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Customer Appreciation

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In the March issue of Engine Builder, I shared some stories about crazy customer experiences from sprint car engine builder Steven Hogue. We all had a good laugh recalling the birdseed, the shop rag ingestion and sealing an engine a bit too well with duct tape.

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Then, unsure of whether you would be interested in telling tales out of school, I asked you to violate your own builder-client privilege and spill the beans on your customers too.

Oh yeah… you were ready to talk. Eager to share confessional secrets, engine builders all over North America told me stories that had the entire Engine Builder team laughing.

Don Fedak, from RPMs in Brantford, Ontario, Canada revealed something most of you know all too well – trusting that your customer really knows what he thinks he knows can be dangerous.

“Many moons ago, a customer ordered an exchange 351M crankshaft, bearings and an oil pump. He wanted the crank and parts on-the-floor and ready to install before he pulled the engine,” Don says. “A few days later we picked up the original crank and quickly determined it was actually a 400 crankshaft. We were just about to pick up the phone to call him when the phone rang.”

It was, coincidentally, the same customer inquiring about another job. “After dealing with his new job, we mentioned that he had ordered a 351M crank for a 400 block,” Don says. “He said he had just finished installing the engine and that the engine had a lot of torque and ‘ran like a top.’”

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Sometimes you have to break the news to even the smartest customers that your skill and experience might count for a little.

“We had a German structural engineer bring in a Mercedes V8 for rebuild,” explains Will Samples of S&S Imports in Dallas. “He was doing his own work, he just needed us to machine the block, do the heads, etc. He had very courteously converted all the metric specs to SAE specs (we do this all the time but it was thoughtful of him). Anyway, he is busy showing me his specs and he has them out to the 5th and 6th decimal point – and he makes sure I see this.”

Samples says finesse was needed. “I told him that was great but our equipment is accurate to 3 decimal points, except for the Tobin-Arp rod machine, which measures to 4 decimal points. He was totally bummed out. He repeated to me he had calculated everything carefully and we should observe his accuracy when machining.

I took him on a tour of the shop to show him each machine and explain how the real world worked. He eventually accepted what I was telling him but he was a sad fellow when he left.”

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Even sadder – yet funnier – was this story from an engine builder who wished to remain anonymous to save his customer some further embarrassment.

“When we would finish an engine, it would get dyno tested, and since many of our engines were shipped via air or common carrier, we were required to drain all of the fluids to stay in compliance with FAA and DOT regulations. To ensure that the customer knew, we had bright red tags printed up with the following: NO OIL IN ENGINE.

“Unfortunately, a customer called and complained that ‘the engine did not last one lap before it blew up.’ We had him return the engine for inspection. The bearings were toasted and obviously there had been no oil in the engine.

“We called back and asked him if he had put any oil in the engine after installing it. He checked with his crew chief who assured him that they had not added one drop because the tag said not to.”

The new engine tags used in this shop read: ATTENTION: THERE IS NO OIL IN THIS ENGINE. YOU MUST ADD OIL BEFORE STARTING THIS ENGINE.

You just can’t make this stuff up, of course. If you have a similar story, send it in. And keep your patience: appreciate the fact that your customers are often good for great projects – and great laughs. n

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