3 GALLONS OF TROUBLE
It was shortly after opening time when one of my long time regular customers
brought their teenage son into the shop for a little discussion and repair time.
The father and I go way back, and he knew I'm not one to take a lot of gruff,
especially before coffee. He looked at his son and told him, “Gonzo, probably
hasn’t had his coffee yet so go easy on the old guy,” he said with a quick
little nod and wink in my direction.
He was right about the coffee, but that still didn’t prepare me for the story
I was about to hear.
The story started sometime earlier, apparently after I changed the fuel pump
some two years ago. It had to do with his gas mileage. Apparently, his
incredibly detailed fuel charts that listed every fill up, time, date, and the exact
mileage there was always a 3 gallon discrepancy. All traced back to the very
day I put the fuel pump in over two years ago. He was concerned, no, let me
rephrase that, he was extremely upset and insisted that I was the cause of all
this, and obviously, I must have done something wrong.
His insistence that I was to blame was backed up by his anal retentive log book of every liquid that every entered his trucks orifices. Everything was tracked by way of his trip odometer. Before the new fuel pump he would get close to 400 miles per tank. His accuracy was to be commended. Not a lot of people go to this amount of effort to calculate the different seasonal fuel changes and how it affects the overall mileage with a cross reference to the previous year and then highlight long trips in a different colored highlighter with notations about wind speed and weather conditions, or which direction he was traveling, With all this cross checking, geological mapping, GPS location, and weather pattern charts there still was this 3 gallon gap.
Each fill up averaged right around 23 gallons from empty, and never a drop more than 23 gallons. But now, his fuel tank was holding 26 gallons. His question, “So, where is the other 3 gallons going?” I tried not laugh, I’ve changed a lot of fuel pumps but I never have had anyone come in and tell me that there fuel tank now holds more fuel than before. The dad smirk was getting wider and wider as the story and his teen aged son's lack of making me believe his story increased his volume and temper. The whole time, good ol' dad just sat there with that look on his face as if to silently tell me, "You're turn... I'll just watch."
“I’m pretty sure your gas tank hasn’t increased in volume since a fuel pump has been changed. I would imagine you’re probably mistaken as to how much your tank actually holds. Did you ever check your owners manual by chance? ” I told him, as I reached for my coffee.
Nope, he wasn’t buying that. He knew how much his gas tank has 'always' held and he knew I was the cause of his lost mileage.
The more I tried to explain, the more upset he was getting. He was quite sure (and demanding) that he was correct and that I wasn’t listening to what he was saying. By now he was quite loud and belligerent over the whole matter. Poor old dad, laid a hand on his son's shoulder, but the boy just shrugged it off and continued on his rampant dissertation of fuel mileage vs. fuel tank volume. At that point, I kinda figured dad had already had enough of his boy’s attitude and figured old Gonzo was going to straighten him out. (This is going to take a lot more coffee…better start another pot.)
The aggravated son then began to tell me how good a mechanic he was, because he had rebuilt a few motors in the past so… he knew his way around under the hood. Then he added to his story with the usual, “I went to one of those parts stores that will read codes for you… they said the reason for the check engine light was because of a bad gas cap.”
Now there's a new twist, oh wait I've got it now. As long as the fuel mileage was the only issue it's safe to say you would have kept driving around with this attitude that I must have screwed something up, but... as soon as the check engine light comes on and another scrappy teenager with a code reader tells you that it's caused by a gas cap you put it together... and what do you know... it's Gonzo's fault. I can see the whole scenario now, he was grasping at possible reasons why his gas mileage had dropped so much and now he's got some confirmation. What gets me is how something as important as the involvement of the service light wasn't brought up sooner into the conversation but what is important is to tell me how good a tech you are and that you have already made this seemingly incompetent decision that I was to blame.
So at this point, we have a service light on, we have a supposed loss of fuel economy (sort of), and I’m sure there is more… there is always more… I had to ask, “Anything else?”
On occasions the ABS light comes on… he had that checked too. This time he consulted the ever faithful internet. He tells me in a loud forceful voice… as if I couldn’t hear anything he was saying, “That always means it’s time to rebuild the ABS controller.”
Oh yea, I do that every day… I take the controllers apart and remove the epoxy sealer over the circuit boards and remove the effected components on the board and then reseal the whole thing back together. Sure it can be done, but not cheaply, and it sure isn't going to change that 3 gallons of fuel in the tank. All this before my first cup of coffee?
Finally, dad convinced the son to dropped the truck off. I went straight to the glove box and checked the owner’s manual for the fuel tank capacity. It had it in big bold letters… 26 gallon capacity… not 23 as he was so sure of.
Just to be sure, I checked the tune up parts and the filters… all looked great. The next thing was to tackle the check engine light. Yes there was a code, well a code that might lower gas mileage… sort of… but not by 3 gallons. It was the evap solenoid valve code, P0449. After testing the circuit and the valve it turned out the valve was at fault. A new evap solenoid valve solved the problem. As far as the ABS… nothing, not a thing, no codes, no history codes, and the system was working normally. A drive test showed no problems but I gave him the benefit of doubt that he may have an intermittent ABS controller problem… however when I gave him the options of leaving it alone or changing it… he left it alone.
After all the phone calls were made and dad and son arrived to pick up the truck there was never another mention of the so called missing 3 gallons or the fact that it was merely the original fuel sender that was reading improperly all this time. Or the fact that the loose gas cap had nothing to do with the service light either.
I guess when you’re wrong you don’t have to admit it, at least when you're a teenager, and dad is paying the bill. Apparently, apologizes are not required. But, you can be darn sure, if the mechanic is wrong, it's time to scream in his face, accuse him of incompetence, and let everyone else know. Then, leave an exaggerated review on some website that allows any misinformed-uneducated-no talent-fool to write one, but takes an act of congress to remove it, and then ... ask for your money back. Welcome to the world of auto repair and some of the strangest customer reactions you'll ever run into.
I do have to apologies for being the mechanic in this story, and I guess I should apologies for one more thing…Writing in BIG BOLD letters across the entire invoice… YOUR TANK HOLDS 26 GALLONS! !