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It has been so long since we did a Behind The Wrench interview. So I am excited to introduce the first women featured on the blog. If you, or anyone you know in the auto industry, want to be featured in an interview like this just contact me. So without any further delay, take it away Denise


Denise Cook

How long have you been in the Industry?

eighteen years

What is your current job title?

Service writer/tech

What were you doing for your first automotive job?

I was helping restore motorcycles, and cars, cleaning parts.

Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop?

Aftermarket` we own our our business, have for 18 years.

Do you prefer one over the other?

Never worked at a dealership, but my husband had before we opened our own business. I think there are pros and cons for both.

Walk us through what you do on a daily basis.

I wear a lot of different hats through out the day, it all depends on what is needed for me to do. Usually I come to the office around 7:00-7:30 a.m. I prepare for the day by checking messages for appointments or cancellations..I check the inventory and order what is needed. Once we are opened I talk to the customers about what is going on with there vehicle if they are dropping it off, or go through the repair if they are picking it up. I show them pictures and/or videos of their car repair, or what we found. If we are checking out a vehicle,I tell them I will give them a call with an estimate if it is not known at the time as to cost. After checking the vehicle over, I will estimate cost of repairs and give the customer a call with different options if there are any available. As far as repair work goes, I do mainly services ( coolant flushes, transmission service, belts, brakes etc) and I help the tech.’s by what is needed done ( help bleeding the systems, getting tools, cleaning parts,stripping cylinder heads for pressure testing etc) I search TSB . I also talk to the customers when they call and set up appointments. If a customer is waiting, I will sometimes bring them into the shop and show them what is going on with their vehicle When needed I will pick up parts, make a bank run, pick up customers. then after work, I do the book work. We get home usually, when were busy, around 7.00 at night.


When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?

Lots! I love cooking, riding bikes, hiking, gardening and being with my kids and grand kids.

What kind of car do you drive?

A 2002 Toyota Camry.

What was your first car?

Spitfire TR3

What made you want to work on cars?

My first car was a sports car, and my dad wanted me to know how to work on it. So he taught me a few things. Then after I was married, my husband had motorcycles that he spent time on so, I decided if I wanted to spend time with him,I would learn about them. It went from there to cars and when he opened his own shop I quit my job to help him.


What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?

A dead cat in the back seat, extremely smelling up the whole car.

Do you have much customer interaction?

Yes I do.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Talking with the customers. we have made a lot of good friends from our customers

If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?

Being in a car while it is UP on the lift while its being worked on ( or for any other reason ). Luckily that doesn’t happen much. but I hate when it does!

The auto industry has a really bad rap, what do you say to someone who thinks you are trying to take advantage of them?

Well it depends on WHY they think we are trying to take advantage of them. If they think because we are charging more then some one else had quoted them, I let them know WHAT we are going to do that is different. Factory parts, full maintenance, proper fluids. That they need to compare apples to apples, not oranges. Not all repair is the same. If they want the cheapest price, then we are not the place. But if they want quality work, and the best parts for the job, an 18 month unlimited mileage warranty and someone who cares about their work, then we are here for them.

Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?

Most people neglect their cooling systems. A vehicle might be able to GO a hundred miles without flushing the cooling system, but what harm has it done to the system. If they want to keep their vehicle long term, regular maintenance of the system needs to happen.

How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?

Very important. You should know the systems of your car and how they work and what needs to be done and when.

Have you read the owners manual to your car?

Yes I have.


What tool in your tool box do you use the most?

It depends on the job, but air ratchet and wrench

Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?

No. But like quality made tools

If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be (and why)?

They would have to be the very basic tools. Screw drivers, wrenches and pry bar.


If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?

I don’t watch James Bond so no idea.

You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?

Our youngest son went off to college in his dream car, a Camero! he still has it too.

What is the one thing that you want folks to know about your job that they might not know?

I think that media has it played out that most technicians are dirty, stupid, fowl mouthed, dishonest, and if your a women in the industry, your even more so that way.. They don’t expect you to be a lady with any intelligence on mechanical things.Where that might hold true once in awhile, it is most diffidently not true for the most part. I am proud of what I know and do. I find it quite humorous that when people first meet me they don’t expect me to not know anything, especially men.

Well folks, there you have it. Great look in to the industry from Denise.

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Just like many other jobs, being an auto mechanic is a pretty dynamic job. It is a far cry from the “punch the clock, do the same task, then go home” type job. Because of that I want to talk about what an average day looks like.

At my dealer we are all general service mechanics. That means we all do every job in the shop. Some shops will have a transmission guy, the one that rebuilds all the trans missions. Or the diagnostic guy. They will figure out the problems with cars, then send it to another tech to make the repair. I prefer the setup that we have. It keeps the day interesting. It is common to do an oil change on a car, then diagnose a check engine light, them do some tire work.

An average work day may go something like this:

  • Perform a 10,000 miles service on a newer car
  • Oil change, rotate tire on a 2008 VW
  • Diagnose a check engine light
  • Perform a 20,000 mile service on a newer car
  • Oil change
  • Oil change, rotate tires
  • Oil change, state inspection,
  • 40,000 mile service
  • Replace a headlight bulb
  • Replace a tail light bulb

This number of cars in a day would actually be fairly busy. That does not account for things that we find wrong with cars when they come in the shop. Things like worn out wiper blades, brakes and light bulbs are the most common things we find when cars come into the shop.

As I go back and read that, it would be a pretty good and easy day. On the not so typical days, anything can happen. Last week I spent almost the entire day diagnosing a 2013 Jetta hybrid that would randomly shut off. The next day I wrote up 2 estimates that totaled almost $18,000. That is not something I a bragging about. I do not like writing those type of estimates. One of those cars was a 99 Passat that had been neglected. The other was an 09 EOS. It had an issue with the top not opening properly. It was actually the first time I have seen an EOS top fail mechanically.

That is pretty much want a standard day as a VW tech looks like. Of course if I had to pick a perfect day, it would involve doing jobs that pay really well. Some might say that would get boring and they may be right. But as much as I love doing what I do, I go to work everyday to earn a paycheck. 😉

Do you like what we are doing here at Humble Mechanic? Right now the best way to support it is by sharing. You can use the icons at the top and bottom of every post to share the site with people you know. Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest are great ways to help me spread the word. And just know that if you do share, it means a lot to me.

Duct tape Auto repair

It is Wednesday, so you all know what that means, Shop Shots! We get back in to the shop this week for some pictures that come straight from a VW service department. Generally all of the pictures you see come straight from my Iphone. This week I have an extra picture that came from a fellow VW tech. Let’s get to it.

Duct tape Auto repairThe famous duct tape repair. This is a breather hose on a 4 cylinder Beetle. I don’t recall what the car came in for, but it was something like a headlight bulb. When I popped the hood this little gem cough my eye. The hose had split. That hose splitting is pretty common. The oil vapors that run through the hose can deteriorate the hose from the inside out. The customer did not want to fix the hose. I am sure that tape will hold for a little while. They will have to replace it come state inspection time.

Split AC Hose on a VWThe car came in today with a concern about air conditioning. The customer said that the A/C did not work. One of the other guys on my team was working on it. When he checked the refrigerant level, he found it empty.

One way for a mechanic to find a leak in an A/C system is to slightly charge the system. Sometimes you can hear the refrigerant leaking. If that doesn’t work, the system has a UV dye in it. We use a UV light to locate the leak. The dye glows bright bright yellow or green.

When the tech charged up the system, it started leaking instantly. After that, the leak was easy to find. Finding an A/C line that is split is not very common. It does happen from time to time. Usually after a car has been in an accident. This one was a different. This hose was split clean. Like it was cut. The other strange thing is the car was missing the belly pan.

We didn’t find out exactly what happened yet. It is fun to make up stories. My thought was an angry ex-boyfriend did it. I hope that is not the case. I will update this story in the comments when I find out the truth.

VW Touareg fire damageThis is the picture I got from a fellow VW tech. I will tell the story as best as I can. A tech was cleaning off the engine bay of this Touareg. He was dumping brake cleaner on to the engine. Now cleaning off an engine with brake cleaner is not an uncommon thing. I do it all the time. This tech was dumping it from a coolant bottle. THAT is a bad idea.

The tech that took this picture said he warned him about using that much cleaner. A few minutes later the Touareg was on fire. All mechanics make mistakes, but this one is big time!

Well that does it for another volume of Shop Shots. I am still looking for other folks in the industry to feature in my interview series. If you run or work in a shop, parts store, have a cool automotive related product, sell tools, or even a performance shop, just use the Contact Me form. I have a Behind the Wrench coming up in the next week that you all are going to love. That is all I will say for now 😉

Carolina Collector Auto Fest Pictures

Today we are taking a little different turn from our normal pictures. With car show season coming up, I thought it would be cool to do a Shop Shots car show edition. This car show was something a little different for me. It was the Carolina Collector Auto Fest. This show deals mainly in old American made cars, and some really cool memorabilia.

This is not my “thing” when it comes to cars. That doesn’t really matter. There is still an amazing amount of history and innovation at these type of shows. Seeing car parts from the 40’s and 50’s is really cool. Think about how some technologies have come so far, and yet some are still basically the same. Okay, let’s get into some pictures!

Some pretty cool cars. I did learn one thing. Make sure to take pictures of what type of car each one is. I don’t know my old cars well enough. If you can identify some of them, please post it in the comments.

Humble Mechanic Logo

Humble Mechanic LogoI want to talk about something today that we have never really touched on before. That is some of the negatives of being a mechanic. I made a commitment when I started this site. I was not going to use it as a platform to whine about work. I would not just complain about hours, getting paid, crazy customers, and all the rest. I try and focus on showing everyone the good side of this industry. How they can save money on their car, and avoid the bad things in the auto industry.

That does not mean that this job does not have a down side. A comment came in on a post I did a while back. The post was about how Being a mechanic is awesome. This is what Kevy said

Agree with some points on this, but i have been a mechanic with Land Rover now for 8 years. Yeah its great being on your feet all day and it certainly keeps you fit and keeps weight off you. But you will go home really tired every night, probably have to work a 6 day week, be hounded by people who aren’t mechanics about how long you are taking to do a job. You are belittled if you cant fix something within 1 or 2 hours, you will cut/injure yourself almost daily and the pay isnt great either. Stay in school kids

Kevy does bring up some good points. The one I want to focus on today is injuries. It will come as no surprise that mechanics get cuts and scrapes all the time. Burns tend to be a little less common, but are usually more serious. Then there is also the eyeball full of chemicals. Today, mine was engine oil mixed with brake cleaner. All the sting of brake clean, and none of the evaporation of oil.

Those type of injuries can be very serious and painful, but are generally more of an acute type of thing. The happen, and then heal. You might have a scar or two, but all in all life goes on. The worst type of injuries are the ones that cause chronic problems. Back issues are among the most common. Think about how many strange ways a mechanic contorts their body. Laying across the engine to reach that bolt way in the back. Twisting so you can reach that connector behind the dash board. This job can really take a toll on a mechanic’s body.

In the last year we have lost the 2 best mechanics in the shop due to injuries. One guy hurt his arm, went in for surgery, and is still not right. The other guy had to retire due to severe issues with his hands. The sad part is these guys where both played a huge part in my career. They were 2 of the 3 mentors that I had when I started. The third was more of a “don’t do what he does” type guy.

We have not even touched dealing with things that mechanics breathe. There are still some nasty chemicals in car parts. Brakes and clutches can still contain asbestos. The harsh cleaners that evaporate can have an acute or chronic effect on your body. And then you get the stuff that is just gross. Imagine a customer spilled milk in their car and didn’t clean it up. Or a car had a water leak and is full of mold.

Based on all that, you might wonder why anyone would want to be a mechanic. The truth is, being an auto mechanic is just like every job. Some parts are awesome, and some are not so great. It really depends on what you make of it.

What about your job? Is there things in other jobs that people don’t know? Feel free to share your story in the comment section below. One quick thing about the comment section. When you post a comment, please check the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail”. That way you can see other people’s comments too.

VW Fender liner repair

Hi everyone. We are back to the regularly scheduled programming with Shop Shots. I was just thinking, if you ever want to go back and see some of the older pictures, just click “Shop Shots” under the header at the top of the page. That will take you through all 46ish volumes. Some times it is fun to take a look back at the older stuff. Okay, let’s get rolling

VW Fender liner repairI posted this to Facebook last week. I know that some of you don’t follow the FB page and I didn’t want anyone to miss this. You are looking at a wheel house(or fender) liner from 2004 Jetta. Someone used zip ties to “sew” the liner back together. That means they took the time to drill 42 little holes, then weave some zip ties through. All to reattach a broken fender liner.

Part of me thinks it was a total waste of time and zip ties. A new fender liner is about $75. The time and energy was much more than $75 worth. On the other hand, it was very well done. The repair was pretty strong. Plus we all have something to talk about. Bravo for being industrious.

Subaru engine damageIf you really know your VW engine, you are thinking, “Wait, this doesn’t look right”. That is because it is the engine out of a Subaru Legacy. the dealer sold an older Legacy a few weeks ago. I am not sure what happened but it came back overheating. After some diagnostics, the tech working on it found one of the 2 head gaskets blown. You can see VR6 damage from a blown head gasket here.

The tech took the heads off and replaced the head gasket. When reinstalling the parts, something failed. When he started the engine, one of the valves fell down in the cylinder. You can see the witness marks on the piston. Those shiny silver marks should not be there. That is the damage from valve hitting piston.

WARNING the next pic may not be suitable for everyone. (drug content)


Okay I warned you!

Drugs found in VW carI gave the warning because some folks are sensitive to this type of thing. I had to remove the back seat from a Beetle convertible last week. When I pulled the seat bottom up, this pipe rolled out. It was actually a pretty good hiding spot.

I don’t really care what people keep in their cars. It is their car so do what you want. Just know that if you keep this kind of thing, the entire shop comes to check it out. Then we get a big time laugh out of it. HA.

Well, that about does it for today’s Shop Shots. One quick thing. I posted yesterday’s blog post to FB around 9:00am. For some reason FB did not post it to the wall. If you want to avoid any of that mess, the best way is to subscribe. Use the box on the top right. I don’t sell or spam your email. It just makes sure you get posts when they are released. I will also do little things for the subscribers from time to time. 😉

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I get asked this question all the time. It comes in many forms, but this is the most common.

Charles, you are a mechanic. How do I know if I am getting ripped off?

My advice has always been things like:

  • Ask to see the old parts
  • Ask if it is a NEEDED service or just RECOMMEND
  • Compare the recommendation to your owners book
  • Get a second or third opinion
  • find an auto mechanic

Following that advice will help avoid spending money that you do not need to spend. You can read more about How to tell if a mechanic is ripping your off

The other day I got this question,

How do mechanics rip people off?

This is an interesting way to look at it. If you know how you can be ripped off, you have even more ammunition to avoid it. Here are the most common ways that a mechanic “rips you off”

  • Selling service too early.
    This is most common. A mechanic recommending a tune up at 30,000 miles when it is not due until 60,000 miles. Or selling a brake job when the car has thousands of miles left on the brakes.
    How to avoid this. Ask to see the parts, and compare to your owners book.
  • Selling non factory parts as factory parts
    This does not really come up at the dealer level. We 99.99% sell factory parts. It can come up in aftermarket shops. If you are paying top dollar for factory parts, you need to be sure you are getting them.
    How to avoid this.
    Ask to see BOTH parts. They should be similar. Understand that sometimes parts are updated, but you can ask about that too 😉
  • Exaggerating the need for the repair
    “If you don’t replace your air filter, your car will catch of fire” This is an extreme (and insane) example of exaggeration. It is also something that happens all the time. The bad part is, you may actually need the service the shop is recommending. But this type of talk should send up a huge red flag!
    How to avoid this
    . Ask to see the part, and refer to your owners book
  • Selling services that do not exists
    I am not sure this type of thing really happens, but I need to talk about it. If a service doesn’t sound right, ask more questions. There is no such thing (as of 2013) as replacing headlight fluid, changing the muffler bearings, putting summer air in your tires, and who know what people come up with.
    How to avoid this
    . Ask how it is done. Ask WHY you need it. Ask what will happen if you don’t do it.
  • Charging “too much” for a repair
    This one can be a sticky situation. A repair is generally assigned a labor time. The labor time is used to create a price for the labor part of your bill. The sticky part comes in when we try to figure out what “too much” means. Auto mechanics get paid on Flat Rate. The easy way to think about Flat Rate is, a mechanic is paid by the job, no matter how long it takes.If a mechanic does a repair that pays 3 hours, they get paid 3 hours. It may take them 2 hours to complete, or 4 hours to complete. The mechanic gets paid 3 hours. You can read more about How mechanics get paid on Flat Rate.So how do you decide what is “too much”? The truth is I don’t really know. There are so many factors that play in to it. The best advice here, ask more questions. Things like “How long will it take to complete?” “Is this a hard job to do?” “What other parts need to be removed?”. It will show that you understand the way Flat Rate works.

There is one other way people get “ripped off”. I didn’t include it on the list because it requires more discussion. Selling repairs to fix your car, that do not fix your car. I have said before that diagnosing a car is a process. It is rarely cut and dry. If your check engine light is on, the computer rarely says “replace this part”. Times like this is when having a good mechanic is vital. If they get the diagnosis wrong, or find other issues, a good shop will work with you.

The other thing about getting ripped off is, each situation is different. You may not be due for a service, but really need it. If you drive at the beach your air filter may be clogged long before the owners manual recommends replacement. Following the tips I gave you will eliminate most of the problems.

What do you guys think? Are there other ways that people can “get ripped off” by a mechanic? If so, post them in the comments below. This is also a great post to share with folks. I tried to make sharing very easy. At the top and bottom of the post, you can click the icons to share to Facebook, twitter, Stumble Upon, Reddit, and Google +. I really appreciate when you guys share the site with others. That is the number one way we grow our community.