Second Hand Lyin'

Second hand information can be misleading,
even totally wrong.  There’s always a chance it
might be correct, but I wouldn't count on it. 
It depends on where that information came
from to start with.  In the automotive repair
business if a car was checked out with any
degree of accuracy, the information is probably
good… But if the person giving that info to the next person can’t explain it in a way they both understand, then the results are not going to be as truthful as they could be.

Do you remember when we were kids in school we would form a line, and you said something to the first person, who then passes it on to the next person, so on and so on?  Only to have the original information be completely different by the time it gets to the other end?  The same thing can happen with a car problem when more than one person is involved in getting the information to the person at the end of the line… and who’s usually on the end of the line?… the mechanic. 

  Just the other day a driver told his company dispatcher his truck wasn't getting any heat out of the driver's side vents. By the time it got to the shop the entire story was reversed to, “There's no cold air coming out of the passenger side”.  Really had me wondering what was actually wrong, until I talked to the driver myself.

Take the information given when buying a used car.  Occasionally there's a little white lie about the condition of the car, maybe not on purpose, but rather from the grape vine of information being passed along. Of course, selling the car is the goal and informing the prospective buyer of any faults is important, but the car may have problems, and the explanation of those problems might have been twisted around to the point it's not even close to the truth anymore.

By the time the buyer has their chance to take the car to their mechanic, nine chances out of ten there will be some discrepancies between the two explanations.  Now the issue becomes “who's right”.  The owner of the vehicle will almost always side with their mechanic, while the buyer will lean towards their own.  All this information gets passed back and forth from mechanic to owner, buyer to mechanic, mechanic back to buyer, and buyer back to owner. This only leads to even more misunderstandings.  To avoid any further confusion, the best bet is to have the last guy tell the first guy and everyone else in between.

A few weeks ago I had a problem come up regarding the condition of a car that was up for sale.   It was a ‘97 Buick with low mileage, and had been sitting for nearly 8 years without much attention in a garage.  The owner’s father-in-law bought the car new before he passed away, and as far as the son-in-law was told by the rest of the family, everything was in tiptop shape. It definitely was clean, dent free, great paint and not a blemish to the interior.   As with any of these “moth balled” cars, the first thing that was an issue was the battery.  Leaving a battery sit for that long it's natural to have the battery sulfated by now.  (Sulfating happens when the lead active material reacts with the sulfate from the electrolyte forming a hard lead sulfate surface on the plates.  When there is no active lead material left, and no sulfate in the electrolyte the battery becomes completely discharged.  Keeping a battery charged will reduce the amount of hardened material on the plates.)

The owner had it towed to a garage to have the battery replaced. After the new battery was installed, it took a few cranks for the engine to start.  After a few coughs and shudders the engine purred like new, however the service light was on.   (Which seemed to be the major concern for both seller and the buyer).  But, by the time the car arrived at my shop the engine codes had been cleared from the PCM by the mechanic who installed the battery.  All I had to go on was the second hand information that the owner over heard from the mechanic who worked on the car. 

“The mechanic told me it might need a tune-up, or something,” the owner proudly tells me. 

It's that “something” that bothered me.   A tune-up, maybe… I’m thinking old gas myself, but what's a “something”? It really doesn't matter at this point as the buyer jumps into the conversation and says, “Do a complete checkup for me, and let me know if it's worth what they want for it.”

There were numerous small problems to deal with, and a few major issues as well.  Everything from an ABS light staying on (which neither party mentioned) to a very poorly repaired alternator main positive lead. With the car in the service bay you could hear the alternator whine grow louder and louder the longer the car ran, but at the battery terminals there was hardly anything in the way of a noticeable alternator output.  Between the alternator and the battery was a large homemade connection that was hot enough to fry an egg on. This was causing a rather large voltage drop between the alternator and the battery.  In fact the electrical tape surrounding it was almost completely melted off.

  After explaining the ABS problem, air conditioning, wiring issues, and all the other problems I found while checking it out, it was clear to me they were not going to purchase the car.  (Just too many problems to deal with for them.)  The owner, on the other hand, once he finds out what I found wrong with his "tiptop" shape car he's going to blow a gasket, and I’m sure I'll be on the receiving end of his frustration at the service counter. 

Needless to say, before I could show the owner any of the results, I had a very upset individual at the service counter.
“I was told everything was in perfect working order,” the buyer shouts at me. 
“Do you want to see what I found out?  It would be a lot easier to show you,” I told him.

As I showed him the actual conditions, his doubts about what he was told regarding the condition of the car came into question. It was only then that he knew he should have had a mechanic check it out, rather than relying on the second hand information he was told by the family.

Digging through the maze of hearsay information is what a professional technician does every day.  Explaining firsthand can reduce the chances of the information being skewed by someone else’s explanations.  But you know, people are still going to interpret what anyone says into what they thought  they heard. 

So, the next time someone tells you something, and it just doesn’t sound right, find out for yourself first hand, just to be on the safe side. That secondhand information may not be as truthful as you think.

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