Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Worst Repair Win?

Like many of you, I’ve become the designated “fix-it” person for my family and friends. While it can be a lot of work — I just finished an oil change that required me to lay in a cold, wet driveway and I can’t mention in polite company the substances I was bathed in while fixing a clogged pipe last week  — I generally relish my role. I enjoy solving problems, I love working with my hands and my head, and who doesn’t like saving money and time?

But for me, the best part of being the fix-it guy is the satisfaction that comes from doing something others can’t do. I find this especially true with automotive repairs, which conventional wisdom says is strictly the province of factory-trained experts. A little bit of a hero complex, perhaps? Absolutely! After all, I don’t get paid for my repairs, so I’ve got to get a little something for the effort.

This is why a recent pair of unrelated fixes left me feeling thoroughly unsatisfied. Neither of these jobs was a clear win, at least in terms of getting the rush of being able to do something that nobody else could. At best, these were qualified wins, which both still left me feeling a little defeated. And that got me thinking that I’m probably not the only one who has had marginal repair wins like these.

Fix 1: The Driveway Watchdog

The first repair was for a friend of mine who lives deep in the woods. Somewhat ironically, his driveway is a very busy place, mainly with wildlife like deer, elk, and the occasional moose. Keeping track of their comings and goings is important for safety; one does not want to surprise a moose, after all. A fair number of cars find their way up his driveway too: most of them are innocent, but occasionally they come with ill intent.

So wisely, he installed a wireless driveway alert system that gives him a heads-up on intruders. During the recent cold snap, though, his system stopped working. He changed the batteries and tried a few basic diagnostics, but no dice — the transmitter wouldn’t work. So I offered to take a look and see if maybe I could save him a few bucks on a replacement.

Now, this transmitter is a somewhat ad hoc assembly. Inside the weatherproof case is what appears to be an off-the-shelf PIR motion sensor, which is wired to a PCB that contains a microcontroller and a radio module in an RF can. When the PIR sensor triggers, it sends power to the radio module, where the MCU sends a recorded sound clip — “Alert zone one, alert zone one…” — to the transmitter, broadcasting it to a receiver inside the house. Simple, but effective.

His report was that he couldn’t even get the LED on the PIR sensor to light up, so I figured I’d start there and popped the cover off. This is where I started having thoughts of heroics — perhaps one of the SMD components on the sensor’s PCB was bad, and I’d be able to trace the problem and do a little microsoldering. Or maybe I’d have to do some reverse engineering of the firmware to figure out what was wrong. The possibilities!

Sadly, it was not to be. After I had removed the sensor — which entailed disconnecting the battery pack wires from screw terminals on the PCB — I noticed that the positive lead had broken off in the terminal block. Surely this wasn’t just a broken wire? Where are the heroics in that? But alas, when I stripped the wire back and put everything back together, the whole thing worked like a charm. I felt cheated — no need to bust out the oscilloscope, the waveform generator, the spectrum analyzer, or even the bench power supply. At least I got to use my microscope. Just to make myself feel like I’d done something, I crimped some ferrules on the ends of the battery pack wire and gave it back to my friend. Yay me.

Fix 2: The Spicy Stove

As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, a day or two later my daughter texted me to come over and look at her stove. Alarmingly, one of the electric burners on the stovetop had started causing electric shocks through their cookware. The shocks ranged from barely noticeable to a little on the spicy side. Not good!

69 volts to ground; not as bad as it was when I first tested, but still pretty spicy.

I rushed over with a multimeter and started poking around. My thought was that the burner element was cracked or otherwise internally damaged, and a short between the nichrome wire and the outer covering had developed. I did some continuity checks between the element and chassis ground, but didn’t see anything. Voltage checks between the burner and ground were a little different, though — I was seeing 117 volts on the problem burner. Well, there’s your problem, lady!

Unfortunately, the local big-box stores were all sold out of 8″ burner elements for GE stoves, so I couldn’t replace the dodgy element right away. We decided to swap the other 8″ element on the stove, which wasn’t shocking her, into the spot where the bad element was. Surprise! That showed 117 volts too. So it’s not the element, but the spot on the stovetop? Confused, we swapped everything back to the original locations and that seemed to fix the problem — no voltage from either burner to ground. What?

Clearly, this one isn’t a fix. There’s still something wrong with the stove, and I’ll need to do more diagnostics. It was kind of a fix, I suppose — at least my kid isn’t getting shocked when she cooks. But it certainly wasn’t a satisfying fix, and even if I replace the suspect burner with a new element, I’m not sure I’m going to trust the repair.

Your Turn

I think we can all agree that neither one of these repairs is very satisfying. In the case of the driveway alarm, I barely needed to be involved at all — my friend would probably have found out what the problem was with just a little tug on the wires. It was a fix, to be sure — it wasn’t working at all when I got it, and it’s working because of something I did. But it’s a boring fix, at best. The spicy stovetop is unsatisfying, too, but in another way: it’s not really a fix, because I didn’t replace anything or find anything that appeared broken. It’s just back together the way it was, and working normally, at least for now.

A fix is a fix, but some fixes are just not worth the effort. So the question is: what’s your least satisfying repair story?  Have you ever had high hopes for a glorious repair, only to end up with something a toddler could have fixed? Or like my daughter’s stove, have you managed to make a problem “go away” without actually having done anything? What do you do in cases like that? How do you know when you reach the point of diminishing returns in terms of finding the problem? And when do you — gasp! — throw in the towel and call in an expert? Sound off in the comments below.

189 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Worst Repair Win?

  1. Had a friend with a street-legal dirt bike which would do strange things when riding two-up: it would try to dive to one side and throw people off of it. Really dangerous. He took it to a bunch of local motorbike mechanics and they were stumped. The machine had never been in a wreck, the wheels and frame were true, all these supposedly experienced people were scratching their heads over it. He called me over.

    One of the rear shocks was adjusted to maximum tension and the other to minimum tension. I rotated the cam with my hand and it never had that problem again. I was extremely smug towards everyone involved.

    1. As a GE repair tech, check to make sure that the stove is actually grounded to the house ground. If the chassis of the stove is shocking you, it may not be grounded properly. That also means that you have a short to the chassis somewhere. The usual culprits I find on any ‘Calrod’ or radiant (glass top) are at the connector. It may be burned with a wire exposed touching the metal. It can also be a switch in the riser on the switch housing. It maybe where the cord connects to the back of the stove. Under the right conditions it can get hot and break off, touching the chassis. If it is not grounded correctly, you will become the ground. Also check the grounding and voltage at the 240 volt wall socket. Make sure it has 120 volts on each ‘leg’ coming in. There are two prongs that will have 120 each “phase” when measure along with the ground and or the neutral if it is a four lead setup. Does the oven work? If not, (or if it works only when the top is turned on) that would also be a sign that something is amiss.

  2. We have a BMW mini that has a fairly well known issue with the timing chain tensioner failing causing plastic guides to get smashed by the chain. It is quite an old car and no garage would take on the job because it involved dismantling the engine.

    I’m not a keen mechanic but $50 in specialist tools and $300 in parts and a couple of days effort had the timing chain replaced and the engine running perfectly again. I believe many of this model of car has been prematurely scrapped due to this failure.

    I couldn’t afford to replace the car at the time and it has been running for more than 2 years since. It feels like a good win to have saved the car from the scrap heap and done something that real mechanics said was too complicated.

    1. 1982 Datsun 720 pickup, that I like to joke was covered in Bolt Repellant. Stuff was always coming loose on that thing.

      One day I got off work and went out to my truck. It would crank, but not start. I thought it was out of fuel (fuel gauge broken) so went and filled up a 5 gallon can. Nothing. No good. Eventually ran the battery out, tried jumping it. Nothing. Two or 3 hours later, still not working. Then I saw it: the blade fuse sitting in the foot well by the clutch pedal. I looked at the fuse block to see where it came from: IGN.

      Fired right up after replacing the fuse for the ignition system.

      That same truck also would get very hard to start, and you’d have to pop the hood, move the distributor timing a bit, and then it would be fine. After a few months, it would move around and be very advanced again, no matter how much it was tightened!

      I *hated* that truck. It gave me automotive PTSD in a very real way lol.

      1. “It gave me automotive PTSD in a very real way lol.”

        That’s because you didn’t have the 1982 Datsun 720 Diesel!
        (Like I did – 14+ years!)
        B^)

      2. Had a 2000 Ford Ranger. Intermittent transmission issue where one day would be fine, next day would shift odd and even slam into gear. Gave a code for a speed feedback sensor. Replaced the sensor in the rear differential. Was fine for day or two then was back again but worse and had to leave it at work. Even after swapping back the original which checked okay. decided to have it towed to service shop. After giving up hope, the next day before taking it in I looked under the truck for forgotten tools and caught my eye that the sensor wire was shorting because routed over the leaf spring and wore thru the sheathing. Zip tie and black tape and was back again. Makes me wonder how many expensive bills were out there because of a crappy routing choice.

          1. Oops, misread “Citaro” as “Charo.” (I realize that foreign-origin names might not mean the same as in English but I thought it was funny that “Charo” and “char/charred” were so close together in the context and then realized my eyes were playing tricks on me and making “it” look like “h”.)

    2. Semi related, had a car with a fraying belt smash up it’s timing cover, and to keep the “crappe” out it ended up with the bottom of a bleach jug RTVed on it… one of those temporary repairs that lasted wayyyy longer than intended, was still on there when the car was retired for corrosion and failed transmission. (Couple of times in yards for other things I had a look for replacement timing covers and found them going brittle or broken or distorted in other ways.)

    3. I’ve never met a mechanic that wouldn’t happily take my money for a long, time-paddable job. Only once have I been refused and that was because my guy didn’t have the diagnostic/DRM equipment required by the newer model cars – but he said he would still take a look at it, not promising results.

      1. Usually they refuse when the labor for the job exceeds the street value of the car, because if any little extra is required, other stuff found the customer might go “nope” and say keep it.

        1. That’s when they want to be paid upfront.

          Lots of mechanics don’t want anything ‘new’. Because they get 5 book hours for a half hour of work on a newish car doing something completely routine (e.g. In cabin air filter replacements) and are busy servicing the chumps.

          The more clueless the customer the better. Ask any stealership.

          1. Yah, they got away with that because early cabin air filters you had to dismantle the whole frigging dash, maybe having to drop the steering column and it was a whole half day or so. Then they started building them more sensible where it was 15 mins to disengage the stops on the glovebox, dropping it all the way down and finding it under there, or other much easier methods. There might still be a few of the nasty old way type around though so if they do a flat fee cabin air filter change fee, they pad it massively to make the $10 15min ones pay for the dash pull.

          2. Oh man, in some places it can get bad!

            My mother needed to update the firmware on the central console, and the stealership wanted $300! After an hour or more of waiting, they come back unable to do it so she didn’t pay.

            When she came back, she was angry and upset. I mention that we should be able to update the console ourselves, and she let me try at it.

            It was as simple as downloading the update – the only catch was the interactive “download” button didn’t work when clicked. I just inspected said element and stole the DL link it connected to, and got the update.

            I figure that’s where the overpriced mechanics got snagged.

  3. I had a beater daily driver, 2003 Dodge Stratus. Occasionally the AC would swap from blowing cold to full heat without the dials being adjusted. A simple fix while driving was to give it a very strong love tap and it would switch back to blowing cold. I had the dial module apart 2 times where I would look over all the traces, test the resistance on the dial at all the positions to determine if it was the spring steel was not making contact and never able to find the issue.

    On my 3rd try as soon as I got to my workbench, I noticed that the solder joints to the connector had cracked for several pins and a result in the issue. Heated up the soldering iron and had it fixed within 5 minutes of removing the board this time.

    It was my worst win because of my previous failures resulted in me enduring several car rides with no AC in the summer because I hadn’t found the simple/obvious issue.

    1. Had that on a GMC S15, checy had the resistor pack on the firewall at the time, rivetted together and exposed to any spray that got in under the hood. Had to clean it, remash it, glob it over with solder….

      .. their lighting assemblies were kinda the same way, and corroded, had to jam shims in the stupid things.

  4. I bought a broken iPad for next to nothing many years ago when they were still fairly new. It turned out something was wrong with the LCD connector on the mainboard, working fine when pressure was applied to the clip part. For some reason I had the wax from one of those wax soda bottle “candies” on my desk and worked a gob of that into a shape that would press on the connector. It worked, and continued to do so for a couple years.

  5. The worst “win” was back when I was about 15 years old. The Big Trak (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Trak) had come out a couple of years before, but was too expensive. I found one at a garage sale for cheap – like a dollar or something. I was going to buy it, but tried it out before plunking down my hard earned dollar.

    It worked, of course. You just had to know how to program it. The lady running the garage sale saw it driving around the floor and came over. “Oh, I thought it was broken.” She then took it back in the house – not for sale anymore.

    If I’d just bought it and taken it home it’d have been mine, but I had to be sure it was OK before I bought it.

    1. Yep with time you learn to never ever let on that something is okay when someone thinks it’s broken. Just buy and it and get the heck out of there. They don’t need to know.

      1. Yep. Got a Gameboy for next to nothing in the early 90s like that. No battery cover and ‘didn’t work’. Bit of a scrape on the contacts, and it’s still running now. Not got round to printing a battery cover yet though!

      2. Yep ! Bought a bandsaw for a friend and when we arrived, the owner came quickly over and flipped the power on and pushed a piece of pine scrap against the blade. No sawdust, just a smell of pine sap. “Its 200 and I want it gone before night” As it was 4 o’clock, I dickered with him to buy it for $150… and when we got back, I pulled the blade off, reversed it in both directions, and put it back on… A great bandsaw !

    2. A former boss was a TV salesman and repairman.
      One customer bought a new TV, when he delivered it, he noticed the old TV’s Horizontal Sync was off. He adjusted it, and the customer refused the delivery.
      He warned me about making the same mistake.

      1. I repaired a slurry tanker gate valve, a big brass monster 8+ inches wide that broke at the brass casting pull area. I ran an iron rod through the top which was hollow and passed the ends out through holes i drilled at the sides that weren’t breaking the pressure seal. Because i could actuate from the iron rod it never broke again.
        One day i was in a shop and a man there was buying the same casting. I mentioned i fixed one and he got in a panic because he had broken 3 of them at 70 euro each and couldn’t understand how i fixed it. when i told him the shop clerk added a sum onto my bill, making it three times larger cos i cost him the future sale.
        I think i saw an article on the net about the subject once, if you are going to be charitable it has to be done anonymously to avoid retribution.

  6. Truck wouldn’t start reliably.
    Left kid in the lurch in a bad neighborhood.
    Diagnostics on fuses- ok, harnesses – ok, battery and alternator -ok, replaced engine position sensor, noticed ac leaking oil (proximity not causality ) and replaced that. Obd scan reveals no faults, getting communication from sensors etc.
    You tube videos getting more obscure. Missed day of work, blew a weekend. Turns out the gear shifter wasn’t sensing park right, just move it up a little.

    1. I had a car that would work fine, but when driving at night normally after 20 or so miles it would just lose power. For a long time we just accepted it. Drive home from parents, power stopped, find pub, have drink, finish journey. However it was frustrating

      I kept taking back to garages and they could find nothing. At some point I had the entire carburetor disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. No dice.

      In the end I decided I had to do something about it myself. My mother in law had the same model so i opened the bonnet and tried to see if anything was different. I noticed that between the air filter was a small device that did not exist on mine. Further investigation showed it was a air temperature sensor that switched the carburetor air in take so in cold weather it was taken off the hot engine block .

      Got a replacement for $5, fitted it and all my problems went away. The annoying thing was that all the garages hadn’t worked out from my symptoms where the problem lay. Still visited a lot of nice pubs

      1. I had a Honda 350-4 Cylinder Motorcycle.. Heavy and Slow.. But I Liked it.. The Guy I purchased it from said it did not run in the rain.. Took it home, Started it, and SOAKED it with a Hose.. Kept Running.. First rain storm I drove in, I ended up pushing it until the rain stopped. After a Few times of this, and Various Troubleshooting Tricks.. I Found it.. Carburetor Ice.. I ended up making some Engine Cylinder Side Panels, that kept the Engine Warmth directed to the Air Box Entrance..

        Problem Solved..

      2. Heh.

        Had a car way back, locking gas door, it got forced and the gas cap stolen. Had an old locking cap sitting round in my dad’s garage. Seemed to fit…. Nowwwwww, fast forward 6 months, car won’t start, check things, not getting fuel, I just put gas in it earlier in week, no reason to suspect gauge, I take the entire damn carb apart, looks a bit gunky, see the choke motor all gunked up, why I had to fit a manual choke bypass the year before, but hmm, still blows through, but, dissassembled this thing rather toooo thoroughly now, get one from a yard for $30 or something, lot newer looking, put it on, nope, no go…. still won’t start, stilllll not getting fuel, maybe I’m crazy, I’ll dip the tank… make sure for sure for sure there’s gas… go to take the gas cap off, oooh, it’s hard to get off… pull, then there’s a complex phooom, patunk suction and oilcanning noise, and it come loose… ummm… yeah, I was supposed to have a vented gas cap, this locking cap had a rock hard rubber seal ring on it, and ACTED vented for a few months until it got enough gasoline vapor to soften up the seal… which was now nice and soft and sealed REALLY well… crap, so I start the car with the cap off, VAROOOM, runs great now, derp derp… and it really liked the “new” carburettor and the auto choke was working properly and everything… cost me 72 hours of pain and suffering and the carb but I think I made it back in improved gas mileage over the next year, did a couple mpg better.

        I kept telling myself I was gonna rebuild the old carb and port it, but I never got round to it. The rubber seal was bonded to that gas cap on one side, wasn’t a loose ring, so plowed/gouged some grooves through it and kept using it, keeping an eye out for it creeping…. and of course I knew to check it now if car spluttered out or wouldn’t start again.

          1. Yeah, I guess if it sealed when I was tearing down the highway at full throat it might have damaged the tank more, it just popped the bottom in a bit I think. Wasn’t immediately noticable from looking underneath anyway or I’d have twigged sooner.

    2. Exact same problem but not as long thankfully.
      Shifter was in park but the shifter was a tiny bit loose. So it just barely wasn’t in park and car refused to try and turn on. Next morning in a fit of rage trying to get to work I smacked the shifter and poof the car started.

      1. Similar issue on an old manual Acura Integra. Push the clutch in, crank the engine, no start. Replaced the starter motor without further diagnosing because I was young. Still won’t start. Look near the clutch pedal, notice small bits of plastic on the floor. Turns out there’s a little plastic bumper on the clutch pedal that pushes an electrical switch so the car knows when you’re engaging the clutch. It disintegrated, and the switch pokes right through where the bumper goes. I think I just put a plastic push pin in (the kind that hold interior panels in place), patted myself on the back, and called it a day.

  7. Several years ago we bought a new Instant Pot that wouldn’t work – the lid would lock, but it wouldn’t build pressure at all. My spouse was all set to return it when I noticed a slight dent in the rim… Pounded it to proper shape with a couple blocks of wood and it’s been working ever since.

  8. My sister had a Nintendo Switch that suddenly didn’t work and of course I’m the one they call. I don’t even have a soldering iron, and I go through all sort of debugging. I decide to order the tools for opening it up, and when I do I realize I’m out of my depth. I take apart everything but the motherboard, stick it in the oven for ten minutes, reassemble it, and it works. Perfectly.

    Of course, my sister bought a new one while I was waiting for the tools, so now I have a Nintendo Switch.

  9. I do all of my and my girlfriend’s vehicle repairs, as these days a lot of shop repair costs are simply ridiculous… and at times shoddy and/or poorly done. I am so thankful that I took an interest in all things mechanical (and electrical too) when I was young, as over time I acquired skills, experience, tools that has paid substantial dividends not just in vehicle repairs, but in most things mechanical/electrical. The dividends were both in the satisfaction of solving or fixing an issue, but also in real $. These days it appears that most people (young and old) are uninterested in learning or doing things outside of their comfort zone. The result of this is more and more reliance on others, but also increased ownership costs. This is in complete contrast to years past where the average home owner or vehicle owner would do a lot of their own repairs or maintenance. Times have sure changed.

  10. Two jobs that really stick/stink in my mind are:

    Fixing the float switch in my folks macerator which meant full disassembly, cleaning and removing the “matter with it” which was clogging it from activating.
    Twice.

    1. I had to clear some really long waste drain blockage at my sisters house. I uses two sets of rods (>25 meter) to get to the blockage. Managed to clear with the cork screw adaption which broke the blockage and then used the round plunger adaption to draw the shit out. Its a really mucky job requiring two people one to spray water on to the drains rods as you push and pull so you do not get covered in crap. The only satisfaction is watching 3 months worth of shit build up go by. It turns out the blockage is down to a combination of wet wipes from next doors shared drains and tree root infiltrating old clay pipes.

      1. A farmhouse I rented had its sewer line freeze up during a cold spell.
        The first attempt was called off when the rooter bit hit ice. The ice would be as hard (or harder) than tile pipe, so they didn’t want to cause more damage. As lignite coal is sourced locally, they piled coal along the ground above the sewer line, and kept it burning for several days. That was enough to thaw the sewer.
        But in the meantime I moved to a warmer apartment in the city.

  11. There have been several times in my career where we’ve had software problems that went away if you changed something (anything) in the program code. Those are the worst to track down. Merely adding additional logging causes the problem to disappear.

    Just because the problem stops showing up, it doesn’t mean it is fixed. It is just masked or hidden, waiting for a chance to jump out and cause havoc on another day in another way. Such bugs never count as fixed until you’ve found and can verify the cause – which may be nowhere near (in the program code) where it shows itself.

    Those always turn into a long, drawn out search for the ultimate cause. There’s usually some strange combination of actions that all have to combine to set up the needed conditions. You have find all the prerequisites for the error to happen so that you can find the source.

    I’ve seen some bugs where every developer in the (small) company has to grind away at it to find the cause – with the customer complaining every day until we could find and fix the cause. Like, the hashing library that would occasionally explode and eat up all the memory available, bringing the server process to a screeching halt until the library decided it could free the memory it had eaten – and then things would run as though there had never been a problem. That turned out to have been an error by the library packager – it was a debug version that was published as a release version. The debug version kept copies of a lot of stuff in memory so that the developers could check its internal functioning and state. When compiled as “release,” it left out all the crud and ran correctly.

    1. > Those are the worst to track down. Merely adding additional logging causes the problem to disappear.

      I had a piece of code where the run time of a loop would change whenever I changed something somewhere outside of the loop. I eventually put that loop in a separate function, so the compiler wouldn’t change it based on what else was around it.

    2. Oh man my first job out of college we ran into a really brutal one of these, we dubbed the whole category of them “heisenbugs” because trying to peek into the box with logging changed the outcome. I believe it was in .net 2.0 and when compiled for production it’d throw an exception that Microsoft said was a “compilation testing exception and should never happen in user code” but it never happened in dev mode. Stack trace was even garbage & It took us most of a week of going back through recent subversion commits and experimenting to discover that we had too many decimals in the program. It was 90% calculations & we’d decided to start swapping out floats for decimals wholesale due to rounding errors that’d show up when you took a base number and washed it through a dozen complex operations and then expected it to exactly match the excel version of the calculations the customer had provided us. Somehow we exceeded some phantom limit to how many decimals we could have in memory at once and it blew up in a way that seemed entirely unrelated.

          1. You got advice from an old person.

            Fixed point numbers are for currency and the like, for 20+ years now.

            0.01 is a repeating decimal in it’s internal floating point representation. Bean counters hate floats.

          2. Ackshully… In .NET/C#, the decimal data type is designed to handle dollar amounts and financial calculations; it is a 128-bit base-10 floating point number.
            By contrast, float and double are 32-bit and 64-bit (respectively) base-2 floating point numbers.

            0.01 has an exact representation in the decimal data type found in .NET. No repeating decimal points, and no need for a special class to store cents as integers.

    3. i’d like to say, i’ve gotten pretty good at these. i never let go of a bug once i see it, and i am pretty resilient when they play hide-and-seek. i always win. it’s easy to take it for granted.

      in order for a bug to really frustrate me these days, it has to be a spurious memory overwrite in a proprietary environment i’m forbidden from, with no core dump. augh! i’ll spend weeks on email conversations trying to figure out what debugging facility i can ask the user to try out

      1. Another nasty variant: bugs that only happen on customer systems and refuse to reproduce ever on the dev environment and then somehow a library being bugged (bonus: bug only happening on one system). Weirdest 2 i got was one where nodejs optimized in(!) a bug and a change where i added a dummy attribute to see where the object was used fixed it for some odd reason and second one where a websocket connection was one-way transmit only (not sure how that is even possible, should have wiresharked it before i nuked the system from orbit and reinstalled to get rid of the bug)

        1. There was a serious bug in the old computer game Red Alert 2 that was manifesting on some players systems but that the developers couldn’t reproduce. Ended up being that the developers had one of the affected users ship their system to the developers so they could find the cause of the issue and fix it.

    4. Friend of mine worked for a private jet company and got handed a test bed software problem. Long story short, is that under specific environment conditions within the sim, the jet would roll over, dive, and refused to recover. At which point it would either crash into the ground, or reach it’s do not exceed velocity and rip off the wings then crash into the ground.

      Spent two weeks in the lab with the bench set up tearing out his hair. Finally, out of desperation in one of those “this will never work” moods, he set up a series of digital dip switches for all the major inputs for the control surfaces and engines. It was just a crude block of on/off or up/neutral/down buttons that floated on the screen of the sim showing the airplane in flight. Once the sim reached the right conditions he just started clicking through the switches one by one.

      Turns out it was the input for the port side aileron or something simple like that. Once it passed a certain value it set up the fail state in the sim. Someone somewhere fat fingered a syntax error into the code and tacked on too many zeros to the control surface data.

      He said it was the “greatest hollow victory” he every had.

    5. Oh yeah… I’ve had to deal with a few of those over the years! Keep the diag in and it worked. comment out and problem returned. I know in one case it turned out to be a stack overflow problem. With the diag buffer defined, the overwrite was in different place on the stack where it didn’t hurt anything. Oh, yeah, sometimes not easy to locate!

      1. Another common culprit for this symptom here, at least if you’re doing any scientific, 3d, etc. computation, is alignment errors: something expects over aligned data for simd processing, but the magic incantations to get it over aligned are missing there. Works fine unless the way stuff is allocated and inlined means the vector is now miss aligned. Debugger will show you failure in a confusing place, often a null pointer exception when the pointer was not null a moment earlier.

    6. Had a bug years ago where changing anything – literally anything, adding a comment or changing indentation – fixed it. Turned out to be something like a corruption in the bytecode cache. Every time I reverted a tweak it went “yup I’ve got that already” and executed the broken bytecode. Restarting fixed it for good.

      1. Ugh, yeah I had something like that with a single bit CMOS RAM error where it didn’t recompute the checksum until it had been off for some time, sometimes got away with it being off overnight, sometimes not, but every warm boot was okay. So as long as you changed something in setup and warm booted and it didn’t redo the checksum it didn’t halt on boot for the checksum invalid. Real bizarre thing. Might have been a “semiconducting” solder joint or something causing it, but I didn’t get into a hardware fix mindset on it.

  12. I fixed a couple of different garage door opener problems without ever understanding the cause. Always seems to come down to the chain. On one occasion, the door jammed closed and would not open. The motor would make a buzzing sound, but not open. I had just come out of hospital and could not be up on stepladders etc. so it languished. It was the side for the half of the garage used for storage so not a big problem. A full year later I got up on a stepladder and saw the tension on one side of the chain was very taut and loose on the other. I released the tension, moved the chain a few links around the sprocket on the motor, and voila! I had already picked up a used motor and track from a garage sale for free that was now a waste of time. Fortunately I was able to give it away.
    The second problem happened a few years later. This time the door had a gap of an inch or so at the bottom when closed. Messing with the up and down pressure as described on various youtube videos did not work. Pressure all the way up and still would not close. Again, moving the chain a few links around the motor sprocket fixed this. Don’t understand the root cause. I can only assume that there’s some gradual slippage of the chain, but these two problems I’m pretty sure required moving the chain in different directions.

    1. I did that with an electric window motor in a car door, thought the motor was done for, got in there, wrecker yard part in hand and discovered that current part was hanging on with 1 less bolt than it should have, twisting out of place and binding up, bolted it down and tried it, worked but a tad sluggish still, guess it got a bit overworked, so put the “new” part in anyway to achieve nearer perfection, which returned it to optimum, but felt like I needn’t really have bought it, the old one might have worked for as long as I kept the car.

    2. This sounds like wind action on the door. The door is quite large maybe > 5 square meters so any direct force on the door pushes it around and makes the chain slip over the teeth putting it out of line. Next time see if it happens after a set of windy/stormy days.

  13. Then there was the natural gas fired furnace that we had installed when we built our house.

    1. The first fall, the heat wouldn’t work. we had hot water (from the same furnace) but no heat. The installer (who was supposedly trained on that model of furnace) couldn’t find the problem. I dug the installation guide out of the internet and found that there were two connections for in house thermostats. If there’s only one connected, you have to put a jumper on the second connection. An inch of wire and ten minutes work later, we had heat in the house.

    2. The furnace had a disconcerting way of firing up with a “Whump!” when the gas ignited. I didn’t like it, but the installer told me that “all furnaces from that manufacturer do it.”

    3. The furnace had a sensor for the heating circuit to tell when the water was at the correct temperature. It would go bad every year or two. Every time it went out meant a repair call and a new sensor – a couple of hundred Euros.

    4. The furnace eventually stopped meeting the exhaust gas regulations (a guy comes around every couple of years in Germany and does a check of the furnace. Required by law – you fail, your furnace gets taken out of service.) The local heating guys couldn’t get it adjusted properly. I called the manufacturer and got a simple description of the proper adjustment. I got the local heating guy back in and told him how to adjust it – me standing there, telling a trained technician step for step what to do. That got the exhaust gas back in compliance, but it also go rid of the “Whump!” It seems the technicians had never, ever adjusted any of that model of furnace according to the manufacturer’s directions.

    5. Surprise! After the furnace was adjusted to no longer go “Whump!”, it quit eating sensors. The vibration from the “Whump!” had been killing the temperature sensors.

    We eventually had to replace that furnace. You had to have the combustion chamber disassembled once a year to clean the heat exchanger. One of the technicians managed to install a gasket the wrong way around and destroy the combustion chamber.

    1. I’ve had similar things with a furnace in a home that I purchased. Fighting with calibrating it and sensors until I finally got it working correctly. I also decided that I would clean the internal heat exchanger for our heatpump while I was servicing it, only to find out that I could only access the heat exchanger by removing the gas furnace all together or discharging the working fluid to pull out the heat exchanger. So now 2 years later I am constantly bothered by knowing a 10 minute job to maintain this equipment is being prevented by the way that it is installed.

      1. Just curious – could cut away some sheet metal with nibblers to gain access, then duct tape a flat piece of patch metal over the hole when you’re done? It’s called Duct Tape for a reason. Nothing to do with waterfowl…

    1. I don’t know what RCD means but if it means unplug this NOW! I agree. Obvious place to look is the burner socket and wire going to same to the closest point the wire is anchored/clamped, and make sure the ground wire is actually connected/functional

      1. RCD (Residual Current Device) is the brit version of a ground fault circuit interrupter, if Wikipedia is correct.

        But yeah; live mains sitting somewhere it should not be? No Bueno.

      2. RCD = Residual-Current Device, I believe, which is like (same as) a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter).

        Yeah, I feel this isn’t a “repair win” but just accepting/shrugging-off risk of serious injury. A “spicy” shock when removing a pan of hot liquid could quickly turn into an ER trip.

        Very glad that “kid” != “child” in this story.

  14. My car had a small persistent water leak. I had sent it to the garage a number of times. They had inspected it and found no issues, even putting dye in it to no avail. However I have a phobia against water leaks because once i ignored one and it ended up with £2000 worth of damage as it had worn away aluminum block which had to be skimmed, so i was determined to do something about it.

    In my last car the heating system had sprung a leak meaning i drove in my own rain shower causing the windscreen to mist up. A mechanic friend of mine said it was not worth fixing since it would involve basically stripping the entire console down (it was a French car), so he said putting rad weld in would fix it. He did so and the issue went away

    Anyway I was getting very frustrated with my water leak and refilling it with coolant was costing almost as much as petrol, so i thought put some rad weld in it, what could go wrong? Anyway I checked on the internet and it said it would cause no issues, got the bottle and followed the instructions very carefully.

    Everything was fine until 3 days later when driving on the motorway suddenly the temperature gauge went into the red and all sort of warning lights started flashing meaning I had to pull over and call out recovery to tow me home.

    I took it back to the garage who told me the electric water pump was seized and needed a replacement. Also the interface between the car interior heating system and the engine was now full of rad weld and needed replacing – £1000 worth of damage for a £20 jar of rad weld.

    The good new was that they also replaced a pipe that was wearing and I no longer have a water leak

    1. Ah yes, broken by stop-leak products, a classic category, and quite the trap. I think the general principle now is “only use if you know you’ll replace everything it touches anyway” but I empathize with those who have to do it anyway, or are led to believe it is a safe stop gap. (Even more confusing, there is one additive for cooling systems that is ok and often factory used, so it’s thus an exception to the rule…)

  15. I had that exact stove issue a few years ago at a place I was renting. They had the home warranty crap, so called those people. Electrician shows up, agrees the stove seems to be live and looks around back to see it’s partially unplugged from the socket. Then he gives me the bad news, the socket needs to be flipped over so it can make a secure connection but he’s legally not allowed to do it, nor is it covered under the home warranty.

    Of course he sees the WTF look on my face and after the I can’t fix it speech was over, he immediately goes “I have to say that but I’ll flip the socket for you, the rules are stupid and I’m not leaving someone getting shocked”.

    Once the plug was fully seated, all was good. Can’t say it’s the same but worth a look and still fits the articles, doh that was too easy.

    I have to agree with this too “But for me, the best part of being the fix-it guy is the satisfaction that comes from doing something others can’t do”. And for me at least it’s less of an ego thing but more of it’s nice to help someone out that otherwise would have had to figure out who can fix it and may not have had much fun doing so. Plus for those willing, teaching them a little bit along the way.

    1. “‘I have to agree with this too “But for me, the best part of being the fix-it guy is the satisfaction that comes from doing something others can’t do”. And for me at least it’s less of an ego thing but more of it’s nice to help someone out that otherwise would have had to figure out who can fix it and may not have had much fun doing so. “”

      The trap there is having to live up to your own legend… especially when you accidentally enhanced it by knowing some quick little tricks, like cinching a laptop SATA drive back in place when it looks like the whole machine is failing, throwing errors up the wazoo, and stuff of that type that takes two mins and appears to be a near miraculous cure. Ppl locked out of their PC by a CMOS password the kid set and the first default you try works. Cars that have a collision switch for gas pump cutoff that gets jarred on a big pothole and you basically turn it off and back on again to bring car alive. Then you try and play it down with “oh no no, that sounds like something huge and expensive, I can’t just magic it back to life again” but they talk you into taking a look before a “professional” reams them and gah, if it isn’t some stupid thing that takes seconds to put right, and you’re raising the dead again.

      1. >The trap there is having to live up to your own legend…
        Yeah, Dad and I ended up with a fun one that way – recover the data from a mangled laptop that appears to have used bios level disk encryption, but the owner has no clue. Fortunately didn’t actually have to try and figure out how that machine was encrypted at all – the damage was huge but the really mangled corner that destroyed the power input and on-switch was fortunately not part of the motherboard on this model so cheap replacement part allowed an easy win.

        Both disappointing as I was really curious to try breaking such encryption with direct hardware access, and great as too damn busy and tired at the time to really want to as well…

        1. By BIOS-level disk encryption I’m guessing you mean the HDD password that some BIOS menus allow you to set. In 99% of cases it’s a so-called ATA Password which is set at HDD firmware level – the HDD rejects read/write commands until unlocked with the password, but the data on the platters is unencrypted (unless the drive itself is self-encrypting). A data recovery company can bypass the ATA password with modified HDD firmware.
          … or – knowing the password – you can hook up the HDD to another computer and use a free utility like MHDD or HDAT2 to unlock the HDD and then disable the password.

          1. There are models of computer that store keys in the secure parts of the firmware (involving things like the TPM) that get used to encrypt the data on the disk and prevent the disk from even working in any other system.

  16. In 2009, I replaced my old dishwasher with a new model. It served me well until about 2018, when it started leaving puddles on the floor (but only on the 2nd cycle).

    I had an appliance repairman come in, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. He checked the drain, the mascerator, water flow, door seal, and a number of other factors, but could not find the problem. Cost me about $100 for the visit, and I still had puddles every time I ran the dishwasher.

    So, I looked myself. There’s a vent on the door that’s supposed to let the steam out. If the steam doesn’t get out through that vent, it builds up and condenses in the body of the door, where it then drips down the frame and on to the floor. It takes a lot of steam before this happens, so the condensation only appears around the time the second cycle starts. That vent was clogged.

    The vent cover just snaps in and out; I popped it out, cleaned out about 10 years of soap residue, and popped the cover back on. No tools other than a scrub brush and hot water.
    I haven’t had a problem with puddles ever since.

    1. i fixed a dishwasher for my sister after burning my lips on dish washer powder residue left on plates and glasses. It turns out the water spinner at the top of the machine had become blocked. The small apertures that let water out also makes the water arm spin so you don’t get the dishes rinsed properly. Just take the spinner of and clean the holes.

  17. For a while one model of apple charger had a really terrible strain relief on it so the cable would crack. A friend asked if I could fix it, so I made this strain relief that was a tiny tophat-shaped piece of lathe cut aluminum that glued on the side of the charger and had a long piece of surgical tubing in it to protect the cable, with some hotglue in the tubing to keep the cable in.
    The surgical tubing promptly failed because I hadn’t sufficiently chamfered the end of the aluminum bit, and cut right through the wire.
    I’ve made a lot of replacement strain reliefs and usually they’ve worked okay, but I was pretty unhappy with that one.
    Oh, another one: recumbent bicycle with lots of exposed chain that left big chain oil marks all over legs and pants. I saw a thing about taking a polyethylene tube and running the chain through it. It worked really great! Until the mounting that I’d made for the tube broke, and then the rider was stuck out in the middle of nowhere because the tube was getting into the chainring. I needed something bonded to the tube much more securely than what I did, like maybe heat-reforming the tube to make an oversized collar on it. (It’s difficult to do because the chain moves around as you shift, so it can’t be a solid mounting. I made a clamp backed up by a ring that stuck through the tube end, but both failed.)

    1. My recumbent use rubber lined P-clamps. The tube eventually walks it’s way out, but you can just push and twist it back into place. Also I always carry spare duct tape which would at least not leave me stranded.

    2. I saw just recently somenoe hacked separable conduit of proper size onto the chain itself, to the tube was ridng along. It didn’t interfere with sprockets because conduit was open at bottom and chain could engage. No clue about derailer’s operation, though. Might have been internal planetary gearbox or single speed.

  18. I bought sony 40″ LCD, few year’s ago, no power up but after some measurements- 3.3 line short. I try to make test using thermal cam but don’t have lab power supply at home, only some liion cel. It’s have large short current but I try and suprise – nothing go hot, conductive test show open line, Tv start and work properly. Mayby some shorted protect diode gone ;-). Last year my siemens refrigerator, after two heart transplant (compresor), fail permanently, in control board simply cap and zener power supply fail- trace between some series of zener are electrolitic damage, output voltage kill cpu, not avaliable with program in ROM. Last think before scrapyard- try “Sony TV hack” – and next surprise, cpu start work, and after one year it’s look ok. First compressor exchange it’s my mistake, controler due to another zener short, open triac only in one half of sin, supplying motor width DC current, in second time, 5 years later, permanently short wiring to ground.

  19. I get crap piled up on my fix it bench by everyone. Job one was a kids bath toy that squirts water out. It was kaput so after attempting to non-destructively take it apart I got to do my favorite: destructively take apart the thermo welds and harvest it’s parts.
    Next job was a crapped out fingernails dryer thingee and lo and behold, the motor had given up the ghost. I promptly repurposed the motor from the bath toy and after a few minutes of shimming, successfully performed a motor transplant. Had I done these random jobs in opposite order it wouldn’t have worked out.
    Unrelated but in general, YouTube plus amazon for speciality tools has already saved me thousands in car repairs for my now out of warranty automobile.

  20. I have that all the time with network management or developing software! The fix is often installing newer software, rebooting, resetting a device etc.
    Or with a programming bug a few characters can make all the difference in bringing down and fixing something very complex.

    As for more hands on repairs, I had made a thermometer with a mcu and led display. At some point it stopped working. I thought it might need to be reprogrammed, sometimes flash memory in mcu’s can get garbled with power spikes. It turned out the usb charger that I was using as psu.

    For my car, the ABS module malfuntioned, when on the highway the spedometer and other stuff just turned off, engine power gone, could only drive in the second gear at 80km/h. I’ve asked the garage to remove the module so I could take a look inside. Not much could be seen. The connectors though were just press fitted into PCB vias. This was a common issue with these things, most failed after 10-15 years. I’ve soldered them and the unit worked fine now for a couple of years. Very easy fix, too easy.

    I’ve also replaced many fuses in electronics and stuff just continued working for years.

    A tv remote where the buttons didn’t work very well, I broke out my graphite ink. When open I’ve found some liquid with the consistency and stickiness of oil was found between the membrane and pad. A good clean and everything worked again, as new.

    We all remember those old picture tube TV sets that with just a knock it would bring them back to life lol!

  21. Being an Electronic Tech / Maintenance Repair in a huge manufacturing plant, fixing things without fixing them is an everyday occurrence. 1) Cycle Power … fixes 90% of the problems. 2) Reset something that is resettable by the operator (E-Stop for example) … that fixes 5% of the problems. 3) Walking up to the machine and it starts working perfectly fine on its own … that fixes 3% of the problems. The remaining 2% actually involves my training and skill.

  22. My wife reported that our Kia minivan’s horn wasn’t working. I checked the switch in the steering wheel and it was working, and the horn was working when I pressed the button on the key fob. Web suggested that the clockspring was a likely culprit. I ordered a new clockspring. The plugs didn’t fit–they sent one for a different vehicle. I put the old one back in, and air bag failure light. I waited for a replacement clockspring. When removing the old clockspring, I noticed that the clockspring that I tried to install for the wrong vehicle bent a pin. Fortunately, I could straighten it, and the airbag light went off with the new clockspring. But the horn still didn’t work. And now the cruise control didn’t work either.

    Eventually I noticed that the second replacement clockspring, while fitting, was also for the wrong vehicle, and didn’t connect all the lines I needed. And I finally bothered to check the continuity on the original clockspring and it was fine. I put it back on, and the airbag diagnostic light was fine, cruise control was fine, but the horn still didn’t work. I checked at the fusebox that there was a signal when the horn button on the steering wheel was pressed. I paid Kia to get 72 hours of service manual access. Only then did it occur to me to look carefully at the physical horn. And it was unplugged! The beeper on the key fob was working because the vehicle has two horns, one activated by the key fob and one by the switch on the wheel.

    I think what happened was that the last time I had professional service on the vehicle (generally they are very solid), they unplugged the horn and forgot to plug it back in. All is well now. I got a refund for the clockspring. I printed the service manuals to PDF (since each screen in Kia’s manual system has a prominent “print” button, I assumed they were OK with that) for future use. And I learned about how the steering wheel insides work. But it was annoying: two mistakes by an online clockspring seller plus one by the service people. And a lot of time.

  23. I think my best worst repair win was a MacBook that somebody has spilt a beer over at work. So I took the unit home and I took the motherboard out, and fortunately a friend had quite a lot of isopropyl alcohol, so I dunked the motherboard in the isopropyl alcohol and left it a little while, agitated quite a bit just to make sure it got in all of them nooks and crannies, although there be a big part of me, dunking this motherboard into a “wet” liquid just seemed wrong.

    I took the motherboard out and gave it a nice scrub, and reinstalled it into the MacBook. To my surprise I booted up the unit and it works fine! But alas only for a couple of days. I can’t remember whether he retrieved his data off of it….

  24. What I find deeply unsatisfying is that I am so good at fixing things that problems run and hide as soon as I am in the same room as them, then sneak back once I am 200 miles away again.

    1. I get that once in awhile at work. Someone will tell me they are having a problem with an application. I’ll walk into their area and ask to repeat it. It works. No problem…. I like those easy fixes :) but usually ask the next time to try to remember exactly what they were doing at the time….

      1. Back when I did on-site computer support, I carried a two pound sledge in my tool case.

        I’d go to look at somebody’s computer problem, and (of course) it was all working properly. I’d laugh and tell whoever it was that computers know not to misbehave in my presence because they knew about the hammer. Then I’d open my case and show the person the hammer. Got lots of laughs.

    2. I have a very special debugging skill. When people ask me to look at their code, often I hear “Oh I see it” before I even understand what’s wrong. Even though they let other people look at their problem, my presence lets them find and solve their issues.

  25. My dishwasher refused to run. I usually do the fixit thing, but I was busy so I hired a guy.

    He diagnosed the Mainboard, but he didn’t have one on hand, so he scheduled a followup. A different tech showed up a few days later with the new Mainboard, loudly declaring that the last guy was a hack, and it’s never the Mainboard. He was right, the new board did nothing, but he couldn’t diagnose it. They offered to send a third guy.

    By now it was the weekend and I dug in with my trusty $5 multimeter. When latched closed, one of the two latch sensor buttons wasn’t closed. I bent the latch to apply more force to the button, and it worked great. It’s continued working for about 6 years now and still ticking.

  26. My worst win was having to bypass a faulty power switch on my 3d printer; that model’s first production (which mine was part of) had a number of units with bad power entrance modules. To be fair, after bypassing it, it worked fine for a year or two afterwards, at which point the rest of the module smoked out; Ended up replacing it with a name brand PEM from Digikey for about twice the price of another ‘no name’ module.

    That wasn’t the most expensive thing I’ve replaced, though- that would be the main drain line on the house that we found during the remodel of both bathrooms. (The contractor pulled the tub out of the main bathroom, and the drain for it literally fell off what was left of the drain pipe; an inspection camera revealed the entire line between the two bathrooms was completely rusted out.) That was 21 thousand US pesos, but they only had to make two holes in the foundation, and one in the yard. The subcontractor used a technique called pipe bursting to run the replacement ABS pipe where the old cast iron line was. (I don’t generally do plumbing work anymore, because it usually spirals out of control from when I start with it to when the plumber comes in to bail me out…)

  27. Worst “not-repair” – residential grade routers (linksys, etc) and even isp provided modems always have buggy firmware. After some amount of time (a week? a month?) something goes wrong requiring the device to be rebooted. I can’t fix the ISP required modem; it’s required. What’s worse is that they will fix the bug about once every 3-6 months, then it’ll come back 6 months later. so sometimes I’ll go 6 months between reboots, and then it’s weekly for 3 months… ugh. On occasion I can upgrade the router firmware with openwrt, but most of the time it’s just “reboot this once a week, and you’ll be fine”. But even open firmware isn’t always a solution. I have some Gl.iNet “Mango” GL-MT300N-V2 routers, and even with openwrt, they crash very frequently. In one place I installed two to allow for failover and reboot them daily; it’s the wifi that dies, the rest of the system is accessible (I can ssh in). It’s completely unpredictable when it’ll fail. Even at home providing connectivity for my IoT devices (all 3 of them), it crashes regularly, at least once a week.

    1. Maybe try setting up an old desktop as a pfsense box and just using the router as an AP, ever since I’ve been doing that with a variety of wireless routers I’ve never had a reboot required issue

    2. I was running openwrt on a tplink router, I forget why but it needed to reboot often. I found out how to use cron to automatically reboot every night at 4am. No one has noticed a problem since. I have also used a Christmas light timer to reboot a router.

      @dan open firmware can still have some wierd issues. But yeah, nothing beats an old system for network management. However, I leave my ISP wifi on incase I make a mistake and bring down everything.

  28. Nothing quite like replacing the motor mounts on a car, after being very careful to get the ones preferred by the community, and finding it still rattles you nearly as much once you’re done, and now has an added rubber stink due to the new motor mounts off gassing. (Anybody else have that happen in a Saturn s-series?)

  29. As a fly-in electronics repair tech, I relish the simple fixes, even if they are obvious. It relieves the time pressures and lets you explore the location you find yourself in. It also reminds you to check the simple things first, and verify actions others have taken.

  30. Back in 1989 I converted my 4-cylinder 1973 Mercury Capri automatic to standard. Overall that was easy. The problem came about when I realized the transmission I had was for a 6-cylinder. That would normally only require a bell housing swap but I also didn’t have the drive shaft of the right length. I DID have a 4-cylinder transmission but it too had an issue(that I’ve since forgotten) and I had the drive shaft that went with it. So what I had to do was disassemble the 6-cyl transmission, remove the tailshaft and replace it with the tailshaft from the 4-cyl transmission. I did this in my HOT attic in the summer, swapping all the needle bearings, etc. ever so carefully. After a couple of months of carefully checking every measurement, accounting for every bearing, etc. I reassembled it completely, put on the new bell housing and then hooked it up to the car. The only issue that held me back was that in the process of removing the driveshaft one of the u-joints died(they were press-in so you destroyed them when you had to remove them). They weren’t cheap and I had to work a lot to save up for one. I was about a week from getting paid when some nosy neighbor had the car towed illegally so I never got to drive my creation. I did later buy a 1973 Capri with a V6 and standard but then some lady without insurance ran a stop sign and I was once again left without a car.

    1. I also once converted a slush box to a real tranny.

      Never again. You will never get all the parts needed and will run near endless laps to the junkyard.

      I did get 90% of my parts in one day back when pickandpull had ‘all you can carry out for $75’ days.

      I’ve never met anyone who did that twice. Just sell the car and get the one you want. Worse with modern cars, but so is everything.

      A 73 capri? Wasn’t that the mercury version of a mustang II? What were you thinking?

  31. A couple of things…

    Fixed my Mother-in-law’s refrigerator, just caked dust on the fins. She was ready to kill me, but then since she couldn’t get a new (what she wanted anyway) unit for 3 weeks decided I could live…

    At work a number of vendors say “no, it can’t do that.” I’m the guy they turn to when we hear those phrases and I’m batting about 800 on modifications and building interfaces to keep things running for years beyond the point where the vendors were insistent that we upgrade to the “LATEST AND GREATEST”

  32. I think my most frustrating, least satisfying fix was my car rattle. I bought a used (~ 5 year old) Camry and due to it burning oil, had the engine replaced (under dealer’s warranty) with another. The “new” engine was a year newer, but roughly the same mileage. Everything worked fine, but when going over bumps I could hear and feel something knocking around. I took it back 2-3 times for that knocking and nobody could find it. I eventually gave up and lived with it. A year or two later I decided I was going to find it… Eventually I did – between the engine and the firewall I found a connector / wire harness (not sure for what) attached to a small metal L-bracket. Apparently the tech that replaced the engine couldn’t figure out where that bracket was supposed to bolt to, so they ZIP-TIED it to a BRAKE line. Loosely. So every time I went over a bump I’d hear metal-on-metal knocking and sometimes feel it in the brake pedal.

    I couldn’t find where the bracket was supposed to attach either, so I removed the bracket from the connector and just zip-tied the wire/connector to a support bar that was back there. Rattle gone.

    1. A story I heard was a lady took her car to a garage with a persistent squeak in the back. Whenever she went over a roadbump, the car made a high pitched squeak.

      the garage put the car on the lift, checked the wheels, suspension and everything they could think of, but could find no reason for the squeak.

      So the head mechanic took the car onto the road. Drove over a sleeping policeman, again a high pitched squeak. Went back to the garage, checked the body work, the boot nothing.

      Drove out again, same problem. Then they decided to check the rear seat…..

      You see the lady had a dog, and the dog liked its chew toys, and being a dog it also liked to bury it toys, in this case down the back of the seat…

  33. Working on my sister’s car, a little 2 seater sports car. I know she doesn’t have much money (she was a starving student and single mother), so when her fuel pump failed, I took it apart.

    It was basically a solenoid buzzer with a plastic diaphragm valve. The plastic diaphragm had mostly disintegrated. A new pump was $150.

    So I paid $5 for a sheet of thin brass, and laboriously cut it out to the exact size and shape of the plastic diaphragm. It worked! Worked great, but now from the trunk you could here “ping ping ping ping” quietly as it worked.

    She heard it and said go buy a new pump. Sigh…

  34. Eso les pasa por sentir que ya lo saben todo o que lo han visto todo, se confían y obvian cosas o descartan posibilidades sencillas por que a uno le gusta complicarse, ya que uno quiere usar todo su arsenal para resolver el problema, cuando al final podría ser un simple cable dañado…. cuando es mas frustrante no encontrar el problema, una reparación es ganar y si es algo que habías pasado por alto y era mas sencillo de lo que pensabas entonces ganas el doble: la satisfacción y la sabiduría.

    1. Courtesy Google Translate:

      That happens to them because they feel that they already know everything or that they have seen everything, they trust and ignore things or rule out simple possibilities because one likes to get complicated, since one wants to use all their arsenal to solve the problem, when in the end it could be a simple damaged cable…. when it is more frustrating not to find the problem, a repair is winning and if it is something that you had overlooked and it was easier than you thought then you win double: satisfaction and wisdom.

      (Omar, why couldn’t you do that yourself before posting your comment in an English language forum? Sigh.)

  35. I was asked to fix a laptop and I just couldn’t get it to work. When I was giving up and putting stuff away it slipped off the desk and fell to the floor. I was of course mortified that it fell and I immediately tried to turn on the dead laptop that just took a fall. And it turned on, worked for a bit while I did some basic diagnostics, and eventually turned off. I explained the situation to the owner and showed the side to drop it on and the owner was able to get their files off with a couple drops.

    1. Had the same thing with my cello teacher. She lent me her metronome along with a 9V wall wart because “It never works on battery power.” Turned it on (using 9v power supply) and noticed a strange buzzing from the speaker when not in use, so I took it apart and couldn’t see anything strange. Changed the 9V battery and it worked fine from battery power. The issue was the ‘9V’ power supply but when interrogated with a multimeter it read 13V – not enough of a difference to make the metronome stop working, but enough to kill any 9V batteries inside and make the speaker buzz.

    2. I have a mechanical metronome that I picked up somewhere.
      It’s a wonder of engineering, the tempo is set by sliding a weight up or down on the inverted pendulum. Either the pendulum shaft is worn thin in places, or the metal clamp on the weight is dull and doesn’t grab as well as it should, because the weight often slides down to a faster rhythm. I’ve tried to increase the clamping pressure, but that didn’t fix it.

      1. I have that metronome, but it’s new enough to work fine. Did you try to put a thin piece of metal (like glue a section of a thin paperclip) under the clamp so it clicks into the slots?

  36. My latest (autocorrect offered “lamest”) LOSS was my 8 y.o. PC video failure.
    The Samsung monitor has VGA and HDMI connectors.
    It would not display video with either input, but would display which input it was attempting to hook up to.
    I hooked up the PC to a VGA display and have been using that. I couldn’t find any service info for the monitor on the web so I attempted to work on the Samsung “blind”. I couldn’t find any way to open the case, so tried peeling the trim off hoping to find hidden screws. The trim ended up breaking.
    Last week I found my old Raspberry Pi Model B and decided to hook it to the Samsung. Its HDMI worked!
    Except now the display has a number of lines in it where the LCD was damaged while trying to remove the trim.
    So, was it the PC video that failed? The HDMI cable?

    B^(

  37. -= Fixed something so easy a child could of fixed =-
    By trade I am a AV integrator. Really and truly I work with all of the low voltage stuff. I was at a customer’s house installing a Alarm system that the panel was in the same location as their AV head end panel. When I was plugging in the Alarm panel’s power I saw a Ethernet cable clearly halfway plugged into a switch so I pushed it in all the way. Thirty minutes later the customer comes rushing in the closet and asks me how did I fix his Living room Sonos. I was kinda confused and he went on how he had BestBuy out there countless times to try and fix it and they couldn’t fix it. So I went back into the panel and unplugged that Ethernet cable and the Living room Sonos went offline, I plug it back in and it comes back online. The customer gave me a 100 bucks and bought me lunch.

    Just so you know even the pros have trouble. Had many service calls because the last company couldn’t figure it out and would be a simple fix that literately took five minutes to fix VS the other company sending out two or three other techs spending hours scratching their heads.

    -= Damn son and his floor =-
    My oldest son wanted to redo the flooring in his room. He bought the most expensive flooring home depot had. It was a floating laminate flooring and there was three plank sizes width wise. After an hour and only getting the second row of a small section done I said “f**k it, I’m done!”. His younger brother came in and took over, he had the whole floor done in an hour. Top things off he never done a floor before.

    YouTube just makes it to easy, after watching a few videos I was ready but in practice I wasn’t.

  38. I had a 1983 Mercedes 300d. The vacuum line cracked and the key wouldn’t shut off the car. I had to get out and push the stop button. I finally fixed it by stuffing a pencil each line that was not fuel shutoff.

    Then I found out the girls found it attractive for some reason. would have been more useful if I had left it broken. If only I could fix my understanding of women.

  39. 1984 Plymouth Voyager 2.2l wouldn’t start after a curbside oil change. Took me 3 hours to figure out that in removing the filter, I must have bumped the distributor’s Hall-effect sensor cable. The connector pair was all green and corroded inside. A few minutes with the soldering iron and shrink tubing, and it ran fine. At least it had the decency to happen at the curb, not out on the road.

    1. Ugh, 1984 Voyagers.

      Mine had the 2.6L engine. Started losing power on acceleration after a few years. Took it to the dealership, they said that it needed a new carburetor. Replaced that, and it worked — for a while, then developed the same problem again.

      I eventually took the carburetor apart and inspected it with my super-nearsighted vision, and discovered that there were small flakes of rust plugging some of the ports. Ah, rust — like the rust that was covering the bottom of the air filter housing, BOTH UPSTREAM AND DOWNSTREAM of the filter.

      I vacuumed out that housing thoroughly. Then, and this is the “lose” part, I taped a fine tube to the end of the Shop-Vac and sucked the rust out of the ports. Along with enough GASOLINE that I started smelling it coming out of the vacuum about the time I finished. Fortunately I had a good roll of the dice this time, and nothing caught fire.

      From then on, the carburetor was just fine. Eventually the transmission failed. I wasn’t up to fixing THAT myself, so it was time for that vehicle to retire.

  40. Bought a house that came with an electric stove. The lights and clock worked fine, the elements and oven didn’t heat up properly. Found that the chassis was 120V above earth ground. Pulled the stove out, discovered that the building had a 4-wire range socket, but the stove had a 3-wire pigtail. Some dim bulb had twisted the prongs so they would sorta mate with the socket, but the neutral ended up flipped with one of the phases.

  41. House call on a TV with a shaking/shivering screen. Intermittent. Just could not figure it out, nothing seemed to correlate. So I took it back to the “shop” (my apartment).
    Just could not get it to malfunction. Well, the customer has paid for a house call no matter what, and I’m not giving it back without doing something. So I resoldered every connection that even looked slightly suspect, or was attached to something or near something that gets warm.
    Back to the customer. Working great, then… it shivers! DAmmit!
    Wait… what was that? I heard a quiet “tick” just as the shivering started. Walk over to the thermostat, turn it down, shivering stops. Turn it up, shivering starts.
    After a series of questions, I find out his brother-in-law, not an electrician, put in some kind of ceiling heating system. I told them he did it incorrectly, against code, and to call an electrician because he’s made a giant loop of wire in the ceiling.

  42. A friend said that if I’d come over and hook his new scanner up to his computer, he’d cook dinner for my wife and I. I would have anyway.
    His computer booted to “Drive not found Abort Cancel Retry”. I told him he has bigger problems than scanner drivers, he hands me the Windows install disks. When he bought it, they wanted to charge him more to actually install Windows, so he said no.
    So what he actually needed was for me to install Windows. Sigh… fine. Did that, installed whatever punky DTP program he got with the scanner and the scanner is now working.
    Sat down to eat in the living room, everyone on the TV looks like an alien with HUGE foreheads. I tell him I can fix his TV, too, if he’d like.
    He gets rather angry and tells me there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THE TV!!
    Uh… OK. Thanks for half of dinner, see you later.

    1. Back in DOS/Novell days I worked with a bible thumper/preachers daughter. She was nice enough, so I pulled the ROM out of her computer and updated it.

      Her error message from then on was ‘Adopt, retry, fail?’

      I sadly wasn’t there for her ‘golden six months’ of rebellion. Too bad, those are fun. Loved the way ‘her legs made an ass of themselves’.

      Also ‘General Failure’ requires a screen salute. Have you ever met any actual generals?

  43. Years ago my sister flew me up from Florida to Maine as a surprise for our mother at Christmas time ” she was in hospice at her house with a nurse that came out to look after her , my sister who didn’t drive but her husband at the time did and her adult kids did had 2 cars and one truck that didn’t run.
    I don’t remember the makes but one had a blown engine so it was a nogo but the other car had a bad starter and the blown engine ones starter was not going to work on the other car.
    The truck was up on blocks with no tires so i looked at it’s starter , pulled it out and tested to see if it would spin and actuate … IT DID ! but was too large to fit the car …. but the actuator for it was the same size for the car!
    So I Frankestiened .the two :P… Two hours of crawling around in 5 inches of snow and fighting to get it in , Started right up !!

    It was the last Christmas I had with my mom, she passed away on the 27 …. But I was able to make her a snow angel and put a smile on her face a few days before then.

    1. Good story/fix

      Close to that was some lashup I had with an alternator, had one maybe for a Mercury Cougar I think it was, had a dead alt in a Ford Tempo… bolt mountings were different but it looked like the same damn part… so back of dead one came off and bolted onto the other and I was motoring again..

  44. I bought a 60W CO2 laser cutter in 2007 or so, shipped directly from China, and it doesn’t work. The gantry moves, but no laser, no cutting. I’m disheartened, and can’t figure out what’s wrong. Obviously the door safety interlock works, since the gantry moves, so the problem is in the Instant Death Zone (laser power supply). I have this massive sunk cost, but I don’t want to make it worse somehow, so I don’t do much of anything with it and it sits in the corner mocking me.

    Then I unhook and ring out the door safety switch with a multimeter. Turns out that it doesn’t work, but it was never built to block operation of the gantry. It only stops the laser from firing. Once I taped a stronger magnet to the door, everything was fine, and that magnet is still there, 15 years later.

  45. So i had a computer that after a thunderstorm would not turn on. After some diagnosing I found out one of my hard drives had shorted out and was pulling down the psu making it not turn on.

    Now this hard drive was one of my 2 hard drives that was running the system in a pure stripe raid with no parity. Not redundant at all so I was fonked, right? No.

    After isolating it to that HD I decided do do what those in the EE business call “find the short” I mean what did I have to lose right?

    I repeatedly shorted the power “button” on the atx 24p connector to have the psu keep on trying to power instead of going into current limit mode and shutting down. I was also too lazy to find the bench power supply. After about 20s of this something smoked on the HDD board. It was an SMB diode near the power connector, likely a tvs diode.

    I then reassembled my system and powered up and everything booted fine, I decided to order a new raid array with parity this time, but that hard drive worked for another 3 years before I decommissioned it.

    1. Hah, had something similar happen to the computer of a relative.
      Don’t remember the exact circumstances but I think it just didn’t turn on anymore.
      Culprit was a burned DVD burner shorting the PSU and it smelled a lot like “magic smoke” but my relative didn’t smell anything….

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