Giammalvo Files
Mark Giammalvo

Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.   

Mark, who has been with the business for over 20 years, is an ASE  Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE L1 certification, and has an associates degree in business management.
Mark is also a writer for Motor Age Magazine and is the past secretary of the Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals, (AASP).

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 The Gift

(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP) 

If someone gives you a gift, should you always say thank you? Most of the time, yes, but perhaps not always.

It all started with a phone call from a regular service customer. We had sold and serviced the customers 1994 Toyota Camry in the past. After 10 years and nearly 200,000 miles of faithful service, the Camry was tired. I was surprised to learn from the customer that she had retired the Camry for a new Volvo. Not brand new. New in the sense as, new to her. Someone in the family had decided to give her a "gift." That gift being a Volvo that was not "getting any use" over the last year. The Volvo was a 1989 740 wagon with 174,000 miles. Since the Volvo had not been driven in a while the battery was dead. The customer said she would have it towed in so we could "get it ready" for use. Other than brakes, the former owner told her it probably wouldn't need much. Closer inspection of the Volvo proved much different.

The car arrived via tow truck and was jump started and driven into the shop. The license plate bolts were frozen so we cut them off to secure the customers new plates. A charging system test revealed a loose alternator belt and a tired battery. The power steering belt was missing and all other belts were frayed and slipping. The customer agreed to replace all the belts and the battery. A brake inspection showed that the front brakes would probably be needed by the next service. The rear brakes would also be due shortly thereafter. We noticed an exhaust leak during the oil change service. The pipe between the mufflers was leaking. Now the customer wanted to hold off on exhaust work as she had already noticed another problem. The Volvo's ash tray and fuse box cover were gone. This left a large gap open below the radio, where the fuse panel cover was strangely missing. Fuse #16 was missing and worse, the area where the fuse would normally be, was melted through. The burn mark was unmistakable. Someone in an attempt to repair a short had installed a larger fuse or perhaps even a bolt. As one of my technicians would say: "Big hands have been in their." Just a saying one of my guys uses when he comes across a car that has been abused and violated like this one had.

Volvo Fuse panel

A through testing and inspection revealed that the Volvo's heater fan was stuck causing a short on fuse #14. We replaced the fan and wired an in-line fuse into the fuse panel to protect the circuit.

Now, a few weeks later, the Volvo was back. The customer stated that the speedometer and windshield wipers were inoperative. Further testing and inspection led to no power on two adjacent fuses to circuit #16. We spliced in a new feed so the wipers would work normally. Strangely though, the speedometer was still inoperative. A pull of the instrument cluster showed proper power and grounds. However, due to a lack of repair service information, we were unable to correctly test the speed sensor. Unfortunately the customer left still not knowing the Volvo's speed. Worse yet though, was the thought of how long the speedometer had been inoperative. I was starting to wonder how many miles this gift really had.

A week had nearly passed and again the Volvo found its way back to us. Now the customer said that the washer's were inoperative and the car was stalling at stops. The washer problem proved to be a faulty washer pump and a leaking brake booster was causing the stalling. With those repairs completed, I figured the customer was finally off the repair hook for a while. Alas, not even a week elapsed and the Volvo came to us again via tow truck. The customer reported smelling a sudden burning smell just before the engine quit. Our inspection revealed a broken timing belt. We replaced the timing belt and I am happy to say the customer has not been back since.

When it comes to the subject of gifts, a few new lessons can be learned here. The giver should be careful of the gift they consider giving. The receiver should be equally as careful about what they are receiving. Just because a gift is free does not exactly mean it is going to, "be free." Free from 1,300.00 dollars worth of problems that is.

When it came to problems, this car was the gift that kept on giving. Hopefully in the future,  this customer will think twice before accepting another gift in the form of a car.


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