We kick off this new section of workshop related tricks and tales with a story many mechanics will empathise with – the incompetent DIY motorist who ends up being bailed out by a professional… at considerable cost!
Ask any professional tradesman be it a builder, plumber, gas fitter or decorator about the people they deal with on a day to day basis, they will no doubt recall a tale that could make your foot itch. Back in the pre-recessional days of 2005, straight after the collapse of MG Rover, I made a calculated decision to operate on a self-employed basis as a mobile mechanic in County Durham.
Our local dealer at that time, Reg Vardy, pretty much ditched the whole MGR scenario like a hot coal and, after studying the local press with eyes like a sewer Rat, I observed that no other mobile spanner man had seized the opportunity to look after our beloved British banger.
Selling my immaculate 620ti to raise some capital rather than go to the banks, I sourced a decent yet rough Vauxhall Corsa Van from a nearby town of Guisborough via eBay that was seriously cheap. A cash in hand spray job and some professionally applied laser printed graphics gained me a stunning little van that was a real head turner – exactly what I was looking to achieve. It genuinely looked like a huge toy car which made adults and small boys look and point – a far cry from your average grubby white Escort. After some Golf GTi rims, Manta GTE front seats and some creative advertising which included a website, I was up and running.
It took a little while for the first job to come through, but one of them came via a lady on the far side of Darlington who owned a Rover 25 which refused to start. After some qualifying questions such as previous symptoms, it transpired that the car had been fine until her boyfriend had been under the bonnet. She couldn’t tell me what he had been doing to the car only to say that it had been leaking oil, he had done something and, since then, the car wouldn’t run. I suggested that maybe she could get the guy to call me before I committed myself, but the overtones of her reply suggested they had maybe fallen out over this.
In the end, I agreed to visit, but the keys would be left with her elderly neighbour as she would be at work on the day. Arriving at house I was greeted with a pretty looking Sienna Gold Rover 25 and, as per instructions, I called next door for the keys. A really lovely old gent called Jack, for whom I ended up doing some work on his Astra, handed the keys over, made me a brew and left me to crack on. Turning the key, the car was seemingly trying to start, there was over half a tank of petrol too, so after looking at all the obvious stuff like plug leads, sensor connections and the inertia cut out (always worth checking) I was starting to think I was in for the long term.
Standing on the pavement, smoke in hand, I looked down and noticed something very familiar lying in the gutter – an MG Rover-branded parts packet. Picking it up and calling a good trade friend Richard at Vardy Parts Solutions, it was diagnosed by the part number as a camshaft oil seal for a Rover K-Series engine and all of a sudden it became crystal clear. The small stuff came out of the tool box and, after a few minutes graft with an 8mm, the upper cam belt cover removed so straight away I was looking at a new timing belt. Winding the engine over, all the timing marks were seemingly aligned to perfection, or so they appeared.
A close inspection showed that, while the timing marks were right, the pulleys were 180 degrees out on the roll pins of the camshafts meaning the pulleys were also on the wrong cams, not damaging enough to clash the valves but enough to cripple the car. What happened next was nothing short of spooky, a bloke turned up in a car and he just happened to be my customer’s boyfriend.
I was just about to crack off a pulley bolt with a 17mm spanner and when I explained what the problem was he turned from being a bit of a wannabe gobby knowall into a sheepish told off schoolboy standing there silent for 30 minutes while I refitted the cam sprockets and timing belt. The little 25 purred into life once again.
After a chat and a smoke, he went on to tell me that he was in the ‘trade’ working for a local tyre and exhaust centre – beware the expansive and never ending knowledge of a tyre fitter. After I had explained where he went wrong, he at least understood the theory of my words and realised the gravity of what could have happened on some other cars – total engine destruction. As mentioned earlier, the elderly neighbour who I went on to do some work for, mentioned that he too had suffered the chap’s spannering skills by means of a new radio which was wired in wrong – it subsequently fused and burned out inside a week.
To be fair, his error with the Rover 25 camshaft oil seal job is a very easy mistake to make. However, the pulleys are not only marked for the correct timing, but also for correct location on the cams themselves, though it is possible without force to fit them 180 degrees out should you not be paying attention. What seemed to worry him more than anything was looking a berk to his partner. I perfectly understood that and so, after being bribed to the tune of an extra £20, I did some creative re-writing to the job invoice in a bid to deflect the blame away and all parties seemed happy with the end result.