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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
This topic is for professional (or retired) techs who would like to share their experiences "in the trenches"-- the challenges of repairing modern automobiles, of running a shop, of interactions with the general public. Dedicated amateur mechanics might also want to jump in and discuss what it's like for the talented DIYer, and how they relate to both professionals and the aftermarket. Last of all, we'd like to invite any forums member who would like to know more about how technicians "think", how they run their businesses, and how to make having a car repaired easier and more cost effective.

Technicians, you've got bragging rights here, so it's not all about the downside!


  • lovemygrandamlovemygrandam Posts: 330
    I'm glad someone thought to start a thread for us. Though I'm not a professional mechanic, I am often called upon for advise on electrical problems in today's modern vehicles. It seems that the modern car has moved from a mechanical marvel to an electrical marvel in the past 20 or so years, leaving a lot of older master mechanics scratching our heads when we open the hood. I hope we can help each other, and close the gap between those who can only replace parts, and those who can actually repair parts.
    Thanks, Karen, for inviting me in.
    Dick Berger
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    edited May 2012
    When someone writes in with a car question; the first things I need to know are; what brand of vehicle is this; what year model is it; what model engine does it have; what transmission type does it have; and how many miles are on it? Sometimes it feels like pulling teeth to move posters to provide this information; but without it, I am effectively working blind.

    I think many owners feel intimidated when they are asked to provide technical information about their car; after all, if they knew about that kind of stuff; they wouldn't be writing in asking for help.

    If you want to phone someone who lives far away, and don't know their area code; do you just leave out that part of the number when calling? Of course not; practically everyone knows that a long distance call cannot go through without an area code. So when people don't know an area code; they look it up in the front of their phone directory; or call the operator and ask for the area code.

    But people regularly ask us car questions without telling us what model car they have, or its engine model. However, I now can be confident that everyone who reads this will not omit this info in the future; right?

    There are actually many people out there who do not know the year model, engine size, or transmission type in their car. But such people usually realize that they don't know this information. The thing to do in this situation is to go to a garage, an auto parts store or a dealership, ask them to give you this information; and then write it down. Keep a copy in the car, and another copy in your wallet. You'll then be way ahead of those who don't know this vital information.

    One fine point here is that the model year of a vehicle may not be the same as the year in which it was manufactured. They start building the next year's models in the fall of the preceding year; so a 2012 car may have been built as early as August 2011. This is why the label on the driver's door or door frame is not useful for model year identification (although it is VERY useful for parts ordering information).

    There is an emission information label on the underside of the hood, or on the radiator support, or the inner fender. This label has a statement at the bottom that reads something like "This vehicle conforms to all US and EPA regulations pertaining to 2011 model year new motor vehicles." This is where you can find the model year of your car. This label can also tell you whether the car has California emission equipment, or 49 state emissions.

    There is also an abbreviated note at the top of this label, which reads something like "engine family 3.5 VVT." This means that this particular car has a 3.5 liter engine with Variable Valve Timing.

    Give all this information to the mechanic; and they will give you much better service and might even smile occasionally. Give the mechanic as much information as you know about the car's service and problem history; and they will think you're an exceptionally aware and considerate customer. They also may spot something you had no idea was an issue with this car; and which may clear up a mysterious problem that has plagued the car for ages.
  • obyoneobyone Posts: 8,054
    Rant over? Sorry couldn't resist.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    Your comment echoes what I have heard for many years from mechanics; in response to new trends in engine design, emission control, electronics, fuel chemistry, and government regulations.

    In about 1970, when I first saw a thermostatically controlled air cleaner, and the thermal and vacuum control valves which it used; my heart sank. This seemed outrageous and unacceptably complicated. I seriously considered finding another line of work. But I was just reacting to the contrast with the simplicity of past engines. Before long; I became more familiar with these systems; and realized that they really weren't so bad.

    When EGR systems were first introduced in 1973; some old time mechanics swore they would quit this business; because routine servicing and tune ups were becoming unmanageably complicated and impractical. Indeed; the 1973 cars were very tricky to tune; and the 1974 models, with their further retarded ignition timing. were even worse. 1974 was clearly the worst year in modern history for running quality. But 1975 then brought us catalytic converters; which, despite their cost and vulnerabilities, also permitted manufacturers to use sensible ignition advance and fuel mixture calibrations; and the 1975 cars ran much better. Today, mechanics don't even blink an eye when they see an EGR valve. It has just become another standard part.

    Granted; it is the ongoing refinement AND INTEGRATION of computerized fuel metering and ignition system controls, combustion chamber design, porting and camshaft profiles, intake and exhaust manifold design, exhaust flow and reversion dynamics, cooling system design, engine temperature regulation, spark plug design, and electronic spark timing controls; which have enabled each of the recent engine efficiency improvements to work as well as they now do. All of these systems now have to work together more closely and interdependently than ever before.

    But human nature being what it is; we tend to resist change. So some mechanics drop out along the way; while new ones come along. Automotive evolution is an ongoing process; which ain't gonna stop. At each step; some people will decide they can't keep up; while others just crank up their steam.

    One of the biggest shifts in this process has been the introduction of electronics into what previously was mainly done with mechanical systems. When I taught engine theory courses at MMI, students often told me that electricity was the most difficult part of the course for them to understand. but they later came to me and said that they learned more in those courses than they did anywhere else in the school. It is often a matter of how open a person is to new ideas; rather than how educated, experienced or smart they are; which determines their success in this process.

    You wrote that you would like to "close the gap between those who can only replace parts, and those who can actually repair parts." I need to make a slight correction here: The most successful approach to servicing modern automobiles is not to be able to repair parts: Most electronic parts are not repairable (at least not in a practical sense). It is to be able to know which parts do not need to be replaced; and to only replace parts which actually are defective. Yeah; I've heard stories of Russian engineers at a high tech company where the computer broke down, and everybody was sitting around waiting for a replacement part to be shipped in; who went over to the computer, took it apart, and repaired it. But this is not something most of us can expect to do.

    The greatest waste of money and time in auto repair is caused by misdiagnosis and replacement of unnecessary parts. This has gone on for as long as I've been in this business. During the 1950s and '60s; the typical scapegoat when a mechanic did not understand why a car did not run right was to replace the carburetor. If I had a dollar for every carburetor that was unnecessarily replaced due to misdiagnosis; I'd be a rich man today. In 85% of these mystery cases; the real problem turned out to be in the ignition system. But electricity is, of course, invisible; so those who are accustomed to thinking only about what they can see are at a disadvantage here.

    Today; the usual scapegoat for misunderstanding a problem is to replace the computer. However; the computer actually is one of the most reliable parts on the car (and also one of the most expensive). But because modern engines are sensitive to surprisingly small changes in fuel mixture and ignition timing; the real cause of running problems is no longer as simple as replacing the ignition system. In a modern engine; it could be a broken or slipped timing chain or belt; it could be a restricted fuel filter, or a vacuum leak, or low compression, or the wrong spark plug heat range or gap, or bad plug wires, or a coil which is arcing internally; or it could be a defective engine control sensor or module. It also could be that someone messed up in a previous servicing.

    Gaining a perspective on how the different systems in an engine interact; and which parts are prone to cause a given class of problem, is the most effective skill a mechanic can gain. But this education requires patience, trust, humility, the willingness to accept challenge and revise incorrect assumptions, and an open mind. Many of us are weak in one or more of those areas; and this limits our potential as a mechanic, as well as in other aspects of life.

    This forum offers an opportunity for those of us who have certain skills to share them with those who would like to improve theirs. But that process can also lead to ego struggles and competition. I ended up quitting my teaching position at MMI, even though it was the most successful and fulfilling job I've ever had; because of the number of people in my classes who had bad attitudes, ego problems, rigid beliefs and were not really open to learning.

    I sincerely hope that this forum will turn out to be more adult and cooperative.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    It is interesting that although car owners are beginning to realize the high level of intelligence and skill sets needed to repair a modern car, they still don't want to pay for that level of expertise. Is it because the dentist's hands are clean that a client forks over $700 for an hour's work, but because the mechanic's hands are dirty people often protest to pay $700 for a full days work?

    Maybe the only answer will be mandatory licensing or an apprentice program--if that's what it takes to gain the respect of the public and to charge the fees necessary to stay in business.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    I never had a problem of lack of respect from my auto repair clients; and I know of other shops which nobody puts down or complains about. But many shops have shining buildings, spotless floors, TV in the air conditioned waiting room, and a yard long row of certifications on the wall; but are run mainly to create profit; and this attitude is apparent to the public. Greed and dishonesty is nearly impossible to conceal. The issue here is that the public is far more sensitive to the spirit in which they are treated than mechanics (and shop owners) often realize. Mechanics work all day with physical objects; which do not have feelings and are usually hard and strong. So it can be difficult to shift gears and be warm, caring, and compassionate when the car owner walks in (especially if you're feeling frustrated because you're mainly doing this work for the money, or if you feel at all uncomfortable about having marked up your cost of parts by hundreds of dollars; while the customer is on a small fixed income).

    This poor economy is bringing out the worst side of some people; and it shows. And this leads to businesses failing; which in some cases is justified. There are a lot of unscrupulous people in the auto industry; and they don't deserve our compassion or sympathy. They really don't belong here; and the reputation and ill will which they create is making it tough for those of us who are not like them. But dentists also have the same problem; clean hands notwithstanding (just consider how much malpractice insurance costs these days).

    There are two very different worlds out there: One is the world of fast track living, credit bubbles. new cars every year. expensive homes, and premium products. Mercedes, Harley, and Porsche buyers EXPECT to pay through the nose for the services on their vehicles; hell, they need those price tags to create and support the image they live in.

    But the automotive industry also services the needs of poor people who buy old cars and just hope they can stay together. And those $70-$125 hourly shop labor rates inevitably end up impacting the lives of people who cannot afford those services.

    It didn't used to be like that; cars used to be an affordable, practical appliance (back when people expected to have to drive a stick shift). People enjoyed maintaining their own cars. But then it was discovered that adding luxury accessories to cars would bring in lots more cash; so automatic transmissions, power everything, air conditioning, and soft, cushy suspensions became standard. Then came emission controls; and along with this evolution; labor rates skyrocketed. Now it is becoming more and more difficult to even find a stick shift car for sale. If you also want a car without power steering or air; it is nearly impossible in some brands.

    Some countries in South America have just rich people and very poor people; with practically no middle class. America is evolving towards this type of society. And this is what is driving the distrust and resentment toward mechanics. Those of us who have resisted this trend are becoming rarer and rarer. But we each make our choices, and have to live with the consequences.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    Well greed is a subjective issue in many cases.

    For instance, if you come to my shop, for which I pay a lot of $$$ + staff + tools + whatever, and you want to know what your check engine light means, am I really supposed to drop what I'm doing and scan your car for free? Or, do I charge you $60 and tell you what it all means and then suggest that we'll deduct that should you let us repair the vehicle?

    To some people, this scenario suggests greed, but not to me.

    As for certificates, as far as I know, you don't legally need any training whatsoever to hang out an "Auto Repair" shingle. Am I wrong about that?
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    edited May 2012
    "Well greed is a subjective issue in many cases." But it is objective in others. My dentist charges a sliding fee scale; depending on the income level of a client. That seems like an objective, non greedy way of dealing with the 2 level economy in which we now live. The fees from higher income clients offset the low fees from poor people. I occasionally did that in my work; but it depended on how I felt about the client; their car, and what they claimed about their finances. I know I can't please everyone; but that is no reason to not try when it seems appropriate.

    I don't need your shop to drop what they're doing in order to scan my computer. Auto Zone does it for free (or so I've been told). But if you give me a senior citizen price break if I bring the car in; I'd find that attractive. The shop where I last had my car smogged did that. They also gave me a printout of how to adjust my idle speed (no, I did not need it) so I could drive down the street and slow the idle down in order for the car to be testable. And they did not charge extra for the retest.

    I'm not asking for people to suffer for poor people's sake; just to be kind once in a while (when and how is optional). Besides; it comes back multiplied...

    I didn't mean to imply that certifications are required to do auto repair. I just meant that pricey shops often make a big point of posting certifications on the wall where clients can see them; because they impress some people.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    edited May 2012
    Well that's called "goodwill"--the opposite of goodwill is probably more accurately----selfishness.

    Greed, to me, is blatant overcharging, not being stingy with your time.

    As for a sliding scale, that becomes more difficult for a mechanic than a dentist, because you didn't just spend $30,000 on a new set of German teeth, but you might roll in with a brand new, or new-ish car---that sort of upsets the generosity equation for most mechanics.
  • berriberri Posts: 10,140
    The dentist may get off easier too if people have insurance. Customers seem to get more upset at their dealer service department after the warranty expires. Unfortunately, I also think that too many dealers are putting in misplaced incentives that turn the service writers into commison based sleazebags. The mechanics aren't the problem!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    Exactly--being a line mechanic at a dealership is no picnic.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 20,225
    "Being a line mechanic at a dealership is no picnic"

    No, it's not. A guy I know just retired from a busy domestic store at age 65. You won't see very many guys working the line that are past 50. It is hard, frustrating work and it is no longer easy to "beat the clock" like it was in the "old days".

    His shop charged something like 110.00/hr and he got paid 20.00 per flat rate hour. On slow days, he was lucky to flag three hours. He no longer overhauled engines or even starters. These days, everything is replaced rather than rebuilt.

    This friend of mine started in the 60's. When a car cam in running badly he knew it was one of maybe four things and he was quickly able to nail down the problem and fix the car. He was a excellent mechanic (notice I didn't say technician?").

    Because of his skills he was often able to "flat rate" a job and complete a three hour job in two hours. Those days have, for the most part, ended.

    Mechanics/Technicians buy their own tools and they don't buy them (usually) from Sears or Harbor Freight. They buy the good stuff that they know will hold up.

    It is pretty common for a technician to have 40,000 or more invested in tools and new tools are always needed as the cars change.

    My recently retired friend does his best to talk young guys out of joining the trade for the reasons I mentioned. Pretty sad.

    Shop owners have it tough too! Overhead is staggering and the new equipment that is always required is beyond expensive!

    All an all, it is a damm tough business anymore and I have nothing but respect for the guys who manage to stick with it and do an honest job!
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 26,096
    edited May 2012
    While I can't call myself an older master mechanic, I did learn from one of the best. I also started when I was about 5 years old helping out in his shop, so I guess my knowledge does go back quite a ways. I did work in a professional capacity for him, on and off, all through school. The most intensive were my summers home from college.

    What I've found interesting, and possibly a bit distressing, over the past couple of decades is how, mostly due to cars becoming electrical marvels, as Dick pointed out, so many younger mechanics are completely deprived of "old fashioned" troubleshooting techniques. Essentially, if their computer doesn't tell them what is wrong, they are often at a loss. They can diagnose a new BMW, but show them a pre-OBD car with a vacuum leak and they are as useful as a Jiffy Lube Oil Change Monkey.

    I fear that, at some point, older cars will die off more from the lack of ability to repair than anything else.

    '10 Equinox LS; '08 Charger R/T Daytona; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '18 BMW X2. 49-car history and counting!

  • lovemygrandamlovemygrandam Posts: 330
    edited May 2012
    so many younger mechanics are completely deprived of "old fashioned" troubleshooting techniques.

    That was kinda my point about many of the modern mechanics, and the reason that the current philosophy seems to be, "keep replacing parts until it starts working again." I agree with zaken1 when he says the test of a good mechanic is to "know which parts do not need to be replaced; and to only replace parts which actually are defective.", but I know for a fact that, at least among GM dealers, it's hard to keep a mechanic that has those skills. Working at GM's Proving Ground, I met at least a half dozen excellent mechanics who had started their career at dealerships, and once they had proven their worth, had been hired (stolen from the dealership) by the Company. So we have excellent mechanics within the company, but out there in the public sector, where they can make an impression on the customer, we are left with the less-experienced diagnosticians. We need to re-think our philosophy if we want to keep our customers happy.

    I had one more thought (well, OK, maybe 3 more thoughts) about auto repair, (looking at it from a do-it-yourself standpoint. Two basic things are necessary to repair a modern automobile.
    1. The service manual for that particular vehicle.
    2. An inexpensive diagnostic tool for reading trouble codes.

    Without these tools, you're working blind.

    Oh, I forgot... one more thing....
    You must be able and willing to read!

    Dick Berger
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 26,096
    1. The service manual for that particular vehicle.
    2. An inexpensive diagnostic tool for reading trouble codes.

    Yes, this is true ... to an extent. I just might substitute a couple of things. A manual is not absolutely necessary when you have the internet. I haven't referred to a manual in a couple of years now because I've found the info on the net to be more comprehensive.

    As for the diagnostic tool ... an inexpensive one won't always get the job done, at least on late-model vehicles. Not a generic one, anyway. On my VW and bimmer, a generic code reader would have been less than useful. Fortunately, there are cheap aftermarket solutions that are car-specific in these 2 cases. Nowadays, the proprietary systems give you much more specific information than the generic readers do, and there are many cases where that proprietary system is only available at a dealer or a specialist who has invested the money.

    '10 Equinox LS; '08 Charger R/T Daytona; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '18 BMW X2. 49-car history and counting!

  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,425
    The mechanic purchased the part and installed it. He marked up the cost from his wholesale cost to retail price. The part failed soon & a replacement was needed. He charged for his labor again for R&R the defective part. I maintain he should not have charged for his labor in replacing the defective part because when he took a profit on it, he took responsibility for its effectiveness. :(
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    There are several complicating factors in this situation. The shop does not warranty the part. The warranty is issued by the part manufacturer; who will provide a replacement part for free to the shop when they return the defective part to the distributor from which they purchased it.

    The shop passes along their free replacement allowance when they replace the part. But shops still have to pay their mechanics to replace the second failed part; and their profit on the difference between wholesale and retail pricing often is not enough to cover their out of pocket cost in paying their mechanic to replace the part.

    Shops often choose to buy parts from a manufacturer who does not make the highest quality parts; just so they can keep their parts prices competitive. Other shops just use the brands of parts which the store they buy from sells; and are not aware or concerned that some stores sell the best quality electrical parts; but may not sell the best quality engine parts or brakes. Such shops cannot afford to take responsibility for the effectiveness of the parts they sell; but instead depend on the attractiveness of their parts prices to continue to draw customers. This is sort of like the sales philosophy of discount stores, who know that the things they sell will often not last as long as premium quality merhandise; but betting that the low initial cost will have more appeal than the greater longevity and reliability of the more expensive parts brands.

    People who do not like this type of reliability or service soon learn not to buy things from discount stores; and not to buy car brands which are known to have poor reliability. If they don't become aware of these differences; they typically end up believing they have very bad luck around cars.

    But some consumers expect to receive premium quality service from shops which are selling mediocre quality parts; in addition to paying discounted (retail) prices for those parts. PRACTICALLY NOBODY SELLS PARTS AT THEIR WHOLESALE COST TO THE PUBLIC; so your claim that marking up the parts price to retail obliges the shop to cover the cost of labor for replacing defective parts just does not hold water.

    There are shops which eat the labor cost of warranteeing parts; but those types of shops typically use only premium quality parts; which rarely fail; and also charge premium prices for their parts and labor; which gives them a comfortable margin to cover such events. Unfortunately; if consumers expected competitively priced shops to give them that level of service; the shop would soon go out of business if they did this with their warrantees.

    Most shops mark up the price of the parts they sell from their cost to retail cost. (actually, some shops mark up their parts price to far above retail cost. Dealerships are a great example of this). But at the same time; some of these shops also set their labor charges on the low side; since the profit they make from parts adds to their income from labor charges.

    I never marked up parts prices when I was repairing cars (which is almost unheard of in this industry); but I also used the highest quality parts, and took twice as long to do a job as the shops usually did; (because those flat rate time estimates are way too rushed to allow careful and thorough work; especially in electrical system repair). However; I also realized that charging the going hourly rate for my leisurely work would drive most people away; so I charged half the hourly rate of most shops. My clients then ended up paying a similar total amount as the shops usually charged for a given job; but they received far higher quality work. As a result; I never had to advertise. My clients largely came from referrals by friends.

    As you can imagine; this is no way to make much money as a mechanic. I was able to do this because I only worked for people I liked and respected; because I felt it was more important to be of service to good people than to get rich; and because I worked alone, in low rent; plain looking surroundings. I also was very picky about what brands of cars I worked on; and what jobs I would and wuld not take on. So I created what I felt was as ideal a life as I could have as a mechanic; but the price of this luxury gave me a lower income than most other mechanics would accept.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    I just wanted to add that there is one exception to my response: If the part you're referring to is an alternator or a starter; then something else must be considered here: There is a widespread practice of auto parts stores selling "rebuilt" alternators and starters which are not properly repaired or tested. These parts are worked on in Mexico by semi skilled workers who do not have all the needed replacment parts, and also do not have proper test facilities. As a result; these substandard parts (which often come with a lifetime warranty) frequently are defective when purchased, or fail within a short time. If the mechanic you used buys alternators from O'reilly or a similar discount store; or even from some supposedly respectable stores; chances are they are buying junk alternators or starters. Shops can do this deliberately as a racket; or they may honestly be ignorant of the poor quality of the parts they are buying. The bottom line is that there is only one local source of consistently reliable alternators and starters; and that is NAPA Auto Parts stores. If you insist on the shop or mechanic buying these parts only from NAPA; there will be no comeback issue. If your mechanic refuses; do not have them do this repair, but take the car to a shop which will buy from NAPA.
  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,425
    After reading your extensive replies: Who should be responsible for R&Ring a defective part? Because the shop took ownership of the part when it took a profit on it, the shop should make good without an additional charge to the customer who does not intend to finance the risks of being in business. The markup profit on parts that are not defective should cover the infrequent faulty part labor when necessary.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    edited May 2012
    If your idealized description of the way things "should" be was correct; shops would already be doing free warranty replacements. Carrying that logic further; the shop should also compensate you for your time and trouble in making a second trip there. But it doesn't work that way; regardless of your theories. Your theory that "the shop should make good without an additional charge to the customer who does not intend to finance the risks of being in business" is simply unrealistic. Happy, realistic car owners understand the risks of business, and expect the shop to charge for additional issues which were unanticipated.

    The manufacturer's warranty is clearly spelled out in writing: They will replace the part if it turns out to be defective within the warranty period; but they will not cover the cost of its removal and replacement. The shop did not take ownership of the part when they marked the price up; they simply charged you a service fee for obtaining the part, in addition to charging for their labor to install it.

    Paraphrasing what I already wrote; don't take your car to a competitively priced independent shop if you expect your every whim to be catered to and to be treated like a king. Royal treatment costs royal prices.

    The only shop that takes ownership of a part they install is a dealership; as they are the agent of the manufacturer. If you want defective parts replaced at no labor charge; have all your work done by a dealership. But if you keep track of the relative costs; you'll find that paying the dealership's grossly inflated prices far exceeds the savings from their free warranty replacement policy. If it is more important to you to be given "freebies" while you pay through the nose; the dealership is the only place to go. There is no free lunch in the real world.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,552
    edited May 2012
    If your idealized description of the way things "should" be was correct; shops would already be doing free warranty replacements. Carrying that logic further; the shop should also compensate you for your time and trouble in maing a second trip there. But it doesn't work that way; regardless of your theories.

    I've had mechanics replace defective parts for free in the past. Heck, in one instance I know they had to have lost money on me. I had an '89 Gran Fury that was an ex-police car, and it used a lightweight starter. First time the starter failed, I had them replace it and paid for it. But, the replacement failed soon after. I lost track of how many times the replacements failed, but I think it was FOUR! I remember it having to be towed from my condo twice, once from a restaurant, and once I got lucky and after a few tries it reluctantly fired up.

    There was some shaft that kept breaking, and the shop was blaming it on the crappy rebuilds, but unfortunately, they said that was the only thing available for my car. Anyway, they replaced the starter each time, and never charged me beyond the first time.

    I always wondered, since it was just a 318, if a full-size, regular, older-style starter could have just been swapped in instead?

    I also remember, back in the late 90's, they did some brake work on my grandmother's '85 LeSabre. I forget what the issue was, but something ended up going bad and the back wheels started locking up too easily. So the fixed it, no charge.

    I haven't had anything fail twice in a long time though, so I don't know if they still operate this way, or not.

    **Edit: I had missed your earlier post about the alternators and starters. Guess my '89 Gran Fury fit that description to a tee!
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    Sure; ethical mechanics sometimes do warranty work for free; but this is not a constant, rigid policy. Mechanics are responsive to the situation. If someone walks in dripping with a sense of entitlement; I usually invite them to leave. People like that do not deserve preferential, or even kind, treatment.

    There was a wonderful sign in a garage I once visited: Prices will vary; according to the customer's attitude.

    Mechanics are PEOPLE. We take risks, and have feelings. If we are disrespected; we respond in kind. It is unfortunate that some members of the public just don't get this.
  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,425
    As you may be a standard quality of mechanic, stick with your day job and avoid going into the Sales field. ;)
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    Most shops I know will replace a defective part labor-free, but you know, if it's like a clutch disk 90 days out---that's a tough call, especially on cars like mine, with 12 hours R&R.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    As a historical note; the 318s ever since the 1970s were plagued with starter issues. I had a 1971 Dodge B100 van with a 3 speed manual transmission and 318 motor; which I bought in 1982 with 38,000 original miles on it (it was previously a navy paddy wagon; complete with expanded metal screen to shield the driver from the people in the rear). I kept this van for 28 years and 130,000 additional miles; drove it to Canada and across the U.S several times, and soon got fed up with the repeated starter failures. So I analyzed what really was going on when the starter refused to function; and found that there was a relay between the ignition switch and the starter solenoid, which is called the "starter cut-off relay." This relay was the part that was preventing the starter from functioning. Whenever I replaced it; the starter would magically work again. It would then be fine for a few months; and would again refuse to crank. And a new starter cut-off relay would get it going like new every time. I never had to change the starter.

    It turned out that the stock relay was unable to switch the current drawn by the starter solenoid without its contacts burning out. I then replaced that stupid relay with a Filko constant duty 200 amp rated relay; and never had another starting problem for all the remaining years I owned that vehicle.

    All 318s had a much lighter weight starter than other brands. It was made of aluminum, and was an offset reduction gear design. The older starters would interchange with the newer ones. I initially went to a much later model starter before I finally figured out the real problem.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    That is excellent advice! I never was a salesman; and have no interest in being one. This forum is for and about Mechanics.
  • robr2robr2 BostonPosts: 8,863
    edited May 2012
    The shop did not take ownership of the part when they marked the price up; they simply charged you a service fee for obtaining the part, in addition to charging for their labor to install it.

    I will respectfully disagree. The shop got an invoice and paid for it. Technically they took ownership of the part. I had no part in the choice of part.

    As a matter of fact, I'm taking my car back to the indpendent shop to replace a drive axle and boot for the 3rd time that is defective. The manufacturer offers a 3 year warranty on the part and the shop is more than willing to hold up their end of the bargain. He made money on the part and the labor to install and is standing behind his choice of manufacturer.

    He's even willing to now go to the OEM part as I long as I pay the upcharge between his part and the OEM. He has now lost faith in that manufacturer and is letting his jobber know.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    Lots of problems with aftermarket axle kits. I'm not surprised to hear this. My buddy who owns an indie Subaru shop won't even use them anymore. Either you buy new OEM, or you let him source a used one from a wreck (which said part he disassembles and inspects, or course); otherwise, no dice, he's not doing it.

    Burned too many times.
  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    The problem with this situation is that the parts manufacturers have passed the buck on warranty labor down the line to the mechanics who install the parts. But both mechanics and customers are trapped into buying parts of questionable reliability that they have little knowledge about and did not have a choice in selecting. We thus become pawns in the manufacturers power games.

    The fair way this could have been done is for the parts manufacturer to cover the labor costs of replacing failed parts, as well as providing a free replacement part. Sure; this would create a potential nightmare of legal hassles; but even more significantly; it would force manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the reliability of the parts they produce. Right now; manufacturers can gamble that only a certain percentage of the thousands of parts they produce will fail; and their only liability in these failures is to provide a free replacment part. So they come out smelling like a rose. Meanwhile; the mechanics and customers are stuck with the labor costs which result from the manufacturers gambling.

    Producing high quality, reliable parts costs more money and requires much greater time to test and evaluate the parts long term reliability. So manufacturers often CHOOSE to cut corners. Since the manufacturers do not bear the greatest liability of failed parts (which often is the labor cost of replacement) there is little downside to their actions.

    Some years ago; GM was slapped with the largest class action lawsuit in the history of the automotive industry; for producing a coolant formula (DexCool) which turned out to attack the silicone intake manifold gaskets in the engines they used; and then filled the cooling system with brown, muddy sludge. GM forced owners to use only this coolant; under penalty of voiding warranties.

    This caused enough damage that entire engines sometimes had to be replaced. After countless engines were damaged by this coolant, and the lawsuit was filed; GM still never admitted responsibility; but quietly agreed to a "settlement" which had a sliding scale of payments for repairs, that dropped with the age of the vehicle. Many people received less than $100 for their losses. And GM got out of even that responsibility when they declared bankruptcy.

    This is an example of what parts manufacturers will do if the responsibility for their policies and quality becomes too expensive.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    Well the mechanic has no control over that except to be observant and stop using those products which don't work.
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