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HOOPTY Gonzo Jan. 2010



A decrepit 94 Impala SS with a 5.7 liter engine was towed in. When this thing was new, it was a real power house. But, this poor thing had a pretty rough life. Terry, (My buddy the tow driver) was standing in the lobby with this grin on his face. I could tell he was about to give me one of his patented tall tales about this car.


"Gonz, you're going to like this one, nice car, a crème puff, oh, and the paint, awesome, just awesome... You'll have to put your gloves on before you start on this cherry ride. Wait till ya see this one," he tells me, while trying to keep a straight face.


"Really, how come I don't believe you," I said.


By now he couldn't stop from laughing, and then he tells me that on the way over the trunk lid pops open. He stopped to close it only to find out that the entire latch area was completely rotted away. The car was completely painted with flat black paint from a spray can. No door panels, broken trim inside and out, cracked glass, and a pillow in the driver seat to keep you from falling thru the seat. The car had a slight lean to one side as if a spring was broken or the shock towers were rusted thru. The outside mirrors are dangling off the doors, the wheels don't match, and there's a steady drip of oil from under the car. It's a real POS. (Your definition is sufficient; I don't need to explain that one I'm sure.)


It started, so I drove it into a service bay. The thing smelled awful and I'm not talking just the exhaust. All I was told was that it would die while driving and you would have to wait quite some time before it would start again. The service light was on, along with almost all the other warning lights. But as it was, I was only concerned with the service light and see if that led to any results.


Several codes were stored; I wrote them all down and then cleared the memory and restarted the car. 2 codes did return right away. One was for the secondary air system, that one was easy, the relay was missing. The other code (code 36) had to do with the distributor (High resolution circuit). I ran the test procedure to see where it led. One of tests required that the connector at the distributor needed to be disconnected to verify connection quality. The connector…. A … what connector? Someone had stabbed the 4 wires into the distributor housing and then used silicone to keep them in place. The entire distributor area was covered in oil. In fact, the oil was dripping out of a crack in the distributor cap. (How the H?LL did this thing even start?)


There's no sense in going any further, I priced out the obvious parts and called the customer. To say they were shocked would be an understatement. This distributor isn't cheap by a long shot on these 5.7's. But, what surprised me even more was what the owner told me.


He said, "The parts were new."


New? You've got to be kidding me. I needed to find out what this bailing wire commandos version of new was. There wasn't one new part on this heap. The crack in the distributor cap was large enough to actually be seen without getting that close to it. And, that's even with the distributor buried behind the waterpump and the harmonic balancer. You could see it plain as day.


"Where did you get them?"


"Salvage yard across town," he said.


"Then there not new, they're just new to the car," I told this POS captain.


"Well, they looked new when I took them off the wrecked car," he tells me.


Off a wrecked car, of course a wrecked car… right….I'll bet it's probably one that got smacked by a train right in the radiator too. It's not so much that this POS pilot used salvage yard parts, that's not what I'm concerned with. It's the amateurish way he installed the distributor wires and the fact that he wasn't concerned about this huge crack. But, as it always seems the case… money, or the lack of, is the real issue here. Now why is it, when you get a job in like this the very first thing that happens is the wallet starts to dictate the repair.


He wanted to know if he could get more parts from the salvage yard and if I would put them in. I don't like doing that, but to help the guy out I said I would work with him, a bit. But the big deal was that connector; he had to find a replacement. As far as he knew there wasn't another one at the salvage yard with a decent connector.


After talking to the dealership about the parts, they told me there was a replacement harness still available, however, it was revised from the original and most likely the connector would not match the older style distributor. So, it's not looking good for this guy.


When I told him what the labor costs would be just to replace the distributor and the rewire the connector, he had a big problem with that, he couldn't afford any of it. Then the wallet started talking again, now he wanted me to change only the distributor connector since the other parts were new. There's that word again… new… Yea, right it's new…. Let's leave the dripping oil filled distributor assembly bleeding all over the place. I'm sure that's exactly how it was designed to work. Must be one of those "total loss" oil systems from years gone by that I read about in the history books.


I think it's time this guy finds a new car. I'm sure if he drove, pushed, or pulled this heap of junk to the salvage yard the car would automatically find its own parking spot somewhere next to the rest of the worn out scrap wagons waiting for their final demise. It's just too far gone for any professional shop to tackle on this guy's income. Not that it couldn't be repaired and brought back to refurbished shape, just not on this guy's salary.


Sorry dude, I'm real sorry, but I can't work these kinds of miracles on a budget. The sad truth of it is, there are a lot of cars out there that are in just as bad of shape. Look around the next time you drive home you might even spot one of these "hoopties" driving down the road.


I feel pretty bad that even though I know how to fix it, I just can't fix it without spending a fortune on it, and maintain some professionalism to the finished product. I took some time to talk him, gave the young lad some fatherly advice on how to pick out a decent car and not get so wrapped up in his emotional attachment to this aging wanna-be hot rod. (He called it a hot rod… not me.)


I hope he takes my advice, and I hope he finds a decent cheap car that won't eat his pocketbook up in repairs. Because this car is done, put a fork in it… call the scrap yard and tell them, "Gotta another one for the crusher!"



Thanx for reading these stories, they are here for your enjoyment before publication. The final version that is published might be slightly different, and that's how you can help. Your comments make it easier for me to edit and send a finished story.


Thanx, Gonzo

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Thanks Joe, always like to hear from ya, I believe the sad part of this story is the poor car.... it was a totaly bomb... LOL

and the guy didn't have a dime. In fact he called several days in a row to find out the cost of diagnostics before towing it in.

There's no doubt that any professional shop that would have done "anything" to this car .... it would come back and haunt you.


This was the type of person who can't see how bad it really is, he only invisions it as it once was.

I was more afraid of this guy coming back the next day or next week with another "no-start" condition unrelated to the last repair... and with an attitude.

Sorry, gettting to old for that. This POS needed to rest in pieces...it kinda, sorta was already doing that... because everywhere it went something fell off.


Great story...more sad than funny. Even after more than 35 years in this business, people still baffle me. I do agree that it's about money...but not everyone is having it tough financially. I think, too many people DO NOT WANT to spend the money. As usual, I enjoyed reading you article. Thanks!

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Oh man, what a riot... I thought I was the only one that did that.... I don't call it "married" to them I call it "given birth to a step child" LOL

The way I look at it... you've taken responsiblity for the car, but you didn't create the problem.... LOL


That's so so SO true .... Now that put a big smile on my mug... thanks for sharing guys... Sounds like I've got another story idea ...



Agree...I have gotten "married" to a few cars too in my career, it's no fun. I hate to profile a customer and/or the car they drive, but sometimes the end result does not justify the time, effort or money.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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