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Being one's own mechanic

I like Mik's description of "bookworm" vs. "natural" mechanics.  I
tend towards the former, my brother-in-law towards the latter.  It
dramatically influences how problems get attacked (and the rapidity
with which they're solved).  But enjoyment is another key factor he

Like many others on the list, I began working on cars out of financial
necessity.  I was going to an Ivy League college, but a local
junior college was offering courses in auto mechanics, so I took
a couple of semesters.  Then I started earning living expenses
by working part-time at the local "Unauthorized Volkswagen
Service" spot.  He had a sign out front that said so.  To date this,
it was an era when every other kid drove a Volkswagen Beetle.

After graduation, I decided this auto mechanics thing was pretty
cool, so I tried to get a job at the local BMW dealer, "AutoSport, by
Jiri."  They were extremely skeptical of college education!  They
didn't want to hire me, but eventually begging and groveling worked.
I quickly discovered it was a backbreakingly arduous job.  The
low man on the totem pole (me) always got the grungy jobs.  Replacing
exhausts.  Replacing the forever-failing BMW CV joints (Northern
NY destroyed German rubber boots).  Doing front struts (ugh).
There you'd be, with ice water dripping down your back and rust
falling in your eyes struggling with salt-decayed rusted bolts you
couldn't even see, much less get a wrench on.  At the end of the
day, you'd spend half an hour cleaning up, get everything neat
and put away.  Then it was time for fun... we'd get to work on the
RACE CAR (we raced a 2002 in IMSA).

I lasted less than a year.  I discovered that the only way to make
money was to "beat book."  Every job had a specified time allocation
for how long it was supposed to take.  If you were slow and careful
(like me) you often took longer than book to get the job done.  If you
were quick and good (like to top wrenches in the shop) you could
get two or three jobs done in the time allocated for one... and get
paid as if you'd worked the hours indicated in the book.  Nice
benefit if you're good, real incentive to cheat if you're not!

For me, it took the joy out of auto mechanics.  I still loved cars, but
I only worked on them when I had to (which was often, still no $$).
Only in the past four or five years (with my S4, and an old Alfa) have
I begun to enjoy working on cars, mostly because I have enough
inventory that if I don't get the job done today, I can still get to work

This list has been a real godsend for enjoyment of my Audi,
largely because of the participation of people who get their hands
dirty, and enjoy it.  Thanks to all of you and best wishes for the
coming year!
Doug Haley (haleyd@yankelovich.com)
"There is no fundamental difference between a sufficiently advanced
technology and magic" (A.C.Clarke)