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Self-Helpers - - - Home repairs by novices always lead to more problems



A well-worn Chevy pickup is left at the side of the shop one day. The keys were slipped into the drop slot with a detailed note. The note said, “I put a new starter on a few days ago, and now it doesn’t start at all, so I know it’s not the starter. It’s got to be an electrical problem.”

Oh, those famous last words of every weekend wrench bender/self-helper that I’ve ever had to deal with when their Saturday afternoon efforts fall short of their expectations. It’s never what they have just done, it’s always something else.


The story can be different, but they all have the same line to describe the problem with few details changed. You can pick yours from the list and fill in the blank. As the story begins with:


”I changed the part that……………… (Choose the appropriate response from the list below.)


A. My buddy said it was.

B. The parts guy told me it would fix it.

C. I read about it on the internet.

D. The last shop told me to change.


Or, all the above.


(Insert your choice of answers here) _______ ,so I know it’s not that.”


I doubt there will ever be a time that I’ll take their word that everything is OK. I’m going to recheck it anyway, if for nothing more than my own peace of mind. Most of these “self-helpers” will read their manual and follow directions to a point. But, when it gets confusing, or into a spot where they don’t have the right tool, or don’t understand the procedures they skim over that section and blindly go onto the next page. Books are great for information, but it still takes a bit of the artistry (if I dare call it that) to work with hand tools and the limited access on some of these problems. Call it my “OCD of automotive repair”, but I always figure it’s best to check things out when you’ve got somebody “helping” you with the repairs.


The next little tidbit of information left on the note is simply priceless. It said, “I left the manual open to the page you’ll need. It explains exactly what you’ll need to do to fix it.” Well, well… ain’t that just thoughtful of him, leaving the page marked for me. I’m grateful, dumbfounded, and perplexed as to why this is necessary. You’ve helped yourself to a manual, given up on the project, and feel it necessary to have the mechanic read the instructions! I’ve lost count how many times I’ve found an open service manual on the passenger seat with a note telling me where to find the proper information. I often wonder why they didn’t bother to look themselves. They had the page marked? Obviously they read the manual. So why not do a little more research and put those old, rusty tools to good use? Wait a minute… I got it; you’re only trying to help, must be that self-help concept coming through again. (Note to self: The next time I go to the dentist I’ll bring a copy of the instructions for him too. I’ll just lay them on my chest as he tilts the chair back. Of course the page will be marked so he can read up on how to do his job. I’m sure he won’t find it insulting either.)


The scenario continues. As of now the job of finding out what is wrong with this truck has been elevated from the household garage or apartment complex parking lot to an actual automotive repair shop. One with professional level tools, scanners, and diagnostic manuals. Exactly what kind of miracles will be performed in those catacombs of the service bay? It’s a mystery to all those weekend home garage groupies. I’m sure they’re all saying to their fellow backyard ratchet buddies, “Those guys charge too much, it ain’t that hard to fix cars these days. Why we could have fixed it if he would’ve left it here.” Yes, in some respects, it really isn’t that hard. All it takes is a few years of training, a couple of modern tools (Definitely not some swap meet-imported toolset that came in blister pack.), and the ability to think and reason through all the technical information (mechanical ability), and yes… a little less help from the rusty wrenchers with no experience from the house on the corner lot. Other than that… it ain’t hard at all.


There are generally two things that happen when the novice self-helper helps out. Either they are way off base on the problem/solution, or they’ve caused even more of a problem than they originally started with. It never fails. This little episode of “self-help” was no different. After checking things out (properly) the end result was a text book novice disaster. Number one: he used a cheap remanufactured starter that he over tightened the connectors on and stripped the nut to the solenoid. Number two: the starter signal lead on the solenoid was grounding out against the engine block from his failed attempt at reinstalling the starter. (Luckily this model had a fuse protecting the circuit.) Hey, he was right that it was an electrical problem. Although brought on by a little self-help.


After writing up an estimate (with a decent starter), I was surprised that he decided to have me make the repairs. Of course we had to have the usual conversation on parts prices vs. quality, and how you always get what ya paid for, and how the life time warranty offered for some of the discount brands usually means you’ll be changing it for a lifetime and not that it is better quality. And, how some weekenders will change the same part over and over until they get tired of doing it, and then step up to a better built component, or end up taking it to a repair shop. (That’s been my past experiences with them, although your results may vary.)


It was only after talking to him for a while longer on the phone that it all made sense as to why he was so eager to have a shop do the work. Apparently, there wasn’t enough “Band-aids” and beer for him to try and stuff the starter back in the hole a second time. He’s had enough of that “mechanic” stuff. Well, at least for now. I’m sure after his memory fades a bit, and his wallet is running a little thin, he’ll tackle another problem on his own. Why not, he still has the book!


When it he tries and fails he’ll park it next to the shop just like last time, with the same book on the passenger seat (opened to the appropriate page, of course), and another note telling me all about it. And then, we can start this whole scenario all over again.

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Wow, first of all you managed to strike more than one nerve today! What a powerful article, funny, realistic and blood pressure enhancing, all at the same time.


It is truly amazing how we all experience the same things. I just had someone walk in the shop the other day and wanted to speak to me. He has a 90 Vette and had it checked by a friend and also did research on the internet. He "KNOWs" it's the radiator leaking and knows how much time it should take to replace and he also is such a nice guy that he printed the repair procedures for me; "Step by Step to help you", he told me. Can you believe this guy? Is he really trying to be arrogant, ignorant or insulting.


After 15 minutes I finally convinced him that we must perform our own coolant diag.


What a look on his face when I told him, the radiator was fine, the water pump is leaking!


He offered to go get the repair procedure for the water pump. I said, "don't bother, I've done one or two in my 40 years of working on cars....

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LOL Joe. Yep, been there, done that. I don't know why these people don't find it insulting (I do) when you have to print out the procedures for me. It already tells me you don't trust what I'm doing.


And they wonder why I have an attitude at times. Geez...


I've been so ticked at some of them that I've taken the book and tossed it in the backseat. When they ask if the book was any help I tell them, "Yes it was. I used it to hold the backseat in place." They look at me as if I was a complete idiot. Well, I must be... I didn't read the manual they brought... must be obvious to them. LOL

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Just imagine: You hurt your shoulder, and before you go to the doctor, you ask all your friends about your injury and get their opinions, you do research on the internet, go to Barnes and Noble and pick up a book on shoulder repairs and THEN walk into the doctors office and say, "Hey Doc, I got this shoulder thing going on, but I asked a few friends and looked on line and it looks like I have a rotator cuff tear. Now, here is the manual you need to perform the operation, Ok Doc, got it?

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We've still got a long way to go for the "mechanic" to have any clout. It's still one of the few trades that is absolutely essential to daily life, but is still regarded as something that can be done in the home garage by good old dad.


Times are changing, and it's only going to get worse when the novice tries it on the next generation of cars.



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Gonzo, this is another good one but I especially like this line:

He’s had enough of that “mechanic” stuff. Well, at least for now. I’m sure after his memory fades a bit, and his wallet is running a little thin, he’ll tackle another problem on his own. Why not, he still has the book!


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Here's an email I received the other day.

"Gonzo, it sounds like you're a little jaded. Why not take a few days off, go buy a big steak, take it to your favorite restaurant, bring a cook book for the chef to read, and open it to the appropriate page, then relax in the dining area while someone brings you a cold drink and a clean napkin." I think the reader got the idea behind the story. I'm so glad some people get it. LOL

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