Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Every Auto Dealership Should Have One Good Mechanic

I've worked in gas stations a few times in my youth, back in the days when many gas stations had service bays and did some light mechanical work. I managed one of these gas stations for a couple of years. In addition to pumping gas, we also did light mechanical work, such as oil changes, belts and hoses, selling and repairing tires and replacing bulbs, wipers, etc.

Over the years, I've had occasion to buy two or three new cars (mostly, I buy older cars, because they're simpler, and I can do a lot of the necessary work myself, which I like to do), and thus have had a few opportunities to use the dealer's shop for warranty work.

I now own a 1957 Chevy. A couple of weeks ago, a leak developed in the lower radiator hose. I also had an ailing starter, which I'd been putting off fixing because of a lack of time to do so. The leaking hose had to be fixed right away, and I still didn't have time to do it.

I took the car over to Rydell Chevrolet, in Van Nuys. They loved the car; several of the service advisers told me tales of similar cars they or their parents owned many years ago. The next day, I got a call from the service adviser. A "technician" replaced the starter, but the "technician" who was to replace the radiator hose couldn't do it because the car has a non-stock engine and a custom-made radiator.

I told the adviser that all the "technician" has to do is take the old hose off and compare it by eyeball to the new hoses they have in stock. One of them will fit. Well, it seems that "service technicians" don't work that way. They requisition parts by means of their computer. The computer only shows the stock hose for the car.

Back at home, and backed against the wall, I took the old hose off myself. It took maybe twenty minutes (there are access issues). I took the hose to my neighborhood Kragen and explained the situation. The clerk immediately took me to the aisle in which dozens of radiator hoses were hanging from pegs. In less than five minutes of looking, I found a hose that would work.

Back home, I had to cut the hose to length and, because of the access difficulties, it took me about half an hour to install the hose and refill the radiator with coolant. Ready to go, and for a mere thirteen dollars. I'm sure that a good mechanic, with a far better set of tools than I, could've done the whole thing, including the starter, in less than an hour.

So, I guess I really did have time to do the work.

The current assembly line-style auto service technician schools might turn out good technicians, but it takes an ability to think on one's feet to make a good mechanic. Every auto shop should have one good mechanic.

Darwin got it backwards.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California


Michael Stone said...

You know, I've always wanted to learn how these car things work. I mean, I understand the theory of the internal combustion engine but the details and actual operation and upkeep are a complete mystery to me.

I thought it might be a good idea to sign up for an evening class at a local technical college but then I realized that I'd hate it. It'd be badly taught or incomplete or some such.

So, the conclusion I came to was that I need to buy an old beater and just start pulling bits off and replacing them and see where I get.

I thought the older the car the simpler the technology would be. Can you recommend a good starter that'd help a code monkey become a grease monkey?

Col. Hogan said...

The best thing to get is a 1960's pickup. They were very spartan in those days, and most of them didn't have all the electric and electronic gadgets that aren't fundamental to a running vehicle and just get in your way.

I'm partial to the Chevy 6-cylinder from those years, because it's very basic and easy to work on. A Dodge pickup with a slant-6 is good, too.

If you really want a passenger car, better to get a Plymouth or Dodge 6-cylinder. Chevy cars are pretty popular and thus kind of expensive.

I don't care much for Fords. They rust easily and it's hard to find a 6-cylinder. V-8's are more complicated to work on, but if you like the challenge, go for it!

Shop manuals can be found on e-bay for a reasonable price.

Aurora said...

Col., that whole tinkering under the hood is therapeutic you males, isn't it?

Michael Stone said...

Thanks, Col.

Aurora, I would have thought you'd be happy about a bloke wanting to improve his 'tinkering around under hoods' skills. ;)

Col. Hogan said...

Aurora, I've been tinkering with cars since I was twelve, when I bought my first car with my newsie money. I've owned well over a dozen classic cars and wrenched on every one of them. I've also owned over a half-dozen motorcycles and ridden them for a total of more than 300,000 miles. Yeah, I guess you'd say I find them therapeutic.

The Wine Got Dam Commonsewer-reg US pat off said...

SAY WHAT? They couldn't find a radiator hose?

The times they is a changing. Done changed.

Col. Hogan said...

I'm telling ya, TWC, car dealers don't have mechanics anymore. They're follow-the-numbers high school dropouts. I'll bet they have little pictures on the keys of their computers.

steveintx said...

Not that simple big bro. Most of your dealerships do not allow the techs in the parts room. If the tech takes the part off and lays it on the parts desk, the parts "specialist" says "make, model & serial #". If he can't supply that, the part doesn't exist in their eyes. Now the commissioned tech has to put the part back on and say he cannot fix the problem.... at his expense. If you know him and give him $20 after work, I have absolutely no doubt he would and could do it with no problems.

You are right that there is a lot of dumb mechanics out there though. I consider myself one. My company has not allowed me to keep up with technology. I can work on that '57 chev, but I cannot work on the 30 Mack trucks that are in my shop. How dumb is that? Another thing, our compactors and lifts are now controlled by computer. There's only one person in our shop who knows how to work on them. Guess who? And what the hell do you need a computer to pack trash for?

You can trace all of this "advanced technology" to the people who demanded the EPA set standards of fuel use and consumption. As you and I talked the other day; we got better or as good mileage and used less gas with the older equipment.

Col. Hogan said...

Bro, I looked and looked in Article 1, Section 8 of the United States' most important document, and found no mandate that the federal government protect or regulate anyone's environment. Government's job is to secure our right to protect and regulate our own property--though they've already shown their untrustworthiness and inability to do their job.

steveintx said...

You're right of course. Think of how much better off this country would be if the people really had control.