Friday, March 2, 2012
1993 Toyota Camry No Start
A thirty-something lady walked in yesterday morning off the sidewalk through my big roll up door, dressed in white shorts, blue tank top, and sandals. Her long brown hair was tied back neatly, and she had a nice smile on her face. I was sweeping the shop, and had three layers of clothes on, including my work jacket. Granted, since I dropped back down to 160 I get cold, but yesterday was not a balmy day. It was sunny, but the temp ranged in the mid fifties. Maybe it’s being in the beginning of my seventh decade that’s making me susceptible, but on the other hand, I hate the heat too. Yep, old, cranky… but quietly so. Anyway, she gives me a little wave with her hand. She’ll be known as Windy Warm for my blog today.
“Hi, can I help you?” I tried to keep from shivering, seeing her in that outfit.
“Do you fix cars here?” Windy asks.
Yes, I get asked this at least once a week. Sarcasm is a poor business tool so I nodded like an amiable dunce. “Yes, I do. All Asian and American vehicles.”
“How about a Toyota?”
My toes curled inside my work boots and my knuckles turned white on the sweeping element fighting off my inner demon wise-ass. “Yes. How can I help you?”
“I have a 1993 Toyota Camry that won’t start. It quit on me last month and I’ve been taking the bus to work.” Ms. Warm giggles a little. “That’s getting old. I’ve been told by a couple mechanics that checked it over at my house that I need a new engine. Is that expensive?”
Oh boy, my feet are getting cramped up. I set the broom against the wall before I splinter the handle. “It is quite expensive. Why don’t you tell me what it does and maybe I can give you an idea of how to proceed. Does it crank normally?” Here I make my excellent imitation of a cranking engine only to be met with a perplexed look on Windy’s face.
“What’s that noise?”
Me, demonstrating how to look like an idiot, and succeeding. I’ll try a different tact. “I was trying to find out if you hear the usual noise when you turn the key to start it up just before the engine starts to run.”
Windy’s face brightens. “Oh… yeah it does. My friend thought it was the battery and put a new one in. The engine spins over real good.”
“Okay, good, I can find out what’s wrong with it for you. Do you have Triple A?”
“Yes… ah… how much to find out what’s wrong?”
I tell her. It’s an hour’s labor, because I don’t guess. I actually do the basic checks first for compression, ignition, and fuel pressure. I know the ‘Just take a look at it’ crowd thinks we denizens of the automotive professional repair trade secretly have a decoder ring we twist to come up with solutions to their problems. I wish. Windy only gets a small frown when she hears what the diagnostic check will cost.
“Can I have it towed in today?”
“Sure. Let me write you up an invoice so I’ll only need the mileage and license plate number when you come in.”
An hour and a half later the tow truck arrives with a beat up silver Camry. The tow truck driver smiles at me while he unloads it inside the shop. “It has a good set of tires on it.”
I laugh, but he’s right even though he’s making a joke. A new set of even the cheapest tires available would be more than this heap was worth. We put on our serious faces as Windy arrived. Dark humor about customers’ vehicles is also a no-no. Most of us have owned a rolling wreck at one time or another. I’ve owned several. They’re not funny, except to the people who don’t own them. The tow truck driver takes care of business and leaves with an exchange of pleasantries. Windy has a ride waiting so she signs and receives a copy of the estimate.
“Will this be done today?” She asks before walking out.
“Give me a couple hours to check things out. I’ll know then whether I can get it back to you today.”
“Can you put another engine in it for under a thousand dollars?”
I know my mouth popped open a little, and my Bambi in the headlights look probably flashed for a moment. I occasionally forget people think that if they own a rolling wreck nothing on it costs more than the vehicle’s worth. Oh contraire, Mon Ami. “Yes, much, much more, Ms. Warm. In fact, if you do need an engine on this, my advice is to dump it.”
Windy’s startled. “Oh.”
“Let me check it out and I’ll call you.”
She nods and stumbles out. Reality is a harsh wake up call. I push it over into an open bay and get the two scheduled maintenance appointments out of the way. The Toyota has a 2.2L four cylinder engine, and it’s a very good one. I look for obvious signs of coolant getting into the oil. I have test strips for this, along with a good eye for coffee colored goop on the underside of the oil cap. Windy’s car’s okay for that. I do a physical compression check next because taking the spark plugs out only takes minutes, and I can check on condition, fouling, and find out how good the battery, starter, and compression are during the cranking tests. All okay. Ignition is next. No spark. Pull the cap off and bingo, the ‘inside the cap’ coil has a black carbon arc zigzagging down its side. Next, I do a quick fuel pressure check which turns out to be up to spec. Nothing is left to do until I get it started.
At this point, most are wondering why I didn’t pop the cap off first and hit that coil fast and hard – which is the point of this blog. In the backyard you can do that. Out here in professional repair land we own the cars that we work on. In other words when I repair Windy’s Camry, she’s going to expect it to perform well for quite a while. If I’d popped the cap, sold the coil, hip-hopped it on its merry way, and something else failed on it my tests would have revealed while she had it in the shop, I’m in trouble. Rightfully so. While I can’t predict everything, I can send her vehicle out with reasonable expectations it will not stick her out on the freeway in the near future. I sell the coil job, cautioning Windy that I have to start it before I can finish with my checks.
“But my mechanic friends think it needs an engine,” Windy objects to my good news.
“Well, you can still tow it home, and get your mechanic friends to put an engine in it. Make sure though that you buy an ignition coil so when it doesn’t start they’ll be ready with the real repair.”
Windy giggles. “Go ahead. I hope you’re right. You’ll call me if it starts right away, won’t you?”
No, I’ll wait until next week… get thee behind me, Satan… “Of course. I should be able to get the delivery this afternoon.”
The coil arrived. The Toyota started right up, and after repair tests showed no indication of trouble. I test drove it and Windy came to pick it up. As she’s walking out the door with keys in hand, Windy turns back toward me with a quizzical look.
“Do you think I could drive my Camry across country on a trip?”
Nope, not even on a bet. Instead of mouthing that gem out loud, I just shrug. “Sorry. I can’t predict something like that. It’s nearly twenty years old. No matter where you drive it, pay attention to your gauges, and keep your fluid levels checked.”
“Check my what?”
Oh boy. “Why don’t you give me a call when you’re around my neighborhood, and I’ll have you stop in so I can check your fluid levels? There’s no charge. I do it for a lot of my customers.”
“Oh, okay… thanks. I guess I’ll see you then.”
“I’ll be here.” I think. Unless of course if Paul Bettany calls me and wants me to come to Hollywood and help write the script so he and his wife can play my writer/assassin Nick McCarty and his love interest Rachel Hunter in a movie version of my novel COLDBLOODED. Sigh…heh, heh, heh… I bet no one thought I could work that in on this post. :)