Random Rants and Raps

This page last updated
10Jan2009



This is the place where I rant on about random stuff,
some of which might actually have something to do with car repairs.
(And some of which has absolutely NOTHING to do with cars.)

Advice from your neighbor:

There is something about a car with the hood up that brings out the best intentions of your next-door-neighbor. Perform this experiment: park your car in your driveway, open the hood, and just stand there looking inside it for a while. Use the time wisely, count the number of things that you can't identify. Within minutes, you will have several people (almost always men,) standing around saying things like "I almost bought one of those, read that Consumers digest report just in time." or "It's the thermostat bearings, I can tell from the sound." and "My car did the same thing, it was the muffler widgets, cost me a fortune." Just remember, you are the one who will be paying for the repair, and if your neighbor was a competent mechanic he wouldn't be selling insurance (or whatever he does do) for a living. Even if your neighbor is a mechanic, it doesn't necessarily follow that he is a competent one.

Automotive Computers

Every year the 'suits' use computers for more and more of the stuff that's involved with making your car work correctly. Believe it or not, this is a GOOD thing. Compared to the old way of doing things, computers are MUCH more reliable and accurate. If your mechanic wants to replace the computer in your car, chances are that he's wrong. 99% of the time, the problem is caused by a problem in the wiring or in one of the sensors that feeds data TO the computer that's acting up. The problem is, most mechanics aren't very good at checking those sensors. The computer is one of the most expensive parts of the car, sensors are some of the cheapest parts. If you aren't sure what is causing the problem, chances are you can replace ALL of the sensors cheaper than replacing the computer.

Automotive Engineers:

Hereafter referred to as "suits", these are the guys who design cars. They work in air-conditioned offices in Detroit high risesoffice buildings, wear suits, and hate all mechanics and do-it-yourselfers. There seems to be a war going on between the "suits" and the rest of us. They are paid to make cars easy (read as cheap) to manufacture, not necessarily easy to repair. This basic conflict has produced such innovations as front-wheel-drive cars, unit-body cars, one-piece exhaust systems, and electric fuel pumps that are mounted inside the fuel tank. If there is a God, and I have it on good authority(Hi Frank) that there is, some day the "suit" who decided where to place the fuel filter on 1987 F-250 pickups with dual fuel tanks will break down in front of my shop. This is the main reason that I always ask people "So, what do you do for a living?" when their cars are towed into my shop.

And they spoiled it for everybody...

A few years ago my Perfect Partner and I attended an amateur theater competition held in Campbell River, BC. While there, our group ate at a wonderful little restaurant that had an unusual decor. The walls were a beige color and were decorated with hundreds of signed and dated handprints in primary colors made by patrons over the years. We thought to immortalize our visit by adding ours. We asked the waitress if this was possible and she replied that they had stopped the practice last year because someone had abused the privilege by putting their prints all over other people's, and had "Spoiled it for everybody." It occurs to me that much of the bullshit that we have to put up with in this world is due to the same problem, a few ignoranuses who do stupid things and necessitate the passage of laws and rules that restrict everyone's behavior. Come on, people, if we don't get our shit together and stop doing this kind of stuff our world is going to just keep getting worse...

A.S.S.U.M.E.:

Don't assume that just because the last time your car wouldn't start the problem was fixed by replacing the battery that this time the same thing will work. Assume makes an ASS of U and ME. Be sure that you know what you are doing before you start tearing into things and replacing parts. You can waste a lot of time and money.

Basic
NO-START Diagnosis

If your car turns over fine, but just won't start, the first thing you MUST do is determine if you are dealing with a fuel problem or an ignition problem. They are equally likely, but you can waste a huge amount of time verifying the wrong system. I've lost track of the number of letters I've gotten from people that don't take this first step. "Hey, my car won't start, what could it be?" If you are serious about maybe fixing the thing yourself, you should at least take this first step before you ask me to help.

Car Spirits:

Cars are individuals. Two seemingly identical cars that roll off the assembly line one right after another can be as different as night and day. One will run forever, giving few if any problems, continuing to run even after receiving terrible punishment, (remember Herbie?) while the other will spend more time in the dealer's garage than in yours, and try to kill you to boot. (Remember Christine?) If you get a Herbie, be nice to him and he will be your friend forever. If you get a Christine, park her on the front lawn with a FOR SALE sign in the windshield and let her curse someone else's life - before she ends yours.

The Purpose of Marriage

Marriage is for making jolly babies, raising them up into successful predators, and then admiring them until they see fit to reward you with grandchildren you can spoil.

Computers in cars:

Just about every car on the market these days has at least one computer chip controlling some aspect of it's operation. Many people in the industry will automatically assume that the computer is the cause of some problem. Listen to me people: computers in cars are generally even more reliable than computers on your desktop. If your mechanic starts off telling you that he must replace the computer, watch out! He's either an idiot, or a bandit, neither trait is desirable in your automotive caregiver. Get a second opinion. Guess what, you can't get your money back for any electronic part that you mistakenly replace while using the "swap parts until the problem goes away" method of auto repair.

Drivers:

You won't want to hear this, but many of the automotive problems you have are brought on by the way that you treat your car. Some people are their car's own worst enemy, causing it to wear out long before it should. This is the reason that few mechanics will give long warranties on parts such as clutches, brake shoes, and tires, which are vulnerable to abuse.

Flashing headlight code:

Have you ever had an oncoming car flash his headlights at you and wondered just what important message he was trying to communicate? Here, for the first time, I'll explain the secret code invented years ago by truck drivers:
1 flash - Pardon me, but your headlights seem very bright, could you possibly dim them? or: I think you should turn on your headlights now.
2 flashes - There is a law enforcement presence ahead of you, you might consider suspending any illegal activities you might currently be engaged in.
3 flashes - There is an accident/animal/brainless twit ahead of you, you might consider removing your cranium from your colon momentarily so that you are better equipped to deal with it.
4 or more flashes - Hey, I just discovered this neat little lever on my steering column, watch what happens when I wiggle it.

French and Italian cars:

Anything designed by an Italian or a Frenchman. On second thought, perhaps I'm being unfair, other nations have produced real automotive nightmares, even the good old US of A. But I must admit, I've never met a Fiat or a Renault that I liked.

Fuel filters:

I won't insult your intelligence by telling you what a fuel filter is, but until the 70's they cost a couple of dollars and took about 5 minutes to change. A shop had to stock about a dozen or so different part numbers to cover 90% of the cars on the road. You could change them while standing up and wearing nice clothes. Now, they are almost all under the car where they are exposed to all kinds of crap from the road, take either special tools, the hands of a pygmy contortionist, or the strength of Hercules to change. (They can also cost 30-50 dollars or more.) And a shop needs to stock a hundred or so different ones to cover 90% of the cars on the road. . . Score another one for the suits.

Hoses
and
tape

In the recorded history of the human race, on all the continents of the planet, of all the tribes of man that ever were, in all the lives that any of them have lived, no man has ever, ever, successfully repaired a leaking hose with tape. No matter what kind of tape, no matter how much tape was used, no matter how tightly it was wrapped, no matter how well the surface was prepared, no tape based hose repair has ever worked. But we always try it anyway...

HTML
formatted
e-mail

I've been involved with computers since the early 1980's, and been using the internet since before there was such a thing as HTML formatted e-mail or a World Wide Web. Over this time I've watched the "signal to noise ratio" get smaller and smaller. HTML formatted e-mail is a HUGE waste of bandwidth, if you send me one, I'll still answer it, but I respond much more favorably to plain text based ones. If you can't figure out how to change your e-mail settings to send plain text format e-mail you probably shouldn't be attempting to repair your car by yourself.

HUA:

Many years ago I read a novel by Joseph Wambaugh that included the term "driving HUA" which was defined by the character(a policeman, as most of Mr. Wambaugh's characters are) as driving "head-up-ass." It struck a chord with me since I've noticed many people with the same problem when it comes to paying attention to their driving, not to mention various other aspects of life in the modern world. Here's an example: If you're driving along and someone passes you on the right, YOU are the one driving HUA.

Intermittent problems:

These are problems that go away (temporarily) by themselves. I can't count the number of times a car has been towed in because it wouldn't start, only to start quite easily when I tested it. You can probably imagine how much fun it is to try to locate a problem that comes and goes, seemingly at random.

K.I.S.S.:

Stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. A car is a complex combination of many simple systems. It appears confusing until you focus on the particular area where the problem lies. Once you have simplified the problem, the actual repair becomes almost easy.

LOANING TOOLS:

Want to borrow one of my tools? No problem. Just cough up the $5 fee, leave a cash deposit equal to twice the replacement cost of the tool, and return it in the same condition that you borrowed it. Many of my tools require a certain expertice to use properly, if you knock my torque wrench out of adjustment, be ready to pay for a new one.

Murphy's Law: If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Be prepared for it and you won't be surprised.
Fuel Economy

These days most of us are concerned with getting good mileage from the gasoline we put into our cars. The mileage you get with your car depends on quite a few factors, but by far the most important one is the way you drive. If you accelerate gently and keep your cruising speed at a reasonable number, you'll get the best average mileage.

New technology:

Every time that the engineers come up with some neat little bit of new technology, there is a lag-time before the repair industry learns how to effectively deal with it. I was working at a Chevrolet dealership the year that GM introduced their version of electronic ignition, (HEI). It was a bit of a nightmare for the mechanics, because we had no experience with it. When a car was towed in with a no-spark condition, out came the manuals, and the mechanic would spend hours reading through the sections dealing with diagnosis, which almost invariably ended with the statement "If results are inconclusive, substitute with a known good part and retest." A lot of guys skipped the hard part and just started swapping parts until the problem went away. This method, while it works, tends to be a little hard on the customer's pocketbook.

Other Mechanics:

I have worked in this industry for a lot of years, and have worked alongside a lot of mechanics. Mechanics that ranged in ability and temperament from zero to 99th percentile. None of them were Satan (although I saw some of them do some pretty bad things), none of them were Jesus (although some of them did some pretty wonderful things). They were just human beings who had chosen to work in the same field that I had chosen. Don't take up a mechanic's time at his workplace and expect to get it for free. Don't ask him to connect some expensive diagnostic machine to your car and then not pay him just because he didn't actually fix anything. You wouldn't go to your doctor's office and expect him to diagnose your illness for free, your mechanic is just a doctor for your car.

PARTS:

When it comes time to buy parts for your car, you have a lot of choices, depending on which part you need. Some parts are only available from the dealer or a wrecker, while others can be purchased at your neighborhood 7-11. Filters and oil, spark plugs, batteries, and other common parts for most of the more common autos can be purchased cheaply at large places like K-Mart, Sears, Canadian Tire stores, etc. Less common parts, like brake parts, electrical parts, engine parts and such can best be purchased at auto-parts stores like the NAPA chain, Western Auto, Pep Boys, etc. Certain low-demand parts, and most parts for exotic cars can only be purchased from the dealer (Take your credit card) or from a wrecker (Wear old clothes and take cash.)


Simple
English
words

God knows I'm not the most articulate or learned person around, and some of the mis-pronunciations and spoonerisms that have emanated from my lips are surely worthy of blooper hall of fame status, I expect better performance than that from the people I allow into my home through the television and radio. but I've been fuming and sputtering for a few years now about the pronunciation of a couple of words that I seem to hear several times a day on the radio and television news shows. Here is an open letter to G. W. Bush and to all the professional journalists and talking heads who should know better out there:

THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS "NUCULAR"!
THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS "ECKCETERA" AND
THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS "JOOLERY"!

If you should pronounce one of these words while you are pontificating and pretending to wisdom and knowledge, I shall assume a certain low level for your intelligence rating and discount your opinions appropriately. Learn how to pronounce these three simple words if you want me to accept your opinions as an "expert" or your broadcast skills as "professional".

Those b*stards
at F*rd

Well, they've done it again. This time, the infamous "Quick connect" fittings have been used to connect the fuel lines to the fuel tanks on pickups. It is almost as if they figure that their tanks will never rust out before the truck becomes worthless. Or else they figure that the tanks will last as long as the warranty period and don't care about after that. Listen guys, if you are going to make them impossible to change, at least make a better tank first . . .

TOOLS:

If you are going to work on your car, you will need some tools. I have well over $30,000 invested in tools, and I still buy tools every month. You can buy a basic set of tools for much less. Sears® is a good place to start your collection. When there is a sale on, you can pick up a very nice basic set of screwdrivers, wrenches and sockets for 100 to 200 dollars, and if one breaks, just take it back and get a new one. If money is no object, buy Snap-On® wrenches and sockets, they are the best, and are also beautiful things to behold. (They also cost 10 times as much as Sears tools.) If your car is an import, you will need metric tools, if it is domestic, you will need both metric and imperial ones. Sorry about that, but Detroit still hasn't embraced metrification completely. Depending on the year, your American car can be from 100% imperial (pre 1970) to 90% metric(1997).

Voting:

Always vote. It doesn't matter that there is often nobody running that you want to vote FOR, there is ALWAYS someone you want to vote AGAINST. And another tip, if you are voting for an office like city council, where they say, "vote for six" only vote for the ones you want, even if it's only one or two candidates, that way you aren't forced to vote for the idiots you don't want to be elected and your vote will count only for the candidates you actually want to win.

WARNING:

There can be great rewards to doing your own repairs, but there can also be penalties. If you make a good diagnosis and perform the necessary repair properly, you can save money and gain a feeling of accomplishment. If you make an incorrect diagnosis, or screw up the repair, you can end up paying more than it would have cost to have the repair done by a professional. A young lad brought a transmission into the shop the other day because the shift lever had come off in his hand. It had broken a 30 cent roll pin. The pin could have been replaced with the transmission still in the truck for less than $50.00 He ASSUMED that the problem was inside the trans, and decided to save money by removing it himself. When he reinstalled the transmission, he neglected to grease the nose piece and allowed the weight of the trans to hang on the clutch, causing the front nose piece of the trans to crack and subsequently break, and bent the splined part of the clutch plate, causing the clutch to not engage properly. ASSUMING that the problem was in the clutch linkage, he then replaced the clutch linkage, but the trans still wouldn't shift. By the time he finally gave up and had the truck towed to the shop, the damaged parts included the clutch, pilot bushing, transmission nose piece, throwout bearing, etc. The final total was over $500.00 All for what would have been a $50.00 repair.

Voltage regulators

In the olden days, cars had generators with separate voltage regulators. The regulator is the control device that checks the voltage of the battery and controls the generator field current to regulate the output. The separate regulators cost between 10 and 20 dollars, were mounted under the hood, and anyone could replace one. In the 70's GM converted the regulator to a solid-state device and incorporated it into the guts of the alternator. It cost around 30-40 dollars and most people could replace it if they were careful. Around 1990 Chrysler incorporated their 15 dollar regulator into the engine management computer, which costs around 700 dollars, no one can replace just the regulator. When your 1990 Dakota needs a voltage regulator, you get to change the entire 700 dollar unit... This is progress? Score another one for the suits.

 


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