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There's a new wrench in Town


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There's a new wrench in town


A Volkswagen Beetle was left in the parking lot one cold morning. It was one of my regular customers 01' Beetle. All I knew of the problem was that it wouldn't start.


"Let's check a few things first," I said. I pulled out one of the glow plugs to check it for wear and tear and if it was getting the necessary voltage to warm it up. All was well; in fact they looked fairly new. I had a meter handy so I checked to see if the resistance was correct…right on the money. I cracked open a fuel line to one of the injectors … no fuel…. No fuel??? Hey, wait a minute… isn't that kinda necessary?? The tank was full, but no fuel pressure at the lines. One of the things to worry about with a diesel is … air in the fuel lines…. Anytime these engines get any air in the fuel lines… oops… they will be hard to start or not start at all. Ask anyone with a diesel that has ran out of fuel…ask them how long it took to get it started again.


Well, before I start tearing into other possibilities, this would be a good time to shoot a little starting fluid down its throat and see if I can get a burp or two out of the little engine. I want to be sure there are no "mechanical" issues with the engine.


A couple of quick shots of ether and crank of the key…. Shazaam…!! Started right up…. Hold on hold on…. fuel is spurting everywhere.. Shut it off... Shut it OFF now!! Looking under the fuel distributor you could see that the fuel was actually coming out of the two halves of the distributor… apparently the gasket or housing to the distributor has developed a major leak. My guess would be probably from the cold. Air was getting into the fuel lines, but once the engine spun fast enough to overcome the air rushing in from the bad distributor it then was able to start.


I called the customer and gave him the bad news, the biggest problem was cost; a fuel distributor isn't a cheap part by any means. Luckily for the owner he was still covered under the factory 100k mile warranty, but barely. It was about 500 miles shy of going over the mileage. The obvious next step would be to have the car towed to the dealership. All the work could be completed under the warranty and save the customer from a huge repair bill. Nothing like a warranty when it actually pays off on an expensive part… I'm actually more relieved myself. It's not the easiest job by any means, oh I'll do it… but given a choice between changing a fuel distributor or taking a swift kick …. I'll take the swift kick.


At this point I'm through; I did my part, diagnosed the problem and sent it on to the proper repair facility to have it done. What more should I do? Then the phone rang, it's the owner of the car.


He was quite calm on the phone.. I couldn't believe what he was telling me.


In a very calm and collective voice the owner said, "The tech at the dealer says it needs new glow plugs, new glow plug relay, and a new glow plug harness."


Once the initial shock wore off, I began to laugh. "You're kidding me," I answered laughing the whole time.


"No, that's what the man said," he said, with a little smirk in his voice.


I think he knew, but didn't want to say anything to me about what he thought was going on… oh, I knew, I knew quite well what was going on.


He asked, "Do you want to call them?"


"No, let's see if they want to call me. I already know what's wrong with the car. Let's try this; ask them if they will guarantee the repair and make it right if that doesn't fix the problem," I told him.


"Ok," said my now laughing owner, "This ought to be a fun adventure. I'll play along with ya."


The phone rings again… it's the tech from the dealer. I felt like it was one of those old western movies. You know the ones, where the bad guy strolls into the bar and says to the other cowboy, "This here town ain't big enough for the both us." Oh yea, my young, wet behind the ears dealer tech had something to prove. You could tell he had been shining his wrenches for just an occasion to show up an independent shop. I could hear that "western" movie music in the background. I was waiting for the "call out" any minute now. It's the old "I'm the dealer tech and nobody knows more than me." You know, I'm getting older, I may not be as fast as I use to be… but it's still going to take more wrench than this spark plug has to get the best of this old gear head. Talk about a cocky, fresh out of diapers, full of himself dipstick. If this guy would just listen to what he was saying, he could have figured out who the real cracked engine blockhead was. I'll bet he goes to work; dons his dealership uniform and transforms himself into tat ta tat da…. SUPER MECHANIC!! Look in the shop, springing from tool box to tool box, no, could it be… why yes it's SUPER MECHANIC..! I'm honored to be in the presence of such a marvel of the auto world. Could I have finally met my match, am I to be put down at high noon like the Wild West gun slingers of old? Hold on there, partner, I still have my secret decoder ring and my x-ray glasses to ward off such attempts of super human abilities. I'll call you out… High Noon, wrenches ready… let's do this cowboy.


He proceeded to tell me that he had a code for an intermittent glow plug signal and that they had records showing that the glow plugs were changed at the dealership 2 years ago. Naturally, that was what was wrong with it. He didn't need another shop to tell him that, because he was perfectly capable of handling the repair and that the only reason he was making this call is because it was company policy to verify complaints if the customer didn't agree with their diagnosis. Holy Wrenches Hombres, at least we have that going for us…


You know, there are times I'd just like to give these snot nose, green horn, socket jockeys a quick thwack on the noggin. But, this kid was lucky, I wasn't in the mood to belch out my usual "you're too young kid, you're going to need a little more grease in the right places before ya go messin' with this old wrench" speech. Instead, I was going to give him another chance to rethink his diagnosis.


"How did you arrive at that conclusion," I asked.


"I had a code for it, and these cars have a history of problems with the glow plugs," he very proudly stated.


"Did you check the glow plug themselves?" I very calmly asked.


"Well, they were changed 2 years ago," he answered.


First mistake; more to follow.


"Let me get this straight, you found a code, you didn't check it, and now you want to change the part… is that it?" I said in a stern manner.


"I don't need to check it, I already know," he quickly bantered back.


"I hate tell you this, but that code is there because of me. I pulled the glow plug out and hand checked it. I even checked the resistance value on the glow plug and the incoming voltage. I didn't see a thing wrong with the glow plug circuit. Did you by chance notice the raw fuel under the fuel distributor?" I asked in a even more stern voice.


"Yea, I saw the fuel. I washed it off." he answered in a confident manner, "It started to stink up the shop and blow the fumes all over the shop. The car was directly under the shop heater and the other techs were complaining. Not like it had anything to do with the repair anyway. You guys' are just a little sloppy, you should clean up things better next time."


"That fuel you seen is from the fuel distributor housing," I told him.


"Oh, you know, all these customers are all alike; they're just trying to get stuff done for nothing while it's still under the warranty. So, it's no big deal," he answered.


Oh please, don't tell me this kid had the nerve to say that. It reminds me of all those comments that small children say to strangers in a crowded room. Usually out of context and never under the right circumstances and, most often, with their parents standing right there totally embarrassed by the whole thing.


Another mistake, keep going kid… it's just keeps getting better.


"I think you should put this car back outside and check it in the morning after it gets good and cold. It's going to leak again, that I'm sure of." I told the new wrench.


"I'm going to have to ask my service writer about that, because I'm very sure of the repair work that I have already diagnosed. So, like I said... This is just a courtesy call... not a call to tell me how to fix it." He said in a very demanding tone.


"Ok fella, have it your way. I'm just trying to help you out. I didn't spill a drop of fuel. That fuel you see came from the distributor not from anything else." I said, trying to get my point across.


"I understand, but you know, here at the dealership we have the most sophisticated equipment and can diagnose these problems better and quicker than you can." He answered.


The mistakes keep adding up. About now I'm shining my wrenches for a showdown… somebody is going to get it, and it ain't me.


I think if I were him, I would be concerned that the glow plugs that were installed 2 years ago have failed again, seems pretty odd to me that the glow plugs wore out that quickly. But this young wrench head is strictly going by the code and not diagnosing the problem.


I told him, "Wouldn't it be proper procedure to clear the code and then recheck. Chances are it was a false code do to the fact I had disconnected it earlier."


He didn't seem to be interested in my comments. As I expected, the dealership called the owner and told him that they were going to do "further" testing.


The next day the owner called me back again with even more astonishing news. "The dealer tech said that the raw fuel was from the glow plug that you took out," the owner said laughingly. I figured the tech was trying to cover his tracks.


A week later the little 01 Volkswagen had a new fuel distributor and a happy owner. All under warranty, and it didn't need those new glow plugs replaced… imagine that.


This tech at the dealership was just a young wrench with a chip on his shoulder. Trying to out wrench an old hand like myself was not a smart move. To top it off, the owner isn't dumb about the whole thing either. A few more years under this young techs' toolbox and he might just make it.


I guess you could say that there was a showdown at high noon. Holster those wrenches boy, you've got some more miles to put under the hood before you'll be ready for another showdown.


I think it was a good lesson for the young ratchet head. Just because you're dealing with an independent shop doesn't mean they don't know how to use those wrenches. So saddle up there youngster, I'm proud of ya, this was a good lesson for future endeavors. For me, the trigger finger is a little slower than it used to be… But I can still tell the stories… one wrench at a time.






Edited by Gonzo
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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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