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Article: Real or Reality - Some of these reality TV automotive shows just don't cut it in the real reality of car repairBy Gonzo
Real or Reality TV Have ya noticed all the reality programs on TV these days? There’s a reality show for every subject you can think of... and probably a few you never would have thought of. From high society in the big city to the suburbs, and even some from way … way back in the woods. They can be quite entertaining, funny, and sometimes pretty strange. Now, I’m not much on which rich neighbor is doing what with which rich neighbor or who makes the best moonshine, but what I do know is a few things about the automotive repair world. I've been to check a few of those shows out. Although, from my side of the wrench, as a professional mechanic, I take a completely different view of them. In my opinion, some of these reality shows are far from 'real' reality, and I’ve certainly watched a few that I didn’t even make it past the first commercial break before I flipped the channel to something else. It’s not so much the cars; it’s how they go about restoring them that gets to me. They’ll start off with somebody flashing a wad of cash, and then they buy some old relic, tow it to their garage and present it to the crew. The crew will have this shocked look as to what was just dropped off or they’ll have their own ideas about how nuts their boss is for even thinking about taking on this relic as a project. That's about the time the boss gives them the lowdown on what his/her vision is of the latest acquisition. Which, usually consists of a full tear down and rebuild, but they only have a few weeks to do it all in. By the end of the show there's a gleaming fully restored work of art that (for the sake of reality TV) there is already a buyer or two ready to shell out some ridiculous amount of money for it. But the shows that really irk me are the ones that use the “all-nighter” approach to car repair. They’ll completely dismantle a car down to the last nut and bolt and in the length of one long commercial break they'll have all the mechanical, electrical, vacuum systems, interior, instrument panel, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling system, heating systems, glass, and a full paint and body mod completed in less than 72 hours. (I can't find a lot of those parts in less than 72 hours) And, the best part, (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is during the final reveal. They drag the new or previous owner into a warehouse and surprise them with their refurbished car. Off to the side, just out of the primary camera view, is the entire crew that has spent the last three days with no sleep looking as fresh as a daisy. I'm in awe of the crew to say the least, not one of them is covered in grease, has half of their shirt untucked, no fresh cuts or scraps, not a single bandaid in view, and not one of them showing any effects from sleep deprivation. Simply amazing… gotta love it... must be some of that TV magic. I’ve done my share of all night marathon repairs before and quite frankly, by the time the sun comes up I’m not the most coherent guy with a lug wrench in his hand. Hey, they call it “Reality TV” but, as this arm chair quarterback sees it……. it doesn’t seem all that realistic to me. I’m sure the entire staff are some of the finest mechanics, bodyman, electrical gurus of the automotive world, but I highly doubt you can turn out a truly professionally restored vehicle in that short amount of time. There has to be a huge number of short cuts that are taken to meet the TV deadlines. On the other hand, there are a lot of great automotive reality programs on the television that go to great lengths to show how a modification is installed and go through the process of explaining those mods to the “nth” degree. Any show that portrays the reality of doing the job I do every day in a professional manner I'll sit down and watch it from beginning to end. You want to show me how you install some super cool new rear tail light lenses or wild looking front grill... awesome!!! Or, pulling an engine out of a classic and doing the necessary rebuild on it... super!!! Love that stuff. But, when you try to convince me that you're going to take some car that has been sitting for ten years in the back of some family garage totally neglected and raise it from the dead overnight... ya lost me. Come on, I do resto's all the time and the biggest hassle with any of them is and always been the parts availability. A job comes in the shop, y put it up on the lift and spin the drive shaft only to find out the differential or bearings are shot. It’s not like you're going to run down to the local parts store and pick up a set of bearings for a thirty year old low production car just like that. But, somehow, someway, some of these shows pull it off... (That's TV for ya.) Aside from all the mechanical woes, ya have to consider what the original reason was for the car to be parked for so long in the first place. Nine chances out of ten it's because something was worn out and the replacement part was hard to find, or really expensive to repair. Not every car in the back of the garage is there because someone was collecting it or saving it for a reality show to come by and restore it. In some ways it gives the novice car enthusiast the wrong impression of what it takes to restore a car. Lately I've been doing a lot more restoration projects than I've done in the past and I do believe it's a result of all these reality shows being aired. For that, I thank you. But, at the same time... shame on you! I can't live up to the overnight expectations that seem so possible on the big screen. Even though the customer doesn't mention they have been watching a reality show, you know... they're thinking … “This shouldn’t take that long. It didn't take that long for that guy on TV.” The idea that you're going to resurrect a dilapidated hunk of iron into a show stopper in a short span of time just ain't real reality. And, let's not forget the real big issue.... cost. Now there's some reality for ya! When the customer starts to see the costs, WOW!!! Then the reality of doing a restoration project starts to set in. Makes ya wonder if putting that old rust bucket back in the corner of the garage might be a far better idea than fixing it up. I'm certainly grateful for the few shows that have that “sit-down-with-the-customer” session explaining the cost of the restoration. It does add to the realism and makes it more believable. I’ve got a big “Thank You” to the guys and gals on these shows that portray the automotive world in its true form. It's a pleasure for me as a professional mechanic to see the artistry and talent of another professional on screen. Watching them dealing with a stuck bolt, rusty bodywork, or dodging the fumes from the soldering gun is all part of the real reality. But, I do have to give credit to all the other shows too, they are entertaining, and in some small way add to the resurgence in restorations projects across the country…. The only thing I ask is… keep it real.
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Water Cooler Diagnostics
We’ve all heard the phrase, “codes don’t fix cars, good diagnostics does”. Codes are merely a direction or path, not the answer as some might think. Those “codes fix it all” believers are usually at the bottom of the diagnostic chain. You know the type; those Neanderthals with little wrenches and big cheater bars, or the ones that follow the old adage, “When in doubt-rip it out” method of diagnosing a problem.
It’s seems to me that car repair for a certain demographic of people has always been something related to hand-me-down repair information, not diagnostic skills. I believe it’s all because of the availability of cheaply made parts and bad information. Some of it is hearsay, but a lot of it comes from two guys chatting next to the water cooler at work, and neither one of them have any automotive diagnostics background at all.
This latest case study is a perfect example of why swapping parts and paying attention to those water cooler experts isn’t always a good idea. A trained technician with diagnostic background and less time at the water cooler may be what you need.
A 2007 Dodge 4.7L pickup came into the shop with a stalling problem. The owner had already stopped by the water cooler and made a trip to the code fairy. Since no codes were stored, there wasn’t much for him to do except follow the water cooler genius’ advice. He swapped out every sensor and computer part he was told about and a few more he could barely reach, just to be safe. All of which didn’t change a thing. Before writing up the work order, I had to listen to his story, which ended like most of them do, "I've already spent too much on this truck, and I don't want to spend a penny more." (I wonder what kind of commission the water cooler guy got from the part store for helping this guy spend all his cash.)
The stalling was pretty predictable, usually every 15 minutes. Just as it would stall, the check engine light would rapidly flash, then the truck would sit silent. If you turned the key off and back on, the truck would run perfectly as if nothing happened, right up to the very moment the whole scenario repeated itself.
Since the only odd thing was this momentary flashing of the MIL, I decided to hook up a scanner and wait to see if this odd failure would show up on the screen. Sure enough, code P0688 popped up momentarily, just as the truck stalled “ASD signal low”. Out of habit I reached up and cycled the key. Dang it, the code never stored and the truck is back to running correctly again. I’ll have to wait one more time and see if I actually had the right code number. Since it only occurred as it went through its death roll, catching this failure was going to be tricky.
It was the correct code alright, but no signs of dropped voltage or weak connections anywhere to be found. It’s time to pull out the big guns. Break out the scope boys! With the scope hooked up to two different injector leads and the remaining channels on a couple of coils, I spent the afternoon watching the ASD voltage like a nervous hen watching her chicks. As if on cue, the truck died. Not a bit of change on the scope. I’m definitely going at this the wrong way.
Something is dropping off, or at least I assumed it was. Instead of looking at the ASD signal, how about checking the injection signal and coil signals from the PCM? This time the scope did have a weird response. Just as it stalled there was a little extra squiggly line that didn’t belong in the pattern on the coil input leads. Very subtle difference, but enough of a difference that it needed closer attention. The voltage signal spiked a bit higher than normal just as the truck would stall, and then the voltage would drop to zero. It must be the PCM or a coil. Since the signal was only there for a brief blip on the scope, it wasn’t exactly something I could put my finger on just yet.
Time for some old school tricks. Since the PCM was new, I could at least (with some trepidation) rule it out for now. I could test further, or I could try to create a problem that might mimic what I was seeing on the scope pattern, or with luck, if it was a spike that was coming from a coil, disconnecting it could show the problem. I decided to give this truck a miss of my very own and see if I could increase that little squiggle into a bigger one.
I'll unplug one coil and watch the scope pattern. If I’m lucky, the truck will either stay running longer than it normally did, or it might show me a larger voltage spike. Sure enough, I found it on the third coil. As long as that particular coil was left unplugged, the truck ran well past the usual stall time. To verify it, I plugged the coil back in and watched the scope readings directly at that coil. A millisecond before the stall the coil spiked to the top of the screen as the truck shut off. Just as I suspected, if it was on the coil that was causing the problem the spiked voltage would show higher there than on the adjacent coils.
The big question for me was why did it not set a code? The reason was the coil lead led straight to the PCM. The extra high voltage going back into the circuit simply turned the PCM off as if the key was turned off. There’s no codes for shutting the truck off, only codes for failures that make it shut off. The solution...replace the coil.
Now and then there are problems that don’t follow the diagnostic steps laid out by the engineers. Even though you’d think every aspect and every type of condition has been tried and tested, or at least talked about around the water cooler. There are times when you’ve got to look past the “assumed” problem and dig a little deeper to find the cause. There's no doubt this repair is going to be another one of those conversations around the water cooler, but I seriously doubt anywhere in this story will the novice know-it-all admit that it took an experienced technician to locate his problem, not his water cooler buddy. Oh, and I don’t expect to hear him say as he leans on the cooler, “Codes don’t fix cars, mechanics do” even when there isn't a code.
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A customer that is a Realtor mentioned to me that he is having success using a program called https://calltools.com/ for outbound call marketing.
I was thinking about doing something like this for this Spring season, has anyone here used an outbound call system of marketing? I have a list of over 80,000 customers and I was thinking it would be a good time to see what results it may bring.
By Joe Marconi
This is a different tip this week, but important.
There have a lot of phony scam phone calls claiming that the IRS is starting a law suit. If you receive a phone call claiming to the be IRS, hang up. The IRS does not use an automated phone message to start any correspondence, audit or law suit.
Also, please pass this information to friends and relatives.