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Restoration for the Mechanic Electrical issues on today’s cars have certainly taken center stage. Mechanical issues are still there too, but it’s not uncommon to have a mechanical problem be diagnosed, monitored, or calibrated by some electronic means. You just can’t get away from the electrical if you’re in the automotive repair business these days. It’s taken over just about every facet of the automobile. Today’s mechanics have become something entirely different from the stereotypical mechanic from just a few decades ago. It’s not that long ago when the electrical section of the repair manuals were just a chapter or two, today… its volumes and volumes of schematics and diagnostic procedures. I’m old enough to remember when points and condensers were still the norm, and I’ve watched the industry go from electronic ignition to today’s electronic jungle of wires and processors. We’ve definitely come a long way with the technology. Even though I work on all these newfangled electrical wizardry systems on the modern car, deep down I’m still the kid who got a kick out of tearing down an old junker and putting it back together. Now, I’m surrounded by modules, proximity keys, and sensors. Occasionally it’s kind of nice just to step away from the computer and just turn a wrench or two. I look forward to those simpler kinds of jobs, the ones that need a craftsman’s touch and not a box of transistors and capacitors to figure out what to do. Back to a time when a driver was more mechanical involved in the process of operating the vehicle. Heating vents with levers and cables, or a hand choke that needed just the right touch to get it started. No electronics, no service light, just the essentials. (For you younger techs, I’m referring to the days when you actually had to unlock a door with a key.) I still marvel at the ingenuity and engineering of those times. I guess it’s one of the reasons why I like going to old car and steam engine shows so much. It’s all about the mechanics for me. Electronics are great, but to see the early mechanical devices that were commonplace a century ago still amazes me. How they figured it out, and how they made it work is shear brilliance. (If you ever get a chance to study some of those early mechanical systems, you might be surprised how things were accomplished prior to the computer age. It’s quite fascinating… well at least to me it is.) It’s great to be able to step back once in a while and just be a mechanic. Back when things were rebuilt and not just replaced with new. There’s a certain satisfaction in taking a broken mechanical device and making it functional again. It’s those jobs that after you’ve wrestled the components into place, and everything is finished you realize that you’re covered in grease, but for some reason you’ve got this big smile on your face. It’s the look of accomplishment, a smile of pride in a job well done. And while you’re cleaning up the tools, you look over at the finished project still smiling, knowing you’re done and can move onto the next project. It just doesn’t compare to finishing up on a modern car when the last thing to do is watch that blue line steadily move across the computer screen, waiting for it to say “Task completed”. Not that I’m putting down the modern car, no far from it. It’s just nice to take a break once in a while from the technical mumbo-jumbo and just be a mechanic for a change. Even though it’s pretty awesome to solve a difficult electrical issue, it’s hard to beat a good old fashion mechanical repair. For me, when a restoration project shows up at the shop I get a chance to turn off the laptop and open the toolbox. These restoration jobs are just as much for the customer as they are for me. It’s a restoration of some of my old almost forgotten mechanical abilities. (Yea, I still got it…) We put a lot of trust in the modern electronics, something the engineers and designers of those automobiles from a few decades ago never even though of. Their own ingenuity and craftsmanship kept them going. Components were built to be repaired not replaced. I think it’s safe to say that a car from 50 years ago is more likely to start and run in another 50 years but I seriously doubt a car from today would have the same luck. There again, it might be something a technician/mechanic of that era might figure out how to do by then. Me I’ll still stick with being a mechanic/technician … I still like the physical repair aspect of the job. The future of electronics in today’s cars is constantly changing; sometimes we notice the changes while other times you can’t physically see them. Sometimes all it takes is a little R&R on an old jalopy just to make me remember how far we’ve come. In the meantime, the latest restoration job is done so it’s time to go for a test drive. I’ll get back to the laptop and the modern car world just as soon as I get all the tools cleaned up… it might take a bit though … I’m still admiring the restoration job and I’ve got some more smilin’ to do.
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Picture This Years ago my younger brother came to work for me. He didn’t know a thing about cars, but was willing to learn all he could. Teaching new techs is an art that most shop owners have to learn to do, but teaching your little brother can be a chore and can test your patience. I muddled thru it all and taught him what I could. I was sure at some point in time the two of us would butt heads like brothers will do, and he would take his new found skills and move up in the rank and files of the automotive technical world, but in the meantime it was his turn to learn from his older brother. When he first started I would walk him through each step of how to diagnose a certain system in a car. A lot of times he would have questions, and I’d do my best to answer them. He learned quickly and was really sharp at picking up some of those little details that are harder to teach. You know things like how you held a certain wrench or used a certain tool, to you and me it’s no big deal. But to a novice, it’s a revelation, then you (I) tend to forget to mention those certain traits while you’re teaching. Mainly because you are trying to get to the solution as efficiently as possible, and you neglect to bring it up. Such as: “always test your test light connection before testing what you’re testing, or don’t forget to check for all your tools before you pull the car out of the shop….” Things like that. One day we had a truck come in with dual fuel tanks on it. The gas gauge wasn’t working and needed some attention. This was a perfect opportunity for Junior to learn a few of my short cuts on these old models. It was an older Ford, in which the tank gauge ran thru the tank switchover button. It was rather easy to pull it out of the dash and connect to the gauge from the back of the switch. Luckily it was the typical problem I’ve seen a hundred times in the past. The switch connections would melt and the tank wouldn’t switch from the front tank to the rear, and of course the gauge wouldn’t move either. After locating the correct leads to the gauge and to the tanks I decided to show him how the gauge worked. I hooked up the one of the tanks to the crossover lead that would supply the signal from the tank to the gauge. “Ya see this, that’s the lead to the fuel gauge in the dash, and this is one of the tank wires. I’ll connect these together and we should get a reading on the dash,” I told him. He was watching intently, taking in all the wiring diagram information, the location of the wires, and how I was bypassing the switch. He was fascinated with the flow of the current and the way the gauge would respond. I even went as far as moving the gauge from full to empty by opening and closing it to a ground signal. While I had his attention I filled him in on the two types of gauges that were used back then (bimetallic and magnetic) and how low resistance on a bimetal type gauge would read near a full tank, while a magnetic gauge would read close to empty. Change the resistance and the gauge would/should read accordingly. “So, if we put gas in the tank the gauge should move right? That way we could check the sending units in the tanks too,” he asked me. “Great idea, grab a gas can and let’s add a few gallons,” I said, excited that he was so interested in the project. He grabbed a can of gas and poured a few gallons in the tank. I was watching the gas guage carefully, but there was no movement. I knew I was on the right wires, but nothing was happening. Now what? Are there more problems? “Crawl under there, and check to be sure the wire color is correct,” I yelled from the cab to him. “Yep, it’s the right wire on the tank.” “Well, we might have to pull the tank; it’s not changing the gauge readings up here.” “Before we do that let’s add some more gas, maybe we didn’t add enough,” Junior tells me. I thought I better go back and help hold the funnel, while he poured the gas in the tank. Unknowing to me, all this time my wife (who was the office manager) was listening in on the whole thing. She likes to keep tabs on me, and make sure I’m not going into one of my usual rants or having a fit because I had to explain something over and over again to little brother. This time she was standing at the corner of the shop just behind the truck with a camera. “CLICK”, I heard the camera shutter go off and she was back there laughing like there was no tomorrow. “What’s so funny?” I asked her. “You two idiots have been putting gas in the wrong tank. You’re on the front tank, and you’re putting gas in the rear tank,” my wife answers, laughing hysterically. About then the camera “clicked” again… this time it was an action shot taken at precisely the exact moment when these two idiots had that dumb struck look on their faces and realized what they just did. The shot had both of us on our knees, one holding a funnel and the other with the half empty gas can, and both of us staring right into the camera lens. Couldn’t have set it up any better if you tried. The picture clearly showed the side of the truck with both fuel tank doors visible and there was no doubt which tank we were putting in the extra gas. I guess it was one of those things I should have mentioned when we were checking the tank senders… make sure we are both on the same tank. For years that picture hung over her desk, and anytime I thought I was so smart she would point at the photo. Usually with that typical smirk, usually shaking her finger at me and of course the laugh… she had to laugh, but it wasn’t all that funny until she had me laughing about it too. Ok, Ok, I’m not perfect... and now my little brother knows it too. These days he’s a top notch tech at a dealership, and I have to call him on occasions for some help on how to solve things once in a while. Oh the photo… uhmmm… what photo?? Somehow it’s missing… haven’t seen the darn thing in years. But I guess I really don’t need to see the photo … the wife has a pretty good memory... she reminds me just how smart I think I am every chance she gets. Click here to view the article
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Article: Some Days You're The Oil, Some Days You're The Filter - - - just another day at the old repair shopSome Days You’re The Oil, Some Days You’re The Filter In the auto repair business hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t try to upset the apple cart. It might be the new lube guy who spilled 30 gallons of oil on the floor, or that lost set of customer keys. No matter what it is, something or someone is bound and determined to make your day different than the next. From time to time it helps to go with the flow. You know, just let things slip on by and not take things so seriously, because no matter what, there’s always another hectic situation just around the corner to test your stress level. Think of it this way, you could be the oil or you could be the filter. You either let things slide through the day, or you’re trapped with the rest of the grit and grime. Speaking of oil, take the day of the oil SNAFU. I have several customers who have their own preferences as to which brand of oil they would like to have in their car. Now, of course, I strictly adhere to the appropriate type and weight, but as far as brands of oils I’m up for any name on the bottle. (Although I do have a few brands I consider taboo.) Funny thing is, I never seem to get through to some of these folks the importance of a quality oil filter. I believe this should be a higher concern than the brand of oil. This particular day was a rather chaotic day with more than one issue on the rise. Being the well-seasoned shop owner, I was more than up for the task of getting each and every job in and out the door with the skill of a professional. In comes two of my old time regulars with their precious chosen brand of oil they have hand picked off the shelf. Oh yes, I mean hand-picked. These guys remind of the careful shopper at the grocery store who goes through the produce isle finding that perfect melon or apple. I can picture these two guys at the parts store picking up each bottle and examining it in detail before selecting that very bottle for their car. A bit eccentric, yes, but at their age it’s something technology hasn’t taken away from them. It still allows them to feel they can contribute to their car’s well-being, even though they can’t physically work on their own cars anymore. Needless to say these cherished oil cans are treated like gold when they enter the realm of the service bay… or at least that’s the normal way we handled it for our golden years customers. Today, well, it was a bit different. We have our new lube tech, Clifford in charge of the oil service bay. He’s doing a great job, and even managed to up-sell a few seriously overlooked problems on a few customer cars. I have high hopes for this youngster, and encourage him to study for his ASE tests and further his education in the automotive field. This afternoon we already had 4 oil changes lined up for him. Two were the normal, ‘getrdone’ oil changes and two were our regular old timers with their hand selected oil. Clifford has these oil change scenarios down pat. Everything from looking up the actual amount and type of oil required, to verifying what oil they brought, if there is an adequate amount, as well as saving the empties to show the customer when all was said and done. As the cars were shuffled in and out of the service bay, somehow between the front office, the service bay, and back to the front lobby, the wrong box of oil was sent with the wrong car, or at least it was assumed. (No one knows for sure) Luckily, the oil weight, amount, and type were exactly the same from car to car. The only thing that was different was the one thing the owners of these cars had the most pride and input about, and that was the ‘brand’ of oil. Mind you, for some of these regulars who bring their hand-picked-hand-selected oil, they’re quite serious about it. You just don’t calm the situation down by telling them you’ll replace the oil with the brand they originally wanted. Oh heavens no! That’s sacrilegious! That would mean a complete engine tear down (while they watched over you like a hawk) with the interior of the motor completely hand wiped to remove any traces of this foreign oil. I wouldn’t doubt it if they would have gone as far as having the molecular structure of the oil checked and verified that none of the competitor’s brand of oil was left to contaminate their engine. By now, our new lube tech, Clifford has been dragged from the service bay and was about to receive a third degree interrogation while trying to explain his side of this debacle to the older gentlemen. I took it upon myself to advert the possible cardiac arrest in the front lobby and save Clifford from a fate worse than a stuck on oil filter. As usual, there is one thing that separates the counter guy, the lube rack guy, and the owner… the person who makes the final decision on how to dissolve a situation, that’s me, the owner. At the front counter the two old gentlemen were busy sorting through the bottles in each box while holding each of them up to the light for a closer inspection. The conversation went from who did what, to who didn’t do what, and why their brand was better than the other guys brand. Each of them now were trying to play “oil detective” and locate the slippery individual who screwed this all up. As things go with this typical bunch of grandpas, they were soon talking about vacations and grandkids. In fact the two old guys were starting to wonder which oil was theirs in first place. I stepped in between my two elderly customers and their precious boxes of empty oil bottles. Without saying a word I ever so graciously reached for the oil bottles that each of them were holding and placed them back into their respective boxes. Then, with the moves of a Las Vegas magician, I switched box A with customer B and box B with customer A. Then cheerfully said, “There ya go, just a little mix up. It’s all good, you’re all set.” and walked away without another word. I just looked at my counter guy and gave him a wink. He knew what to do, as I guided the bewildered lube tech back to the service bay. I don’t think I’ll ever find out who mixed up what oil with what car, or if there ever was a mix up at all, but you can be sure Clifford won’t forget about this. One minute he’s changing oil, the next he’s got two old guys shaking empty oil bottles at him. Sure made for an interesting day. Sometimes, ya just never know what’s going to happen when ya unscrew that drain plug… some days you’re the oil, some days you’re the filter.
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12 Days of Christmas at an Automotive Repair Shop You know the song, so just sing along with me in the holiday spirit. On the 1st day of Christmas a customer sent to me: A cartridge for my grease gun. On the 2nd day Christmas a customer sent to me: 2 Latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 3rd day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 3 Wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 4th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 4 Wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 5th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 5 Piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 6th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 6 Brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 7th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 7 Dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 8th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 8 Engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 9th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 9 Coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 10th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 10 Headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 11th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 11 Gears a-grinding, 10 headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. On the 12th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 12 Trannys slipping, 11 gears a-grinding, 10 headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun. Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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