About Them There Sluggards…

It is better to be short-handed than to hire a sluggard; better to have nobody than a lazy body.
I know of more than a few dealership employees I encountered over the years who contributed little or anything to the workflow in the shop.
Evidently King Solomon had suffered through a few sluggards on his payroll:
“As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man”
Proverbs 10:26 
You know how irritating vinegar is when it’s taken straight, or how aggravating smoke is when it gets in your eyes! That’s how irritating lazy people are to those who hire them.
Whatever they do will take twice as long to finish, and will either have to be done over or thrown out-at twice the cost. Their presence on the job is worse than their absence.
They waste their own resources and everybody else’s.
A tragic picture is painted in Proverbs 24:30-31:
“I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down.”
Abraham Lincoln wasn’t great because he was born in a log cabin; he was great because he got out of it. Now, the chances are you won’t end up in the White House, but unless you want to end up in the poorhouse, don’t be a sluggard!

Communication and Rapport


There are a lot of things our cars can do to communicate their problems to the driver. One way is by burning too much gas or bucking and jerking. They can fail to start or start hard. They can overheat or have less than normal power. They can make odd noises. They can turn on warning indicators of various colors and shapes to warn us of issues we might not notice otherwise. They can create weird sensations, either through the steering wheel, the seats, or whatever. And when we take our vehicle in for service, we have to use our human ability to communicate to the service advisor who’s writing the ticket. He or she needs to know what our cars have communicated to us.

That sometimes weary, stressed, and overworked individual (remember, he listens to peoples’ problems all day and gets shouted down a lot when things go sour) has to use very few words to accurately outline the concern as the customer describes it, and like the rest of us, sometimes the service writer either doesn’t listen well enough or isn’t told everything the technician needs to know about the concern. Some customers don’t want to even describe their concern because, well, communication takes energy and effort. One girl who drove a company vehicle when I was doing fleet maintenance 30 years ago would call me when her car gave some kind of trouble and simply say, “Richard…. MY CAR!!!”

This kind of driver just wants to throw their keys at the service advisor and have their car fixed while they do very little to explain what’s wrong. Unless the problem with their vehicle is painfully obvious, that non-communicative way of doing things just doesn’t work.

Well, after the work order (or repair order, if you wish to call it that) is written, it becomes a part of the shop’s paper trail and a dispatcher hands it to a technician who will read the description of the concern and launch his or her investigation. If things go the way they should, the customer will be satisfied. When he or she isn’t satisfied, well, in a large percentage of those cases, a breakdown in human communication is the problem.

This vehicle just a machine, right? In the eyes of the service writer, a technician should be able to make a diagnosis, then promise that that the $320 worth of parts and labor will fix the customer’s problem and that nothing else will be needed. If the service writer can extract that kind of promise from the technician, he or she feels really good in making that same promise to the customer and comes off looking like a hero – unless the promise happens not to be kept. No tech with any experience will make that promise – the words, “Verify Repair” are at the end of every repair routine where troubleshooting has to be done.

Well, that’s communication, you see – when things work the way they should, the customer has described his or her concern to the best of his/her ability, and knows which questions to ask for clarification. Then the service writer has either typed or written a work order that communicates to the technician what the customer wants repaired – with a note to see the service advisor for clarity if there isn’t room on the repair order line to tell the whole story. The service writer/advisor has received communication from the customer, properly creating the work order, and then the technician is supposed to use his/her ability to read and comprehend and has applied knowledge and experience to determine as nearly as possible what has to be done. Then the technician has to test drive the car to make sure the problem is completely fixed.

Even after the authorization has been given, there’s that annoying part of any repair that tends to sour the service advisor’s stomach. When the “Verify the Repair” stage of the job comes to pass, sometimes more work is needed, even when a good technician makes the most accurate diagnosis possible.

Case in point: Following factory training procedures, I once confirmed that the ignition module was faulty on a high mileage Renault Alliance by pressing on the potting material on the back of the module near its wire connector – the engine stalled. The Renault instructor had taught us this as a reliable test for a vehicle with a stalls-while-driving concern. \

I communicated this information to the service advisor – he didn’t communicate it to the customer, he only told the man that the module needed replacing. That was enough to obtain authorization for the repair, and I replaced the module, then test drove the car. It didn’t stall on that test drive. A week later the car stalled again and the guy came back.

That time I found a bad crank sensor, but it was far more difficult to get the crank sensor to fail – I had to drive a LONG time with my equipment connected before the sensor stopped working. The customer was totally convinced that he didn’t need the first part, and no amount of communication at this point would un-convince him. Ideally, I would have been able to demonstrate the test procedure I used the first time I checked the car. That would have been perfect communication because he would have seen the problem for himself. As it was, things went kind of sour.

Granted, there are times when the technician simply misdiagnoses the problem, and those are the times that seem to stand out, but misdiagnosis, while it is more prevalent in some shops than others, isn’t the case every time – and the situation is compounded when customers and service writers think they know more than they actually do. In those cases, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, it just matters that they’re ticked off.

Then there are the land mines that come from communication that is deliberately withheld. For example, I know of a man who bought his vehicle AS IS from a used car lot and then found out after his first oil change that the engine was loaded with thick, gooey ‘motor honey’ to keep the engine from knocking. A simple oil change uncovered a problem that necessitated a massive repair.

Incidentally, one piece of communication that should make any buyer shy away from purchasing a used vehicle from an individual is when the seller says, “I’m not a mechanic…” That typically means the the seller knows the vehicle has a hidden problem but wants plausible deniability when things go south, which they usually do.

There are also those times when one repair leads to another repair that was unrelated, and the mechanic has to communicate to the customer why the work he or she did couldn’t have caused the second problem.

Case in point. My dad put brakes on my sister’s car. As soon as she backed the car out of his shop, her radio wouldn’t work. She replaced the fuse and it blew as soon as she plugged it in. She was convinced that my dad had destroyed her radio while he was replacing the brake pads until I found the problem – a shorted capacitor inside the radio was blowing the fuses. Replacing the brakes had nothing to do with the radio even though the radio was working just fine right before the brakes were replaced. The best way I could communicate that to my sister was to fix her silly radio for free.

Having worked as a technician in shops of various sizes, rubbing shoulders with service advisors, service managers, shop foremen, parts guys, and even customers was the order of my day for twenty five years, and no two days were alike. Service advisor/writers could really put some strange stuff in the work order description. Sometimes the communication failure was painfully evident. I don’t remember which service advisor wrote it, but I remember a fellow tech drawing one work order that read this way:

“Windshield won’t separate rain from water.”

I’m not kidding! What the heck is a technician (or anybody else) supposed to do with communication like that?

Here’s another one:

“Engine won’t start unless left hand turn signal is activated.”

That was on a repair line with three other repair lines under it showing various additional concerns. I slid behind the wheel and found it exactly as he had said. Interesting problem, I thought. So I spent 30 minutes on that to find out that the van had been re-wired to work that way. When I asked the service writer about it he nonchalantly told me that he only put that on the order so I’d know how to start the van. That was a goofy thing to write on a repair line, making me think it was something that needed fixing – he could have attached a sticky note or something, for Pete’s sake!

When the work is done, particularly if it’s a warranty claim, the technician has to be able to clearly communicate why he or she did the work that was done so that the warranty auditors won’t be able to use the technician’s description of the work for a reason to charge the repair back to the service department. And the work order has to be written truthfully, accurately, and in such a way so it is easy to understand.

One of the most important aspects of communication is to always tell the truth. When a question has arisen about something I did or didn’t do in a shop situation, the management always took me at my word because of my track record of telling the truth. Always remember that. The truth needs to be your friend and ally rather than your enemy. I always say that if everybody always did what they were supposed to and didn’t do what they weren’t supposed to there would be no temptation to lie. That being said, a loud and angry supervisor may find himself left out of the loop sometimes simply because the technician doesn’t want to be shouted down.

I was pulling the rear seat out of a nearly new Lincoln one time and I guess I was kind of clumsy that day, because I managed to scratch the paint behind the passenger side rear door – I immediately fetched the service manager and had him bring the customer to the service area. That silver-haired old banker just smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it – If I decide I can’t live with it, I’ll bring it back and have you guys fix it.” Honesty is the best policy, you see, and it’s a lot easier when your service manager isn’t a jerk. But even when he IS a jerk, honesty is still the best policy.

Case in point: Once back in 1995 I had to do some work on a factory installed cell phone in a Crown Victoria, and about a week later, the service manager called me into his office, claiming I had made a personal call on the customer’s phone. I told him the only call I had made on that man’s phone was to Ford – a necessary call as a part of the repair. He said the phone had been used to call a number right there in town, and I asked him to show me the bill.

“See the timestamp on that call?” The service manager looked where I was pointing at the call he had highlighted.

“That’s eight thirty…” he mused.

“Where was I at eight thirty?” I asked.

“That call was made by the salesman when he was delivering the car back to the customer!” He almost shouted.

“No duh,” I replied, and left his office, not waiting for the apology I knew wasn’t coming.

Then there’s LATE communication that comes from NO initial communication. One day I couldn’t find my favorite 3/8 ratchet. Two weeks later I still couldn’t find it. Finally I bought a new one ($54) off the tool truck and etched my name on the handle. Later that afternoon, my service writer came from his desk bringing my missing ratchet – said he had borrowed it several days earlier to do a simple recall in the write-up area and had covered it with some papers, then forgot he had it.

Communication with customers is extremely important. A technician needs to be able to concisely explain WHY a repair is needed. After the customer is done talking to you, that customer should have confidence in what you know and what you do.

If the customer has no confidence in you, (and that confidence always has to be earned over time) then your employer will have less confidence in you as well. Get credentials. Display them appropriately. Communicate professionally.

And just because you think you know more than other people about some things, well, that doesn’t give you a license to be an arrogant jerk or a ripoff artist. Ever met a mechanic who was an arrogant jerk? He’s insecure and immature. My personal axiom is that it is NOT possible to be both rude and mature at the same time.

At the shop where I worked the longest, the general manager discovered that I could generally calm a customer down even when nobody else could.

Sometimes saying the right words at the right time will do the trick. In those cases, less is more. Example: Customer brings his truck to our shop because the engine hunts and surges when he’s taking off… This one has a stick shift, not an automatic. The technician who worked on it found the problem and corrected it, but the porter who brought the vehicle around wasn’t too good at driving a stick and so it looked to the customer like the truck wasn’t fixed when in reality it was.

The service writers tried to explain the situation but he only shouted them down. He had paid his bill and his truck was “jus’ like it wuz,” so to speak. So I heard my name over the loudspeakers calling me to the writeup area even though I wasn’t the one who did the work.

“Can you talk to this guy? He’s pretty furious and we can’t get him to calm down.”

“Sure,” I said, moving to where the customer was standing with folded arms and an icy glare.

“Let’s take a test drive,” I told him. We settled into the seats of his truck with me behind the wheel and I eased out of the parking lot onto the bypass and then down into the Wiregrass Commons Mall access circle. He ranted while I drove. The truck always accelerated smoothly, every time I took off. I let him rant and rave until he had pretty much spent his emotional energy before I interjected a comment.

“Ya know, I sent a VCR to North American Phillips in Atlanta to have it repaired awhile back, and when I got it back it was still giving the same problem…” He banged a fist on his knee..

“YEAH! That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Ain’t it a pain?” He raved on for another thirty seconds and then calmed down, convinced that I had walked in his shoes at least once. He noticed as I accelerated from a standing stop two or three more times.

“I guess it’s doing better than it was. I guess I’ll just drive it for awhile and see how it does.”

I smiled and nodded, turning off the access road on my way back to the dealership. He drove away satisfied.

For any workplace to operate efficiently, the various players have to communicate accurately. When communication breaks down, the job breaks down. That’s why they stopped building the Tower of Babel, but that’s another story.

How Does An Engine Work Anyway?

Well, mechanically, It’s a big air pump. A 4.0L engine, for example, is designed to move 4 liters of air during a full cycle – that’s under ideal conditions, by the way. If you were to put a balloon over the exhaust and catch the air, you’d get 4 liters of it each time the crankshaft spins 720 degrees.

So we know about the 720 degrees of crankshaft rotation, but what else is going on?

Two turns of the crankshaft will carry every piston through four strokes, but we’re going to focus on what happens in just one cylinder, which is the smooth bore in which the piston travels.

A piston generally has three grooves around its crown, and specially hardened rings fit in those grooves. The piston is attached to its connecting rod by a polished and hardened pin, called a ‘wrist pin.’

As the crankshaft is turned, either by the starter or by the power strokes of other pistons, the piston we’re focusing on is drawn down into the cylinder to pull the air and fuel in (we call that concoction the ‘mix’), then the piston goes back up to squeeze the air, gets a hit from the explosion of air and fuel that happens when the spark plug fires, then drives the crankshaft around as it goes back down.

The piston is connected with a special rod to the crankshaft, which actually drives the piston during three of its four strokes. The crankshaft, camshaft, and everything else in the engine is oiled, either with pressurized oil or splash oil.

That’s a whole different system. Each cylinder has a companion cylinder – we’ll talk more about that in a minute.

There are usually two compression rings that ride in the top grooves machined into the piston (those rings are missing in the picture, but their grooves are visible) and one pair of oil scraper rings that ride in the bottom groove along with a separator.

The oil control rings are a different material than the 4 compression rings and are designed to squeegee almost all the oil from the cylinder walls as the piston moves down. The green area you see outside the cylinder walls is where the engine coolant flows, because those cylinder walls get really hot.

So what controls the flow of the air? Well, the first place the air goes after it leaves the air filter is a throttle plate you control with your foot when you apply the accelerator.

Air movement through an engine is controlled by parts called ‘valves,’ that are shaped sort of like big nails (see photo), but they’re mounted with the head down and they move to open ports that allow air to enter and leave their particular cylinder. The one shown is an intake valve – the piston in the photo is at top dead center (TDC) and can be seen right below the valve. The white area is where air comes in.

Valves are held against their seats by strong springs attached to their stems, and they’re opened by egg-shaped lobes called ‘cams’ on a shaft that spins at half the speed of the crankshaft. The shape of those egg-shaped lobes determines how much the valves open and how long they stay open, which has a great impact on the way the engine idles as well as on how much horsepower and torque it produces.

The camshaft’s primary job is to opens the valves, and it is driven by the crankshaft via gears, a chain, or a belt.

During the intake stroke when the piston is traveling down and air is entering the cylinder, the appropriately named intake valve is open. It closes when the piston has traveled as low as it will go.

The piston rises into the cylinder (driven by its connecting rod, which is clamped around a smooth pin on the crankshaft), squeezing the air and fuel mix, and right before it reaches the top (usually about 10 degrees of crankshaft rotation Before Top Dead Center, or BTDC), the ignition system fires the spark plug, which ignites the ‘mix’ of air and atomized fuel. That starts a controlled explosion that slaps the piston pretty hard right as it’s starting back down on its power stroke. This all happens really fast.

5 If this process is working right, all the fire in the cylinder has gone out by the time the crankshaft has moved 24 degrees past top dead center on that cylinder’s travel. The cam sensor tells the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) when this 24 degree mark has passed so the PCM will know when to safely deliver the next fuel spray.

Now, about those companion cylinders: Engines with even numbers of cylinders will have two of their pistons moving together – For instance, on a four cylinder engine, pistons 1 and 4 are at TDC simultaneously while cylinders 2 and 3 are at BDC (Bottom Dead Center). A hundred and eighty degrees of crankshaft rotation later, 2 and 3 are at TDC and 1 and 4 are at the bottom of their travel.

When 1 is on Compression, 4 is on exhaust – 2 and 3 work that way too – these are companion cylinders (1 and 4, 2 and 3)

Why is this significant? Well, you have to understand that to work on an engine. The harmonic balancer is a weighted wheel on the front of an engine (the pulley that drives the belts is generally either bolted to it or is a part of it), and that weighted wheel is marked so you can find Top Dead Center on cylinder number 1.

The problem is that if you aren’t aware of where the camshaft is (remember, it turns only one round for every two rounds of the crankshaft) is, you might have number 1 cylinder on TDC exhaust instead of compression. When installing the ignition distributor on engines that have one, you have to know whether you’re on #1 TDC compression or TDC exhaust. That’s not too hard to figure out if you pull the number one spark plug, put a cork in the spark plug hole, and slowly turn the engine in the direction that it runs until it pops the cork out of the hole. That’ll happen while the #1 cylinder is approaching TDC compression, so the next time the zero mark on the balancer lines up after the cork pops out of the number one spark plug hole, you’ve found the spot you’re looking for.

Another Funny Memory – true story

I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke.  Most of the other guys smoked, and they all drank, except for the preacher’s boy.  We all went to the same church, too.   My choice against these things was wise, to be sure, but it wasn’t because I was  any sort of spiritual giant.  I was just a hard-headed non-conformist.


An old Dodge loaded with some of my friends had left the pavement and was carefully picking it’s way down a farm field road between the county road and the state highway that leads to the beach.  Those guys had some beer hidden in the brush out by a fence post and they had decided to retrieve it and  consume it that afternoon.

Sam was with me, and he usually drank with these guys, but he had decided to ride with me and stay “dry,” that day.  Sam wanted to know where they had stashed the stuff, and so he had me follow them.  We picked our way down the muddy two-rut road behind the Dodge full of under-aged beer drinkers. They had recovered their cache and they were popping tops now, turning up cans of warm beer as the big car moved slowly toward the state highway.

As they pulled up to the pavement and looked to the south for any oncoming traffic, we all saw the same thing.  A highway patrol car was sitting a few hundred yards down the road with his radar out, probably hoping to nab speeders coming back from the beach.

The under-age drinkers kept their beer low, terrified at the close proximity of the lawman, even though he was facing the other way.  Bob, the driver of the Dodge, gingerly clicked his turn signal on and eased onto the pavement, very predictably moving away from the trooper like he was driving a baby carriage.

“I have an idea,” Sam told me, shooting a sidelong glance the trooper car. “Pull out with a lot of noise but without spinning your tires and pass them….”  I saw his point.  We’d certainly get the cop’s attention that way.

There wasn’t much traffic and the trooper was probably bored stiff.  If we did it right, we might be able to at least put some fear into  the under age guys who were drinking in the Dodge. I gunned the old Galaxie I was driving and heard the bellowing sound of my glass packs as I pulled out on the highway like I was going to a race.

It didn’t take much speed to pass the creeping Dodge full of my terrified peers. As I zoomed past them I glanced in my rearview to see the trooper whip off the shoulder, wheel around, and head in our direction.

I never exceeded the speed limit, and there  was nothing unlawful about my maneuver. I  had stopped accelerating at 50 and had leveled off.  The trooper had no reason to stop me.  As for wide-eyed beer-drinkers in the Dodge…

Well, when he passed them on the left, they were throwing out beer on the right.

“The guilty flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”                   Proverbs 28:1

Retaliation – another story from the early 70s


It was a winter Sunday afternoon in 1975.  I was driving a ’67 Chrysler New Yorker I had recently acquired, and I had three of my friends with me, namely Steve, Danny, and Bill.  Steve was in the front, riding shotgun with me, while Danny rode in the back seat directly behind him and Bill rode behind me.  Danny was a National Guardsman, and as such, he had shopping privileges at the Post Exchange at the local military base.  We had dropped by there on this cold, blustery afternoon so he could by a set of sharpening stones.  These came with their own little can of honing oil, and he was fiddling with his can of oil in the back seat as we drove around.  Steve and Danny were both tobacco chewers, and Steve kept running the electric window down on his side of the car to spit out into the frigid January air.  He’d roll it down, spit, then roll it back up.

“Stop running that window up and down,” I told him.  “You’ll burn up the window motor.”  I found an empty coke can (there weren’t any beer cans in my car) and handed it to him.  “Spit in this can.”

“I don’t have my knife and I can’t cut the top out of the can.” he complained.  I fished out my pocketknife, and he skillfully cut the top out of the rolled steel Coca Cola can I had handed him.  Danny was chewing too, and since the electric window didn’t work where he was sitting, he’d have to hold his spit until we stopped at traffic lights and open the door to spew his juice onto the pavement. He threw me a soft drink can he found in the back floorboard and demanded that I cut the top out of it for him.  I glanced back at where he sat and saw the holster for his folding hunter Buck hanging on his belt.  I threw the can back to him.

“Use your own knife; mine’s already cut the top out of one can and I don’t want the edge spoiled any more.”

“But my knife is a ‘razoo’ sharp instrument.”  He complained, throwing the can back to me again.  I rolled my window down and threw the can out.  Meanwhile he kept asking to borrow Steve’s can, but Steve wouldn’t loan it to him.  This is where the retaliation snowball started. Danny had a small piece of plastic he had bitten off the top of his honing oil can, and in frustration over Steve’s unwillingness to loan him his spit can, he flicked the little piece of plastic it on Steve’s left arm.  Steve was sitting with his left arm lying across the back of the seat toward me and had his right elbow propped on the passenger side door panel with his fingers out the window, (which was down about an inch or so) resting the tips of his fingers in the roof rain trough outside.  When Danny flicked the little piece of white plastic, Steve took a small stem of a tobacco leaf out of his mouth and flipped it back on Danny’s brown suede jacket.  Danny retaliated by squirting oil in Steve’s ear, which was a big mistake.  Three seconds later, Steve had tossed his can of spit all over Danny’s jacket.  I was uninvolved up to this point; I glanced over at the window, and his fingers weren’t there for a change.  It was a bit drafty in the car, so I decided to roll the window up from my master switch, but as I looked away, Steve put his fingers back in the one-inch crack, and when I rolled the window up I mashed his fingers.

“OH! OH! OH! OH! OH!” He shouted, frantically finding the window switch on his side.  He rolled the window down to free his fingers, grabbed the baseball cap off my head and threw it out the window as we drove along.  I looked in the rearview and saw it flutter to the pavement behind us…

Funny Memory from ’73

This is a ’65 Galaxie – mine was a ‘Custom,’ which was a cheaper model, and mine didn’t have hubcaps.
I bought an 8 track player and a glass pack muffler from a friend named Willie who had removed those items from his crashed Torino, 15 bucks for the 8 track and five bucks for the glass pack – this was in ’73.
I installed the under-dash 8 track player and ran wires to some 6×9 speakers I got from Jim – he had removed them from his ’68 Chevelle before he sold it.
Danny  bought a Hitachi 8 track player from his cousin Henry for about 45 bucks.
Some of the guys made fun of me for buying a cheap 8 track and a cheap muffler.
My car – a ’65 Ford Custom (a cheaper version of the Galaxie), sounded twice as good as Steve’s ’60 model Chevy – with the used glass pack (of course, a 289 sounded better with a glass pack anyway) and he had paid 9 bucks for his glass pack at the NAPA store. He agreed that my car sounded better than his.
Danny’s Hitachi tape player would eat tapes. And when I rebutted his smack-talking about my 15 dollar tape player (which never ate tapes), his reply was that his tape player never ate his tapes – it only ate other people’s tapes.
Just a few funny memories.

Country Shop Day

This week I visited two country shops where I’ve placed grads, and both shops are well equipped and busy.  Elite Automotive is one of those busy country shops where you’re just as likely to have a Bobcat front end loader in the service bay having the tracks replaced as you are to see a Chevy pickup in for a clutch job or a 2009 VW in for an engine swap. Among the many vehicles waiting for service on the lot was an ancient fire truck that rolled off the line before WWII. One guy had just replaced the engine in a 2009 Jetta with a salvage yard unit (customer’s choice) and it ran just fine after the swap until it started knocking, so all that work would need to be done again.

The other country shop I visited was Bay Springs Auto, another busy country shop owned by a friend of mine who has been in business at this same location for seven years, and that’s where I spent yesterday working with and observing Matt, another one of my grads who has been employed there for a couple of weeks. Donnie was just finishing up a vintage ’68 Mustang in which he had upgraded the powerplant from the original hot water six banger to a crisply rebuilt 289, complete with throttle body fuel injection and plenty of chrome.

The owner had purchased that 289 engine after having heard it run and had taken it home, planning to bring both the car and the engine when it could be worked into the flow.  He called Donnie and asked if it would be okay to replace the oil pan and valve cover gaskets and maybe clean the engine up a bit, and Donnie told him it would be fine.  Two months later, with the beautiful freshly painted gold Mustang and the vintage replacement V8 engine finally at the shop, it turned out that the engine was locked up, and upon interrogating the customer, Donnie discovered that while this unsupervised yo-yo had the engine oil pan and valve covers off, he decided to wash everything he could see with dishwashing detergent and a water hose.  The end result was predictable – the engine that was running right before he bought it was now scrap iron in need of reconditioning.  Well, in truth that ignorant wash job wasn’t such a bad thing, because he did get a fresh rebuild, even if it was a pricey one, and this cream puff of a Mustang deserved it. The guy even got a sequential turn signal kit installed – this was a beautiful machine when all the work was done.


Air Flow Issues on an Old C1500


In Bay Springs service bay number one sat a faded blue 1988 Chevy pickup with a brand new A/C compressor installed but with lousy airflow into the cab, and Ben removed the blower for a rat’s eye look at the evaporator core, which is hard to see without a mirror or a borescope.  With Donnie’s SnapOn scope fired up and the probe peeking up through the blower hole into the evaporator case, it was evident that leaves and dust had been making their way into the fresh air vents for decades. There was probably a pound of dust and a cigar box worth of leaves nestled up to that heat exchanger, and it needed hosing. The good news was that the old truck had rubber mat in the floor instead of carpet and so it was parked out onto the sloping drive where some some creative water work was applied to clear the core and case of dust and leaves, with some of the water going out the evap drain and some running out of the truck’s floorboard and off the edge of the concrete. Farmer Brown couldn’t care less if we got his rubber mat wet, he just wanted to cool down on these humid, 90 degree South Alabama days, even if it has been cooler in Alabama this summer than any in recent memory.

This truck had intermittent oil pressure gauge problems (lifter clatter was never heard even when the gauge was down) and the owner opted to hire the shop to pop a 2 inch lighted gauge under the dash – Donnie opted for an electric one so as not to pipe oil into the cab.  The problem with this 88 Chevy V8 oil sender is that it is mounted near the rear exhaust runner and tends to fail because of the heat, and that may well have been the root of the intermittent gauge anomaly. Donnie opted to fashion a heat shield with a piece of tin, which didn’t hurt a doggone thing.


The 2001 Explorer


As the Mustang job was drawing to a close, the guys jerked the engine out of a 2001 Explorer that had the noisy timing chain syndrome for a partial rebuild; the guy wanted all the chains and nylons plus a total engine reseal, a new high volume oil pump, and a fresh torque converter and seal since they were exposed with the engine out anyway.

Matt set up the tools the way I had trained him so as to put the camshafts and crankshaft in time. For those who aren’t familiar with this platform, it has three timing chains, one of which drives a jackshaft that spins in the bores where the old in-block camshaft rides on OHV engines, and this jackshaft drives the two overhead cams via one chain on the left front and another on the right rear. There are no timing marks on anything and you need the special tools to set the chains up. One tool locates the crank at #1 TDC and there is a tool that puts each camshaft at the proper index before the cam gears are torqued, with the camshaft gear holder bolted to the head and pegged securely into the gear that is being torqued. That being said, if you understand how things line up you might get these shafts pretty close, but the cam gear retainer bolts are all torque to yield and have to go another 90 degrees after initial torque, thus the need for special tools lock things in place during that torque procedure. More engines than ever are being built this way now, and special tools abound.

Incidentally, Innovative Products of America® Incorporated makes a dandy engine calibration set (#7891) that is extremely helpful in finding TDC on any given cylinder for the brave wing-it guy.

The timing chain job went on the back burner for lack of a couple of crucial parts that were en route, but the parts did arrive for the ’07 Edge A/C job,.

Working on the Edge


The A/C wasn’t cooling on this 2007 Edge, and while there were no blown fuses, the heavy scorch smell in the engine compartment pointed us to a partially shorted clutch coil that had lost its ability to magnetize but was producing enough heat to begin liquefying the rubber parts of the clutch pulley.  A new compressor from Ford runs nearly nine hundred bucks, but you can get a new aftermarket unit for just under five hundred, and that option was pursued on this job.

Some A/C compressors can literally be replaced in fifteen minutes, but this wasn’t one of them.  Further, we all know it’s a dereliction of duty to replace a compressor without also replacing the receiver/dryer, which in this case was one of those long white desiccant socks that goes in that skinny can built onto the side of the condenser. Since the compressor failure was external and there were no metal particles circulating with the refrigerant, the decision was made to leave the expansion valve alone.

I’ve yanked the plug and changed those desiccant socks quite easily on some other vehicles, but this Edge required quite a bit of work. The condenser has to be removed from the vehicle in order to access the plug on the bottom of the can that houses that desiccant cartridge, that being a moderately major operation that started with coolant recovery – Donnie’s Robinair J2788 compliant machine does a smashing job of that, and it also extracted three of the four ounces of refrigerant oil that were in the system.

Matt delved into Alldata, waded past some confusing pictures of bolts that didn’t exist on this vehicle, and figured out how to remove the fascia in short order.

Next, he drained that apple-juice-looking gold coolant, removed the air cleaner, and unclamped the top radiator hose, bending it around and away from the work area, then set about to removing the fan, first disconnecting the shroud-mounted fan controller, then unclipping wire harnesses and whatnot that were attached to the shroud. Within a few minutes the fan module was out and on the floor.  There were two more hoses connected to the radiator, one of them the lower radiator hose and the other one the one inch coolant feed hose from the fill tank, which, on this platform, is mounted higher than the engine for easy bleeding.  Donnie demonstrated his cabled spring hose clamp squeezer, much to Matt’s amazement (I don’t have one of those in my department, but I should).

He and Donnie unclipped the radiator, disconnected the two plastic condenser line anchors from the passenger side radiator tank and tilted the radiator back so as to unbolt the peanut fittings from the condenser where each line was connected, and then they worked it out of there, bringing the condenser with it.

It was time to replace the desiccant bag by screwing the plug out of the bottom of the condenser with a 14mm Allen bit, then he went to work fishing the old sock out of there with mechanical fingers.  Sliding the new desiccant bag back in was easy, but the new plug that came with it actually looked right but wouldn’t fit – the flange on the bottom of it was too big install in the radiator and so Donnie filched the o-ring off the new one, installed it on the old one, and had Matt screw the plug back in.

At this point, it made sense to replace the compressor while the radiator and fan were out of the way, and that job went like a song the lower of the three fasteners is, however, a nut, and the stud that the nut mates to has to come out before the compressor can be removed. The hex on the end of that compressor retaining stud is a 5 millimeter and Donnie worked it out of there with his battery cable pliers.

The annoying thing about new compressors is that some of them come with paperwork in the box telling you how much oil is in the compressor and some don’t.  We took the plugs out of this one and turned the hub clockwise until we saw oil, then stood the compressor on its nose to lube the shaft seal, and had the burritos and sweet tea Donnie’s wife had fetched for lunch before stuffing everything back together, filling it with new Motorcraft Gold coolant, adding three ounces of fresh oil and 1.21 pounds of R134a.  Reinstalling the fascia and the right front tire, a cool test ride down the road showed 46 degrees at the register with ambients in the low 90s.


With the fascia reinstalled, the Edge was customer ready two hours before quitting time. It was a good day. RWM