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engineering pet peeves

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Once in a while we all come across engineering screw ups that defy logic. My biggest one is light bulbs that are not accessable. We did a front turn signal on a Cadillac the other day. Remove the fog light/signal assembly, disassemble the housing, change bulb, reinstall. There was no access hole. How much education is needed to know an incandescent bulb is going to burn out in a few years? This was a solid one hour job on the lift. $90 to replace the turn signal bulb. The same sentiment goes for headlights that require bumper removal. Unacceptable. This is not a packaging issue, 2 seconds reveals where a panel could have been built in. 30 cents more plastic.

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    • By Gonzo
      Engineering Flashback

      Let’s just assume you’re one of the engineers who designs part of the modern automobile. Your job is to follow the guide lines and concept ideas the other engineers have put together. All you have to do is make whatever component or section you’re assigned fit into the space provided. You also have to keep the cost down and keep in mind the design restraints. Then, make sure it can be manufactured in such a way it can easily be installed and sent down the assembly line at the quickest pace possible.

      I’m sure it’s a nerve-racking job. So much pressure is put on you to come up with something that will work, easy to assemble, and cost effective. You’ve strained your brain to come up with something, worked long hours to design it, built the prototype, and checked the results. You’re positive it will work. Now, it’s all up to the guys and gals on the assembly line to get it put together and out the door.

      This time around, let’s pretend you’re the consumer. You’ve checked out this latest model and it’s just what you were looking for. It’s got the right styling, the right size, and it’s in your price range. So, you buy it. Ya take it home and enjoy the comforts of owning your brand new car. Then, several years go by. You’ve almost got it paid off and hoping for a few years without car payments. But, all of a sudden you’ve got car problems. You’ve followed the maintenance schedule to the letter, but something has still gone wrong. It’s out of warranty, which means it’s not going to be free, but you’ve got to get it repaired. You can’t fix it; in fact you don’t have any idea what is wrong. But, your favorite mechanic will. So, it’s off to the repair shop to have it diagnosed.

      Let’s change gears again. Now we’re the mechanic. You get the car into the shop, you run the needed diagnostic tests, and find out that a little bitty part buried behind the dash has failed. The only way to get to it is removing the entire dash. Before diving into the nuts and bolts side of it, you’ve got to call the customer. This is not going to be an easy call, because you know the labor cost alone is not going to make for a happy car owner, for sure. You give them the figures for the R&R and there is a moment of gasps and shock. Then, reality settles in, and the owner tells you to go ahead with it.

      Now, we’re back to being the engineer. Reports start coming in about how this little bit part that you designed and stuck inside the dash is failing left and right. The amount of backlash from all these repairs from all over the country are flooding your desk. What can you do about it? Probably nothing. Other than not designing anything like that again. So, you keep your head to the grindstone and persevere. Onto your next project. But, the memory of that little bitty part behind the dash haunts you day and night. In fact, you might even have flashbacks of the numerous reported failures, and you certainly don’t want to relieve that again.

      This time around you’re asked to design a similar system on the latest car from the concept team. Those flashbacks of that little bitty part you stuck behind the dash is still fresh on your mind. This time, you’ve changed the design a bit so that same issue doesn’t happen again. Or, at least you hope not.

      We’re back to being the consumer again. This time you’ve done your homework and looked at the new models to replace your present car. You’ve also kept in mind that huge repair bill for some silly little bitty part that could have been easily repositioned somewhere else. You’d like to avoid anything like that on your next new car. You talked in great detail about it to your salesman and he assures you there isn’t any problem like that anymore. If anyone would know about the inner workings of the modern car it would be the guy selling it to you right? With the salesman’s stamp of approval you write that check for your new car, and off you go to enjoy your new ride.

      It’s the mechanics turn to return to the mix. That new car is now a few years old and it’s having problems. This time it’s a different problem than before, but the cost of the repair is even higher. It seems our engineering friend forgot to think of how many things are overlapping and concealing the components he designed. Simple things like changing a headlamp bulb require an afternoon at the repair shop. The anti-lock brake system is incorporated with the cruise control. The air conditioning system is aware of the exhaust fumes from the car in front of you and automatically regulates the fresh air dampeners. Radar systems, GPS, and so on and so on. Nothing is even remotely simple anymore, and nearly everything costs more than it should. The mechanic has to spend even more time in training classes keeping up with what the engineers are designing, as well as dealing with the next shock and awe from the customer over the price of repair.

      And you wonder why a mechanic rolls their eyes back in their head when you bring a car in with a certain type of problem. Yep, they’re having flashbacks of pulling the dash to get to that little bitty part.

      The flashbacks of these engineering designs continue. I don’t know about you, but I think the only person who might really know what’s happening in the real world when it comes to your car is the mechanic. The consumer has to pay the bill, the engineers try their best to design it, and the salesman does what he does. It all adds up to job security for the mechanics, they’re the ones keeping those little bitty things behind the dash working. In all honesty, the consumer might want to ask a mechanic about that new car or even used car they’re planning to purchase rather than the salesman or the engineer. They’re the ones who deal with the aftermath of the salesman’s claims and the engineer’s designs.

      The engineer, the consumer, the salesman, or the mechanic. Who’s going to have the most flashbacks of these design debacles? Well, for me, it’s the mechanic. They’ve got to deal with the problems created by the engineering, the customer, and the salesman. Now, if the engineers wanted to really find out something about their little bitty part behind the dash, just put a few mechanics in the same room with a few of those engineers. That might make for one colossal flashback they’ll never forget.

      Click here to view the article
    • By Gonzo
      Pet Peeves 2
      Pet peeves, how many are there? Well, enough of them that one article wouldn’t hold them all. I have received so many emails, texts, and phone calls about it that I thought; Why not put everyone’s pet peeve into a another article and give credit where credit is due. You know, to the guys and gals that not only read these stories, but live and work through these pet peeves as well. So here we go, in no particular order “Pet Peeves 2”
      Butch, Pittsburgh, Pa. – Doing a tire rotation and the owner has no idea where they’ve tossed the wheel lock socket. It’s somewhere in the car is the closest gps location you ever get.
      Jack K. - My biggest pet peeve is when the vehicle owner has to have it finished today or else, so we work extra hard to get it done putting other cars off and when we call them to pick it up they say, Oh I will get it tomorrow.
      Mark S. Wichita, Ks – People in unrelated professions that want to tell me how to do my job. Aircraft pilots for example, find enough time to talk about their car “woes” while they are in flight. These guys all get together and trouble-shoot their cars while maintaining a constant glide path. They arrive at a diagnosis, a systematic solution including which tools to use and of course, all of this without any tests or actual knowledge of the inner workings of the systems, just what they think they can surmise as to how the system must have evolved into today’s sophisticated electronic nightmare.
      Then they tell me what’s wrong, how to fix it, and just how much I should charge for it. For some reason, they get all upset when I tell them that I have no way of knowing what they have come up with is correct or not. “We know what’s wrong, can’t you go off that?” they’ll tell me. I might say, “Since you seem to know, why don’t you go ahead and fix it yourself?” I probably shouldn’t have said that, but after trying at length to explain the process to them, I figure they are going to be nothing but trouble, which is usually how things turn out with most of them. I wonder how they’d take it if a few of us got on a plane and then started making suggestions on how to fly it?
      John Z. Tulsa, Ok. – People who call competitors to get a quote on a repair while they’re still in my lobby. There’s always going to be somebody cheaper, always. There’s no balancing act between fair pricing and quality work, it is what it is. What tips the scales is people’s conception as to what it should cost and shops that don’t do their homework as to what it’s going to take to do that particular job. Someday I’d like to beat them at this game. You know, diagnose a job, then, get a quote from everybody you can think of. That way when the customer tells me, “I can get that done cheaper over there.” I can say, “Nope, done checked it out.” Not that I want to be the cheapest mind you, I just want to see them tell me that so and so is cheaper-faster-better when I’ve already checked it out or have a better idea who they are comparing me too. You know, apple to apples.

      Sheri, Castle Rock, CO. Customers who come in without an appointment for things like a discounted oil change offer or some other special priced deal we’re offering at the time. While you’re trying to moving heaven and earth to get them in they start complaining about how long it's taking when in real time it’s probably only been about 90 seconds since they walked in the door. Argh!
      Z. Drummer - A car brought in for diagnostics, repair and or a drive cycle verification for a state inspection....with the gas gauge on "E".
      Bob B. Akron, Ohio – The gas tank is always full when the fuel pump goes bad. Oh, it wasn’t full when they noticed it wouldn’t start, oh no… they thought it was just out of gas of course. But, adding a gallon or so won’t do. Oh no, let’s squeeze every ounce of fuel into the tank that we can by bringing the level up until it runs out the filler neck.
      Gary, Iowa – They tell you the hood doesn’t open easily, and there’s a trick to it. You tell them, “You mean go outside and tap on the hood once or twice and it will pop up enough to reach the safety latch?” It ain’t a trick; a lot of them do it, but to some of these aficionados of the car world they are completely shocked that I revealed their secret without the need of a demonstration.
      James, Rapid City, Iowa. – Customers that neglect to tell you that the window won’t roll back up or the hood release cable has been rerouted through the front grill with a couple of nuts tied to what’s left of the cable.
      Brian B. Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. It’s a giving rule, when a bolt or tool falls and makes it to the floor; it HAS to go to the exact center of the car where you can’t reach it without sliding under it. But, if it didn’t make it all the way through the maze of parts and hoses, it’s hidden in a crevice where even the beam from a flashlight can’t reach it.
      Oh the stories we all could tell. What’s really amazing is it doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re in, it’s the same thing everywhere you go. At the time when all this is occurring, it may not seem all that funny to you or the customer, but when you take a moment, step back, and then take that second look, you know, it actually is pretty hilarious after all.
      I enjoy the emails, keep them coming. We keep this up, I’m sure they’ll be a “Pet Peeves 3” in the making. Happy wrenchin’!

      Click here to view the article
    • By Gonzo
      Top Ten Pet Peeves
      Every day at the repair shop there’s another challenge to overcome. When things go smoothly the day glides by without notice. One day passes to the next, so on and so on. But, there are those occasions when one of life’s little obstinate reminders comes along to let you know that every day can’t be perfect. Usually, just to irk even the best mechanic off for no reason at all, except to be a royal inconvenience. You know, it’s those daily activities and tasks that create their own obstacles just to rub your wrenches the wrong way. They make ya wanna flip your pressure gauges into the next service bay.
      I know for a fact that there’s not enough morning coffee to ease the frustration when you are in the midst of working all day and some little insignificant problem comes along that isn’t part of the big picture you’re trying to solve. It just adds to the challenge of the day. You’ve already got to deal with the cars, the owners, the tools, the weather, and the usual soap opera stuff in the shop. Now ya gotta throw this into the mix. It’s just one of those tasks that shouldn’t be an issue but certainly can add to a tension headache and a darn good chance for a swift kick to the offending item. Hey, let’s face it, nothing’s perfect, but it sure would be nice when the simple things in the shop just stayed simple. Yea… like that’s going to happen.
      Here’s a list of my top ten pet peeves of the auto shop.
      10# - You drive a car onto the lift, set 3 of the 4 legs, but the last one won’t line up or get past the tire, unless you hop back in the car and move it just a bit more. (I’ve figured it out… 9 out of 10 cars don’t fit the first time. So, 1 out of 10 cars is going to give me fits in a different way.)
      9# - How come the air hose is always 6 inches too short to reach that last bolt? (It doesn’t matter how much extra hose you sling off the reel, it’s still 6 inches short.)
      8# - Tool borrowers who borrow tools and don’t bring them back. Tool borrowers who bring them back…broken. Tool borrowers who don’t wipe the grease off of my tools after they’re done with them. (Ok…in general… “tool borrowers”.)
      7# - Small cars with gym equipment, boxes full of random stuff, and or a pile of clothes behind the driver’s seat. When I try to move the seat back, so I can drive it into the shop … it won’t move….! (I don’t think I can slip between the wheel and the seat in some of these cars, even if I went on a diet… ain’t enough room, people! ! ! )
      6# - Pocket screwdrivers with extra strong magnets on the tip. Magnets are good, but not when you lean over an engine and the screwdriver attaches itself to the nearest piece of metal… every time! (The last one that did this is in my tool box… safely away from being the next projectile across the shop.)
      5# - The last guy to use the oil recovery tank filled it up with the last oil change, and didn’t bother to empty it. (There’s a price on that guy’s head. He don’t know it, but he’s a marked man….)
      4# - Service writers who don’t ask questions, but will write down anything the customer tells them, even if it makes absolutely no sense at all. “The car sounds like a ballerina with a sore foot.” This is NOT a good explanation of a faulty suspension component! (Let’s face it, I ain’t no ballerina, haven’t a clue what it would be like to have a sore foot as one.)
      3# - Drop a car off, explain (in over abundant detail) about the problem they are having, but fail to mention the outside door handle is broken, and that I have to crawl in from the passenger side. (So, you want me to perform some Olympic gymnastics feat to fix your car? ‘Fraid not… fix the fX%#& door!)
      2# - You ask if I’m a mechanic, then proceed to tell me how brilliant you are at my profession. Later on in the conversation I find out the cars you’ve worked on are all for relatives of yours… most of which don’t speak to you anymore after you’ve done your “magic” under the hood. (Oh I know, everybody is a mechanic. Might as well fess up… but I don’t need to brag about what I do… my work speaks for itself.)
      1# - Engineered disasters, poor designs, and unbelievably impossible to get to bolts or components that only an idiot would have designed that way in the first place. Then show zero labor time to remove said part, which only makes it worse when I bid the job out to what it “really” is going to take. Then… as usual… the customer calls another shop, who uses the book time (only) never having done this particular job before, and ends up with the repair. Then, a few days later the same car is back with “other” problems related to somebody trying to get to those hard to reach bolts or components and has damaged something along the way. AND, of course… it’s all my fault don’t ya know………… (The battle was lost even before I started. Should’ve been a ballerina…)
      Bonus Pet Peeve
      Start an electrical short trace from one end of a circuit and 9 chances out of 10 the problem is on the opposite end. And it doesn’t matter if you try to “out think” it by starting on the other end … it’s still going to be on the opposite end. (Murphy’s Law… it’s a done fact…)
      I think I should have started this list as the top 100 instead of the top ten, because there’s a lot more of them out there. It’s just the kind of thing that makes ya wanna split your sockets sometimes. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s those little things that accumulate as the day goes by that makes ya wanna snap off your Snap On ratchets. The mere thought of another half-cracked-silly issue that shouldn’t be an issue showing up makes locking up the tool box and try it all again tomorrow rather tempting. But, you know you’ll stick it out, you’ll get it done, grumble a bit of course, and as anybody in the business will tell you… it’s just another day and a part of this crazy world of auto repair.
      Yep, it’s just another one of those quirks that life throws at you now and then. Best thing to do is to shake it all off and deal with it. Go on about your merry way, and try to keep from bending another pry bar into a pretzel. Tomorrow’s another day. Yes, there’s always a tomorrow… and I’m sure there will always be another pet peeve just waiting to be a part of your productive day. Happy wrenchin’!
      Click here to view the article
    • By Moonlight
      I am considering joining ATI Re-Engineering Program, is there any new feedback that can be offered here? I am looking at the program with the goal of better managing my staff, finding more time for myself and being able to take better care of my good customers.
      Any feedback would be great. If you know anyone in the program that has been there for six months to a year I would love to talk with them.
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