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Friday, February 27, 2009

Older Market

This is my week for funny anecdotes from the shop. A customer of mine for twenty-eight years came in with her 1982 Buick Regal leaking coolant. She’s ninety-one and must wait for the vehicle to be done even if it means hours sitting in my office. Her radiator was leaking so I had to make sure it and the hoses were available for immediate delivery. The second thing I must make sure of is getting the car out at the exact time I say I will. My parts house was late delivering a battery for her car and she rode me like a hobby horse every five minutes wanting to know when it would be there. Needless to say, I am very careful about job completion time. She always brings a book with her to read. I was especially interested in seeing she had a big print Harlequin Romance but I couldn’t see the title.

I finished the job with ten minutes to spare, thank you Lord. The delivery guys arrived in very good time with the parts and all went well. While she was making out the check I managed to glimpse the title of the book. The ninety-one year old youngster was reading ‘Cop On Loan’ by Jeannie Watt. Ms. Watt has wide appeal apparently.

Couple of neat news flashes here - if we can see, we’ll still be reading at ninety-one and the ninety-one year old customer had just passed her California driver’s license test. She doesn’t jog out to her car, but neither do I. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009


This just in: even us old time East Oakland shop owners can get fooled. I didn’t have an appointment for my eight o’clock slot this morning, so I was busy writing in the backroom when a neatly dressed woman rushed in the front garage door. She gasped for breath, calling out:

“Excuse meeeeeee… anyone here!?”

Having some experience in the past with kids and teenagers getting chased into my shop, I grabbed the cut off steel rocker arm shaft with taped handle. Cut me some slack. I'm almost sixty. :) I met the woman halfway, watching for pursuers. She grabbed my arm in a pleading manner.

“Please… Highland Hospital called. My Mom’s been in an accident. They’re admitting her right now. Can I borrow two dollars for the bus?”

I admit it. It was early in the morning and I was distracted. Her eyes appeared in the Bat-cave’s lighting to be full of tears and she sported an agonizing look of worry.

“C’mon,” I told her, walking toward my pull-down front door. “I don’t have anyone coming in for an hour. I’ll drive you over. Give me a second to close up.”

“No… I don’t want to be a bother. I’ll take the bus.”

Okay, now the bells are ringing. Hello, Bambi, how many years have you been running this place in East Oakland again? I will be known as Bambi for the rest of this post - a deserved limited title of ridicule.

“It’s no bother. I’ll take you to Highland right now,” Bambi insists.

Gone went the agonized expression. Gone went the tear filled eyes. Her mouth turns up at the corner in either amusement or arrogance. I’m not sure which. It’s an overcast day and I don’t have all the lights on in the Bat-cave. Her pleading arms drop limply to her sides.

“I’ll take a ride down to McArthur,” she tells Bambi matter-of-factly.

“Ah… no, you won’t,” Bambi replies, gesturing for the young woman to hit the bricks.

“You were ready to take me to Highland a moment ago! What’s a quick run to McArthur?”

Incredulously, Ms. Stat’s pleading has evolved into anger at Bambi. Bambi is having none of it.

“Leave now,” Bambi directs, “or I call Oakland PD, and have them give you a ride.”

“&*#$ you!” Ms. Stat tells me and storms out.

Bambi can’t help wishing Connor and Ellie were driving by(my fictional novel Oakland police officers for any newcomers to the blog). Ellie could hop out and give the young woman a nice nudge with her stun gun. On the bright side, Bambi headed into the back room again to post this and continue working on his Connor and Ellie manuscript which is nearing the 70,000 word mark. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ford Coil-Boot Assembly

I had a great response in E-mails after my Ford Expedition post, so I thought I'd clarify a point I made about expensive tune-ups on Fords with individual coil-boot assemblies.

I mentioned how costly Ford tune-ups can be. The above pictures illustrate what Ford has replaced the spark plug wires and coil with in the last decade. The boot and coil assembly you see above is mounted on each cylinder spark plug. Although Ford doesn’t call for replacement of the spark plugs before 60,000 miles and later, when the spark plugs are replaced these boot and coil assemblies should be replaced with them. It’s expensive, but will save the added cost of a diagnostic check and computer scan later due to a misfire code causing the check engine light to come on. If a misfire takes place for an extended period the catalytic converter assembly will be damaged. On Ford, that cost makes the tune-up seem cheap in comparison.
The labor cost really adds to the expense of a tune-up on Ford’s vans. Removing and replacing the spark plugs and these coil and boot assemblies is quite time consuming – especially if doing the job in a van’s restricted engine compartment. These vehicles run extremely well, but like all the others rolling down the road, they have their quirks. 
That’s all for this update, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Funny Quote

I ran across this quote from the old-time actor and comedian W.C. Fields while doing research on a scene I'm adding.

W. C. Fields was quoted as saying:

"I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday."

Please, if you're from Philly, no hate E-mails. I'm originally from Ohio. Here's an Ohio joke.

"A guy in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and says, “Wanna hear a Buckeye joke?”

The guy replies, “Well, before you tell that joke, you should know something. I am 6′ tall, 200 lbs. and I am an Ohio State graduate. The guy sitting next to me is 6′2″, 225 lbs., and he is an Ohio State graduate. The guy right next to him is 6′5″, 250lbs., and he is also an Ohio State graduate. Now, you still wanna tell me that joke?”

The first guy says, “No, not if I’m going to have to explain it three times.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Throttle Position Sensor

The top two photos are of a Throttle Position Sensor off a 2005 Ford Expedition with 5.4L Engine. The TPS acting up will cause a variety of goofy driving problems, including sticking you on the roadside.
A repair which has cropped up lately in the last couple months on the 5.4 Liter Ford engine is a faulty Throttle Position Sensor. The latest one yesterday was a 2005 Ford Expedition with only 31,000 miles on it. They all had relatively low mileage, between 30,000 and 60,000 miles. The symptoms were relatively the same: no power on the freeway, surging RPM’s, and check engine light on with various throttle position sensor codes. I’m writing this up because when I see something like Throttle Position Sensors acting up on similar applications in a short period of time, it may mean a pattern failure, where I will be seeing more. The pictures above show what a Throttle Position Sensor looks like and where it’s mounted. When the gas pedal is pushed down to accelerate the vehicle, the TPS feeds throttle position electrically to the onboard computer. I included a different view of the plastic intake on the Expedition’s engine.

Tune-ups on these 5.4L Engines can be very expensive. They have a built in problem in that when the spark plugs are removed, they many times strip the threads out of the head. Techs try to avoid this by spraying WD-40 into the spark plug hole at a depth so it pools around the plug base. Loosening the plug a quarter turn at a time and tightening it occasionally while letting it soak in the WD-40 in between helps.

01/12/12 - With so many comments on this post, I decided to add an addendum to it covering some of the further items afflicting the Expedition. Here’s a list of some things I’ve experienced with these.
1.                  If you have multiple throttle codes, it will almost always mean an electronic throttle body replacement along with the throttle position sensor.
2.                  The wiring harness running behind the Exhaust Gas Recirculation tube chaffs through the harness wiring and causes a multitude of goofy sensor and code problems.
3.                  They have updated spark plugs for these. In a related note, misfiring coils and spark plugs also cause an array of unrelated codes. My advice is change both the spark plugs and individual coil on plug assemblies every 60,000 miles.
4.                  The alternator going out on the Expeditions can and does cause electronic interference, disrupting engine and transmission operation.
5.                  A link to the Technical Service Bulletin for Transmission and Drivability problems related to a check ball breaking inside the transmission valve body.
6.                  I came across myriad problems in the East and Midwest after much research where a leaking windshield leaks water into the fuse box. The fuel pump relay is built into it so the fuse box has to be replaced when leakage is found. If the C270 dark green wire at the fuse box has no power it would point to corrosion in the fuse box. That could also cause myriad weird other electrical problems.
That’s all for this update, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A gentleman called me yesterday complaining his late model Honda Accord suddenly lost power on the way to work. It would not, he explained, go over fifty-five miles per hour. I scheduled him in for today. Not having heard of any chronic failures on the later model four cylinder and six cylinder engines or fuel systems in those, I wasn’t all that surprised when he called me to cancel this morning. Mr. Accord said his Honda was running fine now. I asked him if he had fueled up in the last day or so and he said he had. You already know where I’m going with this after some of the recent car woe posts. Mr. Accord has been fueling up regularly at one of the hole in the wall stations with the lowest octane fuel available. His car has 85,000 miles on it and as I explained to him, the vehicle is filing a grievance.

Then the conversation turned to maintenance. I asked him if the Honda had been getting regular maintenance.

“Yes, I had the 60,000 mile major service done at the dealer,” Mr. Accord assured me.

“Good, that part should be fine for quite a few more miles. Do you get regular oil and filter changes?”

“Not the filter, at least not since the 60,000 mile service.”

Oh boy. “Where did you hear that was a good idea?”

“Nowhere.” Mr. Accord chuckled uneasily.

“I would advise having oil and filter changes done religiously every three to five thousand miles from now on. It gives your mechanic a chance to check the other fluid levels - and inspect your tires, lights, drive belts and hoses. It may seem overkill with the way the manufacturers talk about their invincible product, but having regular maintenance may keep you off the side of the road.”

Remember the old commercial where the grizzled mechanic tells the audience ‘see me now… or see me later’ – where he was advising people to have their oil and filter changed before catastrophic engine failure? The cost of replacing an engine on a late model vehicle is so expensive, you can almost buy another running vehicle of the same kind for the same price. In other words, you won’t be seeing me later. You’ll be buying bus tokens or financing another car loan. Just a word of caution when you’re thinking: ‘Wow, the car’s running great. I’ll skip the service for now’ – don’t skip it. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Good News?

Have you noticed good news no longer exists? I watched the weather report last night on the local news. They dressed some dork in a raincoat and stuck the poor sap out somewhere in Oakland in the middle of a downpour - the media’s idea of keeping it real. Side-note to media – folks going to real jobs in the rain equals keeping it real – media planting a suit out in the rain with a microphone… not so much. My advice – get some storm footage and use it for backdrop so the suit can stay in the studio.

We’ve had a dry spell out here, so when it rains, you’d think our local weather news would be jubilant, right? Wrong! They have their raincoat covered smuck standing in the storm telling us “Many people are thrilled with the rain” – pause – frown of intensity – “But the heavy rains bring their own problems” – sigh – slight shake of his head while he looks up at the rain. Then here it comes - Film footage of some broken windshields, plugged rain gutters, and someone’s cat they threw out in the storm for effect, cringing under a car. For God’s sake, can’t you idiots be happy about anything for five minutes?! They could have had a clip of Gene Kelly dancing and ‘Singing in the Rain’ with the weatherman spliced in doing the Snoopy Dance.The rain brings its own problems – huh??? I can almost see the editors around the area throwing things at the TV, strings of snarky questions flooding their sarcastic minds. What problems did the rains bring with them exactly, Sparky? How come we have to hit cement and those raindrops over there get to hit in the grass? Where do we go once we land?! Anybody bring a map? Hey, it’s dark down here in the sewer… oh my God… what is that smell?!

I realize it’s hard to fill an hour without turning everything into a disaster so I’ll give you the weather news from the San Francisco Bay Area – thank the Lord, it’s raining with no hint of stopping. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Little Johnny

My older brother sent me these 'Little Johnny' jokes. I hadn't read them before. :)

Little Johnny's kindergarten class was on a field trip to their local police station where they saw pictures tacked to a bulletin board of the 10 most wanted criminals. One of the youngsters pointed to a picture and asked if it really was the photo of a wanted person. 'Yes,' said the policeman. 'The detectives want very badly to capture him.

'Little Johnny asked, 'Why didn't you keep him when you took his picture

* * * * * * * *
* * *

Little Johnny attended a horse auction with
his father. He watched as his father moved from horse to horse, running his hands up and down the horse's legs and rump, and chest. After a few minutes, Johnny asked, 'Dad, why are you doing that?' His father replied, 'Because when I'm buying horses,I have to make sure that they are healthy and in good shape before I buy.

Johnny, looking worried, said, 'Dad, I think the UPS guy wants to buy Mom

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A young woman came in the shop just before closing time. She was dressed very nicely in slacks and a jacket, her brown hair swept back tightly at the back of the neck. She asked me for a job application. The woman reminded me so much of the female tech in my novel LAYLA it was rather disconcerting. Layla, for blog readers not familiar with the title is an as yet unsold manuscript I wrote about an auto shop owner who links up with a Djinn named Layla. He also hires a young woman diagnostic tech named Jill. I’ll call my young applicant Jill for that reason. This marks the first time a woman has stopped by the shop while I’ve owned it looking for a job.

“Hi, my name is Jill Jobhunter.”

Jill smiled and extended her hand. I shook it politely, noting she had a firm handshake. I’m immediately suspicious because no one walks in off the street and wants to shake my hand other than deadbeats and sales people. She didn’t look like either but I’ve thought the same thing before and been set straight.

“May I get a job application?”

“This is a one man shop…” I hesitate for a moment wondering how that sounded coming out. “What I mean is I don’t even have job applications because I work alone here.”

She had expected about anything other than that by the look on her face. My shop can accommodate six vehicles and I can tell she notices as there are four in it while we’re speaking. Jill looked around taking in the rather dark interior without being repulsed.

“How do you coordinate the parts, jobs, customers, and doing the work?”

Good question.

“Some days are better than others.”

“I’ll bet.” Jill laughed lightly, which means she’s worked repair somewhere else and knows how easy things can turn to crap. “Have you ever hired a tech here in the past?”

“No. I’ve always done the repairs alone. Workman’s comp and insurance…”

“I know.” Jill smiled, holding up her hand in a stopping gesture. Obviously, she’s heard how much it takes to hire a shop tech these days. She handed me a personal card. “If you ever want to hire a tech, I’ve graduated from Whiz-bang and I have all my ASE certifications.”

“Have you acquired a smog license?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to get stuck doing smogs all day. I noticed you don’t do smog inspections but your sign says you still do general repairs and diagnostics.”

I nod in smiling agreement. “I left the smog business behind when the smog machines became so costly I wasn’t sure if I’d live long enough to pay one off.”

Jill laughed.

“You may have to work somewhere for a few years doing all the smogs, Jill. You’ll hone your diagnostic skills on emissions, electrical, and drivability complaints. In a way, it’s drudgery but so are oil changes. Once you start solving drivability problems, the shop owner won’t waste you on the mundane repetitious stuff.”

“Do you still do oil changes?”

“Yep, but I own the shop.”

“If you change your mind, will you give me a call?”

“Sure, but it’s unlikely, Jill. I’m too much of a small timer. I hope you do get on somewhere. This business needs new people. Nice meeting you. Good luck.”

I shook hands with her again and she left with an amiable wave goodbye. I’m going home tonight and tell my wife I hired a new young female tech. That ought to be good entertainment. :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fuel Whines

A man in his mid eighties drove a 92’ Mercury into my shop this morning. He’s an old customer of mine. I usually need about half an hour to talk with him, and not because he’s slow on the uptake. I’ll call him Bo for the purpose of anonymity in this post. Bo likes to come in, tell me about a problem he has with the car, and then argue with me about what I think might be wrong. Today was no exception. He gets right out and launches in that sing-song whiney voice I’ve come to love over the last couple decades.

“You know… I’ve been having a problem with my car stalling for the first couple start ups in the morning ever since you tuned it,” Bo tells me.

I tuned his car in June of 2006, and although I’ve seen him a half dozen times since then, he’s never mentioned the starting problem. I know the date because he’s blamed the tune-up for his radiator leaking six months after the tune, the front brakes squeaking a year and two months after the tune, and last August for his right headlamp going out. He only drives about 5,000 miles a year, and sometimes doesn’t drive his car for days at a time. This can lead to a rough start at first, especially if you add Bo’s love of cheap gas. I decide on a solemn methodical approach rather than laughing out loud.

“How does the car run and start after it’s warmed up?”

“Ah… pretty well… but when it’s cold it stalls at first.”

“From then on it starts and runs okay after warming up?” I hone in on this point for reasons which will become apparent.

“Yeah, it runs like always after the first couple minutes.”

“What brand of fuel are you using, Bo?” I ask, because his Merc has over 150,000 miles on it. The fuel injectors have never been touched on it, nor has the electric fuel pump.

“Regular from Rotten Rooster Gas (fictional name) on High Street.”

“Here’s what I’d like you to do. Run out this present tank full of gas and put in a tank full of either Chevron Supreme or Union 76 Super. If that solves your problem and the car starts better in the morning, you’ll know it’s fuel quality causing your rough start-up. Then you’ll have to decide on whether to put up with the problem or use the better quality fuel.”

“You mean I’ll have to use the more expensive gas?” Bo’s face twists in agony and the whine resonance makes my teeth start to ache.

“If putting in the better fuel eliminates the problem… yes… or put up with the problem.”

“I was talking to a truck driver,” Bo tells me, taking a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket. He unravels it and points. “He said I need to have the throttle body cleaned and everything will be okay.”

“You can’t skip to that step, Bo. If the quality of fuel is causing the problem, you could have the throttle body rebuilt, cleaned, and spit shined, but it won’t solve your stalling problem. I believe the morning sickness is because of the fuel injectors’ age, and the engine mileage.”

“It’s not just when it’s cold.”

“According to what you said it is,” I remind him of my narrowed down point of contention.

“Oh… yeah,” Bo concedes. “But the truck driver says…”

“What can it hurt to isolate the problem by what I just suggested, Bo?” I ask, tired of being upstaged by his truck driver/diagnostic expert. :)

“Because then you’ll tell me I have to put the more expensive gas in it when the car runs better on it,” Bo whines.

“I can’t make you put better fuel in it,” I reasoned. “That will be your decision. If you don’t want to try the better fuel, I can bring you in for a seventy-five dollar diagnostic check.”

“Fine! I’ll try the fuel.” Bo gets in the Merc and backs out.

Mama Mia! :)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bad Tidings

A middle aged man walked in off the sidewalk to ask a question this morning. This turns out to be a friendly inquiry about my services or what vehicles I work on most of the time. In this instance the gentleman wanted to know why his truck wouldn’t start, and what he should do to fix it. I don’t answer these questions with smart-ass sarcastic remarks, although I am quite capable of it. :) If the walk-in gives me enough information, I can many times direct them to the next logical step. It was not so simple this time.

“Hey, my 86’ Ford Ranger won’t start.” The man I will call Ranger from here on told me.

When I waited for him to add to his preamble, he became impatient.

“Well… what do you think?”

I guess Ranger was relying on my curiosity as to why his Ford wouldn’t start. This is an immediate problem, because I don’t care. On the other hand, my part of town is reminiscent of the old West, where everyone was armed, and nearly always polite. This gentleman could live next door in the condo complex or down the street. He could have the whole night to redecorate my building while I’m gone. Although I normally would handle him with respect, this added incentive of self protection helps me keep my attitude adjusted into an even more helpful cadence.

“Does the engine crank over normally?” I ask, making my award winning imitation of a starter cranking an engine.

“What the hell’s that sound you’re making?”

Apparently, it wasn’t as award winning as I thought. Plan B

“When you turn the key to the start position, does the engine crank normally, or does it make sounds you’re unused to, or no sound at all?”

“Oh…” The light bulb blinks on in Ranger’s head. “Yeah, it does make the normal sounds trying to start.”

“It sounds like your starting system’s okay then. That leaves us with engine, fuel or ignition. Are you certain you have fuel in it?”

“I just filled it up a couple days ago, and it’s been running fine until this morning. What do you mean engine?”

“No compression, blown timing belt, coolant in the engine.”

“How would I know that?”

“You can take the oil cap off and check the underside of it. If there’s a coffee colored creamy substance there, then coolant’s getting into the crankcase and combustion chamber. Checking timing and compression would be more complicated.”


“It could be ignition or fuel too though,” I add.

“How do I check for those?”

If you have to ask, you don’t. “You’ll need to tow the vehicle to a shop and have it checked out.”

“I’m not spending money on that damn thing! It ain’t worth it.”


He looks at me accusingly for a moment as if I were somehow to blame, but then just says ‘thanks’ and starts walking toward the sidewalk.

“No problem, would you like a card?”

Ranger turned and accepted the proffered card. He glanced at it, and then jammed it in his pocket.

At least the messenger lived to share bad tidings yet another day. :)

Monday, February 2, 2009


Carnal Desires Publishing put LANCELOT up on the website at:

You can let me know what you think of the cover and blurb. LANCELOT is an erotic paranormal so if such books offend, best not go there. It is a fun adventure story though too. :)