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Free The ECM - Just doin' what the manual said. (rerun story from 2010)


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FREE THE ECM’S

Sometimes, I’ll find faults with the so called “experts” advice or information. Not that I think I’m smarter than the engineers… no, not that at all. But if something strikes me as not being completely correct I might want to question what is on that diagnostic tree. Mind you, my entire day is filled with meeting the expectations of my customers. I have to be dead on with my repairs and diagnostics. Not some of the time, no, ALL the time. And, I expect the same from the people that provide the information and parts. The way I look at it, you’re only as good as the information provided.

Where does that leave me when the directions or diagnostic tree doesn’t lead to an answer? Usually frustrated, and disgusted. But what happens when you follow the diagnostic tree to the letter and something is still very, very wrong.

 

Several years ago, back in the 80’s or so, back before we had computer based information, email, and the internet we used big thick books to find our diagnostic information. You’ve all seen them, they’re somewhere in a back room of the repair shop these days gathering dust, next to that dwell meter and carburetor adjustment tools. All my big diagnostic books are on a shelf, standing like old soldiers of days gone by, proudly showing their age. Each of them has grease marks, scratches on the covers and worn edges on every page from years of service.

Back when the books were in their heyday I had a couple of interesting issues that a guy like me just couldn’t leave alone. I find something not right; I’d like to find out how to make it right. Even if the book is wrong, I’d like to know why the book is wrong.

There was this mid 80’s GM with a service light on. I broke out my overly large books of knowledge and started to follow the diagnostic tree to find the solution to the problem. As I went thru each step I would note the results of the test and then continue onto the next step.

When I came to the very bottom of the diagnostic tree, there on the final line of the final test was this statement: “If the answer to the last question was “yes” - release the ECM”. Now what it in the world are they talking about now? I’m 99.9% sure they actually meant “replace” ECM (Electronic Control Module), but that’s not what it said. It clearly said “release”

I’m wondering if they know there’s a typo in their book… I think I’ll call them… you know, just for a laugh. Not that it’s all that important, but what the heck… let’s have some fun with this.

I called, as seemed to be the norm back then it took a few phone transfers to get to the correct department, and as each operator put me in touch with the next operator I started to put together a story.

When I finally reached the engineering department, I had to play it up…

“Can I help you with a diagnostic problem?” he said, sounding all official and all.

(Like he had a clue what was going to happen next)… I let him have it with my own version of stupidity.

“Yes, I’m following this diagnostic tree and trying to come to the possible results, but I’m having some problems with it. Now, I’m not one to think there’s a problem with the diagnostics but this one, well, I’m a little concerned… it said, very clearly “release ECM”.

“Hmm, so what did you do?” he asked. (He’s not getting it.)

Let’s see if this guy can follow along with my idiotic logic, or see if I lose him in the translation.

“I disconnected the ECM, set it outside the shop, gave it a little pat on its PROM and said to the little aluminum computer box… “YOU’RE FREE! GO-BUDDY-GO, LEAVE, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, HIT THE ROAD! YOU’RE RELEASED!!” and you know what… it just sat there. It never moved… now I’m wondering, I followed the diagnostics correctly. The car is still in the shop and it still won’t start. And this dang computer doesn’t want to be released…. Ya got any suggestions? Because the test ended with “release ECM”… there were no more steps in the test so I did what it said… I released it -- what now?” I told him.

 

There was a dead silence on the phone. I’m guessing, this guy doesn’t get the joke, or he’s really thinking that little ECM should have taken its chance and run for the hills before this wack-o mechanic comes up with something else.

He cautiously answered, “Can I call you back on this? I’ll have to consult with the engineering department on this one.”

Is this guy serious? Really, fella, can you not see this is just a joke? I would have thought most intelligent people would see right through my little story… not this guy, he was dead pan serious. He took down the page number and said he would get back to me later that day. Now I’m waiting for “Mr. Engineer” to get back to me.

A few hours later he did call back and informed me that it was a misprint and it really should have said “replace”.

“I know,” I said, “I just thought you guys would like a little joke. I thought you’d like to know that there was a mistake in the books, that’s all.”

“Thanks for telling us, we all got a pretty good laugh over it,” he answered, “We like to think we have the best books in the industry and we pride ourselves on giving you guys the most precise information possible.”

We ended the phone call with both of us laughing about the whole thing. Little did he know, he would get another phone call. A few days later I had another problem to deal with. It was a knock sensor code and the test procedure said; “Take a 4 oz. hammer and tap next to the sensor while observing the scope reading”.

You know, I couldn’t leave this alone. After getting this uptight engineer to loosen up on that last phone call, I just had to call him again.

“OK, what is it this time?” he asked.

“I don’t have a 4 oz. hammer to do this test. You know, you told me you have the most precise information… and I don’t want to deviate from the book without knowing I’m on the right track.”

“Ah……., I’ll have to get back to you,” he told me.

Seriously? I’ll bet this guy never gets the punch line of a joke. Several hours later he called me back, and said that it wasn’t a misprint this time, and that any small hammer would do. This might be one reason why I never became an engineer. These guys are way too serious for me. Lighten up dudes… geez.

“If you find any other mistakes in our books, would you send what you find to us in writing for evaluation. We are working hard to keep these problems from arising… so it would be very helpful if you could do that for us. Thanks for your cooperation,” he said.

Do ya get the feeling this guy doesn’t want me to call them anymore… hmmm, I wonder why? Maybe I’ve given them a little more incentive to recheck their work a little more. These days, I haven’t seen as many mistakes. I suppose with spell check and a few careful proof reads it’s less likely to have these kinds of mistakes again.

I guess in some respects, it’s a good way of avoiding phone calls from smart ass mechanics like myself.

 


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Hilarious story. Another great read. Thanks Gonzo.

I was falling out of my chair when this all took place. Even writing it down put a smile on my face. Sometimes... the absurd is just too funny.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         13 comments
      Most shop owners would agree that the independent auto repair industry has been too cheap for too long regarding its pricing and labor rates. However, can we keep raising our labor rates and prices until we achieve the profit we desire and need? Is it that simple?
      The first step in achieving your required gross and net profit is understanding your numbers and establishing the correct labor and part margins. The next step is to find your business's inefficiencies that impact high production levels.
      Here are a few things to consider. First, do you have the workflow processes in place that is conducive to high production? What about your shop layout? Do you have all the right tools and equipment? Do you have a continuous training program in place? Are technicians waiting to use a particular scanner or waiting to access information from the shop's workstation computer?
      And lastly, are all the estimates written correctly? Is the labor correct for each job? Are you allowing extra time for rust, older vehicles, labor jobs with no parts included, and the fact that many published labor times are wrong? Let's not forget that perhaps the most significant labor loss is not charging enough labor time for testing, electrical work, and other complicated repairs.  
      Once you have determined the correct labor rate and pricing, review your entire operation. Then, tighten up on all those labor leaks and inefficiencies. Improving production and paying close attention to the labor on each job will add much-needed dollars to your bottom line.
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