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Article: Down and Out in the Service Bay - Some cars don't just come to the repair shop to get fixed... some come to commit suicide. 

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Down and Out in the Service Bay

         A big portion of a mechanic’s job is to deal with troubles. From trouble shooting, trouble codes, trouble with tools, diagnostic troubles, and then some parts that can be nothing but trouble. Trouble seems to go with the job description, but what’s most troubling is a customer’s car that decides to end it all in the service bay without any prior warning or inclination that something dreadful is about to happen.  Take this next story:

         A car comes in for a routine brake job.  Nothing special, just the typical front pad replacement and rotor resurfacing.  The job is going well, no trouble to speak of until the mechanic attempts to restart the car and check the brakes.  Just as it starts a low grinding noise is heard from the engine, and within a split second the noise goes from a soft metal grind to an all-out attack on your ear drums.  The engine starts to lope in cadence with the metal-slapping-metal sound. 

The noise is deafening; mechanics in the other service bays have stopped what they’re doing to find out where the noise is coming from.  To the mechanic’s ear, this rattling, bone jarring clanking sound can only mean one thing… a connection rod has just snapped.

         As quickly as possible the key is shoved into the off position.  The mechanic races to look under the hood, only to find oil has sprayed all over the engine bay.  That clanking rod, well… it blasted a hole the size of the Grand Canyon into the side of the block.  Oil is still oozing out of the now dysfunctional engine as the service manager and a whole squad of front office people make their way to the scene.

         The question on everyone’s mind is, “Who’s going to tell the customer?” and “How did this happen?” The car had no signs of a pending failure as it was checked in at the service desk, the porter who drives them into the service bay didn’t have anything to add, and the mechanic who did the brake job was dumbfounded that such thing could ever have happened in the first place.

         Well, it did happen, and yes, it’s not the first time and certainly not the last.  Whether it’s a truck frame that was so rusted out that once it was put on a lift it literally split in two, or that old customer who came by to have the trunk light bulb replaced and left his car running just outside the service bay. As you’re fiddling with the bulb, the fan belt shredded and lodged itself behind the water pump pulley so tight that you had to replace the water pump.  There seems to be no end to the way some cars want to commit suicide while they’re near the service bay.

I’ve had similar issues over the years myself.  Timing belts that spit teeth off on a test drives, CV shafts that snap as the mechanic turned the corner to align it up with the shop door, to countless electrical components that suddenly and mysteriously failed at the moment I got near them. 

One time I had an regular customer who stopped by just to visit.  Not for any service work, just to say Hi and see what I was up to. When he went to leave, the front pump in the transmission decided this was the right time to call it quits. Right there in front of the shop! Which of course led to me dropping what I was doing and perform an impromptu and hasty on the spot unscheduled diagnosis.  Neither one of us had any clue as to why this car decided this was the appropriate time and place to end it all.  At least it was already lined up for the service bay!  

Talk about being down and out in the service bay.  Like there’s not enough trouble to deal with, then things like this happen. Some of it is so strange that you’d swear somebody made it all up, but it’s all true. Some have an explanation, others are a complete mystery, but it does happen.

Most of the time there is a bit of information that’s been left out of the scenario. Usually the guilty party won’t confess right off the bat, but sooner or later the truth does come out. Although, the car can’t talk, the remaining shrapnel and other broken parts will leave plenty of clues as to what was the origin of this latest suicidal attempt.

I’d like to say, “I’ve seen it all.” But who am I kidding? There’s always something else that will surprise me in the future, and I’m sure every mechanic has their own down and out story they’d like to tell.  Misery loves company… so what’s your down and out story?



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