Contrary to what some people think, successful automotive repair has always required skill and knowledge.
Those who say otherwise either have short-or very selective-memories about the proverbial good old days.
Depending upon your vantage point, the old days were good for some, not so good for others. Personally, I think that like other forms of nostalgia, most old things are perceived as somehow being better than what we have today.
For instance, any time I hear a technician or motorist say, ``They don't build 'em like they used to,'' I instinctively say thank goodness they don't! I, for one, don't miss breaker points, mechanical voltage regulators, et al. Components today are far superior to their good 'ol predecessors.
Obviously, baby boomers constitute a massive part of any service shop's or tire dealership's customer base. Based on how often I hear boomers talking about the old days, nostalgia of all kinds seems to be in vogue. Automotive nostalgia is included, as in, ``I miss my trusty Ford Falcon. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to work on it-anyone could fix it.''
Let's stop right there, readers. I grew up working on those ``nostalgia'' vehicles and although you needn't be a rocket scientist, you certainly needed basic automotive training to repair them correctly the first time. This point was reinforced repeatedly when I visited a master technician who tutored and mentored me in the late 1960s. He had a reputation for being a go-to, fix-it-right guy. As we reminisced we realized how many bungled repair jobs we had to straighten out on these cars that allegedly anyone could fix.
A prime example was the hot air tube that supplied heat to the carburetor's automatic choke. The engine's exhaust heated this hot air tube. When it rusted out-it always rusted out-straight exhaust gas would scorch and destroy the automatic choke assembly. We repeatedly saw cars on which this condition was ignored and it cost the hapless motorist one or two carburetors before a competent mechanic finally replaced the hot air tube. And no, there was no warranty on a scorched choke assembly.
Fuel delivery failures seemed to be another headache we inherited from other repair shops and service stations. By the time we saw the vehicle, the carburetor and fuel pump had already been replaced-sometimes twice! The motorist would complain that the car still ran out of power on steep hills or during passing maneuvers. Sometimes a two-buck fuel filter fixed it; other times visual inspection showed rusty fuel was clogging the filter. Therefore, the car needed a new fuel tank-not a new carb and pump.
Other times, a 10-minute fuel pump pressure/volume/suction test would confirm the pump was fine. Process of elimination would point us toward a leak in the fuel line somewhere or a restriction inside the gas tank.
All too often, we found debris inside the tank restricting the fuel pickup ``sock.'' Or we found cracks or pinholes in the flexible fuel hose connecting the tank to the steel fuel line under the rear of the car. Mind you, this was after two pumps and two carbs were replaced in vain.
Remember the theme: Anyone could fix these cars, right?
Worn ignition distributors were another problem we constantly saw misdiagnosed. The customer would complain that several tune-ups had not solved a symptom of misfiring during acceleration. Dwell and dwell stability were among the quick ignition checks we would perform.
To grossly simplify, dwell is the length of time the ignition coil's charged with energy. When inadequate dwell prevents the coil from being fully charged, the coil cannot keep the spark plugs firing reliably. Countless times we would rev the engine, watch the dwell reading almost disappear and then have to explain to the customer that the distributor had to be repaired or replaced. Yes, Mr. Customer, all those ``tune-ups'' were for naught.
The bottom line is that good basic training and a foundation in the fundamentals was as important 35 years ago as it is now. Then, like now, it often appeared that throwing a few parts at a problem would fix it.
But back then, like now, those vehicles always ended up in the hands of trained, skilled professionals. Then, like now, consumers paid accordingly and learned a lesson about the difference between real pros and wannabes. Spare me the nostalgia-we're still fighting the same battle.