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Dealing with pattern failures that are anything but

Saturday, December 1, 2018 - 08:00
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One local service manager of a GM dealer told me that he has seen multiple technician applicants who managed to fiddle around with a small block Chevy in their backyard until they finally got it to start, and believed that one wrench-and-steel conquest and a couple of brake pad swaps on friends’ cars qualified them for an A-tech slot in the dealer service bay. He doesn’t hire them.

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By far, we all know the best skill gained comes from performing lots of real repairs on vehicles people will be driving, day after day, one after another. And no matter how many vehicles we troubleshoot and repair, we’re going to encounter some that we will remember for many a year. For me, well, I can think of dozens. But in those moments when we think we know what to expect when we draw a work order but get blindsided, it’s downright annoying.

These are nice rides, but this one wouldn't move.

And then it gets personal – you against the machine – usually one-on-one, slugging it out, sometimes over several days. That kind of meat grinder works well for any skill level from my automotive students to full-blown techs. We never stop learning, and the tough ones put iron in our souls. And for those who are just getting started in this business or are reading these words as a consumer, this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we do.

The Durango

This one came in with a simple “Check Engine” light. And the initial annoyance was that this Durango started out by refusing to talk to us on the enhanced line, and while we did agree to have a look at the MIL issue, we aren’t doing network/comm stuff this semester, so I had my guys back out of the enhanced screen on and dive into the generic OBDII side – which is always a good idea anyway, because what doesn’t show up in the enhanced room might appear in the generic one.

And on the generic comm line we found a P0520 code – that familiar Chrysler oil pressure sensor circuit failure. That’s the one the PCM monitors even if the cluster doesn’t have a gauge. We’ve done these on the V8 Chargers – a few of them, anyway – and so I told the owner of the vehicle we could handle it – no problem. And we did. But we were surprisingly annoyed at just how involved that job turned out to be. And there were pitfalls.

This one was a 3.6L, and the upper and lower intakes had to be removed to access the rear of the oil cooler, where two different sensors are nestled. We packed the intake ports full of rags on the heads at this point for obvious reasons while the sensor swap was under way.

The oil temperature sensor was directly above the oil pressure sensor and also directly in the way, so it had to be disconnected and removed, and then the oil pressure sensor connector had to be disconnected, which turned out to be aggravating because the connector trigger was facing down and inaccessible. So, we’d need to turn the sensor to access the connector trigger. Piece of cake, right? Well, a thick, heat-stiffened wire harness was passing right next to the sensor and that harness was unyielding. Remember, we couldn’t disconnect the sensor wire connector, so a socket was a no-go. And a one and a sixteenth wrench is nice and beefy for turning big, tight fasteners but it doesn’t fit in a tight spot worth a toot. This sensor wasn’t all that tight (1/8 pipe thread), but it was tight enough that even if you managed to shove the open end onto the sensor flats, we couldn’t turn the sensor even a little without that heat-tempered 1.5-inch-thick wire harness forcing the fat wrench off the sensor flats. This was an annoying surprise.

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