Friday, March 23, 2012
2004 Ford Ranger Rumble
The reason I mentioned a customer with an appointment on my other post being an interesting subject for a blog was her attitude while making the appointment. She was convinced I would rip her off, but would not let me off the phone. I’ll call her Jane Rippa.
I answered the phone with my usual polite greeting, only to hear an impatient sigh at the other end. Well, okay then.
“My name’s Jane Rippa and I have a 2004 Ford Ranger. The battery goes dead. I’ve already been ripped off by two other shops. I don’t expect any better from you.”
“I can make that easy for you, Ma’am. Don’t call me. Find someone you trust or a referral from a friend for someone they trust.”
“My Ranger needs fixed! I can’t keep going all over town.”
Usually I would have given her the brush off because being labeled a thief before I even see the customer or vehicle is a little much. Since blogging, if I get a gut feeling the appointment might be blog worthy, I make the appointment.
“Okay, but the initial estimate is for an hour’s labor.” When she hears that, Ms. Rippa starts ranting about already having paid diagnostic fees.
“I imagine you did, but not at my shop. Do you want to make an appointment or not?”
“Fine! I’ll be in tomorrow at eight.”
The next morning rolls around and I’m busily checking out an Acura when the Rippa Ranger drives into the shop. I leave the Acura alone for the moment to meet my new customer. Ms. Rippa had already exited the Ranger and slammed the door. She was a big woman, probably a few inches over five and a half feet tall. Ms. Rippa looked to weigh in the high two hundreds. She wore jeans and a pullover green sweater. Her round face with dark eyes and short dark hair twisted into a frown of annoyance as she gestured at her hood.
“Here it is. I had to get Triple A to jump start it.”
I already had my clipboard in hand with her name, phone number, and address on an invoice from our pleasant phone conversation the day before. “I’ll just get your mileage and license, and then you can sign the estimate. Do you have your receipts from the shops that have already done work on the Ranger?”
A funny look passed over Jane’s face. “What do you need those for? Just check it out yourself.”
“I’d like to know what was done. If there’s a matter of warranty on something already replaced, I’ll be able to advise you on it. For example, if I find out the alternator is bad, but it’s already been replaced I will have to charge you for the core when I replace it, so you can get your money back. If they can give you a core I can turn in, I’ll refund your core charge.”
“I don’t have any receipts. The two mechanics that looked at it came to my house.”
In these hard economic times, I know there’s a lot of backyard repairs going on. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I still got ripped off!”
“Maybe, or maybe the two you had check it simply didn’t know what was wrong and they parts changed stuff hoping to fix it. Anyway, I’ll call you. Sign here.”
Rippa reluctantly signed the estimate and marched out. Luckily, the Ranger started. Triple A had probably put a decent surface charge on it. I drove the Ranger into the back and opened the hood. My oh my, Rippa had a new battery, new cables, new alternator, and… yep, as I peeked below with my Mag-lite, a new starter. She also had more greasy hand-prints on the underside of the hood than I’d ever seen. If these guys had committed murder, CSI would have found them in no time.
In these cases, you have to get the battery up to speed so I unhooked the negative terminal and started charging the battery. I then went over and finished the Acura. When I returned I hooked up my milliamp meter in series with the negative cable – nothing was draining the battery, so I went away for a while to let the battery charge enough so I could test it. That later checked out okay. I hooked up my scope to it and my scanner before starting the Ranger up and away we went. After doing the usual checks for loose obvious connections and belt tensioner problems, I noted the charging system wasn’t working at all. The backyarders may have gotten a bad rebuild. It happens often with these late model Fords. I use only Motorcraft OEM type ones to replace them. I did one more thing before bypassing the alternator to see if the internal regulator was causing the problem. I hooked up a jumper wire from the ground terminal of the battery to the alternator housing. Instant charging.
It only took a couple more minutes to find the culprit – a corroded ground connection at the left rear of the engine. It had a green fuzzy coating nearly an inch thick. I turned off the Ford, cleaned the connection with cleaner and wire brushes, coated it with lubricant, cleaned the bolt and reinstalled. Now, the charging system checked out fine. I quickly cleaned all forensic evidence from under the hood, including that which my predecessors had left. I then called the Rippa to tell her the good news. Her first reaction was not what I expected.
“I want you to talk to those jerks that ripped me off and get my money back!”
“Uh… no.” And hell no. “That is between you and them, Ms. Rippa. If you’ll come over and pay the diagnostic fee, you can be on your way.”
The phone clicked loudly in my ear. So much for auto repair pleasantries. I backed her Ranger out and parked it. She came huffing in twenty minutes later, followed me in the office, threw the fee down on my desk in cash, took the keys and receipt, and stormed out without a word.
“Thank you,” I called out after her. Just another charming day in auto repair land. :)