BONEHEAD BLUNDER: Lack of civility — and engine care
THE BONEHEAD: Mr. Intimidator
BONEHEAD RATING: A full five
WHAT HAPPENED: Last August I got a call from a guy whose family had been friends with my mother’s family a century ago (seriously). Despite that, I’d never worked on any boat he owned, until… He said every time he slowed his engine down it shut off before he reached the dock, and he wanted me to “slip by” that afternoon and fix it. At that point, The Nurse and I were working 18-hour days with no letup in sight, so I left a message thanking him for calling, but no.
Late February, another call: Boat’s in the yard, “slip by” and fix it. He thought he’d fixed it with a $400 part a dealer had sold him — read about it on the ’net, so that had to be the cure, right? — but the problem was still there. I didn’t make any special effort, but I did go by, where I noted several things:
1) Seven rusty wires attached with vice grips to the positive battery post probably accounted for hard starting — unheard of on a Suzuki 140 with EFI.
2) The engine was covered with rust and corrosion where water had poured out the hole where the oxygen tester screws in.
3) His crankcase was full of gas and oil mix.
Dealing with the easy stuff first, I (fortunately) broke no bolts removing the thermostat housing and then replaced the stuck-open thermostat: the source of gas in the oil. I changed the oil and filter, then sprayed the entire powerhead with anti-corrosion spray. I ignored the battery post. For a triage repair, I ground out the rotten metal for the O2 sensor and installed a brass plug. That works forever 99.9 percent of the time. Little did I know this was the 0.1 percent. I sent him a recap of what I’d done along with a very reasonable invoice.
Thirty days later I’d not been paid. Forty-five days later I received a check without the rebilling charge. Forty-seven days later I’m told, “The plug’s leaking, there’s water in the oil, boat’s in the yard, fix it now.” Sure enough, the plug hadn’t worked, so I ground everything flat and bolted in a nice, gasketed aluminum plate. I explained to him that gas in the oil was different than water in the oil, which it had not had before, and he needed to get the base that the oil filter screwed onto, then change his oil and filter.
While I was there and had my laptop, I told him I’d do a download from his ECM just for his information about the engine’s history. I emailed it to him when I got home.
Easter Sunday comes a text: “Grid: went for a boat ride today and engine only turned 4000. I think you need to bring your old computer back and reset my motor. Call me tomorrow.” Twelve hours later, 0400 Monday morning, I’m still wondering if my return text — explaining that all the laptop did was take info from the ECM, and he should try changing water-in-oil fouled plugs first — got through to him.
LESSON LEARNED: I just don’t think this saga has an end. A couple of years ago a son-in-law gave me a big wooden double open end wrench that says Can’t Fix Stupid. I always thought he meant me. I think it’s time to pass the torch…