Once again, we delve into the toolbox of tales from the sharp end of the motor trade.
We share a ramble about some sorry practices even the established garages will play on the motorist…
Words and photography: Mike Humble
Only recently, I was rummaging through my trusty filing cabinet that protests with creaks and groans under the strain of old car mags, dealer sales folders and other motoring tat, and came across some CDs with digital pictures on.
Just like the late great Bob Monkhouse used to carry a note book for jotting down funny thoughts or fresh ideas for gags, I am never without a digital camera or at the very least, a mobile phone with a good picture taking feature. Sometimes, the strange things you encounter need to be backed up with some form of tangible evidence because explaining your encounters can often be met with a certain level of uncertainty. One of my all time pet hates is sloppy workmanship, especially if it is motor trade related and I sometimes really wonder how some people can sleep at night.
Reid Street in Darlington holds some happy memories for me that go back to that halcyon year of 1977. It was in this very road that my first day at school took place in Mrs Jarvis’s class – for the record, she drove a blue Citroen GS, oh yes folks! I started on the motors from a very early age.
Fast forward to more recent times when I operated as a mobile mechanic, I blitzed this almost endless terraced road and surrounding neighbourhood with printed flyers as the whole area was ideal custom – average affluence with average middle aged cars. It certainly paid off as a good few profitable jobs came my way in quick succession as good Northern folk in terraced houses tend to socialise with each other more so than detached or semi detached property. In a nutshell, do someone a good turn and others soon hear of you.
A prime example of this came in the form of a youngish couple who owned a Sienna Gold Rover 25 1.4 which looked a picture with its glossy paint and 15 inch fission type alloy wheels. I was doing some work on next doors ageing Vectra when the husband came out and asked if I could knock on their door when I had a spare moment. This of course I did after completing the other job and it transpired that their 25 had a problem with the heater which their ‘usual” garage had quoted a staggering £300 to fix.
After a nifty poke around in the passenger footwell, it was nothing more than a burnt out fan resistor of which I kept a few in the tool kit. Half an hour later and the sum of £60 exchanged, the fan worked once again on all four speeds, but the owner was a little aggrieved at the garage price.
Being cheeky, I mentioned they need not rely on that business again and more worrying was the fact they had told the customer a whole new heater box would be required. Many of you in reader land will know this to be rubbish, as the heater motor on a Rover 25 takes only a tad longer to replace than the resistor pack with a good used one being available from your breakers for no more than a tenner.
As was the case on this 25, nine times out of ten it’s just the resistor that needs replacing, their usual garage was obviously just out to rip them off. While we were small talking, the owner asked for a rough price on changing the clutch, my eagle eye scanned to the pedal which was really high. Tapping the pedal with my toes, I noticed the pedal had no free play and felt quite tight – not good and certainly not right.
I was told the cable had snapped in busy traffic a short while earlier and the breakdown agent had recovered the car to their local garage where a new cable had been fitted at cost of some £120. The garage had recommended a new clutch too but the customer had baulked at the cost for the short term. Lifting the bonnet, I looked at the cable and duly noticed the date stamp on the original part which coincided as the same year as the car was registered.
The cable appeared to have been wiped with a rag soaked in WD40 or brake fluid as this can give a false impression of looking like new and I told the customer what I had noticed. After realising that he had his leg lifted more than once by this local back street garage, the man quite rightly became somewhat angry but thankfully not with me.
He then told me the name of the garage in question, and went on to say he would be having words with them. This was a pointless exercise for one very good reason; they had closed down or more to the point been forcibly closed down just a few weeks earlier, a fact proven when the chap stabbed the number into his mobile phone only to hear a terminated number tone.
Needless to say I was asked to see what I could do and looking at my watch, noticed it was fast approaching 11.00am on a Saturday morning. I had just over an hour to diagnose why the pedal was so high and tight as well as fly down to Unipart to obtain any parts if need be before they closed at noon. The air filter box and resonator was stripped out in double quick time and there was the problem in front of me, of which I had to chuckle at in amazement.
The clutch cable had indeed snapped, right at the nipple on the end of the cable where it fits into clutch actuating lever at the gearbox. As can be seen in the picture, the garage had simply used a ‘choccie block’ type of electrical connector and screwed it onto the exposed cable after snipping the frayed strands of wire back. In a bodged kind of way, this had in fact done the job but owing to the cable being somewhat shorter than it should have been, the cable was tight and the pedal was at its extreme height. Left like this the cable would have gone once again, but also there was a chance that the release bearing would have been put at jeopardy because the car was in effect been operated in the same manner as driving with your foot resting on the clutch pedal. A cable was sourced and the bonnet was dropped just after 12.30.
This extra work cost another £60 with £120 being the total according to my 2006 accounts log – exactly the same figure the first garage had charged for nailing an electrical connector onto the end of the existing broken cable and claiming it was a new one!
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