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I should know better

April 29, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

- A recent text message from a friend read: "Larry, my car's transmission finally kicked the bucket. You know my car, do you think it is worth fixing? If so, where should I take it?" I replied that I could give him an estimate for putting a used transmission in his car, since the condition of the rest of his car didn't warrant a new or rebuilt transmission. He agreed, and I began the research to locate a used transmission and estimated the labor hours necessary to complete the job.

I should have known better. One working day later, the next text message read: "Larry, no need for a transmission, I fixed my car. It was the computer and a few other things, but it's all fixed and good now." Using my mechanic's psychic super power ability to read between the lines, I interpret this as: someone (not me) diagnosed the problem as a transmission failure. Later, someone, (not me, and certainly not the owner) actually fixed the car, by "fixing a computer problem" and a few other things. I'm the one who spent the time and effort to work up an estimate for something he didn't need. I'm supposed to know better by now.

- The phone rings, and a lady wants to know the price of a water pump job. Our guy tries to explain that there are variables involved that we need to know about, such as additional hoses, clamps, new coolant, possible timing belt involvement, etc. Could she please bring it in so that we can check it out?

No, she says. She just wants the price of a water pump job. He asks how she knows she needs a water pump, and she replies, "because it's overheating." Her neighbor thinks it's because of the water pump.

Friends, listen up. Water pumps just pump water. They almost never stop pumping water, so they're seldom the cause of overheating. Only two things happen to them. The bearings can fail, which causes a noise, but not overheating, or the seal can leak, which causes a loss of coolant. Being low on coolant will cause overheating, but if you fill it back up, the pump will pump and the engine will not overheat. If it is not leaking, the pump is not to blame for the overheating. These are some of the reasons why we need to examine the car before we start researching estimates. Our guy declined to guess at a number to give her for an estimate. She was indignant. "Well, Larry would give me an estimate if he were there!" She was wrong about that, too. I'm supposed to know better by now.

- A van was driven in and parked across the street. I noticed the headlights and hazard flasher stayed on as the driver walked across the road. He said he had to crawl under the van and put the transmission in neutral "by hand" before he could start it because the shift lever was stuck. So it was still in drive, sitting over there running with the parking brake set. Shifting a running vehicle into drive while lying under it sounds like a good way to get run over to me.

I agreed to look into the shifting problem. I drove it over to our parking lot, and noticed that when I shut it off, the dash lights and headlights and hazard flashers stayed on, not responding to their respective switches even with the key removed from the ignition. The van had been stripped of its interior upholstery, with wiring pulled out from under the dash and out of the doors. Outside mirrors and power window motors were removed with the wiring hanging loose. Someone had obviously "hot-wired" some circuits to get what they wanted, but who knew what had been done? This might make an interesting project to work on for the summer, but when the first questions started coming in about an estimated charge, I refused the job. It would have to go to someone else, probably the new car dealer. I do know better by now. Sometimes.

-- Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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