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It’s Rude To Leave A $1 Tip. . . But This Is Worse

At first we thought she was part of the wait-staff. 

Monroe was a regular customer of the Brick Tap House in Louisville, KY, eating here several times per week. There were five of us here tonight. Monroe and Reggie were Louisville locals. The rest of us were from Salt Lake City, UT. A couple of hours earlier as we waited at the baggage claim, Garrett asked me where we should go to dinner.

Definitely the Brick Tap House.

But, I think Reggie wants to take us there later this week.

Trust me, it won’t matter.  

We were five guys who worked together. Some of us had worked together for years. Some just a few months. We talked about what guys talk about when they work at a job that shares the same stresses but not always the same location. Two were single. I was the old guy, married 27 years with 13 kids. Mark had been married less time and had two kids. Garrett was recently married. 

Gathered around the table, we talked about the food. We decided that despite the reputation for the “drunken chops,” we were all going for the Kobe burger. The chef came out to talk to Monroe.

We talked about sports, although Monroe didn’t knew nothing about any sport. We talked about coworkers; those we liked, those we didn’t. We talked about travel, each picking their least favorite airport. Minneapolis got some votes. I tended to agree with the person who picked Detroit. Any terminal that requires a train to take you to other locations in the same building? I’m not a fan.  

It was at this point that she approached our table, and it got weird. 

What are boys doing at a table?

Huh?

Well, five guys out to eat, why aren’t you at the bar? 

We were not entirely sure what answer she was looking for.

And they’ve got you at the worst table.

How do you mean?

Well, you’re the table right next to the kitchen door. I used to be a waitress in Madison and then I got “demoted” to hostess because, like, whatever. Anyway, a family comes in with a bunch of kids, you know, you put them back in the far corner, but the table right outside the kitchen was the worst.

Two things became obvious. First, she was not with the restaurant. Second, she had been drinking a lot. 

What are you guys talking about, anyway? 

Airports.

What?

We were picking our least favorite airports.

Really? That’s not like “code” for something else, is it? 

No. We were really talking about airports.

You know the airport, I really like?

Hmm?

Atlanta, because everything is really close. 

Actualy three things became obvious, our not-waitress was also looking for a friend. She was really looking for something in the conversation that she could latch onto. She switched from extoling the virtues of the Delta airlines hub to looking at random items on the table include the filled out checks. It was a mistake, at least when she reached for my bill. 

I quickly pulled it out of her reach and turned it face down. 

  

What’s the matter? Ashamed of your bill?

No. It’s just something I learned from my father, don’t pick up the bill unless you are actually going to pick up the bill. 

I’m not sure she got the double meaning.

I think you’re just embarrassed at the tip you left. I saw it. You left a one dollar tip.

There wasn’t a lot to be gained by engaging her in conversation. I was glad she was on the far side of the table.

What are you some sort of cheapskate? I can’t believe you only left a dollar.

I left a tip larger than a dollar, but I don’t think you need to see my check. 

Yeah, I think it was $1.23. It’s rude to leave a tip of only a dollar, you know.

Yes, it is. I know something even ruder.

My coworkers were trying to hide their smiles as the non-waitress and I exchanged less than pleasant glances. She finally lost interest in our table and returned to the bar where she alternated between talking to two men, neither of which seemed particularly interested in her.

Well, that was different.

I know. At first I thought she worked here and I thought, “I don’t recognize you.”

You know, Scott always did say this was a pickup bar. 

Yeah, we should have sent him a picture.

It became one more crazy story that binds teams together. 

My teammates laughed at my quick reaction to her reaching for my check. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it took me right back to being at dinner with my dad. Typically dinners were on a single check. When it arrived, the wait-staff would place it in a neutral location, equidistant from him and me. Neither of us were “that” guy. We were happy to pick up the check when it was our turn, and even a little more. 

But, there was a rule. And it was a hard and fast rule: 

If you touch the check, you pay the check. 

My dad was a professional gambler for much of his life. And like poker, where you have to pay to see your opponent’s hand, if you really wanted to know how much dinner cost, you needed to be willing to pay for the privilege. 

Yes, a $1 tip is rude. But, I know something far worse. 

  

(BTW, I left a $3 tip on a $17 tab.) 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

My Word Is My Bond

It was the right thing to do. . .and we weren’t going to do it. . .for the wrong reason.

Our client wanted us to not just back up their files, but back up their files twice. . .once to Cincinnatti and once to Sacramento. That way if California fell off into the ocean, we’d still have Ohio. Well, I can’t say if it was a good strategy. My job was to figure out how to back up everything twice. . .in real time. 

I figured it out. It would cost us about $550 in additional disk space. Andrew, my new Project Manager, wasn’t going for it. 

Rodney, we just can’t. 

But, it’s the right thing to do. 

That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we are only going to do what’s in the contract. 

But, if we put it in the contract and we can’t do it, we’ll pay a penalty. We are protected by simply doing it because it’s the right thing.

It doesn’t matter.

And it didn’t. Project Management wasn’t going to spend $550 that they weren’t contractually obligated to. And they had a good reason. Contracts are important right?

Fences make good neighbors.

Contracts are the fences in our business relationships. If you have a contract, it’s clear what is expected from each group. You don’t have to guess what is expected. You don’t have to wonder what the other side will do. 

So, why wouldn’t you want a contract? Wasn’t Project Management correct? Wasn’t it better to insist on a contract? 

For much of America’s history, a man’s word was his bond. Have you ever wondered why? Why would calling someone a liar get you killed in some circumstances? Why would someone bind themselves completely on nothing more than a verbal promise? 

A contract will require you to do a minimum amount. Simply doing the right thing for people requires you to do the best you can for them. One tells you how little you shoudl do, the other tells you how much you should try to do. 

Business contracts are the antithesis of the concept of a person’s word being their bond. “But, it’s not, Rodney. There are people who won’t keep their word.” That’s right, of course. Some of the worst business decisions of my life were made while shaking someone’s hand and listening to them promise something. 

And yet, I’d prefer to go through life trusting people than not trusting people. I’d rather be disappointed by trusting someone than missing an opportunity by not trusting them. 

I’m not saying you should not protect yourself, your interests and your family. But, when something is the right thing to do, don’t not do it simply because a contract is missing. Do the right thing. 

Oh, and Project Management and backing up the files? The Vice President of Infrastructure decided that he’d cover for the client. That perhaps we could spend $550 because it was the right thing to do. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 


The Journey of 1000 Miles Started With A Word

Well, you head West until you hit the river. Turn South and go about three days and you should start to come into a series of box canyons. The third one leads to a trail. Not more than a deer path, but it will lead to a pass. Head through the pass and keep on West for another couple of weeks and we’ll meet you by the big bend in the river.

Two hundred years ago, when our ancestors stepped out into the wilderness these might be all the instructions someone had to take othem on a journey of hundreds if not thousands of miles.  

In one quarter mile use the second from the right lane to take exit 15B and 15C Western Expressway toward Boxer, then stay left at the fork. 

If the above sounds like a GPS navigation application, it’s because I recently gave up maps and finally embraced technology. The technology is amazing. Seriously. I have two main options for driving home from work. I can take the shortest route via I15, or I can take a longer route via the Mountain View Corridor. With no traffic, (LOL, sorry I didn’t mean to type that out loud) with low traffic the short route is 45 minutes and the long route is 65 minutes. However, there’s is typically lots of traffic. It’s not unusual for the I15 route to take more than an hour. 

My GPS app tells me when I will arrive home. It tells me how long it will take. If I ask the app which route to take it always tells me to go the shortest route. If there is traffic I almost always take the longer route. I use the GPS application to tell me how I’m doing vs the projected route. I figure if I finish within five minutes of the projected route it was worth it. 

I’m not a fan of the GPS. Oh, I think it’s brilliant technology. The idea that my phone can not only tell me how to get where I’m going, but that it can redirect me around accidents, traffic and even cops, is pretty cool technology. But, I’m sort of old school in many ways. I carry a pocketwatch. . .

 and I use it. I write letters. I like books. And I really like maps.

I think we lose something important when we lose connections with each other. 

I’ve spent the last couple weeks working closely with my neighbor. As we were working on my “Iron Man” car, (My Car The Super Hero) one of the things he figured out how to do was to switch the door locks. We were putting the doors from the Red Lexus onto the Gold Lexus. Obviously, I was going to need the locks changed. He’d simply fiddled with it until he figured out how to remove the lock. I was now doing the passenger door.  Unfortunately he wasn’t here.

I called him.

He talked me through the process of removing the lock. However, when it came time to do the work, all I had to go on was my own experience and his fairly general directions. I thought about those explorers 300 years ago. 

See, my friend didn’t give me instructions on replacing a lock. He didn’t say follow these steps and the lock will come out. He pointed me in the right direction and gave me some things to look for. I had to figure it out. 

I’ve used GPS to find my way to a location I haven’t been to. I was once trying to get to the airport in a strange city an dI was pressed for time. The GPS told me to get off on a particular exit. But, it didn’t update quick enough to realize I had exited. It recalculated and me to take the next exit. Because I relied on the GPS I had to travel way out of my way. Had I simply looked at the map, I would have known I was on the right exit and would have saved myself some stress. (I made my plane on time.) 

I used to write software for Microsoft. We wrote labs to help people learn Microsoft Exchange. The problem was that following a specific set of instructions doesn’t teach the student. It exposed them to the ideas, but they don’t actually know how to do what you just walked them through. 

Recently I took some online Network+ training. I noticed that one module had three nearly identifcal labs. The first lab had very specific step by step instructions. Follow the steps and you can’t go wrong. The second lab was slightly more abstract. The third lab simply stated what you were to accomplish. 

I wish I’d thought of that when I wrote my courses. 

Sometimes our tools give us too much information. Giving too explicit instructions deprives us of the opportunity to learn, to grow, to use our brains. 

The same thing is true in business an life. 

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church was asked how to governed such a large group of people.

I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.

  

That shoudl be your goal as a manager. If you have to tell your staff exactly how to do something, you don’t need a staff, you need a robot. Or you need multiple copies of yourself. Instead, you should should explain to your staff what you want accomplished and let them chart their path. They will surprise you with their ingenuity. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

When $15 For A Salad Is A Good Deal

There were cheaper things on the menu. But, there were two problems. First, I didn’t have a lot of time. I only had a 15 minutes before they started bordering. The Ice bar was right across from my gate. 

  

So, I could stand to linger over my salad until boarding started. When I travel I always like to eat at the bar. You get better service and it’s just friendlier. And you can see the TV’s. The Ice was showing the final round of the Masters on one TV and some rodeo from Las Vegas on the other TV. The bull riding was more interesting than the putting. Eventually, some of the other people at the bar got them to turn on the Masters. 

What is too expensive? Is $1 for a bottle of water too much? It’s only a few pennies worth of water. Why is it $1? Worse yet, sometimes it’s $5. It depends on the location. 

If you’re sitting in your kitchen, $1 is too much. 

If you’re in a football stadium on a hot August afternoon, $5 sounds about right. 

If you are lost in the desert no price is too high. 

I wasn’t exactly in the middle of the desert, but I also wasn’t in the middle of my kitchen. I was on a trip once again. 

  

See, my second problem was that I recently lost a lot of weight. (How I Lost 30 lbs . . And Why You Can’t.) Except it’s up to 37 lbs now and I want to drop the last 8. I was 165 lbs when I graduated from high school. Six months ago I was 210 lbs. 

Six months I’d worked on that goal. What was a reasonable price to hold on to that goal? 5$? 10$? Or was it worth $15 for a platefull of lettuce? 

It’s not just lettuce. 

How often do we walk away from our goals because of the cost? 

I’ve been writing this blog for over two years. I’m amazed that some of you find value, or at least a little entertainment in the poor scribblings I put down on this electronic paper. I often talk to people who want to write. When they hear I write five days a week, they always say the same thing,

How do you find the time?

The answer is that I don’t. None of us “find” time. Ben Franklin, more than 200 years ago pointed out that we all have the same amount. So, I don’t “find” time, I “make” it. There have been plenty of times that I’ve been so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes opened for more than a sentence or two. Feel free to speculate which posts those were. I’ll give you a hint, they typically had the most typos.

But, like my $15 salad at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, it’s worth it because it’s a goal I set a long time ago and I have yet to find something, certainly not sleep, that I like more than having been a consistent writer for the past two years. 

What is your goal? What is your $15 salad? 

Whatever it is, to others it is going to appear to be WAY overpriced. It’s not. Just remember what you’re doing it for.

It’s definitely worth it. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

Failing At Parenting In The Worst Possible Way

I wasn’t going to abel to get it done. The pain in my stomach had nothing to do with any physical ailment. I was going to fail in a commitment to my son and the pain of it was killing me inside.

The assignment from my son’s freshman Spanish class had been simple enough. Create a 3-5 minute video cooking a traditional Latin American dish. 

Dad, can you video me cooking something for my Spanish class?

Sure son, just let me know when you want to do it. 

And then I went on with my busy life. My life is busy, but I’ve always been committed to being there for the things that are really important. (It’s What I Do…Not Who I Am) I could certainly make a simple video. I have a phone, a digital camera, an iPad, I even have an old school videotape camera. Of course, we could get this done.

Hey, Dad, do you think we can do that video on Saturday?

Yeah. Wasn’t it already due?

Well, I’ll turn it in late. You were busy and I thought maybe I’d just skip the whole thing.

No, you don’t need to do that. We’ll do it Saturday. I’ve got some other stuff going on, but we’ll schedule around your cooking. You just let me know when you want to do it.

And he did. He wanted to record at 1:00 pm. I got up early on Saturday. I had to replace the passenger side door on my “Iron Man” Car. (My Car The Super Hero.) 

  

To replace the door, you have to remove the fender. To remove the fender, you have to remove the headlight and wheel. It’s a bit involved. And I had a commitment at 6:00 PM to be at the temple. 

And then work called. . .Not a huge outage. Just an authentication issue for all my agents. As normal, we were the first supplier to report a problem to the client. I left my car up on blocks with the wheel removed and the headlight out. 

I have to admit I had less patience than normal on my outage call. Finally, we had everyone back up and running. 

Okay, I’m going to let you guys figure out the lost agent minutes. I’m up to my elbows in a car repair. 

Have fun, Rodney.

Yeah, it was fun. But, knowing there was a deadline made it just a little stressful. Mid morning I finally got the fender and the door removed. I was switching all the hardware from the old door to the new door when my son appeared. 

Dad, about that video. . .

What? Is it one o’clock already? 

No. Just that I looked at the instructions and the food needs to chill for two hours after I do the first part.

So,  your want to put off the filming until 3:00? 

No, we need to film at 1:00 and then again at 3:00.

Sure. No problem. Come get me when you want to start.

I was switching the interior door panel, the door handle, the mirror and the lock from the old door to the new door. Most of it went pretty easily until I got to the lock. I called my neighbor who had done the driver’s door.

Do I have to take the guts of the door out?

No. There is a 10mm bolt that you can access after removing the panel. Then, turn the lock a quarter turn clockwise and it should drop out. You’ll have to move the rod that connects to the lock and the wiring of course. 

The problem was I’d found the bolt, but couldn’t get to the lock from the back of the door. I had been struggling with it for an hour. 

Hey Dad, can we do the video now?

Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. Just let me wash my hands. 

We’d suggested that my son write a script. He wanted to do it live. We did a couple of different takes of the beginning. Typically, each video would end with “Can you pausse it?” 

I wasn’t worried though. That’s what video editing software is for. 

He mixed milk and butter, onions and lemon juice. Then added hamburger. It looked delicous. Unfortunately, much of the video was simply watching a pan cook. 

I wasn’t worried though. That’s also what video editing software is for. 

A final shot of him putting it in the refridgerator and we were done for a couple hours. 

I finally got the lock out. I did have to pull the guts out of the door. But, only a few. I started reassembling the door. Next was to mount it on the car. Mouting a door is a challenging process. Worse when you are doing it alone. I ended up using a floor jack to hold up the other end of the door. It fit perfectly the first time. Next up was the fender. 

Dad? 

Yeah? Oh, right. Ready for the next part?

Yeah.

Just let me wash my hands. 

He took the hamburger mixture and formed it into the shape of eggroles. He then rolled it in crushed crackers and then fried it. And with that, he was done. Great.

The clock was not my friend. I needed my car back together before my 6:00 event. I finished the fender and started on the wheel cowling. Instead of the problem of too many bolts, I ended up with not enough. No matter, I used some from the Red Lexus. 

  

Minutes were ticking by.

Daddy, your phone was ringing.

Can you bring it to me?

My daughter appeared with with phone and set it on the car. If it was a work call they would leave a message. . .No corresponding tone. Good, whomever it was could call back. 

Next the headlight went in. A support broke when it came out, so it was supported by only two bolts instead of three. No matter, I’ll swap out one of the Red Lexus’ headlights later.

HONK

A car in the street was honking at someone. 

HONK, HONK

Just about got the last bolt. 

HONK, HONK, HOOOONK!

Hey, Rodney!

Huh?

Yeah, I called but you didn’t pick up. We’re headed over to the temple now.

Okay, I need to be in the temple at 6:00?

Six thirty. 

Great. See you there.

Finally, the wheel went on. Torque each lugnut to 100 ft/lbs, drop the car off the jack stand and run for the shower.

The event at the temple went great, but I didn’t get home until after 10:00 PM.

I wasn’t worried. Even though I was leaving on a trip on Sunday, my flight wasn’t until 3:30. Plenty of time to edit my son’s video. I even slept in late. 

But, my flight wasn’t at 3:30. It was at 1:30. I figured it out when I went to print my itinerary. And the minutes were ticking by and I couldn’t make it work. 

My phone records in MP4 format. Windows Movie Maker cannot read MP4. You just need a new codec, or format file, right? Sure, and all the ones I checked were full of malware, spyware and probably viruses. 

I’m a tech guy. This was a tech problem. I should be able to fix it. My Vista machine (Don’t judge me) didn’t have a program that would read the MP4 files.  

And I wasn’t going to make it. 

I stopped trying and went to pack and take a shower. I travel enough that packing is a 15 minute job. 

Perhaps I was approaching it wrong. Maybe instead of finding a codec, I should find a converter between MP4 and Windows Media Format (WMF)? I still had 20 minutes before my time to leave. 

Maybe I would make it. 

I found one that didn’t look like it was from a spyware company. 

YES! They do conversions. I downloaded the file. It was agonizing watching the progress bar. Every minute of download time was one less minute to get the work done. 

How long would it take to learn a new piece of software? Probably longer than I had. Still I was making progress. 

Nice! There were prompts on where to load the files and where to export them to. I was going to make it.

NO! The trial version wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t me to upgrade. Was it worth $40 to make this work? Was it worth $40 to keep my committment to my son? 

And there went $39.95. 

And I hit my time limit. I wasn’t done and it was time to leave. What would you do?

I started eating into my buffer. All Project managers have a buffer. Mine looked like this:

  • Flight Time: 1:30 PM
  • Time to airport: 45 min
  • Leave for airport: 11:30

Plus there’s always a “What is the contingency plan?” 

Worst case? I have to reschedule for a later flight. There’s a 3:30 flight. I know this because I’m scheduled on that flight next week. 

I got the files converted and I started working through the editing. When I started it was 14 minutes long. The requirement was 3-5 minutes. I started cutting with one eye toward shorting it, and the other eye watching the clock. 

I made it through about half. The video file said 4:32 and the clock said it was past time to go. 

Did I make it? 

It depends on how you measure it. I provided my son a video of him making a dish. But, the editing was terrible. I was rushed. I could have done much better. 

I’m not sure if he was disappointed, but I knew that I was. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

My Car, The Super Hero

Iron Man or Transformers? 

My car was back among the living. While the literal heavy lifting of doing a partial engine rebuild was being done, I spent a lot of time doing body work. 

My car had some dings and scrapes. Nothing that affected the driving, but the looks were not great. A local body shop quoted me $2800 to fix it. (It IS a Lexus after all.) The door alone was $1000. 

   

   

But, the car we were parting out, the Red Lexus had a gorgeous body, expect for the right front corner panel where it had obviously hit something. So, while my neighbor was swapping heads, I swapped hoods. . .and trunk lids. . .and doors. And a whole host of other pieces that were nicer on the red one. 

Swapping out a backdoor is pretty easy. Swapping out a front door gets complicated. Especially when you want to keep the mirror, like I did. And the locks had to be swapped, and the power window didn’t work on the Red one. When we got done, the car looked . . .different. The body was in good shape, of course, but the two-tone paint was a definite fashion statement. 

We finished up, a day and week after the car blew up. The engine swap, which never happened was supposed to take a day or two. Instead we’d spent 8 days and probably 120 man hours rebuilding the bad header and getting it back up and running. 

And it wasn’t cheap. 

$315 towing

$163 for a new oil pump (The largest single expense)

Hundreds for fluids and new tools and bits and bolts. The grand total was $962.34. That number is high, but nowhere near the $5000 I was quoted for a new engine, that’s because the spare engine, and the labor were free. If we’d paid $40/hour for the mechanic services we’d be right in that $5000 ballpark. 

In addition to a running car, I also have “spares;” spare alternator, spare transmission, spare tires with Lexus rims, spare seats that need refinishing, spare brake pump, a whole bucket of spare bolts. And, of course a spare engine that we will rebuild over the coming months, just in case the car dies again. 

I started this week talking about how I’m Afraid Of My Car. . .But, I Have A Good Reason. The biggest difference that this week made for me was that it removed that fear. Remember, we often fear what we don’t understand. Many people are afraid of computers for the same reason. 

I’ve looked into the heart of the engine. I helped pull it out, rip it apart and then put it back together. . and it worked. My car could still die on the freeway. The rings are probably bad and we didn’t touch those, and it still has a power steering leak. Or any number of things can go wrong with a car with 250,000 miles on it.

But, never again do I have to stare at a broken car on the side of the road and wonder if it’s broken too badly to fix. (Well, assuming I didn’t wrap it around a telephone pole, of course.) 

  

Thanks to my neighbor, I now felt confident that whatever goes wrong. . a battery dying, an alternator going out, even an engine seizing up, it’s fixable. And at this point, I have a spare. 

The only question left was what to make of the paint job? Was the two-tone too much? Did it look like some Frankenstein monster assembled from a red one, a gold one and a white one? 

   

  

My neighbor’s son called it: Iron Man. The coloring and the location of the doors and panels make the car look like Tony Stark built it. 

  

(Photo Credit: Marvel)

Or, even better, Iron Man meets Transformers!

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

Trains, Planes and Automobiles (Without The Trains)

I was just minding my own business driving to work on a Friday and here it was Tuesday night and I’d gone from: 

Working car. . .

to . . broken car. . .

to. . .blown engine will cost $5000 to replace. . .

to. . .we can swap it ourselves. . .

to. . .nah let’s partially rebuild the one we have.

I have no idea really how I got here. What do I know about rebuilding an engine? Nothing. Seriously, I’m not even sure what the term means. (I’ve been informed we are only doing a “partial rebuild.” That doesn’t make me feel any better. 

But, my neighbor Jonathan is the very picture of confidence. 

We’ll just pull the head of the engine from the spare red Lexus, and we’ll put it on your gold Lexus. 

So, you’ve done this before?

Well, I helped a friend of mine do it on his car. 

But, you were the lead, right? 

Nope. I just watched him. 

Oh. . .Wait. What? 

I just need to get my laptop. 

You’re going to google how to rebuild an engine? 

I began to wonder how long I needed to wait before I could declare defeat and just go buy a car? I figured I had to give my friend Jonathan at least until the weekend. 

Wednesday we worked on pulling the seized engine out of the gold Lexus. And we started to pull pieces apart. We had two tables set up in my garage. It resembled a blue collar operating room. 

  

The one on the right had our tools laid out on it. Sockets were set in neat rows, with the size written on the paper. (All metric.) We had wrenches, screw drivers, mallets. Everything was in it’s place. The table to the left was used for keeping track of how things came apart. As we disassembled a part, we would place the screws and any removable pieces on the table and label it: “air intake,” “ABS system,” “transmission bolts.” And in the middle of the garage we had the two engines and two transmissions. 

And we started stripping the engines down. A modern engine has a lot of pieces to it. And to get everything to fit, the components are packed as closely as possible. To get the seized head off my engine, we had to remove the air intake system. Then, we had to remove the fuel injectors. Next the valve cover had to come off. Finally we were able to take off the head. 

A head is the part of the engine that sits on top of the pistons. So, at this point we were looking into the very heart of the engine. As pulled the head off, we exposed the camshafts. And we noticed something worrisome.

  

 

The cam shafts weren’t seized up. They didn’t look too bad actually. I pushed aside the idea that maybe my entire problem had been a weak pulley that simply decided to shatter. 

Cam shafts have a huge amount of stress put on them. You know when your dashboard says that your engine is spinning at 3000 rpms? That means the cam shaft is spinning 50 times per second. We didn’t worry about the “bad” one. But, when we went to pull the replacement head, we had to be very careful how we removed it from engine A and how we installed it on engine B. The order the bolts get turned is critical. We made a map. 

  

Thursday was a regular work day. I borrowed my wife’s car and went to work to try to keep too many things from blowing up. By the time Friday rolled around we were ready to start reassembling the engine and put it in the car. 

Have you ever taken something apart that you really didn’t know how to put together? 

When I was about 14 years old, my older brother had a gas powered airplane model. It was in the days before radio controlled planes. This plane had two strings that attached to a handle. You would “fly” the plane by starting the engine and then spinning around holding onto the string. Yeah, you’d get pretty dizzy. 

Anyway, the engine on this plane didn’t work. 

Hey, Rodney do you want my plane?

Sure.

It doesn’t work.

I  don’t care. I’ll fix it. 

So, I took his plane and completely disassembled the engine. I cleaned all the parts and put it back together. I had no idea what I was doing. I just put it back together in the same order I took it apart. 

It started up the first time. My brother was impressed. Unfortunately I was a better mechanic than I was a pilot. The first time I flew it, I crashed and snapped the plastic body in half. 

That’s what we did with this engine. Sure we wwere referring to the official engine manual, but for a lot of it, we just kept track of how we took it apart and tried to put it back together the same way. We have another neighbor who watched our efforts with curiosity. He would come over everyday after work and get an update. I don’t think he believed we could make it work. It was in a lot of pieces. 

I was afraid he might be right. What if we got it all back together and it didn’t evewn turn over? I would have just wasted a week and I’d still be out of a car. 

I tried to put those thoughts aside  as we spent most of Saturday putting the finishing touches on the engine, reattaching the transmission and then trying to muscle the engine back into the engine compartment. For some reason even though we had a half ton jack, we still ended up lifting the engine at time. 

Finally the engine was in and bolted to the frame. We hooked up anti-lock brake lines, power steering lines, brake lines, axles, tie rods. We walked our way back down our parts table installing one piece after another. Most importantly we didn’t seem to have any extra parts. We poured gallons of fluids in..

We all four stared at the car. 

Well, I guess someone should try to start it. 

Jonathan, you did most of the work, you give it a try. 

I was shocked when the engine purred to life like it had never been sick. And even more shocking, the CHECK ENGINE light didn’t come on. 

Should we take a test drive? 

Rodney, you should drive. 

The test drive took about 20 minutes. At 15 minutes the temperature gauge maxed out. The engine was burning up. I coasted the last two blocks back to my house. 

The internet is your friend. we googled:

LEXUS TEMPERATURE OVERHEATING

It was either a bad thermostat or air bubbles in  the cooling system. We had replaced the thermostate a few months earlier and it was a pain to get to. 

Given how tough it is to replace the thermostat, I vote we try the air bubbles solution.

No one disagreed. To clear air bubbles you literally “burp” the car. No one had to pick it up. You get a special funnel and let the car run while the funnel is full of anti-freeze. 

  

And that was it. Well, there’s a leak somewhere in the exhaust system that makes the six cylinder Lexus sound liek a big V-8 muscle car. We’ll fix it eventually. 

There was just one unfinished part to the story. While my neighbor was doing much of the engine work, I was doing some body work. If you look at the picture above you will notice that the fenders are two different colors. 

Tomorrow I’ll explain how I turned my car into a super hero and I will never again “lose” it in a crowded parking lot. Plus, I’ll let you know how much the adventure cost me. Was it worth it to do a partial rebuild ourselves and avoid the $5000 for a new engine?

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

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