By Paul DeGuiseppi, MACS manager of service training
Since its inception, I’ve written some pretty controversial and opinionated stuff but nothing that ever got me into any kind of real trouble. That is, until maybe this time.
The best mechanic I have ever known is my cousin Albie. Albie is 364 days older than me, and beyond the fact that we are related, we also grew up as friends in the same neighborhood. I haven’t seen him much in recent years, but have vivid memories of our shared past.
Albie is a natural. Still far below our pre-teen years, he built his own mini-bike and go-cart, both cobbled together out of parts from various scrap piles. (It certainly helped that there was a lawn mower repair shop and a junk yard on the same road we lived on.) Then he made each go faster, then faster still, through various modifications along the way. As we got older, he did the same with the many cars and motorcycles he went through.
And man, could Albie drive! I still can’t believe some of the things I saw him do behind the wheel and handlebars, and the thrills I had riding in and on vehicles he piloted.
Another of our cousins eventually hired Albie to work in his Volkswagen specialty shop, and recognizing the extraordinary talents that Albie possessed, paid him accordingly. It was the mid-70s, when I was making about $100 a week working in a factory that made electronic components. At the same time, Albie was pulling in almost three times that amount. Having that kind of scratch enabled him to buy all the things he needed to further fulfill his need for speed.
During this period, my interest in things automotive was also rapidly developing, and I did a lot of my own wrenching and tinkering. But compared to Albie, I was, and probably still am, a piker. I could only gaze with amazement upon his accomplishments.
There is nothing mechanical, I repeat—nothing, that I ever saw confound Albie, and no job on a car that I ever saw him unable to perform. On top of everything else, he was lightning fast and rarely had comebacks.
Albie eventually opened his own shop, and of course, was very successful. But like many of us in this field, he tired of the daily grind and is now out of the business completely. Last I heard, he’s involved with real estate as his source of income, but he still wrenches on all of his own toys.
Oh, one more thing: Albie never attended even a minute of formal automotive repair training. But that never stopped him from doing anything. Scan tool? No problem. Scope? Sure, put it in my hand, I’ll figure it out. You name it, Albie was unstumpable. Like I said, an absolute natural.
Enough about Albie for now. But I’ll mention him again later.
The second best mechanic I’ve ever known is also one of the best automotive trainers I’ve ever seen, as well as being a pretty dichotomous character. I’ll call him Frank.
Though I lost touch with him years ago, I first met Frank when he was already out of the shop, working as a trainer for a vehicle manufacturer. Right before that, he was a field service tech for that same vehicle manufacturer.
If you are not familiar with what field service techs do, they’re the guys that travel around to dealerships to diagnose and fix the supposedly unfixable cars. Frank often said that there is no such thing, because he never found one he couldn’t fix. After watching him in action, I had no reason to doubt his claim.
Frank had zero people skills. He was very unpleasant to be around, and no one that had to regularly interact with him liked him. But put him in front of a group of techs for a training session, and you would never know it. The transients in his classes had no idea what a miserable person Frank really was, as he always appeared quite charming, even magnetic, in the classroom.
But it was with impossibly broken cars where Frank’s real talent rose to the surface. He was practically a human X-ray machine. He had an uncanny ability to know right where to start looking for vexing problems, and exactly what to do to fix them. He didn’t always get it right the first time, but did the vast majority of the time. And like Albie, he too was very fast and very precise. All in all, Frank was an amazing auto repair practitioner.
Now going back to me getting in trouble: it’s right about here where things start going downhill rapidly, and the lynch mob is going to set out after me.
Frank had a saying I absolutely loved, and he used it quite frequently: “I never saw Ohm’s Law help anybody fix a car.”
You know what? Not only do I wholeheartedly agree with him, he’s absolutely right.
Please notice Frank didn’t say that principles related to Ohm’s Law never helped anybody fix a car; he said Ohm’s Law. That’s why, with a totally clear conscience, I can agree with him.
Every day, in thousands of auto repair shops around the world, voltage drop tests are performed, current and resistance measurements are made, etc. The readings are compared to a spec, and determinations are made concerning whether a part, circuit, whatever, is good or bad. It’s that simple. (Well, it’s not always that simple, but you know what I mean.)
So please tell me; why do we waste countless hours drumming Ohm’s Law and other useless theory into automotive repair student’s heads? Actually, not “we” because I’ve never done it, and never will.
I have taught students how to look up specs and other service information, how to read wiring diagrams and how to use test equipment. But most importantly, I’ve also taught them how to reason their way through diagnostic processes.
While I’m up on this soapbox, here are some other subjects that are absolutely useless to mechanics, but for some reason, continue to be thrummed again and again:
- British thermal units. Can anyone tell me how knowing that it takes one BTU to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree F. ever helped them fix a car? Or even how knowing that such a thing even exists ever helped them fix a car?
- Latent heat of evaporation/latent of condensation? Who cares? All I need to know to fix a broken A/C system is what’s supposed to be hot or warm, what’s supposed to be cold or cool, generally what those temperatures should be, and approximately where in the loop I should see those temperatures. Anything that deviates is a dead give away that a problem exists, and that further investigation is merited. Of course, pressure gauge readings are also a help.
- Bernoulli’s Principle. Here’s all a mechanic needs to know about Mr. Bernoulli and his principle: Always make sure the engine and cabin air filters are clean and free flowing. Thank you.
- All right, now I’m on a roll! Here’s a real bunch of “who cares” topics: electron flow, valence rings, forward bias, reverse bias, Zenering, emitters, bases, collectors, cathodes, anodes, NPN, PNP, RAM, ROM, PROM, rama-lama-ding dong! We’re car mechanics, for goodness sakes!
- A few issues back, in this very magazine, our chairman’s column was entitled “What are the Absolute Truths of Our Industry.” One of the truths listed was that “Boyle’s Law, Charles Law and the Carnot Cycle are absolute thermodynamic truths.” I gotta tell ya’, I’ve been diagnosing and working on mobile A/C systems for 20 years, and until I read that column I had never even heard of those three things.
Do I need to present any further evidence to convince you of my point? In other words, how could any of those truths ever have helped me fix an A/C system if I never even knew about them? I still haven’t bothered to look up what they are and probably never will.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. To me, especially these days, there’s a colossal difference between “need to know” stuff and “nice to know” stuff. The way I look at it, there’s now so much need to know, why waste cranial storage space with anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be there? That’s why we have computers and reference manuals.
As final proof of why none of the items mentioned here have any importance whatsoever when it comes to mechanics fixing cars, did you ever see any of those things, or for that matter, any other theoretical claptrap, asked about on ASE tests? You know, the widely acknowledged tests that somewhat gauge a mechanics’ diagnostic and repair skills? I rest my case!
Albie didn’t know squat about Ohm’s Law. Frank didn’t use it, and didn’t give a rat’s behind about it. And they are the two best mechanics I’ve ever known.
When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 32nd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Convention and Trade Show will take place January 18-20, 2012 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.