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Hazards of the Road - Potholes and varmints.


Gonzo

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Hazards of the Road

Pot holes, rough railroad crossings, and uneven pavement are just a few of the hazards of the road that can send you to the repair shop. They can tear up the undercarriage, bend suspension parts, and ruin components. Not to mention the damage to the rims and tires or the front end alignment. We all know how it happens, those things just seem to dart out in front of you with no warning. There you are zooming down the road sipping your morning coffee when all of a sudden you hit one of those car-swallowing pot holes. The coffee flies everywhere, and then your steering wheel starts shaking back and forth. It’s time to make a call to the repair shop.

Undercarriage and suspension damage from pot holes is fairly common. But, there are those occasions when an unwanted passenger hitches a ride underneath the car, too. Ah yes, those bits and pieces of a darting squirrel or road debris that get lodged in the under carriage from time to time. Sometimes you swerve or slam on the brakes, or you might try honking the horn or flash your brights at it. But, due to road conditions, visibility, speed, the weather, or that extra sip of coffee while changing the radio station makes hitting it unavoidable, and now you’ve acquired a new passenger under your car. And, who gets to remove what’s left? Your local mechanic, that’s who.

The diversity in these sudden hitchhikers are endless. I’ve seen everything from an aluminum ladder to road kill. Plastic bags and construction debris are probably the most common stuff I run across. In fact, a few years ago a Jeep rolled in with a differential leak that turned out to be a large garbage bag wedged into the rear seal. It was so impacted in there it actually popped the seal out of the housing. It must have made one heck of a noise as it wrapped tighter and tighter around the drive shaft.

I’m sure a lot of mechanics have seen worse than I have, especially the body shop techs. But I don’t recall any mechanics or body shop tech classes ever going over road debris or squirrel removal. Even if it was a class I missed, I don’t think you could explain the diagnostics to a customer as to how a spare tire flying out of a pickup had just the right angle, and just the right momentum to crack the crank sensor in two pieces, but didn’t do any other damage under the their truck. (Trying to involve their insurance company on that one.) Yeah, it really did happen to an old Ford truck that came in my shop.

I’m not immune to road debris either. I’ve collected my fair share of screws, glass, cardboard boxes, and hitchhiking varmints. The most memorable one was back when my wife and I first got married. We made the long trip to her home town in Nebraska in the middle of one of the worst winters in memory. One morning we decided to drive around town and see what had changed since the last time we were up there. It’s a really small town set amidst miles of corn fields, no grocery store, one gas station, two churches, and three bars. (Priorities ya know) The big excitement in town this winter was the stock pile of corn that was at the Co-op at the train depot. For one reason or another they couldn’t load the grain into the silos. Maybe the conveyor was frozen or the silos were full. I never asked why, besides it was 35 below zero out there, and I wasn’t about to get out of the warm car and ask.

Since there wasn’t anywhere else to put all this corn, they just piled it up right there in the middle of the street. It stretched from side walk to side walk and was higher than the telephone poles. We couldn’t turn around, or back up because there were even more gawkers checking out this huge pile of corn behind us. Instead, we followed the tracks on the edge of the pile from the previous car. As we carefully negotiated over part of the curb and part of the mound of corn (as gingerly as possible) the icy crust of snow on this massive pile of corn gave way and shifted the whole thing just as we went through.

A day or so later, we both caught a whiff a foul odor emanating from the bottom our car. It had the unmistakable smell of burnt corn bread. It seems we didn’t clear that pile of corn all that well, because the catalytic converter shield scooped up a bunch of the corn and some of the snow and turned the converter shield into a mini skillet. It took me hours of lying under the car (in the freezing cold) with what tools I had to clean most of it off. Then I took our family corn machine to the nearest town that still had a car wash open, trying to wash out the kernels faster than the water spray could froze. The smell of the burnt corn lingered for weeks afterwards despite several car washes.

Cooked corn, yea that was a mess but, it doesn’t compare to some of the other things I’ve removed. Such as mangled deer, mice, rabbits, or worse yet… a skunk. I’m not real squeamish when it comes to the blood and guts part of it but, the stench… oh the smell. Years ago after one of my “de-skunking” episodes my uniform guy told me he would rather I just throw those shop rags away instead of turning them back in.

Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to a customer’s car which has just hit a pot hole or ran over something and their car needs my attention. Anymore, I don’t get all that excited when I find something like a sneaker jammed inside the right front tire rim and it has somehow ripped the ABS sensor wires completely off. I just smile, change out the sensor, and remove the shoe. I’ll add it to the pile of stuff I show the customer after the repair is completed. Needless to say, ya do get a few quirky looks at the counter from time to time. Often times they can’t remember running over something.

 

But, it is what it is… just another day at the shop dealing with hazards of the road.


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