Saturday, 25 April 2009


Because of this week, I have certainly become much more confident about the mechanical aspects of cars and could probably carry out some first aid to a stranded vehicle. I am very grateful for my friends at the garage giving me their time and patience and teaching me so much.

Dedmans Mechanics 

(Mark, Nigel, Mark and Darren)

I have also learnt how important it is to have a relationship with a garage you can trust. Trust means that they will repair your car properly, will not invent things which are not wrong and have an absolute commitment to quality and the customer. Dedman’s are definitely such a garage.

However during the week I was shown an example of the disreputable side of the motor industry. A car had been taken into a main dealer in Stortford for fault diagnosis and repair. A mechanic there disassembled the engine and told the customer that a new engine was needed because of two faults, a burnt through valve and scoring on the inside of one cylinder. The customer was not satisfied with this diagnosis and asked Dedman’s to collect the car and give her a second opinion.

Their opinion was that whilst the first fault was a genuine one and fairly cheap to repair, the second had been created deliberately by the mechanic with a screwdriver. I was told the mechanic would have been on “fault related pay” – the more faults they found, the more he would have been paid in bonus. An independent assessor had looked at the engine and had immediately said “that was caused deliberately” – discussions are now underway with that main dealer as to compensation etc. Another nearby branch of this dealer in Harlow was also named as one where repair work was invented or created.

When down at the MOT station on Friday, the conversation was about a customer whose car had just failed an MOT test (for numerous reasons) but had paid for certain work to be done by a local garage just up the road which had obviously not been done at all.

Will I be repairing my own vehicles from now onwards? No way! Unless you are a dedicated enthusiast and have lots of equipment, confidence and skills, car repair and maintenance is best left to the professionals, provided you can find a garage you can trust – as I have.

It was a great week which I thoroughly enjoyed. I learnt a lot, made £10 and now have a lot more confidence with mechanical things. Will my knowledge be of use in the wilds of Australia? Hopefully I will never find out.

Friday, 24 April 2009

I am given a £10 tip

Yesterday I had to change a tyre belonging to a lady who had hit a pavement when parking – result a large hole in the tyre. Today she came to have the spare put back in the boot and the new tyre fitted on the front – that became my first job. Within a few minutes, the new wheel was in place and she was shown that the spare was now back in the boot with all of the tools and her boot was tidied again.

I paid careful attention to her driving out of the garage - more because I was checking that the wheel did not fall off than any other reason!

When I got back inside the garage, Nigel gave me a £10 note and said that the customer had asked for it to be given to the man who fitted the tyre. Despite my protestations, I was told to keep the tip because it was me who had done the work – there is obviously money to be made from being a mechanic.

Then it was changing the brake pads and rear tyres on a Mazda 626 plus diagnosing a slack alternator belt. More tyre changing meant that I started to remember how to do it.

I have always viewed MOT tests as a bit expensive and somewhat over the top – this

MOT 1 

view was rectified after lunch when I went down to the MOT station to see an MOT test


take place. Thorough would be the word I would use and if done properly, one can be certain that ones car meets certain minimum standards immediately the test is over (but obviously not necessarily throughout the coming 12 months).

The day (and my time with the Garage) ended with returning a couple of cars to customers, I was the return chauffeur for the delivery driver.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

An MOT Failure and my own car repaired.

Throughout the day there is a constant stream of small vans arriving at the garage delivering parts. It is impossible for a general purpose garage to stock more than the most routine of parts (bulbs, wiper blades, oil etc)

Delivery Van

because of the extreme variety of vehicles coming to the garage. Therefore as soon as a vehicle arrives, it is checked over, a required parts list created, customer approval gained and then one of a number of local “just in time” suppliers phoned for the part. A little while later, a van draws up (five today) and the part(s) is delivered into the garage and work continues.

Day 4

Awaiting my arrival was an MOT failure, two tyres, brakes and brake discs. This car was a perfect example of the above parts delivery service in action. We removed the wheels and decided that new tyres, pads and discs were required. Customer approval was gained and within 30 minutes or so, the pads and discs arrived from one supplier and some short time later, the tyres from another. A couple of

A new tyre

hours later the car was repaired and off for an MOT recheck (which it passed).

After lunch, the clutch plate was put back into the lorry (my role again that of nut tightener, and gear box trolley pusher).

Then after another tyre change, it was on to fitting the new air conditioner part into my car.

Harvey Mazda

A new pipe had arrived overnight as a replacement for the suspect pipe, fitting it

Replaced AirCon Hose

was a very fiddly job and following some help with a hard to get at nut, the replacement part was fitted. Nigel decided that the original part had developed micro holes in an area where it was clamped to the car and thus leaked.

It was interesting that the replacement part was now padded in the area where the leak had developed, presumably to protect from wear and tear damage. The system was


recharged – and it worked with cool air coming from the air conditioning vents once more. Again, having exactly the correct tool to get at nuts in very difficult positions was the key to getting the job done.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Starting to work more on my own

The barn from which the garage operates is one of those old barns which you see in one of those numerous property programmes being converted into a wonderful house.

The structure is totally made out of wood

Roof 1 Roof 2

Roof 3

with all  mortice and tenon joints being neatly pined together with dowels. One can imagine the corrugated iron roof being taken off and it being beautifully converted into a wonderful house. Anyway, currently it houses a thriving garage.

Day 3

They had saved a Toyota Landcruiser for me and as soon as I arrived, I was given the task of changing the two alternator belts and the fan belt. Three hours later all was done and

Toyota Alternator Belts

completed with some help with difficult to get to nuts and also being shown a trick to force a tight belt onto a pulley. The road test showed it work ok – one satisfied customer.

The first part of the afternoon was spent under a lorry assisting in the replacement of its clutch plate. My simple role was to take off


a few nuts, then get under the lorry to manoeuvre the trolley used to hold the gearbox - the gearbox is moved away from

Lorry Clutch

the engine in order to expose the clutch. Once removed, a new clutch plate was ordered and the refit is scheduled for tomorrow.

I was then given a first lesson on how to remove tyres from their wheel rims, fit a new tyre and then balance the wheels.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Repairing my own car (and others)

Dedmans is a family run business now run by Nigel Dedman, his brother and his mum and dad. It is based in an old barn just off the A120 near Stortford. Although somewhat unprepossessing on the outside, inside there is a remarkable array of sophisticated

Dedman's Garage 2

equipment and they seem to be able to repair any sort of vehicle. This variety means that a constant stream of spare parts seems to arrive from dealers during the day since it is impossible to keep all but the basic routine spares on site. Never-the-less, getting a car repaired and returned as quickly as possible is the goal. There is also a constant awareness of cost – the cost of the repair has got to be commensurate with the value of the car and affordable to the customer.

Day 2

A variety of jobs today, the first was to examine an old Lancia which had failed its MOT elsewhere – the owner wanted a second opinion about the reasons given for failure since it had failed on numerous serious points and had only done 2000 miles in the past year.

As soon as the car was up on the ramp, I was given the MOT failure list and asked to give my (uneducated) opinion as to if it was accurate.


It was immediately obvious that there was significant rust under the car, the leaf springs

Leaf Spring

were corroded and therefore unsafe, there was significant rust in the underneath body work and some previous fibreglass repairs were failing. The rust holes shown here are worse than initially presented and result from us checking how bad the rust was.

Rust 1

Rust 2

The bad news was then given to the owner, he came to inspect his pride and joy and then asked for an estimate to be given on repairs to the body work.

Later on in the day I changed tyres, was shown how to fit a new tyre to a rim, and fitted some brake pads.

Late in the afternoon a Honda was brought in with a squeaking noise from one of the wheels. My diagnosis of worn brake pads was confirmed and with less assistance than previously I got on with changing the pads. Although everything I did was checked by a real mechanic, it was very satisfying to diagnose the fault and repair it.

Honda Brake Repair

My own car had developed a fault in the air conditioning system (basically it had stopped cooling the car down) so having seen a car have its aircon topped up the previous day, I booked it in for a repair.  Fault diagnosis by Nigel showed me that there was a leak in one of the aircon pipes and he said that a new one will be ordered tomorrow. I was then told I would be repairing it myself (apparently I am will not be charging myself for the labour cost!)

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.