Shop "trouble"...any advice?

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1,416
Location
US
Way back in April, I dropped my MG off at a local shop that specializes in older cars(both American and British) but also works on anything and does everything from simple jobs to full rusted top->concourse(or in between) restoration. They've worked on my car before, and I've seen the quality of MGs and other cars rolling out of the shop to trust them.

In any case, I'd had a overdrive transmission-tested and working-kicking around for a little while, but at the time didn't have the space or really time to install it myself. I also wanted to change the front and rear main seals and put a new timing set in it. We agreed to a price up-front for the job, of course with the handshake verbal agreement that if any issues came up, they'd be addressed and priced appropriately. For reference, that agreed price was $1K. They also said that the initial 1 month timeline I requested was more than doable.

Fast forward, and before yanking the engine they call me down to show me compression test results, which were bad(75psi #2, 90psi #3, highest 130psi in an engine that should do 150+ psi). I gave them the go-ahead to tear into the engine and look for issues.

A week later and another visit to the shop(at their prompting), and I see a cracked cylinder head plus serious ring issues and visibly ovaled bore on #2. I gave the green light to a full rebuild. At this point, we had discussed a new time table. I had accepted a job two states away and would be moving mid-August, so I asked for it to be done by the end of July. They agreed that it would be no problem.

At the time, the machine shop my mechanic prefers was just opening back up, but the normal British parts suppliers were not going. My mechanic pulled a favor with the machine shop and I called in a parts supplier I knew could take care of things. I got a call with sizes the next day, called immediately and ordered, the parts arrived by the end of the week, and the following Tuesday he picked up the bored block, ground and straightened crank, and resized and balanced rods with pistons fitted to them. I paid the machine shop bill, which was a few bucks short of $1K, and of course at that point had paid for all parts, so the shop's only expense now is the(I know not insignificant) cost is labor.

While they assembled the engine, I pulled in another favor and managed to get a ready to go ported and polished cylinder head in to them. That was totally out of my pocket at $1250.

They start putting the engine together, and mostly to reduce my financial sting at the end, I start paying a bit every couple of weeks. By middle of July I had paid $1500 over top of all of the above expenses(they'd received $2500 total in cash from me, plus had not spent anything on parts). At that point I'm pushing, and it becomes apparent that the job isn't going to be done by the end of July as agreed, as they hadn't even finished assembling the engine.

I discussed another deadline with them-mid-September as I'd have another opportunity to move it then, plus I wanted it back before my wedding the first weekend of October. They agreed that was more than reasonable given their current progress, and away I went.

Mid-September comes and goes, and I don't even get an answer until after the wedding, when I get a text with a long apology of "not putting two and two together" that I wanted it before then, and also asking me what color to paint the engine before they drop it in. I give another deadline-mid-November since I know I'll be in town, and get promises that it will be done.

Again, mid-November arrives, I visit, and I'm told they'd just started it up the day before, hadn't yet finished the break in, had a few other issues to chase, but started and ran it for me(it sounded great, BTW). I say that I absolutely, positively need it by Thanksgiving since that's going to be my best chance to actually move it. I get an "absolutely no problem."

They keep me updated by text about test drives, etc. Finally, I text on Friday while on the way in, and I'm told that they hadn't hooked the overdrive up right and it wasn't working. I finally get a report at the end of the day that it's working, and a test drive on the interstate is coming that night and for me to contact in the morning when I was ready to pick up as it would be "ready to go."

The next morning(this past Saturday) I call and text multiple times with no answer. Finally, I go down to the shop, manage to talk to him, and he tells me that he had taken it out the night before and it had "no power" and that he was going to retune it and was sure that would fix it. Since I was going to be tied up the rest of the day, he agreed to drop it off that evening. I text him about 6:00PM and he says that he's still fighting it and will keep at it until it's running.

Finally, Sunday we have to head back, and I finally hear Sunday afternoon that it's still "not right."

At this point, I'm frustrated to say the least. I've known this guy for a long time and trust his abilities. I consider him a friend and really don't want to damage that relationship. At the same time, though, we're now on multiple deadlines that he's missed, and the last few seem to me like they've been the result of procrastinating/bumping other work ahead of my car. I don't feel like the deadlines have been unreasonable, and they've been there for good reason(primarily when I'd be able to have someone follow me back for a 300 mile drive). I'm considering asking for it back as is, but that's either going to involve hoping I can fix it at my parents' house before driving it home and assuming there are no internal engine problems from the build, or alternatively flat bedding it 300 miles and fixing it here, again with the same worry. I don't WANT to do that, but I'm beginning to worry that I may never get the car back.

Does anyone have any input on this? Am I being unreasonable in my expectations? I know that this has been major work and that doesn't happen overnight, but at the same time there's been no parts hold up as everything needed since then the big engine parts order has been generic always-in-stock stuff and they've received a good chunk of what the final bill will be.
 
Messages
1,967
Location
USA
At this point, I'm frustrated to say the least. I've known this guy for a long time and trust his abilities. I consider him a friend and really don't want to damage that relationship. At the same time, though, we're now on multiple deadlines that he's missed, and the last few seem to me like they've been the result of procrastinating/bumping other work ahead of my car.

Welcome to Reality.

Familiarity breeds contempt and nobody will put the knife in deeper or faster than Brutus. Once is an accident, twice is a question but 3 or more times is a deliberate decision.

Always conduct business at arms length.

It appears to me your 'friendship" is at best one sided and at worst just your imagination because your "friend" obviously doesn't place a high priority on considering your feelings and situation equally. ( that makes him the con and you the mark in this "friendship")

I don't want to sound crass but you have a decision to make and then act upon- or be silent and take what you get when and if you get it.

A "friend" wouldn't put you in the position to make such a decision.
 

928

Messages
215
Location
Sacramento, Ca.
There is little incentive for him to get it done, he's already got most of the money. Are you capable of doing the work yourself & do you have a garage to do it in? Price sounds high for a rebuild since you furnished parts and paid the machine shop. Assembling engine isn't rocket science-
if I'm reading it correctly they have received $1500 over the original price for the r&r - more than enough for assembling what is basically a simple engine. Time to have a face to face meeting with the guy & find out exactly what is going on & why.
 

bunnspecial

Thread starter
Messages
1,416
Location
US
Assembling engine isn't rocket science-
if I'm reading it correctly they have received $1500 over the original price for the r&r - more than enough for assembling what is basically a simple engine. Time to have a face to face meeting with the guy & find out exactly what is going on & why.

I'm okay with the $1500. The original engine+trans in+out is booked at 7.5 hours(per old flat rate books) so 12.5 hours labor(20 hours total) to take the engine apart and put it back together doesn't sound terrible to me even though it's a fairly simple engine. That's at least how it is in my head anyway.
 

bunnspecial

Thread starter
Messages
1,416
Location
US
Thanks everyone for the tips on this.

Part of my problem is that I haven't been firm on this. I'm not speculating that other work is getting bumped-I've seen it happen and he's told me it's happened. I won't go into the why and how of it, but I was close to losing it on Saturday morning when I was there and he was close to going out and pulling someone who'd broken their truck axle for the 4th time in 6 weeks out of the mud at the back of a farm. I didn't have to lose it, as the shop manager was there, pointed to me, and said "You've been telling this guy for 6 months you'd have his car ready and he's standing here now. You need to finish him before you do anything else."

As for if I can fix it myself-if, at this point, it's a tune-up issue than yes I can(I mentioned to him that in one of the photos I had it looked like plugs 2 and 3 wires were reversed-he said he'd checked but I've not heard another report on whether or not that's the problem). If they really screwed something up like timing the cam wrong I probably can't fix it. In my mind, if there were serious problems it wouldn't run at all, but there are some obvious and not-so-obvious problems for backfiring+no power. After owning the car for 5 years, I feel like I've seen a lot of the easy stuff and can usually figure it out...

At the same time, though, if indeed it was the spark plug wires reversed, I worry about what else he may have overlooked in the build, even though his main mechanic in the shop actually did the bulk of the engine build. Yes, I know a lot of American distributors turn CW, and if you assume this one does you'll switch the two(or heck, I've switched them knowing full well which way the distributor turns), but at the same time between the arrow on the rotor and watching it spin, plus rebuilding as many of these as he has, he should spot it.
 
Messages
693
Location
Central Indiana
If you can check them out on line for any recent problems from customer feedbacks I'd sure do it. But I understand thatmay not be an option.
If your initial assessment of their abilities was accurate, then something has obviously changed. Could be personal problems with the owner and he just isn't handling things (business) like he used to.
This is an ugly situation. As if you don't know that.
One more deadline for all issues to be wrapped up, and be crystal clear. And don't be generous with the time window. He should have had this done long ago, and based on your info, has not been good at communication.
Show up on the day of the deadline with the ability to tow your car home. Gota feeling you just might need to do that. Take a friend or two with you.
 
Messages
8,962
Location
Houston, TX
Generally speaking, it sounds like a whole lot of bovine scatology wrapped around all of this. Why would there suddenly be a tuning issue that he cannot diagnose and correct? I will assume that he has rebuilt an engine before and there is a "recipe" that he follows to ensure assembly is done correctly. I would demand an immediate delivery date with a agreed upon discount for every day after that.

Lesson learned is that you would have been better off to sock the money away to pay him instead of giving it to him in advance of the work being performed. Unfortunately, that left you with little leverage and him with no incentive to prioritize anything.
 
Messages
1,967
Location
USA
I was there and he was close to going out and pulling someone who'd broken their truck axle for the 4th time in 6 weeks out of the mud at the back of a farm.

as the shop manager was there, pointed to me, and said "You've been telling this guy for 6 months you'd have his car ready and he's standing here now.

If your own account is true (and I believe you 100%) then read your own words.

That's not a lack of your "firmness" ( or anything else for that matter)- that's HIS total lack of consideration of you as well as an indicator of his own professionalism and business acumen.

I respectfully submit you need to quit making excuses for his clearly deliberate conduct and react accordingly.

Otherwise, you will just fret yourself indefinitely and accomplish nothing.

You could give him one good "wake up call" and reality check with a line in the sand- BUT don't go that route unless you are prepared to go the distance because if you don't then just plan on being the perpetual mark and learn to love it because nobody who has seen this transpire would take you seriously from then on.
 
Messages
25,147
Location
MA, Mittelfranken.de
Why do I have the feeling they didn't assemble the engine properly and are scratching their heads about what to do. If it was fuel, ignition, valve adjustment or timing on that engine its no more than an hour or two.
My gut is saying blown cam lobes, broken rings or something else internal. I hope not but I cant think of anything that could hold up a rebuilt engine that ran this long.
 

928

Messages
215
Location
Sacramento, Ca.
I'm okay with the $1500. The original engine+trans in+out is booked at 7.5 hours(per old flat rate books) so 12.5 hours labor(20 hours total) to take the engine apart and put it back together doesn't sound terrible to me even though it's a fairly simple engine. That's at least how it is in my head anyway.
My friend has several British cars- 2 Morgans & a Turner- If the machine shop cleaned the parts, then 12.5 hours is more than enough time to assemble the engine- it's only got 4 cylinders to fit rings etc to I'm assuming the head was already assembled with a valve job ?. Something is wrong- time to get to the bottom of it, no more mr nice guy
 

bunnspecial

Thread starter
Messages
1,416
Location
US
Why do I have the feeling they didn't assemble the engine properly and are scratching their heads about what to do. If it was fuel, ignition, valve adjustment or timing on that engine its no more than an hour or two.
My gut is saying blown cam lobes, broken rings or something else internal. I hope not but I cant think of anything that could hold up a rebuilt engine that ran this long.

That's exactly what I'm afraid of.

Anyone who builds his business on doing frame-up restorations of old cars should be able to sort out a tuning issue-if that's what it is-especially on a fresh engine. Aside from that, he's working with a distributor that was rebuilt in the last couple of years and freshly rebuilt carburetors.

I'm guessing that a compression test would show rings and/or cam, and even watching it run with the valve cover off would show a really bad cam lobe-or a dial indicator could show one a little off. I wish I could poke around while it's running.
 
Messages
783
Location
Massachusetts
He should fix it and give you a little money back with an apology. Plain and simple.

Awful situation you’ve got yourself in - the guy without question put your job on the back burner and waited till the last second to get on it, rushed it and didn’t do it right. And it’s a BIG JOB. A job I wouldn’t trust just anyone to do, certainly not a guy who is blowing the thing off and rushing it at the last second.

Get a little money back, get the car out of there and don’t go back. Friendship, or whatever you had with this guy is over. Sad but true.
 
Messages
1,967
Location
USA
fresh engine.
Do you really know that for sure?

When they rebuild- they don't take down and mic the parts and record readings? ( what we call a rebuild sheet for history)

Or is everything just done on the honor system?

Don't get me wrong, everybody makes mistakes and has one of "those" problems crop up on a machine rebuild- that's not what this is beginning to sound like though.

I tend to agree with Trav- sounds like a chronic mechanical defect of some description ( 1 tooth off, component worn out of tolerance etc.) as opposed to a "tuning" issue. ( I tend to believe your assessment that such a minor thing like "tuning" wouldn't stump seasoned mechanics for long)

If that's the case- they may "know' it already and simply trying to ride the tiger at your expense. (I'm starting to lean that way)

If it was a tuning issue- take it to Precision Tune and back charge the shop but I don't think that's going to help.
 
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5,455
Location
Suburban Washington DC
My mechanic pulled a favor with the machine shop and I called in a parts supplier I knew could take care of things. I got a call with sizes the next day, called immediately and ordered, the parts arrived by the end of the week, and the following Tuesday he picked up the bored block, ground and straightened crank, and resized and balanced rods with pistons fitted to them. I paid the machine shop bill, which was a few bucks short of $1K, and of course at that point had paid for all parts,
Why on earth are YOU ordering the parts and paying the machine shop. That is the repair shops job. Now it's just a case of who shot John. If the engine is bad, the repair shop can't go back to the machine shop because the repair shop didn't contract for the work. And the machine shop isn't going to deal with the repair shop because they didn't pay for the work.
 

bunnspecial

Thread starter
Messages
1,416
Location
US
Do you really know that for sure?

When they rebuild- they don't take down and mic the parts and record readings? ( what we call a rebuild sheet for history)

Or is everything just done on the honor system?

I have all the machine shop documents including the crank and bore measurements pre and post work along with all that was done on their end to prep it.

I did get a chance to give everything a visual after it came back from the shop, although I know it's not a measurement.

I supplied a street performance cam from a fresh blank bought directly from the grinder. I actually have the one they pulled since I had considered sending it for a regrind.
 
Messages
5,455
Location
Suburban Washington DC
I'm considering asking for it back as is, but that's either going to involve hoping I can fix it at my parents' house before driving it home
If you can do that kind of work, why didn't you at least R&R the engine in the first place? Not sure what MG you have but they are pretty simple to work on so paying today's labor rates if you can DIY doesn't make much sense. Maybe on a $50K Jag but not a $5K car.
 
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