Monday, 20 April 2009

Learning to repair cars

Imagine you are out in the wilds of Australia on a deserted road perhaps seeing one other vehicle during the day, you are miles from the nearest garage, your mobile phone is out of range and your car breaks down. What do you do?

Well, we could set off the emergency assistance and locator beacon but that might be regarded as a bit over the top for a simple breakdown on the public highway. A better alternative would be to effect a temporary repair if possible and then head for the nearest garage. The only problem with this is that having relied on local garages and the RAC for all of my driving career, I have no idea how to repair a car. So I asked my local garage, Dedmans, who have looked after our cars since they were recommended to me by an RAC patrol if they would give me a week’s work experience so that I could learn the basics of vehicle maintenance – much to my delight they agreed and so this section of the blog, records my week at AJ Dedmans Garage in Bishops Stortford.

Day 1 – the new boy starts work

I was given a late start of 10 am since they wanted me out of the way during the very busy time when customers are delivering their cars or cars are being collected from their homes.

Dedman's Garage 

Immediately upon arrival, I received a safety briefing. Then having donned my official garage overalls, I was introduced to the six people who work there and then put to work with Mark Dedman who was diagnosing the causes of a “brake light warning” on a car and then carrying out the required repairs. This involved removing all four wheels. inspecting the brake pads and discs and diagnosing the fault. The cause was a pair of worn brake pads and two corroded front brake discs, all of which were replaced together with the rear brake pads which were well worn down.

My role was not to be one of watching someone else do the work and I was shown how to disassemble one of the brakes and expected to get on with the other one (under close supervision and checking) and then assist in the reassembly. Apart from getting the two back tires on the wrong sides (I never knew that some tires were “handed”), three hours later the result was a repaired car.

I was surprised to learn how skilled the repair process was and was pleased to see how important doing a good job was to all concerned. When the repair was completed, the car was then road tested by another of the mechanics because, as I was told in the afternoon, if someone else checks your work, it makes sure you do it properly and do not think of cutting corners.

The first task after lunch (sandwiches in the sun), was to disassemble an engine which had been taken out of a Ford tipper truck in order to find

Engine pre-disassembly

out why it had seized. Although the engine was beyond repair and would be replaced, everyone was interested to know why it had seized.

Under guidance, I took much of the engine apart and once the cylinder head had been removed, the cause was obvious.

Melted Piston

One of the aluminium pistons had melted which must have taken some doing since the melting point of aluminium is 660c. Apparently the owner had continued to drive the van down the motorway even though it had started to loose power, was seriously smoking and the cooling hoses had burst (showering the cab with hot water) until it totally seized up. The root cause may have been that the head gasket had blown between two cylinders - I can use these terms now knowing what they mean.

Then it was assisting in the replacement of an oil sump on a Fiesta and watching Nigel Dedman recharge a car air conditioning system.


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