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Hagerty Employee

Here’s why working on a family member’s car can be dicey

My first book includes five chapters under the section title, “Why I Don’t Fix Cars For Other People, Part XXX.” It’s something of a running joke, since, in each, I describe doing a favor for someone only to have the repair go wrong, cost them more money than either of us expected, and leave me with the feeling that no good deed goes unpunished. The fact that I give five examples shows that either I’m a ridiculously good guy or I’m someone who’s really slow to learn a lesson.


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Enjoyable read, thx. (and we've all been there ☺ )

Intermediate Driver

Totally agree with you Rob. I really think the phrase "Murphys Law" what can go wrong will, came about from those of us working on friend & family's stuff! 

Advanced Driver

There are 1,000 parts under the hood, but the only ones that fail are in the most miserable places. 


Great story.  Thanks for sharing it!


great story, I feel the same way!


When you repair a friend/relative/coworker's car, you own it forever. If anything goes wrong with the car, even unrelated to the repair, it will be your fault and you'll get the blame. People are lunkheads.

Pit Crew

Rob - you're a good Dad, certainly you saved your son a $1000 repair, wrote a sweet essay and taught me what a back probe pin is to boot. Well done and thanks !!


Great story!  And great kid!  That access, by the firewall, looks nightmarish.  But know I know what "back-probe pins" are, and I'm ordering some, for the "just-in-case"--i.e., just-in-case I'm smart enough to know when, and how, to use them!  LOL  Love your work and I have one of your books.


And owning them virtually guarantees you'll never need them. Win!


Excellent story I’m  62 yrs old and have been doing the same exact thing since I was in my teens. I know exactly how you feel after doing someone a favor without even  be asked to help. It’s a kind of high you experience that hard to explain when everything goes as planned, but it also bring very stressful situations when things go bad. Cant understand why we put ourselves in those situations! And at no charge !

Must be the good people like you and I that get themselves jammed up while trying to help others.  Ur a great father n a great friend to have.  

Pit Crew

I felt my anxiety rise as I read further into the story...been there many times where the job just keeps going and going.  You have a skill and want to help, but the people who ask you to help with their car, because typically they know nothing about cars, know nothing about the amount of work and stress that it can take...and may not even care, esp if you're their dad!  'Is it done yet?'  Fortunately the problem here revealed itself fairly early in the job...looks like someone tried a cheap RTV fix after calling the dealer and hearing the extra special happy friend price.


Another completely relatable distraction Rob! Had one similar recently: personal car wouldn't run, invested in "noids" to verify injection, surprise, car ran on three while one wired to noid. Turned out it would run on any three but NOT on four. Impressed many friends by plugging in the fourth injector to make it die. Drove it for months like that. Then one day during my demonstration I was "disappointed" when plugging in the fourth cable gave me full power instead of killing it. Been fine ever since. Bought other car anyway.

New Driver

This reminds me of my youth, when I was first learning and working on cars.  Mostly my own junk to keep it running, but soon friends and their parents were asking me to look at their junk too.  Before I knew it, I was trying to fix things I had no business working on and with each success came more requests (and some repeats).  Definitely not good!  In hindsight, I learned a lot about cars from the experience, but mostly I learned not to work on other people's cars.

Intermediate Driver

One additional warning about working on another's car.  You have now assumed responsibility for any subsequent fault, no matter how far removed from the original work.  Change the plugs, and now the radio doesn't work.  Air up the tires and now the brakes squeal.  Replace the broken door handle and now the A/C blows warm.  Guess who's responsibility it is now to fix those?  Beware.


I read this until I reached the part where Rob says "and his son listens to me" then I realised it had to be a work of fiction 😞


New Driver

I fear I would have cleaned it and applied a liberal coating of J.B. Weld, or a similar "repair putty" and called it done!

New Driver

As I'm often heard to say, "no good deed goes unpunished".

Intermediate Driver

So Rob, ...... Ya got a problem with "Dyed-in-The-Wool Chevy guys" eh?  Speaking as one-of-those guys, I got a slight tinge! LOL


I've been binge-reading all of your stories, Rob! I really love your writings on the BMWs and I look forward to your next installments!


New Driver

I did a job for my neighbor, his car over heated on his way home. He needed it for work, so I check it out and the senser for the fan to come on isn't working. I bypass it with an on off switch. He goes to work but never gets it fixed. Cold weather starts and guess what, fast idle kicks in in traffic and his car takes off. Luckily nothing bad happens. Lesson learned. Ray

Pit Crew

Does anyone truly know why the 1981 Cadillac 6.0 liter gas 4/6/8 motor got such a bad reputation that Cadillac killed it in 1982? I do because I owned one for many years and drove it for well over 130K miles until it literally the body rusted away and loved it so much that I recently bought another "cream puff" with low mileage. It was claimed that the engine would run away at stoplights by running up to 3000 RPM for no reason. The cause of that was the same as pointed out in this article. People went under the hood, owners or mechanics, that had no idea of how the new EFI systems worked back then and as a result they turned screws that caused this to happen. All it took was an owners complaint that the idle speed was too low. Up went the hood and they turned out the nut headed bolt in the IAC actuator/valve which caused the TPS calibration to be off and the EFI ECM/ECU to make incorrect adjustments which result in this happening maybe with a simple thing like turning on the AC system at a stop light. Those motors/cars had the best onboard diagnostic systems on them that would rival anything in a car today and that same system is back in use in many EURO and US made cars today but renamed as a "Variable Displacement" motor system. Luckily, I was working a the German OE/OEM parts supplier for all these EFI systems for cars around the World back then and they had hired in a Cadillac repair technician, sometimes called a auto mechanic or nut and bolt turner, who knew his stuff on that system. I learned it all from him and with knowing all those other systems in play at that time by working many years in the shop that evaluated the failures for all those cars that were sent back as warranty returns, I truly learned how it all worked. My own cousin tried to impress me with how his new GMC with its new updated SBC worked with this new "Variable Displacement" motor I just kinda just smiled and let him explain to me how it all worked. The basic origin came from HD trucks with "Jake Brakes" but that's another story because I worked 7 years for a World wide supplier of HD trucks made in the USA before moving on. If people truly know what and how things work, then fine, but if you don't please find someone who does before someone gets hurt and car companies get falsely blamed for your mistakes.

Pit Crew

Exactly right Mike.  Years ago, at work, one of my compadres had a GM car (memory gone) with a fairly simple problem that I stupidly volunteered to fix for him. Took awhile to get it done, and was also glad to be rid of it.  About 2 weeks later, he came to me and said that there was another problem which was completely unrelated to the one I had fixed, but he was blaming me for "causing" the second problem. He had someone else fix the new problem, and I learned my lesson to never fix someone elses car.  Just too much of a hassle, aggravation, and loss of friendships in severe cases.

Advanced Driver

there are pros and cons to doing favor work... yes the cons are that you will only ever be remembered for the one mistake and not the ten successes.. and your free repair comes with a lifetime bumper-to-bumper warranty... but on the other hand i have been able to sharpen my skills on a number of interesting projects including 30s and 40s era packards, 67 GTO, disassembling a 3-series beemer from the drivetrain (usually goes the other way around) which got me over my fear of beemers and led to me owning one... all with me getting the fun and experience and someone else sweating the financial decisions on how far to go with the car


Very much enjoyed the story, and can relate to it, as well.  Among my sisters (2), wife, daughter, mother (since passed) and I are 3 Honda products and 3 Toyota products.  The Honda/Acura stuff, though well-built and long-lasting, is the worst stuff to work on that I've experienced, as far as accessibility.  The Toyota stuff is not bad. All 3 Honda products have sideways-mounted oil filters, none of which has enough room under it to place an aluminum foil "funnel".  One filter is completely captured by the intake from above, alternator from the front, transaxle from below, and intake support bracket from behind, so it requires a custom filter wrench.  With the sideways mount, they are guaranteed to dribble all over creation, then drip oil for weeks after an oil change.

The Toyota filters are all vertical mounted, or low-mounted horizontal, and easy to access. 

With the unofficial designation of family auto repair guy, one gets the experience of working on some different stuff and learning a few things.  But also one gets a little too much of working on cars and not seeing any progress on one's own project(s).


I have been know as the guy in my group of friends to go with car issues.   I've rescued a couple of cars from the junk yard (the guy tried flushing his radiator and put the prestone tee in the brake booster line). I don't do it as much anymore for pretty much the same reason you mentioned and definitely not for someone who's looking to me to avoid the consequences (cost) of needed repairs on a car they shouldn't have bought in the first place (throttle actuators on a 2008 M3, for example).  I also use the emergency rule and don't accept payment (to avoid any possible liability issues)

Intermediate Driver

Offered to do a simple oil change for a good friend of mine. He was working 2 blocks from my house that day, so, no prob - I'm a good guy, I'll come down, pick up the car, change the oil, and have it back to you before work is over. Everything went to plan... except for backing into a (way too low) concrete post in the parking lot and doing over $500 damage to his car... which I paid to have fixed. Did not have a good day. 

Intermediate Driver

I understand, Rob.  Great story and well-written!  jay