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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood



  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    edited June 2012
    I'm not really trying to pick on you here

    Then give it a rest. That was ~31 years ago and that's my recollection. But I'm not sure what I had for breakfast two days ago. Plus I'm on vacation for a couple of days sitting in the middle of a campground enjoying the sunshine and the only compression I'm worried about is the de-compressing kind.

    The point was the newby told me I needed a new transmission and the old pro fixed me up for cheap. There wasn't anything "wrong" with the transmission.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    For the newbee, that was how they (we) learned. Even for the old pro, there was always something new to be discovered.

    Basically changing the timing had no impact on the engines compression. But it could easily have made an impact on the amount of power the engine was producing at a given throttle opening. That would allow you to close the throttle some, and that in turn allowed for an increase in engine vacuum, and ultimately an earlier shift point.

    Now for the timing to be that far off, plus we have to include the possibly that something also was having an impact on compression it screams that the timing belt (or chain but not likely) had jumped a tooth. That would in fact give you low power, and very late or no upshifts.

    Anyway enjoy your vacation. Sorry for trying to make you have to think under such a condition. :shades:
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354

    Mechanic in a can, just pour it in and the car is magically fixed.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Actually I bet you could sell that for real on eBay :)

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    While the owner was here he mentioned that for the last three weeks he has been running ads and actively searching for a certified mechanic. He's looking for someone with five years or more experience, state inspection and emissions licenses, and at least a couple of ASE certifications.

    He got no responses at all. He didn't even get any responses from people who aren't qualified to fill the position he has open. Unemployment is still running around 10% in this area but people who are looking for jobs don't even think about this trade as a career choice.

    Care to try and list the reasons why?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    What's his shop like? What's the community like? Sometimes highly qualified mechanics are fussy about things like that.

    Actually, 3 weeks might not be enough time. Good people ARE hard to find but that's always been true. It is odd, though, that he didn't even get unqualified candidates. This suggests to me that he might not be placing his ads in the right places.

    My friend's Porsche/Audi shop took months to find the right guy and he came all the way cross country. Worked out great so far, however, so maybe patience is the key here.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    Today, with my wife's surgery tomorrow I got a phone call from a prospective customer. We are in the hosptial with her preparing for the first of at least two surgeries, (Aug 29th 6:15 am) to try and stop her epileptic seizures.

    The story went something like this. 2001 Ford Explorer was taken to a shop for a misfire/driveability issue. It got the plugs and wires replaced and then when it still had problems with misfires the cataytic convertors were replaced. The engine still was presenting the same symptoms, and after several additional attempts (O2 sensors, different plugs, cleaning the injectors) the owner took the car to a second shop. Two visits later and more parts replaced they gave up and then the car went to a third shop who's diagnosis was that this is an intake manifold gasket failure. Replacing that gasket failed to fix the car as well and they then decided it would need an engine to solve the problem. Now the car went to an auto wrecker (of all places because they would put an engine in cheap @ $1300) who installed a used engine. Still the vehicle ran every bit as bad as it has for the last several weeks.

    It's only now after some $3000 has been spent did the owner call my shop! The odds are very high that all of the failed attempts to repair this have in fact added problems on top of whatever the original failure was or still is (especially the used engine install). But the best part of this story is with my wife in the hospital, and my teaching schedule I just don't see how I can justify taking this car in. I'll need every second that I can spend in the shop for my regular customers and abortions like this usually take a signifcant amount of time that nobody ever wants to pay for. If we really would charge the time these require we get called every thing in the book from incompetent to rip-offs so what actually happens is we usually lose three to five hours of productive time to them as we solve the vehicles collection of problems.

    Traditional lines of thought are that we accomplish these difficult tasks and the reward should be that we earn another full time customer which makes the investment of the time lost being the hero a reasonable trade off. But experience has proven that when we fix this nightmare, at a loss to us, we will never see them again unless they someday get trapped by another nightmare. Then they look for us only to be the hero again.

    So here is where this stands for the moment. I'll be in the shop thursday when this potential customer is supposed to call back. I've already told him that figuring out what is wrong really won't be a problem, (I teach continuing educational classes for professional technicians that concentrate on the skills required to solve just such puzzles) however repairing it might be. Anything heavy mechanical I simply won't have enough time to do. For me to even consider looking at this he will have to authorize a minimum of two hours diagnostic time up front. From that point I can tell him what I know, and what may still need to be tested/confirmed. It's likely some repairs will need performed in order to cut down some of the trees to see the forrest on this one because of the prior repair attempts.

    The sad part is he apparently has been told about my shop, by each of the other shops after each failed attempt, but he kept choosing to go elsewhere. He sounded upset at the prospect that I might not fix this for him, almost more upset over that than he seemed to be over spending 3K without a solution. This however is a real glimpse of the future because there is no way to earn a living fixing these kinds of problems. In fact taking over and fixing these allows those who haven't made the investment in the training and schools to cut my throat on pricing for the easy stuff while they dump their failures on us. Soon they won't be able to do that anymore because we won't be there to bail them out like we used to be. I may not be there for this customer right now.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,147
    Wow. Yeah, I can definitely see where this is a Catch-22 for you. I can't believe that anyone would throw that many possibilities at the problem without getting a demonstrable rationale for why the repair will fix the problem.

    Hell; I can guess like that at home! :surprise:

    Best wishes to you and your wife as she undergoes her surgery.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • obyoneobyone Posts: 8,054
    Wow you are way to considerate. I wouldn't blink in communicating to this potential customer that I don't work on vehicles that have multiple attempts at repairing. Reason being it's difficult enough to diagnose a problem without the complication of multiple hands replacing parts masking the original problem even further. If the potential customer can't understand that, I wouldn't want him as a client anyway.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 26,278
    well, in this case, other than the cats it sounds like all the parts he had replaced were junked when the used engine went in.

    and the wrecking yard guy is probably super happy. He just might have gotten an engine back that was better than the one he sold!

    2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport (mine), 2013 Acura RDX AWD (wife's) and 2015 Jetta Sport (daughter's)

  • berriberri Posts: 7,957
    Steer clear - I smell a potential lawsuit in the making if you get involved and something then happens. Lawyers will go after anyone that has money and even just slightly touches the item. The more people sued the greater the potential win and earnings!
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    Thank-you. We will be doing updates on her progress through my facebook page.
  • Fuel,

    I would tell them to get their original engine back. Geez, how could a competent mechanic advise someone to replace an engine without exhausting the possibilities that one of the four basics are missing.

    I'm with obyone and berri. Keep your hands off this mess.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    It all sounds so simple doesn't it. Time and again it usually is. Then along comes a situation that just doesn't play by all the normal rules. Several of the shops that this thing has beat are recognized as very good ones, of course some of the rest are not but that doesn't mean that they cannot fix anything, they have all simply been out classed by the complexity that this one must be presenting. Given enough chances we all run into a situations that all of our knowledge and training don't have us ready for. It's likely that no-one has the kind of experience that would be required for dealing with this car exactly as it would present right now. The discovery, research and testing phases are easily a once in a career event, never to be exactly repeated.

    That's as good of a picture for what we do today as I could ever attempt to portrait. The shops that are on the lowest levels of capability are there in part because they responded to consumer price pressure and have kept their prices too low to have invested in the tools and schools so that they are prepared to try and effectively solve these kinds of problems. Shops like mine get called all manner of evil things because we cannot work under the kind of pricing scale that they do, but on the first effort this would likely not have been a notable repair event. FWIW, there is nothing that this can present that from the technical perspective that we can't solve. We just can't get a fair return on the investment that we have made and earn a living by doing it.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Replacing an egine to cure a miss is...well....absurd under any circumstance unless you could someone prove a cracked cylinder wall.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    Replacing an egine to cure a miss is...well....absurd under any circumstance unless you could someone prove a cracked cylinder wall.

    I wish that was true.

    Used engine installed regardless of the reason $1300.
    Repair that same engine for a timing chain that jumped on one head and resulted in a few bent valves costs about $2000 to do correctly.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 10,621
    edited August 2012
    Deservedly or not, in the offices where I work I'm regarded as the "car guy" that everyone goes to with their questions about their vehicle issues. I can't tell you how many times I have heard about a dealer or indie shop that has thrown thousands of dollars worth of parts at a problem with little or no success.
    Fortunately, when I'm not in DIY mode I have two good dealer service departments and two sharp indie shops that I can fall back on. As a matter of fact, I'm now extremely reluctant to change vehicle brands if only because I don't want to have the potential hassle of dealing with an inept dealer...

    Mine: 1995 318ti Club Sport / 2014 M235i / 1999 Wrangler / 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica Wife's: 2016 i3 REX/2009 Cooper Clubman Son's: 2009 328i

  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 22,638
    That's where I'm lost. I don't understand how anyone could do that with a straight face, professional or not.

    What's more ... its an '01 Exploder!! They've already spent the car's value, IMHO. :sick:

    '17 F150 Crew 2.7; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '09 LR2 HSE. 44-car history and counting!

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    I don't get it either. I was having trouble with my AC on my Mini Cooper with automatic climate control. I brought it to "my shop" at 8:30 and at 9 AM they handed me a TYPED OUT diagnosis that included leak and pressure test (ok) but alas, an open coil on the magnetic clutch of the AC compressor...ergo, problem solved in 1/2 hour.

    (Well problem solved if you want to pay for a new compressor---"clutch not serviceable"---thanks MINI! )

    Is this shop expensive? Yes. Is it more expensive than a "bargain" shop that doesn't know what they're doing? No.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    its an '01 Exploder!! They've already spent the car's value, IMHO

    That's what you hear from people who make their living by selling cars. To them repairing the existing car means they can't make money off of the consumer today by selling him/her another one. JMHO.

    As far as the "they" goes, there are a few DIY'ers involved in this and most of the shops only did several hundred dollars worth of attempts before the owner pulled the plug with them and then he moved on down the line. The junkyard oops I mean auto recycling facility has spent the greatest amount of the owners money, by doing exactly what the owner asked them to do and then they found themselves married to this nightmare just like everyone before them.

    This thread is about our triumphs and also the challenges that we often face and the perception and attitude of this response goes a long way towards showing just how unfair shops can be treated. Now did they succeed in making the symptom go away, no it doesn't seem as if they did. However nobody has any idea exactly what, or why any of the individual steps was performed and whether they or anybody they normally work with would have done anything any different.

    I can't speak for the abilities of anyone else that has been involved in this thread, but I can state with no reservation that even if a dozen issues have been added to the original problem, I can definately figure out and solve this customers vehicle problem. But just like in this thread already someone would try and represent the effort as anything other than just a mechanic fixing a broken car! That's some kind of thanks isn't it. :sick:
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    In the wrong business?

    "”I can do a tattoo in three hours and make $300,” explains Hernandez, who says he isn’t tattooed himself. ”Tattoo money is a little easier.”

    The real need will be for more highly trained technicians.

    It’s those at the top of the profession that the industry is most concerned about losing, the master mechanics who don’t just read troubleshooting data off a computer screen, but rather put their education and experience to use to interpret clues and pinpoint a problem."

    Mechanic supply running on E (Detroit Free Press)
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    The one failing of the article, beyond which leaves me to find the rest of it to be quite accurate is the references to financial rewards for people who choose to enter the trade. Is 60K possible for a technician? Yes it is, after twenty to thirty years in the trade,"IF" they work and study hard all of the time.
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    edited August 2012
    An old friend of mine has a nephew who went through factory training and became a BMW mechanic at a dealer down in Georgia about, oh, 8 years ago. He was supposedly making $60 plus benefits after a year; managed to buy a house and get married. Got his dad a "pro" deal on a 7 Series too.

    After about 4 years he quit and became a manufacturer's rep, running the company his grandfather had started.

    Think that's atypical eh?
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    The story? No, there have been a number of stories where someone was supposed to be a phenom right out of school and in one case (this one I believe) he was supposed to be making 100K and telling everyone else what to do.

    The reality is that story was widely promoted for one purpose, to attempt to attract people to a for profit auto mechanics school, without regard for their true potential as technicians in the trade. The false promise that the trade would give the prospective students 100K careers got a lot of attention. Unfortunately many of the kids who went to that school ended up with some tools, an expensive education to pay for, and jobs that would pay them slightly more than they could have been making at McDonalds. Few if any remain in the trade long enough to get past their apprentice phase which isn't formally recognized but averages five to eight years. At four years he would have had some skills within one manufacturer so long as he specialized. Becoming a manufactures rep has more to do with people skills than technical ones. The fact that he is completely out of the trade in such a short time says more than anything, and it really doesn't matter why or what he left for.

    Funny thing about this trade, just about anybody who hasn't truly earned his/her stripes, changes a flat tire and they write about and tell all the world how easy this career is and they suddenly have people laying palms at their feet. Real techs who discuss the complex nature of the work are considered full of themselves if they successfully diagnose and replace a light bulb.

    On another note:

    A Buick Rendevous is sitting outside the shop. It has codes setting according to the note in front of me of P0131 B1S1 low voltage, and a P0446. The note explains "Parts on seat if needed".

    "IF" I install their parts and it fixes the car there isn't enough gross profit in labor alone to generate any income, in fact other work in the shop woud have to subsidize the basic overhead for that period of time. In short if they don't want me to be in business, then they should simply have gone elsewhere because I'll go broke just as fast doing nothing as to doing work for next to nothing.

    "If" I install their parts and they don't fix the problem, who's at fault? (ret)
    Why of course I am. I can't charge to take the time to diagnose this after all they believe they have pulled the codes and that means these parts are what are supposed to be replaced. So then I'll get to diagnose the problem for free and I'll be worse off for even trying.

    If I install their parts and they are defective who holds the warranty? (ret again). Why me again, the typical response to that situation is we must have ruined it when we replaced it. Now they will not only want the job done over (didn't make enough the first time, and now not making anything the second time) but it has happened where a shop has to turn around and install a quality part at a loss just to get rid of the situation.

    Every "expert" who-ever suggested it was OK for a customer to carry in their own parts is partly responsible for some of the real problems in the trade when it comes to the lack of quality personell as that is ultimately reflected in the wages and benefit packages that the technicians receive. It also has been reflected in the continuing education and tools that the shops provided their employees. We shouldn't have to apologize for needing to earn a living and this Rendevous has been presented with no other option to me.

    BTW, My wife had four seizures during the night so I got to watch them gather a lot more information. I spent the night in the hospital in part because of how familliar I am with her different spells and can relate to them if they are in fact seeing a typical event, or one that could possibly be caused by the withdrawl from her medications. Two of them were typical for her to have and two of them were not.
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    edited August 2012
    Let's take my local guy. Don't know him real well but he's got a good reputation (and I live in a small town where everybody knows everybody). He's not cheap but he knows his stuff. I had trouble figuring out who he was at first because he doesn't even have a sign on his shop. I don't know how he learned the business.

    The part that gets me is that he can't fix my mother-in-law's Buick because he doesn't have the scan tool to reset the BCM. Neither do the guys at the two other shops in town. It's not a question of skill, it's back to trying to make a living in a small town where many of his customers can't really afford to pay him what he's worth. So he doesn't invest in the scan tools.

    So you either drive an hour one way to a dealer or you drive around with the engine lights on. Like my mother-in-law, and like my neighbor who has no working gauges on her Ford.

    Seems to me that resetting a control module shouldn't be any harder or more expensive than reflashing a CPU on your computer. I'm no whiz and even I've done a few of those without frying the motherboard. I'd love to be able to pay the local guy $120 (plus parts) to hook up the replacement BCM and code it for her particular car instead of having to drive an hour to have an "official" Buick dealer do it. That's half a day shot plus gas isn't getting any cheaper.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    The part that gets me is that he can't fix my mother-in-law's Buick because he doesn't have the scan tool to reset the BCM. Neither do the guys at the two other shops in town. It's not a question of skill, it's back to trying to make a living in a small town where many of his customers can't really afford to pay him what he's worth. So he doesn't invest in the scan tools.

    Imagine dropping me and my shop into your little town, which I doubt is much different than the little town I am in, with four shops around me that have been dragging their feet when it comes to keeping pace with technology and turning around and playing cut-throat pricing games with the easier work.

    I have the scan tool and software licensing to deal with your mother-in-laws Buick. On top of that I have attended, and also provide real training and have first hand experience in performing the set-up of a new BCM which has it's own traps that techs need to be aware of before they just up and try to do the first one. One of the biggest traps is the new BCM will latch its set-up after several starts and then can never be programmed for all of the accessories if it wasn't done correctly the first time. The only fix if that happens is another new BCM!

    I have the scan tool and software license for the Ford instrument cluster issue. I also have Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and Mazda vehicles fully supported. The investment that I have made is what everyone should have been making if they were truly living up to the promise that is essentially being made to the customers when it comes to being "Service Ready"

    Now when you look at your town watch me be labeled as a rip-off for no other reason than my pricing has to reflect the cost for all of those tools and schools, and it's because this is how the job should really be approached today, and not what anyone in your town is doing.

    BTW, It is in fact partly a skill issue as much as an investment issue. With no capability to do the work because they don't have the tools there is no way that they have the required additional skills. You have shops in your town that can't fix today's cars completely. Considering them to be "good" is a problem, today! Heck, for that matter that Buick is actually yesterday's car, what are they going to do when you or your neighbors show up at their doors with one of today's cars?

    Right now it's likely they might not even know what oil a car really calls for and that is because of a lack of training, no matter how good they are at anything else.
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    This area is more depressed than the remaining Appalachian hollers and not many people are buying new cars. It's not about mechanics trying to rip people off, it's about people trying to survive on unemployment or social security, and business people only charging what people can afford to pay. Otherwise they'd have no customers.

    There's a risk of ruining a CPU when you reflash one, but that's an engineering issue and one of these days the engineers (and GM) will figure out how to reset one without permanently damaging it.

    My point is that it really shouldn't take a lot of skill or special equipment to reset a car computer. In fact it really should be something GM could do remotely via OnStar.

    You know it's coming, and with the dearth of new mechanics getting trained, it'll have to get more common or we'll all be stuck on the side of the road.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,147
    edited August 2012
    I have, on occasion, given my own parts to a shop for install (usually due to something unforeseen like a nut disintegrated on me and there's not the clearance to get any tool I own on it to remove and replace). Each and every time, once they get over their reluctance, they are very clear that there is no warranty on the work unless the install itself is faulty. They are a "NAPA Service Center," which probably costs a mint by itself, but generally that means all (most?) work comes with a 12K/12mo warranty.

    So far, the added cost of fixing the blunder (such as extraction of the bolt) often offsets the profit they likely would have seen on the part itself, plus I am thrilled that they helped me out of a jam! I may be the atypical customer, though, because a few years later that same shop accidentally forgot to torque (or even tighten) the lug nuts on a tire they were inspecting.

    I picked it up, drove home (12 miles), and started hearing/feeling an oddness about a half-mile before arriving home. In the driveway, I inspected the wheel... it was about a half-turn from falling off the car! I tightened it up and called the shop the next morning to inform them. They were horrified and extremely apologetic, offering me all sorts of promises (free this, discounted that). I assured them that it worked out okay - everyone makes mistakes - I just wanted them to know about it and reiterate to the employees to double-check their work.

    Then again, I could have just as easily took advantage of them and taken them up on all their offers even though there was no harm/no foul, and they did me a favor in the first place by even looking at the car when they did (which cost me nothing)! Of course, it could have turned out much worse, but my point is that it didn't and education was a much more valuable tool in that scenario than punishment. At the end of the day, I was still grateful to them for their fantastic customer service and have used that shop again since then.


    Doc - I'm sorry that the seizures continue for your wife. It sounds like she has the best possible partner at her side.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,354
    My point is that it really shouldn't take a lot of skill or special equipment to reset a car computer. In fact it really should be something GM could do remotely via OnStar.

    But Ford doesn't have or use OnStar, and neither does any other manufacturer. Heck not even every GM vehicle produced has it and of the ones that do how many owners actually renew the subscription?

    Such a simple solution, wasn't it? ;)

    Actually did you ever hear of OBDIII? Those cars are expected to be able to accept remote downloads, but they also:

    Were/are proposed to have to upload their failure data live, and potentially not just emissions failures but any system, and then the owner would get the nice letter in the mail for certain failures that would require them to be repaired or else they would not be able to renew their licesnse plate. If the vehicle broke traffic laws, the time place etc would all already be known, the letter (with associated price tag for it) would just go to the vehicle owner in the mail. Oh, and the cars already have cameras inside to know for certain who was driving, etc.etc.

    Be careful what you wish for.......
  • steverstever Posts: 52,683
    But Ford doesn't have or use OnStar

    Sync, Ford My Touch. It's coming.

    ever hear of OBDIII?


    Only had safety inspections briefly when I lived in Chattanooga in the 70s. It was pretty lame. PA seems to make a big deal out of them. Not sure if I believe all their studies showing how much safer their cars are because of the required inspections but there sure are a lot of idiot drivers out there with bad brakes or worse.

    You forgot the part about basing road taxes on actual miles driven. :)

    (And ditto what XWes said - hopefully we're providing a little distraction for you as well) .
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