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Breaker, Breaker… In my many years of repairing cars I’ve helped out a countless number of other shops with their electrical problems. Some shops I would see a few times a month, and others only once in awhile. This was years before the internet was around, and cell phones were only a fad and way to expensive to have. So, most everything was done by a land line or over the CB radio. Back in the mid 80’s and 90’s I had one shop that I talked with nearly every day. Great guys, but not so great as mechanics. The owners name was Joe. His shop was small and seemed to be a place for wayward towed vehicles and obscure customers looking for dirt cheap repairs. His main business was his tow service, and the repair shop seemed to be 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 threw the parts cannon at it, but couldn’t get this car to come back to life. Joe was with tows, and needed the mechanics he had to drive the other tow trucks. This particular car had been in his shop for quite some time and I don't think the customer was too happy about it. So, to speed things up a bit, he dropped it off at my shop. “I’ll be on the road all day. I've got to get back out there. I've got tows lined up all day. If you get it going, could ya run it back to my shop,” 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 an 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. The symptom was; if you flipped the key to the crank position it would immediately start, but die just as quickly. The parts they changed were the predictable parts cannon fodder that the typical parts slapper would try. Tune-up parts, an IAC, TPS, MAP, ECM, etc… etc… all of which might, could, should’ve, probably, maybe, and of course, eventually with enough darts thrown at it, could have hit the target and fixed it. But it didn’t. I wasn’t about to go that route. Time for some real diagnostics and not just shoot from the hip. Why not start with the basics- fuel, air, and fire. Spark was good, timing looked good, and the intake had a good air pull. I gave it a shot of carb. cleaner, and as long as I kept spraying… it kept running. Ok, time to check the fuel pressure. Interesting... there was 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 shot out into the drainage bucket, but then trickled to a stop. I did it a second time. Not as much fuel made it out this time, but the scenario was basically the same. It was always a quick burst followed by a trickle. Maybe I should look at that gas gauge. Well, wouldn’t ya know it, the gauge is ready E. 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 as if the entire problem was that 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 so long while trying to solve another problem. It could have been any one of the other components (within reason) they changed that really 'did' need to be changed. 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 chatter from all the area’s tow companies. 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, over,” 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 pointed at the mic. So, 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 either. At least not until he gets back,” I said, while breaking into an ear to ear smile. The CB comes back to life with Joe’s voice again; “So what did he find out, over,” Joe's frustration was showing through as his voice barked out of the CB speaker. The dispatcher said to me, " Old Joe sounds pretty pissed." I don’t know whether it was the way his day was going or how much time and money he's spent on this car. Either way, he’s not going to like this answer. “Go ahead… tell him,” I said to the dispatcher, still sitting there hold the mic button, “He wants the answer, so let him have it.” “Alright, Joe, are ya ready for this, over?" the dispatcher said, then waited for a response from Joe. "Yea, go ahead, over." "It was out of gas.” A dead silence came over the CB. No chatter, nothing, not another sound for what seemed to be an eternity. 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 got it. “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, the CB chatter could be heard all the way 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 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 on a key chain. I figured it might be a good reminder for him to always check the basics before loading up the parts cannon again. After all these years I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about it, and I’ll bet he doesn’t tell too many people where he got that little gas can key chain from… but now, it wouldn't be so much on the CB, but over the internet.
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By Joe Marconi
I am writing this on my last day of vacation in California, spending time with family. It took me a few days to totally relax, but made it a point to not look at emails or call the office.
We all need downtime. I know there will be a ton of work to be done when I return, but I also know that the time away has recharged my batteries and I will be more productive.
Being away from business and spending time with family puts things into proper perspective. You realize that a lot of the things you stress over, are really not as important as you think.
Take time to enjoy life. We all know how quickly time passes us by. And remember, no one on their death bed ever said they wished they spent more time at work.
The Darndest Things...
The misunderstandings and second-hand information that get passed around by car owners when it comes to automobile repair are endless. Although, a trained technician or an understanding service writer can work through a lot of these issues. But, there are times the explanation of said problems just make ya wonder if there really is any common sense left in the world.
Here’s a few timeless stories from the service bays.
Customer: “Four hours to replace my radiator is way too much. It’s a simple procedure that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to do. It only has two hoses hooked to it!”
Mechanic: “The labor rate is what it is. We charge by the hour based on the labor time. Some radiators are easier and some are not. Yours is not.”
Customer: “There should be a cheaper way to do this. Something I can afford.”
Mechanic: “So, how are you with hand tools? You could do the job yourself ya know.”
Customer: “I’ve got the tools but, I just don’t know how.”
Mechanic: “Even if it’s as simple as you claim it is?”
Customer: “Can you have it done today?”
Repair Without Diagnosing
Mechanic: “I found your stalling problem. It’s an elbow shaped vacuum hose on the back of the engine hidden under the intake manifold. It’s going to take a bit of work to get to it and the dealership parts department is the only place that has this specially shaped hose. Your estimate is $xxx.xx. That’s the labor, parts and diagnostic fees all included.”
Customer: “OK, I’m fine with that except for the diagnostic part. You should give that to me for free. Because I’m not paying you to do diagnose it just to fix it. I don’t see why you guys have to charge just to find the problem.”
Mechanic: “Well, I guess we could do what you suggested and that’s to replace the entire engine. That would be $x,xxx.xx. Which is why we discussed diagnosing it rather than assuming it needed a complete engine. So, which would you prefer?”
Customer: “No, I think the diagnostic charge is just fine. Go ahead with the repair.”
Closing Time Repair
Caller: “I’m calling about a car I needed fixed on Friday and you guys were too busy to get to it.”
Service writer: “Have you been to our shop before, and did they tell you why they couldn’t get to it?”
Caller: “No, I’ve never been to your shop before, and yes they did tell me why they couldn’t get to it. It was 5 minutes before closing time and all the techs had already gone home for the weekend.”
Service writer: “That’s understandable it was a rather slow day for the techs. We would have got to the car on Monday.”
Caller: “I took the car to another shop that was open on the weekend and they messed it up. So, I’m calling you to take care of the bill.”
Service writer; “What bill? You didn’t have the work done here.”
Caller: “I’m talking about the bill from the other shop. You’re going to take care of it!”
Service writer: “I don’t think that’s going to happen sir, and I’m sorry your car didn’t get into our shop. As far as the bill and the work that was done you’ll have to take that up with the other shop.”
Caller: “I’m never do any work with your shop ever again!” CLICK
Mechanic: “Good morning, how can I help you?”
Caller: “Yes, I have a coupon for an oil change.”
Mechanic: “Ma’am, we don’t and never have had, a coupon for an oil change.”
Caller: “Yea, it’s a coupon for one of those discount oil/lube places. But, I actually can’t find it. I made a copy of it with a program on my computer.”
Mechanic: “I can’t honor another shops coupon, and I don’t think they’ll honor a homemade copy of their coupon either.”
Caller: “I know, I tried to use it there. It’s a fake coupon and they knew it. So, can you take my fake coupon for an oil change anyway?”
Mechanic: “Your fake coupon is only good for a fake oil change. Neither of which we’ll do.”
Gas Mileage Gone
Customer: “I just bought this car and now it doesn’t go.”
Mechanic: “It’s out of gas ma’am.”
Customer: “That’s impossible! The guy that sold it to me said it would get better gas mileage than my old car!”
Mechanic: “The tank is empty ma’am.”
Customer: “My old car could go a month without gas. This one only went 3 weeks. How in the world is that possible? My old car holds 22 gallons and gets 10 mpg and I filled this one up and it holds 15 gallons and it gets 12 mpg! ”
Mechanic: “Ma’am, 22 gallons times 10 miles per gallon is 220 miles per tank. But, a car with a 15 gallon tank that gets 12 mpg can only go 180 miles per tank. You simply ran out of gas.”
Customer: “I just don’t get it. I think you’re making this all up and are siding with the guy who sold me the car!”
Customer: “Can you check brakes here?”
Service writer: “Yep, we sure can. What kind of car is it?”
Customer: “It’s a Mercedes.”
Service writer: “OK, where are the keys? I’ll have one of the guys pull it into the service bay.”
Customer: “I walked here.”
Service writer: “Well, as soon as you can get the car to us we’ll check it out.”
Customer: “You said you could check my brakes, so I need to know how bad they are and how much it will cost.”
Service writer: “I’ll need to see the car to give you an estimate.”
Customer: “How do you guys can stay in business saying you can check brakes at the same time not being able to tell me how bad the brakes are on my Mercedes?”
Service writer: “I could send a tow truck for the car.”
Customer: “What car?”
Service writer: “Your Mercedes.”
Customer: “I don’t have a Mercedes. I told you I walked here.”
Service writer: “I mean your Mercedes you want us to check the brakes on.”
Customer: “I don’t own a Mercedes. Whatever gave you that idea? I just want an estimate on fixing them.”
Service writer: “If they’re in awful shape, it will cost whatever the parts are plus whatever the labor would be. If they’re in perfect shape they won’t need a thing done and you wouldn’t have to spend a dime on the brakes.”
Customer: “Thanks, that’s all I needed to know. I’m going to go find one with good brakes then.”
Everybody has their own unique way of explaining things. Some on point while others are so far off that even if you could give a logical answer, the answer isn’t always exactly what they wanted to hear at all.
Just goes to show, that some people will say the darndest things to the person behind the counter. For the professional mechanic, it’s just another day in paradise.
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Temper – Temper
The front office door swings wide and a mom holds it open for her son who is carrying in a steering column. The column is out of her sons little S-10. From the general appearance of the column it looked like somebody was trying awfully hard to steal the little truck. Everything was distorted and bent out of shape. The steering wheel was even bent, and the horn pad looked like someone had taken an ax to the center of it. There was hardly a part of the steering column that wasn't damaged in some way or form.
“My husband tried to change the turn signal switch but couldn't figure out how to get it off,” the mom tells me.
“Yea, I brought another column with us if you could use the parts off of it to fix this one,” the son said while sitting the bent column on its steering wheel in front of me.
“So what actually happened here? I see the turn signal switch is still in place but the whole column looks like it went through a war zone. Is this a theft recovery?” I asked.
No it wasn't stolen, it was dad. Seems dad had the idea he could fix it, and wasn't going to let some little steering column kick his butt. He had seen it done a number of times and even watched a video on how to do it. But it looked like the column was way beyond repair; at this point I’m thinking that good old dad didn't know what a non-mangled steering column looked like... if he would have known, he probably would have just replaced it instead of trying to bring this bent up piece of junk back to life.
The key was still hanging out of the ignition as the column sat on the counter; even though the column was bent and contorted completely out of shape it did somewhat remind of the leaning tower of Pisa with a lot of pieces missing. While the ticket was being filled out I reached for a pocket screwdriver and removed the key and tumbler so that I could install it into the other column. The look on the sons face was pure shock as to how easy it was to remove the key and tumbler.
“Dad worked on getting that key and tumbler out for hours, look mom he took it out with a pocket screwdriver,” the surprised young man said to his mom.
The son brought in the replacement column. It had all the correct parts in place and was in fairly good shape except for a problem with the hazard switch. (Pretty much what was wrong with the other turn signal switch) It too had the ignition key hanging out of it so I showed the young lad how to push in the retaining button and remove the key and tumbler.
Mom was pretty impressed and had a big smile on her face as she watched her son maneuver the key and tumbler into the replacement column.
“The tow truck was right behind us with my sons little truck. How soon can you have all of this back together?” she asked.
“Oh, a couple of hours should do it if I don't run into any problems. I'll change out the turn signal switch with the new one you brought since the replacement column has the hazard switch broken off of it too,” I told her, “But how in the world did the original column get in such bad shape if it wasn't from a theft?”
It was dad, good old dad had been working on the little trucks steering column all weekend and had finally given up on repairing it. Mom went on to tell me the whole story.
“He came inside the house, grabbed a beer and mumbled something about a sledge hammer. He headed back out to the garage and came back out with a hatchet. He was determined to get it apart no matter what. We all watched as he proceeded to go ballistic on the little truck. The next thing I know he was a cussin' and a smackin' that steering column. Parts we're a flying everywhere and that steering column still wouldn't budge for him. He kept at it until he was too tired to swing the hatchet one more time and then he just gave up, sat down next to the truck and drank his beer,” she told me while trying to hold back the laughter.
The son had that look of agreement on his face as if this was nothing new with good old dad when it came to something he didn't understand.
“Dad always tries to fix things around the house and after he gets done breaking things up pretty good mom will take over and save the day,” the young lad told me.
When I finally got to see the little truck you could tell somebody was really having a go at destroying that steering column. With a few marks in the headliner and some obvious missed blows whacking the dash panel there was no doubt he had made up his mind that the steering wheel and the column was going to come off one way or another.
The install was no big deal, luckily it was an old enough truck that there was no security system to worry about or any air bag system installed on it. Just bolt it back up, line up the shaft and put all the trim back together. (The trim needed a little TLC though)
With the replacement column (which was untouched by good old dad) and the original key and tumbler installed the repair was done in no time at all. I gave the mom a call and a few hours later the boy had his truck back on the road again.
“I told my husband his temper was going to get him, and it sure did this time. He's really a sweet guy, but you should see what he does with plumbing... we keep that number handy at all times.” (Chuckling as if this was nothing new with the family.) “I guess it's a male ego thing or something. He's really sorry about it all, just can't seem to get it through his thick head that he doesn't know everything.” she told me.
The son then tells me, “Yea, I don't think he's going to try that again.”
“Ma'am you know it would have been a lot cheaper if you would have brought it to me before it was torn apart,” I told her.
She knew that already, but like I said, it seems to be the norm at their house. Let dad have a whack at it first until his temper gets the best of him and then call the pros. Well what can ya say, he tried, he failed, and he took more than a few whacks at it… chalk it up to a lesson learned I guess.
The mom backed up sons comment that “dad” has sworn off car repair forever, and wasn't about to try anything remotely like auto mechanics ever again. Well, time will tell about that... temper, temper mister... why don't you take up basket weaving, model ship building, or perhaps some yoga. Maybe it’s time for a mountain retreat to work out your aggression's. One thing is for sure fella; your mechanical expertise is just one big hatchet job. Do me a favor there … “dad”… have another beer…………… but don't mess with the cars anymore OK?
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Hello to all!
I am the owner in my auto repair shop and also the service writer as well. At times I feel guilty in a way charging for the small things such as labor to install air filters or cabin filters, or to install batteries or to not charge an inspection fee especially if the customer is a previous customer.
I know we must charge diagnostics fees and those sure to get charged as well, dont get me wrong.
To what exact are you guys charging for every little thing? I know it is our right to, but is there a line drawn?
Thanks in advance