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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I finally had a blog worthy customer encounter, rather than the hum-drum business as usual stuff. A guy drove up in an old Cad with the 4.6L Northstar engine, a notorious cooling system disaster vehicle – in that GM at one point was issuing directives to put cooling system sealing tablets in them once a year. You can imagine the great customer relations they received over that. These engines also break head bolts and a myriad of other costly repairs. Anyway, Mr. & Mrs. Eldorado brought in their 1995 Cad with over two hundred thousand miles because someone had already changed the radiator, and when it still overheated they were told they needed a water pump, which the radiator replacer wouldn’t do. I noticed when they left after making the appointment they left a big puddle of coolant where the overflow was. I promised to look it over and give them an estimate for free; because it doesn’t take me long to examine these monsters, and the estimate is usually so far in excess of the car’s worth I immediately advise dumping it.

Mr. E leaves it off the next morning with the added clip note that the Cad hesitates badly with no power. I say goodbye to him and get in the beast. The engine roars but creeps forward. Uh oh… cooling system is only one thing wrong. I do a quick visual – tires bald in front, brakes at the sensors in front, trans oil up but setting codes related to major overhaul needed. I hear a major vacuum leak hissing noisily under the engine cover which I remove and repair. It’s a simple fix and I don’t want that distracting me. The water pump isn’t leaking and there’s circulation, but the Cad overheats when run unless the AC is put on so both cooling fans run continuously. The vacuum leak has been leaning out a couple cylinders for so long I know the rough miss in the engine is related to burnt valves. I could confirm this but not without a compression check which would cost a couple hundred dollars. Seeing as how I’d determined repairs on it would be in the thousands of dollars that would have been beating a dead horse. I call up Mr. E and explain my findings in detail for twenty minutes along with my advice to get another vehicle.

The Eldorados show up, get out of another clunker and I greet them. Mr. E points at the Cad and says, “so, what’s wrong with the car?”

To which my annoyance meter blows through the top of the tube. “Are you not the man I talked to a half hour ago on the phone for twenty minutes explaining what’s wrong with the Cad?”

He didn’t expect to get that response. “Uh… yeah… I forget what you said.”

I can tell by the way he keeps glancing at Mrs. E that she wasn’t buying what he’d told her. I again explained in detail how much maintenance had been overlooked, coupled with the cooling system problems, and trans failure while she stared at me like I’d just dropped in from The Red Planet. I kept it simple – repair cost outweighs worth of vehicle.

“So, what can you do to keep it running,” Mrs. E asks bluntly as if I hadn’t been speaking for the last fifteen minutes.

This was becoming a costly freebie. “I can’t patch it if that’s what you mean. The transmission overhaul will cost you in the neighborhood of two grand by itself and I would have to refer you to a trans shop I know of. The engine repair would be astronomical because it’s way past the mileage for stop gap repairs. It also needs tires and brakes. My advice is get another vehicle.”

“So, you can’t fix it?”

Wow, this is fun. “I can fix it if you don’t mind spending as much to repair this as you would to nearly buy a brand new vehicle.”

Mrs. E looks at her husband and says, “ask him about fixing the 240SX,” as if I wasn’t standing right in front of her.

“I already know that needs an engine,” Mr. E replies, looking at me as if I were going to contradict him. “It’s an old Nissan 240SX with a blown engine but it has sentimental value.”

“Never think of a vehicle as having sentimental value.” I’m thinking, because if you do they’ll break your heart like a 2 bit hooker. “That is a sure way to get rid of tens of thousands of dollars and still have nothing when you get done. Dump both vehicles and get a reliable one for transportation. Take care of it and don’t ever get romantic about it.”

Mr. E laughed but Mrs. E gave me the scowl.

“C’mon, maybe we can find someone to fix it. You drive the Cad.”

Mr. E thanked me for my time after Mrs. E turned away and got into their other junker without another word. She drove off and I backed the Cad out for Mr. E to drive away in. I wished him good luck and watched him drive away, hoping he could prevail in reasoning with Mrs. E. Better him than me.  :)


Jordan Summers said...

I still love (and miss) my red 76 Duster. Sold it and ended up with a true POS. Should've paid for repairs and kept driving it for a while longer.

raine said...

Guess that means I shouldn't give my car names, or pat its dashboard and say thanks when it gets me home on a rough winter night? :)
You're right, of course. As much as I loved both my 76 & 92 Camrys, had to let them go when repair estimates exceeded their worth.
And yes, I still miss them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Why, you have the patience of an....Abaddon. (if not quite the power.) :)

whydibuy said...

Just hand a detailed work order with the total price and say nothing.

Most guys are trained to talk folks INTO repairs. When you get a obvious basket case, you throw out a inflated number and send them on their way. Its not worth the hassle to fix or have a customer like that who thinks things have a perpetual useful life.

BernardL said...

I had to part with my 1974 Dodge Dart with over 300,000 miles on it because of just what I told those folks, Jordan. The Dart & Dusters were great cars but metal fatigue eventually gets them all. :)

That's all you can do, Raine, and pray of course. :)

Without patience this job would send a guy into the Abyss, Charles. :)

Most of us have a conscience though, whydibuy. :) Plus, in a one man shop I don't have anyone in between me and the customer. With this Cad I didn't have to make up any numbers.

Stephen Parrish said...

Aww. Lots of us get sentimental about our cars. And name them (I always do). You shoulda fixed it, if that's what they wanted. Now someone else will.

By the way, you don't know how much I'd give to have the knowledge of cars you have. Maybe in another lifetime.

BernardL said...

My wife names her vehicles too, Steve. When something on them would act up, her attitude wouldn't be 'Sheila, you naughty girl, you start running right this instant!' It would be 'Bernard, fix this damn car!' :)

I didn't refuse to fix the Cad. They wanted a patch job which is not possible on that vehicle. On the phone Mr. E told me they were willing to spend five hundred on it. That wouldn't have even fixed the tires and brakes let alone the engine and trans. If they find someone to work on it, I know for a fact they will be screwed - not because the mechanic screwed them, but because it's not possible to give them what they want.

You have a passion for and a knowledge of cartography and gemology just as I have for fixing cars and trucks, Steve. Sometimes as you say we just run out of time to pursue all of our passions. :)