The Unbolted Truth, In PR As In DIY Automotive Repair Work

Posted on January 22, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , |

God so loved the world that he gave us MAPP gas that DIY auto mechanics can use to burn rusted nuts and bolts loose. MAPP gas I say, not propane, propane takes forever and never gets hot enough for the most miserably stuck bolts. (Sorry, Hank Hill.)

Bosch Oxygen Sensor

Bosch Oxygen Sensor

From now on it’s MAPP gas first, not as a last resort (unless there’s a pesky fuel line in the vicinity).

I had to get a burned out oxygen sensor off the top of a catalytic converter on the exhaust system, about an inch and half of clearance. Notice I say I had to. It was a matter of utmost pride to do this simple task and change out the oxygen sensor on my personal vehicle, a task that’s performed hundreds of thousands of times a week in automotive mechanic shops across America.

Removing the oxygen sensor proved more of a challenge than first anticipated. First I noticed that there was no real way to get a conventional socket wrench on the sensor — even though I had a special oxygen sensor socket fitted out just for this specific purpose. In fact, I had two oxygen sensor sockets, both a flat and an angled one, as well as a fancy oxygen sensor wrench with a swivel head that I’d picked up at Autozone sometime back when first I realized that getting at this particular oxygen sensor was not shaping up as the proverbial walk in the queen’s park.

In the end, having these special oxygen sensor gadgets didn’t much matter. The first time I used the flexible-head oxygen sensor wrench, I snapped off the upper part of the sensor, thereby leaving nothing much more than the butt end of the device — consisting of a 22 mm nut half-buried behind a steel mud shield welded to the cat converter — yet to be removed.

Unforgiving Bolt Opens Gateway To DIY Madness

That was when my descent into DIY hell commenced.

The remaining nut was frozen in place, as if it was a leftover crustacean from the pre-Cambrian era.

It was impenetrable, intransigent, non-negotiable, a force not to be reasoned or reckoned with. Hour after hour went by, me lying in Michelangelo-esque agony on my back on the hard cold Minnesota ground, my head and torso squinched underneath the jackstand-supported car, waving my arms and tools in futility at this most implacable foe.

Finally, I decided all was lost.

Folly’s End: The Nuclear Solution

That is, until the guy at the O’Reilly Auto Parts down the street advised me to heat the sensor, baby, until it glowed bright cherry red. I indicated a nearby brake line gave me some safety concerns. Brake fluid boils at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. Cover the brake line with a piece of sheet metal, he said, and bring on the heat. That or take the car out for a nice ride to somewhere where it really wanted to go and see if I couldn’t sweet talk it into coughing up the sensor stub.

I finally just stuck the tip of the full-on MAPP torch on top of the bolt and burned away for about 3 minutes. It was like looking at the Grand Canyon at sunset. It glowed. It smoldered. It turned a beautiful bright blushing red. Then it came right off even though I could only do about a quarter-inch turn with the long-handled 22 mm box wrench.

It was literally the last thing I was going to do before giving up and handing the car over to the mechanical professionals to do what they do best. (And what a low-down feeling that is when you have to take your car, which you’ve not succeeded in fixing, to a mechanic’s shop and ask them to do it the right way for you. They chuckle knowingly — if not downright contemptuously — when a beaten down DIYer comes into their shop with a “fix it please for I have failed and probably made it worse” story. And they charge accordingly. Funny how they never advertise “See me now, or attempt to do it yourself, and pay me later” in the automotive service industry. It’s probably one of their best-kept money-making secrets, the exponential impact on job costs that DIYers impose upon themselves when their home projects go wrong.)

The Bolt-Busting Message For The PR And Marketing World

So what does this all have to do with PR? I’m getting to that right now.

I get at least two takeaways from this that are relevant to the professional PR and marketing communications community.

One, never give up. No, revise that: go ahead and give up, but give it one more try anyway. Just so long as you don’t make matters much worse. Stop yourself, as I did with admirable and somewhat surprising self-restraint, from picking up a sledge-hammer and a long sharp chisel and launching a full-scale punch and bust attack on the balky bolt. No, that won’t do. That will only do you in. But it’s awfully tempting to bang out your frustrations in such fashion.

Extra Mile Attitude” Is What Did The Job For Me

Two, rely on professionals for knowledge that you don’t have. In this case, the professional in question was my friendly counterman at O’Reilly Auto Parts. He didn’t hesitate to help when I told him about my heretofore lame efforts to conquer a mundane but immensely difficult task – one that I had never quite undertaken before in my checkered career as an automotive DIYer. His advice was free. Since I’d already purchased the replacement oxygen sensor (a Bosch part, by the way), there was nothing in particular he could sell me for this job. (Okay, he did suggest that I might want to pick up a can of PB Blaster, a penetrating oil of some renown. But I already had said rust-busting oil in hand.) What he did do with his helpful and off-the-cuff advice was give me a new direction to take, grounded in been-there, done-that automotive realism. And it saved the day. Literally saved the day. You know the feeling, when you finally get the result you’re seeking after scratching and clawing away for such a long time. It seems like the solution is just out of reach. Like there is that one essential thing that you’re not doing correctly.

That bolt, hardened and cemented to that catalytic converter as if it put there 10,000 years back, it came right off after the fire treatment. I even used my fingers to unscrew it after letting it cool down for a spell.

Well, don’t be like me and my DIY dense attitude. Whether you’re beating your knuckles against a cold steel car frame or beating your head against a seemingly impenetrable PR challenge, I’m here to say: don’t go it alone if you don’t have to. Find someone who can help you get over that last steely edged hump. Find someone — in the company, an acquaintance or — shameless plug here — someone in a good reliable outside PR agency who can assist you in meeting your challenge successfully.

Did I mention that the O’Reilly counterman — a young guy, and a very nice guy, I’ll have to remember to tell him so next time I see him — knew me from previous experience? In other words, he knew me as his customer and knew it was in his and the company’s best interest to treat me with respect and to offer up his best counsel, even though I was not likely buying anything from him at that particular instance. In other words, he knew that by doing me a favor for free now, he’d likely see me again — when I needed to buy something for my car?

There’s a lesson in that for all of us in the business world too. If you’re not getting that kind of extra-mile counseling from your current agency sources, perhaps it’s time you scout the field for someone new. Just as in the automotive world, there are those of us in the PR and marketing communications world who make it a matter of faith that we will go that extra mile for our clients.

Now, I’ve got to get back to work. Gotta make some cash so I can afford that extra-nice new suspension set-up I’m thinking of installing in the old rolling thunder machine next.


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