Who takes responsibility for safety critical repairs? If a qualified mechanic makes a mistake and someone gets hurt, his fault is in not following procedures. If I do the job and make a mistake, my fault is in take on a job I am not qualified to perform. In terms of liability, thats a big difference.
Unfortunately you are right on with your opinion of auto mechanics in entirely too many cases and I wish I had a good answer for you. In many cases credentials are posted on the walls of the waiting room/office. Other times you may have a referal or personal contact. It may take many trips before you have confidence, but how is that different from any other service you have performed? I have gone to dentists, doctors, barbers, and accountants with the proper licenses on display that did not perform their tasks to my satisfaction. It is a roll of the dice, but I think you are more likely to find a qualified mechanic making his living in a garage than you are if the guy is working out behind his house in the alley.
Here in St. Louis, we are very lucky to be the hometown of Ranken Technical College, which has an excellent automechanics program. So we can look for diplomas. But even then he/she may have graduated at the bottom of the class.
You had to remove a door panel to get to an electrical connector for a door component? Not unusual! How much would more would you pay for a car that could have any of its repairs successfully performed by an untrained idiot? I think I'd prefer not to pay for that.
Removal and replacement of a door panel is an operation that can be done by a trained, experienced mechanic in a few minutes or less. I do realize that someone who has never removed the door panel of a particular make/model, and hasn't read the relevant service literature or been trained, might have to spend a lot of time doing it, and possibly break parts in the process. It is your learning process that makes the task difficult or labor-intensive.
Sometimes fasteners used to hold door panels in place break or wear out and have to be replaced. This is not a big deal, and the fasteners are cheap and readily available. When I need to buy fasteners, I buy 100 at a time and keep some on hand in case I need more later. Many fasteners can be used on multiple makes and models- they are not generally specific to one application.
"I would never attempt a do-it-yourself job on a safety critical componnent. Not just because of the 3 boys in the back seat, but because of the liability issues if someone else gets hurt due to ANY future mechanical malfunction in the vehicle."
Who would you trust to do a job on a safety-critical component? I only trust myself for any auto repair, safety-critical or other. I don't want mechanical malfunctions regardless of fault! It's not OK for someone else to get hurt, then blame it on the mechanic. I say make sure no one gets hurt!
"If they (brake lines) do need to be replaced, I would like to think the car next to me or behind me has had the brakes serviced by a qualified technician."
This is an interesting point. What, exactly, is a qualified automotive brake technician? In most parts of the US, auto mechanics/"technicians" are not required to be licensed, certified, trained, or experienced. Any idiot can call himself a mechanic and start fixing cars. How do we, as consumers, shield ourselves from these idiots? How can we be sure that a service establishment will see that repairs are done "right," and what, exactly is "right?"
The number one objective in the design of a vehicle's assembly is ease of construction on the assembly line. There appears to be very little consideration on easing repair procedures.
In my experience servicing the 20 or so vehicles I've owned through the years, I must give the highest marks for service accessibility to my 1971 Citroen D Super. Crowded though the engine compartment was, everything was easily accessible with standard wrenches and socket sets. Truly amazing when I think about it. I was even able to change the front brake pads using only my hand. Perhaps it was because the model had been in production since 1954. I've cursed every other car I've owned since when it came to servicing. I should have been cursing the engineers, as they obviously could have done their jobs right.
I bought my daughter an 07 Kia about 3 years ago that was an ex rental car. She has had an occasional problem with the right side of the garage and has torn a few mirrors off. What great fortune I experienced, when I peeled off the little decorative plastic cover, lo and behold, three nuts, and a readily accessible connector! Took me about 10 minutes and it worked when reassembled. I have screwed up enough repairs to know that I was very lucky with this one. The second time she tore that mirror off, it was no problem. I get parts like that at an aftermarket place I found on the internet,rockauto, and their stuff has always been cheap, fit right and works. I do know the difference between luck and skill, and I was lucky that it all worked the way it was supposed to.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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