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First The Basics - Diagnostics starts with powers and grounds NOT with parts and labor


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First, The basics
tp.gif    Let’s talk diagnostics.  Do you follow any kind of diagnostic 
procedure, or do you just throw darts on a wall, or play 
“pick-a-part” and hope you fix it before you or the customer 
runs out of cash.  I hope you don’t do that.  That might work 
some of the time, but it’s not a good way to get to the source 
of problems quickly or accurately. 
tp.gif    One of the tire shops that I do business with dropped off a 
2003 F450 with a 7.3 diesel for me to look at. It’s one of 
their service trucks that died on the highway.  
    These guys are super, I’ve known them for years, and they’ve got a great reputation and excellent work force. In fact, I buy all my tires there, and they do all my alignments.  They try to fix their own trucks “in-house” and sometimes, well……the repair/diagnostics are a little out of their comfort zone.  This was one of those times. 
tp.gif    Now, they don’t try to keep up with the scanning or diagnostics on most cars and trucks. It’s a tire shop that specializes in tires.  They stick to what they do best, tires, wheels, and undercarriage stuff.  The only “techy” stuff they get into is with the TPM systems.  Most generally, when it comes to their vehicles they’ll go with the tried and true…”throw a dart and whatever it hits we’ll change.” Of course they’ll ask around first, but you know, second hand information hardly ever gets the job done these days.
tp.gif    They had it at one of their stores in another town for about 3 weeks trying to solve the problem.  When that didn’t work they decided to tow it up to another one of their stores, and see if the guys there had a better dart.  Another couple of weeks and several darts later, all they had were holes in the wall and no truck running.  Then my phone rang.
   “Can you program a PCM on a F450?” the shop asked.
    “No, sorry I don’t do those, but I know who does. I’ll call him and see if he can come over and do that for you,” I told them.
tp.gif    A day or two went by and the phone rang again.  “Hey, this thing still doesn’t start.  The guy that programmed it said it sounded like an electrical problem”.  Ok, somehow, I’m getting involved now.  
tp.gif“Sure, bring it over,” I told them.
tp.gif    Well, they towed it over with a strap pulled by an F250 diesel truck. The F250 looked like a toy truck compared to this behemoth.  With a push and a shove from the F250 the guys got it lined up and into one of my service bays. 
tp.gif    The big concern was the IDM relay, it kept chattering like a machine gun.  Instead of checking codes I thought it best just to start with a complete wire to wire check to determine if there was some lost signal that was causing the problem, or a wire that was scraped and grounding out.  Removing the inner fender on the driver side I could gain access to the Injector module (IDM) and the PCM (Power control module).  Seemed easier to start here than any place else.  It didn’t take long before I tracked down a problem.  On pin #71 of the (new) PCM there should have been 12 volts from the ignition.  No voltage at the terminal.
    Tracing the wiring diagram thru its maze it led back to the in-car fuse box on fuse #22.   I grabbed my test light and checked the fuse… (Rolling my eyes about now) the fuse,… oh man…  the fuse is blown.  Good grief… all this for a blown fuse.
tp.gif     Well, I better change the fuse, and see if it starts. Sure enough; it fired right up… sounded great, good throttle response, and no service lights. 
tp.gif    Now the big challenge, what blew the fuse in the first place?  Following the wiring diagram again…. I traced out all the components on the fuse circuit.  There was one that caught my eye as the likely culprit.  The brake cut-off switch mounted on the master cylinder.  (It’s the one that had the big recall a few years ago.)  
tp.gif    The updated replacement piece was in place but somebody forgot to secure the wires.  The replacement piece has a newer style connector and an adapter connector to allow you to attach it to the original style fastener. Which makes it a little longer than it originally was from the factory.  It was hard to tell where the new wire and connector started, and the old one ended, because the whole thing was lying on the exhaust manifold, and had melted down to a glob of wire and plastic.  
tp.gif    Looking around under the hood there were all kinds of new parts installed. The nicest part……they were all installed correctly. There were no other wires out of place, or any signs of scraps or melted wiring.  The important thing is that it runs, and the truck can go back to doing what it needs to do.  I think the biggest thing that threw everyone on this job was the chattering relay. It sounded bad, sounded expensive… but, all it turned out to be was a loss of proper voltage to the PCM, because a fuse blew from a lead that grounded out. This was due to the improper installation of one small component.  
tp.gif    The PCM couldn’t spread enough voltage and ground signals to all the necessary systems when it was missing the voltage it needed.  As the relay would engage, the voltage drop was too much to keep the relay engaged.  The IDM would pull more signal voltage as the relay would come to life.  Then the PCM would have to drop the ground signal to the IDM relay to compensate for the loss of voltage.  All this was going on very rapidly … on and off, on and off… making the machine gun sound coming from the IDM relay.
     The guys at the tire store were extremely grateful that I got the job done, so they could use the truck again.  For me, it’s another day at the shop.  I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the guys at the tire shop. Hey they tried, I’ll give them that. 
      But one thing I wish they would do next time --- CHECK THE BASICS—BEFORE BUYING PARTS!    It’s cheaper that way… 

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Yes, always check simple things(basics) even on what might seem to something so complicated you wonder , will I  be  able to work on this! Gonzo, Another good story I guess from your vault of stories that you have compiled over the years.

Edited by kenk
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1 minute ago, kenk said:

Yes, always check simple things(basics) even on what might seem to something so complicated you wonder Chee, will I be able to work on this! Gonzo, Another good story I guess from your vault of stories that you have compiled over the years.

yep... busy week... spent a lot of "free" time working on getting the webinar just right and in the "can".   No time for new stories....again.....LOL

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4 minutes ago, xrac said:

First The Basics - Diagnostics starts with powers and grounds NOT with parts and labor.  

That statement should be posted on a banner and hung up in every shop. A car diagnosed (actually not diagnosed but purported to have been) with a bad transmission by another shop was found to simple have a voltage problem caused by a bad battery and alternator. 

That sounds just like one of my old stories... "Shift Happens" were the entire tranny problem was a faulty ground lead because some dork installed a taller battery, and the cable wouldn't reach. So, he cut the chassis ground lead off of the neg. cable and tucked the end under the battery tray.  2 trannys later... I got to work on it.  Unbelievable.  LOL 

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Diagnostics vs parts ... hmmmm sounds like a game played by a lot of mechanics and youtubers LOL... unfortunately parts seems to win out in most shops.. I don't know how many times people look way too deep for the problem.. I guess it is something that we learn as we get better that the basics need to be checked first.. sometimes the problem is right in front of your face but you can't imagine that being the problem so you look deep or in some cases throw more parts.. It must happen in all business or the saying "if it was a snake it would of bit ya" wouldn't of come about. All in all I think we all will be watching or playing in the game of Diagnostics vs Parts, who will win well who knows, but I think we all need to strive to play for the diagnostic team I hard those players seem to last longer and get paid a bit better , and have more loyal fans.


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While I'm teaching these days we've bugged the practice cars for the students. It's amazing how they ALL jump for a scanner instead of the diagrams to see if the problem is nothing more than a missing fuse.   Even though I stress the basics,  the mere thought of a problem being so simple is over shadowed by the complexity of the systems their examining.   

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How many fuel pumps were condemned due to empty fuel tanks? Back to basics.



I had an Expedition in the other week that had been at a shop, no start. They put a fuel pump in it and still couldn't get it to start.. So I took a look , bad central junction block.  Now if they had done some basic simple checks they would of seen they had no power going to the fuel pump. 
Edited by skm
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You made me smile reading your article. Here is my 0.02 cent story:

2005 Mercedes Benz E500 comes in from the local MB dealer, the complaint is that it has all kinds of intermittent electrical problems, it has new batteries, alternator, gateway and other modules, etc. On the preliminary inspection I find two ground straps broken, fix that and I hook up the picoscope to look at my current flow, see odd ripple, take a look at the serpentine tensioner and it's worn out with a new pulley installed. Changed it, car runs like a dream. Customer: "Are you sure that was it?! We spend over five grand in parts trying to fix it."

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Auto shop owners are always looking for ways to improve production levels. They focus their attention on their technicians and require certain expectations of performance in billable labor hours. While technicians must know what is expected of them, they have a limited amount of control over production levels. When all factors are considered, the only thing a well-trained technician has control over is his or her actual efficiency.
      As a review, technician efficiency is the amount of labor time it takes a technician to complete a job compared to the labor time being billed to the customer. Productivity is the time the technician is billing labor hours compared to the time the technician is physically at the shop. The reality is that a technician can be very efficient, but not productive if the technician has a lot of downtime waiting for parts, waiting too long between jobs, or poor workflow systems.
      But let’s go deeper into what affects production in the typical auto repair shop. As a business coach, one of the biggest reasons for low shop production is not charging the correct labor time. Labor for extensive jobs is often not being billed accurately. Rust, seized bolts, and wrong published labor times are just a few reasons for lost labor dollars.
      Another common problem is not understanding how to bill for jobs that require extensive diagnostic testing, and complicated procedures to arrive at the root cause for an onboard computer problem, electrical issue, or drivability issue. These jobs usually take time to analyze, using sophisticated tools, and by the shop’s top technician. Typically, these jobs are billed at a standard menu labor charge, instead of at a higher labor rate. This results in less billed labor hours than the actual labor time spent. The amount of lost labor hours here can cripple a shop’s overall profit.
      Many shop owners do a great job at calculating their labor rate but may not understand what their true effective labor is, which is their labor sales divided by the total labor hours sold. In many cases, I have seen a shop that has a shop labor rate of over $150.00 per hour, but the actual effective labor rate is around $100. Not good.
      Lastly, technician production can suffer when the service advisors are too busy or not motivated to build relationships with customers, which results in a low sales closing ratio. And let’s not forget that to be productive, a shop needs to have the right systems, the right tools and equipment, an extensive information system, and of course, great leadership.
      The bottom line is this; many factors need to be considered when looking to increase production levels. While it does start with the technician, it doesn’t end there. Consider all the factors above when looking for ways to improve your shop’s labor production.
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