Too Close for Comfort

By Paul DeGuiseppi, MACS Manager of Service Training

Whether we want it this way or not, we get close to people in this business. No, I’m not referring to your favorite regulars, like the lady who brings in home baked cookies every time she comes in for service, or the guy who swings in to pick up his truck on a hot summer afternoon with a six-pack to share. They’re givens. I’m talking about the OTHER customers, the ones you don’t really know all that well, or at least so it would seem . . .

Think about it; we have “all access passes” to one of our clients’ most intimate of places: their PEMWOT (Personal Enclosed Motorized Wheeled Object of Transportation). Admit it – you’ve found some pretty strange and often questionable items in people’s PEMWOTs. Other than someone’s home, their PEMWOT is the second most likely place you’re apt to find various objects that, shall we say, reflect the personality of the owner.

Here’s how this whole thing got started. The other day, during lunch here at the MACS office, I was telling some of my co-workers about how we had to take my wife’s car to the dealer to have a warranty repair performed. During that conversation, I related the fact that on the rare occasions I need to take one of my cars to a shop, I usually empty the console, glovebox and trunk of all contents, except for what the tech may need to have on hand to help him perform his duties (essentially the owner’s manual, registration and proof of insurance cards). I told them that anything else would be in the tech’s way, and could also prove to be a “distraction” (as you’ll soon see as the rest of this story unfolds).

Now before I go any further, I want you to keep in mind that I (unlike many a co-worker I had over the years) never went out of my way to “find” anything inside someone’s PEMWOT. Most of the time, it just happened. But this doesn’t mean that if I happened to stumble upon something unusual, that I might not display it to someone nearby, the same way most other techs would should they encounter a similar situation. First of all, in this business, we often need comic relief, and this type of activity was usually sure-fire. Further, if someone has something in their PEMWOT, knowing it’s going to be accessed by a stranger, and doesn’t remove it beforehand, they must WANT it to be discovered (or so we always reasoned). Lastly, sometimes I felt it was absolutely necessary that a person of authority in the shop be notified of my find.

Anyway, allow me to share with you some of the more interesting things I’ve seen in people’s PEMWOTs. I think you’ll be able to relate:

  • Foodstuffs – Just about every type or variety, and often, WAY past the “last sale date.” I would often detect many of these items by way of my olfactory sense before actually seeing them. Sometimes I never did actually see them, leaving me to wonder about their exact original chemical structure. Of course, this category includes the 400,000,000 fast food restaurant condiment packets that explode from the glovebox dare you open it, closely followed by the 500,000,000 fast food restaurant napkins.


  • Drugs / Pharmaceutical Products – At one shop I worked in, we had a fleet account that sent us cars driven by pharmaceutical company marketing representatives. These particular cars (an entire fleet of the same model) were, at the time, prone to premature rear shock absorber failure. The shock piston nut was only accessible from inside the trunk. Open the trunk, and wow, man, a free drug store open for business (neatly packaged physician’s samples). I swear to you, I NEVER removed anything from someone’s PEMWOT without their consent. However, I worked with plenty of other guys that would think nothing of it, especially if it was unlikely they’d get caught, as in a situation like this where there were literally hundreds, if not thousands of a particular item present.


One of the funniest things that ever occurred concerning this particular fleet happened to a guy I worked with named Jake. Jake was a real lunatic that would put anything down his gullet that he thought might give him the least bit of a mind-altering experience. One day he took a slew of pill samples and popped a bunch of them. What he came to find out was that they were fast acting, super-strength anti-diarrhea medication. He wasn’t “right” for days. I can’t remember if he ever did anything like that again.

Then there are the other kinds of drugs. Numerous times, I came across bags of pot and glove compartment doors that exhibited traces of strange white powdery substances. Then there were these funny rolled up dollar bills, also with powder inside them. One time, a guy pulled up for us to take a quick look at something, and quickly ran in to use the rest room while we were checking it out. I was entering the passenger side as he was exiting the driver’s side. All of a sudden I caught a good whiff. Sniff-sniff, what’s that smell? I quickly traced it to a still burning joint in the ashtray. I never said a word to him about it, in the same way I would never touch or tell anyone else about any finds like these. Although, I did hear from some of the other techs that Jake would often remove items like these, for “proper disposal.”

  • Intimacy Health Protection Devices – I’m not going to get too graphic, except to say thank goodness I only ever saw brand new sealed units. However, one customer, a fairly attractive, very friendly young lady who drove a late model Z-28 convertible really surprised us. One day, one of the guys found a rather large “something” under her driver’s seat. I couldn’t believe it. He took it out, proudly waving it around like it was HIS. Even I was kind of shocked by this turn of events. I remember thinking that for her general well being, someone should tell her where her “something” had spent a good part of its day, but it sure wasn’t gonna be me. Could you imagine anyone telling her? Hopefully she saw the dirty fingerprints all over it before again pressing it into service.


  • Live animals – I had a few customers that took their dogs everywhere with them. Which means (you guessed it), the auto repair shop. Dogs were not permitted in the waiting room, so they just stayed in the car. This wasn’t a problem for me, as I like dogs, and all of the ones I came across in these situations were always friendly. But some of the other techs flat refused to work on these people’s vehicles. A few of them were afraid of dogs, but another few just thought it was plain silly – I know I always felt a little funny out on road tests with Fido riding shotgun. These dogs would happily stay in their vehicles while repairs were being made, sometimes up in the air for hours while impact guns and air hammers were operating a mere sheet metal thickness away. Sometimes, this one old cocker spaniel would even fall asleep. None of it seemed to matter to her.


  • Human body parts – OK, I’m stretching a little here, but we did have this one guy who used to trim his toe and fingernails in his driver’s seat. And for some unexplainable reason, he would mound the clippings in a big pile right in the center of the transmission hump. Yuk!


  • Weapons – You name it, guns, knives, Billy clubs, blackjacks, nunchuks, swords, daggers, Connie Francis cassettes, etc. Seriously, in these cases, I was the one who would refuse to work on the vehicle unless the item or items were removed. I would allow ammo to stay, however. 


I’ve got quite a few more stories like these, but we’ll have to stop at this one for now.

  • The Newspaper Lady –This is one of the stranger ones. We had this old lady who drove a Chevy Celebrity that was literally packed to the headliner with old newspapers, except for her little driver’s seat area. This car sagged like Phyllis Diller. I don’t know what the purpose of this arrangement was, and never asked. I really didn’t want to know. Now for the strange part. I left that shop for another, and soon discovered that they too, had their very own Newspaper Lady. Not the same one, as I soon met her not long after the start of my employ there. To my amazement, she also drove a sagging Chevy Celebrity, THE SAME COLOR AND YEAR as my Newspaper Lady’s!

The objects inside someone’s vehicles can serve as a reminder that the vehicle has a person attached to it. So while you’re handling your customers, as well as their PEMWOTs, be considerate of this fact, and take your utmost care to treat them, their PEMWOT, and the objects in it, as you would like to be treated yourself.


About macsworldwide

Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Founded in 1981, MACS is the leading non-profit trade association for the mobile air conditioning, heating and engine cooling system segment of the automotive aftermarket. Since 1991, MACS has assisted more than 600,000 technicians to comply with the 1990 U.S. EPA Clean Air Act requirements for certification in refrigerant recovery and recycling to protect the environment. The Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide’s mission is clear and focused--as the recognized global authority on mobile air conditioning and heat transfer industry issues.
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