Setting price scales in the automotive repair business


Reading a recent post on fuel filter maintenance took me back to Wollar (pop. ±90), New South Wales, where I lived in the 80s. A popular loafing spot for the male population was the mechanic’s workshop at the general store – the village’s only commercial establishment – and any passing motorist who pulled in there for fuel or, even more entertaining, in need of assistance from Terry, the resident mechanical genius, was always assured of an audience.

One glorious springtime Saturday, the entertainment came barrelling over the Wollar Creek crossing in the form of a shiny Toyota Land Cruiser, known to rural Australians as Toorak Tractors after that very ritzy Melbourne suburb whose residents, in common with those in similar enclaves everywhere, own, or are reputed to own, suitably genteel and hygienic rural enterprises such as vineyards, alpaca studs, truffle farms and racehorses which not only invest aforesaid landed gentlefolk with the right to wear R M Williams boots, moleskins, Gloucester shirts and Akubra “Grazier” hats, but are also useful tax dodges.

Anyway, this Toyota was roaring like a Fordson Major. Remember the Fordson Major? It was a tractor that ran on kerosene but had to be started with petrol? Well this Toyota sounded just like one of them. A murmur ran through the assemblage as it slowed to enter the driveway: “Split between the muffler ’n’manifold,” seemed to be the general consensus.

With his family safely behind rolled up windows, the mortified driver stepped  out and said to Terry something like: “Look, old man, I have to get back to Sydney today. I know that you don’t have the facilities, but could you possibly…?”

Don’t have the facilities! This was the bush for chrisake, the land of stringy bark and green hide. Don’t have the facilities – this was bloody blasphemy. Amid a stunned silence from the assembled throng, Terry walked to the recycle bin and retrieved half a dozen or so Coke cans then sauntered to his workbench where he grabbed some tiewire, a pair of electrician’s sidecutter pliers and some tinsnips.

The tense silence was the next best thing to palpable as he removed the ends from the cans then split them lengthwise. Burrowing in under the bonnet he wrapped a couple of cans around the split and tied them firmly in place with wire. Dropping a few lengths of wire and the rest of the doctored cans in a plastic bag he said to the driver “If you live in Sydney, the job should get you home. If it doesn’t, just wrap a couple of those around the pipe – you’ll have pliers in your toolkit. That’ll be $5 for labor, thanks. The cans are free.”

As the Land Cruiser, now restored to respectability, vanished down the road, Terry turned to the onlookers and explained: “A bloke doesn’t mind overcharging a stuck-up bastard like that.”

I just love a good mechanic.

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