Right to Assemble - Assembly, The First Amendment to the Constitution - Engine Builder Magazine
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Right to Assemble – Assembly, The First Amendment to the Constitution

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The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is often forgotten that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives the American people, including persons in the automotive industry, the rights to peaceful assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances. Well I’d like to raise a grievance about a growing trend to NOT assemble.

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Last year, I helped put together a Shop Solution for the May Engine Builder issue titled “Currently Trending.” Mark Sarine points out the trend of automotive machine shops that like to do machine work, but no longer want to assemble engines. He made the point that this trend can hurt your business and suggested that it’s changing our industry.

“Many of the shops no longer want to assemble engines. They claim that they don’t want the liability of assembling engines with customer supplied parts, so they choose to no longer assemble engines all together.”

Through Engine Pro, the sponsor of Shop Solutions, I received a response from a machine shop down in Florida that took umbrage with his ideas. I took a minute to contact Mark, who is in the engine parts business and depends on machine shops to make a living. I laid out my understanding of the response, which from their perspective was unquestionable, even though I, like Mark, hated to hear it. I then included others in the conversation and that’s when the emails started flying. With so much controversy I knew I had a topic to raise with the community. Lucky for me I have the vehicle for that, right here.

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It wasn’t long ago that shops would scoff at customers who wanted to assemble their own engines. They knew full well that without the correct tools, knowledge and a small amount of ability, it would be very easy to do something incorrectly and possibly cause engine failure at startup or at some time down the road. Often, these DIY mistakes are either blamed on the part or some aspect of the machine work.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to run their business – I’m just raising questions and trying to formulate a picture of what this might be doing to our industry and how it might contribute to some, but certainly not all, of our industry problems.

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In a world driven by one platform, one ever-so popular small block V8, it may seem simple enough and rational enough that – left to their own devices and YouTube videos – the average enthusiast should be able to put this engine together, start it, break in the camshaft and tune it to run for 100,000 miles. Even if this was true, (and all too often it’s not) what about all the newer much more high tech single and dual overhead cam engines? You’re going to trust your good work and parts you rely on everyday to a novice to assemble? Think of the many mechanics who you would not have trusted in the past, and now you’re enabling the DIYer?

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Complex engines aside, even a small block build gets challenging when it comes to proper camshaft lubes, break-in oils and break-in techniques. The most seasoned engine builder still loses a camshaft on rare occasion. When the DIYer comes tripping back into your shop holding a bumpstick that’s shy a few bumps, you can’t just agree with them anymore that it might be a defective cam and that the manufacturer will stand behind it. It’s just not true in most cases. Nor should it be unless you can show a legitimate defect in manufacturing or materials. Most of us don’t have the equipment.

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Take it from someone who works on this side of the price/profit fence; Manufacturers are doing everything possible to insure a camshaft will run great and for a long time if properly installed, broke in and run with the proper oil. They simply cannot afford not to in this day and age. That assumption that there must be soft lobes, it wasn’t hardened properly or whatever someone might dream up about the materials just does not cut it today. If you have the equipment to check the grind for lobe taper, have at it. But I’d suggest your cam tunnel is far more likely to be running down and out and isn’t perpendicular to your lifter bores than the lobes don’t have enough taper. And this is just the start of things that should be checked. More likely it would have to do with assembly lubes, oils, additives and the ability to get the engine started and brought up to a high idle right away.

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I bring up cam failure only because it’s the obvious failure today. The list of other potential problems is probably as long as an equation and would include 10 times the number of moving parts. Yet some see no problem, no responsibility in letting the unequipped enthusiast tackle the job. Someone might smirk knowing the customer will be back soon, needing something fixed, but I would fear the repercussions of a customer bad mouthing his machine shop to everyone he knows. Relying on the customer to make a mistake for job security is just wrong.

I couldn’t help but think about a few other bite-you-in-the-butt assembly problems we’re faced with today.

Priming the oiling system by driving the oil pump with a drill motor is just not as viable today with all the front mount oil pumps. Not everyone has an oil priming tank in their home garage.

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Stroker mania has given us some great performance potential, but fitting those bigger cranks and rods in the bottom end can take some work. Are you willing to send someone home with plans of taking a grinder to their block to make some room?

Late model engines are designed to use lightweight oils and tighter clearances. Who’s going to be taking the measurements?

Some OHC timing components are complicated to assemble, and those hand grenade pins in the tensioner are meant to be pulled at the end of the assembly. I hear even professionals have trouble remembering this.

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So what’s the problem? From what I’m hearing it’s time. Or more importantly, getting paid for the time it takes to do the job right. I’ve surveyed shops across the country and some feel there should be a flat charge and the number I hear often seems too low. A few tell me it’s as simple as “time and materials.” Kudos if you can do it. I think if everyone could make this work for their shop, there would be no controversy.

To be successful in this profession takes discipline and knowledge. If you’re not familiar with something, it will take you longer to do the task. It does not seem fair to charge full shop time if you have to learn as you go. In these cases maybe I’ll agree that assembly is not going to be a function of your business. Maybe this is something you may choose to job out to an expert for that engine. But considering the age of most of the employees in the vast majority of shops out there, I don’t think experience is the problem.

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In my own experience I think it’s a discipline problem. It is very important to schedule assembly at a time where you won’t be interrupted.

I’m sure I’ve done nothing for several of you who are just plain tired of assembling engines, but I’m hoping I have stimulated some thought in the rest who understand that engine assembly is still an important job of the machine shop.

I am glad I live in a country where differences in opinion are supported and freedom to express one’s ideas is outlined in the First Amendment. Who knew this would speak to our right to assemble… or not? n

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