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Magical Elixirs


Back before TV, radio, and the internet, it was the traveling salesman who would tell his tale about his wonderful elixirs he had for sale from the back of his wagon. The huckster would proclaim, “Gather one and all and let me tell you all about Dr. Murphy’s magical elixir! It will cure the common cold, stop a toothache, make your hair grow, restore your hearing, improve your eye sight, why you can work from sun up to sundown without getting fatigued after a mere sip of this tonic. It’s the miracle of the ages! Step right up folks for the worlds wonder of wonders, don’t push, don’t shove there’s plenty for everyone, just two bits will get you a bottle of Dr. Murphy’s elixir!” The sales would commence and the traveling salesman would grab all the loot he could. Hopefully, before somebody from the last town recognized him and let everyone know about his farfetched claims.

These magical elixirs never amounted to much, most of them were just a bottle of strong alcohol and some other added ingredients but, I’ll bet if you drank enough of it you might just forget you had any problems. Well, at least long enough for the salesman to sneak out of town.


These days we are bombarded by endless advertisements from every different direction and for some people distinguishing fact from fiction is a real challenge. You’re likely to find these hucksters and modern snake oil salesmen on late night infomercials, the internet, your cell phone, or spouting their claims with some gimmicky pitch on the radio. The old, “4 out of 5 doctors recommend” quotes you hear on these infomercials just proves to me that those snake oil salesmen are still alive and well.

The point of all this mumbo-jumbo goes back to the old saying made famous by P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Some people will buying anything if the sales pitch sounds convincing enough. Even in these modern times the sales continue, and it’s not hard to find some of these pitch artists working their craft on unsuspecting automotive consumers. There’s always some gadget somebody is selling that claims to improve your gas mileage or make a huge scratch on the fender disappear. Now with electronics so involved into the family car there’s even “widgets” to tackle those problems. Whether it’s by internet, smart phone, TV, radio, or the occasional door to door sales… there’s always a pitch, there’s always somebody going to buy some magic elixir.

I’m really not surprised when a customer brings me the latest-greatest gadget that’s going to revolutionize the auto industry they just purchased after staying up way too late watching TV. It could be nothing more than a diagram with instructions on how to turn plain water into Hydrogen with a few parts from the hardware store. (Still holding out on for that one… it can be done…sort of.), or some sort of whirly-gig thingy that is supposed to increase gas mileage by turning the intake air into a vortex of high velocity wind. Somehow, someway they’ll do their best to convince me this is going to work. Well, maybe I’m just the ultimate skeptic or the doubter of all doubters, but I just don’t see these things ever working any better than the elixirs from generations ago.

It’s a mind numbing, never ending, sales pitch that some people can’t get past before buying this stuff, and I don’t want to leave out those annoying salesmen that come to the shop showing off some sort super-duper cleaner that is better than anything I’ve ever seen before, or the guy selling tools and equipment out of his trunk. Seriously, I’ve seen it before… there’s a “No Soliciting” sign posted… but do ya think that stops them… nope … tomorrow they’ll be another one at the front counter and I’ll have to listen to them while they’re standing on the back of “their” wagon telling me all about the great benefits of their magical cure-all.

I do have one particular customer that has probably bought every single one of those gadgets and tries to get me to install them. Even after explaining my theory on some of these goofy gadgets (He doesn’t care what I think.) He’ll insist that I install them. Usually shaking my head in disbelief the whole time I’m doing it, but…hey, he’s paying me, besides it makes him happy when he believes he’s gotten over on the energy crisis.

One time he brought in some sort of navigation systems (this was probably 20 years ago) for me to install. It looked like a botched homemade project some guy fabricated on his kitchen table. Globs of solder were squishing out between the halves of the little plastic case and the leads were all different sizes. It looked like he used whatever he had on hand to build it. I read the directions provided and installed it. The next thing to do was to “navigate” it. You had to go outside and point the car north, then south, then east, and finally west. This was supposed to align the internal compass (whatever…), it never worked. I told him about it and he promptly called the guy who made it. Needless to say, no one answered the phone. Go figure.

His next big idea was some sort of fuel saving device. It was supposed to be installed in the fuel line and it was supposed to align the molecules of the fuel so that it would burn better. (Seriously unbelievable.) I installed it, and within a month his car was on a tow truck. Seems the restriction this thing was putting on the fuel line was too much for the fuel pump to handle. It came off when I changed the pump. It was his idea (with encouragement from me), besides, he didn’t see any change in his mileage so he had to agree I was right this time. (That didn’t happen very often.)

He wasn’t done yet. Then it was some magic pill that you put in the fuel tank. At least I didn’t have to install that, but he did try to entice me into selling those little pills at the counter for other people to use. I said no.

Yep, some people… they’ll buy anything if the sales pitch sounds convincing enough. No doubt, these snake oil salesmen still have the knack of selling today’s version of Dr. Murphy’s elixir. I know I’m not buying their story, and I sure ain’t buying their fix-all-does-all products. But, I do have that one old customer that will. He’s getting pretty old these days and he doesn’t get out as much, but when he does he’ll head straight to the shop with his latest purchase. Even if these magic elixirs don’t do what they claim, at least it makes him happy. I guess, in some ways that elixir does have some benefits after all… even though not in the way they were intended.

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Today it not so much looking out for "Dr. Murphy’s elixir" but trying to determine if this product that is advertized will do what the guy says it does. I hear so much story telling how this product did this for this car and that. They don't push products like they are miracle's anymore, they just try to make seem more plausible.

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The new light duty diesels you gain fuel mileage by taking parts off. I have people once a week saying their fuel treatment gives them a 10mpg increase, their tuner improves the mileage to 30mpg (according to the truck).

For a society that barely does required maintenance its amazing how they can afford "junk" to save money but they can't maintain their car to save money?


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Great article! My favorite are the conspiracy theorists ... "Maaaan, they built this car back in the fifties that got 300mpg. They government kept it down and destroyed the patents, dude." Riiiiight.


Favorite MythBusters of all time - Gas Saving Devices Busted


Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90szKQAjhfo

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb7vhHKaGYw

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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