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Motor Age Garage: When customers need us — and we need them

Friday, June 1, 2018 - 07:00
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One particularly cold day, I was on my way home from work and I saw a couple of women standing by a black Cadillac crossover that was parked in the grass beside the road. I pulled over to see if I could lend a hand. I was in my uniform, and I assessed their situation — quite simply — they had a flat tire on the right front. I opened the hatch on my Explorer, got out the small jack and four-way lug wrench I carry, and went to work changing the tire. I do this kind of thing regularly when I see people beside the road with flats, because almost nobody knows how to change a tire any more, and rural Alabama isn’t as dangerous as a big city. I was about half done when a wrecker arrived, and the wrecker driver watched me finish changing the tire and said something about the donut and how it should be installed on the back. I pointed out that this donut was the same diameter as the regular tire, so the gears in the differential wouldn’t suffer. I heard the driver tell the women he was on the other side of town when he received the call and wished he had been able to get there sooner.

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It was about that time that I realized I had accidentally bumped the wrecker guy out of a roadside assistance call. I would never have changed the flat had I known he was on the way, but they didn’t say a word about having called anybody. It was then evident that they thought I was their roadside guy because of my uniform – and the wrecker guy showed up in jeans and a bomber jacket. As I was putting my tools away, one of the very confused women asked in her crisp British accent if they needed to sign any paperwork.

“Nah,” I told her as I closed my hatch. “I’m just on my way home from work.” 

The 2004 Trailblazer

When we got the pan off the Trailblazer, we saw this dreadful mess. Running an engine short distances, too cool, or without necessary oil changes comes with a price

A customer came walking into my office asking if we could put an oil pump on the engine in his Trailblazer. He was an older fellow who had convinced himself that a new engine heart would silence his suddenly noisy powerplant. Out of respect and diplomacy, I spent more time discussing his request than was necessary. Semi-knowledgeable customers like this usually need their thinking gently redirected, and I convinced this fellow that, before we spent the time and effort fiddling with the timing chains and everything we’d have to hurdle on the way to installing the oil pump he had already bought, we needed to do some exploratory surgery, and after a short dialogue, he saw my point.

I wrote a work order, and we removed the oil pan to find large slivers of at least one rod bearing swimming in the pan-sludge – some of which was still clogging the screen. We pulled the rod caps one at a time until we found that #2 had burned out and shed the metal that had wound up in the oil pan. He’d need an engine, and that was that.

This was the only rod that burned out on the Trailblazer – interestingly, the rest of them looked good.

This reminds me of another fellow a few years back who was doing some contract work with a group of builders on a local campus. He came to me one morning and told me his Ford Ranger 4 cylinder had begun to rattle a bit, and that the oil light had come on just that morning. I told him his oil screen was likely clogged with sludge. In the parking lot, that character drained the crankcase oil into a large-mouthed jug and used a little flashlight to examine the oil pump screen through that tiny hole, and sure enough, it was clogged. He got some kind of aerosol spray from the parts store, along with oil and a filter, and working through the oil drain plug hole, he cleaned the clogged screen and then did what he could to flush that stuff out of the oil pan – all by just removing the drain plug. And he fixed his Ranger — at least, temporarily.

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