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Detective On Duty -- tracking down a customer


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Detective On Duty



It's pouring down, the tow driver is dropping off a car alongside the shop. Carrying the keys into the office, he's drenched from head to toe.


"Here ya go, have fun with this one."


I knew nothing about the car, and the tow driver only had a last name and nothing more. What to do now? I guess the only thing to do is to see if the tow company had a phone number to go along with the name. I tried the phone number several times, but never got an answer. Since I didn't have anything else to go on, and I had plenty of other work to do in the shop, I decided to let it sit outside in the rain until I heard from the owner.


Several days went by, the rain had stopped and still no phone call. I tried the number again but this time the number was no longer in service. It was an 89 Ford Ranger, looked pretty nice, clean… good tires, no broken glass. Seemed like a nice little truck not to have someone concerned about it.


The shop was pretty much caught up that afternoon, so I thought I'd take the keys out to the little truck and see what was going on. Since I hadn't even bothered to check the truck out beforehand, I figured it can't hurt to see if there was anything in the glove box, maybe an insurance card or something that might have a name on it.


The truck was spotless, there wasn't anything in the glovebox except for the owner's manual. No name, no insurance card, not even a scrap of paper anywhere in it. While I'm here I might as well open the hood and check things out.


Was I in for a surprise, no wonder the tow driver told me "Have fun with this one." Under the hood was not a 1989 2.3 liter… more like about a 95 2.3 liter engine. (Pretty much the same engine but entirely different electrical systems.) All the electrical harnesses didn't match. Now, I need to make another phone call.


I called the tow company that dropped it off to ask them where they picked it up from and see if I could track the owner down that way. They knew exactly where it came from. It was from a salvage yard. Ok, time for another phone call.


"Oh that truck, yeah I remember that one," the guy front the salvage yard told me, "The fella who owns it dropped it off for us to put an engine in that he bought from us. We told him we didn't think it was going to work, even though the original engine was the same size." However, they didn't have much more information on the owner than what I already had. But, they said they would keep an eye out for the guy if he showed up again.


So here's this little truck sitting out in my parking lot, with the wrong year motor in it and no owner. Now I need to do some more phone work. This time I decided to use the VIN and the license plate number to find something out.


A few more phone calls thru the DMV and I had a name of a guy at an insurance agency. Seems the car was a theft recovery that was picked up by the insurance company. The original motor was blown after a long high speed chase by the police. The owner was arrested on drug charges and the car was confiscated (as is their usual policy). The car then was sold at an insurance auction, after the insurance company obtained it back from the police department.


Another phone call led me to the auction house where (after a lot of searching) they came up with the used car lot that purchased the truck. Now I've got to call these guys… geez… this is getting to be a long affair. After talking to them and more research they finally had a first name to go with the last name that I already had and a different phone number.


I gave the number a try. It rang and rang I was getting worried that all this phone work was going to end up as another dead end.


Then a voice came on the phone.


"Hey, a, yea … Hello?"


"Hi ya doin' is your name Jake? Do you own a Ford Ranger that had a motor put into it over at a salvage yard?"


"Ah… yeah, Ah, wow, like dude… that's my truck, who's this?"


I gave him all my information and explained to him how I tracked him down. He didn't seem too impressed, (I thought I did an OUTSTANDING job of tracking this guy down!), but said he was on his way down to see what I've done to his truck.


The sad part about it… I haven't done a thing other than poking my head under the hood.


When "Jake" finally showed up at the shop, I told him what would have to be done to get the truck running. He was under the impression that you just hook up a couple of wires and it would take off and run like new. Not quite the case there Jake, my friend. It's going to take a little more than a few wires; more like quite a few wires as a matter of fact.


I gave him the options on what could be done with what he had to work with. The big issue was now the cost… (Of course $$) and young Jake didn't have a dime to spend on it. He was out of a job, and didn't have any way of paying for repairs. Luckily, the tow bill was paid by the salvage yard (I think they just wanted it out of there)


Jake had to go home and think about it. Well, I know what "think about it" really means… it means "I can't afford it, so I'll have to think of some other way of taking care of it."


A weekend went by and Monday morning the car was still sitting in the lot. By that afternoon a guy came by snooping around the little Ranger. I went out to greet the guy. He said he was going to buy the truck, and asked me what was wrong with it. I wasn't surprised when he also didn't understand what it was going to take to get it going.


Later that day Jake called and told me he was selling the truck. What could I say, "OK?" or "Hey dude… I just played "Private Eye" to track you down. At least have the courtesy to ask the age old question, "Do I owe you anything?" So I can at least say; "Nay, no problem, that's OK thanks for asking… hope you get on your feet soon." But no, all he said was; "I think he'll pick it up sometime this week." Click…


Another week went by and no one has come by to look at the truck. I've done all that I can… I've pretty much given up on the truck and the owner.


The next Monday morning when I came into the shop the truck was gone. Not that I was surprised, but I did call Jake and this time I got his answering machine.


"Ah, like, ah… I ain't here… leave a message." BEEP


"Hey, Jake, your truck is gone. I guess your buddy came by and picked it up, come down sometime, and I'll give you the keys."


All the effort I put into finding this guy, all the time I spent writing down phone numbers, contacting people, gathering information and compiling the history on this truck, and all I have to show for it is a set of keys. I guess I'm not the mechanic on duty … I'm the detective on duty.


That was nearly a year ago and I still have the keys. I guess Jake's buddy doesn't need the keys either. Maybe someday I'll put an ad in the paper in the lost and found section:


"Lost Ford Ranger… used to belong to Jake… If you found it… I've got the keys."




Working with people can be a joy, or can be a nightmare. I write about all of them because I found out a long time ago I'm not the only one out there that experiences these wild and wacky people. I appreciate your comments and thoughts. Leave a note and let me know what you think of the story or tell me about your similar story. Always love to here from ya.


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Good one Joe... it's the same everywhere... people are crazy


You jogged my memory banks again! I think you'll like this story. About 12 years ago a car appeared in my parking lot on a Monday morning and had no idea why the car was there or who owned the car. I waited the entire day but no one called or stopped by to claim the car. A week goes by and now I am getting a little concerned. I called the local police. They came down, walked around the car, wrote the license plate number down and told me they would check into it. From the plate we realized that this car was from another state, Maryland. A few days go by and nothing from the police either.


Another few days go by. One morning I needed to get to the shop real early to meet a contractor about work on one of his trucks. I got to shop around 5:30am and what do I see? Someone getting out of the car that I thought was abandoned for two weeks. I ran over to the guy and said, "Hey buddy, who are you and what are you doing here?" He told me that he just got a job in the area but had no place to live so he decided her would park somewhere for the day, come back at night to sleep in his car and go back to work each morning. When I asked him how in the world he thought this would be ok, he just replied, "Well, I didn't think I was hurting anyone". He turned around, got into his car a drove away.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      A recent study, done by Harvard Business School, concluded that the real problem with attracting and retaining employees has more to do with the workplace environment, not pay or benefits. While the study did find that an adequate pay plan and offering an attractive benefits package did help with recruiting and retention, it’s not enough to satisfy the needs of employees, especially those of front-line workers.
      The study also stated that in 2021, many companies were convinced that giving raises, sign-on bonuses, and other perks would solve the worker shortage problem and prevent people from quitting. However, this strategy did not work. So, what does work regarding attracting quality people and keeping them employed?
      Essentially, it all comes down to the culture of your company.  Management: do all it can to consider the individual needs of your employees. Your employees want to feel that they have a voice, that their opinion counts, and that their role in your company is both respected and recognized. Yes, pay and a great benefits package will go a long way toward making your employees feel secure, but that’s only financial security. People want more than money.
      To attract and keep top talent requires creating a company that people feel proud to work for. You need to reach the hearts and minds of your employees. Become a leader that people are enthusiastic about working for. You want your employees bragging to their friends and family that your shop is a great place to work!
      Step one to attracting and retaining quality employees: Create an amazing workplace environment for your employees!  Trust me, happy employees make happy shop owners too!
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