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Blowin' in the wind


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Another story for everyone... this one wasn't in my last book... It will probably go into the next one. (I've got plenty more... )



Blowin’ in the wind

Another headlight problem to deal with, this time it’s on an old 280z. Both headlights took their turn going on and off. I’ve seen this problem hundreds of times. My first test is to pull the trim from around the steering wheel and pop off this little plastic guard on the back of the headlight switch. If the headlight switch is causing the problem, all you have to do is take your finger and gently push on the terminals of the headlight switch that you exposed when the plastic guard was removed. In this case, that’s exactly the problem. No further diagnostics needed. Chalk that one up to experience.

After filling out the invoice I gave the customer the news. He was quite startled that I could find the problem so fast.

“I had it at the last shop for hours,” he said, “Until they gave up and sent me here.”

“It’s not a big deal I’ve seen it before,” I said.

The part was ordered and I had it installed in a flash. Simple repair, made simple with lots and lots of experience mind you. After the install, I checked the headlights. All was well, nothing wrong that I could see. I pulled the car around front and filled out the rest of the paper work.

A big thank you and a hand shake was all that was needed at that point. I handed him his keys and he drove off down the street. I figured I just made a new customer… not bad, I look like the genius that I think I am… well, there ya go again… did we forget about the proverbial teeter tooter? Oh, yea, it’s going to slide right to stupid… and idiot isn’t far away.

Several weeks later the car was back, again with the blinking headlights. I went thru the whole routine again… it is absolutely without a doubt, hands down, totally for sure… working just like it should. And I mean perfect. It never blinked it never even thought of blinking. Now I’m getting concerned. This isn’t right. Whose playing games here…? Is there one of those hidden cameras around here? Ok, who put this guy up to it? I’ve got a lot of practical joker friends that would love to pull some stunt like this… but I ain’t laughing fellas!

Since nobody jumped out from behind a bush or a tool box I guess I better consider that this guy is dead serious about his “blinking” headlights. Time to go talk to the owner.

“How often does it do this,” I asked.

“All the time, especially at night,” the 280z owner explained.

(You know, sometimes in a rush I ask the wrong questions. At night, well of course it would be at night. I’m sliding even closer to idiot right now… I hope there’s a safety harness attached to the see saw.)

“Well, I’m having a problem duplicating the blinking at this point,” I said with a bit of confusion in my voice.

“Oh, I guarantee it’s going to do it,” he said, “Just wait, it will.”

I went back out to the shop and pondered over this odd situation. Now I pride myself on being able to figure this stuff out, I hate thinking I’m going to have to end up like the last shop and give up on it. Oh come on, I seen the headlights blink before, that was cut and dry, this I don’t know.

About then one of the tow drivers that brings cars to me came in the shop. Not for a car, just to say Hi. I explained to him what I was up against and I told him I’m running out of ideas on how to solve this one. Not that I expected any help but I could use a shoulder to cry on right about now. He had this quirky smirk on his face… as if he knew something that I didn’t. Something told me he was up to something, aha; he’s the guy with the hidden camera. Ok, ok, I’ll play along.

“Hop behind the wheel and turn the lights on,” my tow truck driving buddy chuckled.

“Ok,” I said, perplexed by his sudden show of diagnostic abilities.

Once I had the headlights on he walked to the front of the car and stood in front of one of the headlights.

“Are ya ready for this,” he said, still laughing his butt off.

“Go for it there Einstein,” I said … not knowing what he was about to do. I couldn’t think of a thing I missed, and how in the world was he so sure of it.

As he stood there looking at me sitting behind the wheel, his legs were lit up with the headlight beam, he reached down and grabbed the bra that was on the front of the car. As he flapped the bra up and down … the headlight… blinked. What the??? I jumped out of the car leaving the headlights on.

“What are you doing, man o’ man, I’ve wanting to see that all afternoon,” totally astonished by now, “What the hell are you doing.”

The bra is fitted into the recess in front of the headlight, and the attaching “Velcro” strips were gone. So, when the car was up to speed the bra would flap in the wind and make it appear as if the headlight was blinking. Now on the other hand, the other side was tight and was holding the bra down just the way it should.

I ran to get the customer, had him sit in the driver’s seat. My still laughing tow truck buddy and I went through our little experiment. The most surprising thing was the owner agreed that was what was happening and it only did it on that one side… which after thinking about it was different than what it was doing with the original switch installed.

At least he understood the problem now and everything was back to normal… except… how did the tow driver know…?

“I was on a call last night and I saw this same car on the highway pass me,” he said, still laughing, “I knew it was at your shop a while back. You couldn’t miss it, what got my attention was the blinking headlight as he came up along side of me, I thought it was some weird emergency vehicle, but as it passed by my truck I could see what was going on. I was laughing the whole time, in fact, that’s why I came by today. I was stopping by to raze ya about it, seems like I came at the right time.”

Well, well, well, I owe him one. Maybe a couple, I’m sure he still laughs about this one even after all these years. That proverbial teeter totter is sure looking heavy on that one side. My bad, I’ll work on correcting that problem, maybe with a little help from a gust of wind and a friendly tow driver.


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Great story you never know what you will run into in this business. Tuesday we replaced a blend door actuator motor on a Mercury Mountaineer and it was back in Thursday because it still didn't work right. We found the problem to be that mice had stuffed the passage from the blower motor with shredded tissue. We removed the tissue and fixed the problem.


Boy, do I have stories about mice... I think I have three stories published in my book... and I have quite a few in reserve...

Maybe I'll put one of those up on the site next... they're hillarious. thanx for the comments....


I think writing these stories down is like therapy.... good for me and a good story for everyone else. Thanx again

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Most shop owners would agree that the independent auto repair industry has been too cheap for too long regarding its pricing and labor rates. However, can we keep raising our labor rates and prices until we achieve the profit we desire and need? Is it that simple?
      The first step in achieving your required gross and net profit is understanding your numbers and establishing the correct labor and part margins. The next step is to find your business's inefficiencies that impact high production levels.
      Here are a few things to consider. First, do you have the workflow processes in place that is conducive to high production? What about your shop layout? Do you have all the right tools and equipment? Do you have a continuous training program in place? Are technicians waiting to use a particular scanner or waiting to access information from the shop's workstation computer?
      And lastly, are all the estimates written correctly? Is the labor correct for each job? Are you allowing extra time for rust, older vehicles, labor jobs with no parts included, and the fact that many published labor times are wrong? Let's not forget that perhaps the most significant labor loss is not charging enough labor time for testing, electrical work, and other complicated repairs.  
      Once you have determined the correct labor rate and pricing, review your entire operation. Then, tighten up on all those labor leaks and inefficiencies. Improving production and paying close attention to the labor on each job will add much-needed dollars to your bottom line.
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