Recently, I was a judge at a high school-level automotive repair competition. It was great to see young people so positive about our industry. This competition was their chance to shine and earn scholarships. While watching, the students taught me a lesson that everyone has learned at least once in their careers, but often forgets or ignores.
I was judging the brake portion of the competition. At the station were all the necessary hand tools, a mock repair order, and four laminated pages from the service manual to complete a pad swap. Each student had to pull the wheel off and replace the brake pads in 10 minutes. Points were given for proper tool usage, attention to detail, and completion of certain steps.
According to the service manual, the procedure involves removing the lower caliper bolt, swinging the caliper up, and swapping the pads. The students also were required to torque the bolts and use torque sticks to mount the wheel.
The majority of the students failed to complete the full job in the 10 minutes provided. This was not due lack of dexterity, talent or knowledge, but because they failed to follow the repair procedure outlined in the service manual instructions. They were in such a rush to get the job finished, that they forgot to take a minute to read the instructions first.
Many students removed both caliper bolts, and even the caliper bracket. The extra bolts made the task almost impossible to complete. Most of the students realized their mistake when they were looking for the torque specifications for the caliper bracket bolts in the provided pages. Often, it was the first time they had looked at these pages.
As they scanned the instructions for the vital piece of information, they saw the diagram of the caliper flipped up with only one bolt removed. You could always tell by their facial expressions when their eyes saw the diagram.
By that time, the two-minute warning whistle often had been sounded. It was one of those harsh life lessons that could not be learned from a book.
The few students who took the time to read the instructions completed the entire procedure with time to spare.
This competition reminded me of the top mechanic at my grandfather’s Hudson dealership.
Each December, when the service manuals for the new model year would come in, the service department’s top mechanic would read them cover to cover. When the new models needed service, he was ahead of the curve.
Often, this top mechanic was approached by other the mechanics when they got stuck on stuff like resurfacing a Hudsonite fluid clutch or adjusting Twin H-Power carbs. He would say four words to them, “it’s in the book.” Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time he was right. He could even flip almost involuntarily to the correct page.
In some circles, it is almost taboo to look at instructions or repair information first. But, taking the time to prepare saves more time than not reading the instructions or repair procedure.
I know it is impossible to consume every bit of repair information published, it would be like trying to drink from a fire hose. But, knowing how to navigate and filter repair information is just as important as following the directions.