One of the things I would have loved to have learned from my Dad — had he not had a triple brain-haemorrhage in 1983 and gone off to live on Planet Mental for 15 years — is car maintenance.
Dad was a draughtsman, engineer and electical engineer by both training and interest. He was the motorcycle mechanic for his bestman, Ron, before he was married and told wonderful tales of races at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, and even knew a young (and seemingly) cocky Barry Sheen while he was still a kid, and before he became a cyborg. Dad’s weekends were spent stripping down cars and bikes, and assisting Ron at races. Dad told me once that he had won a mechanics race once at Silverstone (or maybe Brands Hatch, I don’t remember); seemingly, the mechanics had a race of their own in support trucks around the track!
I never understood the contents of Dad’s tool box until just the other week. Most other workmen, joiners, plumbers and builders, who came to the house had toolboxes filled with hammers and spanners and chisels and pliers. In contrast Dad’s toolbox was (still is!) filled with hexagonal tubes on long handles, and spark plugs, and other bits and pieces, many of which I still have no idea what they are. But while visiting Farmer Auto Care a couple of weeks ago, to get a tyre replaced, I noticed that the contents of their toolboxes bore a striking resemblance to the contents of Dad’s.
It all began to make sense: it was a mechanic’s toolbox. Which made it all the more poignant that I never had the opportunity to learn more about one of Dad’s passions. Instead I am now at the whim of the RAC, Kwik-Fit and my local Arnold Clark garage on Queensferry Road.
About a month ago, on my way back from church, I drove into the forecourt at our local Kwik-Fit. My exhaust was making odd noises and I wanted someone to check it out for me. I know very little about car mechanics but I’m a good listener and something didn’t sound normal. It wasn’t much of a rattle, but above 50 mph it was quite noticeable. “It’s like someone attached a bag of baking trays to the underside of my car,” is how I described the noise.
One of the senior mechanics took the car out and ran it along the Calder Road for a bit. He took it up to 40 mph, he said, and found nothing wrong. I raised an eyebrow. He put the car up on the ramps and had a look: nothing. “It’s all fine!” he assured me. “I’m sure it’s not,” says me. He raised an eyebrow.
We’ll fast-forward past an increasingly rattley four weeks, with the speed threshold for generating this sound dropping by the week: it only happened above 40 mph … only going uphill at lower speeds … anything above 30 mph. I booked the car into Arnold Clark’s at the bottom of Drum Brae, and took it in yesterday at 8 am.
This morning I got a phone call from them — which in this fast-food, I-Want-It-Now society seemed like an inordinate length of time — to say that they’d located the cause of the noise. It seems that the interior of the ‘back box’ on my exhaust (whatever that is!) is distintegrating.
I was right! I danced around with joy. My suspicions were right, there was something wrong with the exhaust. That’s the second (and last) time that I visit that branch of Kwik-Fit. (I’d taken the car in previously suspecting that the exhaust was dodgy, they gave it a bill of health only for the whole thing to fall apart on a drive to Birmingham and required an entirely new exhaust from front to back!)
All I have to decide on now is whether I write to Kwik-Fit to tell them. It seems that the customer is always right … even this one who knows very little about car mechanics. Dad would have been proud of me.