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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    Okay but even here we see the trend in the "disposable car" direction. For instance, many cars no longer have dipsticks; many cars have numerous parts which are not 'serviceable'.

    I guess what I'm saying is....if more and more parts of a car are becoming disposable, at what point does the entire car become disposable? :P

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    edited April 2013
    For instance, many cars no longer have dipsticks; many cars have numerous parts which are not 'serviceable'

    Just because it doesn't have a dipstick doesn't mean that the oil doesn't have to be changed, or added to, in 150,000 miles, right?

    if more and more parts of a car are becoming disposable, at what point does the entire car become disposable?

    When the cars costs less than $199 ;) .

    We could do a back of the envelope calculation. Lets take a car that costs 15,000, has a 10 year life, and needs $2000 worth of maintainence done on it over that 10 year period (tires, brakes, oil changes, etc). So the cost of that car is $1,700/year (ignoring financing and similar costs).

    IMM then, a throwaway vehicle that was intended to be discarded every 2 years would have to cost less than $3,400.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,689
    I don't know, super-complex cars that age poorly might be part of the plan for some of these guys - they know their brand equity and target market combine to make it work.

    I think most modern cars are "throaway" in a way - nobody is thinking they will ever be restored or repaired past a certain point.
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    ...super-complex cars that age poorly might be part of the plan for some of these guys - they know their brand equity and target market combine to make it work

    I don't disagree with that. But I'm not in the financial stratosphere where I'm willing to buy - and discard after 3 or 4 years - an A8 or 7-series.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    Well I wasn't thinking of this as a rational development. What I meant was that you might be *forced* to dispose of it because of some--let's be fair---unusually complex repair. In other words, a certain number of consumers now purchasing 2013 cars might end up getting completely screwed, with no one intentionally planning for them to be.

    To put it another way --- every year we progress technologically, we are in a sense creating a more treacherous "danger zone" for the consumer on that line between "one day being in warranty, and the next day not".

    If a 2013 car has a 5 year warranty, the risk of facing complete disposal at year 6 is greater for them than it was for a consumer with a 2001 car in 2006.

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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    edited April 2013
    ...super-complex cars that age poorly might be part of the plan for some of these guys - they know their brand equity and target market combine to make it work

    I don't disagree with that. But I'm not in the financial stratosphere where I'm willing to buy - and discard after 3 or 4 years - an A8 or 7-series.


    Well, I certainly don't think we all wake up one day and find ALL cars have morphed into disposable, recycle able units. That type of trend usually starts at the bottom and works its way up.

    Example: Flat screen TVs. When first introduced, the small sized sets were considered "use until it breaks", and the 50"+ sizes were considered long term sets. It's hardly economical today to have a standard 50" plasma repaired after its out of warranty, the way the current pricing is structured on new sets.

    Henry Ford's intention was that, with proper maintenance and service, a Model T would run FOREVER. I doubt you could find an auto executive today that would make that claim about a single model his/her company produces today.

    So, we're already on that path to a certain extent. There will always be those that go to exceptional efforts to keep their "unit" (car, fridge, HVAC, etc) running as long as possible, but for the masses, its going to be more like "it broke.... Time to buy a new one".

    Back to flooded cars for a minute. Many people would declare a loss a cell phone that was dropped in the toilet. But I would open it up as much as I could, remove the battery, SIM card, and whatever else would come out. Then I would bake it in a ordinary oven at, say 150 deg F or 175 deg F and try to dry it out.


    That's a perfect example of my previous comment, kudos to you, but folks like you are, population-wise, rare as hen's teeth...

    Now, I'm not making any specific predictions on when (or even IF) the car industry will reach a completely "commodity based" behavior like we have for electronics, appliances, etc., but I do see a lot of movement in that direction.

    In 100 years, your great grand kids will still be able to go see a Model T in a museum, but its doubtful they will see many examples of cars being produced today sitting alongside that Model T.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    edited April 2013
    So you're going to dry out your car in the oven? :P

    Actually a heated paint booth might work!

    But seriously, I've seen what it takes to repair a flood damaged car, and believe me, no one's going to be doing that in his spare time in his backyard.

    Picture this (actual scene I witnessed last week).

    A flooded Porsche Boxster brought in for repair---water was just over the floorboards.

    Car now has totally stripped interior (to bare metal), convertible top and top mechanism off, dashboard off, wiring spilling out of firewall.

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    It's hardly economical today to have a standard 50" plasma repaired after its out of warranty, the way the current pricing is structured on new sets.

    I guess it depends on what the cost is to repair one. My son's 55"(?) plasma died late last year. One of the indicator lights was blinking a code that indicated some buried thermal sensor had opened up. We took the set apart, bought a similar part from radio Shack, patched it across the bad one (that was actually part of a transformer), and put the set back together. And it worked, for a while anyway.
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 28,475
    cell phone that was dropped in the toilet. But I would open it up as much as I could, remove the battery, SIM card, and whatever else would come out. Then I would bake it in a ordinary oven at, say 150 deg F or 175 deg F and try to dry it out.


    And, then, you would go buy a new cell phone... ;)

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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    I guess it depends on what the cost is to repair one. My son's 55"(?) plasma died late last year. One of the indicator lights was blinking a code that indicated some buried thermal sensor had opened up. We took the set apart, bought a similar part from radio Shack, patched it across the bad one (that was actually part of a transformer), and put the set back together. And it worked, for a while anyway.

    Cost is always a factor, and usually THE factor.

    Still, I can't imagine the ordinary consumer dismantling his wide-screen TV and swapping out any "plug & play" parts, if there are any, much less grabbing a soldering iron and replacing fixed components. Nor can I imagine the average car owner swapping out a water/fuel/oil pump on his car.

    I don't think any of us posting on this thread would honestly consider ourselves "run of the mill" car owners, if for no other reason, we at least have some minimal interest in how they work, as well as what it may take to keep a car running. I'm certainly no car "wizard", but I do expend some effort in attempting to understand car "innards".

    To the average car owner, oil is oil is oil.

    In a related side note of where we're headed: 2-3 years ago my wife bought a fairly-well optioned Oster toaster oven, close to the $100 range. After a few months, the upper heating element overheated (probable bad thermostat) and deformed. I emailed for warranty service, and was told to expect a new unit within a week, which we did receive. The email also instructed me to simply cut the power cord off the defective unit and take it to a recycling place for disposal.

    Evidently, its cheaper to take a user's word that he has a bad toaster unit, junk it, and completely replace it than it is to examine the defective unit, repair it and return it. What I would like to know is at what $ break-even point the manufacturer wants to repair the existing unit. One thing is for sure, whatever that $ level was then, its most certainly higher now.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,959
    There's a guy at work who once told me about a friend who had a car that got flooded ages ago...it was an old 60's car, but I can't remember what model. He said that it never did completely dry out. In the winter time, when temps got below freezing, he said the seats would get rock hard!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    There are some Porsche Boxsters that have a retail price of $5433 for the DME ECU module. :surprise:

    Fortunately if you shop around, you can get a rebuilt one for only $1400 + $400 core charge.

    And that's only ONE part of what got wet.

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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    edited April 2013
    BTW, the one way to effect change the quickest? No new blood so that the trade collapses through attrition. The peak should occur about five to ten years from right now at our present pace.

    The real problem (as I see it, anyway) we have in this country is our "collective" view on education that assumes everyone is duty-bound for college and any attempt to create a bona-fide apprentice-based system is some sort of conspiracy to hold some people back, but no one ever identifies who exactly that group might be, or why someone wants them to be "held back".

    I have good friends in Germany (full citizens, born there) that have a son who is apprenticing with a manufacturer of tire casting moulds. This company makes the tire making equipment that companies like Michelin use to make their tires, and there's only 2-4 companies in the world that make this type of equipment. Apprentice style arrangements are not unusual there.

    Felix (the son) struggled through school and most likely would never be successful in a college-style environment like we have here, but he is excelling in his OTJ training and work experience. He's on track to become an installer/systems tech/ systems designer over the next few years, and when his training is completed, he'll travel around the world working on these systems.... And, he'll be making good money.

    When I was there last September (for Oktoberfest) I got the "nickel tour" of the facility. It was extremely interesting, to say the least.

    In my lifetime (I'm 58), I've seen lots of work duties/jobs either marginalized or outright discounted as something only a person with no ambition would be interested in doing. Yet, many of these functions are basic to the functioning of our economy and society.

    In essence, we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have successfully hindered so many young people that could have excelled in an apprentice-style educational program if only it was available, and created a class of workers that are basically fit to be nothing more than clerks in places like Walmart.

    What a loss...
  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,451
    edited April 2013
    "A McDonald's outpost in Winchedon, Massachusetts, has just posted a call-out for a full time cashier - but insists only college graduates need apply." (link)

    Come to think of it, that may be a way to drive kids into the car repair field.

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  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,689
    edited April 2013
    The lack of an apprentice system is indeed holding us back, in terms of the continuation of living wage jobs that don't require a cookie cutter MBA. Closest thing we have here is the idiotic unpaid internship route, which usually teaches little more than the office politics of a given firm.

    Maybe it's not a coincidence, revenge by the 1% for a few generations of middle class.

    If we had more real training, no doubt there would be better mechanics out there, and more would be willing to join the ranks.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    .super-complex cars that age poorly might be part of the plan for some of these guys - they know their brand equity and target market combine to make it work

    I don't disagree with that. But I'm not in the financial stratosphere where I'm willing to buy - and discard after 3 or 4 years - an A8 or 7-series.


    The newest round of R2R that is starting up in Maine uses the story of a Subaru owner, who had to take the car 200 miles back to the dealer because the car required a repair that the local shop couldn't do. That's a window to the pitfall if shops try specializing in just a few makes, we will encounter people that we can't help. At the same time, not specializing as much has become so cost prohibitive, that we are barely surviving. Three of the cars that I had in the shop yesterday, were sent to us from other shops for diagnostics. One was a 2005 Mazda 6, the next one was a 1985 Buick LeSabre (really good shape BTW it's worth doing the repairs that it needs) and the third was a 2004 Chrysler Sebring. When you add up the tooling costs for these "normal cars", and then figure the time that it took to sort through the problems that they presented it had me wondering how far below the brake even point we were with them. Now add onto that investigating but not getting to complete the diagnostics on the 99 Lincoln Heater/AC controls, and the airbag system on my sisters BMW 3 series convertible, thats a huge range of tasks. Only the Buick presented with a failure that I'd seen before and that was some fifteen years ago, so it was like dealing with it for the first time again.

    BTW Steve, the Chrysler and the Mazda both included Check Engine lights that among others included evaporative system leak codes, and they both had already had gas caps replaced, twice.. :shades: ... The Mazda is a bad purge valve, that is causing it to run lean at idle, as well as fail as an evaporative leak. The Chrysler has a failed NVLD switch (stuck open) so it sets P0440 and P0441 alternately.

    The BMW needs the passenger side seat belt retractor, and then a passenger presence system relearn. The Buick is a carb overhaul, a good old fashioned tune up (haven't done one of those in years), a cannister purge temperature vacuum valve, and an intake gasket set. The Lincoln may have bad recirculation and temperature blend door actuators and dissasembly of the dash is required to prove that but the customer can't afford the parts let alone the labor to go any further.

    Today I should get the PCM back for repair for the Toyota 4Runner, and have three on the schedule that I really don't know what we will be getting into with them yet. The irony of all of this is that we struggle to survive because of pricing pressure, while we solve the nightmares that in turn lets the others make money with all of the easier work. It should be a win/win but it really isn't. Meanwhile the darkest aspect is that with us to bail them out with the tough stuff, they aren't preparing for the day when we won't be here anymore. Think about what that really means for a moment. It means they don't have long term business plans and just want to make it to retirement and then they will walk away with whatever they can get out of the business, with no-one qualified to take even their place.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    If we had more real training, no doubt there would be better mechanics out there, and more would be willing to join the ranks.

    A real liveable wage and working conditions are also required, but it feels good to see people (you) thinking along these lines. We have to break the stereotype to get other people thinking about what it really takes to be a top technician today.

    I've uploaded some of the diagnostic routines and the scope captures in that blog of mine. When I do that I actually have to pick average routines to put there and not the real nightmares that we sometimes face because I want to keep it at an understandable level, while still providing some "wow they have to know how to do that"? One of the other responses, (I'll have to go back and find it) was asking about if we communicate with the manufacturers in regards to the things we find wrong, such as abraided wires etc. There is some communcation that takes place, but it is very limited. Unless we find a given failure a number of times, there just isn't any reason to alert the manufacturer. The vast majority of repairs that I do are once in a lifetime events, we just don't see that many repeated failures because of all of the different systems, on all of these different models of cars.

    Try and imagine what all of the total possible failures for one car might be. Now imagine what that number grows to with all of the models produced each year, and then carry that out for some forty years of cars. That all adds up to the reality that you can't teach someone to know what is wrong. You can only teach them how to research, test and prove what is wrong with the car they have in front of them right now. Then you have to allow them to take the time to do that, and pay them correctly for the effort that it takes.
  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,451
    edited April 2013
    and then a passenger presence system relearn

    When I replace or upgrade a part in my computer, from a simple mouse swap to a new drive, the software and/or bios is smart enough to recognize that something is different. Sometimes the "relearning" requires a reboot, but not so much these days. This "drive to the dealer to hook up an external computer to the car to tell it that a new selt belt mechanism" is a bunch of time wasting hooey.

    You should be thrilled with right to repair - if nothing else it's getting the tech issue in front of a bunch of citizens and law makers who haven't figured out that mechanics are a dying breed.

    My van's in the local three bay shop - should I take them cookies? :shades:

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    You should be thrilled with right to repair - if nothing else it's getting the tech issue in front of a bunch of citizens and law makers who haven't figured out that mechanics are a dying breed.

    Exactly how is R2R doing that?

    To the best of your abiity, explain how R2R will benefit me and/or my customers.
  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,451
    edited April 2013
    Exactly how is R2R doing that?

    By getting car repairs issues out in front.

    You have the links to all the R2R sites. I have other things to do than "your assignments". :shades:

    Right To Repair - A Hot Issue or Big Problem?

    The question to ask is how it will benefit me, not you. And if R2R lets me download a diagnostic app cheap onto the iPad, then that's enough right there to at least help make me conversant with the tech when I take my car in, if not enable me to fix something myself.

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    edited April 2013
    Doc, I think you should go into the apprentice business. Here's how it might work at Doc University.

    You advertise or connect with high school placement counselors (even do job fairs) and offer an apprentice program that costs the same as a middle level college---about $15,000 a year, so $1250 a month. No room and board of course, but they'll have to buy some of their tools, obviously. So if you throw in the basic tools they'll need, make that about $1650 a month.

    You'll take on two students for an X year program (two years to get them trained for a job in a shop? What do you think?).

    So you're shop, which will still operate, will have these two slugs dragging you down (they will cost you money for 6 months, break even the next 6 months, and make you money the second year), but you'll have $3,300 in additional income per month, to compensate for you not working full time on cars (doesn't THAT sound like a good idea?).

    It's a very good point---some kids are NOT college material, and it's not because they aren't smart. They just don't operate in that type of environment.

    It's also possible that your shop, as an educational institution, might be eligible for tax breaks or grants, etc.

    I can be your Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid :P

    This won't be the same as a trade school. This is a genuine apprentice program, total on the job training, starting on the wash rack and working up in complexity.

    You can even devise a basic aptitude test to screen applicants, so that you at least start off with kids who have some basic knowledge of cars and like doing this type of work.

    What do you think? if $1650 a month isn't enough tuition, what number works?

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    And if R2R lets me download a diagnostic app cheap onto the iPad, then that's enough right there

    R2R only tries to guarantee access to information and software, at a comparable price to what the dealership has to pay.

    Exactly how is R2R doing that?
    By getting car repairs issues out in front.


    Really? Wasn't Ron's "Do you need to use the manufacturers oil" article supposed to do that with engine oil too?

    Follow the money trail, see where it leads and who is bankrolling the legislation around the country. Do you really believe for a second that Auto Zone (and others) give a hoot about my shop, or your local three bay? Do you really think they care about you?
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,689
    edited April 2013
    That's an interesting idea.

    I am pretty sure in the more developed nations who we compete with, their apprenticeship systems are also subsidized by the government. A better use of public funds than subsidizing lie-based wars and related industries, maybe.

    In Germany, even factory assembly work starts in the apprenticeship system. I've seen it at both MB and AMG. An apprenticeship starting with putting together AMG engine components might be more enjoyable than 40 years of office work :shades:
  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,451
    Over here, a "speed shop" might attract more kids to apprentice than an "ordinary" repair shop.

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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    Unfortunately, the part missed in your proposal is already evidencing itself in the limited "apprenticing" being done now. When a trainee gets to a certain level of competence, he moves to a different shop that pays a bit better. Unfortunately, that's usually the same time when that particular tech's training stops, or at least slows down dramatically.

    I think your idea would work out, with some modifications, in a family-based shop, though.

    No, for a true apprenticing program to work, in an industry as large as automotive repair, it will need the support of the majority of automakers (including Ford, GM and Chrysler), as well as government assistance for tuition, etc. By that point, we're back to those in the education arena that see programs like that as robbing them of their "precious" resources...."Everyone is college material" mantra plays in the background...

    From a manufacturer support standpoint, if that 50 minute video Cardoc linked to a page or two back is any indication, there's only minimal support for anything like that from manufacturers. It appears that the manufacturers see training issues as much more of a dealership problem.

    At least, those are the indications I see...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,806
    Well the apprentice at the CarDoc University School of Advance Auto Science and Technology doesn't "go" anywhere until he gets his "DOC-torate" :P

    There wouldn't be any grant monies unless there was a degree of some sort, and so the apprentice commits to a period of study and doesn't jump ship for a job---no credentials means probably no job.

    There could be two tracks for apprentices. One would become a Doc Master Clone, which means he not only does repairs but knows how to run a business, while the other could be an Assistant Doc Senior Drone, who is content to work for a Doc Master Clone.

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    I can be your Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

    Not me. I wanna be the AD. That's where all the money is!
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    My van's in the local three bay shop - should I take them cookies?

    Well, there is a good body shop in my area that does even better work if you come in with a case of Bud Lite.
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    There could be two tracks for apprentices. One would become a Doc Master Clone, which means he not only does repairs but knows how to run a business, while the other could be an Assistant Doc Senior Drone, who is content to work for a Doc Master Clone.

    I certainly like your naming conventions!
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