I’ll Bet Ya

A passenger bus that was used for transporting people
back and forth from hospitals, assited living homes and
weekend outings for the elderly arrived at my shop one afternoon.
It was seldom idle, and the owner wasn't your typical
owner/driver; he was a very quick to judge, no B.S., overly
self-confident, brash and an even more hard-headed-than-me kind of guy. 
The van had a terrible smell emanating from cabin, which the owner had made it a
point to tell everyone who looked at it, that it was a fuel
related problem.  Nothing was ever found wrong with the
fuel system, however his insistent nature that something
was wrong with the fuel system was really rubbing
everyone involved the wrong way. 

I could see why after meeting this guy for the first time.  He wasn't one to take no for answer, or listen to any criticism. Without a doubt, he was the most overbearing, and demanding person I have ever met.  Now, I'm stuck with this putrid smelling van and this overzealous owner at my shop.  (Sometimes I think when other shops give up on things, or the customer is too demanding... they mention my name... gee...thanks.)

The odor wasn’t sulfur or raw fuel, in my opinion. It smelled more like an old high school gym locker.  All the previous attempts at other shops never found anything wrong with fuel lines, tank, or any venting problems with the fuel emission systems.  It seemed either everyone was overlooking something, or I was as baffled as they were.  Then again, it might have been the owner’s attitude that was making the decisions, and not the results of any diagnostic work.

My first walk through of the van was enough to make you gag.  The smell was horrendous; it seemed to be coming from everywhere.  Outside the van there was only a trace of the odor, but inside... oh man... it was unbearable.  The owner was still convinced that it was fuel related, so much so that he wanted the entire fuel system ripped out and replaced.   I wasn't convinced. I was on a mission to find the source before going to the extent of removing “all” the fuel system in this big van. 

After a few basic checks and a bit of snooping around, my conclusion was that the smell was coming from the carpet itself and from the large air conditioning unit mounted in the back of the bus.  My suggestion was to have the carpet thoroughly cleaned and disinfected as well as the vents for the air conditioning system. 

To my surprise I got a stern reprimand from the owner, “You'll do what I tell you to do, and not tell me what you think it is!” 

Seriously? You don't want to take a simple approach to the problem, but would rather jump right into a huge repair job?  I'm not in any way convinced replacing the entire fuel system will solve the problem.

“You want me to drop the fuel tank, filter, pump, lines, and injectors and replace all of it?” I asked.

“Yes, that's what I want... no..., that’s what I insist you do!” he said sternly.

I did my best to talk him out of it, but he was stuck on this idea that this would fix his problem.  But, maybe there's another way of talking him out of this. If I add up all the parts and labor to do what he's suggesting, maybe it will convince him to try something else.

To my surprise, it didn't.  He's still convinced it's fuel related.  I'm going to try another approach to this stinking mess then.  There's one thing I've found out over the many years of dealing with people and their vehicles, if the amount of the repair hasn't scared them off, somebody has already given them an even higher price.  So you're either stuck doing what you estimated it, or find a way to solve the problem without them knowing what you're actually going to do.  This time, I'm taking the chance that I'm right, and he's wrong, and have the van cleaned first. 

“Ok, leave it with me; it might take a few days.  I'll find the source of the problem.   As long as you’re willing to put that kind of expense out, I'll remove the odor one way or another,” I told him.

He agreed and with that he left the van.  Before he even drove off, I picked up the phone and called a good friend of mine who owns a carpet cleaning business.  I might save this hard headed owner a lot of cash, grief and down time if I’m right.  Maybe even win over a new customer to boot.

“Hey, bud can you bring your big machine over here, and do a little job for me?” I said to my carpet cleaning friend. 
“Sure tomorrow morning,” he told me.

The next day his crew arrived, and gave the entire interior a super cleaning, windows, trim, seats, carpet, vents, the works. 

“I'd leave the windows open for a day to let it dry out.  But, I think you were right about the smell coming from the carpets.  After years of cleaning stuff like this, you know when you're lifting the smell out.  This was no exception,” my buddy told me, as he packed his things up for the next job.

The interior sparkled like new, smelled fresh as spring meadow; even the air conditioning didn't have that horrible odor in it.  I'm convinced... problem solved.  Now to break the news to the customer.

He was quite skeptical, so it took a bit of unorthodox convincing. “I'll tell you what I'll do,” I proceeded to tell him, “I’ll bet you if you drive it around for a month or so, run a few tanks of gas through it, and make a couple of long trips the smell will stay gone.  After a month you bring it back here, and the two of us are going to inspect it.  If the smell is still there... I'll give you back your money, and do what you originally suggested.  If the smell is gone... you owe me an extra hundred bucks.”

He took the bet, and a month later... He made good on the wager.  I thought I'd never see the day this guy would smile, but having that odor out of his van put a grin on his face from ear to ear.  He proudly walked up to me with that big grin, swung his hand down for a firm handshake and handed me that crisp new hundred dollar bill. Seems I've made a new friend for life. 

Several years have passed since then, and he still brings a lot of work to the shop and never misses a chance to refer me to everyone he meets.  Oh, he's still stubborn, head strong and quite brash... but a good guy none the less.  His story of the stinky van and how an even harder headed mechanic stood up to him is still one of his favorites.  As he likes to tell me, “Sometimes, the customer isn't right after all.”   

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