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The Long and Short of it
For those of us that stand behind the service counter we have a few general greetings we’ll use, usually a welcome or a hello, but eventually we come to the preverbal question, “What’s the problem with the car?” Now, its story time. Everybody has their own way of explaining things, and over the years of standing at the counter I’ve noticed a pattern to these explanations. There’s the short, quick version, and then there is the long winded explanation that starts off with the trip to grandma’s house last summer and mentioning every bump or bruise the car has ever had. The ironic part is that when the story is long the actual problem is quite small in comparison. But, the shorter the explanation is, the larger the problem seems to be.
I’m not sure why, but it almost always seems to work out that way. Take car fires for an example. When their recall of the events leading up to the demise of the car is shortened to just a few words I’ve got a pretty good idea that whatever is being dropped off by the tow truck doesn’t even resemble much of a car anymore. However, if I seem to be listening to the next documentary on the evaluation of the modern car or how affective a cheap set of overseas sockets and a no#2 screwdriver are then it’s a safe bet there’s less of a fire and more of quick and simple problem here.
Just the other day a car was towed in because it wouldn’t start, and the only explanation the owner could manage was that he changed the battery. After checking the car out it was very clear the PCM (Power Control Module) was off line and wasn’t communicating to the rest of the systems. The more I tried to pry information out of him the less information I seemed to get. Further testing revealed the PCM must have taking a large dose of high voltage/current… it’s a fried computer for sure. So, instead of a quick fix (As he was expecting) it was a costly repair involving a new PCM and complete programming. Just replaced the battery aye? My guess is he tried to jump the car with the leads backwards or installed the battery backwards, or both. But, I never did get him to admit to it. I couldn’t rule out a lightning strike or a once in a lifetime PCM failure due to changing a battery, I just couldn’t prove it one way or another.
A complete reversal of the short story is of course the long versions. A gal dropped her car off early one morning with several hand written pages of information wedged under the service bay door. The information started out with the day and time she bought it to the last oil change. Sure, I like to have as much information as possible; however a lot of the stuff on this list had nothing to do with the current condition of the car. Honestly, I really don’t need to know how many times you went through the automatic car wash last year. However, after reading through the documented average gas mileage per year I came to the very end of the last page which offered the most important information, the fuel pump had been changed just a week earlier, but the only problem she was concerned with was that the cruise control didn’t work. Then in a little side note on the edge of the page she mentioned that the turn signals and brake lights have been blowing a fuse too. The entire problem turned out to be a turn signal lead that was trapped between a fuel tank strap and the body. It took me longer to read the information than it did to find the problem.
Not to be outdone, there are the auctioneer ramblers that will rattle off a whole list of things they’ve done to the car in a non-stop-get-it-all-out-in- one-breath type of explanation. They’ll go from one extreme to another so fast that I don’t even have time to write anything down. Some will try to sound like they are incredibly knowledgeable about the various systems in their particular car, and it’s not uncommon for them to spew some sort of trivia about how many cars were produced that year, or what production changes there were, or the name of the guy on the assembly line that installed the ash tray. Seems they know more about the car than I do, except how to fix it.
As usual, the long drawn out story ends up being something simple. The last backyard mechanic with the compiled knowledge of automotive facts failed to mention he just installed a new alternator, even though I now know the name of the guy who installs the ash trays. The problem turned out to be a blown fuse, which happens to be the very fuse that powers up the very thing he just changed...the alternator. And, of course, it was one of those cheap-o alternators with a life time warranty. But, as with a lot of these overly informed experts of the home garage they believe that all parts are the same and they all come from the same place and all those high priced parts stores just mark parts up.
Well, there is one more scenario to follow along with the long and short story telling conundrum. That’s the over exaggerators. Exaggerations and mystic supernatural tales are a completely different issue. These days it’s sometimes hard to separate facts from fiction when it comes to what might be happening in a car’s electronics. Mainly because of all the incorporated control modules that have more than one purpose, such as the BCM (Body Control Module). Something that sounds exaggerated might turn out to be completely correct. So it pays to listen up… to a point. It’s just that sometimes the claims are just too far off to be even remotely possible, as in the case of the mysterious self-starting car.
The story goes that if dad’s car was parked next to the son’s car and dad started his up the other car would start too. Both cars were dropped off; I did everything I could to think of way to solve this mystery. I finally had to give up and admit defeat and told them to come get their cars. That afternoon in the lobby, the dad had to tell me the entire story all over again, (which they always do…) while the son stayed in the background with a huge grin on his face the whole time.
Watching junior out of the corner of my eye while dad ran through his story again, junior was doubling over with pent up laughter. If I didn’t know any better, something tells me junior has something to do with this. I had to interrupt the father while he was still going through all of his super-natural claims that could have caused this problem, such as sun spots and aliens. “Hey son, by chance are you playing a trick on your old man? (The kid nearly fell on the floor giggling….) Something tells me you’re using some sort of remote start when your dad starts his car.” Yep, that was the issue. The dad, good natured thankfully, got a big laugh at the whole thing. Seems this family has a habit of pulling practical jokes on each other and they carry these jokes to the “nth” degree. We all had a good laugh over this extreme prank.
In the long and short of it, repairing the modern computer driven automotive is far less understood by the general public and even with the best information out there once in a while even the professional mechanic might have to explain things in a long drawn out story for a simple problem. My best advice is to take notes, listen carefully, and don’t prejudge a problem until you have all the facts. Because, the very next car that comes in might be the one that doesn’t fit the trend of the long story-short problem or vice-versa. It’s a learn as you go and then learn some more type of thing, not only for the customer but the mechanic too. Ya just gotta watch out for those exaggerating practical jokers.
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So its finally happening, I've found a business partner and we are hitting th e ground a week from today.
Idk how many of you have been on reddit before but they have a section of the forum for business startups to essentially blog each day throughout the process. I am curious is there a place for that on this forum? Would anyone be interested in following me as I go through the process??
One socket short a full set
One morning while cleaning up the shop from the previous day’s repairs an old GMC pickup was being pulled into the parking lot by another truck. The driver was busy unhooking the old truck while I was busy restocking shelves and putting things away. When the fella was done he headed for the front door. Any moment now the bell should go off, and when it does I’ll drop everything and go see who’s there. It seemed like an eternity, I know the bell should ring any second now… I kept moving closer to the office door still waiting for that usual sound of the bell going off. No bell, hmmm… I better go up front anyway. Nobody, not a soul… I couldn’t see anyone standing out front waiting so I might as well go back to my work at hand.
“Ding, ding” 2 dings… that was it, strange… usually the door bell would ring more than that. I’ll bet somebody barely opened the door and didn’t go in. I better go up to the front office and check it myself. Walking from the back door thru the lobby to the front door I opened the door and surprise… surprise the bell works perfectly. I could hear the ding coming from the shop area, but I was all alone, there wasn’t anybody in the lobby and I didn’t see anyone outside or in the parking lot. Oh well, I’ll go back to the shop. Thru the rear office door and back out to the shop again, I stopped by and grabbed my broom to finish the cleanup. There’s that door bell again… for cryin’ out loud… stop this musical door bell game already. This time I just stuck my head thru the door to see if anyone was there. Nope, nobody there now… I stood in the shop waiting for someone to come around the corner or hear the front door bell “ding” again. Nothing, dead silence… OK, that’s it… back to the front office… open the door… “ding, ding, ding” the bell is fine.. it ain’t the wind… it’s gotta be this guy with the pickup. I waited in the lobby… no one showed up… Ok that’s it… out the front door and walk around the shop and see if I can find this guy.
I made it around to the first garage door just in time to see the rear office door close… AHA… found ya! ! As I reached for the door knob the front door “ding” was going off… Now that’s it… ! ! I’m standing right here… I’m not going back to the lobby; I’m not even going to pick up my broom… I’m just going to stand here and wait for this guy to stop his march around the shop.
Here he comes … finally back thru the first garage door.
“Morning, can I help you,” I said.
“Yea, I’m the guy that called you yesterday about the 88 GMC that won’t start,” he said.
“I remember somebody calling about an 88 but that was several weeks ago.”
“Yep, that’s me.”
“Ok, well, let’s go to the front office and fill out the paper work.”
I turned and went back thru the rear office door and into the office. As I went by the stack of blank invoices I grabbed one and a pen and said, “What name should I put this under?” There was no answer; in fact there was no one there.
Ok, ok, back out to the shop and find this guy. There he was standing in the shop, I guess he thought I was coming back out there.
Now, in the past, I’ve seen a lot of old timers come thru the shop and stand there, talk about cars and such. These types of old timers you have to bring the paper work to them. I guess it’s the “old” way of doing things, you know, the mechanic is the guy in the shop with grease from head to toe and the shop is where you talk to the mechanic. This guy, doesn’t fit the description, way too young to be a part of that generation… I doubt if he’s any older than the truck he dragged in.
“You can come up here to the front office with me, we’ll fill out the paper work then,” I told him.
With that, he followed me to the front office. (finally)
“So what’s wrong with the truck?”
“I put a new transmission in, changed the fuel pump, put in a new starter and a new battery. I tried to start it and smoke came out around the back of the engine and the two metal fuel lines had to be changed. After the lines were changed I haven’t tried it again.”
You know, sometimes I need to reword my questions. This door bell chasin’ DIY’r must be dizzy from all his trips around the office and service bays. The question; “So what’s wrong with the truck” turns out to be a history lesson on what he has done recently to the truck…. My bad….or maybe not… maybe…. that IS what’s wrong with the truck. I guess I got my answer to the question… just a little long winded to get to the point.
“You need some help getting it off the trailer?”
“No, where do you want me to put it?”
“You can leave it right where it is; I’ll get it in the shop myself.”
He did just that… right in the middle of the driveway… at least a car length from the parking spaces that are so conveniently open on both ends just for the purpose of allowing a tow truck to pull thru the parking space and unload. Well, I did say “right where it is”. Maybe those trips around the office are getting to me too.
After he left I made my way out to the truck. Everything he described was correct, new parts here, new parts there, new parts everywhere. But the part he forgot was to hook up the ground cables to the engine. This would explain the smoking aluminum fuel line problem.
I hooked the leads back up, started it up and gave him a call as to what I found wrong with it.
He asked, “So where’s the truck now?”
“It’s in the shop”
“How’d ya get it there?”
“I drove it in.”
“But it won’t start, that’s why I brought it to you.”
“It’s starts, runs fine and ready to go home.”
“How’d ya get it started?”
“I hooked up the ground leads you must have left off when you did all the work to it.”
“So how did ya do that?”
“Nothing to it… just bolted them back down to their proper places and you’re good to go.”
“I don’t understand, how did ya get it in the shop?”
“I drove it in.”
“But it wouldn’t start, how’d ya get it going?”
Is this guy listening? Maybe he is still dizzy, maybe he’s just dumb… maybe he’s both…
I told him again, and again, and again… I don’t know why, but it always seems to me that you have to repeat things at least 3 times to someone who doesn’t understand you… this guy has gone way past that point.
This guy is one socket short a full set…. I’m glad I don’t run across guys like this too often, I’m getting older, my patience wears down more than it use too.
Dizzy, dingy, or just wacky… I find myself thinking about them while dealing with new situations that have some similarity to this story…. I smile, I laugh, I already know what to expect. Next time, I think I’ll stay in the office and let them find me. I’ll let the younger techs run around the shop to find them.
That’s the best part about getting older…. Experience.
By Joe Marconi
We have recently seen two Toyota Camry’s (2004, 2005) 4cyl where the positive cable at the starter is touching the metal harness bracket located just underneath the air filter box. The cable is rotated upward and comes in contact with the metal bracket and shorts to ground out at times. The repair is simple, loosen the starter cable and reposition away from the metal bracket. We suspect this may have happened after the starter was replaced.