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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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I'm lucky, i have yet to have this happen in our shop but what I can imagine what a nightmare it would be. Especially if that customer has a trust issue (which is common in our industry) and one that tries to take advantage of every situation. Don't want to jinx it but really hope I won't see something like this for a while

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8 hours ago, Jay Huh said:

I'm lucky, i have yet to have this happen in our shop but what I can imagine what a nightmare it would be. Especially if that customer has a trust issue (which is common in our industry) and one that tries to take advantage of every situation. Don't want to jinx it but really hope I won't see something like this for a while

don't worry... you will.   stay at it long enough it'll happen, you can bet on it.  LOL 

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10 hours ago, xrac said:

Gonzo, I have one of those cars right now.  It is a 2006 Toyota Tundra.  Came in for oil change and brake pullsation.  First the drivers window would not roll up. Never did that before. Keep it ovenight and a tap on the door and it started working.  Problem fixed right! Wrong. Owner picked it up and brought it back said it was running bad and wanting to die.  Never did that before.  Had check engine light on and a code for a Mass Air Flow Sensor.  Installed a Cardone reman sensor with no change. Waiting on a new MAF sensor just in case it is a junk Cardone reman.  At this point in time my tech thinks it may be the ECM which would explain both the window and running issue but I want to double eliminate the MAF.  Why does this stuff happen on our watch. The guy is a good customer and is driving my truck while we sort it out.  

Nice of you to lend out your personal vehicle. I haven't been able to do that. Too attached to my cars. That is great customer service though, especially for something that wasn't your fault!

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4 hours ago, kenk said:

Must be the extra stress put on a car while in the shop. Like when you go to the doctor and have your blood pressure taken. It is always high in the office! "The White coat syndrome!"

It's opposite for us. The parking lot is like a healing ground or something. Customer has a problem for us to diagnose but we can't ever duplicate it! Customer admits that they can't either 

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.

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