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No Pain, No Gain - - - - Pain, the body's "Check Engine Light"

No Pain, No Gain

Pain is a great motivator to seek medical attention. I should know… a few weeks ago I had a kidney stone crying to get out. OK, it wasn't the kidney stone that was crying. One tiny pebble of discomfort turned me into a complete basket case. That macho-tough guy exterior I thought I have (had) completely vanished when I was in the emergency room, curled up into the fetal position moaning and groaning. Man… that is without a doubt the worst pain I've ever felt. I've had a few broken bones, cuts, minor burns, a surgery or two, but nothing compared to the agony of a kidney stone.


They gave me two shots of morphine, just so I could lie down long enough to run me through a CAT scan. That way they could get an idea of the size of the stone, to determine if surgery was necessary or not. It didn't even begin to knock the pain down. But, the third wiz-bang shot did the trick. Oh yea…I’m in Happyville now…there’s little blue birds singing cheerfully and fluttering about, pink flowers floating in the air, and little fairies dancing around my head with wisps of shiny stars following them. Kind of like those Disney movies I sat through with my daughters, and later my granddaughters. (Bambi and/or a kidney stone will bring a tear every time). It was several hours before I could go home, but the pain and the kidney stone did pass. (Thank goodness)

I wanted to relate this experience to cars, but I didn't know what angle to approach it at. Then it came to me…it’s the pain… or the lack of… that dictates car repair. Obviously, cars don’t have pain like you and me, but in a different way. It’s actually vocal, and not a “physical” pain. There is something to be said about a screeching belt or the teeth chattering, scraping noise from a worn out brake pad. It’ll get your attention for sure. When most people hear these strange noises coming from their car, they immediately take it into the repair shop. While others, just turn the stereo up louder. With the onset of the computer age, a car’s condition has not only become more vocal, but also visual. A check engine light and the other various warning lights could be considered as a car’s pain indicators, too. (These visual and vocal cues are just some of the ways a modern mechanic determines the condition of a vehicle.)


An old customer called me the other day to tell me her car was in pain, and was making some very strange noises. I had to laugh, because it was the first time I ever heard anyone describe their car as being in “pain”. She was serious though. She’s the kind of person who dearly loves her car, and treats it as if it was part of the family. Sure enough, it was making some awful noises. It turned out the torque converter bolts had worked loose and needed immediate attention.


“See, I told you she was sick. My little baby needs some comforting,” she said while caressing the front fender.


It was an easy fix, and it wasn't long before I had her back on the road. Her little car was out of danger. No more pain, as she liked to refer to it. Even though a car is just plastic, glass, and metal, to her it had the ability to feel pain. I’m not going to argue with that logic, it’s her car and if it feels pain, that’s OK with me. I’ll still cash the check.


But, where would the medical field be without pain as a diagnostic tool? So many symptoms and so many diagnoses are based on where or how pain is felt. What if we didn't feel pain at all? Would we ignore any obvious signs of pending problems? That is until the problem escalated into an even larger problem, or one that couldn't be ignored? Pain is our body’s way of informing us there’s something wrong. It’s our own personal “Check Engine” light. As much as I hate pain of any type… it has its reasons for being there.

As I sat in the waiting room filling out the paper work my pain threshold was reaching its limits, in the meantime, my wife handed me a pen and points, “Sign here, here, and here… oh, and twice on this page.” Quite frankly I had no idea what I was signing and couldn't care less. I didn't care what it cost, I just wanted the pain to end, and like - - Right Now! But, procedures are procedures. Even then, while trying to find a comfortable position in that waiting room chair I was still thinking about cars. A question came to mind, what if a car really could show pain? What then?

Maybe the lack of “pain” is why some people let their cars fall into such disrepair. Countless times I get a car in the shop that’s just a few years old that looks like it’s been used in a demolition derby. A quick examination under the hood shows a lot. An oil leak here, an oil soaked sensor over there, which ends up turning on the service light or perhaps creating an engine miss. Broken brackets, missing parts, poor connections, exhaust leaks… the list goes on and on. All these signs were there to let the driver know the car was having problems. The service light, the engine miss, the smell of burning oil, the rubbing inner fender, etc… but, some people would rather ignore all that and keep driving. Since the “pain” isn't directed at them personally, the warning lights and strange noises are more of a nuisance than anything else. Eventually all the warning signs aren't enough to get the message across, and the car ends up on a hook or on the back of a wrecker being towed to the repair shop.

Once the car is at the shop a different type of pain becomes apparent. It’s not the car… it’s the pain in the wallet. Unlike the ER, you’ll only get one bill from the repair shop, so you don’t have to worry about new invoices popping up in the mail from the radiologist, lab department, and so on. (Remember those papers ya signed when you were in the waiting room?)


Well, I can’t prescribe any high powered pain killers to ease the owner’s misery. I’m not a doctor, but I just might have something for their ailing car. That’s what I do… I fix (heal) cars… not people. I’ll leave people pain to the doctors and nurses. One more thing, after my little “adventure” in the ER I figured out something else, too. My pain is their financial gain. They take care of the pain, and I pay for their services. (Ugh…and how!) I guess the same can be said about the automotive repair business too. Even though there’s no physical pain involved with a car, it still hurts to pay for those repairs.

No Pain, No Gain….

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In the days of leaded fuel, points, carb adjustments and adjustable timing, you knew when your car was running differently, which meant a tune up. Today, even with the check engine light, the driver may not feel a difference with the way the car runs. Unless there is a hard failure, such as a coil or injector, the computer adjusts. Then, as you point out, what pain hurts the most? The car's or the wallet. The only hope we have is if we convey to the customer that by not taking care of the problem, the pain in the wallet will be worse.

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Got a guy in the shop right now who tried to install his own video screen stereo in his 04 Cad. He used the Comm Data leads (purple) to run as a speaker. Knocked out the comm line, and of all things the brake lights. The BPP won't reflash until I get the comm link repaired. This could take a while to track down.

Talk about pain in the wallet... some people just don't have any clue as to the complexities of the modern car.

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As they say, that's the million dollar question:


How to tactfully educate the customer regarding the financial dangers of ignoring their car's plea for help?


And, how to do this with regard to their benefit, not so much ours?




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I think this is how we can separate what we do from others. If the consumer truly knows that what we recommend will save them down the road, they will see that the true cost today is far less than the consequences down the road.


We approach T belts this way. People often tell us, "I don't have the money for a T belt". We respond, "Do you have the money for an engine repair, and a tow back to the shop and the inconvenience of breaking down?" Sometimes you need to reach people with the same logic they are using not to do the work. We often tell them it's in their best interest, but their focus is the money. We need to show them that we can save them money.


Here's another example, I had a customer come in for service a few months back and we noticed that the wiper arms were loose inside the cowl. When the service advisors told him about it, he said he knew but did not have the money to fix it. The service advisor used that logic to sell the job. he simply said, "Eventually the arms will break off and it will happen in the rain and you will be left with a bigger repair bill". He authorized us the fix the wipers.

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Healthwise early detection and treatment is usually more successful and often cheaper. In the automotive industry sooner is always more successfyl and ALWAYS less expensive in my opinion. I try to have empathy with my customers but to teach them that sooner is ALWAYS cheaper than later. This is especially true with running problems and brakes. The consumer today needs to also learn that only a fool or a trained professional should mess with the electrical systems on the modern car. Even something as simple as changing a battery done improperly can lead to major problems on some vehicles.

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