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Your Biggest WTH!?

Following on some threads a little while back about things like easiest repairs that turned out bad, or hardest ones that turned out easy - and stuff like that - the thread on the Mini Cooper with the lost cam (or crank?) bolt got me to wondering…

As I’ve gone along through my “development” as a DIY, I’ve occasionally had shops tell me that “you shouldn’t do that yourself” - whatever “that” happened to be. I had one shop even tell me I shouldn’t change my own oil. I always just gave them the old “yeah, right” look and left it at that. But I think I’ve been seeing more and more where it might be coming from. I have to assume that professional shops frequently see the aftermath of hack DIY “repair” attempts. And I have to imagine that some of it truly inspires some “WTH?!” exclamations.

So I’m wondering what stories folks might have of some of the most messed up, mind boggling WTH? experiences when getting the “aftermath” of botched up previous work.

I’m partly thinking of this because at the end of last summer I bought a 2001 Dodge Neon from some kid on craigslist. The story is really long, but I only paid $450 for it. I just needed a spare beater. It started, ran, and drove, but the brakes were basically inoperable. So it really cost me about $525 by the time I had it home by tow truck. As I have been putting things in order with it I have had more than one WTH?! experience with it. Here is a relatively mild one that came from doing the rear brakes:

  1. I pulled the wheel covers to find that one rear wheel was held on by only two lugs. One stud was missing entirely. The remaining two were so mangled and rusted that there was no using them. They hadn’t been used in a long time. The other side - whew - well and least that one was held on by 3 lugs, with one stud missing, but the remaining one was still usable.
  2. When I tore down the rear brakes (drum), I found that one side had no automatic adjuster on it at all. On the other side, the adjuster lever was there, but the tab that engages the star wheel had actually been ground off of it. WTH? Luckily, I was redoing the entire rear brakes anyway because a leaky wheel cylinder was the cause of the inoperable brakes. But seriously?

I’m sure that for those of you who have turned wrenches for a living, that one is mild. I do have a worse one (not for safety, but for the WTH factor). But I’ll save it.

Any good ones?

Doctors at times get really negative about people taking care of themselves. That attitude is (seriously) called “God Complex”

They would have you believe you should “check with your doctor” before using aspirin. When an office call might cost a hundred dollars or more.

I’m not a mechanic so this is from a customers perspective, bringing it to a mechanic. In school the first time I changed plugs in my 59 Pontiac, I could get all 8 out but only 7 in again. No way I could get under the generator bracket to get the last one in. So I just drove it that way for the three blocks up to the mechanic/gas station to get the last one in. Made quite a racket and I was embarrased, but the guy understood. After that I devised the hose with a stiff wire in it to reach the plug that I still have but haven’t used for 40 years.

As far as the Doctor goes, I had appendix problems but didn’t know it. When I finally went to the emergency room with a burst appendix I told the Dr. that it didn’t fit the symptoms in the book. He just said sometimes the book doesn’t cover everything. I could have died so I appreciate being around yet.

The home I own now, I bought in 1998. During preperations for my first winter in it, I drained the rear outside hose faucet, and closed the shut off valve inside. I went to do the same for the front. that’s when I discovered that when the previous owner of the house finished off the basement, he covered the shutoff valve for the front one with sheet rock. WTH??? I “guessed” where it might be, took a chance, cut a hole and discovered I wasn’t all that far off. There’s now a nice painted wooden cover for the hole. I’ve since discovered other sins and shortcomings, and am contemplating pulling down the whole ceiling as I do not trust the wiring he did. He also never bothered to seal the ductwork joints before covering them up.

My youngest daughter bought a 67 Impala fastback in 1976. We drove it home and she went to the gas station to fill it up (25 gal). On the way back home, less than 1/2 mile the gas tank dropped in the street but didn’t leak. I very carefully slid some heavy cardboard sheets and got it slowly to my house.

My daughter said she was never going to own another car and would take a bus .

When I goy the car up in the air enough to get under I found out that the frame rail that went across in front of the tank that the tank straps should have been bolted to was missing due to rust.

The kid that sold it to her had cut the straps short, run them up through slots in the trunk floor and secured each of them with a sheet metal screw and put the trunk mat over them. I had peeled the mat back to look for rust but not far enough to see the straps.

I went to a steel company I used to pick up loads up at and they gave me some of the strapping they use to hold loads on their trucks. The tank had reliefs in it for straps front to back and side to side so I drilled holes in the main frame rails which were good and mounted new straps side to side wit J hooks I made out of threaded rod.

She sold the car a few years later for more than she paid for it.

I’ve got a lot of them. One involved a cousin of mine who owned a Pontiac Grand Prix and lived about 30 miles away from me. There was a guy he swore by (and whom I also knew) who lived nearby and who serviced the automatic transmission in the cousin’s car. It took over a week for that to get accomplished.

When he got the car back it was a bit balky on the shifting and was erratic in doing so. He was told the new fluid would have to “settle in”. He ended up driving the car to me and I dropped the pan after checking the fluid and noting it looked fine anyway. My assumption was that maybe the filter had not been seated properly and the transmission was sucking some air.

With the pan off I found it to have a small handful of leaves in it and some soggy chunks of something. The soggy chunks was determined to be dried dog food.
The cousin said he had been by there once to see why the delay and that the pan had been left lying on the shop floor. The guy did have a pair of large dogs and several bags of dog chow inside the door…
So what was happening is that when the engine was running the transmission pump was sucking up the leaves and dog food and seriously restricting the flow of fluid. With the pan cleaned out the transmission was fine.

Normally I might say what kind of blind moron would stick a pan full of junk back in place but considering the operation and the guy’s son who did a lot of the wrench turning there it really doesn’t surprise me.

Here’s one: A couple of decades ago a friend had a new engine put in his Plymouth. When he got it back, he noticed his windshield washer didn’t work. He popped the hood and saw that it was out of fluid. He filled it and it still didn’t work. Popped the hood again and all the fluid he’d put in was gone. Filled it again and watched the fluid disappear with no drips or puddles forming under the car. Turns out the engine installers hooked the washer fluid hose to a vacuum port on the engine. Good attention to detail there. Digesting a lot of washer fluid and a sizeable vacuum leak didn’t apparently affect the running of it, and it was cold out so apparently any additional steam out the back went unnoticed.

Here’s a couple I’ve always liked from the IT world:

I had a house where the previous owner wired an outlet off of a light switch. When the light was on the outlet did not work, so I figured I would get to it one day. Once I plugged a drill in with the light off and the drill ran at half speed and the light was on half bright. With the light switch off the tool and light were in series. I fixed that pretty quick, and checked all the other wiring in the house, found one other problem, not as bad.

One of the McParts stores sent me a Dodge pickup with a freshly installed engine they had sold that would start up and run a few minutes and then lose oil pressure. When the pan was dropped a 12"x12" section of baby blanket was floating around in the pan.

My biggest WTH is reserved for reading instructions from The IRS.
I don’t mind paying my fair share of the taxes that are necessary to run the government, but…who the hell wrote the instructions that they provide to “help” you fill out the forms?

I find those stories about stuff being left in pans to be petty mind boggling. I’m pretty paranoid about a clean pan when I reinstall. Maybe a little too obsessed with that in particular as I did, once forget to reinstall the magnet in a transmission pan (

On houses - soon after we moved into our current house I was rather perplexed by the arcing I would see - and hear - between our washer and dryer units. It turns out that the dryer outlet was never connected to ground. Youch.

Here’s another not-so-bad one on the Neon. These cars have a well-known issue with leaking tail lights. Even without internet this would not have been hard to find out. I did, in fact, find the trunk flooded (though the Haynes manual back there had soaked up a lot of the water. It took a couple of weeks to dry out, but it was nice to have a free one, even if battered).

The tail lights had never been touched. But when I pulled the carpet out to get it all cleaned up and dried out, I found that someone had drilled drain holes in the spare tire well - about 2" upgrade from the lowest point. I guess whomever did it wanted to keep the maximum water level down to only about 2" sloshing around back there? I did clean it all up, fix the tail light seals and the holes in the floor of the tire well. Still working on complete elimination of the mildew-ish scent, but it’s coming along.

" I found that someone had drilled drain holes in the spare tire well - about 2" upgrade from the lowest point."

That reminds me of a story relating to the city of Elizabeth, NJ.
For decades, they had a severe flooding problem in a particular part of the city, adjacent to a huge old railroad overpass made of stone. Finally–in the late '70s, the city appropriated the funds to excavate the area and install a storm sewer system.

A few days after the excavation began, the city engineer reported that–to everyone’s surprise-- they found beautiful-looking stone-lined storm sewers that appeared to date from the time that the RR overpass was constructed, probably some time in the early 1900s. Then the next sentence explained everything. The city engineer went on to say, “…and if somebody had been able to teach water to flow uphill, that old system would have worked really well.”

You just can’t make up stuff this weird.

This one is motorcycle related. Many years ago I bought an old Harley that had been customized, or chopped. Welds had been cleaned up, unnecessary frame tabs cut off, etc and had been painted with 2-tone metalflake.
It was a rigid frame version with a spring fork suspension and thin custom seat so the ride is a bit harsh.

A few weeks after buying it I was about 20 miles out of town and on the way home about 10 at night. Suddenly the ride became soft and pleasant so I thought WTH?

The next day upon looking the bike over I found that both frame downtubes had cracked apart right underneath the steering head and there was a 1/2" gap on both sides.
Chipping the body plastic molding away I then discovered that the front downtubes had been extended by an inch. That’s a common process and normally not a problem.
However, in this case someone had used 2 pieces of 1/2" plumbing pipe and welded it in place.
The pipe threads were still in place and had been partially welded also.

It was total junk and needless to say, I scrounged up another frame and repainted the entire thing while scrapping that Frame of Death.

OK4450, I at least hope it wasn’t PVC pipe! Holy cow. Glad you came out of that one without losinig life or limb.

VDC, That’s funny. Of course, it will depend on when this work was done, but a lot of really bizarre stuff got done in and around railroad construction through the 19th century. In the early days no one trusted that there would be much money in owning and operating a railroad. Everyone knew the money was in the construction. There was also little by way of the ability to oversee things. So a lot of construction got done just for the sake of the construction. There was lots of money to be made in constructing things even if those things didn’t work out very well.

Bought a cheap winter car that I only absolutely needed to last one winter. My old beater had died and I wasn’t going to drive the MR2 through an upper midwest winter, but wasn’t ready to spend real money on a daily driver yet.

Picked up a crappy old car for $250. The previous owner had decided it should be a race car, so he lowered it. Fortunately, he used a real lowering kit rather than doing something really stupid like hacking off loops on the springs. Unfortunately, he was so interested in a severe drop that the gas tank would scrape every time it went over a speed bump. So I had to drop the leaking tank, put in a good one, and then delete the lowering kit and bring it back to stock ride height.

Then I had to address the lights wiring. He had installed one of those idiot wig-wag flashers to make his headlights alternately flash and look like a cop car was coming. That obviously had to go. I discovered he had hooked another one up to the tail lights, but didn’t know what he was doing, because it would flash the left turn signal and the right brake light. This of course meant I had to rewire all the lights so that the right one would come on when I flipped the switch.

Then I had to attack the under-dash wiring. He had installed an alarm, which always makes me wince. Seems like only 1 in 500 people install the damn things right. He was not one of those people. I ended up spending an entire weekend ripping out the old wiring and replacing it with a wiring harness from a junkyard car. Then I had to install a new antenna, because he had removed it so he could put bondo over the antenna hole and get the “shaved” look. This car’s antenna was mounted just above the A pillar. The wire went through the pillar and exited under the steering wheel. The channel in the A pillar was too small to get a fish tape in there, and it wasn’t straight through so I had to get bailing wire and spend hours trying to poke that damn wire through the channel so I could use it as a fish tape to pull the antenna wire through. I’d rather do a full engine swap than do that again.

By the time I got rid of that car there were still weird switches mounted in strange places (the one underneath the dome light cover was my favorite, although I also enjoyed the one inside the glovebox) that I had no idea where they went or what they did.

While in College I was helping a friend get his car started. The distributor had been out. The engine would crank but hit well before top dead center. Pulling the distrbutor and moving the shaft 180 degrees, only caused a crank but no start. When I asked the owner how he did the static timing of the distributor, he told me he pointed the rotor tip toward spark plug #1 and inserted the distributor. After doing a correct static time, the engine started just fine.

Another time I came across an oil change where the owner driven a screwdriver through the side of the oil filter to remove it. He succeeded in tearing the metal so badly that there was nothing left for a strap wrench to garb on to. As I remember we were able to get a chisel into the base flange to drive it loose.

Another friend had a 1955 Ford station wagon. He jacked the front of the wagon up using a bumper jack to find out about a driveline vibration. Finding a broken tail shaft housing, he was lowering the bumper jack when the jack handle slipped out of his greasy hand. It sailed up and landed square in the middle of the windshield. Talk about one dejected camper.

We bought a well used, 1976 26 foot Class C motorhome in 1985. When later going over everything I found that someone (an idiot?) had welded all of the left rear dual tire lugnuts to the studs. Apparently someone had a problem with the lugnuts coming loose; possibly didn’t have the strength to tighten them enough. I was able to grind and file the welding away from some of the lugnuts to remove them but for others I had to use a lug wrench to break off the studs to then pound new ones into the brake drum. Before that, a flat tire would have been a disaster.

Not sure where this falls into the conversation but dumbfounded that to replace a thermostat in my 4.2 blazer, I had to remove the alternator, not as bad as my friends Kia starter motor, I guess as you need to remove the wheel shield, and radiator!

If one wants to see cobbled together junk, just watch some of those TV car restore shows. This applies especially to programs like Fast and Loud or the short-lived Desert Car Kings.
A lot of that stuff is embarassing to watch both from entertainment and technical standpoints.

Those Desert guys have to be about the most ill-informed of the lot.

Well how about a guy, friend of mine that cobbled a v8 into an MG, had to beef up the suspension of course.,