Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Taking your car to the repair shop can be a stressful and sometimes intimidating event. When your vehicle is in disrepair or is due for service you shouldn’t find yourself in the lobby with your fingers crossed or worse yet, worrying if the shop is taking advantage of you. The following are a few simple steps you can take to feel more confident on your next visit to the garage.
Step One: Look for a shop that hires ASE certified technicians. Why you ask? The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was founded in 1972 to help consumers find competent, professional technicians. The significance of this to you is that it’s voluntary for the technician to become an ASE certified professional. Unlike a lot of other service people such as plumbers or electricians, auto mechanics aren’t legally obligated to become certified. Those that go through the process of obtaining ASE certification are the ones who are dedicated to their craft and have the experience to do a quality job.
Step Two: Make the shop earn your trust and get an education. When a technician or service advisor recommends a repair or service, ask them if you can see what they’re recommending. An honest shop won’t mind showing you those worn out brakes, that dirty air filter or cracked up belt and you’ll probably learn a thing or two looking over your car with a professional. If they aren’t willing to show you what’s wrong with your car then how can you trust them to fix it?
Step Three: Know your vehicle’s service history and read your owner’s manual. As crazy as it sounds, that mysterious little book in the glove box actually does contain some valuable information. If the manufacturer lists service intervals for maintenance on your vehicle and you know the service history then you will already have an idea of what you need (aside from the results of an inspection) when you get to the shop. There’s no use paying for a service that isn’t due right? If the technician or service advisor insists on performing a service despite the manufacturer’s recommendations or your vehicle’s history, it may be for a good reason. Simply refer to step two and find out for yourself what’s going on with your car.
A little preparation can create a lot of peace of mind and save you money.

Photo: National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

For more information on ASE, visit

For more auto advice and info, check out my Examiner articles.

Choosing tires for Chicago winter driving

In a mid-western city like Chicago, maintaining your tires or choosing a reliable set of replacements is important as the weather transitions from the warm summer sun to the cold winter wind. Just as people begin trying on old winter jackets to make sure they don't get caught freezing during the first snow fall, your car needs a little preparation for the change in season. Your tires are the only point of contact with the road so it is vital to make sure they are the proper type and in road-worthy condition because let's face it, even with a warm jacket on, the side of the road is a dangerous, cold and generally miserable place to be.
The condition of your tires is the first consideration when preparing for the snow and ice. If your tires have cracks in the sidewalls or treads, excessive uneven tread wear patterns, shallow tread depth (less than 4/32 inch), leaks or other factors that compromise their integrity, now is the time to repair or replace them. The possible problems associated with neglected or worn out tires all directly affect your safety and the safety of the folks sharing the roadways with you. If you’re not comfortable or are ill-equipped to inspect your tires, take your car to a professional technician and have it done.
If you have determined your tires are not fit for the winter roads, it’s time to look at replacements. The most popular types of tires for winter applications are All Season (A/S) or Mud and Snow (M+S). All Seasons are just as their name implies a good general purpose tire that will handle well on most terrains and weather types. If you can maintain proper tire pressure, tread condition and drive at speeds proportionate with the weather, these tires will work well for you. If you like to drive more aggressively or off the beaten path, M+S tires may be a better choice due to softer rubber treads that more efficiently conform with and adhere to the road but please bear in mind, you still have to stop so take it easy on the gas pedal. If you do go with an M+S style tire, you may want to have a set of All Seasons to keep in your garage to swap with when the snow melts in the spring because M+S tires will wear faster and run hotter on dry roads.
As cornerstones of your vehicle, proper maintenance and consistent attention to your tires will save you money, keep you safe and provide peace of mind as you travel through the elements this winter.

Photo: LizMarie ( 
 For more automotive advice and information, check out my Examiner articles.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Good ol' Days

Click the pics below to see what it cost to almost rebuild your Model T in 1928. If only...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pen Street Press

My friends, if you're looking for some truly good reading about current events, politics and anything else that is worth reading, please check out the Pen Street Press by the lovely Erica Christoffer.
She is a wordsmith and an exemplary journalist.

Pen Street

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Skool Daze, Mechanistry and Art

Well, the day finally came and quickly went.... I graduated from Universal Technical Institute!
On May 29th, 2009 I made my final journey on campus, swiped a certificate from the school, a couple awards for helping out as a tutor and for my membership in the Student Union and burned a trail to full time wrenching at the Lexus dealer. Yeah looking back it went fast, but during the journey life sure seemed to take its sweet time.

Thanks to all of you who came to cheer me across the
Graduation stage and spend the weekend celebrating!

So, what is life like on the outside you ask? Let me tell you, it is a whole lot sweeter. No disrespect to the school or my old classmates, of course, but working a 8 to 10 hour day is like a vacation after the 2 grueling years of 17 hour days. The effort, sacrifice, investment and hardship were all worth it and now it's time to start reaping some heard earned down time.
Just in time too.... Summer living 1000 feet from the beach is a bonus!

Although school is complete, the learning shall continue. While still matriculating the hallowed halls of UTI, I had the opportunity to start earning my ASE certifications. For those of you who aren't loyal readers, ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) is an organization that requires ongoing training, testing and certification in order to brandish the ASE logo, which is an indicator to the everyday consumer that these technicians have gone above and beyond to learn their craft and stay up to date on the latest automotive technology as it evolves. Although many shops require ASE certification, not all of them do nor is it a legal requirement for a technician to work on customer's vehicles. ASE Certified Technicians choose to earn these certifications individually.
To earn these certifications, a technician must have enough relevant work experience and undergo a series of advanced written tests which are continuously updated for the changes in technology. These certifications are not permanent which means technicians must re-certify in each of their disciplines to maintain their status as ASE certified repair technicians.
As of May of 2009, I have earned 4 ASE certifications and am now half way to becoming ASE Master Certified. I plan on testing for 2 more this fall and the final 2 next Spring. If all goes well, I will become ASE Master certified early next year. These tests are not easy, so I'll keep my fingers crossed and study hard.

Now that I am earning a living and learning while earning, I've made it my goal this summer to acquire some new art in the best way I know how, Tattoos. I've been researching different styles of the art form, the origins of said styles and mixing all of that research together with my personal preferences I've decided: It's time to finally start a sleeve. I've been planning my left arm as a sleeved piece for a few years and the images are all finally sorted out in my head. As a symbolic homage to the passions I have immersed myself in over the past 29 years, the sleeve will be a montage of Ol' Skool hot rod kulture art, personally significant musical images and, last but most certainly not least, motorcycle imagery. These three themes can all stand on their own but, in my life, most definitely have become intertwined with one another. Outside of traits passed on to me by family and qualities developed over the years with friends, these passions have become some of my defining characteristics.

The first two elements of the tattoo are these:

Click on the tattoo to make it bigger

The musical barbed wire.... I originally got this tattoo in 2003. The artist was Don Nolan of ACME Tattoo Co. in St. Paul, MN. He's since retired, but I was lucky enough to get two pieces from him before he capped the ink for good.
I came up with the concept for this tat in high school but got a couple of other pieces before I got around to this one. The significance of the barbed wire and the music together are pretty basic. Barbed wire is generally used as a means of keeping things in, preventing escape. Twisting it around the measures of notes was my way of binding me to the music so it will never escape me, or I the music.
The second and much more recent element was started in January 2009 by Vic at Fifth Sun Graphix in Chicago. It is the most spontaneous concept I've had tattooed but also a very significant one being the catalyst for the rest of my sleeve. The top of the piece is obviously a microphone, styled after those of the 30's and 40's Big Band/Swing era. I love the art and music from that time and have always wanted that as a tat. The bottom piece is a connecting rod, which is a key part inside an engine. The connecting rod is attached to the piston at one end (where the microphone is placed on the tat) and the engine's crankshaft at the other end. It is an integral part of transforming chemical power (combustion) into mechanical force (getting power out to the drivetrain).
I like to explain it like this: Music is my motor and motors are music to my ears. The two different elements are combined into one in the art, just as they are in my life.

The next step for this sleeve will be to finish the "Pistophone" by adding shading and color (it is only in outline form right now). With that part of the tattoo finished, I can focus on the next pieces of the puzzle along with the perspective and visual input from my yet to be named artist. Against my normal tradition, I am going to have this element finished by another artist versus the one who started it. I have had a few artists highly recommended to me by some friends with some very choice ink and I am currently scoping them out to see who I want to complete this project with me. From this point forward, I plan on finishing the entire sleeve with one artist.

I will be chronicling the various stages of my sleeve as it progresses, as well as posting continued writings on other various pieces of life as they come to me, so stop back from time to time and check out what's new in John Harley's world.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Life as an automotive student and apprentice: Vol. 2

Month number 2 of wrenching for Lexus passed by like the air from a freshly punctured tire.
As I continue my quest towards technical savvy I realize that there are a lot of challenges and rewards in store for me. There are a few milestones I reached recently that I'd like to share...

Certifications and Recognition:
I was recently recognized with a "Circle of Excellence" award at UTI for my efforts with the student council to improve professionalism standards amongst the student body and for my contribution to founding the Student Mentoring Program, which is designed to help incoming students acclimate to their new surroundings and get their education off to a good start.
It was a pleasant surprise to receive this award and has been an encouragement to keep working on these student oriented initiatives.

I passed my first ASE test! ASE, an acronym for Automotive Service Excellence, is an organization that sets the stringent technical standards for professional automotive technicians to follow and maintain their education and certifications. Although not legally required, becoming an ASE certified technician is a requirement of most employers in the industry and is a testament of a technician's knowledge of their craft and dedication to quality service.
I have earned a certification from ASE in Automotive Engine Repair and am planning to take 3 more tests during the spring testing session. It is my goal to earn the 8 required certifications to become a an ASE Master Technician within 3 years. 1 down, 7 to go!

Life as an Apprentice:
About 3 weeks ago, I was working my full Saturday shift (which is the only shift where I work on my own without my mentor) and for the first time I "beat flat rate" for the day on my own. Flat rate is how we techs measure time on a daily basis. Each procedure has an assigned amount of time estimated to complete the task (determined by the manufacturers and industry professionals). Every hour is split up into ten pieces, six minutes each and every procedure performed on the vehicle is worth so many tenths of an hour.
For example, an oil change may be worth 4 tenths of an hour (24 minutes), or .4... When I do the work, I record my time on the work order and that time is then credited to me in the computer. In order to be considered efficient, I need to book at least the amount of time I was on the clock (i.e. If I punch in for 8 hours, I need to produce a cumulative 8 hours worth of tasks for that day). As an apprentice, I am not expected to meet the flat rate or, "book time", because I am still learning and things take me longer than the experienced guys. I am, however expected to work at it because when my apprenticeship ends, my daily flat rate will determine my wages. So, being a new technician still early in my apprenticeship, it was a good feeling to book 9.6 hours when I worked for 8.5 with no comebacks.

Another realization that I am making (although not totally unaware of this before I started my apprenticeship) is the amount of tools I will need to do my job. I have a tool chest that boasts an impressive 23,631 cubic inches of space and a 2,400 pound load capacity full of tools. This chest is 4'6" long, 2' deep and 3'4" tall with the space split into 11 drawers. It is literally about 2/3rd's the size of my last car (VW Jetta). I keep it obsessively organized which may eat a little more space, but it is the only way to be efficient while working. I have a solid foundation of all of the basic wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, electrical tools and a collection of sockets that makes a lot of techs jealous. I have the essential air tools and I have begun a respectable collection of specialty automotive tools. This box is almost full already and I just bought it last winter. On top of that, I have a small collection of tools at home in another tool chest/cabinet combo (considerably smaller than my work box) that I use for personal projects. To put all of this in perspective, consider the hard numbers: I have approximately $10,000 to $12,000 worth of tools (not including the actual storage chests which are valued at an additional $5,000) and I have a list of diagnostic tools and other specialty items I still need that is easily another $6,000 and is most assuredly not the last of what I'll be purchasing throughout my career.
Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not complaining. I feel that these tools are a good investment and really are the vehicle with which I earn my income. I just didn't realize how many specific specialty tools there are. It really is impressive and helps me understand why, as cars evolve and require more training and tools to repair, it becomes increasingly expensive to maintain and repair a vehicle. (See below for a sampling of my growing tool collection)

On the school front:
I am beginning to feel a twinge of excitement as graduation slowly approaches. The proverbial light is beginning to illuminate the end of the tunnel and I have a hard time not counting down the days until I take that last test, a short walk across the stage and enjoy a serious helping of "I did it-ness" as I accept my diploma from our Campus President. In 5 months (or 7 three week course cycles) I'll be tossing my square hat into the air, neatly stacking my last textbook on the shelf along side the other 25 and heading into the shop full-time armed with of a host of certifications from UTI, Toyota, and ASE.

As my series on life a s a student and apprentice continues, I welcome your comments and thoughts. Being a musician at heart, I always take requests so, if there's a specific topic you'd like to hear about, let me know I'll do my best to weigh in on the subject in an upcoming addition to the ol' blog.

Thank you for your continued support throughout this crazy journey.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Starting Over.. The beginnigs of an Automotive Technician

Beginning a new job is always full of so many things.... There's the excitement of new surroundings, new co-workers and new goals, the stress of learning how things tick within the company and the pressure of making a good first impression. Particularly with my new job, there's also the more practical excitement/stress combo of driving some fine (i.e. Expensive) luxury vehicles.

I started my apprenticeship with a local Lexus dealership almost a month ago. So far, things are going fairly smooth. The people are pleasant, the shop is very nice with all of the equipment needed for the job and, as far as I can tell, I'm making a decent impression (for an apprentice anyway).
The biggest challenge I face as I near graduation and make my way into this field is transitioning from a career where I had been trained, experienced and respected to one where I have so much training still to come, very little experience and a lot of work to do to truly have anyone's respect.
Obviously, I knew what I was doing when I decided to make a career change. I wasn't expecting to be a Master Tech when I graduate, especially not before, and I know all to well about earning one's stripes in a career, but that doesn't make it any easier to give up the comforts of knowing exactly what to do when I start working and feeling as though I am respected by my peers because of the combination of skill and attitude that they have been witness to.
Lamenting for the luxuries of past jobs aside, I really have a lot to be thankful for.
I know respect is earned and training is something I am glad to know will be on-going for me, those things will come with time. The thing I am most excited about right now is getting started with the experience. No training or encouragement can equal the power of good old fashioned hands-on experience. I can't buy that from a school, no one can do it for me... Its up to me to earn and learn.
I am enjoying my new job and I appreciate the opportunity to get a head start working in my new industry of choice. I am grateful that my co-worker/shop mentor is patient, energetic and understanding (we do have the same Alma mater which has also proven to be a helpful common ground for us). I had to pinch myself when I received my first paycheck only to discover that the boss decided to pay me More than we agreed upon during my interview! What?? Does that really happen? I actually went to him to make sure it was correct and thanked him profusely when he confirmed with a smile.
I guess this is my official "So far, So good" to all of you loyal readers out there. Thank you for your support and stay tuned as I plan to weigh-in on the changing face of the automotive industry and the recent news coverage of the "Big 3" in the very near future.