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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,582
    The best part is, change the trade tomorrow, and make James A's job one worth aspiring towards, and you'll still neeed fifteen to twenty years for a technician to develop into the next James.

    That's exactly it, too. Whenever there's a lag in interest within a trade, the pain comes way down the road as the industry has to reinvent itself in order to recover.

    My primary hesitation every time I consider replacing a car is the added complexity of it that a shade tree mechanic like me has no hope of understanding. At the core, they're still machines, but that means less and less these days because it isn't the machine part that goes awry most of the time. :cry:
    2010 Subaru Forester, 2011 Ford Fiesta, 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup, 1974 Ford Pinto Wagon
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    So as I said the Explorer mentioned previously was here. It clearly had a misfire which was causing the flashing check engine light under acceleration. The light was also on for B2S2 heater circuit open, and low voltage signal from B2S2. The Left hand (B2), downstream sensor (S2) was found to not have it's connector fully seated together allowing it to go open.
    Also noted was the RH downstream sensor connector was not secured to the bracket at the side of the transmission as designed, it was simply laying on top of the exhaust and had suffered some heat damage but not to the dont that it was at risk of failing. Those two issues were solved and confirmed to operating correctly at that time. Keep in mind the B2S2 sensor has been replaced at least two times. I can't rule out some intermittent issue or sensor performance problem at this time. I left the advisement that if further troubles are presented, that an O.E. sensor should be considered.

    The misfire. Road testing with the Ford IDS made it easy to see the misfires were logging on Cylinder #1. While the misfire was common it was falling short of the counts that result in a trouble code for that cylinder. Getting back to the shop I ran the relative compression test and that passed. Normal misfire diagnostic require confirming good spark and the tool of preference is called the ST-125. This is a tool that looks like a spark plug with no outer electrode and it takes 25,000v of energy to jump the gap or "spark". The ST-125 showed some sparking, but occasionally it stopped and the spark was observed to be coming through the insulation of the spark plug boot. Taking a grounded probe to the boot allowed the spark to constantly arc through the boot instead of across the gap of the tool. The misfire was confirmed to simply be a bad plug wire.

    Now you CANNOT reliably replace just the wires. The old wires gong onto a set of spark plugs scratch the porcelin and encourage carbon tracking to occur due to the high spark Kv demand on a lean burning engine. Once a carbon track starts, say on a plug if you replace the plug but not the wire the carbon tracking of the wire transfers right back to the plug. Now replace the wire, and your new plug which is now also carbon tracked fails shortly afterwards. You literally end up repeatedly replacing the plug or the wire until you finally replace both at the same time and stop the insanity. BTW, if you don't do all of the plugs and wires Murphy's law takes over and then you have another plug and/or wire fail and the customer comes back saying It's doing the same thing again".

    Now when I was road testing I noted that the engine load pid during a hard acceleration only hit 70%. Normally I would be looking at fuel trims to help determine if that is a mechanical issue with how the engine can pump air, or if it is a MAF sensor problem under reporting air flow. The problem is with a misfire, fuel trims shut down and the system doesn't learn so it cannot give me that data. Not to mention the O2 sensor issue also had the fuel trims unable to learn. The plugs and wires needing replaced are essentially a tree blocking the view of the forest and that must be dealt with before we try to go any further.

    So I called the customer consumer and ran down the details with him. When I gave him the price for the plugs and wires he said "Well I can get them done for a better price than that". Then he proceeded to change his story about who had done what and when and allegedly his old engine had gotten new plugs and wires when all of this trouble first started, and the junkyard that installed this engine had said that they either put new plugs and wires on it, or would do it, but then finally admitted they didn't do it after he talked to me on the phone.

    So he's supposedly going back to the junk-yard to have the plugs and wires done. After that is done, I could get to watch the fuel trims learn and that would help me decide which way we need to go to correct the low engine load pid on a hard acceleration and take the last step towards solving this for him but I'm not going to. If I'm not doing the repairs then it simply isn't worth the effort to be involved any further, and people wonder why its hard to find a good technician.......
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 41,296
    I hope you get paid in cash before you let the car go back.

    What did you guys do before sensors anyway?

    Moderator
    Minivan fan. Feel free to message or email me - stever@edmunds.com.

  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    So, what would you have charged him for the plugs and wires (not including the diagnostic time)? $100? $150? And he walked out? Sheesh, what a bozo.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 14,977
    I would have traded in that dog a long time ago. Especially if it was my wife's car. She has no tolerance for unreliability!

    I thought of a new model. Now that cars are so computer intensive, and with internet technology, become more of a guru, and handle some things remotely 9diagnostics). And keep the shop as an escalation point, working for other shops. basically work on a contract basis for the stuff they can't handle. At a price, of course!

    2013 Acura RDX (wife's) and 2007 Volvo S40 (mine)

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    Now that cars are so computer intensive, and with internet technology, become more of a guru, and handle some things remotely (diagnostics).

    A company in North Carolina is already trying to do that. They can handle remote reprogramming but the real hard diagnostics require a hands on approach.


    And keep the shop as an escalation point, working for other shops. basically work on a contract basis for the stuff they can't handle. At a price, of course!


    There is some potential on the personal side to make this work, and really 50% of what I do today is already directly for other shops. When I evolve to close to 100% then the prices would get to be more ready to reflect the real value for what we have been investing. But there is a catch. While it could be good for me, its bad for the trade and the consumer. By making it possible for the others to continue to take the easy way out and not make the investment in the tools and their people they won't be prepared for the day that life does what life will do and we won't be there anymore. They will then be painted into a corner that they won't have a way out of.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 14,977
    any chance you are in upstate NY? Because I seem to be lost in one of your stories (sounds like the Voyager one).

    my son has a 2000 Acura TL with him at college. 170K, but runs great. Until last weekend. Driving along, starts to lose electric (dash getting wonky, warning lights coming n (ABS/TCS etc.). runs rough, and dies. Gets a jump, makes it a few blocks, ties again. Gets towed to Honda dealer, they can't even jump. Put a new battery in, fires right up. They test the alternator, and say it is charging, so good to go.

    2 days later, after a few mile drive to the store, starts doing the exact same thing, then totally dies and won't restart. almost made it to the dealer (1/2 mile away!), so needs another tow.

    well, I talk to them today (he left it last night and they say it started right up, and is running fine. Battery was charged, and alternator is putting out. So they were driving it around the lot, trying to get it to act up, but nothing. Said they looked at the obvious stuff (the grounds they could see, loose cables I assume) and nothing. No fault codes stored either.

    so, seems to be one of those intermittent deals that either needs a genius, or a lot of time spent (and my money of course!) to debug.

    The big hassle is he is at college (4 hours from here) so I can't really do anything, and he has neither the time nor experience to be chasing after it. And he does have a car that can't be trusted to get him home when needed.

    does have a nice new battery though!

    2013 Acura RDX (wife's) and 2007 Volvo S40 (mine)

  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    edited September 2012
    Find out whether the dealership ran a current draw test on the electrical system when the motor was turned off. If they didn't; have them do so. There should be less than 50 milliamps (.05 amp) current draw from the battery when the lights are all off, doors are closed and no accessories are running. If an alternator has a shorted diode in it; it often will put out charging voltage; but will then quickly drain the battery after the motor is shut off. This is something which is often missed by many mechanics.

    According to the note at the top of this page; this question should have been posted in the Edmunds Answers forum. It is understandable that you posted it in this forum because of who you were responding to; but the moderator might feel it does not belong here.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    The closest I get to there is when I am teaching classes in Batavia, or Corning New York.

    While a parasitic drain can cause a dead battery, it does so when the car is not running, and then you fail to start the car after it has been sitting. Yu are describing a loss of system power once the car is already running, for a period of time.

    Is the battery genuinely dead when the car quits, or is it simply not able to deliver power to the vehicle? When the problem starts to occur, someone needs to get a voltmeter on this and measure battery voltage, measure alternator output voltage, and measure for voltage drops on the alternator output, and the ground circuits. You can't just "look" at them, they need to be tested under a load, and/or during a failure event.

    In the "sounds like" catagory I suspect your losing alternator output and simply running on the battery until the battery can no longer keep the vehicle going. Just because the alternator tests fine sometimes, does not mean that it is OK all of the time. I'd hook up testing equipment, turn on several vehicle loads to stress the system and simply let it idle until it acted up and then troubleshoot the issue. If you don't get an answer to the problem soon, let me know exactly where your son is at and I'll locate a shop to direct you to that will take the time to solve this.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 14,977
    Thanks. It seems they finally isolated the problem to a bad alternator that was failing intermittently. So, hopefully the new one going in cures the problem for good.

    And I realized that I made a mistake when he first took the car up (2 years ago) in not scouting the area, and setting up an "account" at a local garage, just in case of emergencies. That's how we ended up at the Honda dealer. Usually a little more expensive, but in theory they should have full knowledge of the car (and all the diagnostic computer tools), but I suspect a much lower tolerances for actually spending the time diagnosing like you described.

    if for some reason this does not eliminate the problem, I'll let you know for a reference.

    2013 Acura RDX (wife's) and 2007 Volvo S40 (mine)

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    From Craigslist: Spokane Washington

    "Automotive person with Leadership skills wanted.

    We are looking for a person with an automotive background
    who is self motivated, organized, has a hard work ethic and
    a positive disposition. ASE certifications a plus especially
    in brakes, diagnostics, and transmissions.

    We are an established business who has been operating for
    over 30 years. We control several locations in the Spokane
    area. We are looking for a stable person to add to our team.
    Looking for a candidate who has a clean driving record, at
    least 25 years of age, non-smoker, who demonstrates
    leadership and organizational skills. Clean cut and
    professional appearance needed.

    We are looking for a person who can multi-task and pays
    attention to detail. Word dependability and work stability a
    must.

    Starting pay $10 to $11 per hour DOE"
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 17,536
    Ouch! All that for $10-$11/hr? You can get that at Home Depot in my state and be a drunken ex-sailor.

    '13 Stang GT; '15 Fit; '98 Volvo S70; '14 Town&Country

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    edited September 2012
    Yeah well good luck with that. $10 hour is an insult. You get what you pay for.

    We pay workers TWICE THAT to hand pick grapes in the vineyards.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    Yeah well good luck with that. $10 hour is an insult. You get what you pay for.

    How much are you willing to bet that they claim to beat everyone elses prices on the street?

    Any wonder why there is a shortage of qualified technicians? There are a lot of capable parts changers and that company isn't even offering those kinds of wages. The add says they have been in business for thirty years, looks like they think they are still working on 70's and 80's cars.....
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    Why even get dirty for $10 an hour? You could make that on a paper route.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    Or cutting lawns!
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/22/business/to-stay-relevant-in-a-career-workers-- train-nonstop.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0

    His field is so new, and changing so rapidly, he said, that there is little consensus on established practices or necessary skills. “It’s more difficult to know what we should learn,” he said. “We have advisers that we work with, but a lot of times they don’t know any better than us what’s going to happen in the future.”

    Instead, Mr. Mehta, 26, spends a lot of time comparing notes with others in his field, just as many professionals turn to their peers to help them stay current. The International Automotive Technicians Network, where mechanics pay $15 a month to trade tips on repairs, has more than 75,000 active users today, up from 48,000 in 2006, said Scott Brown, the president.


    To continue to try and remain current in your career imagine having to study some twenty hours a week, on top of the fifty+ you put in your business, plus the sixteen you put into a classroom and you have an idea of what I have been investing for years.

    BTW the classroom part is only during the last five years, previously those hours would have been simply spent studying or in the shop working. Add in travel time to get back and forth to those classes and yes I do 100 weeks. I've been a sponsoring member of the iATN since March of 97 back then there was about 6500 members worldwide. It was my contributions there that opened the door to the educational side of the trade for me.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    This leads me to go back to my original impressions of some years ago, where I felt that we were heading toward the disposable, non-serviceable automobile. Most major units of the car will be sealed or made to run many many miles without being touched, and the electronics will be modular, and replaced in cassettes or larger units, pulled out and plugged in---much like you might fix a washing machine today.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,196
    edited September 2012
    Sheesh! Reminds me of jobs for graphic designers where they expected the applicant to be proficient in every program in existance, have about five years experience, and wanted to pay about $20K a year!

    They'll be lucky to get a guy to even show up at that pitiful rate. Maybe Zutroy who's fresh off the boat will take the job?

    image
    "...and if you diagnose and repair every electronic system on that 1999 Mercedes S600, there will be a shiny new nickle for you, Zutroy!"
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    And that reminds me of some of the ads I saw for engineering/IT types years ago. The ad would ask for hands-on experience in all the latest fads (Linux/Unix, C++, Java, CORBA, web page development, yada yada), and then say the starting salary was $30K. This is when newbie grads were pulling in $45K.

    Turns out the ad was usually for a position they wanted to be filled by someone from the H1-B visa pool, and they had to run local ads and show that there was no takers in order to be able to hire the foreign worker, who was willing to work for 50 cents on the dollar.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,974
    That's an epidemic in my area. And a lot of the money goes back home.

    There is definitely demanded skills/credential inflation in relation to pay, and it doesn't seem to be held to similar standards for managerial/tenured suits who are allowed to remain oblivious. At least at my workplace. Beginning analyst jobs now want a degree and some technical competence - when I started, you could get away with one or the other. Doesn't seem to have created any better classes of new hires, either.
  • just pay them for their skilled and handwork not for according to their caliber.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    I checked at one of the larger vineyards in my area, and the top grape picker makes $27/hour.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,526
    I'm teaching a class tomorrow, it's safe to say that there will not be a single technician there that is realizing that kind of a wage.The average will be in the 14-17/hr range.
  • robr2robr2 BostonPosts: 7,903
    I checked at one of the larger vineyards in my area, and the top grape picker makes $27/hour.

    That grape picker is probably paid piecemeal and may earn $27/hour if the weather is perfect, the back isn't aching, etc.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    Oh it's hard work, believe me. I wasn't presenting it as otherwise. It's hustle from 3 AM to Noon, very little slack.

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  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 41,296
    Payscale.com gives a range for an auto mechanic from $9.24 to $24.91 an hour; some workers get overtime, commissions, bonuses or profit sharing. That boils down to $20,512 to $55,953 annually. If you call yourself an Automotive Service Technician, then you get bumped to $21,167 up to $58,121.

    A middle school teacher ranges from $29,648 to $63,850.

    A farmer field crop worker ranges from $12,746 to $73,017. Farmworkers way less ($5.03 to $12.73 hourly). Don't ask me what the difference is.

    Moderator
    Minivan fan. Feel free to message or email me - stever@edmunds.com.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    Well there's a good deal of skill involved in a grape picker--and speed--you have to see these people work to believe it. Picture yourself dribbling a basketball, and every bounce is a bunch of grapes you've just cut off the vine with a sharp hooked knife---it's that fast.

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  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,196
    A guy I worked for back in the day used to pick pineapples in Hawaii prior to WWII. He was missing the top of his thumb where he whacked it with a machete while picking pineapples.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,279
    Hey, I've seen mangled mechanics, too. Fixing cars can be dangerous work--aside from cutting yourself, there's the prospect of a car fallling on you, of burns, of batteries exploding in your face, of whirring blades and slashing belts, of electrical shock, of toxicity poisoning, etc.

    It's not as dangerous as hauling nets on a fishing boat, but it's no walk in the park. You gotta pay attention all the time.

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