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Working on the car your customer loves

Helping customers is really important when it’s worth a lot more to them than it would be to us
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 09:00
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Once back in the 1990s, I worked on a 1984 Tempo that came in on the hook as a no-start.  The old man who owned that car was hovering nearby watching me work on his baby (personally, I wouldn’t have given him $50 for that rusty old car at the time). 

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The seats were torn, the inside was worn, and the engine was destroyed, but she liked it enough to drop some fairly serious cash into getting it back on the road.

That particular Tempo was one of the early ones that had a carburetor on it, and since I had worked on those cars at the Lincoln Mercury dealer when they were brand new, I was familiar with the plumbing.  To begin with, there was no gas in the carburetor, but the gas needle was reading something other than empty. While that gauge could have been wrong, I chose to poke around under the hood before pushing the car into the shop.  This one had a strange little two-wire solenoid mounted, so that it bisected the fuel line (the fuel line had been cut at some point by somebody and this solenoid installed), and the ground wire for that solenoid was connected in a very easy to see place up by the cowl.  The ground screw was rusty and a bit loose, so I spun it out, shined the metal, reconnected it securely and that opened the solenoid. Fuel filled the reservoir, and the car started.

The old man was surprised that I had found it so quickly; he told me that he had installed the solenoid as a theft protection device right after he bought the car brand new. I guess he had a hidden switch somewhere that energized the solenoid.  I didn’t tell him that his anti-theft solenoid was now unnecessary, because nobody would even consider stealing that rusty old ride. Nevertheless, he was joined at the hip with that car and loved it dearly.     

I have, for the past 37 or so years of my life on the wrench, experienced in an intimate, yet somewhat detached way the love some customers have for their cars. To the technician who wrenches on 30 or 40 cars a week, that car is just another machine in need of a field fix. But to the person whose fanny keeps the driver’s seat warm, that ride is their best friend, even if they don’t always treat it in a friendly way.

These are sweet little engines when they’re running right, but bleeding the air from the cooling system is kind of dicey. The book says there are bleeders, but we couldn’t find any, so we filled the block through the upper radiator hose. The thermostat was in the other one, like on some Camrys and VW Rabbits.

This story has some satellite tales to go with it, but the title vehicle is a 2004 Chevy “Classic” that quit running, and now it was spinning slower than normal and they didn’t know why.  The man and his wife came to ask if we could have a look at it, and I agreed. They spoke of how much she loved that car and how they would do just about anything to get it going again. 

She said during our initial conversation that the temp gauge never showed the car to be hot, and so she wasn’t sure why it quit. But from what she told me there were some unmentioned reasons why she believed engine heat was a factor.  Not the least of which was that they had purchased a new radiator that they wanted us to install.

A day later the little gray car arrived on a roll back wrecker and some of my guys shoved it into service bay No. 6.  It was interesting for me to learn that this car and the Malibu are listed as two different cars even though they look like practically the same.

Holes Incapable of Fire
Identifix spoke of timing chain issues with this platform, and the engine didn’t sound normal while spinning, so the timing chain was a possibility, to be sure. We screwed the spark plugs out and checked the compression to find none. Not a single ounce on any hole.  Had it jumped time and bent valves?  

Peering into the spark plug holes with a streamlight, the tops of the pistons were clearly visible, and right away I pointed two things out to my guys.  To begin with, there was no carbon at all — the pistons looked really clean.  Second, there were significant beads of coolant resting on two of the four too-clean pistons. This cooling system had experienced an epic failure, and an engine would be in order, so I buzzed the folks at LKQ and priced out an engine with less than 90,000 on the clock. They opted for the engine and would pay the extra dough for a year’s worth of parts and labor warranty.  I got the engine coming, but we had a lot of other stuff in the shop that bears short mention here.

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