Lost and Found

How many times have you finished a job, watched the car drive off, and then started
cleaning up your tools only to realize you’ve misplaced something?  You’re pretty sure,
but not completely sure the missing tool is under the hood or in the interior of the car
that just drove off.  If you’re lucky, you can call the customer and ask if they’ve found
your missing tool.  But, there are those occasions when a phone call or a complete search
of the shop doesn’t yield any sign of the wandering tool.  For the most part you can put
that tool down as gone for good, lost to that place where wayward nuts, bolts, tools, and
my arrant golf ball shots always end up. Yea, we all know that place, the “Lost and never
to be found again!” place.

It’s not the only way I’ve lost tools in cars. There’s been many times some tool has
gotten lodged in a hopeless retrieval area of the car.  Like down between the fender
and body line, or in some obscure area that would take hours just to get close enough
to even see it again, let alone get it back.  Once, while I was working under an old car
the socket I was using popped off of the extension, and I watched it rattle around
while banging off of one thing after another. It was spinning like a top by the time it
made it to the flat surface of the center cross member where it then stood straight
up, spun some more, and then like some cartoon character it vanished into a hole. The
hole was not more than a thousandth of an inch bigger than the socket, but somehow
it managed to fall so perfectly that it dropped straight in.  And, of course, there was absolutely no way to get a magnet back down the hole because the oil pan was in the way, and no way to use an air nozzle to blow it to either end of the cross member, because both ends were welded shut. I never did get that socket back. So much for using a good socket on a cheap extension. 

I’ve lost track of how much time I’ve wasted chasing down these elusive tools that like to play hide and seek. Not to mention the spattering of profanity that I’m sure to mutter while I’m trying to get an eyeball on some of these tools I’ve dropped down into unknown cavities of irretrievability.  But, if you do get a glimpse of the stupid little gadget you dropped then it’s like playing the old “Operation” game to get the thing back out.  I’ll use just about anything, including the extendable magnet wand or my long mechanic’s finger tool to slowly draw that &*$!* runaway tool back through the maze of hoses, wires, and other assorted engine parts. 

Sometimes, it’s just the sound that a nut, bolt, or tool makes while it’s playing pinball as it falls through the engine bay or behind the dash that gets you rolling your eyeballs in dismay.  Now, everything else about the job has to come to a complete halt, while you go on the old tool safari to find it.  Tools are too expensive to leave them to fend for themselves behind the dash or tucked in a corner of the engine bay. At the end of the day, they need to be with their other brothers and sisters in the tool box. Besides, the tool truck won’t be back until next week and that particular socket might have been the only one that would fit into the area of the car you were working on. 

On the other hand, how many times have you found a tool that some other poor soul couldn’t find after dropping it down in the engine?  I’ve found wrenches stuck between the exhaust manifold and the engine block and assorted sockets laying in the intake valley.  Sometimes I wonder how some of these misplaced tools end up in such bizarre places. I mean seriously, what did ya need with a 4 foot pry bar behind the dash? And, how did you get it in there? I’ve found everything from cheap sockets to expensive micrometers buried in the depths of a car before. The thing is, if it wasn’t for doing some service work in that area of the car you’d probably never have known there was a brand new socket hiding. 

Flashlights are a commonly misplaced tool.  Many years ago, when my dad helped out at the shop, he would use a flashlight for practically everything. This particular afternoon he was installing a new window motor. Being Dad, he was very meticulous as always.  Every snap, clip, and screw had to be put back in its exact spot. Every tool was carefully laid out on a towel on his work table and accounted for after the job was done. He was also one who took great pride in keeping track of every tool; he never lost a tool. Well, at least that’s what he used to tell me.  But, that day the one thing he forgot to account for was his flashlight. The car was long gone and all his hand tools were back in place in his tool box before he realized he couldn’t find his flashlight. Since he had this reputation for surviving the loss of any type of tool, he wasn’t going to mention a thing to me about it.

A year later the same customer came back for some other repair work, and while he was there he asked my dad, “Oh, and if ya got a minute could ya look at that driver’s door for me?  Every now and then I hear a rattle in there.” Of course, good old Dad was more than happy to oblige his friend and customer.  And, of course, after all this time he had totally forgotten about his missing flashlight... which he still hadn’t mentioned to me.  After removing the door panel, he found the rattle alright. It was his flashlight with the switch still on. Needless to say, his reputation for not losing a tool was still intact.  Lucky guy.

I seldom get that lucky; usually when I lose a tool it’s gone for good.  But, occasionally I do find a tool. It kinda-sorta evens things out a bit. Ya never know where a lost tool will show up. For instance, every once in a while I’ll be on a road call to rescue a stranded customer, and as I walk up to their car I’ll keep my eye out on the side of the road for anything shiny, such as a wrench or screwdriver. Occasionally I’ll find one. Hey, I know how they got there. It didn’t fall off of a tool truck, nope... it’s another lost tool from someone else’s repair.  I’ll accept that in exchange for the last tool that I lost. Maybe one of these days I’ll get ahead of the curve and collect more than I lose. Just wish more people would lose the good stuff rather than those cheap overseas tools I seem to find most often.

Lose one-find one, it happens.

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