On two past occasions I recall being taken for an idiot by Christchurch tradesmen.
This week’s ‘Theory’ therefore pertains to the erroneous belief that the ‘Tradesman’ tag also suggests ‘Trustworthy’.
Whether they’re Qualified Master Builders, Plumbers, Mechanics, or otherwise seems to make little difference; if the unscrupulous tradesman sees the potential to make some extra coin…
The first instance relates to the first time I had my car’s automatic transmission properly serviced. It was on returning to pay the bill at this ‘reputable’ Auto Trans Repair shop that the mechanic adopted a forlorn expression and informed me, “Yeah, sorry dude, your auto’s makin’ metal – looks like it’s run a bearing or something.”
…That is what the unscrupulous tradesman will do. I should advise readers at this point that I had recently purchased the vehicle in question and had previously mentioned to the guy that I was having the work done primarily to find out if there were any mechanical concerns, malfunctions or anomalies, where I would report back to the car yard and see that they funded the repairs, under the Fair Trading Act 1987, clause 4, paragraph 6.
Given the temptation I had put before him I half expected the mechanic to say something of the aforementioned nature; I then intended to hear out his explanation and make my own judgement regarding the necessity of his claim.
As it turned out that was exactly how it happened: I listened as he spun a yarn about the ‘uneven shift pattern’ of my gearbox relating somehow to this ‘spun bearing’ hence the apparent excess of metal shavings uncovered in the transmission sump. Truth be told I was quite aware of an uneven shift pattern between the second and third gears of the four speed box; I was aware furthermore that this was an issue that could be rectified with a simple transmission band adjustment. As for the metal shavings in the sump: it’s a gearbox. Any gearbox makes metal.
Despite this ‘Transmission Specialist’s’ warnings about inevitable failure should I not have the issue immediately remedied, I’ve since done over 100,000 kilometres on that ‘spun bearing’ without incident.
The second such theory of unscrupulous tradesmen relates to my hot water cylinder which is situated outdoors in a purpose-built shed, stuffed with Pink Batts for insulation. One day the hot water, fast as it could be heated, was gushing from the overflow pipe. Seeing the need for a valve replacement, I naturally called a plumber. He arrived, I showed him the fault, mumbled my theory; he nodded comprehension and started work. Half an hour later he was done.
I recall before he left inquiring as to exactly which valve had needed replacing and he reporting that yes, my supposition had in fact been correct; it was just a faulty overflow valve. I recall expressing my gratitude, saying in a relieved gush of extraneous information how I’d only a few years back paid over $300 for a replacement tempering valve; I recall him chuckling and commenting how ‘I got off light’ and how, ‘they’re a lot more than that now’…
I received a phone call some weeks later from that very plumbing company informing me that ‘the tradesman who had recently carried out the repair at my property had written a comment on the sheet under my name’ – which the clerk was supposedly just getting around to filing. Apparently ‘I now had a leaking tempering valve’ in my hot water cylinder shed which was ‘leaking water on the floor’. The man went on to say that ‘while it didn’t sound urgent, should he just go ahead and book me in for a tempering valve replacement in the coming weeks?’
I recall feeling terribly confused – was someone playing a potentially expensive joke on me? I recall declining the kind man’s offer to stitch me up for another repair job, and instead went out to the hot water cylinder to see for myself the extent of this ‘leaking valve’. On unscrewing the little shed’s back wall I saw that yes, the plywood floor was indeed wet. Standing up I took some time in locating the tempering valve – with which over the years I had become familiar – near the top of the cylinder; imagine my surprise to find it totally dry. I then pulled out some Pink Batts and traced the pipes to the bottom. They were all dry. I pulled out more Batts and set about locating this water leak, wherever it was.
Eventually, after dislodging most of the insulation, right at the bottom of the cylinder I found a large brass nut with tepid water seeping from around its join. I straightened posture and stood back, looking up at the tempering valve; then down to the leaking join. I estimated the nut’s size as 27 millimetre and ran away to fetch that spanner from my toolbox. Returning to the leaking nut I hesitated, aware of how temperamental brass fittings can be; what if it was cross-threaded – what if it wasn’t but my intervention somehow stripped the thread?
Self doubts notwithstanding, I locked the open-ended spanner in place and gave it a tentative pull in the clockwise direction. To my sheer delight and utter surprise, it shifted. (At this point it should be noted, the feel of a nut moving on intact thread as opposed to a nut slipping over stripped thread is easily distinguishable; this nut was tightening.) I gave it another tug; it tightened more. I gave the spanner one last tweak and removed it. I had potentially just saved myself ‘a lot more than’ $300.
I left the back off the shed to oversee progress; the weather at the time was warm nor’ west so I knew if I had fixed the problem, that floor would soon be dry.
In three days’ time that’s exactly what it was, too.
My theory on duplicitous tradesmen who think they can push around people they perceive to be either weak or stupid, has left me deeply cynical; I sympathise with those poor folk who perhaps aren’t so astute or simply don’t have the knowledge to see through the unscrupulous tradesman’s tale of deceit…
Because it’s shit.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Ian Scroop Ulysses
Photography by Trey D Mann