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Breaker, Breaker


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Breaker, Breaker… GONZO 2010




In my many years of repairing cars I've helped out a lot of other shops with their electrical problems. Some shops I see a few times a month, and others only once in awhile. Back in the mid 80's and 90's I had one shop that I talked to almost every day until his eventual retirement. His name was Joe; he had a small repair shop along with a couple of tow trucks. His main business was the tow company, and the repair shop was there just to fill in the gaps on those slow days.


One afternoon I got a call from Joe about a car his crew had given up on. They had changed several parts, but couldn't get this car to come back to life. Joe was busy with tows, and didn't want to spend any more time on it. So he put it on one of his tow trucks, and dropped it off at my shop for me to look at.


"I'll be on the road all day busy with tows. If you get it going, could ya take it back to my shop for me," Joe said, as he made a dash for his tow truck.


"No problem Joe, I'll get right on it," I said, just as he drove off.


The car was a late 80's GM. I could see all kinds of shiny new components under the hood, and could tell they put a lot of effort into swapping parts to find out what was going on. With a flip of the key it would immediately start, but die just as quickly. Every time I tried it, it would act the same way without fail.


The parts they changed were all predictable. They tried tune-up parts, an IAC, TPS, MAP etc… etc… all of which might, could, should've, probably, maybe… fixed it. But didn't. I wasn't going to go that route. I thought it best to start with the basics- fuel, fire, and air.


Spark was good, timing looked good, injector pulse was there, and the intake had a good air pull. Well, what now? I gave it a shot of carb. cleaner… vroom, vroom, vroom. As long as I kept spraying… it kept running. Ok, check the fuel pressure… it had pressure. Hmmm, now what to do? The next obvious thing (to me) was to check fuel volume.


I disconnected a fuel line and gave the key a flick into start… the fuel ran out… and then trickled to a stop. I did it a second time. Not as much fuel made it out… but there was some, although it didn't last as long as it did the first time. Maybe I should look at that gas gauge. Wouldn't ya know it… the friggin thing was out of gas. It had just enough in the tank to pressurize the fuel lines but not enough to keep it going.


Might as well grab a gas can, and put some in the tank. I'll try it again… vroom, vroom, vroom, alright! It's running great! Looks to me, like it was out of gas. However, with all the new parts they installed, I couldn't be sure if this was the only problem or an after affect of having the car in the shop while trying to solve a different problem. It could have been that one of the components they changed really did need to be changed. I couldn't tell; they're all new… and all working perfectly.


Later that day I drove the car back to Joe's shop. He wasn't there, but his dispatcher was in the office sorting out tow tickets and monitoring the CB with the volume up full blast. In the background you could hear the CB was busy with all the area's tow companies' chatter.


About then I heard Joe's voice over the CB, "Did Gonzo call yet? Need to check in on him, we need to get that car back to the owner."


"He just walked in Joe," the dispatcher told him.


"So what was wrong with it," Joe asked between the squelch of the CB radio and all the other chatter from the other tow companies.


The dispatcher turned to me and asked what I found wrong with it. I told him. The dispatcher, with a stunned look on his face said, "I can't tell him that. He is going to be so pissed."


"I don't think you should tell him till he gets back," I said, while breaking into an ear to ear smile.


The CB comes to life with Joe's voice; "So what did he find out? Geez, I'm busy… come on give me the news," Joe barks out thru the CB speaker. He sounded pretty demanding and frustrated. I don't know whether it was the way his day was going or it could have been over this car… either way, he's not going to like this answer.


"Go ahead… tell him," I said, "He wants the answer, so tell him."


"Alright," said the dispatcher grabbing the mike to the CB, "Joe, are ya ready for this? It was out of gas."


A dead silence came over the CB. No chatter, nothing, not a sound. It was if someone had turned it off. A few seconds went by, then, all hell broke loose. Tow drivers from all over the city were razing poor Joe. The CB was full of laughter and goof ball comments, but not a word from Joe. Poor Joe, you asked for it, and now you're getting it.


I got up from the desk, and dropped the keys off with the dispatcher, "Tell Joe to stop by the shop, he can settle up with me then," I said while trying to hold back the laughter.


As I walked out the door I could still hear the CB chatter all the way out to the parking lot, and the comments were still flying. It was one of the funniest moments I've ever had for doing nothing more than putting a couple of gallons of gas in a car.


When Joe came up to pay the bill I told him I had a little something for him. I handed him a little tiny gas can to keep on his desk, as a reminder to always check the basics.


After all these years I'm sure he hasn't forgotten about it, and I'll bet he doesn't tell too many people what that little gas can sitting on his desk is all about… especially over the CB.




Stories are here for your enjoyment before they are edited for pubication. Comments are always welcomed.



Edited by Gonzo
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I really think that jobs like this one is what put him out of business. I did so much work for him that I thought he should have just put me on the payroll. A great guy, but couldn't find good help, and sorry to say... he wasn't all that good either. heavy line, yes... diagnostics.. not a chance... go figure...

Good story Gonzo! *****

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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