Matt Harwood

Hacks, hacks, everywhere hacks

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Had a rather expensive car show up last week. Seller raved about the quality of the guy doing the work, how he had restored cars for Pebble Beach and Jay Leno (that's always BS, but whatever), and that he has a waiting list two years long for people trying to get into his shop. The car also came with a stack of receipts an inch thick, probably adding up to close to six figures. Blah, blah, blah. The usual stuff when a guy is happy about spending money on a car.

 

I drove it around the block, my usual test drive that's about 8 miles. Enough to get to know it a bit, get it up to temperature, and try it at a variety of speeds. Does drive great. 

 

Parked it and heard something hissing up front. Steam. I figured a hose came loose or split or something. Nope. Well it surely can't be that brand new radiator, can it? 

 

I turned Roman, my mechanic, loose on the car and it was indeed the radiator. I found the receipt in the file and the 'Pebble Beach/Jay Leno shop' that restored the car charged the owner nearly $2000 for re-coring the original radiator, so it was strange that it would be leaking. Roman pulled the radiator out of the car to see what was going on and this is what we found:

 

Radiator3.thumb.jpg.810b51f954c2a4e68423f0b6cf140045.jpg  Radiator4.thumb.jpg.939cf79b92c0c6283267d2fa85790cf4.jpg  Radiator2.thumb.jpg.32fd05bd692adf793bdb864fe2399b4b.jpg

 

Yep, that's JB Weld on an obviously brand new radiator core. We also found an obviously incorrect bolt (stainless allen head) holding the radiator shroud in place, stripped and mangled, pushed against the driver's side tank so hard that it was dimpled. Roman believes that they had a beautiful new radiator and whilst installing it, they somehow mangled it and poked a hole in it. Rather than taking it to the radiator shop to be properly repaired [again], they smeared JB Weld all over the place and just slapped it together. Then charged the customer $2000 for the job. The radiator is trash, the radiator shop can't remove the epoxy and repair it, it has to be re-cored or replaced—again

 

This isn't the first time we've had to fix another shop's terrible workmanship on a car, and it's not even the first time that someone was raving about their "guy" being the best when it turns out he's just another jackhole hack. But this is probably the most egregious example of a shop being terrible at their job, doing the worst possible thing to cover their mistakes, and charging the customer a 100% mark-up on the job. It's offensive.


I've informed the customer and he's kind of in denial. No way his "guy" would do that, it must have been the radiator shop. Unlikely. I told him I'd back him up if he wants to go after the shop, but he's going to let it slide and just pay us to fix it. It's going to be expensive, but at least it'll be right. 

 

Don't be a hack. Don't let hacks work on your car. Check your mechanic's work carefully. And don't settle for hack work, yours or anyone else's. This is exactly why 98% of old cars are such headaches.

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Benefits of AACA Membership.

What the hack were they thinking?

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I don't think even the high school kid on a co-op placement could do that kind of a job on a rad

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That's why I tell my wife that I will do what needs to be done on the cars and around the house. Why pay twice. Once for the guy to screw it up and for me to redo the job again.

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Only thing I've used JB Weld for is to insert a cam magnet in a 3800 from the front. OTOH have performed a few hacks myself usually because the right part is either NLA or costs more than I paid for the car. $2k for a radiator sounds a bit absurd.

 

Is this the same as for computers: a hacker does not care about collateral damage while for elegant code you spend 1/3 of the time on the inline code and 2/3 on error handling.

 

ps worst one I had to deal with recently was the cretin who managed to tighten the lug nuts on a wheel. Except he/she/it/other managed to screw 12mm nuts on a 1/2" stud. Broke three (and replaced all) getting them off.

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Your experience shows why it's important

actually to DRIVE a car, not just back a new

restoration on and off a trailer.  The owner surely

would have caught this earlier if he had done

more than just look at his new restoration.

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Thanks for this insightful post, Matt.  It's part of the problem when car owners (including me) often can't personally tell when a shop has done a good job: We don't know enough to know when the shop owner is a hack.  Ideally, asking around and finding out who is actually good can lead us to the right place.  But it's tough when there are few options and we're not good at telling when someone knows what they're doing and is doing it correctly.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, 1935Packard said:

Thanks for this insightful post, Matt.  It's part of the problem when car owners (including me) often can't personally tell when a shop has done a good job: We don't know enough to know when the shop owner is a hack.  Ideally, asking around and finding out who is actually good can lead us to the right place.  But it's tough when there are few options and we're not good at telling when someone knows what they're doing and is doing it correctly.

 

All I had to do was drive the car and we discovered a problem. We didn't know the extent of it, of course, but it was obvious pretty quickly that there was a problem up front in the cooling system. A few checks ruled out the hoses, and at that point I was thinking something like a split in the solder between the core and the tank. I did not expect the problem we found.

 

Driving your car is the best way to find substandard work. If it isn't right, the problems will reveal themselves eventually.

 

It's also worth mentioning that there was just plain water in the cooling system, not coolant. The cooling system would not have stayed healthy for long. You'd think that a guy doing that kind of crap work would want it to stay hidden, not compound things with a frozen block or rusty cooling system in a few months...

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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$2,000 for a radiator core on a pre WWII era big classic isn't totally absurd. I am not saying it isn't expensive for one to have to come up with the $ to pay for it, just that knowing what is involved and the time it takes to do the job plus the materials ( copper honeycomb?!?) I wasn't surprised with the $ quoted. If you are into postwar cars that $ may surprise you or perhaps make you blink twice or three times but you need to take a step back and look at it from the perspective and era of the car. That $2,000 + would most likely also be needed to replate a radiator shell on a 1934 and earlier car. WG

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Posted (edited)

Sure looks like a Mustang radiator. I am just trying to figure out the shroud attachment.

 

When I worked on strange, to me, cars I had a 10 miles oil warmup route, five miles each way, never too far to walk home. Pre-cellphone days.

 

Took a second look, I see it is a crossflow standing 90 degrees.

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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17 minutes ago, Walt G said:

$2,000 for a radiator core on a pre WWII era big classic isn't totally absurd. I am not saying it isn't expensive for one to have to come up with the $ to pay for it, just that knowing what is involved and the time it takes to do the job plus the materials ( copper honeycomb?!?) I wasn't surprised with the $ quoted. If you are into postwar cars that $ may surprise you or perhaps make you blink twice or three times but you need to take a step back and look at it from the perspective and era of the car. That $2,000 + would most likely also be needed to replate a radiator shell on a 1934 and earlier car. WG

 

This is a '60s GM muscle car. I had a radiator for a big block Corvette re-cored not too long ago for about $980. They took the cost of the re-core and simply doubled it. I'm seeing that in a lot of their work now that I'm going through the receipts more carefully. $900 for a clutch disc and pressure plate? $6500 for a set of repro wheels? Yeah, they were padding their bills more than a bit. Too bad they're lousy at their job and got caught being lousy at their job. I'm going to encourage the guy who paid for all the work to go after them, but he's not really interested.

 

This kind of stuff is exactly why professionals in the hobby get a bad name. And customers only caring about cosmetic beauty and not driving their cars is exactly why they get away with it.

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Posted (edited)

Just a thought Matt maybe the employee patched up the radiator so the employer would not see it.

Just like a car assembly line once it was out of the shop it was one persons word against the other ?

I still cannot believe they just put water in the radiator unless anti-freeze attacks the JB Weld and makes it leak.

 

 

Edited by Mark Gregory (see edit history)
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45 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

I had a radiator for a big block Corvette re-cored not too long ago for about $980.

 

Radiator re-cores for 1955ish Buicks, Olds, and Mopar. New fin and tube, new over flow pipes, beautiful jobs, no leaks or problems.............$900 each.....Bob

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Having found that, I would be very concerned about everything else. 

 

Especially given the excessive markups.  $900 clutch job on a GM?  That kind of stuff is why I do as much of my own work as possible and have accumulated the equipment to do so.  I look at what people pay for stuff and just shake my head.  Not just car repair, but home repair.  I know people who paid $1,000 for a routine water heater replacement.  Last one I did, the unit was $400 and I was taking a hot shower two hours after I started.   

 

 

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Posted (edited)

A friend just had a radiator done for her Alfa Romeo 1750 GS SS - it was about 40K and a 30's Mercedes is even higher cost - just to help put some things into perspective that 900-ish and even 2k-ish can look very appealing when you have dealt with a more way over the top problem(s).  

 

Ex. Dad sees a Ford Model A part and proclaims the cost for anything as "free."

Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)

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I’ve had 2 quotes for my 1919 Olds radiator and both were just over 3K. Only difference was the one fellow when told the leak was up high said just use it unless/ until another leak occurs where it clearly effects the coolant level. That was a couple years ago and so far I’ve held off.

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Yes, but this was a simple re-core on a mass-produced '60s GM car. Not the same.

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Posted (edited)

I don't know what an Alfa Romeo 1750 GS SS even looks like or what the total cost of one would be, or how rare/unique it may be. But $40K for a radiator is just plain nuts. I sure hope it wasn't done in the same shop as did the one Matt is talking about. 

dave s 

Edited by SC38DLS (see edit history)

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Had they spent the 40K when they first restored the car and not tired to make do, then they most likely would not have had the second 100K plus engine rebuild to deal with.

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So it is a driver not just a show car?  I assume it is if they blew the engine because the radiator was bad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one but most high end alpha’s of the time was custom bodied so it must be a very unique looking car. 
can you post a pick?  Matt not trying to hijack but I really find it hard to believe a radiator core cost $40k.  Maybe because I drive a simple 38 Studebaker for daily fun driver. 
dave s 

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Hacks are nothing new (or even unique) to automotive repairs/services.

Not only they've likely been around since the invention of the contraption, but if I was a gambling man, I'd put my money on fact that there is and has always been more of them than those who can and will do things correctly.

It also seems there's proportionally even more of them in old/used/vintage vehicle "service industry" and this hobby in general.

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As part of our family business has been rads for 50yrs, Matt is bang on is saying the mass produced cars of the 60's (and then up to when the auto industry changed over to plastics tanks) were rather simple to re-core.

It is about a 2-3 hr job to un-solder the old tanks, sandblast them clean ,then solder those tanks back on the new core, then paint. It is not $2000 endeavour. Core cost have gone up due to the price of copper but that does not make it a $2000 rad

 

You want to see an expensive rad to re manufacture...original core(inoperable) in the front new core in the back. This is not the pic of the tractor, but just what I could find that is similar.

 

Jeff

 

20200429_170900.jpg

20200429_170919.jpg

20200429_170933.jpg

IMG_1435.jpeg

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, 1935Packard said:

Thanks for this insightful post, Matt.  It's part of the problem when car owners (including me) often can't personally tell when a shop has done a good job: We don't know enough to know when the shop owner is a hack.  Ideally, asking around and finding out who is actually good can lead us to the right place.  But it's tough when there are few options and we're not good at telling when someone knows what they're doing and is doing it correctly.

Finding an automotive service provider to fit ones expectations shouldn't be much different from finding a dentist/doctor/gardener/RE agent/etc. or buying an old/used car or a house, etc. If one is not personally able or doesn't have acquaintances to assess qualifications/quality of an item or service provider, it is a good/smart idea to try find and, if needed, hire someone (i.e. third party) with subject experience to consult.

This can often be best money one can spend and might even be safer than asking (read. risking) friends.

Edited by TTR (see edit history)
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