Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner

Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "TRAINING WHEELS"-or How Motor Sport Influenced My Formative Years-Part Three

Just to set the record straight, my use of the phrase “Wonder Years” (in Parts One and Two) is not sourced from any past television series, but rather, from the original source: an advertising campaign from the ‘60’s (it may go back further than that, but that’s when it was introduced into my consciousness) featuring a brand of sandwich bread. That’s the impact that television had back in earlier times. To be able to lay down a form of written history that includes such occurrences is one of the main reasons I’m logging all of these “Memoirs”. A forum is thereby provided that can be both informative to younger generations, and allow the generations that “were there” to recall and discuss these events.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: "TRAINING WHEELS"-or How Motor Sport Influenced My Formative Years-Part Two

The very fact that I’ve allowed myself to be delayed in making this entry underscores the fact that the experiences I related in Part One, and am about to relate here, really have had a profound and lasting influence on my priorities.

Living up in the E. Sierra, there are always plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, especially after the snow thaws. This year has been no exception. So, in between warm-weather projects, I’ve been staying fairly occupied with motorcycle preparation (for both road trips and off-road excursions), and field “testing”.

So far, so good! Now, back to stories of early influences in my MotoLife.

As I mentioned in Part One, with the variety of racing venues proliferating the Greater Los Angeles Area in the decades of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, it was really hard NOT to be favorably influenced by all of these motohappenings.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: "TRAINING WHEELS"-or How Motor Sport Influenced My Formative Years-Part One

As with many young lads growing up as the motor sports world was rapidly advancing in the 1960’s, I was totally fascinated with just about anything sporting wheels—especially if there was a powerplant involved. And especially if it involved head-to-head competition with such devices.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Racing Season And Brushes With Greatness

Shifting gears into the warmer seasons affords the motoring aficionado many joyous opportunities.

Up here in the Eastern Sierra, with the threat of big winter storms passed, road crews sweep off the gravel concoction they’d spread during the thick of it—allowing for more spirited driving (and additionally, in my case, riding the superbike). Snow finally melts in the forested areas, opening up the gravel roads, Jeep trails, and whoop-de-doo punctuated singletrack to all manner of Off-Highway Vehicles (I like to rock a two-stroke dirtbike for this application).

The opportunity for really epic road trips can also be realized.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Cold-Weather Cause-And-Effect (not "Tall Winter Tales") - Part Two

Well, it looks as though winter is about done—at least from my vantage point west of the Rockies; but I still have a few more “revelations” to relate on the subject. As I stated in my last entry, these experiences were all new to me, since I’d never lived where “true winter” driving conditions were a regular occurrence. So, without ado, and as “green” as spring vegetation, here are a few more of my cold-weather “discoveries”.

While I wasn’t unfamiliar with a parking brake (some call it an emergency brake—which may in itself be a subject for further discussion) stuck in the “applied” position, I soon found additional reasons for this to occur in true winter weather.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Cold-Weather Cause-And-Effect (not "Tall Winter Tales")

As long as it’s still the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere—more wintry for some than others, here in the U.S.—it seems appropriate to stay on that topic for a while longer, here on the “Memoirs” page.

Having spent much of my career as an auto tech and shop owner in the Southern California area, I really didn’t get much of an opportunity to solve cold-weather problems on customer vehicles—mainly because there just wasn’t (and still isn’t) much of that stuff going around, down there.

Moving to New York—and then Louisiana—in the ‘80’s quickly changed all of that.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally-Part Four

We rejoin our tale of adventure aboard what was proving itself to be a very worthy foul-weather road tripping first-gen Toyota van. It took us something like twenty-four blizzard-hampered hours non-stop to make it to our Golden CO destination, from the South Bay LA departure. The only casualty inflicted was committed against our recently purchased cable “chains”.

Counting our blessings, we put in for the night at what had to be the last “old-school” motel in what appeared to be a rapidly modernizing town. We would tackle the acquisition and loading of our intended cargo—a late-model Suzuki superbike—on the morrow.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally-Part Three
We rejoin our tale of high adventure—en route to Golden, CO, for the purpose of taking delivery of a slightly used superbike—aboard a newly acquired and undertested first-gen Toyota Van. Having passed it’s first serious test—the midnight-to-dawn segment through southwestern Utah in a driving snowstorm (including a near-miss involving a concrete center divider) on the I-70—we set our sights on Grand Junction, CO and the Vail Pass.

Having made our descent to the high plains east of Moab, The Mint and I now had time to reflect on both my performance behind the wheel, and that of our rapidly appreciating and Bodaciously Beaten Van. We had to conclude that the proof was in the proverbial pudding in both cases: aside from the occasional stop to clear snow and ice accumulation from the wheel wells—checking on the integrity of the cable chains on the rear—our progress was confident and rapid, considering conditions.

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MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally-Part Two

We rejoin our tale of high adventure—en route to Golden, CO, for the purpose of taking delivery of a slightly used superbike—aboard a newly acquired and undertested first-gen Toyota Van; in the process of plowing headlong into the high country in southwestern Utah in a driving snowstorm, through the zero-dark hour leg of our non-stop round trip run.

From my point of view behind the wheel, it seems like a fair fight, all things considered.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally

Since we out here on the Left Coast have been getting hit with nigh-on record setting low temperatures—especially where I’m situated, in the Central Eastern Sierra—it seems only fitting that I should launch another new subtopic here, on hallowed “Memoirs” ground: “Tall Winter Tales”.

These will be stories involving automobiles, cold weather, and wrenching—not necessarily in that order, or to the same degree (pardon the pun).

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: The End of the Line - On Being One's Last Mechanic (In This Life)

At some point on my chosen career path, it occurred to me that I had a number of customers who had to experience “giving up the keys” on my watch. That is to say, I was the last mechanic they employed to keep their vehicle or vehicles maintained.

For those that made it all of the way to seriously old age, this would have involved an elective process of ceasing as a driver sometime before the final curtain; for others, whose life was terminated more abruptly, they were motoring right up to the end. A few even died IN the act of driving their cars (fortunately, not due to any mechanical failure that I’m aware of).

All things considered, I viewed it a real privilege to be their ultimate mechanic in “The Here and Now”.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: The End of the (Econo) Line – On Life Without the Venerable Van

The last five years certainly have not been kind to Institutions throughout the world, especially in these United States. Whether they be people, places, commodities, companies, lifestyles or leisure activities, nothing seems to be immune to the force that is presently driving things along.

The automobile, and the whole infrastructure supporting it is experiencing a paradigm shift that has wrought some serious casualty:

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: I Don't Like Your Tone – Some Thoughts on In-Cabin Audible Warning Devices

Since we were on the subject of electronic and computerized vehicle protection systems, it seemed like a logical move to begin a discussion of another long-standing and not universally beloved vehicle subsystem—this one ostensibly purposed to save us from ourselves, or at least our vehicles from “the nut behind the wheel”.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Now This is Alarming-My Ongoing Cold War Against Anti-Theft Systems-Part Two

Being an avid proponent of resolution—whenever reasonably possible and prudent—I had to pause to make sense of what certainly appeared to be the aftermarket equivalent of Anti-Theft Engineering Overkill, which had been residing for some time under the front seat of my newly purchased 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD (Some of the circumstances surrounding said purchase are explained at the end of Part One.)

Not that the installation looked a mess, or anything like that. It was really rather well organized, in truth. At least a half dozen standard circuit relays, a control unit, and all of the accompanying wiring neatly gathered into a substantial loom and routed under the carpet to points North, East and West.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Now This is Alarming-My Ongoing Cold War Against Anti-Theft Systems-Part One
Recently, while dining with friends, the subject turned to what else but things automotive. (This tends to happen with marked constancy, and long ago I learned to embrace, roll with, and otherwise enjoy the process.)

The hostess, an avid bird-watcher, related an anecdote regarding an in-field faux pas, wherein their transportation for the day—an early millennium Ford Explorer equipped with an intermittently malfunctioning anti-theft system—was the catalytic device that made them the unwelcome center of attention—albeit a momentary one.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Workshop Owner: Two Can Play At That Game - Part Two - Sundry Shady Shop Swindles

Since my last entry involved Crooked Customer behavior, I think its only fair that I give equal time to that of the Shady Shop. Rather than merely relating what have most certainly become cliché’—and I’ve pretty much heard them all—I’m going to relate a few accounts in which I personally have been on the receiving end, as either a consumer or a shop owner.

They really stand out due to a few factors, not the least of which is the absolute unflinching nerve, if not downright out-and-out hubris on the part of the perpetrators.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Workshop Owner: Two Can Play at That Game-Part One-Memorable Crooked Customer Capers

“You can’t cheat an honest man”, a quote I understand to have originated from none other than W.C. Fields turned out to be even more profound than I originally surmised.

I mean, I had for some time figured that being as straight as possible with myself, or anybody else—including, and maybe even especially customers, when I finally got into that arena—was the best way to go.

Of course there were real tests, trials, and defining moments along the way, but it always seemed to be a road worth staying on.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "You Want Me To Do WHAT?"-Customers Seeking Partner In Pushing What's Possible (Or Prudent)

“Have it Your Way” was a popular TV ad campaign some years ago. While it seemed to work for the world of fast-food burgers, it certainly wasn’t universally applicable in others.

Like in the world of Auto Repair, for instance.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "It's Anything But THAT!"-Detecting the Motive Behind the Exclamation-Part Two
For the most part, I’m trying to avoid the whys and wherefores behind the topics I write about in this column. I’d just as soon hear from readers as to their opinions about the reasons behind. But there are going to be exceptions to that rule, as far as my postulating about motives.

This entry (as with Part One) is one of the exceptions. I still wouldn’t mind “hearing” your thoughts, though

Once upon a time, when my little repair shop microcosm was a much safer and secure place to tread, I would rarely get a customer request for a repair procedure that was unlawful, unsafe, unprofitable, unfair, or just downright unrecommendable. And if their request was any of these, it would take very little effort on my part to dissuade them from their skewed request and get them to embrace my recommendation for properly solving their problem.

Or, did I DREAM that?

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "It's Anything But THAT!"-Detecting the Motive Behind the Exclamation- Part One

For the most part, I’m trying to avoid the whys and wherefores behind the topics I write about in this column. I’d just as soon hear from readers as to their opinions about the reasons behind. But there are going to be exceptions to that rule, as far as my postulating about motives.

This entry is one of the exceptions.

I still wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts, though

As I stated in my last entry, in the final analysis—in spite of the opinions voiced on the nature of their vehicles problem—the customer generally sincerely just wanted the problem remedied. There were no ulterior motives I could detect in their erroneous observations; I just appreciated that their scope of experience was limited in comparison to mine, and I took what usefulness I could out of their efforts to help.

But then, there were those occasions when I highly doubted the sincerity of the customer’s statements. In this entry, I’m going to relate a couple of those occasions to you.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "It's Anything But THAT!"- Famous Last Words That Have Provided More Help Than Hindrance

If I had a dime for every time a customer said that to me while in the process of Repair Order composition… I would have made a lot less money off the ensuing job!

I mean, the whole idea of the pre-repair consultation—at least from my point of view—was and is to get as good an idea as possible about the nature of the vehicle’s problem, so a proper repair can be performed in an expedient, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel-A Couple More Inauspicious Behind-the-Wheel "Firsts"


The next stories I’m going to relate weren’t actually borne from performance-oriented driving impressions I might have otherwise gathered and formulated based on my British Car wheel time. Therefore, I couldn’t rightly include them in my last entry. Worthy of recall they are, nevertheless—especially because they are firsts that I haven’t since repeated, fortunately.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel – Road Romps Reserved for Riveting Recall, Not Righteous Repetition

In my last entry, I tried to convey the wonderfulness that was, and is part and parcel to the British Car driving experience, which I was able to enjoy through my “wrenching connections”. For me, if I had to describe this experience in one word, it would have to be “unique”; and when it comes to motorized transport, unique is ALWAYS worth doing at least once.

The experiences I related in the last entry, as far as I’m concerned, are worth doing often and on as regular a basis as possible. In this entry, on the other hand, I’m going to relate some British Car driving experiences that define the darker side of the term.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel. Or: How I Learned to Never Underestimate the Power of a Real Road Test Experience

One would think that with all the head scratching, added expense and needless difficulty involved, anyone who persisted in their own repair and maintenance efforts (professional or otherwise) on such flawed contraptions —which I will continue to document in this series on my experiences with automobiles British— must be running as low on vital fluids as the vehicles themselves typically were!

But we’re not talking about the repeating of the same procedure and expecting a different result, in this case. The experienced British Car mechanic understood that the oil leaks would persist, the electrics would continue to be perform intermittently and the driveability would literally change with the weather. To expect otherwise WOULD have been a sign of insanity!

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel, Or: How Whitworth, Lucas, Girling and Other General B.S. (British Standard) Set Me On a Skewed-And Stimulating-Career Path

“We don’t need mechanics…we need MAGICIANS!”

In a heavy accent loaded with London grit, that was the response of the proprietor of the local—and at that point in time, quite vital—independent British Car garage, when I approached him to inquire as to whether he was in the market for hired help.

Not even twenty years of age, with a whopping one-year’s worth of experience servicing used cars for a BMC/Jaguar/Toyota dealership, just up the Pacific Coast Highway, I was still in the process of formulating an opinion as to what it took to make a success of wrenching (or should I call that “spannering?”) on things British.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: How Honda's CVCC Gave Me My 10 Best Years-Part Two
Although I hadn’t originally intended to tackle this topic in two parts, it seems that the responses received fairly demanded it. In all fairness, I do agree that the text didn’t support the title theme to the extent necessary. So without any further ado, on to Part Two!

There are those times when some truths seem so apparent, one would think they would be that apparent to others. Of course, that isn’t always the case; which is why historical eyewitness reporting often results in a very different accounting of events. That isn’t to say that every report is necessarily “the truth”, even if there is that conviction on the individual reporter’s part.

Since this is an editorial column, I really can freely spout off opinions on any subject without ANY level of objectivity, if I’m so inclined. But that’s not the way I roll, which is why I think this site is a very appropriate place for my postings.

That being said, I’m going to provide some additional evidence to support my statements in (what can now be considered) Part One.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: How Honda's CVCC Gave Me My 10 Best Years

This entry could very well have been included in the last series of articles (“Phil’s Podium of the Automotive Pure”), but for one important consideration: the technology involved is no longer being widely used in the automotive field. Otherwise, it solidly qualifies for “The Podium” in every other important aspect. The truth is, this technology is greatly significant in the history of the automobile—even surpassing many of the technologies listed.

Back in the early days of emissions control here in the U.S.A., in the wake of the first so-called “Energy Crisis”, which left motorists calling for more fuel economy in their automobiles due to the increased cost of fuel (if we only knew where all of THAT mess was headed!), I’d almost call it “amusing” witnessing all of the different ways manufacturers were addressing the issues.

The U.S. group, which seemed to be relying on input from “bean counters” and marketing strategists, was trying to make the old inefficient designs passable through use of a cheap and spindly patchwork of detuning modifications, add-on systems, and gargantuan catalytic converters.

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Phil's Podium Of The Automotive Pure: Ten Trick Technologies That Changed the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Scene - Part Three

This is the final part of this series of articles, the ground rules and definitions of which you can find in the introductory comments from Parts One and Two. Without detour, TO THE PODIUM for the final time!

Electronic Fuel Injection:

My attitude toward this technology went from “why bother”, in its infant days, to “why use anything else”, when it hit its stride near the end of the ‘80’s.

It all sure looked complicated when I was first getting acquainted with the Bosch systems on the VW Fast and Squareback models from the early ‘70’s. If I only knew it would get SO complicated that comprehensive on-board diagnostic systems would be required in order to properly diagnose and repair them… and I wouldn’t mind, because these systems work so well, it’s actually WORTH the extra complexity! As it has turned out, my choice of careers has proven in many ways to be an interesting road to self-discovery, but that, as I say, will be revealed in many other stories.

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Phil's Podium Of The Automotive Pure: Ten Trick Technologies That Changed the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Scene - Part Two

This article is the second in a series wherein— after thrashing manufacturers for doing their worst—I do a quasi de facto “equal time” summary of ten automotive mechanical technologies I believe are their best efforts, to date.

To review the guidelines I’m holding to in assembling this list: these are technologies that are pretty well universally accepted and are currently being used by the majority of auto manufacturers. They also have been popularized and proliferated during my automotive repair career. I’m covering them more-or-less in the order that they have achieved that status.

IT’S NOW BIN TIME!

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Phil's Podium Of The Automotive Pure: Ten Trick Technologies That Changed the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Scene - Part One

Now that I’ve gotten the memory-bile of “Notorious Technologies”— implemented during my ever-progressing automotive maintenance and repair career — somewhat further out of my system, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on some of the technological “bright spots” I’ve come to be acquainted with and appreciate during that same period. Some of these highlights were coming into widespread acceptance way back in the early days of my High School Auto Shop training, while others came considerably later.

In any event, these technologies not only gained widespread acceptance among auto manufacturers then, but they are all still being used by these manufacturers today, a couple of them in a considerably evolved format.

I’ll be listing them in their order of appearance on the scene.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin Four

This is the fourth—and for the time being, final—submission in this Series, the format of which I described in the introductory remarks of Part One. The two egregious commissions covered in this article have less to do with technology, per se, and more to do with tactic. To re-emphasize an important ground rule I will not violate in this series, I’ll remind the reader that I won’t be pondering the reasons WHY these encroachments have been and continue to be committed against both technician and consumer alike. With BIN FOUR fully laden, it’s now time to UNLOAD!!

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Memoirs Of An Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin Three

Third in a series, the format of which I described in t he introductory remarks of Part One, this article will focus on specific modern technologies—not at all egregious in themselves—that have, in my opinion, been applied and utilized in a most egregious fashion in the modern automobile. One is a direct continuation from Part Two, although covering a new area. The other one is a component technology within one of the technological areas criticized in Part Two. Tally Ho—to THE BIN we go!!

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Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin Two

Second in a Series, the format of which I described in the introductory remarks of Part One, this article will focus on specific modern technologies—not at all egregious in themselves—that have, in my opinion, been applied and utilized in a most egregious fashion in the modern automobile. Boldly going where no one ought to go, ON TO THE BIN!!

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Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin One

Not wanting to let the proverbial grass grow under my feet, I figured now was as good a time as any to proceed with the “rant” threatened of while in the midst of my “Of Honda’s and Miracles” piece. While I was contemplating said rant, it also seemed like a good time to make a quasi-collection of additional rage against other automotive technologies that, over the years, I’ve found to be considerably more than a useless nuisance.

In the interests of clarity and brevity, I limited the scope to designs currently being used by virtually ALL auto manufacturers. I may, in the future, if overcome by intense feelings of either abstract nostalgia or acute vindictiveness, single out certain “rogue” designs from the past and present. I will leave all of the Why’s and Wherefores to Conspiracy Theorists. Now…TO THE BIN!

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Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: Of Hondas and Miracles
This is number one of hopefully a long series from the inside of a auto repair shop. Say hi to Phil.

When I spun the engine on the early ‘80’s Honda Accord, the telltale sound of the starter motor wheeling the engine around with no compression-resistance was not what I wanted to hear.

It’s not that I didn’t expect it.

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