Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

March 1, 2015
Even the most experienced professionals need to follow some system of quality control

I was in business with my parents for a lifetime: 38 years with my father, 40 with my mom. Because we worked together in the same community in which we raised our kids, their wisdom and their values were woven into the fabric of our children’s lives. Our kids liked having their grandparents close and have made it clear that’s what they want for their children.  

Because both kids live less than an hour away, we see them often. Seeing your kids often can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing for the good times and sometimes a curse for the occasional crisis. We experienced an example of the latter roughly a month ago when we were hanging out with our kids and granddaughter and discovered a puddle beginning to form on the kitchen floor, just in front of the sink. 

The garbage disposal was leaking through the case and had filled the cabinet under the sink with water, saturating everything under there. It was obvious the disposal could not be repaired and would need to be replaced. The kids began calling around to see who they should use, went online to check reviews, and ultimately, called a local, licensed and bonded plumber with an excellent reputation.

The appointment was made, the disposal was installed and everyone lived happily ever after—until one night when we heard the sound of water flowing under high pressure and realized the dishwasher’s air gap was hemorrhaging enough “dishwasher water” to fill the sink. I got up from the dinner table and walked over to the sink, marveling at the amount of water going down the drain during California’s worst drought in a hundred years.

I looked over at our son-in-law.

He looked back, put his hands out in front of him and said, “It’s never done that before. We would have noticed!”

“When do you normally run the dishwasher?” I asked.

“At night, before we go upstairs to bed,” he said.

“So, it’s possible this has happened before without your being down here to witness it,” I suggested.

“Sure,” he responded. “What difference does that make?”

I told him if it’s full and hasn’t been run, it can block the return line from the air gap and when it does, the result we were seeing is what happens. The disposal was pristine—clean and empty. Then I remembered it had just been replaced a few weeks earlier.

I opened the cabinet and saw that the area under the sink was flooded again. As we were busy moving everything out from under the sink, I explained how the disposal and dishwasher are “tied” together. Since the dishwasher was discharging wastewater into the sink through the air gap, I checked to see if the line going back to the disposal had somehow become obstructed. 

It wasn’t. It was plugged solid and sealed at the factory with a plastic plug that needed to be physically punched out if the disposal was going to be used with a dishwasher. 

The plumber had installed the disposal properly and professionally with new hoses and hose clamps, all of which were tight and sealed. But, he had failed to punch the air gap return line plug before he installed it. He put a new hose and a new clamp on a blind, blocked inlet and never checked to see if it was working!

Certainly a rookie mistake, the kind of thing only someone new would make. Only, this wasn’t a newbie.

I punched the plug out and then began to think about all the times we’ve been confronted with the same kind of impossible-to-understand failures here at the shop. We’ve had vehicles that appeared with bolts that hadn’t been tightened to spec or had been left off altogether, hydraulic lines that had been left loose and leaking, coolant hoses installed without a clamp, filters left loose, and crankcase levels too low or too high because they were never checked after having been serviced.

All of these are rookie mistakes, likely to be made by a novice, but more often than not, are made by professionals suffering from that most dreaded of all conditions, the “momentary lapse of consciousness.”

Then, I started to wonder how many times someone here has made the same kind of dumb, thoughtless, unconscious errors. How many vehicles escaped all of the policies, procedures and tests in place to ensure something like that can’t and won’t ever happen?

I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Damned few, I hope.”

We combat momentary lapses of consciousness the only way you can, with meticulous attention to detail—every detail—or at least we try. We do it to prevent someone else, someplace else, from saying, “What kind of a rookie did that?”  

And, we do it because no one wants to be placed in a situation where they have to answer a question like that. Not me. Not you. Not anyone. 

Certainly no one who takes what they do seriously. 

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at [email protected].

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