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Hacks - - What do ya get with a coat hanger and duct tape? One hacked car repair.



Two cars pull up in front of the shop. (The drivers didn't come in; I heard all of this from my office window. Maybe they didn’t realize that sound travels.) The boyfriend opens the hood to his girlfriend’s car. They both stare at the engine, she tells the boyfriend that she was supposed to drop the car off for an engine miss by some part store that told her to come here. So all she wanted was a ride home. The boyfriend mumbles how he knows everything about cars and there's no reason to go to a repair shop, and how these repair shops are just going to scam her. Then proceeds to tell her all about his great mechanical skills along with some very crude specifications that "these guys" (the repair shop I guess) wouldn't know anything about them. (Can’t say I’ve ever heard the term “donkey power” before. He probably meant horse power but, she bought it… he’s the expert you know.) After about a half hour in front of the shop they got back in their cars and drove off. The more I heard the funnier it got and the less automotive savvy he made. The last thing he said was, "I'll stop at the super discount part store on the way home and pick up the parts I need, and if they don’t have the right stuff I’ll just make it work."

Warning – Warning Hacker Alert!


I’ll bet there will still be something wrong when this guy gets done, and that “something” is going to be a hacked repair job. It’s not just the all-knowing boyfriend hacks out there or the crazy uncle with a toolbox, it’s also the fly-by-night mechanics that seem to pop up from time to time who take a stab at repairing a broken hose with a coffee can and pipe cleaners, or use some old plumbing parts for an exhaust pipe. Somewhere, at any given moment, some hack is trying to super glue a plastic section back onto the intake manifold, duct taping a hole in the air cleaner box, or blocking off the rear brakes with a plug in the master cylinder so he doesn’t have to deal with changing out the rusted brake lines that are buried along the frame. Then he tells the customer, “It’s fine, you don’t need rear brakes. There overrated anyway.” Or, the body shop guy who adds a few extra drywall screws to the front grill or fender and then blends them in with a layer of bond-o and paint. Looks great until rust sets in or the next guy has to take off that grill to fix the hack job they left underneath it. (Yea, been there…)


I’ve seen globs of body putty inside fender wells, two wires twisted together with household electrical wire nuts, different sized threaded nuts jammed onto ball joints, to a distributor welded to the block. The list is endless. It just boggles the mind at some of the ludicrous ways some people have attempted or should I say “accomplished” some unorthodox repair on a car. Bailing wire, aluminum foil around a fuse, bathroom faucets for radio knobs, a 2X4 wedged between the block to keep the alternator belt tight, and if 6 butt connectors within a foot of multi-colored wires ain’t enough for ya … add 2 more scotch locks and 3 more wires, now you’ve got a class “A” hack job!


By the time these hackers get done chances are the cost of a proper repair has just gone sky high, and in most cases if the owner would have brought their car to a reputable shop in the first place they probably could have saved money in the long run. If I was given the chance I’d like to take some of these cracked socket heads and stand them in front of all the guys in the shop just like in one of those old Technicolor westerns of a Calvary outpost. You know, the scene were the slacker solder is in front of the formation and is being reprimanded by his superior officers. One officer reaches over and rips the insignias off of his uniform; another officer takes his rifle and yanks all the military chevrons and buttons off. The now “x” soldier is stripped down to nothing more than a tattered shirt, torn trousers and a pair of boots. A command is shouted out and a small squad of armed men march this now defrocked solder out of the open gate. I personally would offer my services to remove any insignias and all these slacker-hackers tools and march these wanna-be mechanics right out of town with a squad of mechanics shouldering their very large torque wrenches as if they were rifles just like in one of those old westerns.


Every trade has their hacks, but for some reason the automotive field has a few extra ones compared to the rest. It could be the number of cars out there, or the lack of any agency watching over parts sales and installers. This might dictate the overwhelming number of poor decisions, bad planning, or just pure ignorant wrench spinners out there. I’d bet some of these hacks started out in their driveway slappin’ parts on the neighbors cars for pocket change, (Diagnosing and repair ain’t part of their procedures.) and when they couldn’t get the problem solved correctly they resorted to shoe strings and bubble gum. When it doesn’t fix the car, the neighbor, being neighborly, won’t say a word to them. Instead, they bite the bullet and pay to have it repaired at regular shop. (So much for saving money huh?)


Years ago, most of the working trades that you could get into right out of high school, didn’t require much in the way of advanced training. Things like, brick laying, carpentry, electricians, plumbing, mechanics, painters, heavy equipment operator, etc. You would start as a helper and work your way up as the boss seen fit. If you showed up for work every day, on time, did what you were told to do, and got along with the rest of the crew, before you knew it, they let you try your hand at it. That’s still true in a lot of trades, and it’s still true for the mechanic/body shop trades as well. However, times have changed since then, and more advanced issues confront the modern mechanic. The automotive field has become a technical nightmare of electronics and advanced engineering. Now, more than ever, hacking a repair together only means a comeback or worse.


I suppose, as long as there are screws, clips, nuts, bolts, and tools at the handy dandy department store, somebody is going to tinker around with their car and hack it up. Job security for the professional mechanic to say the least. I guess I should be saying thank you to all those hackers out there. They make a lot of extra work in the shop, but to be honest, I’m still shaking my head wondering how in the world ya do ……… what ya do.





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Oh man, I have seen my share off hackers too! It is amazing some the things that people do. But, it's in all trades and all over. One of the funniest things I ever saw was a guy who purchased cases of Rust-Oleum blue paint and painted his Buick. No prep, no sanding, no masking, no removing molding, nothing. He brought the car to show me; he was so proud. Everything was blue: the tires, the molding, the windows. There was overspray everywhere. I was stunned.

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This has been my week for hacks. First there was the guy who was trying to fix a running problem who thought it was the catalytic converter stopped up. He had a guy working for him (window cleaning business) who said he "use to be a mechanic". He said he could fix the exhaust. When he finished he told the boss he had removed the converter and put in a piece of straight pipe. The boss's wife came driving the car into our place dragging the exhaust. What we found was a resonator (the cat was still on the vehicle) removed and replaced with four pieces of pipe pieced together over a 30" span. Some of it clamped, some of it not clamped, and some sealed with muffler mud. It had came loose from the cat end where it was never properly attached. For $70 we got rid of all of it, welded in a single section of pipe and replaced one rubber hanger. Not only was this former mechanic not somebody who had done much exhaust but he didn't know the difference between a resonator and a catalytic converter. Some mechanic! Obviously the diagnosis of a stopped up cat was incorrect. Literally hundreds of dollars of parts were thrown at this car and it still didn't run right.


The second vehicle was a Dodge Intrepid that the owners had tried to put a fuel pump in and couldn't get the tank back on. It came to us on a tow truck. What we found was they had installed a used junkyard pump into the gas tank. To originally get the tank down they had taken a sawzall and cut the rear stablizer bar links instead of unbolting them. Once we got the tank back into the car where we could check it out we found the original problem was a locked up motor.


The other was a pickup truck he did his own rear brakes with the help of a buddy who "knew what he was doing". They either lost a caliper bolt, didn't replace it and or didn't get them tight. The caliper had fallen off the right rear and had almost ground a hole into the new custom aluminium wheel on the truck. We found replacement bolts and properly installed the caliper but the guy still may need a wheel.


How much money did any of these people really save? What a bunch of clowns trying to save a buck.

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