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When you're faced with simple failures in places that are almost out of reach

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 06:00
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I had (have) been writing for Motor Age since May 2000, and so, when I submitted my application for the college instructor’s job in December of that year, I included copies of Motor Age that featured my articles, and to this day, I believe my position as a contributing editor for this magazine was one of the determining factors in landing the job that a whole lot of other guys had applied for. And for those who think they want a college instructor’s job, well, you need to realize going in that it’s as demanding (and sometimes frustrating) as it is rewarding. There were times when I fully believed I had no idea what I was doing there. As of the writing of this article, I am teaching my way through my 19th year and I plan to retire at the end of May from my teaching position.

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I’ll still be writing a feature or two for Motor Age every year if Mr. Meier will work with me on that front, but since I’m no longer going to be neck deep in vehicle repairs every week, I’m not sure how many more articles I’ll be able to hammer out, because the articles I’ve been writing for the past 20 years have been real stories from the service bay, and where Motor Age Garage is concerned, that’s the only kind of story that works. My time in the service bay will be limited after May, I’m afraid, and that’s where the photos and stories come from.  The point is that, while I’m not saying you’ve heard the last of me, my articles won’t be quite as regular, although, if I can write enough for Motor Age to hang on to my “senior contributing editor” status, that’d be peachy. Time will tell.

During my teaching tenure at the college, I have forged enough of a reputation with those qualified to have work done in this shop to have lots of real-world repair stories, and those are the stories I tell. Most of the customers we serve like the work we do, so they keep coming back for more, and since experience is the best teacher, my people get hammered with a lot of work, and some of it is pretty doggone tough, but that kind of pressure either molds my people into functional techs or drives them away from the profession. I want them to face tough jobs here so they can handle them out there. I consider my program to be “boot camp,” and they either pass or fail based on what they’re able to handle. My desire is for every graduate to be a living legend, but that’s more up to them than it is to me.

“It’s broke” is all they know

We get vehicles hauled in on wreckers, trailers, and yanked by chains, and sometimes when they show up, nobody even called to tell me they were coming. A couple of weeks ago a 2006 Mazda 6 showed up with the complaint that “something happened, and the timing belt came off,” which made no sense whatsoever on this engine, but then, most every service writer faces this kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ridiculing my customers, but for years it has boggled my mind that some of them don’t even know what year model their vehicle is, let alone which engine is in the vehicle, but that’s OK, because we can figure that out as the work order is being written. But then sometimes they’re not sure how to describe what’s going on, they just know the vehicle is “broke” and can’t be driven and they want us to work some kind of magic.

Even after sitting in the yard for a few months, this Fusion still looked pretty good after it was washed.

In the case of the Mazda, we discovered that the idler pulley bolt had broken off flush with its hole, which, as it turned out, was somewhat difficult to access. There’s a thick aluminum bracket between the pulley/spacer assembly and the hole in the block the bolt is threaded into, but the bracket is designed in such a way that the bolt passes through a long notch instead of a round hole on the way to the block. This is something of a blessing, because you can at least see the broken bolt – but on the other hand, if the bolt was passing all the way through a hole in the bracket and into the block, the bracket would probably support the bolt rather than allowing it to flex and break off.

On this Mazda, with the tire and splash shield removed, the pulley area is fairly accessible and we managed to use a left-hand twist drill bit to succeed in snatching that broken off piece of bolt out. Having worked the requisite “some kind of magic” at this point (it’s what we do, ya know), we had found the original pulley and its spacer lying in there, and so I found a suitable bolt the right length in a can of junk bolts (8mm 1.25 thread pitch), and with a new belt and that replacement bolt in place with the original pulley, we got that one going in short order.

Wait, what? Another one?

About 10 days later, a 2008 Ford Fusion 2.3L, FNR5 Transaxle with 212,564 miles showed up on a trailer. Like the Mazda, this one had been sitting in the yard until all the other pulleys were rusty and there were spiderwebs everywhere. And like the Mazda owner, the Fusion owner struggled to explain what the problem was, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this one had broken the same bolt as the Mazda 6 had. This is obviously a high mileage failure due to the flexing of that bolt.

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