Spend enough time at a repair shop, working on cars, answering questions for the customers and sooner or later you’ll find yourself with a Mr. Details at your counter. Your typical “A” type customer (that’s “A” for anal) who arrives with all the facts and figures regarding his problem gathered up from under the nearest rock or website. He’s the over bearing, overly concerned, and downright meticulous type of client that shows up with an entire portfolio of documents about his car. He’s tracked every single repair that has ever been done to his car right down to the exact date and time the dome light bulb burned out and when it was replaced.
Our story begins with Mr. Details bringing his 2003 Chevy Silverado in with inoperable fog lights. Of course, Mr. Details has already taken the liberty of removing the dash panels and trim for me and has so graciously left the light switches dangling by their wires for my convenience. This… as he put it, “Now you won’t have to charge me for tearing it apart.” is supposed to help me in diagnosing them. He has scrutinized every detail he could find about the fog lights and followed the guidance of several known experts on some website, which has led him to a dead end and now… to my front door.
Just to be sure I understood the validity of his story he opened his overly large folder of paperwork and began to read each and every one of them. The date, the problem, and the eventual outcome and cost. (I don’t think the US government keeps the records on nuclear weapons as accurately as this guy keeps on his truck.) Time is an important commodity, and this guy was using up a lot of it. (Keep in mind, once they start, let them finish… you ain’t going to get a word in edge wise anyway, and more than likely you’ll just throw them off of their game plan, which means they’ll have to back up and start all over.)
After making it through the pile of paperwork we ended on the final document in his huge binder. The bill of sale. Yes, the original document that brought Mr. Details and this vehicle together and ultimately to the repair shop with a fog light problem. The one slip of paper the culminated into a vast collection of facts and figures so well maintained in this leather covered binder that historian’s centuries from now will be studying it in great detail.
Now, believe or not, we haven’t even discussed what is really wrong with the car yet. I had to ask, “So, what’s wrong with it now?” (After all these years I still don’t understand why some people just can’t tell you what’s wrong without going into a lengthy detailed history lesson on the car. Seriously, if I wanted all that background I would have asked a question like, “So… where’ve ya been, who’d ya see, whatchya had done to it, and when did y’all get it done?”) At this point, since I was trying to get the problem at hand, a few more pages were getting shuffled around as he did his best to make me feel stupid that I even asked what was wrong with it. I could tell there was a bit of frustration building up, so I thought I’d better rephrase the question. “What kind of symptoms are you having?” (Works better to ask about it this way.)
Turns out it’s not only the fog lights but the day time running lights that are acting up. He went through all of the scenarios and the “tried this and it didn’t fix it” routines and the when and how he did them. Finally, the history lesson was over, I could get the keys and start on this project. On this model the DRL and the fog lights are actually operated by the BCM (Body Control Module). Rather than take his advice and replace the fog light switch with a known good one. (Since ya know… all of us mechanics have spare fog light switches just laying around for every make and model.) I thought I’d try diagnosing it the modern mechanic way, using the bi-directional control for the fog lights and the rest of the lighting system that’s available on the scanner. No need in tearing any dash parts out, removing switches, or wiring around bulbs as Mr. Details had done so far, just plug in the scanner and click a few buttons.
Yea, it was pretty messed up alright. The BCM control was fine but looking back into the gaping holes where the headlight switch and the fog light switch would normally be I could see the familiar outline of an aftermarket alarm system piggy-backed into the BCM wiring. Oh man… here’s the problem. I reached in and disconnected the main box and sure enough everything went back to working perfectly again.
Now it was time to call Mr. Details. Here we go…
“There’s no aftermarket alarm in my car you’re nuts!” was his response.
I could hear him shuffling through his stack of paperwork trying to find anything about an aftermarket alarm. But, there was none. And, since it wasn’t in his paperwork he pretty much made it clear that I must be either crazy or completely incompetent… or both.
There was no getting around it; he’s made up his mind… I’m an idiot. Later that day he stormed into the lobby hurling even more insults and demanded that I give him his truck back.
He was about leave when I thought I should mention something to him.
The truck is a 2003 Silverado that much was clear. But let’s go back to the last page of information he so kindly went into detail with… that bill of sale. (He conveniently brought all his paper work with him of course.) Let’s examine that final piece of paper one more time. Hmmm, the car was purchased in 2004 a year after the car was built. I asked him, “Sir, did you buy this new?”
“No, I bought it from the original owner,” he proudly told me, “So what’s the point of that?”
I brought it to his attention that in all his carefully laid out and detailed lists of all the things “he” has done to the car he never once considered what might have happened prior to him purchasing it.
“How can you be so dang sure there’s an alarm in the car?! In fact, I know every inch of that truck like the back of my hand!” he sternly asked.
“Well sir, the fact is, it’s there, and since you took the dash apart already it wasn’t hard to spot.” I told him.
A lesson learned by both of us, it’s sometimes not about what facts you know, but the fact that you don’t have all the facts.