Jump to content


Problem on the 'IN" side - - - - How important it is to be as descriptive as possible when explaining things to a customer.

Problem On the "IN"-side






The tow truck came around the corner of my shop with a 2003 Focus strapped down on the bed. Its Stacey's daughter's car, Stacey is the office manager at the bodyshop just down the street from the shop. Her daughter's little Ford had given up at a stop sign for a trip on the back of a tow truck. Now it was up to me to find out what's going on with it.


The tow driver brought the keys in to Katie (my daughter and office manager), she had already talked to Stacey and had the work order filled out. Katie asked the tow driver, "Where did you drop it at? Stacey said it won't start." "It started for me," the tow driver said, "I put it along the side of the building for ya."


I found the car right where he left it and I'll have to admit… it did start up, but I wouldn't call it great. I made it into the service bay with it bucking, jerking, and coughing like crazy, along with a terrible rotten egg smell coming from each end of the car. The service light was on so I thought I would start with finding out what trouble codes were stored. P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, P0304, and P0316 all misfire codes. It's a good thing it didn't have any more cylinders because I'd bet it would have added them onto its list of trouble codes too. Rather than get into looking at the actual data logger section of the IDS I figured I'll open the hood and see what's going on.


The car has the 2.0 liter ZETEC engine under the hood. It's a fairly easy engine to pull the spark plugs on so I thought I would at least take a look at them. The odometer shows 184,000 miles on the little pavement pounder, so I was thinking the worst, that many miles… hey, anything is possible. As I pulled the first sparkplug boot off, a splash of coolant came out of the cavity. Well, that's a little different, didn't quite expect that. I pulled #2, same thing. Then the next one, again more coolant…, onto # 4, and more coolant came flying out of the hole.


Peering down between the cam covers all I could see was a sea of coolant and only the very tops of the spark plugs was sticking out. There were no signs of any kind of leaks anywhere on the engine, in fact, the reservoir was full and the engine showed no outward signs of overheating. It just didn't make any sense how all this coolant could end up in there.


I blew all the coolant out, dried all the plug wires off, and re-installed them. After giving the key a turn the little engine came back to life and purred like new. Amazing, simply amazing how well it ran after how badly it came into the shop, but within 15 minutes or so the engine started to act up. It coughed and chugged, shacked and stuttered, and then it finally died. Now it won't restart, what the…? What's going on here? Time to check a little further…


I pulled the no#1 spark plug. It was bone dry, actually "very dry" and "very hot". Exhaust gasses I'll bet. I let the car set for about another 15 minutes and try it again. A quick turn of the key and it ran like new just as before, but this time I was ready for it. I had it hooked up to the scanner and checked out the O2 sensor readings. It was just as I suspected. The front O2 readings were a complete mess. There was no pretty oscillating wave going up and down on the screen, more like a jagged old saw blade with half its teeth missing. I watched the scope patterns for several minutes, soon the engine started to cough and die just as it did before. I checked the compression this time. Well over 200 PSI, yikes! Looks like all those misfires added up to a lot of raw gas going into the converter. With all the plugs firing now the converter was only getting even more cooked than before.


I filled Katie in on everything I had found. She can handle it from here. I was expecting Katie to come out and tell me to order a converter, or send it to the exhaust shop, or drop what I'm doing because it was going to be more than she wanted to spend on it… something like that, but that didn't happen. Somehow the word "IN" had more meaning to it than originally intended.




Before I knew it a call came from Stacey, she was going to have a new engine installed. Huh? I didn't know I was putting a motor in … I think I missed something here…. So how in the world did a clogged converter turn into a new engine?




It was the very first thing Katie had told Stacey. Katie said to her, "He found coolant in the spark plug area." Even though she mentioned that I blew off all the coolant that was on the sparkplugs somehow it got turned into a leaking headgasket. (I think the guys at the bodyshop were helping out with the diagnostics.) It took the better part of the afternoon to get the whole thing straightened out.


Katie asked Stacey how the coolant ended up in the spark plug area. It was from a coolant hose that split about 2 weeks earlier. Stacey's daughter had someone change the hose for her but they never thought about looking for any coolant getting trapped on top the engine. My guess is it probably took a day or so before it ever started to miss. About then the service light would have come on and the real trouble would have started to build. I'll bet she drove around with it misfiring for a week or so before she told her mom how bad it was.


Katie explained the mix-up to me and how everyone had the wrong idea about the engine's condition. I can't blame anyone for all of this… in most cases when someone hears there is coolant "in" the engine they assume it's a bad deal and most likely in the combustion chamber causing major problems. Well, in this case, it was only "ON" the engine and not "IN" the engine.


A new converter installed and everything is back "IN" great shape again.




I gotta make a point of explaining things a little better next time. My bad, I made the assumption that everyone knew what I meant when I said there was coolant in the spark plug area. (I should have said "On top of the engine.) Katie knew what I meant, but as the phone conversations went on the word "IN" just kept pushing the coolant deeper and deeper inside this little Ford. Katie… a wonderful gal, I got to hand it to her; she did a great job of explaining things. I'm a lucky guy to be able to work with my daughter in a family business, and even luckier to have her as an asset "IN" the office especially when she can explain things to a customer and get good old dad "OUT" of a jam.



Thanx for reading my stories, some make it into print, some don't. Readers like you help make the decision as to which ones will go into my national column or into the dead files... Oh that dead file... it's pretty big these days.

Let me know what ya think of the stories... it does help make the decision as to which ones get printed. Thanx again Gonzo

User Feedback

Recommended Comments

Communication in this business is a big challenge. One thing I have learned from this forum is to quit filtering information or writing down my own conclusions on the work order. I am now trying to put down exactly what the custimer tells me even if it sounds a little weird. That way there is no mixing up of the information from the customer, to me, to my technician.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So true, and it works both ways. What we as the technicians and service writers say back to the customer has to be in a language that they completely understand. Because you know they are going to take what you just told them and tell someone else... either to verify what you're telling them or to see if the price sounds right. That one little thing of saying "IN" got me into a whole lot of hot water... no pun intended there.


Thanx for you thought Frank, I always... ALWAYS appreciate it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great point Gonzo. One of the down sides of increasing staff is the loss of correct communication at times. Remember playing telephone as a kid?


This is what we are up against at my shop and slowly finding ways to solve this issue: A tech speaks to the foreman to review what he found. The foreman talks with the service advisor, the service advisor talks to the customer and back down the people chain again. Something gets lost in the process.


We are recreating our workflow, to have the tech speak directly to the advisor. But the issue is that sometimes the advisor interprets it differently.


It's a work-in-progress, but you are right; we need to be sure of what we are saying and explain the details.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As always Joe, you see the story in the story of what I was getting at. I do agree with you that it's a good thing to have the tech talk to the customer, but, sometimes it's more of a communication thing between the staff members that needs fixing. It's another one of those "need to know" things when running a business. Communication, communication.... and understanding.


thanx for your comments Joe, always appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...