it right and save you some $$$.  Maybe not, but lets face it – a direct specific answer is probably better than reading a bunch of message boards in hope someone has the same problem.

Aside from slinging wrenches for more years than I care to count I also have some industry contacts in my arsenal to help me in case I do start to feel lost.  I obtained my master auto ASE in my twenties and have maintained it since.  I find solving problems helps keep the mind sharp.

P. Heffcac




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Shroud and air flow…

Shrouds make all the difference in how a vehicle cooling system performs.  Take it to the extreme, look at F1 and NASCAR’s… any deviation in the panels changes the speed of the vehicle. Cars lose a couple of mph easily from just missing bumper pieces. Air is effected the same on your vehicle.

Perfect example. F150 was running hot. Customer ‘diagnosed’ the faulty fan clutch and replaced it.  Now the vehicle cools fine… except the A/C short cycles.  Before dropping $500+ for a compressor, drier, oil, etc (future posts to come on why you replace the critical stuff together) he brings it to me.

Gauges show the high side spiking well over 350psi causing the cutoff switch to short cycle the A/C clutch.  Customer swears he followed the under-hood sticker for the quantity. I then notice some plastic missing on the top edge of the shroud. He fessed up that it broke off during the fan clutch install.  I told him that he needed a new shroud. He called BS.  So I bet him $50 and a case of beer. I slapped on a piece of duct tape and tested my theory.

Let’s just say that beer was ever sweeter than normal.


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