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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  August 2, 2009
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Topic category:  Other/General

Quality Control??

I think I’ve seen the future...and it’s full of junk. I’ll explain.

Recently, my daughter’s old car died and we started looking for a reliable replacement.

It took about a month but, knowing what she wanted, what it should cost, and what trinkets, bells and whistles needed to be attached helped a lot and, in the end, we found one that was almost a perfect fit.

It was used (Oops, sorry, “pre-owned”) and had no warranty, but it was the right color, in great shape, had obviously been garaged, had new tires and brakes, reasonable mileage, a great interior, and a clean bill of health from one of those vehicle history websites that check to see if it’s spent any major amount of time - say - underwater.

The only trouble spot was a slight squeal when the engine started, but it went away quickly as the engine warmed up.

As regards that squeal, I remember thinking that either: (a) something was loose; (b) the serpentine belt (it runs all of the widgets hanging on the front of the engine) was worn; or (c) a pulley might need replacing.

It was a minor thing, though, and, having gotten the price we wanted, we bought it that day.

After getting it home, my daughter drove it for a few days and said that, each day, the squeal took a little longer to go away and seemed to be getting louder.

So, about a week ago, I grabbed my tools, tightened everything I could think of, hit the belt with some goo (an automotive term), closed the hood, and took it for a drive.

Blooey. The squealing came on like gangbusters and wouldn’t stop, so I headed home and started snooping.

I found that a small pulley (the one I’d been thinking about) had a bad bearing. The good news was that it was easy to get to and wasn’t very expensive. I bought a replacement and noticed that it had not been manufactured in the United States. Still, I assumed that all would be well.

I am nothing if not naive.

I went home, installed it in less than 15 minutes, and started the engine.

Same noise but, now, it was accompanied by a sound akin to rocks being ground and some language that I used at sea when things weren’t going my way.

Since I’d just installed a brand new part, I figured I’d misdiagnosed the problem and started looking at other things - all of which would require much more time and effort. Rather than continuing with the repairs myself, I drove it to a nearby shop, told them what I’d done, and left them to it.

They called about three hours later and asked me to come by. When I got there, they said that they’d narrowed the problem down to the same pulley I’d suspected and found that the new part I’d installed was bad, so they’d installed another.

And here’s where I think we should all get a bit worried. The (newest) new part that they installed (yep, not made here) was junk too and more inappropriate language followed from all corners.

Having seen two brand new parts in a row fail instantly also led me to surmise that quality control in the very large country that produced these things still seems to be an afterthought - if it’s any thought at all.

What finally fixed the problem was a replacement part other than the one called for, but one (made here) that would likely work. It did.

I think that most of us can remember a time when, if you bought a new part, you could expect it to work. That time is apparently gone. We’ve dumped it for lower prices.

Still, for all of you “bottom line” management types out there who worship at the altar of “the cheapest part,” I’m here to tell you that there are still many who’d pay extra to know that a part - any part - would work for longer than a nanosecond.

And that’s because when we’re tooling around in our cars, or doing whatever, the last thing we want to be asking ourselves is whether pure, blind luck is all that’s holding everything together.

Which now, all too often, seems to be the case.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.


Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2009 by Larry Simoneaux
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