Saturday, December 24, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
It was Wednesday. My eye’s basketball game encounter with an elbow has been getting some laughs at the shop, because I can play it out pretty well. It’s not the first one or double one I’ve had to show off for the customers with. For those who don’t know, elbows in the nose give you double black eyes along with a nice speed bump on your beak. Anyway, my motion detector heralds the arrival of someone new. I glanced out from under the 1992 Chevy truck I’m working on and see a Texas license plate. I leapt off the creeper (yeah, right) and went to meet my out of state stop in. She has exited the driver’s side of her 2006 Nissan Sentra, and is standing with her arms folded over her chest while leaning on her car. She’s beautiful – probably early thirties, a few inches shorter than me in her heels, auburn hair, great figure, wearing some kind of dark tan sweater dress, with a leather coat for the chill. She has a smirk on her face as if she knows something no one else does… and it works for her. The smirk disappears when she sees my shiner, which has turned even more colorful since I posted the picture on Monday. She straightens away from her Sentra, and seems to be contemplating getting back in. My new Texas visitor will be known as Grace Grande for my post.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“What happened to your face?”
“I blocked an elbow with my eye playing basketball on Sunday. It looks worse than it actually is,” I replied.
“Good, because it looks horrible. You look a little old for playing basketball.”
I laugh. Good one, Grace. “I see you’re from Texas. How can I help you?”
“I’m staying in Piedmont with family. A neighbor of theirs recommended you. My check engine light came on while I was coming up the coast. It runs fine but I thought I’d better get it checked out.” Grace tells me the name of her family’s friend that recommended me. Good customer.
“Let me do a quick scan and see what’s causing the light. Have you had any work done lately?”
Grace goes around to the passenger side, and gets a folder out which contains a full dossier on her maintenance. I quickly riff through it and see the only out of the ordinary thing she’s had done is the Nissan dealer had replaced the front air/fuel ratio sensor. I hand back her folder and go get my portable scanner. She hovers right over me as I’m hunched down plugging in my scanner to her OBDII universal connector (On Board Diagnostics II). I don’t mind. I get a P2A00 code, which I’ve only encountered once before. I thought it was some kind of oxygen sensor code (or air/fuel ratio sensor). That encounter had been on a late model Nissan truck. Sure enough, my scanner explains it’s for a slow Bank 1, Sensor 1, which I already know her dealer replaced. The scanner data shows the sensor varying normally. I’m thinking it’s time for a more in depth look at the Sentra with my notebook computer scanner software. I slowly unhook and straighten, giving Ms. Grande enough time to avoid contact.
“You have a P2A00 front air/fuel ratio sensor code, but it’s reading correctly and you’ve already had it replaced six months ago. I can do a more in depth computer check or I can erase it and you can probably go back home when you’re ready without doing anything until you get to your dealer even if it comes back on.”
Grace steps towards me and puts a hand on my arm. “I’d rather you check it out.”
Well okay. They seem to like the personal touch down in Texas. “I’ll get an estimate ready. Excuse me for just a minute. Can I take one of your invoices? I’ll copy your address info from it.”
Ms. Grande releases my arm and sifts through her folder to hand me an invoice. I return from the office moments later with a fully filled out invoice. I add the mileage and license plate number along with her cell-phone number. She signs the estimate with barely a glance at the money figure. I tear out her copy which she accepts.
“My ride’s outside. Call me on my cell when you know what’s wrong.”
“I’ll have something for you in the next hour.”
She starts out my shop door and turns toward me once more. “Did you make up the basketball story?”
I laugh again, thinking maybe I should use my friend Charles Gramlich’s suggestion about coming up with a story as colorful as my eye. “No, but I can come up with a more exciting one if you like.”
She smiles and waves on her way out. On to work. I finish up the 92 Chevy truck and then hook up the Sentra. My notebook computer software comes up with some fail data in the ‘Mode 6’ category which I won’t bore anyone with. I decide it’s the rear oxygen sensor screwing up and causing a front sensor code, because it does its computations based on data from the rear sensor in a roundabout way. I then erase the code and take the Sentra for a test drive to see if the code comes back on. Just as I’m getting off the freeway exit to head back, the check engine light blinks back on. After confirming the same P2A00 code I call Ms. Grande to give her an estimate for my educated guess.
“You mean you’re guessing for that amount of money?” Grace sounds confused. I don’t blame her.
“Sometimes it comes down to that. I know now the light will return, and I also know you won’t have any trouble getting back to Texas because the rear sensor will only affect the gas mileage imperceptibly.”
“Maybe I should get a second opinion.”
“I’ll tell you what. If you want a second opinion I’ll let you take the Sentra and I won’t charge you for the check. I know how this must seem to you.”
She mulls that over and promises to call me back which she does ten minutes later to confirm the repair. It takes a while to get an OEM sensor from Nissan, but I have it in and test driven before the end of the day. No light return, and I drove it twice as far. The ‘Mode 6’ data after the drive is all green pass so I’m sure the rear oxygen sensor caused the problem. That’s something worth filing away and noting here in the blogosphere. Grace arrives before closing to pick up the Sentra. She checks out my family photo wall while I run her credit card. She seems amused while signing the credit slip.
I hand her the keys. We exchange thank yous and Merry Christmas’s.
She pauses at the office door. “I saw your English Degree on the wall. How has that helped you fix cars?”
“It doesn’t but I write up a hell of an invoice.”
Grace laughs and nods on her way out which sounds like little silver chimes. :)
That’s all for this update from Nilson Brothers Garage, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Since getting my weight back down to 160 last year, I’ve been pursuing all my old hobbies like scuba diving, backpacking, and basketball. Most of the guys I play basketball with range from their late teens to early thirties. I still get up and down the outside court, play defense, and shoot pretty well. They call me OG, which stands of course for old guy or old geezer. This Sunday I went up for a rebound while one of my younger compatriots flew in from the side and clocked me with an elbow. I saw stars so I knew it was a bad one. I signaled for a sub while my young friend followed me around, ‘OG… OG… are you okay? I’m sorry, man’. I absolved him of all blame immediately. If you play ball and you don’t jump higher than a few inches, you will eventually meet with someone’s elbow, because they get up there. Now for the funny part. I went home to ice it up immediately, because I knew the kid hit me square on the brow and from experience it was probably a hairline fracture. To keep it from closing up, all you can do is ice it. It won’t keep the color away but at least I’d be able to see out of it.
I bring Saint Joyce her tea as the Dark Lord this morning at 5:30 as usual, complete with – “dum dum dum dum dum daaahhhh… It’s the Dark Lord… get up you little slacker!”
Saint Joyce blinks up at me blearily and then shoots up into a sitting position. “Oh my God!”
I start laughing because although I hadn’t looked yet because I was busy feeding the stray cats and making her tea, I knew my elbowed eye socket was probably looking real pretty. See, it hadn’t colored up last night. That doesn’t usually happen right away, so this is Saint Joyce’s first look.
“Well, there goes the holiday photos,” she remarks, making a face.
“Nope. We’ll make some memorable ones. Like all my other horrendous looking cuts, slices, swelled up hands and busted knuckles, Colin will be following me around with the usual ‘did you cry, Pa… did you cry?’”
Saint Joyce laughs, having seen my Grandson Colin’s reaction to all my viewable injuries. "I guess you're right, Dark Lord."
I thought I’d go for a few chuckles with this morning’s picture. Good thing I had already done my author photo. :)
Friday, December 16, 2011
I finished my book trailer for COLD BLOODED. I think it's straight and to the point, hitting some highlights I've featured here. Any comments are welcome. Boy, this marketing is getting complicated. Imagine - authors at one time just wrote books. Those days are over. :)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The banner for Book Trailer Showcase on the right is not a paid advertisement. Today is their grand opening with free giveaways and free advertisements for authors to try them out. I decided to give them a try with membership and ad package, but they have a free tryout for authors’ submissions during their startup. I figured my writing friends might want to take a look. I’m going to be working on making a book trailer for COLD BLOODED, and I already have it up in their mystery/thriller book page. Raine… I know you have a great trailer for ‘HOTTER THAN HELL’. :) If any of you feel like taking a look at the new ad site just click on the banner.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Remember, marketing never stops. Get COLD BLOODED on Kindle or COLD BLOODED on Nook. :)
Another rare Nilson Brothers Garage irate customer interaction day came early in the Christmas season. Two weeks ago a gentleman I’ll refer to as Trucker Ford stopped in with a rough idling 2005 F150 with 5.4L engine. These have individual ‘coil on plug’ assemblies which take the place of ignition wires and single coils like the old days. Care has to be taken with this vehicle because most customers drive them until they miss or the scheduled light duty recommended 100,000 mile spark plug change, whichever comes first. As I’ve covered in older posts COP's, Plugs, this is a very tricky ordeal because the plugs break and strip out the threads in the head. The initial interaction with Trucker went like this.
“My truck just started missing and the check engine light’s on.”
“How many miles are on it?” I asked.
“Ah… about 95,000.”
I’m hoping he’s had the severe duty recommendation for his truck with a 60,000 mile spark plug service done. “Have you ever had a tune up done on the vehicle?”
“No,” Trucker’s eyeballing me with suspicion. “The book says 100,000 miles for spark plugs. Anyway, how much to check it out?”
I quote him my diagnostic fee, which includes testing and my advanced software scanner on my notebook computer which can read the more intricate ‘Mode 6’ data. I explain that to him. Trucker ain’t havin’ any.
“I can get an AutoZone code read for nothing.”
“Yeah, you can,” I agree.
“What if I go get the codes read and come back with the parts they say will fix it?”
“I don’t work like that. AutoZone is a great ‘Do It Yourself’ place for people repairing their own vehicles. I don’t put on their parts or follow their repair recommendations.”
“Okay, fine!” Trucker blurts out with a helpless arm wave. “If I do need a tune-up, how much to do it?”
I’m thinking, hell’s bells… I mean silver bells, it’s Christmas. I explain how I take the vehicle in and after a complete computer diagnostic I wait for the vehicle to cool, take off the coil on plug assemblies, crack the plug loose a quarter turn, and leave penetrating oil in the spark plug wells overnight to prevent breakage which can happen anyway. I quote him the ballpark price for all ‘COP’s’ and spark plugs, along with the various filters. I also tell him I’ll include the diagnostic in the price if it turns out to be tune-up related. I change all the ‘Coil on Plug’ assemblies when I tune these because the surest way to have an angry customer comeback is to not change them. I include them as a package deal at a little over cost, way lower than list. Trucker gets apoplectic. I listen to his tirade for a moment before holding up a hand and interrupting because he’s rapidly nearing the magic words that end in physical expulsion from Nilson Brothers Garage.
“Hold it! You’re under no obligation to do anything here. Please go have your vehicle looked at anywhere you wish. I don’t compete with AutoZone or Tune-up Masters or any other shop. Calm down and I’ll get you a copy of the estimate to take with you.”
Trucker’s still grumbling but waits until I run him off an estimate copy to take.
“Fat chance I’d ever come in here again.” Trucker takes his final parting shot before slamming the driver’s side door and shooting out of the shop.
Trucker Ford came back with his vehicle running even rougher and a receipt that looked like one you get from ‘Back Yard Bob’ – tiny universal booklet type, no business name, no state license, no EPA number, no individual parts list, and one word scrawled next to a hand written labor title: Tune-up. He hands me the receipt, red faced, and steaming.
“I got the damn tune-up done like you said and it runs worse than it did before!”
Okay, now I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m relatively competent in customer relations, even with difficult ones. First step is not to go on defense when I have not yet even laid a hand on the vehicle in question. Since there’s really nothing but a piece of paper with a few hundred dollars gone with the wind noted on it I hand it back to him.
“Mr. Ford, I’ll have to return you to our dimension for this conversation to continue. If you insist on speaking from an alternate reality, this discussion is over. What’ll it be?”
Trucker’s hands tighten into fists, the one holding his sacred receipt turns it into a wrinkled ball. He gradually gets a grip before opening his mouth to recite the magic words of expulsion. “Well… what can you do?”
“A complete diagnostic, only it won’t be included in the work cost.”
Yeah, I know. You have hundreds of dollars gone and no one to blame but the guy in the mirror. “Have you tried going back to the place that did the tune-up?”
Trucker gets suddenly reluctant to speak. He dances around from one foot to another for a moment while looking around the shop. “It was a friend of a friend. He’s gone back to LA. Can I leave the truck with you now?”
I hesitated because I’m in my seventh decade so problem jobs that an unknown number of hands have already screwed around with don’t excite me like they once did. Trucker’s return from alternate reality has softened me up a little so I write a real estimate and have him sign it. A few good things surface during the physical check, and my in depth computer scan. It appears the misfires have not yet killed the very expensive catalytic converters and the only code is a random misfire code. The fuel pressure and fuel injector readings look good and the physical check reveals LA Bob did not break any plugs although they turn out to be not the updated plug Ford has a Tech Bulletin out on. I call up Trucker and give him the news. He reacts a little off key which I expected.
“You mean to tell me I still need a tune-up and it’s going to cost me three times what I’ve already blown on one!?”
Concise and accurate. “Yes, that is correct.” No use getting wordy here.
“What about the money I already dumped in it?”
“That’s between you and your friend of a friend. I’ll save all the parts for you, but it looks like all he changed were the plugs. You’re lucky they’re only the wrong ones and he didn’t break the old ones or strip the threads taking them out. That’s a blessing. One broken plug repair or stripped thread amounts to more than you paid him.”
I wait without comment because anything else I say won’t make him any happier.
“Go ahead and do it.”
Since it’s Christmas I kicked in the diagnostic fee; but as I suspected, neither the truck running great nor the reduced bill pleased Trucker. He paid the bill without comment, took the keys, and away he did fly like the down of a thistle. Like I’ve always said, if you want a pat on the back in this business, best to take a couple Advil and do it yourself. :)