'An Attempt At Do-It-Yourself Car Repair Goes Awry, And Takes A Surprising Turn'

NPR’s Art Silverman tried to fix his car (a Fiat with a broken timing belt) in 1979. He failed, gave the car to a neighborhood kid. 40 years later he reported on the outcome. Apparently it had an interference engine.

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Proving once again that mechanics EARN their money.


Is there a cliff notes version?
I read 3-4 lines and gave up

I don’t like the part where he talks about being humiliated

Just because a mechanic knows his stuff doesn’t mean he’s actively humiliating the owner. That’s apparently all in the owner’s head

To be brutally honest, I don’t think it’s a very good story, in large part because the follow-up is somewhat of a let-down. It would have been more interesting if Billy had actually gotten the car running and then given it to his kid, and it just got restored . . .

Troll, why do you constantly post articles that aren’t very satisfying to read . . . ?!

Because you can, because that’s what trolls do . . . ?!


Yes, this story was anticlimactic for sure but it showed how two DIY attempts led to the car being worse off and junked in the end.

If you talk to ANY service business, they will tell you similar stories about DIY attempts only making the problem worse. With computers I get “Well, I already have it apart so that should make the price lower.” Nope! I just have a bigger mess to resolve!

You see those little signs in mechanic shops with hourly rates. One is the base rate, then there is one for if you have worked on it yourself, one for if you watch, one for if you ask questions, etc. I charge by the hour so they can ask as many questions as they want or watch. That doesn’t bother me but often when someone has attempted their own repair and then given up, there is a real mess and it often isn’t economical to repair as was shown by this story. Yes, the car was free for someone but ended up getting in the way and sent to the scrapyard.

I used to get my mowers this way. They would be free ones but then realized I sometimes spent more getting them going than they were worth and they still weren’t anything special. IT is cheaper to buy new or pay someone else to fix them.

I usually give them a week or so on Facebook Marketplace but get so frustrated dealing with the nonsense on that site that they go as scrap.

Listening to it is an option if you’re not into reading.

I have learned to attempt to repair something only if I really know what I am doing or the object is so old that it isn’t worth paying to have repaired. In this case, if I can’t fix it, I toss it.
Last winter, I thought I ought to service my snowblower that I bought 19 years earlier from Walmart. There is just a small access to get to the sparkplug. In replacing the sparkplug, it dropped down into the cover surrounding the flywheel. I spent several hours tearing into the machine to retrieve the sparkplug. I finally got everything together, pulled the cord and it started and ran beautifully. The only problem–it was leaking fuel. The fuel line had. deteriorated. I gave up, loaded it in the van and took it to a repair shop. I got it back the next day with a very reasonable charge. When the first snow hit, I barely got one swath down my driveway and the belt broke. I went to Lowe’s, bought what was supposed to be a replacement belt, but it slipped so much it wouldn’t turn the auger. I took it back to the repair shop. They installed the correct belt and I was back in business.
This upcoming week, I am getting the snowblower out. I’ll pour in the fuel and pull the cord. If it runs, great. If not, I’ll take it back to the repair shop. This same repair shop is connected with an independently owned hardware store. Next spring, I may need to replace my 28 year old mower. I am going to that shop that repaired my snowblower. In the long run I’ll probably save money and I know I will save aggravation.

re: "why is there always a dog barking when you do anything in the garage? "

I’ve noticed that sort of thing too. Whenever I’m in the garage with the door open doing anything w/tools there’s bound to be some distraction or another. Neighbors who maybe I speak with twice a year otherwise, if the garage door is up and I have a screwdriver in my hand they’ll almost 100% certain be coming by asking what I’m doing. And there’s plenty of others. Loud street sweepers up one side of the street and back down the other, back and forth, as I’m trying to carefully listen to the truck’s engine during a carb idle-mixture adjustment. Or the street sweepers will be kicking up clouds of dust & debris while the air cleaner is off. And it can be worse than that. One time I was laying under the jack-standed Corolla working on the rear brakes when somebody driving down the street throws an M80 (big firecracker) on the street about 30 feet from where I’m working. The blast was big enough it blow the windshield out of another parked car. I crawled out from under the Corolla in record time … :wink: … Then — of course — here come the police, asking me what I saw. Meanwhile its getting dark. As you might expect the brake job had to wait for another day.

As far as the article, car repair of that sort — timing belt – isn’t something a person can do successfully just by persuading themselves they can do it. It requires access to the needed supply of tools of course. But it also requires a newbie diy’ers to do a good deal of research, which often involves purchasing service manuals. Which the newbie diy’er is likely to skip, and therefore making the diy’er attempted repair pretty much impossible (or at least completely uneconomical) to accomplish.

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Maybe they’re just making small talk . . . neighbors have been known to do that :wink:

Or maybe since they see you have tools, they’re hoping you’ll fix something for them . . . ?!

That reminds me of a guy I used to work with in the 1990s

Come late december, he’d buy enough fire crackers to last the entire YEAR . . .

Invariably, when somebody was underneath a vehicle . . . preferably in the pit doing an alignment . . . a lit firecracker would show up, out of nowhere. And just before it went off, you’d hear that guy cackling like some hag from a fairly tale. And this would go on throughout the year, without any kind of warning

There is definitely an advantage to having the wisdom to know you’re in over your head before you’re actually in over your head, and I’ve learned that lesson often enough that I no longer have to repeat it. Once I finally sell my Civic, I think I’ll be done working on anything other than my motorcycle. My mother’s Jetta is too complicated, and it only needs to be serviced once a year.

Thank goodness I can save money by doing my own work on the motorcycle. It’s crazy how much more shop labor costs for a motorcycle than a car.

Car broken.

Car not fixed.

Fiats suck.


@Whitey. I have been challenged since yesterday by the new technology. The battery in my Motorola smartphone wouldn’t hold its charge. Mrs. Triedaq decided it was time to replace the smartphone. I bought the same make with the same Android system. I had spend a couple of hours last night getting it set up the way I want it. I am trying to figure out how to pair it with the audio system in the Sienna as well as the Bluetooth items in our house.
The service writer at Toyota paired the phone I had at the time with my previous Sienna. She did it in less than a minute. What she said–you do this, this and then this-- didn’t make sense to me. I am a throw back to the old days when I could understand the logic behind something. I could trace the signal through a radio or television. I could follow a schematic diagram. However, I guess there are different ways of reasoning. I am a horn player and I need the line of music in front of me. My brother is a jazz and blues keyboard player. He doesn’t read music but modulates to different chords while performing with his colleagues. Today’s reasoning with electronic devices seem to follow the jazz model as opposed to the classical music model.

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Oh, no! What a terrible idea!

You could have saved a bunch of time and money by getting a new battery. Do you have a Batteries+Bulbs or cell phone repair business near you? It might not be too late.

@Whitey. Mrs. Triedaq thinks I should keep up with new technology. I guess that is what keeps me from getting old. If it was up to me, I would still be driving my 1947 Pontiac, watching my vacuum tube black and white television, listening to my 33 1/3 vinyl records on my high fidelity system with its Voice of Music changer, EICO vacuum tube preamplifier and power amplifier, Jensen 12" speaker in an enclosure made of celotex,and mowing with a 1955 LawnBoy two stroke push mower. I could repair all my equipment. Now everything carries the warning: “No User Serviceable Parts Inside”.
Being able to repair and service my own equipment gave me a sense of control.
The church I attend just installed a new boiler for the heating system. I could have an app on my Smartphone that would tell me if there is a problem with the system and what to do. I took a pass. It was bad enough when our security system detected someone in the building and I would be informed. I would load my terrier pooch into the car along with my Daisy single shot B-B gun and go after the bad guys. We never did encounter any bad guys. It was always someone who forgot to enter the security code that belonged in the building.
It seems today that our electronic equipment tells us what to do. I prefer to control my equipment rather than have my equipment control me.

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I recently bought a replacement battery for my Samsung Galaxy S5 from Amazon.
It cost less than $11, and there was no shipping fee. Amazon tried to pester me into opting for their Prime credit card in order to get faster shipping. I declined that offer, and I still received the battery in only 2 days.

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Your wife sound’s like mine always wanting the newest tech as soon as it comes out one the other hand I am like you I resist change and new thing’s as long as possible the only new tech I like is the cell phone & kindle [basic without all the toy; & app’s]

Mrs. Triedaq is interesting on wanting new technology. She won’t give up her 2003 4Runner and keeps it looking like it just left the showroom. On the other hand, when we saw a flat screen plasma TV set in a store 15 years ago, she was in favour of buying it even though the price was over $5000. We waited for the later LCD TV and the price to drop for a set that cost 1/10 th as much.
One thing about Mrs. Triedaq is she hates shopping. We had to replace a 29 year old dishwasher a year ago. It was made difficult by our big box stores that had all kinds of models on display but would have to order any model we chose. We don’t have independently owned appliance stores in my area any more. Our washing machine is 28 years old. Two years ago I spent $275 having a shaft bearing replaced. It was repaired on site in two hours and saved me the agony of shopping for a replacement.


My wife also hate’s when she has to go to the store but online shopping that’s another whole different thing a few year’s ago it got so bad we were on a first name basis with the fedex driver’s.

I’m all for upgrading when it’s necessary, but when it’s not necessary, I’m all about saving money.

Recently, the charging port on my iPhone 6s wore out, so I removed my SIM chip, put it in an old iPhone 5s, and paid $50 to have the charging port on the iPhone 6s replaced rather than pay $500 for a new iPhone. Once the 6s was repaired, I removed the SIM chip from the 5s and put it back in the 6s.

Apple’s newest iPhone is the 11, but as far as I’m concerned, they peaked at the 6s. (It even sounds like “success” when you say “6s.”) Every feature they’ve added since then (and taken away, like the headphone jack) has been superfluous. I don’t need three cameras on the back of my phone, and I like having a headphone jack, so as long as I can get my 6s repaired, and as long as Apple keeps supporting the 6s, I’m going to keep using it and repairing it.

…and just to keep this car related, the moment my 6s pairs with my mother’s Jetta, my 6s tells me the ETA to wherever it thinks I’m headed, whether it is work or the grocery store.

How does that make you feel? I don’t like that the Apple map app turns itself on and tells me where it thinks I’m going. I don’t mind directions when I ask for them, but monitoring my every move is unnerving. I don’t think anyone cares, but it bothers me anyway. I allowed location access whenever the app is active, but it ignored that setting apparently.