New technology under the hood | Rich Elfers

A funny thing happened to me on my way to an oil change.

  • by
  • Tuesday, March 25, 2014 9:41pm
  • Opinion

A funny thing happened to me on my way to an oil change.

I recently had the oil changed in my wife’s 2004 Toyota Tacoma at a local repair shop and was told by the mechanic that the fuel filter and spark plugs were badly in need of replacement. I knew enough to know that changing the fuel filter, once an easy job, was no longer simple, so I told the mechanic go to ahead and change it. It turned out he had to replace the filter going through the wheel well. So I made a good decision.

When it came to the spark plugs, I figured it was a cinch for me to do it by myself. After all, I’d changed the plugs on my vehicles since I was in my 20s. I popped the hood to the truck and saw the spark plugs on the side of the four cylinders, where they had been on my previous 1978 Toyota pickup. There was a long metal bar that was screwed on over the top of them so I figured out how to remove it. What I found was that, instead of spark plugs, I had disconnected the fuel injection jets. When I tried to put everything back the way it was I found I was unable to do so.

Not knowing what to do but realizing that I would probably only make matters worse if I continued, I swallowed my pride and called the repair shop, asking for advice and help. Since I live in town they came out and told me what I had done. The mechanic couldn’t re-screw the bolts because I had cross-threaded the bolt hole.  I’d have to have the truck towed out of my garage and hauled to the repair shop. Fortunately, my insurance covered most of the towing costs.

At the shop, the mechanic re-tapped the threads and then told me the spark plugs I had purchased at the local auto parts store were too “hot” for the coils that now go to each spark plug rather than the old way I was familiar with, a distributor and wires. I was told that had I used the type of plugs I had purchased, I would have burned up the coils at $150 each (times four). The mechanic replaced the plugs with the right type for the truck and I was able to drive it home.

The owner of the mechanic’s shop was being sympathetic when he told me, “We’ve all done it.” We all make mistakes that are costly and that I shouldn’t beat myself up too much.

What lessons did I learn from my out-of-date, behind-the-technology attempts at being an at-home mechanic? Leave the new technology to the experts. A lot has changed since I replaced the spark plugs in my 20s and 30s. Times have changed and automobile technology is a lot more complex than it used to be. Kathleen, my wife, said I should stick to what I’m good at and let others do the repairs. Good advice.

Rather than spending my time doing what I’m not good at, I should focus on doing and improving what I am strong in. That’s what I tell my high school completion students and maybe I should follow my own advice.

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Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.
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