Mechanics

by

Paul Hord

phord@csisd.org

I appreciate a good mechanic.  I never thought about mechanics this way until I had a few bad experiences with them.  When I was a teenager, I remember my dad trying to explain the principles of the Bell Curve theory to me after I had been complaining about one of my high school coaches.  It’s a very simple principle that you can apply to about anything in life.  The theory is that with any given unit (intelligence, people, pets, fried chicken) there is a small percentage that is really outstanding on the right side of the bell curve, a small percentage that is just god awful on the left side, and the rest falls in the middle which is average.  I’m sure I had a glazed look while he explained this.  I didn’t understand what he was saying, and this was not the answer I was looking for.  I wanted him to fix my problem, which he didn’t (Which is good, because it made me learn how to handle and deal with difficult matters myself.).  We can definitely use the bell curve theory with mechanics. 


I think most people can relate to good and bad experiences with mechanics, especially if you are trying to maximize the years and miles on your vehicle.  If you buy a new car every three years, then odds are that you haven’t had to deal with mechanics often – I’m not one of those people.  Come to think of it, mechanics are really no different than doctors.  There are many parallels.  Since most of us don’t have the most thorough knowledge of how to diagnose or fix problems with our cars or health, we rely heavily on their knowledge and recommendations.  Through many visits with both, we learn about preventative maintenance and symptomatic problems so that we can get the most miles from our cars and bodies.  For those of us who have had experiences with both, we’ve come to learn that there are good ones and bad ones out there, and many times we don’t learn this until we’ve had some less than pleasant experiences with the bad ones.


I was hell on the first few vehicles I drove, the first of which was a 1965 Chevrolet pickup truck.  This truck belonged to my grandparents.  They had owned it for 20 years and my grandparents only used it when they needed the services of a pickup.  Before I had the chance to drive it, it was in pristine condition.  It had traveled less than 20,000 miles and the interior was perfect.  The sun had lightened the green paint somewhat, but there were no scratches, dings, dents, nothing.  My grandma and dad thought it was a perfect for my first vehicle.  Fine by me, but there was one problem:  it had a 327 cubic inch V8 engine, which is not what a 14-15 year old boy needs.  It had a standard transmission with three speeds and the gear shift on the steering wheel column.  Once I learned that it went way faster than my go cart, I often felt the urge to feel the full thrust of the engine’s power.  I grew up a big fan of the Dukes of Hazard.  Unfortunately, this poor truck never had a chance.  It lasted maybe three years and looked nothing like it did before I was introduced to it.  The very last time that it saw pavement was when my dad was driving it to our local mechanic’s shop.  On the way to the shop, the brakes went out.  My dad did the best he could, downshifting and eventually taking it into a big boulder on the side of the road at about 15 mph.  I was with him and can still feel the vibrations from the impact.  When the wrecker pulled the truck away, the horn honked with every rotation of the rear left wheel.  Our local mechanic gave us $500 for the leftovers and that was that.  Okay, I’ve digressed somewhat.  Back to mechanics.

 

With this old truck, I learned a lot about vehicular maintenance.  I learned to change the oil, check all of the important fluids, replace radiator hoses, change flat tires, perform tune-ups, etc.  I could do most of the maintenance things.  This is something I actually enjoyed.  It was a guy/grunt/testosterone type of thing I suppose.  When more serious issues occurred with the truck, I would read through books trying to figure out how I could fix them myself.  I wasn’t nearly smart enough to figure out how to fix some of the more serious stuff.  My dad, on the other hand, had the aptitude for this type of thing.  He fully understood how an engine worked and knew every part.  He could easily take an engine apart and reassemble it without any problem.  However, he had absolutely no interest in working on his cars.  I remember wanting to hoist my 327 cubic engine out of my truck, replacing the pistons, gaskets, O rings, installing a new carburetor that would suck more gas into the engine . . . all efforts to get more power.  Of course I had no idea how to do all of this, so I asked dad for help.  This would be the perfect father/son project!  My dad laughed at me.  He said none of it needed to be replaced, and if it did, we would take it to Larry, our mechanic.  I remember asking my dad why we would take it to a mechanic when we could fix it ourselves.  His response was that this is what mechanics get paid to do and that he was happy to pay a mechanic for these things because it saved him time.  So, I never really learned how to completely overhaul an engine, but I was always able and willing to do simple maintenance.  As I grew older, I began to better understand what my dad had told me about the convenience factor of having a mechanic take care of your automotive problems.  Not just any mechanic, but a good one.

 

One of my first experiences with a mechanic was with the first vehicle I purchased myself without any help from my parents.  During my first year as a school teacher, right out of college, I bought a Ford Ranger pickup.  Simple and cheap enough for a single guy.  Really, the only reason that I made this purchase was for the air conditioning.  The AC compressor on my previous vehicle, an old Chevy Blazer, had died.  The cost to replace it was not worth the miles on the engine.  And I was tired of rolling down the windows to get air in the summer.  Driving in Texas during the summer without AC can be really unhealthy.  Anyway, after having owned my new truck for about a year, I took it into a corporate named repair/maintenance shop for an oil change.  Minutes later, a very clean looking gentleman opens the door and calls my name and asks if he can visit with me.  He tells me point blank that my truck has several problems:  the front tires are wearing on the inside edges because of improper inflation and need to be replaced; the brake pads are just days away from being completely worn down and need to be replaced; the air filter is dirty and needs to be replaced; and the windshield wipers are bad.  He then tells me that he can replace everything that has a problem for a little over $500 and get me out of his shop within two hours.  I didn’t really know how to respond.  I know I didn’t have $500.  I had to have my truck to get around.  I mean, couldn’t this guy have used some better bedside manners?  It was like the doctor had told me that I needed several major organ transplants all in a matter of a few seconds.  I needed time to process all of this.  Fortunately, I used decent judgment and told the guy that we needed to stick with the oil change that I had originally come in for and that I needed time to think about his other recommendations.  He seemed disappointed.  And he definitely wasn’t a mechanic.  No grease under his fingernails, and he was wearing a tie.  Later that evening, I called my dad and told him about my experience.  He told me my truck was fine and that the guy who had talked to me was following his company’s policy and trying to squeeze as many dimes as possible out of his customers.  He then told me that I needed to find a good mechanic, someone that I could trust, to get a second opinion.  My dad encouraged me to ask others of mechanics that they recommended.  I kept that tucked away in the back of my mind.


About a month later, my engine light cut on.  I read in the manual that this could mean that your engine has a multitude of problems.  The advice in the manual was to seek auto care immediately!  When I read this, I immediately went into Chicken Little mode.  So I asked one of my friends and co-workers, John, who he used and recommended as a mechanic.  He said point blank, “You need to go see Gary,” without any pause in his response.  John said he had been using Gary for years and that he knew what he was doing and was honest.  So, I took my truck to Gary.  I didn’t know Gary, so when I went to see him, I made sure to mention that my friend John had recommended him to me, hoping this might help with the level of care that he would give to my truck.  I left it overnight at his shop and he called me at work the next afternoon.  He told me my truck was ready and that I could pick it up later that day.  Fearing the worst, I asked him what the problems were and how much I owed.  He told me it was nothing major and that I owed him $50.  Now I was really confused.  A couple of months back, one mechanic told me that I needed $500 worth of work done on my truck or it was a goner.  Then this guy Gary tells me that all is well and I owe him $50.  So when I went to his shop to pick up the truck, I made sure that he gave me an explanation of the problems he did or didn’t find.  He told me that the engine light came on because there was a problem with the engine light, not a problem with the engine.  He said this happens all the time, especially with Ford Rangers.  I asked him about the brake pads.  Surely they were almost gone?  He said that they were worn down some but that I had a good 10,000–15,000 highway miles left on them.  He said not to worry until I heard screeching when I braked.  Then I asked him about the tires.  I had been told that my front tires had been wearing on the inside and that they were bad.  He told me that the tires had plenty of tread and that I could extend their lives by rotating them to the rear and making sure I kept them inflated to 35 lbs.  And what about the bad air filter?  Gary lifted the hood of my truck, unscrewed the air filter container, took the air filter out and beat it a few times on the front fender, dust and dirt flying out.  When he was finished, he put it back in the container and screwed it back on the engine.  He told me that most times this method would suffice to clean an air filter rather than to purchase a new one.  Gary said that an air filter was bad when you begin to see holes in the filter itself.  I payed and thanked Gary and was happily on my way.


During my time working in Somerville, it was always easy to drop my truck or wife’s car off at Gary’s shop anytime we had auto problems.  When I stopped working in Somerville, it became more difficult to do this.  It was going to be more convenient to find a mechanic where we lived in College Station.  We did find one guy that was pretty good.  His name is Lester and his shop is in Bryan.  He’s a great guy and a really good mechanic.  Lester is also a really loud talker.  I have been told this is so because he’s lost some of his hearing from working around all of the noise in his shop for so many years.  The only problem is that it’s really hard to get an appointment to see him.  Gary will allow you to make an appointment several days in advance, which can allow you to work things around your schedule.  Lester just tells you to bring your car in and he’ll do his best to get to it when he can.  Not always the most convenient thing if you have a busy schedule.  He’s really about the only local person I would want to take my car to for something serious.

 

My wife and I have learned through several experiences with mechanics that it’s just best to take our auto problems to Gary, someone whom we know and trust.  Several years ago, my wife’s car was having some problems, something related to the transmission.  We took the car to Gary and he said he felt the car might need a new transmission.  A new or even used transmission is a lot of money, especially for a car with some miles on it.  The one thing that we appreciated was that he encouraged us to take it in to someone else and get another opinion.  We did take it to a transmission specialist and they determined that the transmission was fine and that it was another minor problem.  Even though Gary might not have known what the problem was in this situation, he encouraged us to take it to someone else to get another opinion.  Another time, on a Saturday afternoon in July, the AC on our car quit working.  We were going out of town for the weekend and we wanted to have some air on our trip (remember, unhealthy to drive without AC in Texas summers).  Most auto repair shops were closed that day but we did find one (corporate named) that was open.  After about 10-15 minutes of inspection, one of the technicians told us that we needed a new AC compressor.  A new one would cost close to $1000.  Ouch!  I even asked if he was certain that this was the problem.  “Without a doubt” was his response.  We decided to take it to Gary for another opinion the following week.  Gary replaced a blown fuse for little or no expense and the compressor was working again.  I couldn’t believe that this was the problem and that another mechanic couldn’t have figured this out.  Gary works another miracle!


Even more recently, I was having some trouble just getting my car started and out of the driveway.  I come to expect this type of thing from my car nowadays because it’s old and has too many miles on the engine.  But it does go forward and gets me around.  I had tried jumping the battery and it still wouldn’t start.  I was staring at the engine when one of our new neighbors came over to offer some assistance.  It just so happens that Jose (I believe that’s his name.) works at an automotive shop in College Station.  He told me he was a mechanic.  I believed him.  He listened to me as I tried to start the engine.  He scratched his head a few times and said it could be the starter or maybe the alternator.  He told me I should bring it into the shop where he works to have it looked at.  I thanked him for his time and thought I would take him up on his offer.  The shop where he worked was only about a mile from our house.  This would work out much easier than having to take it to Gary’s in Somerville.  So, I took it to the shop where my neighbor worked.  The next day I get a phone call from someone at the shop, not my neighbor.  He listed off about ten things wrong with the car that needed to be fixed or replaced, including a new radiator.  I asked how much all of this would cost and he estimated around $1200.  I was more than a little aggravated.  I explained to the man that I just wanted my car to start and that I only needed enough to be fixed so it would get me from home to work, vice versa.  For whatever reason, he was really concerned about the radiator.  I just wanted the car to start.  It took a few minutes, but he finally explained that the car wouldn’t start because there was oil leaking from the engine onto the spark plugs, which kept the plugs from firing to start the car.  He said that replacing the plugs would allow the car to start, but that if I didn’t replace the gaskets around the engine block, oil would continue to leak on the plugs and that this would all happen again.  Now this was helpful information.  I told him to do what he needed to get the car to start and that’s it.  I ended up having to pay $200.  When I went to pick up my car, there were two guys in the office to collect my payment.  They looked like they might be the owners.  I decided to tell them that one of their mechanics, Javier (It’s either Jose or Javier; I get the names mixed up.), lives in my neighborhood and had recommended their place.  They both looked at each other a little oddly and laughed.  They said that Jose (or Javier) wasn’t a mechanic but that he was a really good helper around the shop, kept the place really clean.  This is probably why I can’t remember my neighbor’s name.  I ended up back out at Gary’s the following week, to find out about my radiator.  The leaking oil was causing problems and Gary fixed that.  He said my radiator was good for another 10,000 miles and that it was a little worn but still in okay shape.  Again, I got out of Gary’s shop with little expense, and the radiator has not caused any problems since.  This was three years ago.  I should have taken it to Gary the first time and would have saved myself money, time, and frustration.

 

A few years ago, I worked with a lady who would only drive to Austin to let this one person cut/fix her hair.  She would take a day off from work to see her hair stylist.  I used to laugh at this, but I understand it now in a different sort of way.  I only travel a mile from my house to the salon for a haircut, and each time I go, someone different cuts it.  However, I will travel 30 miles from my home and even take a day off from work to have Gary check out my car, rather than just going to someone who is closer and whose sign says that they are qualified to do so.  I’m glad to know a mechanic who sits at the far right side of the bell curve. 

enough


   

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