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1:13 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

The old phone-up-to-the-engine routine

A few years back, I had the opportunity to work on a very clean '55 Chevy that belonged to my father.

He lives in Phoenix, where I picked the car up and trailered it to my shop in Kingman. He had a list of to-do's as long as my arm. After a month or so, I called him and he made arrangements with his buddy to get to Kingman and drive the Chevy back to Phoenix.

I met my dad and his buddy Richard for lunch; he picked up the car and off he went. About 15 minutes later, I get a call from him. He is on the side of the road on Interstate 40 at about Blake Ranch Road. He says the engine is making a loud tapping noise. (By the way, this was the first time he'd ever driven the Chevy on the highway since he owned it).

I asked him when the noise started and how fast he was going, among other questions. He said, "John, just a minute here, listen to this." Then he put the phone up to the engine. I could not believe this.

I'm yelling in the phone, "Hey, Dad! Putting the phone to the engine is not going to help me diagnose the problem." Wow.

Finally, the noise went away and he drove the car back to my shop. I still chuckle thinking about him holding the phone to the engine.

We later found that because of the low ratio rear-end gearing, the engine was spinning at 4,500 rpm at 75 mph on the highway. This was causing all of the oil in the oil pan to be pumped to the top of the engine, causing a tapping noise from lack of lubrication. The fix you ask? Slow down, Dad! He was going a lot faster than 75.

That story brings me to the point of this article. When you take your car to your local repair shop with a problem, try to explain all aspects of the symptoms to your service representative. Does it happen hot or cold? When it happens, is the A/C on or off? Does the problem occur when you go uphill, idling or decelerating?

All of this information will help to find the actual problem and eventual repair.

We as service technicians experience the opposite frequently. I had a customer who owned a Ford pickup with a starter complaint. The customer instructed us to just replace the starter. At the front-counter interview, I asked him if he would like us to check out the problem first.

"Put the starter on it. Just get me a starter and install it. I know that's the problem."

I said, "Sir, I would be happy to check it out and make sure. By the way, what is the symptom? Will the engine even start?"

Disgustingly, he shook his head and said, "Just do as I say." I nodded and said, "Yes, sir."

After we installed the new starter, we pushed the truck out to the ready line. The owner came to take the truck home a few hours later. He paid the bill. I handed him the keys and he walked out. Two minutes later, here he comes. He is red with fury.

"My truck won't start!"

I said, "I know, would you like me to find out why?" He burst out laughing. I grabbed a test light, located the burnt fusible link and repaired it. Problem fixed.

In my heart I could not charge the guy a dime for the repair. He has been a valued customer since.

A little communication goes a long way in most any business. A friendly smile from the front counter will make most customers feel welcome also. The repair of your car is the responsibility of the technician, but also from you.

John Salem is an L1 rated, ASE-certified master automobile technician and has owned Salem & Sons Auto for more than 17 years.