North vs. South
There’s a battle that has been raging in the auto repair business
from the north and south and coast to coast for as long as I can
remember. This division isn't the Mason/Dixon line but it does
define what part of the country you come from. It can bring on some
chin dropping moments to the unsuspecting mechanic who has never
seen the aftermath of one of these battles before.
It’s known as the “Rust Belt”.
If you’re not familiar with it, well then, you've not been around very long. Any mechanic on the northern side of the rust belt knows it all too well. Rust seems to get into every knook and cranny
of the car, but it’s more evident underneath where things are exposed to the weather. Especially in an area that uses a lot of sand and salt, or a mixture of both and a even some chemical agents thrown into the mix. In a lot of areas, studded winter tires were outlawed because of the damage they
could do to the roads. So a lot of these municipalities opted for those chemical
concoctions instead. There’s less road damage from tire studs to the roads, but the cars undercarriage hasn't fared as well.
Rusty undercarriage parts carry their own rules for repair. Such as removing a rusted away tie rod nut. Try as you might, the stubborn nut probably has lost the crisp edges to grip the socket with and now has become a rounded heap of unrecognizable lump of metal. Rather than trying to put one more socket on one of these half deteriorated nuts, the word goes out from under the lift as if the mechanic was hollering for more ammo on the front line-- “Get me the gas axe!” (A cutting torch for you southern boys). The more winters a car survives or the further north you go, the more the ol’ gas axe is as essential as a set of wrenches. Even though the trained mechanics from all parts of the globe have spent countless hours crafting their trade through countless training classes, there is still a profound difference between everyone depending on where they reside. Vehicles today, require advanced technical information and equipment to solve nearly every type of problem that can befuddle the modern car. But how the mechanic arrives at the repair may depend on what part of the country that particular car has been to. Let's face it, even with all of man's technical advancements... Mother Nature still rules. Once in awhile I've run into one of these northern cars that has crossed the line and is now transplanted into my neck of the woods. They are easy to spot; just put it up on the lift and you’ll know. Even though the engine compartment isn’t immune from the effects of salt degradation, it’s a lot more noticeable under the car. The amount of rusted, flaking metal, and deteriorating nuts and bolts under some of these cars is unbelievable, and some of these rusty rides aren’t that old. (At least I haven’t run across a pickup truck where the frame has rotted off between the bed and the cab to the point it separates in half when you put them on the lift! I’ve seen a few photos of these rusted through trucks. Yikes!) Since I grew up north, but moved below the rust belt line years ago, I’ve seen a lot of inventive ways people have come up with to subdue the ever encroaching rust Mother Nature has so graciously handed us. Undercoating, zinc plates, and some crazy electrical unit that is supposed to prevent rust from degrading the metal, just to name a few. Some manufacturers actually offer lifetime warranties against rust on their vehicles that are equipped with their own patented rust prevention systems. Undercoating is probably the most popular. Works great, to a point. That is, until you need to replace a brake line or pull a fuel tank and that stuff is coating all the straps and bolts. There are so many components affected by the long cold winters and road conditions. From suspension parts, wiring, electrical modules, brakes, to the engine itself. It's not just the salts that are an issue it's the weather itself. Back in the day when most cars still used single grade motor oil (I know… age check here) and you had a really cold night the engine oil would turn to molasses. The engine would turn slowly as the starter would try its best to rotate this nearly frozen mechanical monster… something had to give. Most of the time it was the starter bendix drive. Other times the bendix was fine but the starter housing would snap. I've seen this happen below the rust line in any part of the south that drops below freezing. The further south of the rust belt you go the less snow, but more freezing rain and ice. It can coat everything with a thin layer of unyielding and impregnable blanket of ice. You can’t open a car door, and don't even think about opening the hood. But whatever you do, don’t turn on the wipers! Every year somebody will drop their car off at the shop with one of their wiper arms flopping around, while the other one scrapes across the windshield with no rubber left. Oh and that scar on the windshield... that'll be there as a reminder not to do that again.
In the south there are just as many different challenges as well. The biggest issue is the heat. The never ending, over 100 degree days that just destroy rubber, glass, interiors, electrical systems, radiators, etc…. Some days it stays well over a 100 even in the shade, and the shop fans can only circulate the hot air that is already unbearable. No need in worrying about freeze plugs popping out, but you might need to worry about the dash pad warping so bad it looks like ocean waves. Just try keeping an aging car’s A/C system working in 105 degree weather while in traffic, without the engine overheating is a challenge. And, did I mention… it’s hot! It’s really hot! It’s not uncommon to get into a car that’s been waiting in front of the shop to reach 145 degrees or more inside it.
The winter season in some parts of the country is several months long, and seems to linger on longer and longer the more you anticipate its end. Then as the spring thaw begins, the pot holes start to show up. Which leads to even more suspension and chassis issues to deal with. In the south the winters aren’t nearly as long, but can be just as severe. Sure, they’ll still throw the sand and salt out below the rust belt, and yes they aren't as likely to plow all of the roads, and yes, they probably don't have the same amount of equipment to do so as their northern brothers have. They'll just clean out the grocery stores of all the milk and bread, close the schools, and call for a state of emergency when the snow fall accumulation is an inch deep. If you didn’t know any better you’d think it was an invasion or something .
Between the snow, ice, hot temps, pot holes, rain, lightning, floods, and everything else that Mother Nature can throw at ya, every repair shops will have their hands full. Battling Mother Nature on either side of the rust belt is a never ending job. It’s a long battle on either side of the rust belt, and I don’t think Mother Nature is going to let up any time soon.