Battin' a Thousand
The batter steps up to the plate, takes a hand full of dirt and rubs his hands and the bat. He takes a few scrapes with his feet from the batter’s box while digging in with his cleats. He then gives the pitcher the evil eye and sets his bat ready to take whatever the pitcher is going to throw at him. The catcher gives the signs, the pitcher nods his head. He takes a quick look to first base makes his wind up and then lets the ball fly to home plate. The batter takes a swing... “Pop” the ball is in the catcher’s glove.
“Steee---rike!!!” yells the umpire.
Somewhere there is an announcer telling the crowd the count while a statistician is writing down the results of the pitch, and calculating the batter's average. With baseball if you can manage to get a hit 5 out of 10 times you’re up to bat… you’re doing outstanding. Achieving a perfect hitting record on the other hand, may never happen in baseball, but in the auto repair business (and most every other field of play) batting a thousand is not a goal it's a requirement.
Every job that comes into the service bay is another attempt at keeping that perfect score. Come-backs, bad diagnosis, faulty parts and the like are not what any service person wants to deal with. To keep that perfect score going you have to overcome those obstacles and get the job done right before sending the customer’s car around the bases. Unlike the highly paid professional ball player who is never going to achieve that perfect score the highly trained mechanic has to knock it out of the park each and every time.
There's a lot of talk in the industry about how some service advisers/writers and shop owners want a quick “off the cuff” diagnosis and repair rather than waiting for the results of a lengthy-time consuming diagnostic procedure. A mechanic may have a general idea of what is wrong but it still takes proper testing to determine the correct course of action to make the repair. I don't know where this idea came from that every mechanic has the correct answer to ever problem simply by listening to the description given to them by the customer or service writer. It's not like we (mechanics) know what kind of pitch is being hurled at us each and every time.
I'm sure the pro ball player could “up” his stats if he knew exactly what kind of pitch was coming across the plate. As it is, he has to make a quick decision, make the right swing, and make contact. In the repair world, analyzing the pitch is the key to a successful outcome. Diagnostics is what makes the difference. Especially on today's vehicles with their interconnected systems, multi-layered computer controls, and the occasional “oops” from a previous botched repair, these all have to be sorted out before the repair is made. This takes time, diagnostics takes time, and time is money.
When I hear that a shop isn't charging for diagnostic time it tells me they are either under estimating the value of proper diagnostics or believe they are good enough to read the catcher’s signals and in some way already know what pitch is being thrown. Taking a couple of swings at a repair and not diagnosing anything is like standing in the batter’s box blindfolded. I'd call that a foul ball waiting to happen for sure.
It’s important to examine a problem, diagnose as needed and not swing at every pitch that you’re given. In the long run, from the consumers standpoint, a shop that takes the time to diagnose a vehicle correctly may sound more expensive at first when you walk up to the service counter, but chances are you won’t be picked off at 2nd base because you have to spend more cash, buy even more parts that you probably didn’t need, while trying to solve the problem at those shops that don’t see a need in proper diagnostic time.
A new player entered the field; it was a job from one of the body shops I do business with. This 2013 Ford Escape was almost ready to go home, however the air bag light wouldn't go off. That's when I was called to plate.
“We can sell this job today if you can get this taken care of. We’ve struck out so far,” the owner of the body shop told me.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I told him.
The first thing I did was check out what codes were in the system. There was only one code. B0095-11 (Right front impact sensor fault – sub code “shorted to ground”). Since it was in a front collision I took my first swing up to bat by checking to see if the wires were smashed or cut. Strike one... the wires are fine, wrong colors though, need to check that a little further. OK, let's try something else... is the connector damaged or the sensor itself in anyway a problem. Strike two... now this is getting serious. Did the module fail? Is there more to this story? Where's the next pitch coming from?
A little more snooping around and a bit more in-depth studying of the wiring diagram I think I've got the answer. Very close to the impact sensor is another sensor with the exact same type of connector. The real tell-tale was the wire colors. It looks like when they put the car back together they inadvertently switched the two connectors. (Pretty dumb to have the same type of connectors so close together under the hood... but it ain't the first time I've seen a curve ball like this.) I switched the leads and then went back into the system to clear the code. (With most of these newer systems you not only have to clear the code but you also have to “reboot” the computer by turning the key off before attempting the next “at-bat”.)
Well, this batter is ready, the catcher has thrown down the sign, the computers and connections on the playing field are ready to go. All that's left is the pitch. I turned the key and the pitch is on its way. The warning lights come on, the air bag light stayed on for its required amount of time and then.... went off. No codes present and the rest of the systems checked out fine. Yep, I took my swing, and it’s a long, long high flyer… it looks like…yes… yes it is… it’s a “HOME RUN!”
Here's a perfect example of the diagnostics taking longer than the actual repair. The way I see it, diagnostic is the mechanics swing at bat, and it's just as important as the actual repair. After spending the time to research a problem only to find out that it was a simple connector doesn’t diminish the time already spent to find out it was just a connector.
Mechanics get paid to fix a car, that’s what we do, diagnosing a problem is part of it, and good diagnostic work will keep ya battin’ a thousand.