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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Knocking that Chip Off
It seems no matter what you’re doing, where you are, or who you’re with sooner or later you’ll run across somebody with a huge chip on their shoulder. In the business of auto repair there’s quite a few. I’ve ran into my share of them over the years. Some shops operate all day with a huge chip on their shoulder. Their method of convincing a customer that they are the best is by putting down everyone else in the business. Sometimes it’s just an individual mechanic who’s got a boulder on the shoulder. You just never know, but you can certainly tell when it’s around. I can’t leave myself out, my wife reminds me about it once in a while, but I’m sure it still shows through.
There are those occasions when somebody needs to knock that chip off. Sometimes it’s just what we all need, you know, a little reminder that even though we “think” we’re that good… we all still have a lot to learn. And, sometimes we all need a little reminder to tone down that chip.
A few years ago a lady brought her car in from another repair shop and needed some detective work done as to why her alternator kept going out. The previous shop had definitely gone the way of most amateurs do when it comes to a car problem. “Change parts until it works.” This was no different. Five times this guy changed the alternator for this lady. Five times mind you! It still holds the record of alternator swapping in one vehicle without solving the problem that I’ve ever been witness to. The problem wasn’t the alternator at all, but this bright young lug nut of a mechanic called me to tell me that it was definitely the alternators and he wanted me to write it up that way because the parts house was making him pay for the last three. Ok, maybe one, perhaps two… but five bad alternators? Even for the cheap brands out there five bad ones in a row is a bit much. But, I’ll check it out from here.
The entire problem was a blown fuse caused by the wire rubbing against the engine block. Who knows when that happened? Could have been from the first one, maybe the second alternator… we’ll never know. This Lug nut had to call me back and give me the old, “Don’t make me look stupid!” phone call. I retorted, “I’m just telling it like it is, brother.”
Then there was “Mr. Fix-it”. Mr. Fix-it could fix anything as he pointed out to me just as the tow truck showed up with his vehicle on the hook. While it was being unloading, Mr. Fix-it explained in great detail just exactly what he wanted me to do, and that the only reason I was doing anything (Remember… he can fix anything) was because he didn’t have the needed tools to finish the repair. Mr. Fix-it’s weekend project was to tune it up, but after changing all the parts and I’m sure… after a few too many beers all the truck would do is buck, jerk and blow flames out of the carburetor. His reasoning for me to check the timing and adjust the carburetor was because (as he put it) “That’s how the flames are getting out of the engine.” In his haste to empty those beer cans he had put the spark plug wires on wrong. I think Mr. Fix-its chip needs a little adjustment.
There are times when that chip is showing too proudly on my own shoulders too. Yep, I’ve eaten crow more than a few times and I’ve needed a little reminder that I’m not Mr. Perfect. The latest was on a 12 year old car that I put a new computer in to solve some issues with the coolant fan and A/C. After replacing the PCM the coolant fan and A/C worked great, which, not to make excuses … but I will… was all that I was concerned about. The owner was going to pick it up after hours. So with the air nice and cold I parked it outside for him to pick it up later. He lived quite a ways from the shop so it was a lot easier for him to pick it up after he got off work. The next day I get a call that his car isn’t shifting correctly and it never did that before. I suggested that he take it to the nearest transmission shop and have it checked out since he was so far away from me.
The customer told the tranny guy, “I just had a new computer put it.” And, with that info, this guy proudly showed his gigantic chip on his shoulder and made it perfectly clear to the customer that he knew exactly what the problem was. With a bold and quick to judge answer he told him it was the wrong computer. Well, of course it is. What else would a guy with a big chip on his shoulder tell a customer? Because we all know the last guy who worked on the car is an idiot. (Me in this case) I told him that the PCM numbers matched from the dealer to the parts department and back again. It’s not the wrong computer. (There’s my chip on the shoulder showing up.)
Looks like there are two of us with mammoth rocks on our shoulders this time. I got the car back to my shop the next day to see what was going on. Oh it was certainly the right computer, but…. It was the wrong programming in the computer. Gosh dang it! I’ll do the honors; I’ll knock that chip off of my own shoulder for ya. Yep, the tranny guy was right; it was the wrong “computer” just not in the sense that it’s the wrong computer, but wrong because it had the wrong software in it. I suppose that’s a double chip knock off, one for me and one for the tranny guy. Live and learn I guess, my bad… we were both right and wrong at the same time. Same conclusion just a different way of getting there.
Finally, the most typical of situations is when the mechanic or the customer assumes they know all the answers even before they’ve had it tested. Just because you think you know doesn’t mean you’re right. Every time this happens I envision a huge chip sitting on someone’s shoulder just waiting to be knocked off. Honestly, it pays to test and diagnose before giving any kind of black and white answer to a customer or to another mechanic. Assumptions make us all look bad, and I’d prefer not to be compared to the south end of a north bound horse.
Even the best of us have had to surrender our chip from time to time. Getting that chip knocked off is a humbling experience, but one that will make you a better person in the long run. We all could use a little reminder that we’re not perfect. Proud is one thing, being too sure of yourself is another.
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Hot Rod Hot Head
Had a customer come in the shop a few years ago with a 52' Ford pickup he was restoring. Most of the truck was in primer or bondo and most of the engine work was done. The real goal was to turn it into a show truck. It needed to be a class "A" job. Not a problem, I was up for the challenge. This was way back before the advent of the aftermarket wiring harness systems we have today, so everything had to be handmade and carefully laid out so it could be tucked out of view.
It took me a week or so to get the project done, but it was worth the effort, everything was perfect and all the wiring was out of sight. You couldn't have asked for a better looking job on any old truck.
After I was done it was off for paint and new wheels. It was several months before I saw the truck again. Now it's a shade of light blue with just a touch of silver metallic in it, beautiful paint and finish. He wanted me to add a cruise control to it before the interior was finished. Once the interior was done he was heading off to his first show.
The aftermarket cruise control (he provided) worked great right out of the box, and the wiring was also as neat as the rest of the job. The next day the owner picked up the truck and was heading to the upholstery shop to have the carpet and interior finished. I figured the next time I would see this truck would be after he came by to show off the trophy he won, but was it was more than a year later before I heard from him again.
Apparently something came up and the truck was put on hold shortly after leaving my place. When the truck did show up, the outside looked as good as I remembered it. All new carpeting, seats, door panels… the works, and a working stereo system was installed that wasn't there before.
I wasn't too pleased to see all the worked I had done was now just a cobbled mess. When I asked the owner about it his only comment was that the carpet guy was the last one to work on it and his buddy at the carpet place swears up and down that it was my fault and that I didn't know what I was doing. Now that was a strange answer, I certainly wasn't expecting something like that coming from him.
I went ahead with the touch up work on the wiring that needed to be done. Wires from the stereo and wires from the cruise control were all bundled together like spaghetti. Later that afternoon I got a call from the upholstery guy, what a jerk… he called me every name in the book and made it perfectly clear he didn't like mechanics.
"All you thugs that call yourself mechanics are nothing but a bunch of high school drop outs that couldn't get a job flippin' hamburgers," the big mouth tack slinger screamed thru the phone.
As far as he was concerned the only expert in the whole entire world that knew anything about building a show quality truck was him. His continuous badgering of the automotive repair field went on and on. I finally had enough of it; I lashed back with a vengeance. I gave him both barrels of verbal abuse that I had and I didn't give him a chance to open his big fat mouth before I slammed the phone down on the receiver.
Another couple of months go by and like a lot of those "hot head" jobs you tend to forget about them and just go on with the daily work. But there it was again… that same 52' Ford in front of my shop.
"Hi ya doing buddy," the owner says, "Got some more work for ya to do." (Don't ya know I was surprised.)
Are we like serious? Not like I've totally forgotten about dealing with his jackass carpet buddy. This time around he added even more stuff to the truck than before. Now the stock hood hinges had been removed and an aftermarket system was installed.
The new hinges allow the hood to be opened backwards. The "normal" front of the hood is now the hinge area and the end next to the windshield is the latching side. On the fenders there are a couple of looping chromed metal bars. These bars are what a pair of rollers ride between and guide the hood into place and hold the hood securely closed.
I've seen these before, they're pretty trick. My job was to rewire the front headlights and turn signals that were cut out when the body shop installed the hinges.
I had the work finished in no time, the owner picked up the truck with a smile. (As if there was never a problem.) As he was leaving he mentioned to me he was going back to the upholstery shop to have some details taking care of.
When he said that I kind of smiled, you know the type, the kind of fake smile you see on a store manikin. I knew there is trouble to follow; I just don't know what kind. But, I'm sure of one thing… I'll be blamed again.
A week later the truck showed back up. I could see from across the shop that the hood wasn't closed correctly.
"Hi, what's up? Looks like the hood isn't shutting right, what happened to it?" I said with that now familiar manikin smile I had a week earlier.
"You should know what's wrong with it!" he said angrily.
The next thing I know he was accusing me of the whole mess. Remembering how the "carpet tacker" rattled my cage before, I wasn't going to stand for it a second time.
"First off, did it look correct when you left here a week ago?" I said.
"Yea, it did." He answered.
"And then you went to your buddy the carpet dude again. This is sounding just like the cruise control problem all over again."
"Call up there and find out if anybody looked at the engine." I blared out at him.
Later he had his answer, it was what I had thought all along, somebody had the hood open and didn't close it correctly. I ended up repairing the bent parts so the hood would close correctly and got the truck back to show condition.
The old 52 Ford and its owner only shows up once in awhile these days to show off a new "bling" he's added, and as far as I know the upholstery hot head has packed his carpet bag and headed out of town.
Sure makes it tough to help out a customer when somebody has influenced them into believing your doing something wrong when all you've done is something right. Especially when they're friends of the customer… and you're just one of those… "mechanics".
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