Poking it with a Sharp Stick
It's not so much that I work with the general
public in my daily business, it's more of what
kind of 'public' gives me the business. I'm not
talking about people who can think and reason
like most educated, knowledgeable people. It's
that ever present cave man mentality. You know the type, the guy who's elevator doesn't go to the top floor, or the couple who can't seem to keep both oars in the water. The all seem to lack one simple characteristic, common sense. The very quality that every halfwit adventure I've either seen, (or been a part of) have in common. (I can't leave myself out of this one... guilty as charged)
It stands to reason if some of these mental giants were among the intrepid pioneers who crossed the great divide in a Conestoga wagon, they probably would have been the ones that never made it. But, with so many modern conveniences like diet, clean water, and modern medical care, these half-wit trail blazers roam freely throughout every part of the countryside.
There was a comedian some years ago who told a story about his ancestors from the Stone Age. He commented on how some people felt it necessary to leave the safety of the cave to take on some huge beast with nothing more than a sharpened stick, only to be trampled to death by the same prehistoric behemoth. He went on to say, “My relatives were the ones that stayed in the cave... how else can explain me being here?! If my ancestors were the ones who got killed off, how would it be possible for me to be standing here telling you all about them? My relatives had the good sense to stay out of harm’s way. Were my ancestors brave? Sure they’re brave, they’re just not stupid.”
“Oh look, a man is getting thrashed by a huge beast outside the cave, I’ll stay here… you can go out there. I’ve gotta sharpen my stick, and while you’re gone I'll paint your picture on these cave walls. That way our ancestors will think you’re great hunters.”
Funny, yes, true... I guess so, and in similar ways, it’s how some people tackle car repair.
In most states there’s no regulation to keep someone from poking their pointed stick under the hood of their car, or hanging a shingle on a shop door and call themselves a “mechanic”. The unsuspecting consumer is at the mercy of the phone book (and other sources) to find a shop that can actually make the appropriate repairs to their car. It's like the car has turned into that huge mammoth of our cave dwelling ancestors, and the person attempting the repair is just taking stabs at it with a sharp stick. No training, no experience, and more than likely no clue to what they are doing. This is but one of the many reasons why the automotive field gets such low marks in the consumers’ eyes. As one of my customers told me, “It's getting harder and harder to find a good mechanic these days”. And, from what I can tell, it wasn’t any better in previous decades either.
A typical example of this was last week. An older gentleman came into the shop with an air conditioning problem on his 1967 Thunderbird. Sweet ride, entirely original... just the way he liked it. He had been to several shops trying to get the air conditioning working. This car was factory equipped with the old style compressor and A/C lines that didn't use a Schrader valve, but instead had the hand shut off valves that you moved (in the correct direction) to recharge or change the compressor. The owner’s story was that every place he went too, no one knew how to use the hand valves correctly to refill the system. They were all good at replacing parts, but had no clue as to how the system worked. I'm old enough to have worked on these when they were very common. Honestly, the previous repair shops could have figured it out if they would have just put down their pointy stick, and did a little research. (FYI - There's only 3 positions to be concerned about: Front seated blocks off the compressor, Mid-position is used to allow flow between entire system, compressor, and the gauge port, and the most importantly, back seated, which allows the entire system to work normally.)
It turned into an easy job for me; all in all, the A/C system was blowing cold air in no time. All it took was a little basic knowledge rather than guessing at it. (No telling what parts actually needed replaced, by the time I saw the car everything was new, oiled, and mounted correctly.) Too bad for the owner though, he paid each and every one of these other shops to do what I just did... and that was to make cold air. The T-bird owner was overjoyed to finally have his air conditioning back in working order. (He did tell me he wasn't about to use those other guys ever again.) I guess after so many pokes with that sharp stick the T-Bird owner had had enough.
Then there’s the DIY'r trying to repair the car in their family cave. First it’s a jab with the pointed end of their stick, then two, then another, until they either figure it out, or they find the information they need to make the repairs. There's been a lot of talk lately about the factory information not being available... really?? What Neanderthal told you that? I've been working professionally in the car repair business for a long time and I've never had any problem obtaining factory information. The hard part is getting the right scanners (at reasonable prices) and education to go along with it. It's out there; it just may take a little poking around to find it. (Pun intended) The big thing is, it’s not free, never has been. Poking the sharp end of your stick at the manufacturer and expecting him to roll over like a wounded mammoth and hand you the information for free … just ain't happening… ever.
I have this mental image of a DIY'r and their protégé the “untrained mechanic” as a cave men portrayed in the painting with the great mammoth in the center. The cave men are throwing their spears into the beast, but the huge behemoth of those prehistoric times still isn't quite finished off. It's not a futile effort, if they keep stabbing at it they’ll eventually get the job done. Gee, doesn’t that sound just like a couple of guys trying to figure out what’s wrong with the car by throwing part after part at it? It does to me.
Poking around a car with the old Stone Age sharpened stick method of diagnostics is a slow and unproductive way of making any kind of automotive repair. But, I still see the same kind of poor workmanship even today. Working on modern cars, and even one from a few decades ago requires the right tools, the right information, and some good old fashion common sense. If you’ve got all that, you’ve got half the battle won. Common sense while working with the proper tools, following all the safety concerns, attending the training classes with the latest information goes a long way to repairing today's cars.
It beats crawling out of the cave and poking it with a sharp stick.