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Vehicle problems that change without notice

The last thing we expect sometimes is the first cause that comes to mind.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 09:00
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Many years ago, when I was working at the Ford dealer, a relative of mine brought her 1984 Marquis in to have the transmission serviced. A very seasoned transmission mechanic with the same practiced efficiency he applied to every transmission service did the job. The parts were charged out, the bill was paid and the car was delivered to the owner, but it didn’t get 100 yards out of the service lot before red fluid was flowing all over the pavement and the transmission all but stopped pulling.  The Marquis came limping back into the writeup area for a re-do.

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Back in the writeup area, a QC ticket was written, and since the transmission guy was so busy and I was related to the owner. I pulled the car in onto a lift, raised it and found that one of the transmission cooler lines had cracked at its roll crimp – there was absolutely no way the trans guy had caused this, and the timing of this failure was one of those Murphy’s Law reverse miracles that tend to make us look like incompetent boobs. I fixed that leak quickly with a brass fitting and a double flare and refilled the transmission with fluid to get the customer back on the road. Every good mechanic has done quality work on a vehicle only to be dealt the dirty hand of a repeat repair that wasn’t his fault.

Granted, sometimes the subsequent failure is our fault.  One of my guys removed and reinstalled the transmission in an S10 Blazer and the owner came back complaining that the hatch release button on his dash was inoperative.  It turned out as we analyzed the wiring schematic and did some hands-on rechecks that the Transmission Range sensor connector wasn’t seated good on that one. The ground for the hatch release solenoid travels through that switch to prevent inadvertent hatch release while driving down the highway.

Smooth and straightforward repair jobs are the ones most of us like the best. Those are the routine work orders where there are no surprises on either side – simple “Condition, Cause, Correction” flow.

Such a case was the 2007 Mitsubishi Raider that had been at another shop for an engine skip under load. The owner said the other shop had replaced the ignition switch at a cost of $400, but his engine skip remained the same. In my way of thinking, cheap and easy is the best first move, so we yanked the spark plugs to find the originals still in their holes.  All it took to fix that truck was 30 minutes and a simple set of spark plugs. Then there are the tough but obvious ones, like the Hyundai Santa Fe with an inoperative air conditioner due to a dead evaporator sensor. That’s a cheap part and about eight hours of tedious work, but it fixed a vehicle that had been at the dealer four times for the same concern and had never been fixed.

But then there are those jobs I have dubbed “circumstantial land mines” that blow up in our faces. We perform a simple repair and the job goes south to the point that it feels like a T-Rex has walked into the shop with his beady little eyes on our bottom line. We want to find out what went wrong, and fast. Sometimes situations blind-side us that even make us think we’re incompetent. This job turned out to be one of those.

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