Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
August 2006

Columnist — Allen Wright

Making Changes

There is a lot to be said about change, good and not-so-good. Changes in our world, our business, and our personal life are constant.

What got me on this topic were my trips to the Long Beach Swap Meet and Pep Boys this weekend.

Being from Philadelphia, I knew the Pep Boys from tricycle to hot rod. The original stores were packed to the ceiling with auto parts. And, believe it or not, more store employees wore white shirts and were knowledgeable. Not that there is anything wrong with the Pep Boys pierced diamond earring guy at the cash register in Fullerton. That is their labor base.

I was looking for an oil drip tray for under the car. I found refrigerators, generators, small DVD players and a lot of other stuff that I guess is somehow car-related. I didn't see any bicycle stuff. There may have been some. It looks like Pep Boys is really not interested in the bike business. But the store I went to had quad runners, both battery and gasoline powered. They had small pull trailers, too.

Another change I noticed was that the Pep Boys' images as I remember them had changed. Manny's caricature had changed. For as long as I remember, Manny had a cigar in his mouth. The cigar is gone. Some anti-tobacco group probably complained. Moe parted his hair in the middle and had a Clark Gable look. Jack was clean-shaven with the slicked back Brylcream hair style.

A 1946 ad for Pep Boys read "Auto Accessories, Tires, Tubes, and Radio Supplies." I read recently that Pep Boy's stock lost 30% of its value and one group is looking for management changes. Bring back Manny's cigar and smoke out the issues.

There are more changes to report. Right next to where the Long Beach Swap Meet is held is one of the closing Boeing Aircraft plants. I had heard that the Boeing operations in California are moving to Washington. Lakewood Boulevard won't be the same as it was with Boeing right there.

The Long Beach Auto Swap Meet itself has gone through some changes. All of the vendors were west of the stadium. Now the vendors are on the east. The vendors are being screened more carefully to make sure the goods they offer are car-related. To the west of Veteran's Stadium is general parking. It appears that there soon will be a charge for general parking.

What I would like to see at the Long Beach Swap Meet is regulation of classic cars. At the Pomona Swap Meet the price for show or sale of Corvettes, street rods, and other cars is $20. Vehicles manufactured after a certain date pay a premium to get in. At Long Beach, anyone with $20 can park in the preferred area. It would be a good change to have pre-1980 cars and special interest cars separated from Mom's minivan.

The vendors complained a bit about the new set up and didn't like the changes. Personally, I would like to see less new general merchandise, Matchbox cars, toy trucks, new repro signs, and other stuff only peripherally related to cars. People with used and antique auto parts to sell should be free to sell. At most auto swap meets I see more new stuff than auto swap stuff.

Some say eBay has caused that change.

I recently purchased a 2006 GMC pickup truck. I have never had a pickup truck and that is another change. The last new vehicle I purchased was a 1997 Dodge van that had a lot of carefree miles.

The GMC has more electronic systems that I am not used to. When I took it for my 5,000 mile free oil change they had a complete readout of all the systems. According to the service guy, every time I take it back to the dealer for my $24.95 oil change and they hook it up to the computer, I can get a printed copy or an e-mail report from my engine, every 5,000 miles.

I am good with businesses, companies, and individuals making money and Lord knows I am fully on-board with over-maintenance of vehicles. But who do you believe as a consumer? Is there a difference between the GMC dealer and the GMC corporation's maintenance schedule?

Let me give you an example. The GMC owner's manual states in Chapter 5, Page 23, "Your vehicle has a computer that lets you know when to change the engine oil and filter. This is based on engine revolutions and engine temperature, not on mileage."

This is a pretty slick system. A message comes on reading, "Change Engine Oil" when it's time.

But the GMC dealer has a menu and maintenance guide that recommends changing the oil every 3,000 miles. Their menu reads "3,000 mile service: $24.95; 6,000 mile service: $84.95; 9,000 mile service: $24.95; 12,000 mile service: $84.95." The total cost is $219.80 doing it the dealer way.

The GMC corporate maintenance program is $84.95 when the message comes on, then $129.95 the second time the message comes on for a total of $214.90.

Let's say I drive 12,000 miles per year. Which is better? Paying the dealer $219 for the recommended dealer service or $215 for the GMC Maintenance I program? It seems like the numbers are awfully close, assuming the light comes on every 6,000 miles.

I guess my thinking of changing the oil every 3,000 miles is still alive at the GMC dealer.

There has been a change with the 1962 Plymouth Golden Commando project: the car is running. The basic systems — engine, transmission, brakes, and power steering — are all working.

Some systems are working a little better than others. It took me a week to figure out how to adjust the power steering spool valve. This tricky adjustment includes a socket wrench and a hammer. First, you start the engine and you observe which way the steering moves. If the steering turns to the left you loosen the two bolts slightly and tap the value up or down. Tighten the bolts and fire it up again and see which way the wheels go. Sooner or later you hit the sweet spot and the pressure is equalized and the valve is centered.

During the week of power steering work — before I read the manual — I asked my friend, Ted, for advice. Ted is a master mechanic and has been working on cars and trucks as his profession. Ted had no idea what I had done wrong. However, after I found the answer and told him about it, he remembered his High School class. What a change! I figured it out before the pro.

This is an important safety message that may change a cat's life or maybe even take one of their nine lives away. Cats love to relax under my old cars in the driveway. The cars never move and it is a quiet, safe place to be.

As many of you cat lovers will testify, cats are normally pretty sharp animals. Some say cats are smarter than dogs. This particular cat in our neighborhood loved to sleep under the Golden Commando. It would get nervous when I worked on the car but it still hung out there.

One day, after the engine was in, I fired it up. The 413 with open headers really woke up the cat — as well as setting off a car alarm across the street. The poor cat rocketed out from under the car and ricocheted off a trash can in the street.

This particular change was not a good one for the cat. The dormant Plymouth Fury was no longer an ideal spot for naps. And my neighbors are ready for a change of their own: an exhaust system on the old car that doesn't set off car alarms.

So, happy changes! And, if you're napping, stay away from cars with open headers.

Originally published in the August/September 2006 Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright 2006 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.