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I have always used Craigslist to find Mechanics. Are there better ways? I need a "B" tech now and have not gotten many responses to my add.

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    • Article: The Ghost Mechanic - those mechanics that seem to leave evidence of their bad work that you find... or was it a mechanic after all?

      The Ghost Mechanic          Creepier things have happened, but rarely do things go without an explanation.  This time around it’s the mystery mechanic who seems to have been working on this guy’s car, or maybe not.  Maybe it’s that ghostly mechanic who haunts people’s cars on quiet neighborhood streets in the middle of the night. You know, that guy who leaves nothing but telltale greasy finger prints or unattached wire harnesses, or even loose bolts where loose bolts shouldn’t be. This job was no exception to the antics of the invisible mechanic’s handy work. It’s a mystery worth solving.          A Chevy HHR was towed in for a no start condition.  It wasn’t exactly a no start; it was more like a poor starting/running condition. When it would run, the poor thing sounded like it was on its last trip to the garage and its first trip to the salvage yard.  Trying to beat it to its last ride on the tow truck, I hooked up the scanner to see what inner mysteries were present.  Code P1682 (Ignition 1 switch circuit 2), but I wasn’t done yet. Time to do a complete health check on all the modules.  Sure enough, the ‘U’ codes were off the charts.  Seems we have a lot of low voltage codes causing a problem.           A quick check of the wiring diagram showed the power led to a voltage input lead for the PCM, TCM, and several other circuits that would definitely lead to a rough, hard to start, non-cooperating HHR. This may turn out to be a simple problem after all.  Could be wiring, a component, or perhaps a fuse box problem.  A quick glance at the fuse box didn’t reveal much, but I should probably take a closer look at that fuse box.  Maybe go as far as physically checking the actual fuse circuit.  Hmm, something is amiss here. The fuse is good, but the fuse is in the wrong slot. The slot that it’s in should be an empty slot. Seems somebody was fooling around under the hood and didn’t put the fuse back correctly.             Might as well try moving the fuse back to the proper location.  Well, imagine that, this old HHR starts right up!  OK, it’s not running the best . . . yet.  Do a little throttle relearn and it runs as good as new.          After rechecking the related circuits for any damage, or out of place items I gave the HHR the once around the block test.  Runs great, sounds great, no warning lights, no unusual noises, seems fine to me.  I guess I’ll write up an invoice on this job and call the customer.  As I closed the hood, the telltale greasy hand prints from the last guy who was under the hood were everywhere.  I think I spent as much time cleaning this guy’s hood as I spent diagnosing the problem. I gave him a call and explained to him, as best I could, what I had found. Although, I did have that one nagging question regarding who had worked on the car previously. I really wanted an answer to that question.   "NOBODY" … are you serious?  That’s when I explained the entire repair all over again.  Between the greasy finger marks on the hood and fenders, and the fuse in the wrong place, I’m afraid I’m not going to buy the story that the mysterious ghost mechanic has struck again. His only explanation came down to the whole thing must have been a poltergeist or something. Or ‘someone’ not ‘something’ is a better way to put it.  I’m not buying the ghost mechanic theory. At this point, he seemed to be more intent on finding out the final bill, and not so much on solving the mystery of how the fuse mysteriously moved into a different slot. But, before I gave him the total, I recommended he perform an exorcism on his car, since ‘NOBODY’ has been touching it.  His response, "How much more will that cost me?” Seriously? Now, I’ve been asked to do all sorts of things to a car, like put a helicopter landing pad on the roof, remove a varmint from behind the dash, or turn a Prius into a tow truck, but I don’t think I’ve ever been explicitly asked to do an exorcism on the family truckster.  Actually, I’m starting to put this whole thing together.  The mystery mechanic is none other than this guy himself.  His answers to certain questions, and how he told his story were a dead giveaway as to who the ghost mechanic was. I swear some people just can’t be honest and admit when they’re beyond their learning curve.  We both might have had a good laugh over the whole thing, but instead this guy wants me to drop the price in half, since it was such an ‘easy’ repair and all, and ignore the whereabouts of this seemingly ghostly apparition with the mindless ability to screw up the family car. But, since this guy wouldn’t own up to it, even with the evidence of his very own greasy paw prints, he’s in for a lesson of honesty, awareness of his own abilities, and how to pay for a professional diagnosis. It’s just another case of the mechanic solving the mystery of the proverbial ghost mechanic.  Debunking wives’A tales about the modern automobile, supernatural occurrences under the hood, and apparitions that seem to move fuses around is just another duty of the modern mechanic. Oh, and don’t think you’re the first person who’s tried the ghost mechanic as your method of passing the blame… you’re not.  Every good mechanic has performed their fair share of exorcisms in the past and have seen the results of the mystery mechanic and his endeavors.  We know who you really are.
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      By Gonzo, in AutoShopOwner Articles

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    • Article: Battin a Thousand - - Mechanics have to step up to bat and hit it out of the park every time

      Battin' a Thousand   The batter steps up to the plate, takes a hand full of dirt  and rubs his hands and the bat.  He takes a few scrapes with  his feet from the batter’s box while digging in with his cleats.   He then gives the pitcher the evil eye and sets his bat ready  to take whatever the pitcher is going to throw at him. The  catcher gives the signs, the pitcher nods his head.  He takes  a quick look to first base makes his wind up and then lets the  ball fly to home plate.  The batter takes a swing... “Pop” the  ball is in the catcher’s glove.     “Steee---rike!!!” yells the umpire.   Somewhere there is an announcer telling the crowd the  count while a statistician is writing down the results of the  pitch, and calculating the batter's average. With baseball if  you can manage to get a hit 5 out of 10 times you’re up to bat…  you’re doing outstanding.  Achieving a perfect hitting record  on the other hand, may never happen in baseball, but in the  auto repair business (and most every other field of play)  batting a thousand is not a goal it's a requirement.   Every job that comes into the service bay is another attempt at keeping that perfect score.  Come-backs, bad diagnosis, faulty parts and the like are not what any service person wants to deal with.  To keep that perfect score going you have to overcome those obstacles and get the job done right before sending the customer’s car around the bases.  Unlike the highly paid professional ball player who is never going to achieve that perfect score the highly trained mechanic has to knock it out of the park each and every time.   There's a lot of talk in the industry about how some service advisers/writers and shop owners want a quick “off the cuff” diagnosis and repair rather than waiting for the results of a lengthy-time consuming diagnostic procedure.  A mechanic may have a general idea of what is wrong but it still takes proper testing to determine the correct course of action to make the repair.  I don't know where this idea came from that every mechanic has the correct answer to ever problem simply by listening to the description given to them by the customer or service writer.  It's not like we (mechanics) know what kind of pitch is being hurled at us each and every time.     I'm sure the pro ball player could “up” his stats if he knew exactly what kind of pitch was coming across the plate.  As it is, he has to make a quick decision, make the right swing, and make contact.  In the repair world, analyzing the pitch is the key to a successful outcome.  Diagnostics is what makes the difference.  Especially on today's vehicles with their interconnected systems, multi-layered computer controls, and the occasional “oops” from a previous botched repair, these all have to be sorted out before the repair is made.  This takes time, diagnostics takes time, and time is money.      When I hear that a shop isn't charging for diagnostic time it tells me they are either under estimating the value of proper diagnostics or believe they are good enough to read the catcher’s signals and in some way already know what pitch is being thrown.  Taking a couple of swings at a repair and not diagnosing anything is like standing in the batter’s box blindfolded.  I'd call that a foul ball waiting to happen for sure.    It’s important to examine a problem, diagnose as needed and not swing at every pitch that you’re given. In the long run, from the consumers standpoint, a shop that takes the time to diagnose a vehicle correctly may sound more expensive at first when you walk up to the service counter, but chances are you won’t be picked off at 2nd base because you have to spend more cash, buy even more parts that you probably didn’t need, while trying to solve the problem at those shops that don’t see a need in proper diagnostic time.    A new player entered the field; it was a job from one of the body shops I do business with. This 2013 Ford Escape was almost ready to go home, however the air bag light wouldn't go off.  That's when I was called to plate.    “We can sell this job today if you can get this taken care of.  We’ve struck out so far,” the owner of the body shop told me.     “I’ll see what I can do,” I told him.    The first thing I did was check out what codes were in the system.  There was only one code.  B0095-11 (Right front impact sensor fault – sub code “shorted to ground”).  Since it was in a front collision I took my first swing up to bat by checking to see if the wires were smashed or cut.  Strike one... the wires are fine, wrong colors though, need to check that a little further.  OK, let's try something else... is the connector damaged or the sensor itself in anyway a problem.  Strike two... now this is getting serious.  Did the module fail?  Is there more to this story?  Where's the next pitch coming from?   A little more snooping around and a bit more in-depth studying of the wiring diagram I think I've got the answer.  Very close to the impact sensor is another sensor with the exact same type of connector.  The real tell-tale was the wire colors.  It looks like when they put the car back together they inadvertently switched the two connectors.  (Pretty dumb to have the same type of connectors so close together under the hood... but it ain't the first time I've seen a curve ball like this.) I switched the leads and then went back into the system to clear the code.  (With most of these newer systems you not only have to clear the code but you also have to “reboot” the computer by turning the key off before attempting the next “at-bat”.)   Well, this batter is ready, the catcher has thrown down the sign, the computers and connections on the playing field are ready to go.  All that's left is the pitch.  I turned the key and the pitch is on its way. The warning lights come on, the air bag light stayed on for its required amount of time and then.... went off.  No codes present and the rest of the systems checked out fine.  Yep, I took my swing, and it’s a long, long high flyer… it looks like…yes… yes it is… it’s a “HOME RUN!”     Here's a perfect example of the diagnostics taking longer than the actual repair.  The way I see it, diagnostic is the mechanics swing at bat, and it's just as important as the actual repair.  After spending the time to research a problem only to find out that it was a simple connector doesn’t diminish the time already spent to find out it was just a connector.    Mechanics get paid to fix a car, that’s what we do, diagnosing a problem is part of it, and good diagnostic work will keep ya battin’ a thousand. 
      View full article

      By Gonzo, in AutoShopOwner Articles

      • 3 replies
      • 334 views
    • Article: Diversity Of The Mechanic - - Mechanics knowledge background has evolved just like the cars ... Now if the rest of the population would. . .

      Diversity in Mechanics The days when nearly every driver was aware of what was going on under the hood of their car has faded into the history books. Not only has the driver lost touch with the inner workings of their automobile, the car itself has become more “user-friendly”. There’s no hand crank to twist, no choke lever to pull out, no manual brakes, and anymore, hardly no one rolls a window down by hand or uses a clutch to shift the transmission.   Less and less effort is required by the driver to operate the vehicle.  What was once a series of steps you had to accomplish to start a car has now become automated to the point all you have to do is push a button and the car starts.  Gone are the cold morning starts where you had to pump the gas pedal, crank the engine, then listen to the motor to see if the fast idle had set or not. But, you always had to be careful that you didn’t flood the cold engine, and if you did… that brought on a whole other set of tasks the driver had to accomplish correctly. It’s not just starting the vehicle that needs less driver influence, even parallel parking has become a hands free procedure. Now, with all the cameras and radar systems attached to the car there’s hardly anything to do except be a passenger.  Even then, you’re basked in a climate controlled cocoon with atmospheric controls such as lighting, massage chairs, heated seats, and soothing background music all the while computers and sensors are controlling every movement.           Growing up around car repair shops might have made a difference as to how I look at these complicated thing-a-ma-jigs they refer to as the modern car. They’re not just a ‘car’ anymore.  In my youth it was nothing to see a gang of dads leaning over a hood when something went wrong.  Today, there’s not a whole lot to see.  It’s all plastic covers with various caps and knobs for adding fluids and if you’re lucky there might even still be a dipstick under there too.          Diagnosing and repairing the modern car isn’t quite the same as it was back in the day all the dad’s would gather around the fenders.  Even though the operation of the vehicle has been somewhat automated the repair side of things has gone other way.  Parts swapping, guess until ya get it, and the old ask your uncle Bob what’s wrong with your car is as out of date as the crank start.  But, I still find it rather amazing how the engineers and designers managed to “dummy-down” all the possible problems that possibly could happen to a little check engine light on the dash.  Can you imagine what it would be like if they didn’t? Service lights, warning indicators, and digital messages inform the driver of the severity or condition of the vehicle.  Although, most of the information that appears on the digital screen is more of a generic message or sometimes even displayed as a short message telling the driver of the condition of the vehicle without actually telling them precisely what’s wrong.  Even if it did, who would understand it?  Surely not the driver (in most cases), that’s left up to the service technician.  You know ‘that’ guy.  The one that overcharges you for those repairs you don’t understand or even care to know because you’re far above the educational requirements of a certified mechanic. Of course, anyone who’s been around the business for any length of time will tell you that the days of the grease jockey recharging your air conditioner by slappin’ a can of Freon in your car so you can whiz off to work are about as far gone as 2 ply tires. That’s where diversity between mechanics and the technical advances start to show through.          The technical training for a good mechanic with advanced skill levels can exceed the requirements of most 4 year college degrees. The big difference between the academic degree and the technical school degree is still greatly debated. To me, the requirements of the educational programs differ only in the fact that in an academic setting you’re required a certain level of English, math, and the other various ‘general’ skills for graduation. The trade schools generally don’t have those academic requirements for graduation. The big problem is the non-car aficionados (general public) don’t want to admit that the family car requires a college degree to keep them in tip top shape.  So why would the guy changing the oil need to have a degree?            There’s a very good possibility that a shortage of technicians qualified to work on the modern car is drastically going to increase in the next decade or so.  Of course, ask anyone in the business now and they’ll tell you the average age of the professional mechanic has slowly been increasing to well over 50 years of age.  That might have a lot do with the startup requirements put on the new technicians coming into the field.  To many times a young mechanic gets into the business with those wild eyed ideas that they can fix anything that rolls into their service bay, only to find out their skills sets lack a lot of the required knowledge in understanding the complexities of the modern types of problems their facing.           That brings us back to that college grad again.  They’ve spent a ton of money on their education, and some may never pay those loans off for years, if not decades.  Technical college fees remain low in comparison, and with luck, the average educated technician will have their tuition fees taken care of long before the college grad has theirs paid off.  Here’s something else to think about, while a lot of college grads take on temporary jobs like a waiter while their waiting for their big break into that six figure job they’ve been trained for, most grads of the tech schools are out working in the very field they’ve been trained for.  They might be the college grad on the lube rack, but he’s there, in his field of choice getting his hands dirty and working towards his ultimate goals. Chances are, the mechanic will be at that very restaurant having lunch while wearing their rental uniform covered in the days grease and grime and the waiter…. well, they’re still working for tips.           The real issue for the mechanic’s world is the acceptance of the educational level required and the respect that the mechanic deserves as well as being compensated for said education and skills needed.  I do believe, in time, the shortage of trained-qualified technicians will turn into an increase in wages across the board. Which is just what the industry needs to draw in those new faces to the service bays.  All this can start back in high school.  Somebody needs to tell the school guidance counselors that being an automotive mechanic is a trade with high expectations and compensation, not a last resort job for those undesirable individuals that didn’t pass their SAT’s.               View full article  

      By Gonzo, in AutoShopOwner Articles

      • 3 replies
      • 272 views
    • Article: Water Cooler Diagnostics - Real office mechanics hang around the water cooler

      Water Cooler Diagnostics           We’ve all heard the phrase, “codes don’t fix cars, good diagnostics does”. Codes are merely a direction or path, not the answer as some might think. Those “codes fix it all” believers are usually at the bottom of the diagnostic chain. You know the type; those Neanderthals with little wrenches and big cheater bars, or the ones that follow the old adage, “When in doubt-rip it out” method of diagnosing a problem.   It’s seems to me that car repair for a certain demographic of people has always been something related to hand-me-down repair information, not diagnostic skills. I believe it’s all because of the availability of cheaply made parts and bad information. Some of it is hearsay, but a lot of it comes from two guys chatting next to the water cooler at work, and neither one of them have any automotive diagnostics background at all.       This latest case study is a perfect example of why swapping parts and paying attention to those water cooler experts isn’t always a good idea. A trained technician with diagnostic background and less time at the water cooler may be what you need.       A 2007 Dodge 4.7L pickup came into the shop with a stalling problem. The owner had already stopped by the water cooler and made a trip to the code fairy. Since no codes were stored, there wasn’t much for him to do except follow the water cooler genius’ advice. He swapped out every sensor and computer part he was told about and a few more he could barely reach, just to be safe. All of which didn’t change a thing. Before writing up the work order, I had to listen to his story, which ended like most of them do, "I've already spent too much on this truck, and I don't want to spend a penny more." (I wonder what kind of commission the water cooler guy got from the part store for helping this guy spend all his cash.)       The stalling was pretty predictable, usually every 15 minutes. Just as it would stall, the check engine light would rapidly flash, then the truck would sit silent. If you turned the key off and back on, the truck would run perfectly as if nothing happened, right up to the very moment the whole scenario repeated itself.       Since the only odd thing was this momentary flashing of the MIL, I decided to hook up a scanner and wait to see if this odd failure would show up on the screen. Sure enough, code P0688 popped up momentarily, just as the truck stalled “ASD signal low”. Out of habit I reached up and cycled the key. Dang it, the code never stored and the truck is back to running correctly again. I’ll have to wait one more time and see if I actually had the right code number. Since it only occurred as it went through its death roll, catching this failure was going to be tricky.       It was the correct code alright, but no signs of dropped voltage or weak connections anywhere to be found. It’s time to pull out the big guns. Break out the scope boys! With the scope hooked up to two different injector leads and the remaining channels on a couple of coils, I spent the afternoon watching the ASD voltage like a nervous hen watching her chicks. As if on cue, the truck died. Not a bit of change on the scope. I’m definitely going at this the wrong way.        Something is dropping off, or at least I assumed it was. Instead of looking at the ASD signal, how about checking the injection signal and coil signals from the PCM? This time the scope did have a weird response. Just as it stalled there was a little extra squiggly line that didn’t belong in the pattern on the coil input leads. Very subtle difference, but enough of a difference that it needed closer attention. The voltage signal spiked a bit higher than normal just as the truck would stall, and then the voltage would drop to zero. It must be the PCM or a coil. Since the signal was only there for a brief blip on the scope, it wasn’t exactly something I could put my finger on just yet.       Time for some old school tricks. Since the PCM was new, I could at least (with some trepidation) rule it out for now. I could test further, or I could try to create a problem that might mimic what I was seeing on the scope pattern, or with luck, if it was a spike that was coming from a coil, disconnecting it could show the problem. I decided to give this truck a miss of my very own and see if I could increase that little squiggle into a bigger one.        I'll unplug one coil and watch the scope pattern. If I’m lucky, the truck will either stay running longer than it normally did, or it might show me a larger voltage spike. Sure enough, I found it on the third coil. As long as that particular coil was left unplugged, the truck ran well past the usual stall time. To verify it, I plugged the coil back in and watched the scope readings directly at that coil. A millisecond before the stall the coil spiked to the top of the screen as the truck shut off. Just as I suspected, if it was on the coil that was causing the problem the spiked voltage would show higher there than on the adjacent coils.       The big question for me was why did it not set a code? The reason was the coil lead led straight to the PCM. The extra high voltage going back into the circuit simply turned the PCM off as if the key was turned off. There’s no codes for shutting the truck off, only codes for failures that make it shut off. The solution...replace the coil.        Now and then there are problems that don’t follow the diagnostic steps laid out by the engineers. Even though you’d think every aspect and every type of condition has been tried and tested, or at least talked about around the water cooler. There are times when you’ve got to look past the “assumed” problem and dig a little deeper to find the cause. There's no doubt this repair is going to be another one of those conversations around the water cooler, but I seriously doubt anywhere in this story will the novice know-it-all admit that it took an experienced technician to locate his problem, not his water cooler buddy. Oh, and I don’t expect to hear him say as he leans on the cooler, “Codes don’t fix cars, mechanics do” even when there isn't a code.
      View full article

      By Gonzo, in AutoShopOwner Articles

      • 3 replies
      • 293 views
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