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Relying on somebody else’s auto diagnosis is a bad idea

Friday, February 1, 2019 - 08:00
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When I was at the Ford place, I drew a work order for a charging system fault on an old F-150 and told the customer she needed a new alternator – and she went and bought one from a local parts store – well, that one wound up being bad, so I yanked it off and she took it back, had it checked on their machine, and brought me another one. This happened four times – we finally got a good one, but she was kind of ill that she had to pay us to replace the alternator four times – thinking she’d save money buying her own part, she made a series of bad choices. Had those bad alternators come from our parts room, the Ford Authorized Manufacturer would have paid all that labor.

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With these funky big tires contacting the splash shields during turns of more than about 15 degrees, this one is no fun to drive — but it wasn’t written up for that.

On a slightly different note, I used to hang out when I was off work at Sambos drinking coffee back in the late ‘70s with some of the locals in Port Arthur, Texas, and when I overheard one of the patrons asking a young waitress about her car, she told them she had a ’63 Buick Special but that the “motor had burned up” and she couldn’t drive it. I chimed in to ask if she had run it out of coolant or oil, and she told me it had caught fire under the hood while she was driving and had been sitting in her parents’ driveway for months.

She went on to say that they had given her a coil, a distributor cap and some wires for her birthday, but nobody they knew wanted to attempt the fix and they couldn’t afford to hire a shop to do it. I asked if I could take a look, and she agreed, so I dropped by her parents’ house and opened the hood on that little V6 to find that the engine fire had been wall to wall – the wire harness was little more than a bunch of bare wires, and the ignition components were, as expected, nothing but crust and ash. I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew; I couldn’t even tell where the fire had started or why, but I dove in headfirst. 

Retrieving some rolls of wire I carried in my truck toolbox, I carefully unplugged the mostly melted wire harness from its various connection points and using cheap butt connectors and electrical tape (I wasn’t going to spend the time it’d take to solder and heat shrink everything), I rebuilt that underhood harness one wire at a time on the tailgate of my pickup, then plugged it all back in and installed her new distributor cap, wires and coil. I hooked up my jumper cables, we spun it over, and it fired right up and ran like a champ. The whole job only took a couple of hours, so I charged her $25, and she paid me with multiple rolls of coins from her tip money.

The Commander

A friend of mine brought his son’s 2006 Jeep Commander, 4.7L V8 with a 5-45RFE transmission and 187,854 miles on the odometer, telling me he believed water was making its way into the #8 cylinder, because the vehicle had overheated a few times and now it was misfiring on that one. We found his misfire on the cylinder he indicated, but a quick look at all the plugs didn’t show any evidence of coolant ingestion at all, only a sooty plug on the dead hole. So, my man Charles tossed a set of plugs in there, and in the process of our testing we discovered the compression was low on that cylinder. Further, Charles said that with it idling he was hearing something under the valve cover he didn’t like, and to get the valve cover off, he had to recover the refrigerant.

Any shop who doesn’t use a refrigerant identifier does so at their own peril. Without one, this kind of contamination gets spread from the recycler to other vehicles like a disease.

When we did the refrigerant I.D. with the Peter Coll Neutronics tester (a shop should always do that!), we got a big fat red FAIL light – 5 percent hydrocarbons in there, possibly from some fly-by-night canned stuff. We had to use our dedicated tank and machine to suck that garbage juice out. When Charles got the valve cover off (no fun), he found the rearmost roller rocker out of place and lying fallow on the head. How did this happen? Somebody else might know, but I don’t. We removed and collapsed the lifter so we could get the rocker back in without too much trouble, and that took care of the engine skip, but we weren’t finished – not by a long shot. More about that one in a minute.

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