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How To: Replace Ball Joints on Your Vehicle


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    • By Counterman
      In spite of the skyrocketing cost of fuel, I’m still looking forward to a couple of summer road trips. While there’s nothing we can do about the prices at the pump, keeping our vehicles properly maintained can help those gallons go further.
      Getting ready for a long trip is the perfect excuse (not that you really need one) for your customers to check off a number of maintenance items that can help make their time behind the wheel more enjoyable. It also can make it a little less expensive!
      Many people wait until the last moment to do a “pre-trip inspection.” How many times have you had a customer tell you that they need a laundry list of items “immediately” because they’re planning on leaving for a long trip “tomorrow?”
      Sometimes these requests are easy to fulfill, especially if they’re simple maintenance items. Other times, the customer really should have addressed the issue long before now! Either way, we can help in a number of ways to get them on their way safely and efficiently.
      While the traditional “tune-up” is fast becoming obsolete, one of the essential items from this service is still a common sale.
      Changing the engine air filter is a quick and easy way to ensure proper airflow into the engine, and that filter also is the first line of defense against dirt and other contaminants. A clogged, dirty or damaged filter also can expose the MAF sensor to contaminants that alter its signal to the PCM, which can lead to a rich condition, wasting fuel. Examination of the filter also can indicate if there are worn piston rings or a fault in the PCV system. While examining the air intake, also look for cracks or gaps in the tube between the airbox and the throttle body, which can allow unmetered air into the engine, skewing sensor readings and altering fuel efficiency.
      Changing the cabin air filter not only will make the trip more comfortable, but it also can potentially lessen the strain on the HVAC system. Turning up the A/C to compensate for a clogged cabin filter can increase the load on the belt-driven compressor and therefore the engine. While you’re at it, have a look at the belt(s) too. Worn, glazed or slipping belts can cause noise, friction and even cooling-system or charging-system issues – which may leave you on the roadside rather than at your destination.
      Battery condition and state-of-charge should be tested periodically, and a pre-trip inspection is a great time to offer this service to your customers. No-start conditions are inconvenient at any time, but can cause much more anxiety when you’re miles away from familiar territory or service providers.
      Breakdowns become more inconvenient and time-consuming if you’re travelling to your destination on a tight schedule, or if you’ve drawn the “late-night” driving shift. If you do break down after dark, having functioning lights (especially your four-way flashers) makes you more visible to passing motorists, as well as emergency service providers like police or roadside assistance.
      Lighting and visibility checks also should include topping off the washer solvent, making sure your washer nozzles and pump are functioning correctly and changing wiper blades as needed, including the rear blade (if equipped).
      Fluids, filters, belts, wipers and electrical items all are tangible products, but one of the most important road-trip essentials is actually invisible … AIR! Properly inflated tires can have positive effects on fuel mileage, handling, braking and even passenger ride quality. Most of the vehicles on the road today have TPMS sensors to keep tabs on the tires, but it’s not a bad idea to get out the old-fashioned tire gauge now and then to double-check their calibration. On most vehicles, the spare tire is not TPMS-equipped, and should be checked manually for proper inflation.
      If a vehicle is not equipped with a spare, verify that the on-board compressor or emergency fix-a flat is accounted for!
      Speaking of inflation, the cost of the old “penny test” for tread depth has gone up to 25 cents. The old rule of thumb was that if you placed a penny into your tire tread, the top of Lincoln’s head should NOT be visible on a good tire. The distance from the edge of a penny to the top of Abe’s head equates to a tread depth of 2/32 of an inch, which is the DOT minimum before recommended replacement.
      Many tire manufacturers now recommend the use of a quarter for this “test.” The top of George’s head is 4/32 from the edge of a quarter, which gives consumers a little more warning before needing to discard their current tires. I still prefer to use an actual tread-depth gauge, but pocket change still works in a pinch. Wherever the destination this summer, your customers can save money, save fuel and save time by spending a little on preventative maintenance before they pack the car and pull out of the driveway!
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    • By Counterman
      What was wrong with universal joints anyhow? After all, they worked fine for years, and they still do! This is true, and U-joints can handle a lot of torque, but they do have a downside in the nature of their operating characteristics.
      Here are the basics: U-joints are located on the ends of a driveshaft, mounted between the driveshaft and a front and rear yoke. The front yoke attaches to the transmission and the rear yoke attaches to the rear differential. As the engine moves from the effects of torque and as the suspension of a vehicle travels up and down, the angle of the driveshaft changes.
      A U-joint does two things. First, it transfers the motion between the yoke(s) and driveshaft; and second, it does this at different angles, allowing for driveline movement. Here’s where the fun begins. When a yoke and the driveshaft are in perfect alignment, the velocity from one is transferred to the other at the same rate. However, when there’s an angle between the two, the velocity of the driven member fluctuates continuously during rotation.
      It can be hard to visualize, but the reason this happens is that as the angle of the U-joint changes, the two halves of the U-joint cross are forced to rotate on a different axis. The drive axis remains at a constant velocity, and both ends of the U-joint cross rotate in the same consistent circular path.
      The driven axis, however, rotates in a path that causes the distance of travel at the outer ends of the U-joint cross to increase or decrease in relation to the consistent points of the drive axis.
      This effect results in the continuous fluctuation of velocity between the input and output sides. While the input remains at a consistent speed, the output speeds up and slows down as the points of the driven axis continuously alter between a long and short path of travel.
      So, why don’t we feel that on a vehicle with a traditional driveshaft? Because there are two U-joints, and the fluctuation on each end balances out, effectively allowing the driveshaft to provide a consistent output speed to the rear differential. The angle of the two joints must be the same, however, and it doesn’t take much wear in one for the angles to differ, and subsequently cause a vibration.
      U-joints are known for their propensity to cause vibration, and the other disadvantage they have is the greater the angle of the U-joint, the greater the fluctuation in velocity. Anything over 30 degrees and the fluctuation dramatically increases. Have you ever noticed how jittery an old four-wheel-drive truck feels in the front when the hubs are locked and you turn a corner? Now you know why. 
      You may have heard of a Double-Cardan U-joint. It’s basically two joints side-by-side with a common link-yoke in between. This is one of the original concepts for a true constant-velocity (CV) joint, and they’re often referred to as this. The advantage they have is they offer smoother operation at greater angles, and they’re common on four-wheel-drive trucks, and a common upgrade for lifted trucks where the driveshaft angle is altered considerably.
      The drawback to a Double-Cardan joint is they’re bulky, and they still can suffer from limitations due to operating angle. True CV joints as we know them today have been around since the early 20th century, but the popularity of the front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle is what made them a household name.
      Today’s CV joints are a radical departure from anything resembling a U-joint, and not only do CV joints transfer power without speed fluctuation, but they also can operate at angles up to and exceeding 50 degrees, depending on the joint. Since the drive wheels on a front-wheel-drive vehicle also steer, the ability for this increased operating angle is what makes the CV joint so beneficial for FWD.
      A front-wheel-drive vehicle has two CV shafts – one on each side – and each shaft features an outboard and inboard joint. The outboard joints are considered fixed joints, meaning they don’t offer in and out movement. It’s their ability to operate at the increased angles for steering that’s important. The inboard joints are considered plunge joints, meaning they offer a wide range of inner and outer directional movement in order to make up for length differences as the suspension travels up and down.
      Types of CV Joints
      You’ll see two types of CV joints. One is the Rzeppa design, which features steel balls trapped in a cage and riding on an inner and outer race. The tri-pod design is the second, which features three roller bearings that ride in a race or cage, sometimes referred to as a tulip assembly. Both types of joints can be found in either a fixed or plunging design for outboard or inboard use, but the Rzeppa design has proven more popular as an outboard joint. The Rzeppa works well as an inboard joint too, but the tri-pod design gets the nod for the most effective operation as a plunge joint.
      The CV shafts themselves can differ in length from side to side, and in early FWD development, torque steer – the vehicle pulling in one direction or the other during acceleration – was sometimes a result of this difference. Different diameter shafts as well as hollow versus solid became part of the design aspects to combat this problem. Drivetrain mounting and torque control have advanced considerably since the early days of FWD, and torque steer rarely is a problem.
      Even though the FWD vehicle put the true CV joint on the map, due to their overall advantages, CV shafts now are utilized front and rear, and it’s not uncommon to see driveshafts that feature CV joints instead of U-joints. U-joints aren’t forgotten, however, due to their ability to handle high torque, and they work well in abusive environments that may not be so friendly to the boot on a CV joint (such as the exposed location of a driveshaft under a truck). 
      CV joints are packed with a specially formulated grease, and a rubber boot is sealed to both the CV shaft and the joint, to keep the grease in place. When a boot is torn or begins to leak, the grease goes away, and dirt gets inside. CV joints typically need no service until this happens.
      There was a time when the most common service for a bad boot was to remove the CV joint, take it apart, clean it, repack it and install a new boot. Generally, this was routine. However, from time to time you could experience a nightmare. Much of the reason we replaced the boots and serviced the joints in this manner was due to the high cost of a replacement joint or a complete shaft. Even with the additional labor, it was far more cost-effective to replace just the boot.
      Over time, with advancements in manufacturing and the availability of supplies, the cost of complete CV shafts went down, and it simply made more sense to replace them as a complete unit, not to mention it makes things easier for technicians.
      Selling Tips
      The most important part of selling a new CV shaft is making sure it’s the correct one. You should compare shaft length, the size of the CV joints themselves, and make sure it has an ABS tone ring installed if the vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system. Some early CV joints had the tone ring cast into them, but that design was quickly abandoned for a press-fit tone ring. If your customer doesn’t yet have the original shaft out, be sure and make these recommendations to them so they ensure the shaft is correct prior to installation.
      Installing a CV shaft is routine for professional technicians, but DIYers likely will have questions. One of the most important factors is torque of the fastener that secures the outer CV joint in the hub. If they don’t adhere to the factory procedure and don’t follow the correct torque specification, damage can and will occur to the wheel bearing.
      Some CV-shaft applications come with an ABS tone ring installed, regardless of whether or not the vehicle is equipped with ABS. If not, in most cases, the ring has no consequence. However, in the rare situation where it rubs or contacts something, the rings can be removed easily.
      The tricky part of CV-shaft service is there are some you can have out in a few minutes without even removing a wheel, and others that may take an hour or longer. The majority of them require some portion of the suspension to be separated, so the outer joint can be pulled out of the wheel bearing, then the entire shaft pulled outward as it’s removed from the transaxle. It’s fair warning that this is not always easy and might require specialized tools. As long as you convey that to the customer, they can’t say you didn’t warn them.
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    • By Counterman
      The University of the Aftermarket Foundation (UAF) has introduced a new corporate-support aspect to its popular UAF Coffee Club recurring-donor program.
      Called the BARISTA level, the new donor program provides organizations with a pathway to join individual donors in “pouring it forward” to benefit of the automotive aftermarket through education.
      “We are excited to offer this unique new program to give aftermarket organizations a chance to ‘expresso’ their support and help provide scholarships and educational opportunities for the next generation of industry professionals,” said Mike Buzzard, UAF trustee and chairman of the UAF Coffee Club sub-committee.
      Organizations that donate a minimum of $3,600 to the UAF that is earmarked for the Coffee Club campaign will be recognized as BARISTA at the UAF Coffee Club event during AAPEX on signage, the UAF Website, UAF newsletter and other UAF communications. BARISTA donations apply toward Lifetime Trustee status.
      “BARISTA donors will join UAF Coffee Club members at a special networking event at AAPEX which has proven to provide a valuable venue and professional connection springboard for those new to aftermarket careers to interact with industry veterans,” said Buzzard.
      To learn more and become a BARISTA, contact UAF Executive Director Jennifer Tio at [email protected] For more information about the University of the Aftermarket Foundation and its available scholarships, or to make a donation, visit
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    • By Counterman
      I swore for years that I would never buy a brand-new car. I didn’t even want to make a car payment. You see, I’ve always owned cheap (read “broken”) cars. The way I see it, you either make a monthly payment to the bank, or to the parts store. Since I’ve been working on cars for most of my adult life, it made more sense to keep driving cheap cars and doing the work myself.
      That all changed when my 2003 Nissan Altima left me stranded on the side of the highway on my way to pick up my daughter from daycare. I was so thankful she wasn’t in the car with me yet; it was icy, snowy and just downright dangerous.
      I started looking for a new (to me) car that night. I couldn’t justify driving half-busted cars any longer, and I certainly didn’t want to put my then-3-year-old daughter in danger.
      Thanks, COVID …
      Fast forward a month or two, and it’s March 2020. Ohio shuts down, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. I was still searching for a newer car to buy at this point, and I was leaning toward a gently used VW Golf Alltrack. Then, in April 2020, VW offered 0% financing on its new cars.
      When I did the math, the payment on a new one was the same as the payment on a used one. So, I hurried up and scooped up a brand-new 2019 Alltrack, and it’s been my primary vehicle ever since. Mind you, this is the first nice car I’ve ever owned, and I was pretty excited to drive something that was still covered under warranty. But my inner car guy has a lot of influence, and before long I started to make some upgrades.
      Upgrades
      It started out slow. First, a set of WeatherTech floor mats. Then, I picked up some protective film for the headlights, taillights and fog lights. Next, I bought an auto-dimming rearview mirror with built-in HomeLink garage-door-opener functionality. I bought an entire arsenal of car-cleaning products, from microfiber towels to a DIY ceramic coating kit. This was the first nice vehicle I’d ever owned, and I wanted to protect my investment!
      Then the “real” upgrades started. Bigger front and rear sway bars helped to keep the body roll in check, and completely transformed the way the car drove around a corner. Aluminum skid plates underneath for added protection from whatever the roads in Ohio could throw at me. A set of projector headlights with HID lighting gave me unparalleled nighttime visibility. Then, I got the opportunity to test out a prototype 1.25-inch lift kit. Sure, it’s not much, but a touch of added ground clearance is always nice. It also brings the car up to the height that it should have been from the factory, in my opinion at least.
      The truth is, I simply can’t leave a vehicle alone. I have to make it my own, one way or another. But I enjoy the process, and it’s satisfying to watch it slowly evolve into exactly what I want it to be. I share this to help you get inside the minds of some of your more passionate DIY customers.
      Growing Opportunity
      I can’t help but look for things to change, upgrade or improve whenever I buy a vehicle. Doing this might not make sense to everyone, but it’s how I make my vehicles better for me. However, I suspect that I’m not alone in this mindset.
      With new-vehicle prices skyrocketing, it makes sense that someone might choose to repair or upgrade their current vehicle instead of trading it in for something else. And that’s a huge opportunity for the automotive aftermarket.
      According to the 2022 SEMA Market Report, U.S. consumers spent a whopping $50.9 billion on accessorizing and modifying their vehicles last year – an all-time high for specialty-equipment sales. Trucks are a major driving force behind this sales trend, accounting for nearly one-third of those sales.
      Considering that the Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for many years – and the top three best-selling vehicles in 2021 were pickup trucks – this should come as no surprise. According to the SEMA report, sales of “utility accessories” such as truck bedliners, truck caps, racks, truck-bed covers and trailer and towing products are expected to grow from $3.79 billion in 2021 to $3.87 billion this year. If you’re not stocking truck accessories, you might want to give this category another look.
      Here’s the bottom line: Every time somebody buys a new or used vehicle, there’s an opportunity for us as counter pros to help them find the accessories they need. The question is, what are you doing to capitalize on this exciting category?
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    • DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.


      DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.


      DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.

    • By Counterman
      The process of cooling the inside of a vehicle is the same process that’s used to cool your home, and they both include the same basic elements: a compressor, a condenser, an evaporator and a system of hoses or tubes. In both situations, the A/C system isn’t producing fresh cold air. Instead, the system is taking existing hot air, removing the heat and moisture, and recirculating it as cold air. 
      While all of the components play an important role, the process wouldn’t be possible without refrigerant. The reason the system uses refrigerant instead of say, water, is because refrigerant has a very low boiling point. So, it’s easy to boil the refrigerant into a vapor – which enables it to quickly remove heat from the air – and to repeat this process over and over.
      Up until the mid-1990s, the most widely used refrigerant was CFC-12, which most people refer to as R-12. The EPA considers R-12 an ozone-depleting chemical and a potent greenhouse gas.
      In the United States, R-12 has been banned for use in newly manufactured vehicles since 1994, but you might come across some pre-1994 cars and trucks that still use it if they haven’t been retrofitted to a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant. And if they haven’t, you might want to recommend a retrofit parts kit if your store carries them.
      Vehicles produced after 1994 use HFC-134a, more commonly known as R-134a. While R-134a isn’t considered an ozone-depleting refrigerant, it is a hydrofluorocarbon, which is a group that generally poses a very high potential to contribute to climate change, according to the EPA. This is commonly referred to as GWP, or global-warming potential. Automakers began transitioning to R-134a with 1992 model-year vehicles, and by the 1995 model year, all new vehicles sold with air conditioners in the United States used R-134a.
      Starting in 2012, the automakers began shifting to HFO-1234yf, more commonly known as R-1234yf. This is a far more environmentally friendly alternative to the aforementioned refrigerants. While R-1234yf is mildly flammable, it isn’t considered an ozone-depleting refrigerant. According to the EPA website, R-1234yf has a GWP of 4, compared to 1,430 for R-134a.
      The Chemours Company, which manufacturers Opteon YF refrigerant for automotive A/C systems, estimates that more than 80 million light-duty vehicles on the road today in the United States were factory-filled with R-1234yf refrigerant. That number will continue to grow, as Chemours estimates that 95% of vehicles manufactured for sale in 2022 will use R-1234yf as part of their original-equipment design.
      “The advantage with R-1234yf is that it has a zero ozone-depletion potential, and it has an exceptionally low global-warming potential,” says Christina Spalding, business development manager, thermal & specialized solutions, at Chemours. “This is why we’ve seen a significant number of U.S. car manufacturers converge on R-1234yf, even though fundamentally there’s no mandate requiring them to do so.”
      Chrysler was an early adopter of R-1234yf, going all the way back to the 2014 model year. The list of automakers using R-1234yf in vehicle models in the United States today includes Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and others.
      It’s just a matter of time before R-1234yf is found in the majority of vehicles in the overall U.S. fleet, explains Constantine Giannaris, North American mobile marketing consultant for thermal & specialized solutions at Chemours.
      “We encourage retail stores and shop owners to make the investment [in R-1234yf supplies] sooner rather than later to begin reaping the benefits now and into the future,” he adds.
      Aftermarket Opportunities
      While working on R-1234yf systems isn’t much different from R-134a systems in terms of operation or theory, identifying the refrigerant and recharging the system have some new twists.
      To determine if a vehicle was factory-filled with R-1234yf, there’s a label under the hood that indicates the type of refrigerant that the vehicle uses. (This information also is available in the owner’s manual.) This is an important point, because it’s illegal to use R-134a in vehicle that was factory-filled with R-1234yf.
      If your store isn’t seeing a lot of demand for R-1234yf yet, an easy to way to dip your toe in the water is to stock R-1234yf cans. Chemours offers its Opteon YF automotive refrigerant in self-sealing 12-ounce and 28-ounce cans. Purchasing R-1234yf in a can doesn’t require EPA 609 Technician Training and Certification, which means anyone can purchase them. However, DIY demand for R-1234yf is small compared to the more mature R-134a DIY market.
      Even so, you might have some DIY customers who want to “top off” their R-1234yf systems. In these situations, make sure your customers know that they won’t be able to use an R-134a charging hose to connect to the service port on an R-1234yf vehicle. While R-134a and R-1234yf air-conditioning systems are very similar in terms of their overall design, the respective service ports are different, to prevent the refrigerants from being mixed. To recharge an R-1234yf system, your DIY customers will need a gauge-and-hose set with hose couplers that fit an R-1234yf service port – another potential sales opportunity for your store. 
      That said, you also might want to tell your customers that simply topping off the refrigerant might not solve the problem if the air conditioning isn’t working. It could be a mechanical or electrical issue, or a refrigerant leak (the most common cause of cooling problems). If a refrigerant leak is suspected, you can recommend an ultraviolet leak-detection dye or an electronic leak-detector tool. There are some kits out there that include the dye, the injection gun, UV glasses and even a fluorescent light to help them find the leak.
      On the DIFM side, your professional customers will need a new recover/recycle/recharge (RRR) machine to service R-1234yf vehicles, although there are some machines on the market that can service R-134a and R-1234yf vehicles.
      Chemours Opteon YF offers 10-pound and 25-pound cylinders for use with RRR machines. The cylinders are for professional technicians, as they need EPA Section 609 certification to purchase them. The 10-pound cylinders by far are the most popular, according to Giannaris.
      With approximately 15 million R-1234yf passenger vehicles coming out of their factory warranty each year, aftermarket demand for R-1234yf refills and service is growing steadily. For parts stores that haven’t started stocking R-1234yf cylinders yet, Spalding recommends “planting the seeds” with their DIFM customers.
      “If you’re selling cylinders of R-134a, those are potential customers for cylinders of R-1234yf,” Spalding says. “Ask your customers if they are seeing the increase in vehicles containing yf at their shops. I think there is a lot that a retailer can bring to their customers in terms of educating them about how the market is changing and how the fleet is changing. If you recognize a customer has been purchasing R-134a from you for quite some time, asking them how you can help them transition to R-1234yf can go a long way.”
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