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In a High-Tech World, New Techs Need Low-Tech Basics First

Tips for entry-level techs and some advice for what they don’t always teach in the classroom

Editor’s note: Paul E. Grech owned the former San Franciso shop, Allied Engine & Auto Repair, before retiring. In this column series, Grech shares his experiences as a shop owner.

My son-in-law called to tell me his truck had developed a problem after he had just had the oil changed a few days before. When stopped in traffic, the oil gauge went very low and a warning light went on.

So I picked up the truck to check it out, looked it up online and got a direct hit on the problem. An instructional video said that the sending unit leaks oil into the electrical connector and causes the gauge to read low. I tried to hook up the oil pressure gauge to check the oil pressure of the engine, only to find the oil sender was behind the alternator on the oil filter housing, and I couldn’t reach around the alternator to release the electrical connector.

Paul Grech

Take Two: I attempted to get at it from under the car. The vehicle has four-wheel drive and the front differential blocked access from below. So, I removed the alternator in order to gain access to the connector release button. This gave me better access to the connector, but I still couldn’t get the lock on the connector to release. So, I did another trick I developed over the years: I broke the sender loose and spun it out with the connector still attached to it. Once I got it loose from the housing I was able to release the connector and pull the plug off the sender. Lo and behold, the cavity of the sender was saturated with oil like the video said.

I got that idea from a chapter in my book on how to remove parts that are in a difficult position. It goes like this:

A. Always remain focused on what your assigned task is, primarily what part you are supposed to be removing. (In this case, the oil sender unit).

B. Determine what you must move or remove in order to gain access to the part or parts you want to change (alternator).

C. Break the bolt loose and spin it out, not necessarily with the same tool (oil sender).

D. Remove the bolt that is hardest to get out first and the easiest bolt to get last (again, the oil sender).

E. Place the bolt somewhere on the chassis near where it came out, so that you can find it when you want to reassemble the car (in a magnetic bolt tray).

F. Determine whether or not there is room for the bolt or nut to come out with your tool attached to it (yes, the final tool were my fingers).

A little clarification is needed in step C. The nut size on the sender was 3/4 inch and it was very tight. So I broke it loose with a very long wrench. There was only a little room for the long wrench to move two inches. So after I broke the sender loose, I continued to loosen it further with a much shorter wrench which could move about six inches. I loosened it up enough to turn it with my fingers the rest of way out.

There’s an oil tool kit available (the one I’m familiar with is the Gear Wrench KDT-3289 oil pressure test kit) that enables you to take an oil pressure reading at the oil filter mount. You remove the oil filter and install a tool where the filter would be. There’s a hole in it that a hose screws into. That hose is connected to a oil pressure gauge. This is very handy where a sending unit is very difficult to remove and reinstall.

The moral of this story is an apprentice must be taught manual dexterity from the very beginning of his training. The reason being that on today’s vehicle there are many situations like this and it’s helpful to know that special sockets and wrenches exist for those tasks. And while an entry-level tech is not expected to own them in the beginning of their career, they are expected to be aware they are available to help them get the job done.

All they need to do is ask for what it is.

Grech’s book is available for purchase for $65 (includes tax; shipping is not included), of which $20 of each sale will be contributed to the Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) scholarship fund. Contact Grech at for purchase and details.

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