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Firing Order - Home or Auto Project – Which is worse?

Posted in Features on April 6, 2016
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Sometimes a flood is a good thing. You can get a flood of thank-you cards for saving a baby kitten out of a storm drain. You can get a flood birthday presents. You can get a flood of vintage Jeep parts from your buddies when they segue into JKs. For stuff like that, a flood is pretty sweet. What sucks is when the flood is an actual flood—with water and damage and insurance companies and all the detritus that goes along comes with it. That’s the kind of flood I’ve been under.

My family came home late one night to find water everywhere from a burst kitchen pipe. This being California, the water abatement company called for lead and asbestos testing before touching anything. If you give a bureaucratic mouse a cookie, he’ll want to completely gut your dwelling, so in short my family has been living in a condo for four months while I deal with the home project. That in itself was an eye-opener. I mean, how often do you bring your car in for brakes and they remove your doors, windshield, and seats? And as I plod through all the insurance company red tape and contractor stuff, it occurred to me if automotive repair were anything like home repair, we’d all be riding horses.

Haggling and dealing with the insurance company aside, for starters there’s the general contractor (GC). Does anything in the automotive world equate to him? Imagine somebody who lines up all your parts and installers for you and then adds about 30 percent. “Oh, you want those $1,000 tires? I’ll make a phone call. That’ll be $1,300.” Or they just flat out don’t listen to you. “I know you said we were going to lift your pickup, but I had this ground-effect package left over from another job so we went ahead and installed it. Everybody is going for the low-rider look nowadays.” From my personal experience with a GC you’re paying for the pleasure of dealing with one person, not several. I know there are great GCs reading this who are worth their weight in gold, and to them I say, please invent a time machine and meet me at the start of my project.

Then there are the subcontractors—the dudes that actually do the work. If you’re not looking over their shoulders the whole time, they’ll go off the reservation. “I know you wanted that sink under the window, but the pipe we had on the truck didn’t reach, so we put it in the middle of the French doors. Just don’t use the French doors.” I don’t think any automotive repair dude would install a carburetor on the driver seat. I think technically the general contractor is the one who should be babysitting them, but half the time my GC was out golfing or buying a new fishing boat. And how often does your auto repair shop require a deposit? “We’ll need about 10 percent up-front before we start. Then we’ll tear your car apart and let it sit for a month or two. Then we’ll ask for another 80 percent or we don’t work anymore. Then right when we’re almost finished, we’ll expect the final 10 percent. If you’re sucker enough to pay it, we’ll make you chase us continually to finally come out and make it drivable again.”

There are crappy auto shops, but for people who know autos inside and out, it’s easy to tell good from bad. But it’s scary how naked and afraid you can feel when you’re dropped into a world in which you’re not well versed. Many times I felt like the stereotypical old lady who brings her car in for an oil change and leaves with a new $4,000 transmission she didn’t need. This was my first go-around with a major home renovation and eventually, after reading and learning and asking and hiring and firing enough people, I did it without a GC and got an awesome crew of subs who did a great job. I just wish I had been reading home repair magazines since I was a kid the same way I’ve been reading Car Craft, 4-Wheel & Off-Road, and Four Wheeler. Knowledge is power, so if you’re new to off-roading, keep reading and asking questions. We won’t steer you wrong.

-Christian Hazel

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