Here at Happy Jap’s Auto Repair we believe an informed customer is a good customer. We like to share our experience and knowledge about auto repair with the world. Through this blog we hope to help people learn how to better care for their cars. We hope to share some insight about what exactly our mechanics do to fix your car and get you back on the road. Great auto repair knowledge should not be kept secret. Follow this blog to learn more auto repair insight from our experienced mechanics. Browse the other pages of the site to get an idea about what kind of auto repair services we can provide.

Troubleshooting a Noisy Car: Peeling Back the Layers.

By , October 7, 2014 7:03 pm

A noisy car is a hard thing to work with. Not only is it annoying to ride around in, but its very hard to diagnose a car that is making a lot of noises. The sounds all meld together and cover each other up. Its especially bad when two failures make the same noise, for example, a failed belt tensioner bearing can sound like a belt squeal to the untrained ear. A failed wheel bearing can sound like a faulty tire groan. It is an exhausting process for everyone involved, when you fix one noise there is another one right behind it, another cost waiting to be incurred. Sifting through the noises, knowing whats what and being able to separate and prioritize them is a skill reserved for the experienced. There is no equipment that can answer these questions, there are aids that can help but they are only a guide and are of little use if a technician doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

We had customer come into the shop with a 2006 Civic that was making a few fairly ominous noises. She had been all over town trying to diagnose the noises and symptoms. The primary symptoms were that it was occasionally hard to shift into first and the car was quite loud. At the Honda dealership they told her there was a clutch fluid leak and that the clutch itself needed replacement. When we got the car the clutch and transmission seemed to be working well and there was no evidence of a clutch fluid leak or excessive clutch wear.

As far as the noise, the left front wheel bearing was making a lot of nasty noises. Wheel bearings often make a grinding/humming sound that varies with car speed. The noise might come on quite quickly, or it may develop slowly over weeks or even months. It is not unusual to not notice the sound until somebody new to the car points it out, it is often mistaken for tire noise.  Wheel bearing technology hasn’t changed much in recent years beyond improvements in accuracy and cost. When I ordered the new bearing it came with documentation explaining that the wheel speed sensor was built into the bearing, and installing it the wrong way would set anti-lock brake codes.

Most antilock brake systems use a metal wheel with teeth around the edge, kind of like a saw blade with square teeth. A hall effect senor is placed on the edge of the wheel. By detecting the teeth passing the sensor the computer can determine if, and how fast, the wheel is spinning. Often times the toothed wheel will get damaged from accidents or hitting debris in the road. Any teeth bent out of place or broken off can cause incorrect readings for that wheel, and will set codes accordingly. The same problems can occur if the sensor is knocked out of place or especially dirty. This Civic has a new system, magnets were placed in the bearing itself. There is a sensor inside the wheel hub that detects the passing of the magnets as the bearing rotates. This is an improvement in the old design as it removes one possibility of system failure and makes the manufacturing process quicker and cheaper. It does require some additional thought in the wheel bearing installation however, as the magnet side must be placed towards the inside of the car. The documentation showed that the brown side of the bearing contained the magnets and should be facing inside. However, was no brown side on the bearing we received. After a bit of head scratching we were able to determine the location of the magnets with a paper clip. We confirmed their location in both new and old bearing. After installing the bearing with the correct side in the car was much quieter and we did not get any ABS codes, indicating the magnets were working.

Once the wheel bearing was fixed we were able to hear an additional source of noise in the car. This is often the case where you have multiple issues and fixing one thing reveals another. The next noise sounded as though a bearing in the accessory belt drive had failed. This sound can take many forms, from a screeching noise to a grinding/humming sound, like a wheel bearing. The noise will change with engine speed. We began to do research on replacing the accessory belt. When ordering the belt, there was a “belt solution” available. Honda had released Technical Service Bulletin that covers problems with the belt slipping and components of the belt path like tensioner and idler pulleys failing on this model. A revised belt routing with a different length belt, updated pulleys and fasteners, and an updated belt routing decal was included in the kit.

Once the new belt and pulleys were installed the car was very quiet, back to normal levels. We were able to save the customer money by not making unnecessary repairs to the clutch and improved the performance of the vehicle with the updated accessory belt configuration. A quiet, smooth car is much more pleasant to drive.

Save yourself money and hassle.

By , April 7, 2012 3:41 pm

Here’s a way to save yourself money and hassle. The other day I was in a line at a DMV franchise getting a tag for my motorcycle. The lady next to me was getting a copy of her registration. She had been stopped and it was found that she had not signed her copy of her registration. The police wrote her a ticket for that infraction and kept her registration. She then had to go to court after DMV to get another copy of her registration. I came home and looked through my wallet at all my registrations and found multiple copies without my signature. Don’ let this happen to you – look at your registrations – sign them all. Good luck.

Toyota 5 Speed Problems

By , June 17, 2009 8:24 am

Recently, a long time customer came in because she had lost the use of 5th gear in her 2003 Toyota  Tundra with a 5 speed transmission. The truck has been immaculately cared for since she got it (thanks to Happy Jap’s Auto Repair) and the transmission made no noticeable noise, so we were sure no serious internal problems had occurred. As it happens, Toyota 5 speed transmissions have had a common failure for a long time that is related to a plastic ball socket in the shifter.

When the truck gets old the plastic deteriorates and the shifter drops further into the transmission than it is supposed to. Eventually the transmission housing interferes with the shifter and it cannot move into 5th gear. There is nothing wrong with the transmission, just the shifter mechanism.

A simple test for this issue is to lift on the shifter while moving it into 5th gear. The shifter is spring loaded down so some effort is required, but if the vehicle goes 5th gear, this could be the problem. The repair costs are reasonable. This arrangement has been used in cars and trucks from approximately 1977 to recently. Some of these include the Toyota Celica, Corona, T100, Tacoma and Tundra. Happy Jap’s Auto Repair would love to help you with this or other transmission problems. Our skilled mechanics have experience with the full range of Japanese and Asian cars and can help you with the auto repair you need.

New Equipment for Intermittent Problems

By , June 5, 2009 1:34 pm

We have a new tool here at Happy Jap’s, and it may help diagnose an intermittent problem with your car.

Modern cars (For these purposes 1996 and up) use whats known as OBDII. This is a system that monitors several aspects of your cars performance. The on board computer measures several engine parameters such as throttle position, and ignition timing, and much more. All this data is used several ways. The computer uses the data to make constant adjustment to engine inputs (fuel, air, etc.) to keep performance and emissions within standards. It also tracks data to warn the driver in the event of a problem. This is what turns on your check engine light.

As you can imagine, this information can be very useful for diagnosing problems. However, we have to connect a computer to the car to view this information. When there is an intermittent problem with the car, it has to occur while we are watching or the data does us no good. Naturally, the cars run perfectly when in the shop, but not when the customer has it.

The solution? The MAC Tools ET3010 allows us to record up to 24 hours of data from a cars computer. This means we can plug the device in, and let the customer drive the car normally until it fails. Using this data we can form a picture of what is going wrong, and find a solution. This should ease headaches for both the mechanic and the customer!

Synthetic Lubricants

By , November 6, 2008 3:46 pm

Synthetic lubricants can save time and money in many ways.  Reduced wear and maintenance, extended oil change intervals and better fuel economy head the list of benefits.  An oil change for a typical 4 cylinder car using synthetic oil only costs about 15% more than using conventional oil, but the oil can last up to 5 times longer. Conventional oil needs to be replaced at 3,000 mile intervals, whereas synthetic oils can go for much longer periods of time – 10,000 or 15,000 miles. Fewer oil changes means less downtime for the vehicle and more money in your pocket.

Synthetic oils are specifically designed for their application, which means better performance. Most of the wear on your car occurs during a cold start. A cold start is anytime the engine has cooled to ambient temperatures. All the oil has drained to the bottom of the engine. This means the engine actually runs for a tiny amount of time with no oil, as it takes a second or two for oil pressure to build. The colder it is outside, the longer it takes the oil to flow. Synthetic oils do not have this problem, as they will flow properly at very cold temperatures. Synthetic oils also have numerous other technologies to help reduce wear while the engine is running.

Conventional oils contain various additives to help keep the engine running properly. However, they are all limited by their conventional oil base and its properties. Synthetic oils are designed for a specific application from the ground up, giving them fewer limitations. As such, they can use additives that do not break down as fast. This is why synthetic oil can safely be used for much longer intervals.

Happy Jap’s is an authorized Amsoil dealer and we stock and use Amsoil lubricants in customer and our own vehicles regularly.  Benefits of using Amsoil products are better outlined at their web site. A direct comparison of various synthetic oils and conventional oils can be found here.

Turn Off That Check Engine Light!

By , September 24, 2008 3:15 pm

Did you know that your check engine light can be turned on by something as simple as a loose gas cap? The vapors above the liquid fuel in your gas tank are one of the largest volumes of hydrocarbons in your car. The EVAP system is responsible for managing these vapors. Air entering and exiting the fuel system is run through a series of filters to keep the vapors from escaping. While the car is running and the tank is between 1/3 and 2/3 of a tank, the system is tested to see if it can hold pressure. If a leak is detected the system turns on the check engine light, with a code indicating a leak in the EVAP system. It is up to the technician to find the leak in this complex system of filters and hoses. However, if the gas cap is left loose or the car is run without a gas cap, the EVAP system will see this as a leak and turn the light on.

Because it is an easy thing to do, when your check engine light comes on, check your gas cap. Did you drive off and forget it, then find it later? It may be that easy to fix.

Why CV joints?

By , September 18, 2008 6:25 pm

This is a description of CV joints, or constant velocity joints. CV joints are a higher tech and smoother version of the old universal joints that do essentially the same thing. The advent of front wheel drive cars, coupled with the movement toward smoother, more vibration free drive trains, CV joints became necessary. The down side of CV joints is that they require a clean and lubricated environment, and this requires a flexible set of bellows, also called a boot. The boot keeps dirt, water, and other contaminants out of the joint while keeping lubricant in. It also allows the drive shafts to flex with relation to each other. The problem with the boot is that when it fails, it perforates. This allows all the lubricant to leave the joint and allows contaminants in. At best the joint must be dissembled, cleaned and a new boot must be installed. At worst, the contaminants will destroy the joint and the whole assembly will need to be replaced. Some money can be saved by catching the failure during the window that the boot is damaged, but before the joint is. A healthy remanufacturing market has, however, made it economical to repair if the joint is damaged. Either way, a clicking or clunking in the drive train during sharp turns in low speed parking lot maneuvers can be fairly economically repaired. Give us a call, or email.

How to save money while driving old cars

By , August 27, 2008 3:45 pm

I have a customer who has taken care of her 9 year old Camry well and is getting good service from it over the long haul. She recently found the check engine light on and noticed a miss from the engine. The term “miss” is often misunderstood, but refers to a situation when the engine runs on less than the number of cylinders it is equipped with. In this case, it meant one of her 6 cylinders was not firing at all. A “miss” can refer to a constant condition or an intermittent one – in this case it was constant. Even though her car had seen relatively regular care, it has high mileage (in excess of 160k miles) and was processing some oil past the rings that fouled one or more of the spark plugs. The term “fouled plug” refers to a spark plug which has gone electrically open or shorted, meaning it will not fire across its gap because the electricity has found a lesser resistant path around that gap or the electrical potential can’t fire across a gap too large. Plugs can be fouled by a number of contaminants. Some include antifreeze, oil or fuel. In this car’s case the plugs were fouled by oil. Oil shouldn’t be in the combustion chamber in a quantity that would cause fouling, but in the case of this car’s age, some oil is passing the piston rings designed to stop it, as a result of wear. It takes some time for the plugs to foul, so replacing the plugs, while not a permanent fix, will help for some time. In the mean time the car running on all 6 cylinders will save enough money to pay the bill in a short period of time.

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