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Poke It With a Sharp Stick - - Stone Age Cavemen used sticks and stones, and some modern cavemen still use that method to fix thier car.


Gonzo

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Poking it with a Sharp Stick

 

 

 

It's not so much in my business that I work with the general public, but it's more of what kind of public gives me the business. I'm not talking about people who can think and reason like most educated, knowledgeable people. It's the cave man mentality, the ones whose elevator doesn't go to the top floor, or the ones who can't seem to get both oars in the water. I'm referring to common sense, the one quality that is lacking in every halfwit adventure I've either seen, or been a part of. (I can't leave myself out of this one... guilty as charged)

 

 

It stands to reason if some of these mental giants were among the intrepid pioneers who crossed the great divide in a Conestoga wagon, they probably would be the ones that never made it. But, with so many modern conveniences like diet, clean water, and modern medical care, these half-wit trail blazers roam freely throughout every part of the countryside.

 

 

There was a comedian some years ago who told a story about his ancestors from the Stone Age. He commented on how some people felt it necessary to leave the safety of the cave to take on some huge beast with nothing more than a sharpened stick, only to be trampled to death by the same prehistoric behemoth. He went on to say, "My relatives were the ones who stayed in the cave... how else can explain my being here?! If my ancestors were the ones who got killed off, how would it be possible for me to be standing here telling you all about them? My relatives had the good sense to stay out of harm's way. Were my ancestors brave? Sure they're brave, they're just not stupid."

 

 

"Oh look, large man eating beast outside the cave, I'll stay here… you can go out there. I've gotta sharpen my stick, and while you're gone I'll paint your picture on these cave walls. Our ancestors will think you're great hunters that way."

 

("Right, when in fact they're running for your lives…!")

 

Funny, yes, true... I guess so, and in similar ways, it's how some people tackle car repair.

 

 

In most states there's no regulation to keep someone from poking their pointed stick under the hood of their car, or hanging a shingle on a shop door and call themselves a "mechanic". The unsuspecting consumer is at the mercy of the phone book (and other sources) to find a shop that can actually make the appropriate repairs on their car. It's like the car has turned into a huge mammoth, and the person attempting the repair is just taking stabs at it with a sharp stick. No training, no experience, and more than likely no clue what they are doing. This is but one of the many reasons why the automotive field gets such low marks in the consumers' eyes. As one of my customers told me, "It's getting harder and harder to find a good mechanic these days". And, from what I can tell, it hasn't been much better in previous decades either.

 

 

A typical example of this was last week. An older gentleman came into the shop with an air conditioning problem on his 1967 Thunderbird. Sweet ride, entirely original... just the way he liked it. He had been to several shops trying to get the air conditioning working. This car was factory equipped with the old style compressor and A/C lines that didn't use a Schrader valve, but instead had the hand shut off valves that you moved (in the correct direction) to recharge or change the compressor. The owner's story was that every place he went to, no one knew how to use the hand valves correctly to refill the system. They were all good at replacing parts, but had no clue as to how the system worked. I'm old enough to have worked on these when they were very common. All the previous shops could have figured out how they operated, if they would have just put down their pointy stick, and did a little research. (FYI - There's only 3 positions to be concerned about: Front seated blocks off the compressor, Mid-position is used to allow flow between entire system, compressor, and the gauge port, and the most important one, back seated, which allows the entire system to work normally.)

 

 

Turned into an easy job for me; all in all, the A/C system was blowing cold air in no time. All it took was a little basic knowledge rather than guessing at it. (No telling what parts actually needed replaced, by the time I saw the car everything was new, oiled, and mounted correctly.) Too bad for the owner though, he paid each and every one of them to do what I just did... make cold air. The T-bird owner was overjoyed to finally have his air conditioning back in working order. (He did tell me he wasn't about to use those other guys ever again.) I guess after so many pokes with that sharp stick the T-Bird owner had had enough.

 

 

Then there's the DIY'r trying to repair the car in the family cave. First it's a jab with the pointed end of their stick, then two, then another, until they either figure it out, or they find the information they need to make the repairs. There's been a lot of talk lately about the factory information not being available... really?? What Neanderthal told you that? I've been working professionally in the car repair business for a long time and I've never had any problem obtaining factory information. The hard part is getting the right scanners (at reasonable prices) and education these days. It's out there; it just may take a little poking around to find it. (Pun intended) The big thing is, it's not free, never has been. Poking the sharp end of your stick at the manufacturer and expecting him to roll over like a wounded mammoth and hand you the information for free … just ain't happening… ever.

 

 

I have this mental image of a DIY'r and their protégé the "untrained mechanic" as the cave men portrayed in the painting with the great mammoth in center. The cave men are throwing their spears into the beast, but the huge behemoth of prehistoric times still isn't quite finished off. It's not a futile effort, if they keep stabbing at it they'll eventually get the job done. Gee, doesn't that sound just like a couple of guys trying to figure out what's wrong with the car by throwing part after part at it? It does to me.

 

 

Poking around with that Stone Age sharpened stick method of diagnostics is a slow and unproductive way of making any kind of automotive repair. But, I still see the same kind of poor workmanship even today. Working on modern cars, and even one from a few decades ago requires the right tools, the right information, and a bit of common sense. If you've got all that, you've got half the battle won. That common sense and good repair practices goes a long way. One thing's for sure… it beats poking it with a sharp stick.

 

Ya just have to wonder sometimes, what people are thinking. I get a lot of cars in the shop with pointed sticks dangling from the car. I guess there is a lot more cave dwellers out there than I could even imagine. Comments welcomed...


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You brought back fond memories with the part about the 67 T Bird. I remember working on those A/C systems. The funny thing is, back then it was no big deal, we all understood how the valves worked. Question: were we better mechanics back then? I see young tech who are very advanced in areas of electronics and computers, but mechanically they often struggle. Thoughts?

I'm happy just to see new people take an interest in automotive repair

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      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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