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Crystal Ball Diagnosing -- Seeking knowledge and enlightment



A seeker of knowledge climbed a narrow staircase up a very remote mountain side, high into the clouds, and arrived at the temple of all answers. The swami, wearing his pearl white turban, is sitting in the lotus position surrounded by large red velvet curtains with plumes of smoke obscuring all but a brief glimpse of the room. There in front of the swami is his crystal ball, which with a mere glance he can give you the answers you seek.


The question from the traveler is put forth, “Why doesn't my driver's window go up and down?” He peers into the crystal ball; his eyes grow ever more

intense as his gaze reaches deeper into the glistening orb.

He answers, “Probably a switch or a motor.”


The seeker's eyes roll back into his head in disbelief. Already frustrated, the seeker answers angrily, “Nope, that’s not it. I already tried that. You mean to tell me I climbed all the way up here, and that's your best answer?”

The swami calmly answers, “All will be revealed after proper diagnostic tests have been completed.”

“I'll bet that ain't cheap either!” the traveler says.


“You are quite right,” the swami says, “Long ago such things could be obtained without fees... those days have passed as well. Today’s cars are far more complicated, which requires more than a mere glance into the crystal ball to solve the problem.”


The now aggravated seeker of knowledge (who had no intention of paying) storms down the same long winding path to begin their search for another swami who might provide an answer to their quest without any monetary exchange.

Ok, I'm no swami, I don't have a pearl white turban, and even though I've looked high and low... I can't find a crystal ball anywhere. From the very first day I stood behind the service counter there has always been someone who wants to pick the swami’s brain for free information. It’s no surprise to me that I've heard the same thing over and over again.


“So what do you think it is?”


If I give them my best guess, there's still a chance their rebuttal will be, “No, that ain't it, I tried that already.” I'd like to say, (but I keep it to myself), “Why the hell did you ask for my opinion if all you’re going to do is get all huffy with the answer I give?” What I end up telling them is, “Sorry, but that's my best guess without my crystal ball, or actually testing it.”


Even though the cars have changed tremendously over the years, I still have to diagnose and repair them just as before. Guesses are great, and sometimes it's the best way to tackle a problem. But I still prefer diagnosing it first. I could resort to calling out some witch doctors to parade around the car in a counter-clockwise fashion, during a full moon, holding onto a dead chicken while chanting at the top of their lungs. But, you know, they’ve got better things to do....besides, I can't wait for the next moon cycle for these guys to show up, and neither will the customer. I've got to fix these cars now. (Impatient world we live in, you know…)


Just like the swami situation, the one thing that hasn't changed is how some people will drive clear across town to ask about their car. I can appreciate the time and effort they’ve put into tracking me down, but that doesn't change the fact that I still have to test and diagnose a problem to find out what is exactly wrong with it.


Even if I had a crystal ball I'm sure I'd still want to test things before swapping parts. Mind you, there are common failures and common results, but I'm completely dumbfounded that some people think I've got the answer to every sort of problem logged into memory. The truth is … no, I don't. Because even with the simplest sounding problems, some things can lead to drastic results with greater complications than anyone can imagine.


I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better to answer these questions like this: “Nine out of ten mechanics said your alternator is what's wrong with your car.”

Now when they blurt out their response... “I tried that already.”

I can answer them with, “You're going to have to go tell that to at least eight other mechanics... because we all agreed that was the most common problem. Until it is tested there is no way of knowing beyond that.”


There are times that even a glance under the hood doesn't answer a thing. Their questions might be on the right path to enlightenment, but they neglected to mention that they've reengineered the car to their own set of specifications. I call them “Heinz 57” cars. These are the whimsical dreams and creations of backyard mechanics who have installed different engines, wiring harnesses, computers, etc. Sure, they've accomplished a lot on their own. Installing engines and harnesses from cars 10, or maybe 20 production years apart. They may have the ability of making the thing start and drive, but they just can't seem to get some of those basic essentials to adapt to their new found aspirations of driving excellence.


It might be the wipers, or the HVAC, maybe it's the door locks, or the instrument cluster and gauges, or the brake system or perhaps the suspension. Sometimes it’s just a stereo system they installed that’s causing a problem. Their "engineering" is usually not to any professional standard, but thrown in with the wires all wadded up behind the dash. Then they expect the mechanic to look into his crystal ball and give them an answer as to what it would take to get all those little details working, and how long it will take.

It all seems simple to them; it can't be that hard. They've already spent hours upon hours slicing and dicing the car to create their contraption, surely all this “other” stuff isn’t that big of a deal.


After the mechanic comes out of his transcendental state and delivers the news, they’re probably going to be in shock at the answers. (Staring under the dash or hood at some of these creations is what brings on the trance.) Honestly, if there was such a thing as a crystal ball I would have peered into it and stopped some of these backyard creations from ever being created. It would have been a lot better if they would have climbed up that narrow pathway into the mountains and sought professional wisdom before attempting these engineering debacles.


Let's face it, there is no magic machine with the answers. There's no crystal ball, and sad to say, I’m fresh out of witch doctors, too. True mechanical and electrical repair on today's cars takes a dedicated individual with the right equipment and knowledge, not a swami on a cloud covered mountain top. Not much is free these days, but go ahead and ask your questions. But until they are tested and diagnosed, they're still just another glance into that crystal ball.



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With the new internet provider at the house and the changes here at ASO I've been having problems logging on. Funny part is.. "only ASO" is having the problem. All the changes recently I was certianly confused as to what was the cause. The only way I could get a story up this week was to wait until I got to the shop and used the shop computer.


Should have everything straightened out this week. A Special thanks to Alex and Joe... the helped tremendously this weekend to sort out the problem. (Looks like it's my router or the internet provider, will find out today.)

In the mean time, here's the story for this week.

Later. Gonzo

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Gonzo, some things I think will never change when it comes to people and their perceptions on what we do and how we arrive at a diagnosis. Here's something that breaks the ice (and we have a lot of fun with it too); when I have a customer that is looking for that crystal ball answer, I get out my auto repair dice and roll them. Then I look a the dice and say something like, "Well based on the throw of the dice, it looks like we need to change the fuel pump". You need to be careful, some people take offense, but it usually gets a laugh.


See the lnk below for the dice:




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I saw those on one of the tool trucks.. LOL too funny. On my counter I have a couple of those "8" ball auto diagnostic balls that I got from AVI (Automotive Video Inc) I do a bit of work for them once in a while so they sent them to me.


Got laugh at the whole thing otherwise, you'll just drive yourself crazy.


Keep smilin, keep wrenchin....

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A friend of mine had a dart board marked with various repairs. It helped to break the ice in these situations. Gotta love it when the customer says " Can ya just hook up that box so it will tell you whats wrong?". My reply is "If that box talks to me we are outta here!"

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