Tech Stuff

Never assume anything: (i.e.: you get what you pay for)

One of the frustrating aspects of performing automotive service work is occasionally dealing with a faulty new part. Leading parts manufacturers have an excellent track record of quality control, but sometimes a bad part slips by and ends up in a box that’s sitting on your local supplier’s shelf.

Not surprisingly, that potential is much higher with really cheap, no-name, bargain-basement imported parts. High quality, brand name parts are imported from all around the globe, and there’s no confusing them with the questionable “bargain” import parts. Those parts are cheap for a reason.

As a case in point, my shop recently restored a 1968 Plymouth B-body car. One aspect was a complete restoration of the heater box assembly, which of course houses the heater core.

The customer, wishing to save a few bucks, purchased a new heater core at an astonishingly low price.

(Before you jump on me, I know, we should never have allowed the customer to give us the part!)

Assuming the heater core was new and fault-free, one of my guys installed it into the housing and reinstalled the heater box assembly prior to installing the dash and windshield (at a time when access was easiest).

Once the engine was fired, we noticed a considerable coolant leak. Luckily the carpet wasn’t installed yet, as coolant spewed from the heater core and collected onto the passenger floor.

We should have tested it before installation, but when it’s brand new, we assumed it was OK — and you know where that led.

To make a long story short, we pressure-tested the system and found the leak at the heater core.

At this point, hours were wasted by removing the heater box assembly (we weren’t about to remove the windshield and dash at this stage). We removed the heater core from the box, tested and confirmed that the tubes in the core were leaking via a series of substandard brazing points and pinholes.

We purchased a new heater core from an established manufacturer, pressure-tested it before installation to verify that it was good, and finished the job. The new heater core cost about $100 more than the “inexpensive” unit purchased by the customer, but it was flawless.

The customer paid for the new part, but we didn’t charge for the extra time that was wasted. (I know we should have, but I felt bad for the guy.)

Lessons learned: 1) Whether the part is electrical, hydraulic, plumbing-related or mechanical, inspect and test (where possible and practical) before investing in installation time. 2) Explain to the customer that “you get what you pay for.” 3) Don’t assume anything, and always try to go for the “premium” part, in those cases where you have a choice.   ●

To read more editorials, see:

The beauty of tools

Best of times, worst of times

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